Deep Dive

I’ve been doing a deep dive into 80s music lately.

I’m shocked, SHOCKED! I hear you say, not bothering to hide your eyeroll. But this is different, honest! I mean, sure, I’ve been listening to some of my old mixtapes and radio tapes, primarily because of a few writing projects I’m working on, but instead of doing the usual dive into records that have a bit of a long history to them, I’m playing around with records I remember seeing in the bins back in the day that have kind of been forgotten.

Not the “forgotten” bands that were really one-hit-wonders, or “obscure” bands that actually get a lot of airplay on certain genre stations. (And on the other side of the spectrum, I’m not yet at the “outsider” musicians that are just a bit too weird and impenetrable for my current tastes. I’m getting there, though.) I’m talking about the ones that I distinctly remember hearing on college radio and seeing their videos on 120 Minutes.

I’m talking about bands like the Jean-Paul Sartre Experience…

…or Gaye Bykers On Acid…

…or Fetchin Bones…

The funny thing is that many of these bands were the ones where I could never find their records, or never got around to buying them for budgeting reasons, or that I didn’t want to chance it if I didn’t exactly like it. I’m coming across a lot of them and checking out their grainy ripped-from-videotape music videos on YouTube. A lot of them are bands where I’d said I’d check them out sooner or later because I’d been hyperfocused on other obsessions…and I’m now realizing that I’ve finally come to the “later” part of that equation.

Some of these bands have stood the test of time, or are definitely a time capsule of a specific style. Some of them have not aged well at all (there’s one comic-punk band I used to like, but now sound like those one-joke pastiches you’d hear on those “irreverent” (read: tasteless bro humor) Morning Drive radio shows). They’re the bands that haven’t had as much of the Old Wave Renaissance play on satellite radio, but they’re the bands music nerds like me will remember.

What am I getting out of this? Well, aside from expanding my soundtracks and playlists, they’re filling some much-neglected holes in my personal history of listening to college radio. And as I’d hoped and expected, they’re also bringing back some memories I’d long forgotten. They’re putting the music history (and my own history) in a much richer context, that 80s college radio wasn’t just about The Cure and Depeche Mode and Wire and REM, but about the smaller bands and scenes that popped up. The music from different parts of the country — or the globe — that had a small but sizeable fanbase of their own. The music that may have somehow made its way onto major labels, but for the most part felt right at home on the independents.

And let me tell you, I’ve been having a hell of a fun time with it all!

Coming Soon: First Listens

Source: K-On!

I’ve been posting Favorite Albums and New Release Reviews for so long that I think I’m starting to burn out. I’ve already talked about a lot of my all-time faves (numerous times for some), so maybe I should shake it up.

SO! It occurred to me that The Internet Kids have been using a variation of music blog and vlog by posting First Listen reaction videos. I’m sure you’ve seen and enjoyed some of the best out there (such as this classic featuring Phil Collins’ ‘In the Air Tonight’). I’m certainly not someone who wants to create a reaction vlog, though. I’d rather be behind a camera than in front of it. And for the longest time I felt reaction videos were kind of silly, but I kind of get them now, especially if they’re done in a fun way like this.

So what I was thinking is, there’s got to be a significant number of bands, musicians and albums that are well-known that even I haven’t gotten around to listening to, right? I might be familiar with their discography and history, but that doesn’t necessarily mean I’ve ever gotten around to sitting down and listening to it, or even owning it. I know a handful of Neil Young songs thanks to classic rock radio and MTV, but do I even know what After the Gold Rush or Harvest sounds like? I live less than three miles from Haight-Ashbury, but do I really know more than maybe five Grateful Dead songs?

I’m thinking this might be worth looking into, and also a hell of a lot of fun. Sometimes I’ve avoided these musicians due to disinterest, and other times it’s due to their unavailability (or my being too broke), but I’ve also ignored them due to rock radio overplaying the same three songs out of their multi-album, multi-single career and turning me off them. It’s my own ridiculous prejudice there, so I think it would be interesting to work past that and see and hear what I’ve been missing.

This won’t just be classic rock or albums from Rolling Stone’s Usual Cast of All-Time Greats. There are a lot of records out there that I’m familiar with by name, fame, infamy, or word of mouth, but have bypassed for one reason or another. This includes different genres as well: I’d like to try ’em all.

I’ll be taking next week off to come up with a list of albums to try out and how to deliver this crazy little idea in blog form, and hopefully by the end of the month I’ll have a few posts for you! Stay tuned!

Let the Golden Age Begin

Yeah, I took more than just a week off, and it was for a good reason. I’m taking my writing schedule a lot more seriously right now as I’m working on two novels in tandem (again), and I want to spend as much time as I can on them. So how does this affect Walk in Silence? Well, as you’ve probably guessed (and I mentioned this earlier on WtBt), I’ll be blogging only once a week until further notice. In this case, WIS will be appearing on Thursdays only.

I’ve been adjusting my listening habits lately by shuffling between recent releases and old favorites. Finding a decent balance between the two instead of overobsessing over the latest record drop or playing the same five classic records over and over. I’ve been doing a lot of balancing lately, come to think of it. It’s high time I did.

This includes balancing my life on and offline. I’ve pretty much committed myself to listening to John Richards on The Morning Show on KEXP Monday through Friday almost without fail, and sometimes I’ll listen to the follow-up Midday Show with Cheryl Waters, but after that I try to close the browsers and get some hard work done. I’ll put on whatever music I’m in the mood for at that moment. Sometimes it’ll be a recent album (like Bob Moses’ Desire EP) and sometimes it’ll be a classic (like Beck’s Sea Change). I try to mix it up as much as I can so I don’t become a creature of habit again.

A lot of this is to do with my need to change my approach to a lot of things in my life. Yeah, I’m still doing that, bit by bit. Taking time for stretches and exercise. Avoiding static comfort. Experimenting with new ideas. Thinking things through differently. Not falling into passive habits. That sort of thing. Just…y’know, living life better. And keeping a good soundtrack for it all.

Listening at the start of the year

So the Best of Year mixtapes have been made, the top albums/songs lists have been made, and the new year is upon us. No new albums have dropped — at least none of import other than a few playlist EPs and one or two reissues — and it’s probably going to be another week or so before any major releases hit the internet shopping carts.

I’m always torn between wanting to listen to new things or reminiscing with older releases. Sometimes there will be a few late-in-the-year releases, like 2019’s Everyday Life by Coldplay or last year’s McCartney III that became favorites. But more often than not I’ll just stick with the mixtapes and the internet radio.

Quite often when I do this, I’ll stumble across a release I somehow missed over the last few years, and those are always a great discovery. I rarely have those nowadays, considering how musically plugged in I can be. In my high school and college days, I spent just as much time discovering new bands as much as I did catching up with old releases I should know about. Sometimes that will garner a download or two, or if I’m really drawn to the music, I’ll do a discography deep-dive.

So it’s not as if I’ve run out of things to listen to…I just get a bit untethered about it. Which is not necessarily a bad thing.

End of Year Thoughts II

During my long hiatus from blogging this year, I thought about closing down one or both of my WordPress blogs. I don’t think I’d run out of things to say on them, just that I’d gotten repetitive, focusing on the same finite number of subjects to write about. I still enjoyed talking about music here on Walk in Silence, and about writing at Welcome to Bridgetown, but it had become a chore and a deadline assignment, and one that felt a little overwhelming at the time. Come April, I’d decided that I wouldn’t just leave the Former Day Job but distance myself from the blogs and the daily words.

I of course immediately recognized that I was emotionally, physically and mentally exhausted, probably had been for a long while, and this was a perfect time for me to take a long overdue vacation. And think about what it was I wanted to do next.

I’ll be the big Five-Oh next month. It’s not the age that bothers me, to be honest. Aside from the creakier joints and a bit of extra weight, I’m actually in good spirits about it. I still have a lot of years ahead of me and I’d like to think I’m ready and equipped to take them on. I’ve trained myself to think more about future endeavors and less nostalgic (and obsessively so) about what I’ve already done. A funny and unexpected side-effect of this is that I finally see my long-simmering Walk in Silence 80s college radio book project with somewhat more detachment. Which is a good thing, a very good thing, because I’ll be able to write it without once again falling into the trap of Proustian rambling. Maybe I’ll finally get that damn thing done and released in the next year or so.

This is the same with my music listening habits as well. I feel less manically obsessive about it. Sure, I’m still an avid collector and a nerdy librarian when it comes to my mp3s. But I’m no longer trying in vain to recapture the moods, memories and thoughts that come with listening to music. I experience the music again, in the present. I enjoy it. I create new moods, memories and thoughts about it. I can listen to those favorite records and mixtapes of thirty, forty (!!) years ago without my brain slipping into “it was a very good year…” mode. I didn’t forget any of the memories, I just allowed my present self to loosen my grip on them. Those memories are hard-coded into those songs and albums and mixtapes so I can call them back up easily.

Where did this come from? Good question. Most of it was due to a distinct lack of creativity on the Daily Words front, which itself was due to the Former Day Job situation. Instead of trying to write any kind of microfiction for the Daily Words, these entries ended up being an extension of my personal journal and yet another retelling of my Walk in Silence idea. It was so ridiculous and frustrating! So when freedom of the FDJ presented itself, I also chose to free myself from everything else that was holding me back: including my listening habits.

Essentially, I had to relearn how to listen.

You either stretch, or you get stiff

It didn’t take me long to lose the excitement of having left the Day Job. I figured I’d give myself the remainder of that week to get used to the freedom, goof off, do whatever I felt like doing, and start the next week fresh.

Which means exercises. The local YMCA has posted exercise videos that I may work with here in Spare Oom. I’ve made a list of stretches and exercises I should hit daily (I’d started doing most of these in the last few months of my remote-work status, so it’ll be good to do those again).

I already miss not going to the Y after work, so once this pandemic is over and done, I’d love to return. A suggests I really should try working on the elliptical, but to this day I have not been able to coordinate my body to use it correctly. Either I start cycling backwards, or my hips and knees respond with what the hell do you think you’re doing?? I’ll try doing it again, but we shall see.

So why is this here on the music blog? Because A and I went for a short walk around the neighborhood the other day and pick up some take-out at the Mexican restaurant we always walk by on the way to the gym. We also passed a few people on a side street in their garage, listening to some kind of Jock Jams mix while working out. It all reminded me of the gym, especially my choosiness in mp3 tunage while working out. Right now I’m not using any of the players so I should probably clear them out again, but I’m looking forward to having my own workout soundtrack that may not exactly make sense to anyone, but certainly works for me.

In the meantime, I should probably get off my butt, listen to some upbeat sounds, and get in shape again, yeah?

More on Revisiting the 90s

I can easily divide up the 90s on a musical and personal note: the college/post-college years (Jan 1990 – Sept 1996) and the HMV years (Sept 1996 – Sept 2000). And I often do, because I approached my listening habits according to how much money (or more accurately, how little) I had in my coffers at the time. The former was filled with mix tapes of things recorded off the radio, dollar bin raids at the various used record shops I frequented, dubs from friends, and the occasional splurge when I really should have been paying a bill. [I’ll totally own up to that. But they were of course few and far between.] The latter was filled with meticulously crafted mix tapes of things bought at a discount from my store, freebies, even more dollar bin raids, and, erm, maybe a few dubs surreptitiously made in the back room of the store? The music of the post-HMV years, aka the Yankee Candle years, would be informed almost entirely by Newbury Comics. I’m pretty sure I singlehandedly kept them in business then. But that’s another post.

Personally, I would say the personal delineation is around the same time, and surprising no one, was informed by financial reasons; I was finally able to pay off overdue bills and stop deferring my student loans. I would also posit that it was also the time I got my shit together and started my writing career on a much more serious level. Whatever worked to dislodge myself from the spiral I’d found myself in. And once I found myself in a better mental and emotional state, there was no looking back.

I couldn’t listen to those early 90s years without feeling a sense of failure. I could have been such a better student. I could have applied myself better. I could have done this, I could have done that. Giving into my moodiness and lack of self-esteem far too often. So it’s with no surprise that I avoided obsessing over that era here at Walk in Silence for quite a number of years. The HMV years were much more positive, not to mention directly tied in with my Belfry years writing The Phoenix Effect and the Bridgetown Trilogy.

So why now? Why am I picking up these pieces? Well, it’s been three decades on, and I’m in a much better place. It’s time for a bit of closure on a lot of things related to that time. Make peace with what I couldn’t achieve, and celebrate everything else I’ve done since. I’m listening to these albums and singles the way I’d wanted to in the first place: without all the extra baggage. Experience them as the creative endeavors they are, and if I’m lucky, learn to appreciate them a hell of a lot more.

Updating the mp3 players

I’m ridiculously picky when it comes to updating my mp3 players. I currently have three, which I’ve acqured over the years: a Creative Zen Mozaic, an older SanDisk Sansa Clip, and a newer SanDisk Sport Plus. Do I use all three? Yes, of course I do! Normally I tend to have them filled up with specific themes or sounds; the Zen is usually reserved for new and recent releases plus the Beatles discography (because come on…do you know me?) while the Sansa Clip has older favorites.

Now that I work in an office again (grumble grumble), I’ve been putting all three to good use throughout the day. I don’t have direct access to my music library unless I use up a significant amount of phone data via our Plex server, so I make do with the old-school travel-sized players.

Lately I’ve been playing around with a new possible writing project (no promises yet) in which I sort of decided its soundtrack would be the music of the early 90s up to the early 00s. Why? Good question, but I won’t go into detail just yet. Suffice it to say, I’m going to start listening to these albums for first time without equating them to the Bridgetown Trilogy. I’m not doing it on purpose, it just happened that way. But in the process, I’m getting to revisit these songs with fresh ears and no prior influence.

But more importantly, I get to revisit these songs without the emotional attachment I’ve long had with most of them. I’ve written so many blog posts about those lean post-college years, and about the music I listened to during that time, but this time out I’m finally giving them a spin without getting caught up in all the personal drama. I’m listening to them in the context of what was going on in the world during the time of their release. [I suppose in a way you could say I’m purposely not making it all about me this time. Heh.]

Also, it’s kind of fun to revisit some of these songs and albums that I know pretty well but haven’t visited in ages. In particular, I’ve been making it a point to revisit some of the mainstream pop albums I enjoyed — the downside to being so into alt-rock is a habitual avoidance of all things pop — and getting something new out of them. It’s to the point that I’ve been tempted to do another visit to Amoeba Records’ dollar bin to find more of those albums that passed me by.

And who knows — maybe I’ll rediscover a few tracks that flew under my radar!

Mobile Music Alternatives

I’m still a bit annoyed that I can’t seem to get my mp3 players (or my phone for that matter) to play any music through the car. Apparently our car stereo is so low tech that it doesn’t even have a line-in audio selection on the interface. It does have a few USB ports, but no UI that will let me access whatever I connect to it. [It of course has Bluetooth and iThingie interfaces, neither of which I need.] All I want is to listen to something aside from the same stations playing the same dang things over and over! Why is that so hard? Eesh.

Anyway, this reminds me of those days long ago when I used to bring my boombox along when I went on a roadtrip with my friends, or when I had that unwieldy and not-always-working connector to my cd walkman (which would eat up AA battery power at the rate of maybe two cd plays and skip at the slightest jolt). I don’t think it’s currently possible to upgrade our car stereo, so there’s not a lot I can do except figure out an alternative or see if I can find a lifehack online somewhere. Right now I’m contemplating keeping a small Bluetooth-ready speaker in the car, which I’d originally bought for my PC, and plug in my mp3 player that way. At least I can charge that thing rather than go through all those batteries.

I find this quite amusing, actually, as it almost feels like I’ve gone full circle: if I really want to listen to my own music, I’m going to have to carry it on me and have something to play it on, or in this case, through.

Listening to Alt-pop stations

Another downside to having to commute again is that I’m stuck listening to local terrestrial radio stations in the car. Now, before you get all het up about that statement, let me explain: I’m all for local terrestrial stations! They’re good for the community, they keep me updated on when the highway I’m currently driving on might be all sorts of borked a few miles up the road; they do in fact keep me entertained on an otherwise uneventful and sort of boring drive* in their own way. In fact, I just recently found a Bollywood-themed station out of San Jose!

[* – The one non-boring bit of the commute I will never tire of is coming across the western span of the Bay Bridge and back into San Francisco just as the sun is setting. It’s a glorious view and I still have moments where I’m amazed I live in such a ridiculously photogenic city.]

No, the issue I have is the commerciality of most of these stations. Sure, I totally understand that these stations need advertising and numbers and set rotations to keep them going nowadays, as freeform radio is pretty much relegated to college and non-profit stations. But what has always made me tire of these stations is that the playlist can be so…predicatable. When you listen to the radio as much as I do, the playlist patterns start getting more and more obvious. I’ve worked at both college and commercial stations so I know what rotations are and why they’re a thing… I guess I just tire of them a lot quicker than other people do.

There’s only so many times I can hear classic mainstays like Red Hot Chili Peppers’ “Can’t Stop” or Green Day’s “Longview” in a week (at least four to six) or new songs like Tones & I’s “Dance Monkey” (same, if not more, and the song kind of similar to Crazy Frog’s “Axel F” in that I find it quite annoying and yet somehow ridiculously popular). There’s certain songs that are like playing bingo: the day isn’t complete without hearing That Particular Classic Track.

I mean, I hate to sound like an old and aging hipster yelling at clouds here, but sometimes these “alternative” stations feel more like… “alternapop” stations, playing it safe with the same bands that feel more pop than alternative. They aren’t nearly as adventurous as they make themselves out to be. This is especially notable when I’m listening to a non-profit station like KEXP, which is far more adventurous in its playlist…and inclusive. It occurred to me recently that our local alternative station rarely plays bands of color (at least that I know of), and rarely any women aside from “Dance Monkey”, Billie Eilish, Shaed’s “Trampoline” and Meg Myers’ cover of Kate Bush’s “Running Up that Hill”. Maybe a Lana Del Rey track now and again, but it’s almost all men. That tells me it’s almost all about the numbers, and the numbers state that the listeners are mostly the “males 18 – 44” group. Everyone else gets the short shrift, even if that station is one of the very few in the area that plays the style and genre they like the most.

I’ll make do, but it’s really uninspiring after a while and I find myself spending most of my commute hitting the surf button for something different. I’m this close to giving up on these stations and ordering a headphone-to-USB cable so I can listen to my mp3 players in the car.

Thankfully, most of the terrestrial stations I do listen to, ones that appeal to my tastes and don’t bore me, also stream online where I can listen to them on my phone. Kind of tricky to do when your traveling, though.