BRB, scheduling my vaccinations

Oof, that was quite a chore. I just spent close to six hours this morning trolling eight or nine different websites (plus a phone app) looking for COVID vaccination openings, but my diligence and French-Canadian stubbornness PAID OFF. I will be getting the first dose next Thursday over in Mill Valley, which is a shortish trip across the Golden Gate Bridge from here, with dose #2 TBA at the same place. WIN!

Anyway, I was planning on doing a Spare Oom Playlist March Edition post today but due to said trolling (and needing to get some work done later today), I’ll push it off to tomorrow. Thanks for waiting!

Walk in Silence – Beginnings

The first Walk in Silence mixtape, made October 1988 at the start of my senior year, and the Sony CFS-300 boombox (aka the Jonzbox) it was made with.

Walk in Silence, the mixtape series I’d started in 1988, was not the first mix I’d created (that goes to an unnamed multi-cassette collection from late 1982, taping songs off the radio and MTV), nor is it the first of the thematic mixes (that would be the noisy Stentorian Music from May 1988), but it’s the first one I’d made specifically to fit the mood I’d found myself in at the time. It was sort of a sibling thematic mix to the Listen in Silence mix I’d made in August, which was essentially “my favorite college radio tunes of the moment”. Walk in Silence, named of course after the first line in Joy Division’s “Atmosphere”, was meant to be more about dealing with my darker side. I was still feeling the sting of nearly all my closest friends having escaped our small town for college and the bigger world out there, and I’d made this to deal with that.

College radio was indeed my oasis during my senior year, alongside those Sunday episodes of 120 Minutes. I was doing my damnedest to deal with the frustration of still being stuck in a small town. The sources of these mixtapes were equally from the records I’d bought from Main Street Music and Al Bum’s, vinyl borrowed from the local radio station I’d worked at, taped off WAMH 89.3 (Amherst College), or second-hand dubs of albums I’d borrowed from that same group of friends. I wanted to start making more of these mixtapes, now that I understood how to create a smooth mix, and more importantly, fit as many songs onto each side of a 90-minute tape with minimal leftover blank space.

I still remember opening up a new cassette from its wrapper and smelling that fresh slightly plastic scent. I was super careful with the boxes they came in and would buy empties whenever I found them. I treated these tapes just like I treated my purchased albums: I made sure they were wound correctly, had a readable label, and didn’t get worn out or erased. I rarely bought the fancy expensive hi-def brands — I usually stuck with the affordable and reliable Memorex dBS 90s — because I didn’t care so much about the quality as much as I just wanted the music itself as part of my growing library.

I cataloged these mixes in notebooks primarily so my friends could see what was on them if they wanted to borrow them. It’s only because of this that I was able to successfully recreate nearly 99% of my mixtape library digitally, missing maybe only four or five lost and unavailable songs total. I used the Walk in Silence theme off and on, and currently I make at least two of them a year alongside two Listen in Silence and end-of-year mixes.

I bring this up to personally thank Lou Ottens, who helped invent the compact cassette tape, who recently passed away at age 94. I used so many blank tapes over the years for so many things: mixtapes, recordings of jam sessions for jeb! and The Flying Bohemians, live shows, soundtracks for my novels, dubbed albums, and maybe even a few class lectures now and again. I completed then hard-to-find discographies of favorite bands. I will totally admit to spending food and lunch money on blank tapes. I’ve put scotch tape over those holes on the top to use actual albums nobody wanted as fresh blanks. I came across a blank or two recently while cleaning out and rearranging things here in Spare Oom. I have a storage box full of my mixtapes, a few I’d remade around 2000 but many of them still the originals.

And now I see that cassettes are making a comeback, believe it or not. Indie bands are selling them on Bandcamp. And Amoeba Records has a nifty little corner full of cassettes new and old.

Thanks, Lou. Your invention was a huge and important part of my life.

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.

Fly-by: Taking next week off

I’ve decided to take next week off for a few reasons: One, it’s my birthday on the 22nd. Two, we’ll be installing the new President (Version 46, now available with Vastly Improved Intelligence Capability) and I feel like celebrating that. And Three, I just want to get some offline creative work done and get myself caught up.

See you in a week!

Headhunter

Getting a job during the pandemic has been an interesting job in itself, to be honest. I know I’m not the only one looking for remote work, and I know I’m not the only one who’s getting up there in years looking for work, either. And in the meantime, I’ve been honing my creative skills to open up that market just a little bit more.

I’ve been getting the occasional employment agency reaching out to me, whether by email or by phone, to offer various positions. Some of them have been tempting but not in the direction I want to go…and some have been a hard pass (I’m looking at you, “the hours would be 7PM to 6AM PST”). And some have been tempting but end in “we’ve chosen someone with a bit more experience”.

Still — it does feel good to get a positive connection and potential position every now and again.

End of Year Thoughts I

As with everyone else, I too have had a bit of a weird 2020, pandemic notwithstanding. I started the year in a foul mood due to a Former Day Job situation, a distinct lack of productivity in my writing (partly due to said situation), and on top of that, I was finally letting myself process a lot of personal issues so I could move on. We flew to New England to visit friends and family on one of the coldest late winter weeks in March. The pandemic did play a significant role in my leaving the FDJ at the end of that month, setting me off on a long stretch of unemployment on the one hand, but a renewed burst of creativity as well as a much needed mental and emotional clarity on the other.

I listened to a lot of music during that time, surprising absolutely no one. The internet radio dial (so to speak) has been permanently stuck at kexp.org, causing any commercial radio listening in the car to feel pathetic and bland in response. I’ve listened to new music on Fridays occasionally downloaded the albums I wanted. I gave my writing process — and the listening habits that often go along with it — a critical rethink as well, spending some time not writing or worrying about productivity. And after a few months, I finally allowed myself to return to the music and creativity with almost no strings attached.

It’s been a long year, and of course I’ve started this month by looking back on all the albums, EPs and singles that have dropped since January. So many release dates changed, tours cancelled or postponed, performances livestreamed. The music industry changed a hell of a lot because of the pandemic. Some of it for the worse, but some of it for the better; it caused a lot of bands and clubs to do a massive rethink in order to survive. A number of bands like Crowded House, Elbow, and even Seatbelts, utilized communications platforms normally used for business to synchronize themselves and perform in the safety of their own homes. In a dark and uncertain time, there was a cloud of determination and creativity that kept things going.

I’m not sure when this uncertainty is going to end, or the pandemic for that matter, but with certain changes in the air, some of them long-awaited and positive, we can move on and even evolve. I’m very curious as to how 2021 will treat us, creatively and productively. Things are definitely different now. The pandemic (and the election, let’s be fair) changed things just enough that I think it gave society a bit of a nudge out of its complacency and stasis. Will it continue in this manner? Who knows, but I’m pretty sure it will at least have inspired enough people to make the next couple of years interesting in a good way.

F**k that noise.

So the Chancellor of the Exchequer over in the UK said this morning that “struggling musicians and others in arts should retrain and get new jobs” because of the pandemic.

I mean, putting aside the most obvious response of “Hmm, oh that’s right, it’s a global pandemic and every country’s having mass unemployment issues and THERE CURRENTLY AREN’T ENOUGH DAMN JOBS YOU TWIT”, there’s the more insidious meaning to the man’s words that every creative person hears and hates: your creativity is a useless endeavor.

I tend to hear this kind of thing at least a few times a year, almost always from some conservative and/or businessman who does nothing but look at numbers for a living. Hell, I even got it from a school guidance counselor or two: are you sure you want to be a writer? It doesn’t pay much. Don’t you want to go into business or something more stable and make more money?

Let me tell you about what it feels like to have to push your creativity into the margins because people like this see creativity as frivolous.

There’s frustration: the fact that you have to spend eight or more hours a day using a completely different part of the brain problem-solving or processing or what have you at a paying job you don’t necessarily enjoy but have out of necessity, plus additional brain time navigating a commute, doing this five or six days a week. Plus some downtime with family so you’re not completely ignoring everyone in your life. This gives you, at most, about an hour and half to two hours a day attempting to shift your brain into creative mode to write a few hundred words. Or sneaking in those words during your lunch or coffee break at the Day job.

There’s exhaustion: the fact that you might work at a company that demands a high level of production all day long. Or maybe you work in a warehouse that demands overtime during the fourth quarter. Or maybe you have kids to care for in addition to this job. This is why creatives wish they could afford to be full-timers: not because they wish they could sleep late and fuck around online and maybe get a few words in before deadline. They want to be able to be able to sit down at the desk or at their easel or with their instrument and take as much needed time as possible, without outside stress, to create the best work they can.

There’s emotional distress: the fact that, after so many months or years, even despite possible creative success, you fear that you’re still stuck in the same place, barely scraping by and running out of energy. You start to question whether it’s worth it to keep this up or just give up and become a faceless chartered accountant. I’ve felt this a number of times throughout the years, and it’s disheartening to be in my forties and wonder if I’d wasted three decades pretending I was a decent writer. It’s not a fun feeling, let me tell you that.

And there’s anger: “You’re a writer? That’s nice. What’s your real job? I mean, the one that pays your bills?” Really? Fucking really? You think so little of what hard work actually goes into writing or art or music?

People like Sunak never understand that the creative world — the world of writers, artists, musicians, animators, filmmakers, photographers, and so on — is just as valid as any other career out there. They only see the end result, that shiny book or the flashy Netflix series or that pop song, and discount it as a waste of capitalist time. [I’ll be honest, whenever I see this, I always wonder how the hell this same person somehow sees a bunch of guys tossing or kicking a ball around a field as more financially acceptable.]

It’s really fucking tiring to have some idiot turn to me, when I’ve been working on my creative craft for almost their entire life, and say “well, maybe you can go and train to be, I dunno, a sales person or something?”

It’s goddamn demeaning is what it is.

Back to the old fairgrounds

Oh, change of the season
I’ve found a reason to stay

Hey there! After far too long, I’m returning to a twice-weekly blogging schedule. It’s been a long hiatus — a much needed one — but I’m glad to be back. I missed riffing on all the new music I’ve been listening to, and talking about the older sounds I’m still fond of. And I’ve been such a hardcore listener of a certain PNW non-profit radio station (KEXP) over the last year that I now have a bit of a backlog on new and recently-discovered stuff to obsess over!

Amusingly enough, I didn’t even realize until I started writing this post that today is the first day of autumn! And we all know that autumn is my favorite time of year. Fourth quarter releases, foliage change, and all that fun stuff. I start thinking about what’s gone on over the past year, what I’ve achieved so far and what I still need to do. And of course there are the year-end lists!

So — as before, I’ll be here on Tuesdays and Thursdays again from here on in, talking about tunes as always. Thanks for sticking around!