Music is most emphatically not an escape from reality for me. It’s an anchor to keep me sane, to help me focus any depression or aggression into something positive like my own creative outlets. It’s there to bring me back to a calm place, so I can focus on tough issues with a calmer mind. It provides me with inspiration when I need direction.
I’ve been thinking lately about how I want to approach Book Four in the Mendaihu Universe (oh yes, there will be more of them!) and yes, I’ve even been gathering music for the writing soundtrack. And like all the other projects, I’m searching for a specific mood that fits the story I have in my head.
Recently I’ve been listening to Kasabian’s “Club Foot”, a) because it’s got one hell of a kickass bass riff, and b) the video is an homage to student revolt against government suppression, specifically the Prague Spring in 1969 and the Hungarian Revolution of 1956. It’s also an homage to pirate radio and Radio Free Europe.
I’ve always been fascinated by that kind of rebellion. Sure, it grew out of my listening to punk and ‘that weird college radio stuff’ back in the 80s, but the fact that the whole point of that music was a form of rebellion against the norm attracted my interest. [Yeah, I’ll cop to not always outwardly showing it. But that’s for a different post.]
In the Bridgetown Trilogy, the Vigil group is there partly to play both roles: revolt against those in power, and its voice. But what of the new book? All I can say is that it’s a new game. It’s seventy years later and things have changed considerably on both sides. The rebellion shown in the Trilogy wouldn’t work this time out. Those books were all about accepting and maintaining a balance between two opposite forces.
This particular book, I think, is going to be more about Setting Things Right.
The “Club Foot” song and video got me thinking this morning, and I posted it as a tweet:
What would be today’s analogue of pirate radio as student revolt? How would people listen to it? Phone app? Internet streaming? Radio like in the past? How would its signals be secure/untraceable like a VPN?
Which brought up the next question: How would this kind of revolt happen in an age of social media (and multiple forms of media in general) that are chock full of white noise already? Is a digital/aural underground network even possible?
(Mind you, whenever I hear a question ending in “…is that even possible”, my brain immediately responds with “Of course there is. We just have to figure out what it is.” I’m an optimistic goofball that way.)
Things to think about while prepping for future writing projects.
Gloria Vanderbit’s passing yesterday got me thinking about the classic Robert Hazard one-hit-wonder “Escalator of Life” that came out in 1982. It was one of those odd new-wavey hits that didn’t make a hell of a lot of sense lyrically (or in this case, took a metaphor and stretched it to its breaking point), but it was certainly one hell of a cool song at the time.
I often talk about the late 80s here at Walk in Silence, but I don’t think I give nearly enough love to the early 80s, which were just as influential to me as a kid. I listened to just as much radio and watched as much MTV then as I did later on, and my tastes were just as varied. I could be listening to the hard rock of WAAF in the morning as I got ready for school, but I could be listening to the classic rock of WAQY on the weekend, and watching the then-freeform stylings of early era MTV. I liked A Flock of Seagulls and Duran Duran and Pat Benatar just as much as I liked Led Zep, Eagles, and that little quirky southern band WAQY liked called REM.
As commercial as some of these stations and channels were, they weren’t averse to playing the occasional obscurity like The Stranglers’ “Golden Brown” or Yello’s “The Evening’s Young”. They’d sneak in gems like The Jam’s “Town Called Malice” or Bow Wow Wow’s “Baby Oh No”. They were quirky but had crossover potential.
I remember a lot of these obscurities — the ones you remember from the era that don’t show up on those Just Can’t Get Enough compilations or those 80s Retro internet stations — because my mixtape-making actually started around this time, in late 1982. I’d made quasi-mixtapes before then, of course..mainly dubbing songs off the radio and from MTV (holding our cassette recorder close to the tv speaker, of course), but they didn’t contain that many songs. It wasn’t until November 1982 that I’d gathered a handful of used blank tapes and went wild. This first collection lasted six tapes and contained everything from A Flock of Seagulls to Led Zeppelin to Donnie Iris to Chilliwack to Thomas Dolby. It’s quite a manic and haphazard mix, created over the length of maybe two or three months.
I also started cataloging my mixtapes around then, first on index cards I would stick to the tapes with rubber bands, then a few years later with a steno notebook. Most all of those early tapes are long gone, having either gotten broken or tangled, taped over by something more important, or just faded back into white noise. But I kept these catalogs — mainly because I was a packrat — and much, much later (in 2007 or so) I started recreating them digitally using copied mp3s.
It’s kind of wild to see these mixtape track lists so many decades later; on the one hand, I’m not at all surprised that I was that obsessed over pop and rock music by the time I was twelve. There was just so much more out there coming out, and I just wanted to hear all of it! Sure, I had my questionable selections, but we all did around then. We’d gone from AM radio to the commercial FM radio to early MTV within the span of maybe four or five years. Some of us were just going to ride that particular avalanche and have fun while it happened.
Apologies, no full post today. I seem to have gotten an outer ear infection over the weekend and it’s not fun at all. Hopefully I’ll be back up and running next week!
Hello to everyone who came to my BayCon panel yesterday, From Alice Grove to xkcd: The Internet as a Platform for Comic, Creation and Comic Reading. I’m happy you came, and I’m glad you took part in the discussion! A big thank you to Ctein, Jacob Fisk and Amanda Taylor-Chaisson for helping me provide some great reading suggestions!
As promised, here’s the list of titles and links of some of our favorites that you might want to check out. This is by no means a finite list; this is merely a list of our favorite titles that we read on a daily or weekly basis. If you have any favorites you’d like to add, by all means provide them (and their links) in the comments!
Note #1: Most of these should still be active and updating, though a number of them have been completed or are on hiatus (indefinite or otherwise). I’ve tried my best to sort these into different subject headers to make it somewhat easier for you to read.
Note #2: I’ve coded these links to open up in a new tab, so you won’t lose this page! Have fun reading!
FANTASY, MAGIC AND MYTHOLOGY
Aerial Magic by walkingnorth
Agents of the Realm by Mildred Louis
Banquet by Anne Szalba
Barbarous by Yuko Ota & Ananth Hirsh
Bird Boy by Anne Szalba
Castle Swimmer by Wind Lian Martin
City of Somnus by unknown
Clan of the Cats by Jamie Robertson
Dominic Deegan: Oracle for Hire by Michael Terracciano
Erma by Brandon Santiago
Girl Genius by Kaja and Phil Foglio
Goblins by Tarol Hunt
Godslave by Meaghan Carter
Goodbye to Halos by Valerie Halla
Headless Bliss by Chlove
How to Be a Werewolf by Shawn Lenore
Lilith’s Word by Nina Vakueva
The Lonely Vincent Bellingham by Diana Huh
Lore Olympus by Rachel Smythe
Misfile by Chris Hazelton
Namesake by Megan Lavey-Heaton and Isabelle Melancon)
Never Satisfied by Taylor Robin
Ozy and Millie by Dana Simpson
Skin Deep by Kory Bing
Skin Horse by Shaenon K Garrity and Jeffrey C Wells
Sunfall by unknown
The Glass Scientists by Sabrina Cotugno
(un)Divine by Ayme Sotuyo
UnOrdinary by uru-chan
White Noise by Adrian Lee
Widdershins by Kate Ashwin
Wilde Life by Pascalle Lepas
The Witch Door by Anni K
Alice Grove by Jeph Jacques
Awaken by Koti Saavedra
Bomango by VanHeist
College Roomies from Hell by Maritza Campos
Endtown by Aaron Neathery
It’s Walky! by Dave Willis
Kila Ilo by unknown
Mare Internum by Der-Shing Helmer
Megatokyo by Fred Gallagher
Monster’s Garden by Ash
O Human Star by Blue Dellaquanti
Octopus Pie by Meredith Gran
On a Sunbeam by Tillie Walden
The Meek by Der-Shing Helmer
Shades of Gray by avsaroke
Shortpacked! by Dave WIllis
Sidekick Girl by Erika Wagner
Star Power by Michael Terracciano & Garth Graham
Wapsi Square by Paul Taylor
When She Was Bad by Amiko
xkcd by Randal Munroe
SEX-POSITIVE/LGBT-FRIENDLY (SOME MAY BE NSFW)
Alfie by InCase
Closetspace by Jenn Dolari
Curvy by Sylvan Migdal
Dangerously Chloe by Gisele Lagace & Dave Lumsdon
Go Get a Roomie by Chlove
Grey Matters by Loren Coven
Ménage à 3 by Gisele Lagace
Oglaf by Trudy Cooper and Doug Bayne
The Rock Cocks by Leslie
Sticky Dilly Buns by Gisele Lagace
Venus Envy by Erin Lindsey
SLICE OF LIFE, GENERAL INTEREST AND GAG STRIPS
(MAY OR MAY NOT CONTAIN SF/F ELEMENTS)
9 Chickweed Lane by Brooke McEldowney
The Abominable Charles Christopher by Karl Kershi
Anders Loves Maria by Rene Engstrom
Blaster Nation by Leslie & Brad Brown
The Bright Side by Ira Francis
Diesel Sweeties by Rich STevens
Dresden Codak by Aaron Diaz
Dumbing of Age by Dave Willis
Fans! by T. Campbell
A Girl and Her Fed by KB Spangler
Girls with Slingshots by Danielle Corsetto
Goats by Jon Rosenberg
Gunnerkrigg Court by Tom Siddell
Johnny Wander by Yuko Ota & Ananth Hirsh
Kevin and Kell by Bill Holbrook
My Giant Nerd Boyfriend by fishball
The Non-Adventures of Wonderella by Justin Pierce
Overcompensating by Jeffrey Rowland
Questionable Content by Jeph Jacques
Quantum Vibe by Scott Bieser
Radio Silence by Vanessa Stefianuk
Real Life by Greg Dean
Sam and Fuzzy by Sam Logan
Sinfest by Tatsuya Ishida (recommended reading around 2010 forward)
Something Positive by Randy Milholland
Strong Female Protagonist by Brennan Lee Mulligan & Molly Ostertag
Supernormal Step by Michael Lee Lunsford
Wondermark by David Malki
…but I just quit following a few music blogs that I’ve been following for quite a few years.
Why? Because they and many of their readers lost their shit yesterday when news broke that Phil Collins, following up with his recent reissue campaign, decided to release the numerous related-era b-sides and remixes as two digital-only compilations rather than physically on CD.
No, it wasn’t because of all the Phil Collins hate. I like his stuff just fine, but I’m not upset about that. I’m just exhausted by the digital hate.
People like myself, who once had a stupidly large physical collection of vinyl, cassettes and CDs but decided that having room for other things in their homes and their lives is just a little more important, have no issue with digital. Maybe it’s just me, having grown up listening to third-generation dubs from friends, that I don’t mind if the sound quality isn’t completely pristine. I’m here for the music, not for its perfection. I’m definitely of the school of Not Hearing an All That Noticeable Difference Between Digital and Vinyl and Not Caring Much Either Way. I love the fact that I can own so many complete discographies that take up an index card-sized external drive. I love that I can filter it any way I like — especially by release date. I love that I can make mix tapes by copying and bundling these same mp3s together.
I mean, I get the whole collecting thing. I used to be that person. I’ll still buy the occasional box set, especially if it’s a complete discography. I may even buy it if it’s a brand new and improved remaster. And I will definitely buy it if it’s Beatles-related. But you know how I am about collectibles. I have no space for them, no turntable or cassette player to play them on. And if they’re on cd, I’ll rip them to my collection and store them away, if I have room…and I may sell them for store credit at Amoeba at a future date. Back in the day I might have thought the mere idea of all this was heresy, but nowadays digital suits me just fine.
But let me tell you, it’s really damn irritating when a favorite band releases a new track that’s only available on a 7″ single selling for $25, or has a limited edition of 140 and only available on cassette during Record Store Day. These music blogs will fall over themselves with excitement about this sort of thing and shell out whatever money it takes, though, and I won’t take that away from them. That’s their jam, and they’re welcome to it.
I just feel left out and forgotten by the bands I happen to like when they pull this.
So when us digital people get a pleasant surprise project of things we’d like to pick up, it’s doubly irritating when those same collectors cry foul by refusing to download, shouting “no cd, no buy”, claiming label stupidity, questioning the business acumen of the musicians, and generally being pouty children. I can’t help but eyeroll. I even saw one state “why have it digital only when you can listen to it for free streaming?” Which, okay, some digital fans like streaming only, but there’s just as many of us out there who love being able to download. Not to mention there are numerous indie bands out there who are doing pretty good on bandcamp selling equal numbers of downloads and physical copies. To dismiss digital collectors like this is not only annoying as hell, it makes you sound like an elitist snob.
I’m just tired of that snobbery. I have other music blogs and sites to inform me of new releases. (AllMusic in particular seems to help greatly for me.) I’m tired of being lumped as Not a Real Fan because I don’t own the physical copy.
I just want to listen to the music I like, damn it. Is that too much to ask?
As I’ve mentioned on various outlets, I’ll be on a solo vacation next week, heading south to Los Angeles on a six-day trip to various parts of the SoCal Sprawl. I’m hoping to hit my usual favorite haunts: Amoeba Hollywood, Santa Monica Pier, LACMA and Museum Row, The Nickel Diner,The Last Bookstore, among others… as well as some points of interest (musical and otherwise) that I’ve been wanting to hit: a movie at Graumann’s (or whatever it’s called now), Griffith Observatory (if it’s open), Echo Park, Sunset Grill (a favorite Don Henley song!), The Sunset Strip, McCabe’s Guitar Shop, and other fun places. I’m even going to check out the Warner Bros movie lot!
So of course I have a playlist to upload to my mp3 player for the trip…. 🙂
Right now I have a hell of a lot on my plate, so I’m going to take the rest of the week off so I can get caught up and give myself a little bit of breathing room. I may take next week off as well. We shall see.
In the meantime, please enjoy this new Beatles video for “Glass Onion”, which will be on the new White Album box set out this Friday. And yes, of course I pre-ordered it ages ago!
It’s that time of year again. The time when I get all nostalgic about the end of a season, when I talk about how the days are getting shorter, the weather’s getting cooler, and all the kids are back in school. When I start binge-listening to Cocteau Twins and other early 4AD bands. When I get another one of those itches to write moody poetry and song lyrics. And of course, when I start reminiscing about all the great albums that came out in the fourth quarter during my record store years.
Well, I could go on about those things, but I think I’ve already done them enough times for the time being, so I’ll spare you those entries for now. Heh.
On the other hand, I will say that “The Boys of Summer” is quite possibly the best end-of-summer song ever written.
It started out as an instrumental demo written by Mike Campbell (guitarist for Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers), initially for inclusion somewhere on their Southern Accents album but unused. After hearing Don Henley needed some music, he let him listen to the demo, and almost immediately, Henley had words for it.
It’s not just a song about the passage of time, however. It’s not a song about wondering where childhood went, although on the surface there is that theme. It’s more about, as Henley said in a Rolling Stone interview, the idea of aging and questioning the past.
In a way, it might have a passing similarity in theme to The Motels’ “Suddenly Last Summer”, but in all honesty, it’s more similar to The The’s “Jealous of Youth” in terms of theme. It’s not a happy song, but neither is it a sad one. It’s about coming to terms with the age you’re presently at, and all the conflicts that come along with it. Feeling too old to embrace the wonder of summer, but too young to let it go. Feeling frustrated when the signs of age sneak up on you unexpectedly — even if it’s in the form of a sticker of a nonconformist band’s logo on the bumper of a high-end car.
It’s a gorgeous melody, all told. It’s high and hopeful, yet sad and lonesome at the same time. It’s fast and tense, yet so delicately produced that it feels fragile. Even the punk cover done by The Ataris in 2003 retains that mood, changing only the bumper sticker to Black Flag’s, making the song all the more poignant for us Gen-Xers.
You all know of course that I am a huge Beatles fan and music history nerd. I’m not a fan that wishes I’d been in the deafening audiences of their live shows, no…I’m a fan that geeks out about how their sound was created. So when our London vacation just happened to coincide with a special open house/historical presentation at Abbey Road Studios, I simply could NOT pass it up. [The presentation was by Brian Kehew and Kevin Ryan, authors of Recording the Beatles, a book about how each song was recorded in the facility.]
We arrived there about twenty minutes before doors-open to an already longish line, where there were a few hundred of us waiting to get in. Once past security (which was understandably tight), we were led into the front doors and into the main entryway. As I walked through I was immediately reminded of this particular set of Beatles interviews done on 20 December 1966 (they were heading in to work on “When I’m Sixty-Four”, and the interviews were staged specifically to combat recent ‘are they breaking up’ rumors).
Before we were let in to Studio Two, however, they let us take a doorway peek into the amazingly HUGE and cavernous Studio One, usually used for orchestras but occasionally used for Beatle work (“All You Need Is Love” and “I Am the Walrus”, and the various songs from The Beatles laid down while other members were in Two or Three working on something else).
We were then led into Studio Two across the hall, another cavernous room but not quite as large. Upon entering, you can’t help but think just how unique this studio is, considering that most modern studios are infinitely smaller. These were created in the 30s mainly for pop and orchestral pieces (trivia: they were extensions of the smaller main mansion, built over the back gardens of two different plots).
They let us walk around a bit, checking out the various instruments and equipment they had set up. Most of these instruments were used by the Beatles and are still used by others to this day, by the way! Including many pianos:
A Steinway Vertegrand, recognizable by its bright tone. Played on “Penny Lane”. More on this one in a moment…
The Challen piano, known for its warmer tones. Played on “The Fool on the Hill”.
The Steinway grand (which gives a lovely full sound). Played on numerous tracks.
And of course the Hammond BT3 organ, also used on numerous tracks.
We also got to go upstairs to the main control room. It’s a much smaller room of course, and the mixing desks have definitely changed over the years from the pots and shifters to a sea of knobs, buttons and everything else.
A view from the top of the stairs. Of note, the opposite far corner is where the Beatles used to hang out most to record, Ringo usually in the corner facing out, Paul and George to the left and John to the right — just like their live setup.
The presentation itself lasted about ninety minutes and was a fantastic historical overview of the studio itself; Kehew and Ryan had not only done research on the Beatles recordings but on its origins. They touched on all sorts of things such as its inaugural first recording of Elgar recording his Pomp and Circumstance marches (and its true first recording, a test run of a song by Paul Robeson!), its numerous renovations to improve the sound of each studio, and more. Eventually they’d hit upon the Beatles’ tenure there, talking their relentless work ethic, continuous experimentation with sounds, and more.
At one point one of them got up from the stage and wandered over to the pianos and explained what they were, their differences in sound, and what they were used on. This was really neat, as he proceeded to play certain songs on them, like the jabbing chords of “Penny Lane” and the soft taps of “The Fool on the Hill.”
Then he said, “We’d like to do something fun now. I’d like to ask four piano players to–”
I shot my hand up. I knew EXACTLY what he was up to. I’d never forgive myself if I passed this by.
Let’s take a look at that Steinway Vertegrand again:
See those green dots? Yep. They’re E chords. One person stood next to me and hit the low octave, and I hit the two chords and held down the sustain pedal.
Three, two, one, THOOOOOMMMMMmmmmmmm.
The famous final chord of “A Day in the Life”.
The first attempt was a bit off, but OH MAN did it sound magical. Sent shivers down my spine. And since the face was open and the strings were right in my face, I got the full blast of sound. I was so lost in it I forgot to lift the sustain and everyone started laughing.
The second attempt sounded even better, as we let it ring for a good twenty seconds.
I can die a happy man now.
Back down on Earth, the presentation continued, talking about the post-Beatles recordings, from Pink Floyd and The Dark Side of the Moon to the movie scores such as the Harry Potter films. Interestingly, the other bit that gave me shivers was a brief explanation and playback on the use of sound effects, specifically on the opening to Pink Floyd’s “Time”. They must have used remastered source tapes for that bit, as the simulated heartbeat and the delicate sound of the Shiedmayer celeste (below) almost brought me to tears, it sounded so gorgeous.
They wrapped up the presentation with a brief overview of what they’re working on nowadays — numerous rock bands still record there (including Paul McCartney, who recorded his upcoming release there), and they’re one of the main go-to facility for movie scores.
I’ve always said the studio’s sound is definitely unique, in that there’s a specific warmth, fullness and resonance to it that you can always pick out. I would totally record there if I was a professional musician, that’s for sure. Not just because my favorite band recorded there, but because it truly is a fantastic place for sound.
One added and quite unexpected bonus: Now that I’ve seen Studio Two with my own eyes, I realized I could now visualize where the Beatles recorded in this room, down to the space between them, and how it would sound in that room. On the flight home I found myself listening to The Beatles and started visualizing the four of them recording the main takes of “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” (which, serendipitously, they’d started exactly fifty years to the day I listened to it!) in that big place. Suffice it to say, I heard it in a whole new way. And now I’m planning on relistening to the rest of their recordings for the same reason.
All in all, one of the most amazing musical experiences I’ve ever had in my life.
Oh, and we got VIP badges out of it!