Meanwhile here in San Francisco, the social media birdsite may either be transforming into something altogether different or it may be going down in flames, and either way it’s going in real time as its New Owner experiences…er…growing pains?
ANYWAY. If said birdsite crashes and burns epically, you can always find me at the following fine internet establishments:
You may not know her by name, but she was one half (or one third, depending on the lineup) of the slowcore band Low. They started out in the mid-90s and created a wonderfully unique style of alternative rock that wasn’t the meandering (and often quiet-to-loud) post-rock of bands like Slint or Godspeed You Black Emperor, but neither were they the delicate quiet twee of bands like Belle & Sebastian either. They were a bit of both, shifted sideways into something beautiful yet haunting. Mimi was the drummer and the wife of the band’s guitarist Alan Sparhawk.
I’d heard of the band during my HMV years, having seen some of their early releases pass by my receiving desk, but it wasn’t until 2001’s Things We Lost in the Fire that I finally understood just how wonderful they are.
Mimi passed away from ovarian cancer the other day, and will be greatly missed by many. This particular song, one of my favorites from the band, was on my mind when I heard the news.
…and here are a few other Low tracks featuring Mimi on vocals (solo or with Alan) that have also become favorites of mine over the years:
(This last song is one of my all-time favorite takes on a Christmas song.)
I’m a bit behind on the blogs due to odd Day Job hours these last few days…and because A Certain Kitty has been keeping our hands full with playtime, zoomies, food, scritches, 2am demands for more playtime, The Mysterious Laser Dot, The Even More Mysterious Moving Arrow On The Owner’s Computer Screen, and Why Are These Doors Closed. She’s been an utter delight, silly and chatty and still exploring and WHY YES I AM LOOPY FROM INTERRUPTED SLEEP PATTERNS WHY DO YOU ASK.
She’s like having a kid in some respects. And yes, we’re getting her sister soon, so it’ll be double trouble!
I just recently finished reading Brandi Carlile’s memoir Broken Horses and this particular song popped up, one I hadn’t heard for quite a while and forgotten I’d liked. It’s an “it gets better” song. It was partially inspired by a friend’s son that was getting bullied in school for not fitting in.
It got me thinking about my own teen years, in which I immersed myself in music as a form of safety. I wasn’t always bullied, at least not to any major or physical degree, but I definitely received my share of being called a f*g, thought of as a weirdo and excluded from most social circles, and being pigeonholed into a circle of outcasts and townies where I may have been accepted but it was definitely not a match I wanted or needed at the time.
And sure, I’ve already told you about the main reason I got into college radio and what became alternative rock: the whole fuck all of this conformity bullshit, go be true to yourself and you’ll be so fucking happier message it gave me. Not all of those songs had the “it gets better” theme, of course: some reveled in the darkness of life’s unfairness, and some reveled in destroying the status quo. It all spoke to me on a level few other things (and people) did. It said: the only real barriers you’re fighting are your own.
That, in a way, was the hardest lesson to learn of all, and it took me a LONG fucking time to really understand it.
Hearing this song again after so long and I think, yeah…same bullshit, different generation. We still have shitty people tearing others down who don’t conform to their way of living, praying, thinking, whatever. It’s why I’ve managed to stomach the shittiness of American Conservatives: they’re the same goddamn asshole jocks all grown up, still calling us f*gs and bullying us because we’re not like them. And that’s why I’ve managed not to fall prey to their violence: fuck all of this conformity bullshit, go be true to yourself and you’ll be so fucking happier. They still piss me off, but I refuse to let them ruin my life.
I still have my own barriers I’m fighting to tear down. There are far fewer than in the past, thankfully. Maybe a small handful instead of a teetering avalanche. One or two that are just about gone now.
And yet I still return to music for safety. It remains my emotional anchor to this day.
I know, I know…I’m getting ahead of myself and getting excited about kitties lately, but the cat adoption agency has accepted our application this morning, and Jules (and soon her sister California) will soon be part of the household!
So of course I had to make a Spotify playlist to celebrate. Because cats.
Funny how turning ever so slightly makes all the difference.
For years I’ve had my PC monitor at the far left corner of my desk mainly because I had to share the space with my work PC and other things during my Work from Home years. It’s still there, but now there’s a second monitor that I’ve chosen to have as the primary. It’s slightly smaller, but it fits perfectly at rear center, flanked by my speakers.
And that’s where I’m suddenly realizing just how different things sound when you’re facing those speakers head-on rather than at a slight angle. I mean, I’d had the correct set-up for years elsewhere, including Arkham West, the Belfry, and most of my apartments in Boston, so it’s not as if I’ve been unaware of the proper placement of speakers for peak aural enjoyment…but sometimes peak wasn’t the easiest to achieve. Sometimes you make do with whatever setup you can get away with.
The wild thing, though, is just how different it sounds to me. I might have filtering issues when it comes to crowded white noise, but I’m also blessed with really good directional hearing. So now that I’m listening to my music correctly once more, I can really hear the mix, and it sounds heavenly. The music has depth and width now that I didn’t realize I’d missed all these years.
It’s almost as if this was the disconnect I’d been trying to figure out all this time…? Could it be that a simple error in placement kept me from truly connecting like I had in the past? Perhaps so.
Either way, this makes me want to explore more. Take more deep dives. Search for that connection with music I love so much.
I’ve been terrible about making mixtapes this year. By this point I’ve got at least three or four ready to go, but for one reason or another I just haven’t gotten around to it. I’ve got a few false starts with maybe six or seven songs, but that’s about it.
I think I’ve gotten to a point where I’m just throwing a bunch of songs together but not always listening to them. Part of that has to do with my obsessive listening to KEXP when I can, but it also has to do with my even more obsessive habit of consuming new releases. I’ve focused too much on the New Stuff and not allowed that many songs to jump out at me and blow my mind. Sure, there have been a few over the last couple of years, but not nearly as much as before.
So I’ve been contemplating a mixtape rethink. I do like the format idea I’d come up with some years back of strictly following the forty-five-minutes-a-side rule, which makes it fun and creative, especially when I spend a good amount of time shifting the order of those mp3s until it sounds great to me. But again…what about the music that jumps out at me? The songs that make me focus on them?
I’ve been thinking about how I did this in the spring of 1988, when I finally took the plunge and planned out three mixes instead of leaning on the randomly created ‘radio tapes’ that I’d been making for the last several years. It was a learning curve, sure…a few questionable songs, a few terrible transitions, but listenable nonetheless. [I’d drop the themed bit soon after, finding it too restrictive at the time. I’d do themed ones later on, mostly ‘soundtracks’ to my novel projects in progress.] Thesaurus in hand, I came up with three themes based on my listening habits at the time: songs to listen to at top volume (Stentorian Music), songs that lean heavily on electronics (Preternatural Synthetics) and quiet and/or “dark” songs to listen to late at night (Cimmerian Candlelight).
It’s something I’d like to do over again. Start fresh, give myself a tight focus on the mixes. Songs that set a specific mood or setting. Songs that blow my mind. Songs that I’ve rediscovered. I think one of my downfalls over the recent years is that the mixes tend to focus tightly on brand spankin’ new tunes and very rarely introducing older tracks. In retrospect I think that kind of limits what I want to listen to, really. Allow myself to add a song I haven’t heard in years, or an older song that some station slipped my way. Stop being so restrictive about it.
Yeah, I know…it’s been over thirty years since I created those three mixtapes and changed how I listened to music, but honestly: is that really a concern, when I’m still obsessed over music at this age, to this extent? I’ll always embrace music, no doubt about that. I don’t see myself drifting away from it anytime soon. And I think that making a new generation, a new brand of mixtapes for myself is just what I need to do to give it a refresh.
As soon as I have more, I’ll let you know, Spotify playlist and all.
It’s been a tad more than just a month since I last posted here, I see. And there are varied reasons for that. The main reason was just passive avoidance, really. Out of sight, out of mind. I spent more time focusing on writing (and wasting time on social media, I’ll admit) than actually doing anything about working on here.
SO. What’s the plan, Stan?
The plan is to return to blogging hopefully within the next couple of weeks, maybe by the end of September. I’ll be afk for a week or so soon (we’re going on a quick vacation back east to visit family and friends) and I’ll probably need to set up some kind of stable schedule of what I’d like to do next here and elsewhere. That plan I mentioned back in May still has merit but I’m still contemplating the details.
So yeah. Stay tuned, I’ll hopefully be back by the end of this month!
…in the simplest terms, in the most convenient definitions.
Every time I hear some blowhard talk about how these children are too young to understand — be it gender, race, sexuality, or any other bugbear that scares the bejeezus out of conservatives these days — it always reminds me just how many movies out there have been made about those same children understanding just fine and it’s the closed-minded adults who aren’t listening or paying attention.
It makes me think of Over the Edge, that 1979 film with a super young Matt Dillon, about a small nowhere town where there’s nothing to do, the cops don’t trust the kids, and the parents refuse to understand why they’re acting the way they are.
It makes me think of Times Square, a 1980 film about two teenage runaways from opposite sides of NYC and how they’re both cast off, ignored and expected to conform.
It reminds me of Pump Up the Volume — a 1990 film with a whole lot of parallels to Over the Edge about, you guessed it, bored teens in a small town full of adults who won’t listen to them.
It reminds me of Permanent Record, a 1988 film about a teen’s suicide, his friends’ reactions, and the adults’ reticence about talking with them about it.
And of course, it reminds me of The Breakfast Club, the classic teen flick about kids figuring themselves out because the adults in charge are certainly doing a shit-ass job helping them.
They all have a similar theme: the kids might not be totally alright, but they’re trying as hard as they fucking can to make it through with minimal damage…all while dealing with Adults With The Best Of Intentions who obviously aren’t listening or paying attention.
I always think of those films (and soundtracks) when I see state leaders threatening to shut down any mention of the word ‘gay’, or passing laws essentially outlawing treatment for trans teens, or any other bullshit they’re on this week. It reminds me of being a teen and discovering nonconformity for the first time. It reminds me of not being able to truly be myself for fear of reprisal from adults or other teens.
And it reminds me of growing up as a teen, looking for answers but also knowing that the adults are going to give me what they think I need to hear, which might hurt more than help.
For a year that was chock full of great and often influential albums, it kind of…ended with a thud. Granted, new and important albums were rarely ever released that late in Q4 (as I’ve mentioned many times), so it’s kind of expected. If I recall, the fall semester ended on perhaps not a high note but at least a better one than previous. I headed home for the Christmas break, not entirely happy that my grades still weren’t that great, and not being able to hang out with my high school gang all that much — everyone was home with family and we’d only be able to meet up maybe once or twice in the weeks we were in the same place. Instead of doing any New Year’s Eve partying, I chose to stick at home listening to the end of year countdown on WMDK. I didn’t even have a year-end mixtape this time out.
What was my mood then? I seem to remember being irritable. In retrospect, I’m sure it was set off by multiple things: being stuck at home in the small town again, out of touch with both my college friends and the Misfits gang, hardly any money in my pocket, and quite possibly some rocky moments going on with my relationship with T. There was definitely a sense of I don’t know what I want, but I know I don’t want THIS that I had no answer for.
Well, at least it was a new year coming up.
The Neighborhoods, Hoodwinked, released 1 December 1990. A classic local band known for being sort of like Boston’s answer to The Replacements, their boozy guitar driven rockers were always favorites with the locals. The title song got significant airplay on pretty much all the Boston rock stations.
Echo & the Bunnymen, Reverberation, released 1 December 1990. After longtime vocalist Ian McCulloch left the band to start a solo career, the rest of the band soldiered on with a new singer. Alas, the new sound fell flat with the loyal fanbase and the bored critics. That’s not to say it’s a bad album per se…they just updated their sound to fit the groovy Britpop sound a bit and there’s some great singles here worth listening to.
Danielle Dax, Blast the Human Flower, released 8 December 1990. Dax’s last album to date also came and went, her longtime fans being frustrated by its glossy sheen and insertion of dance beats on some of its songs. It just wasn’t…weird enough, I guess? Although her cover of The Beatles’ “Tomorrow Never Knows” (perhaps riding Candy Flip’s coattails) is worth the price. She’d pretty much disappear from the music scene after this record.
Soho, Goddess, released 8 December 1990. Known for that song that samples “How Soon Is Now” (with the blessing of Johnny Marr at that), this British dance-soul duo may not have translated well on American shores, but “Hippychick” certainly got stuck in everyone’s head for a few months there.
Enigma, MCMXC AD, released 10 December 1990. You could possibly pinpoint the start of the 90s’ emergence of new-agey world-music-as-pop with this one album. The big single “Sadeness” mixes Gregorian chants with dance beats and soothing synths, kicking off so many other bands, produces and DJ collectives putting out similar grooves.
Think Tree, eight/thirteen, released 30 December 1990. After nearly a year after dropping the weird yet exciting “Hire a Bird” single, this strange Boston quintet dropped a mini-album of some of their best songs they’d honed live. It sold incredibly well locally, even despite the long wait. Alas it would take them considerably longer to record and release a follow-up and by that time, their local fame had passed.
Looking back at 1990, that year, like most beginnings of decades, was one of transition. I remember my history teacher, Reverend Coffee, telling us that important changes in history usually don’t take place at its start but actually a few years in. I thought this was kind of an interesting way to look at it: after all, calendar time is just an arbitrary number to keep things somewhat in order, right? So maybe it wasn’t 1990 that was going to be a huge change, but maybe in the next year or so. Maybe we’d get past this sense of ‘waiting for things to be over with’ and start something new.
At least that’s what I was hoping for when I returned back to college in January. Fingers crossed.