(written on Monday in the lunchroom... I should be catching up with these more frequently!)
On Friday I took that most daring step a temporary employee can take and I brought my tape player into work. It's not a loud tape player (in fact, it's the same handheld I used to record _Flows West To East_) but it makes noise and it makes a statement. The most bold statement it made was when I played my copy of the Pogues' _If I Should Fall From Grace With God_, still a pretty fantastic record even after all these years. Beneath the hearing threshold of my coworkers, the unbelievably foul-mouthed "Bottle of Smoke" scorched the air around my desk. Even though wanton swearing is hardly something that I could rationally call a subversive act, in this circumstance it felt like one. It felt good.
This weekend I took a nice long walk on a wonderful moderate Saturday morning, hitting most of the garage and estate sales within walking distance of my place. It was good to be reminded of how close everything is here. Plus, it was good to pick up these amazing, amazing Christian anti-evolution tracts from the 20's, I believe. They are truly astounding in many ways and I can't wait to scan some of these images in for the forthcoming B.H. Shadduck tribute page, heh heh heh. Watch the heck out.
Sunday, April 15, 2001
After eating fabulous Counter Culture vegan brunch food this morning I went down to the cradle of human civilization, Tualatin, Oregon, to visit my folks on a lovely Easter Sunday. The most noteworthy part of the visit was playing them the preliminary mix of the new Gang Wizard album _El Cortez Buy'y'a Drink_, which is really a paint-peeling rock record. It is always interesting to see how your parents respond to your music. My folks, fortunately, have been prepared for this experience by years and years of putting up with my low-fidelity, hard-to-listen-to, obscure home recordings. So while this may not have been their favorite record ever, they listened to it. My dad sat in the old green chair with our dachshund in his lap, tapping his feet on the rock numbers and asking questions. My mom cut strawberries in the kitchen. Then during the one quiet toy-piano moment on the CD, my mom and I did this little spontaneous dance that looked like nothing so much as a clock dial going berserk. It is moments like these when I am proud to be an Anderson; whereas playing Gang Wizard (much less being a part of them) would probably get me disowned in some families, in our family it ended up being a sweet little Sunday afternoon event that just happened to have this feedbacky roar blaring in the background. Nice.
(written on Thursday 3/12 on the good old TRS-80 in good old Emanuel Hospital)
Today I'm stuck in the dusty crypt-like fileroom in the back of the hospital, suffering the endless tedium of putting terminated employee files back in their file folders. In a lot of ways it's like a sensory-deprivation experiment; no sights except for endless file folder-file exchanges, no sounds except for a few rain and motor sounds from outside, etc. I'm reminded of that scene from _Dancer in the Dark_ where Selma/Bjork is incarcerated en route to the gallows. In this blank cell the sympathetic-jailer character enters the cell and sees Selma in a near-rapturous state against the wall. What are you doing, she asks? "I'm listening to the ventilator shaft," Selma says, and it's a beautiful piece of Cageian cinema. Not too many of those out there!
Of course, whatever auditory beauty might be gleaned from the rain and motor sounds coming from outside is outshouted by the songs that are continually playing in the uninterruptible jukebox inside my head. That's not such a bad thing when my head is playing appropriate zombie-pop like the Feelies' second album, or Galaxie 500's _On Fire_, both of which are highly appropriate on tedious and repetitive rainy days, but it _is_ a bad thing when it decides to dredge the murky floor of my auditory memory and bring up something like XTC's "Are You Receiving Me". Trying to file while that song is playing in my head is like trying to do needlepoint while babysitting some hyperactive 6-year-old kid who's screaming and painting on the walls with his own doo-doo. Maybe that's an exaggeration, but times like these call for some dignified stupefaction.
My break is over. It felt good to bitch away. But now I have to go back in there and I'm dreading it
. (afternoon break)
Okay, that was every bit as boring as I'd hoped. But now the big project is almost done and it's on to even stupider pastures.
Two notes on word sounds:
1) Last night I was watching the Simpsons while cooking some pasta (and if that isn't the ultimate expression of 27-year-old single white maleness...) Anyway, when I duck out to the kitchen during commercial breaks I like to have the TV on mute. And my brother's TV has an interesting feature: when you put it on mute, the closed-captioning kicks in. This isn't such a bad idea but when it comes to the commercials I'm trying to avoid, it is pretty horrible. Case in point: this atrocious Wendy's commercial they showed. Now, the 18-34-year-old-male-skewing-dinnertime-showing Simpsons reruns are no stranger to fast-food ads, but this one is particularly bad. The plot of the commercial is: young "slacker" kid is attempting to cook a homemade version of whatever Bacon Acid Reflux Disaster burger Wendy's is pushing these days, and of course he's making a big black smoke cloud because let's face it, young males just can't cook succulent beefy treats like Wendy's can. Anyway, his authority-figure landlord-type comes in, notices the smoke-cloud, and threatens to kick him out. The youngster offers to buy him a Bacon Acid Reflux Disaster burger as atonement for his frying sins. The landlord starts to soften. Then the piece de resistance: he offers the landlord a Frosty. The landlord suddenly cannot resist and the young slacker male joyfully exclaims in the most annoying way possible: "Got you with the Frosty!"
Now this is bad enough with the sound on. But the point that I was about to make before I got caught up in summarizing the plot was: seeing "Got you with the Frosty!" in print just made it that much worse. Whereas before I could tune out the young-idiot voice, when I saw it WRITTEN on the TV screen, it was just unavoidable: it was now the Written Word. It was horrible and I couldn't stop thinking about it all morning when I was stuck in the fileroom.
2) I've noticed lately that even though I've been writing more pop songs lately, my lyrics are rhyming less and less. I'm paying lots of attention to meter, and my song forms are getting a little more finely honed, but the rhyming that I used to indulge in is showing up more rarely now. This wasn't a conscious thing--it just started happening. I wonder why that is? It's kind of bad in that I find it harder to remember my lyrics these days--rhyming certainly adds that nice mnemonic touch, if nothing else--but it's also kind of good in that I don't have to warp my message to fit with a certain syllable sound every 10 syllables or so. It is very freeing. And I am liking my lyrics better than ever. I'll be curious to hear what other people think...
Monday, April 09, 2001
Big lump of blogs today, all written on the TRS-80 during lunch at the hospital temp job over the last week or so.. Sorry for the confusion and delay. These are going from oldest to youngest.
Here I am again in the Legacy Emanuel lunchroom, this time fairly zombified from the lingering effects of this cold and the Sudafed I took. Bleah.
So back to the events of the last few days. I guess I would be remiss if I didn't mention the on-air Celesteville performance on Thursday. Jennifer Robin had emailed me earlier in the week asking if I could play on her show, Night of the Living Tongue, Thursday at 11 pm on KBOO. I realized that this would leave me precious little sleeping time prior to my trip to Iowa, but I am fearless and foolhardy so I played anyway.
Sean from Minmae, as always, was a trooper, completely willing to do the most stupid things on the shortest notice. This time we decided to go heavy on the Language Master (a primitive sampler that I must do a fanpage for soon here). We scratched, scratched, scratched, played noisy guitar, and, as the centerpiece, played a very long and very droney version of "Council Bluffs" from _Kohoutek_. It was pretty out of control but it was fun. And Jennifer Robin and Glamorous Pat were gracious hosts indeed. (Here, I would be remiss if I did not mention Pat's horrific "found photos" page - foundphotos.tripod.com - not for the squeamish but a fascinating site to be sure).
So more about Iowa: The dialect thing is pretty interesting. When I lived there, I didn't really realize that there were some very different dialects going on. My family, by and large, speaks pretty Standard Midwestern Newscaster English, but a lot of the people around me spoke something closer to an Upper-Midlands "Fargo" dialect, especially the lady-pastor, whose vowels were like a smooth jello salad. I hadn't heard "we was..." in a while but I heard plenty of it this weekend, especially from the guy who was narrating the slide show on Guyana. I guess I remember some dialectal differences going on when I was young--for instance, my first grade teacher had to remind us that "pen" and "pin" were spelled differently--but I didn't remember that much. I wonder how much longer that dialectal instability will hang around there...
So I guess I should get back to work. If you are sick and you want to feel some sort of relief, I can't speak highly enough of grating some ginger root into some hot water. Pure bliss. I am off to experience that now.
On the breakdown of my austerity program:
Today, for the first time in ages and ages, I went to work without bringing a lunch. And I bought a sandwich at the hospital cafe. With swiss cheese, even. And guacamole. Admittedly this is not a huge indulgence but I've been conserving money so fastidiously the last few months that even this adequate lunch seems like a king's feast. Imagine: someone else prepares food for you! And they clean it up! Being underemployed kind of sucks. I remember back when I had a steady income down in That State To The South and I gorged myself on Indian food two or three times a week. This austerity has probably done very good things for my self-discipline and my cholesterol level but it's hard to keep denying, denying, denying.
Once you get started, though, it gets easier. Last night I was browsing through Ebay and I realized: well, I have pretty much everything I need as far as creature comforts and musical toys. Sure, both of the above could use some improvement, but I can live and make music (two very important things) with what I have. So I browsed through Ebay and nothing yelled out at me: Purchase! Purchase! Purchase! The silence was peaceful, especially compared to the consumerist frenzy I used to whip myself up into.
Actually, now that I think about it, my austerity program isn't so compromised by this vegetarian sandwich that I have not even completed yet. I'm pretty well entrenched in this monk-like lifestyle I've been leading for the last few months--and who am I kidding, for the last 27 years minus a few lost years. There is pleasure in a simple unencumbered life. Now all I need is a bicycle!
ON ESTHER ANDERSON AND THE NAME "TAPE MOUNTAIN"
My dad and my aunt decided to get some anniversary gifts for my grandparents, namely some CD's of big-band music*--Sammy Kaye and the like. My grandparents are not exactly technophiles and they were a little baffled by the CD format, but ever-present neighbor Dorothy had a CD player that she'd gotten as a gift and never figured out how to use. So my grandparents put on the Sammy Kaye CD and attempted to dance. Of course, with their limited mobility this was a little difficult, and they both stood wearily on the living room carpet and swayed a little. It was pretty sweet.
* Note: Grandma doesn't refer to it as "big-band" music, but rather as "love music", as in "Cledis was always into that love music, but I was into polka."
Anyway, the point of this discussion is that later, I overheard Grandma talking about the gift. "Oh, Tony and Bunny (ed: my aunt) brought over some tapes, but they were on CD so we couldn't figure out how to play them." Not "CD's", but "tapes that were on CD." Not only do I find this a beautiful turn of phrase, but I'm also reminded of the name of my label: Tape Mountain. As some of you have noticed, Tape Mountain has not released any tapes, nor do I have any immediate plans to do so. Why, then, do I call it Tape Mountain?
1) "CD Mountain" sounds horrible. It sounds like a bad Internet start-up, or, worse, someone's bad idea for an Internet start-up that they're selling the domain name for on Ebay, opening bid $999.99. Yuk!
2) More importantly, "Tape Mountain" captures the idea that my grandmother captured more eloquently: namely, the fact that, despite being wrapped up in this fancy shiny new technology, the products that I am selling are really tapes. Not sexy and sleek but clunky and hissy and wrung from inaccurate analog masters. Tapes. Tapes, tapes, tapes.
As for the "mountain" part, who knows about that one; I've never lived above, oh, 1,100 feet of elevation. A point to note here is that the highest point in Iowa is occupied by a hog lot!
Now that I've cleared that up, I'll go back to work. I'd like to point out that the CDR-only phase of Tape Mountain should be over pretty soon; I'm going to expand into clunky obsolete unplayable formats soon. And no 8-tracks--they really do suck for almost all practical purposes and they're played-out besides. No Edison cylinders--while they are beautiful, I do not possess the means to produce them. What will the next format be? Watch this space!
I've been pretty lax in uploading these. Sorry for the lump-sum payments.
This was a pretty eventful weekend although not necessarily in ways I would have predicted. There was supposed to be a Celesteville/Minmae/Emergency show on Friday at Stumptown Coffee Roasters. Unfortunately, the manager and booker somehow wrote "April 16" instead of "April 6". We sat at the coffeehouse grousing for hours about the flaky promoter. Fortunately, the nice employees gave me a scone and a pot of Dragonwell green tea for my trouble. I would have had their excellent coffee but my stomach probably would have turned itself inside out had I tried to introduce that sort of black acidic affront. So I went home a little dejected. I went into an email trance for a while and then my friend Hanna called and we talked for about an hour and a half in a caffeinated frenzy. It was nice. When I got off the phone it was about 11:30, and I figured what time better than the present to write a hyperactive pop song? So I wrote "Let's Climb A Mossy Hill" (ridiculous) and recorded it boisterously at 12:30. I'm amazed that the neighbors put up with me sometimes...
Saturday I went down to the folks' place and they didn't even have any food for me to sponge off them. How disappointing! Around 6 or so, Hanna and I went to the Joe Jackson concert, which was even more bitching than I had anticipated. As a youth I was pretty obsessed with Joe Jackson, playing bass along with his records as a way of teaching myself how to play, listening to his live record over and over again, etc. etc. and as I've gotten older I've appreciated his records just as much. He gets a bad rap sometimes for his eclecticism but I dig it. Especially some of his more ambitious genre records, e.g. _Beat Crazy_, one of the most consistently dark records I can think of and a fairly convincing dub record sometimes to boot. So anyway, Mr. Jackson read started the show by reading from his book, which came off as considerably more entertaining than pretentious. He's a funny, funny man (as a perusal of his lyrics will show), and the audience (which I should point out was overwhelmingly middle-aged or so; we were in the balcony and counting bald spots below) was pretty charmed. Then he played and played--his band was rocking and even though it was a much slicker affair than that to which I am accustomed, it was a thoroughly entertaining show. I was particularly affected by "Home Town", which has a sucky slick 80's arrangement on _Big World but which comes off as a lovely sweet sappy number when it is just Joe and piano. And of course I do not mind sappy things at all.
Sunday I did my taxes and was overjoyed to discover that the Lifetime Learning Credit was going to save me $270. Then Glamorous Pat came over and we tried to play some music and discussed obscene French artists and record collections and Alf. Lovely! Sometimes I forget how nice it is to have a social life.
Monday, April 02, 2001
I'm back in Portland. It is good to be back where there is more than one color and where you can't see all the way to the horizon because the mountains and the buildings get in the way.
So where do I begin describing this trip? Well, I can start by saying that very few of the things I predicted happened--while I did, in fact, run into some old classmates (one in particular) in the Hy-Vee in Humboldt, no amorous activity was reported, no gunning of the 1985 Plymouth Caravelle took place (at least not on my watch), and the alcohol consumption took place in fairly moderate amounts. How disappointing, huh?
Yesterday we went over to Renwick to attend church at good old St. Paul Lutheran. Apparently this church, back in the day, was the German Lutheran church, whereas Trinity Lutheran outside Humboldt was the Norwegian Lutheran church. My grandparents attended different ones... Anyway, the big news at the church was that they had a "lady pastor" (emphasis on the first syllable, one prosodic word!) and indeed they did. Her sermon wasn't too bad, especially not compared to the endurance-marathon monotony-fests that marked the tenure of the pastor who was there when I was in elementary school. He was a nice man, and rest his soul, but he was pretty boring. Bad points for the lady pastor: she didn't sing her part of the Kyrie. When you go back to Iowa you expect to hear the Kyrie done right!
My dad and I played a song in church, me on guitar and vocals, my dad singing. We were big musical types at St. Paul back in the day and it was weird to be standing up in front of that little church so much later. My grandma cried, as did other people I knew; it was very sweet and very unironic and very touching. Sometimes it is beautiful to lay down the cynicism and just be sentimental.
After church we all filed down to the church basement for a "sandwich and salad luncheon" (read: "potluck"). Jello was served in at least four forms (several salads with carrot shavings or cabbage or coconut or what-have-you) but of course the big Jello hit was the Jello Easter eggs. Tubs and tubs of them; apparently family friend Charlene James had been making them since Thursday. (note: Charlene was wearing shiny gold shoes both times I saw her; I was in awe). Most of the time it's not that hard to be a vegetarian in Iowa, but when they parade the Jello eggs in front of you it's hard to resist. I resisted, though. There were many, many cookie-bars on the table--enough for three per person. No one does bars and Jello like Iowa Lutherans! There was a presentation about someone's missionary trip to Guyana and that was kind of uneventful except, of course, for the rich Iowan dialect that pervaded the whole thing. Actually, I should talk more about the dialect later...
During the fellowship/pre-slide-show portion of the potluck, my 6th-grade teacher Mrs. Basler came up and talked to me. She was one of the few teachers I had in elementary school who didn't think that I was some sort of monster or some sort of thing to be worried about and I still have gobs of respect for the woman. Enough respect, even, to forgive her for being the North-Central Iowa coordinator for the Dubya campaign. We talked about how, back in 6th grade, I was the only politically active kid, the only fan of Walter Mondale, etc. "You were the smartest student I ever had," she said, and that felt good. It is nice to be appreciated. It wasn't until afterwards, in the car, that I thought of the perfect comeback: "And you voted for the stupidest candidate to ever run for President." I'm kind of glad I didn't say that, though.
We drove back to Humboldt through my old hometown, Hardy, and I can barely believe it's still standing. Our old house looks horrible--nothing has been maintained, the white paint is almost completely peeled off, there's an old Datsun in the front yard almost completely covered by snow, etc. etc. It is sad. We drove around and around. Every other place basically looked exactly like when we left 15 years ago, except way, way worse. The cats had abnormally short legs. People stared at us from their front porches as if we were from another planet. We drove out and through the countryside back to the relative splendor of Humboldt. to be continued...
(written on lunch, 3/29/00; more TRS-80 laptop-written entries to come from my big trip to Iowa)
This weekend I'll be taking a flight to Humboldt, Iowa for my grandparents' 60th anniversary. This figure is, of course, a little hard for me to fathom. For one thing, even if I were to elope with somebody today (likelihood very, very small) I'd still be 87 before I hit that milestone. Plus, I can only imagine spending 60 years in the constant company of someone else... Anyway, my folks generously offered to lodge my brother and me in the Super 8 motel on the outskirts of town, with free access to Grandpa's aging Plymouth Caravelle, instead of housing us in Grandma's living room and having us wake up at 5 am every morning with the grandfolks. Whew.
Of course, the idea of being young, wild, and free in Humboldt, Iowa, without any sort of parental supervision, puts some impish thoughts in my head. I can imagine it now:
* The motel room's proximity to Humboldt's liquor store becomes too great a temptation for us to resist. We purchase and consume bottle after bottle of Hawkeye brand vodka, my grandpa's sauce of choice, eventually getting booted from the room and sleeping under a bridge over the Des Moines River.
* Deluded with wild abandon, we take the Caravelle through its paces. Enticed by the endless straight highways of rural Iowa we put pedal to metal in an orgy of cheap gasoline and endless horizons. This vehicular excess, unfortunately, is brought to an early halt by the fact that the Caravelle can barely hit 70 mph, and complainingly at that.
* Hanging out in the smoky dismal bars on Humboldt's Main Street (NB: the closest traffic signals to where I grew up, and that's about 15-20 miles) I run into some recently divorced kindergarten classmate. In a river of Pabst we see a golden glimmer and suddenly we are both caught in the swift amber current of youthful ardor. In the Caravelle (or possibly in the Pontiac or Oldsmobile she drives) we high-tail it to Reno where we are wed and then I wake up screaming in a dilapidated old farmhouse near Renwick, Iowa where the sounds of my scream are heard only by crows and endless acres of soybeans.
(written 3/30/00 in a motel room in Humboldt, IA)
I'm in a Super 8 in Humboldt, Iowa right now; my brother and I just got back from seeing _O Brother, Where Art Thou_ at the lovely Humota Theatre in downtown Humboldt. The Humota itself is a weird little space; it has a quite nice art-deco marquee planted in front of a decidedly non-art-deco sheet-metal front. Admission is $4.50, approximately half of what you'd pay in Portland and about a twelfth of what you'd pay in Los Angeles. It's a Friday night and there were about ten people in this huge auditorium; god knows how they stay in business.
One way they stay in business, I can tell, is by playing a slide-show of ads for local businesses before the show. Farm implements, appliance salesmen, General Motors dealers, all in that sort of bleached color scheme that this part of Iowa looks like in the winter. Then after that they went into an amazing montage of pictures of scenic Humboldt: the bedraggled parks at the edge of town, the algae-riddled river that divides the town in two, a bunch of photos of leafless trees in forlorn twisted deciduous shapes in various shades of gray. I guess the idea was to show pride in Humboldt. At first I felt pity. These scenes are sad. But people make joy out of what they have. People make joy out of leafless trees and frosty nights and appliances and the lighted signs saying "Welcome to Humboldt", because it is home.
Incidentally, the movie made both my brother and me laugh basically the whole way through, and it is a feast of oversaturated color the whole way through, quite the opposite of the slide show... It is choice even if you cannot experience it in the Humota.