Anyone can play guitar

This is going to be a little different today. Today, I’m going to convince you that, yes you, can play a musical instrument. I’m not going to say that you can or will play it professionally or even particularly well, but if you’re interested in playing, it’s within your grasp to do so.

Playing musical instruments, even playing them poorly, brings me enormous joy. I think there’s a perception out there that they require a huge investment of time and money to have any fun with them and, in my experience, that just isn’t so. Let’s do this as a Q&A where I’m on both sides of it, because it’s always easier to answer your own questions, isn’t it?

Why should I play an instrument?

Because you want to! I mean, there are plenty of scientific studies that show that there are benefits to doing so (here’s a good example), but my experience has been that “wanting to do it” is the reason that makes it stick. For me, it was hearing music that I loved and wanting to be able to make that music on my own.

OK, I want to play an instrument. What should I play?

Whatever speaks to you. There’s no “best” instrument to start with, especially if you’re not planning of making a career of it. If what moves you is harmonica music, pick one up! Bass? Piano? Drums? Clarinet? All good! Think about what kind of music you want to make and go from there.

Fine, I want to play guitar. Should I start with an acoustic?

If you like acoustic guitar music, then sure. If your favorite guitarists play electric and you want that sound, though? I honestly think electric is easier than acoustic. It’s also not nearly as expensive to get started as you probably think. We’ll come back to that.

Sweet. I’m going to get an electric guitar! Which one should I get?

It matters a lot less than you think. If there’s a guitar that has a shape you love, then that’s a good choice. If there’s a guitar your favorite player uses, then that’s good too. What I don’t recommend, though, is buying your first sight unseen. I wouldn’t buy a laptop without checking out the keyboard first to see if I like typing on it.

You really want to pick it up, check the weight, check the feel of the neck (is it comfortable to wrap your wrist around it?) and see what it feels like. If it’s not comfortable to play, you’re not going to enjoy it. I had an old Gibson RD* that I loved the shape of and the sound, but it just plain hurt me to play it. Don’t do what I did.

Where can I go to check out the feel of a guitar before buying it?

Well, music stores are usually a pretty good bet. Guitar Center usually has enough people in it that I don’t feel self-conscious trying stuff out. There’s always That One Guy shredding at too high a volume or a classically-trained pianist in the piano department, so if you want to be left alone, it’s pretty easy to get lost there.

Some pawn shops are also good for this. Find one that doesn’t have all of their instruments behind a counter if you want to try your had at a bunch of ‘em. They’ll usually have variations on four guitars: Fender Stratocaster, Fender Telecaster, Gibson Les Paul, and Gibson SG. There will be others, but most of ‘em will at least look like one of those four.

Should I buy new or used?

That’s a fine question! Here’s the secret that has kept me going all these years: Used instruments tend to appreciate in value, so buying something used usually means that you can sell it for more than you paid for it if you don’t like it. I have had dozens of instruments and I have very rarely taken a loss on them when I sold them, so in some ways, it’s a very low-risk hobby. But…I have been ripped off a couple times on eBay.

Buying new means that, if you ever do decide that this instrument is not for you, you will likely take a loss on it. But, you get a warranty and that’s not a bad thing. Plus, you actually got your hands on the instrument before you bought it, so you can be pretty sure of what you’re getting.

I tend to split the difference and buy used through either Guitar Center or Reverb.com. You pay more than you would on craigslist but with less risk as well (and a warranty of sorts in most cases).

What about an amplifier? Don’t electric guitars need expensive amps?

Yes and no. They need an amplifier, but it doesn’t have to be an expensive one. If you’re not going on stage, then a small amp that has some built-in effects is probably going to suit you just fine. I use a tiny Roland MicroCube, which is small enough to be battery powered but it can produce more sound than my apartment can really take, and it has some decent effects as well.

So, guitar, amp, cables, etc. How much will this all cost me?

A few hundred dollars if you find good deals. Realistically, for under $500, you can get a really nice setup that will be fun to play with, provide plenty of flexibility, and if you decide you don’t like it, you can probably sell for what you paid.

Should I take lessons?

It depends on what your goals are. I took guitar lessons for a couple of years before my teacher told me that I just wasn’t going to get any better. Most of what I learned, I got from sheet music books (they have chord diagrams above the sheet music), guitar tab sites like ultimate-guitar.com , and lately, from YouTube.

(guitar tab is a what of writing guitar music that is less formal than sheet music and more suited to playing guitar)

I’ve changed my mind! I want to play keyboards instead!

Cool! That’s way more up my alley. It doesn’t have to be either/or, though.

What keyboard should I get?

OK, before answering that, I have to ask you a question: Are you more interested in trying to come up with your own sounds, are do you just want to play?

What difference does it make?

Quite a lot, really. There are really nice, really inexpensive home keyboards that have speakers built in (nice money saver) that have hundreds of sounds, but you can’t really change them much. So, you have string sounds, horn sounds, drums (usually), stuff like that. These are great! There’s an African artist named Hama who uses one like this to make records and they’re really great.

If you want to play something more like a piano, there are some fantastic digital pianos that have heavy keys, that sounds like real pianos, but cost much less and are much easier to fit into an apartment or take over to a friend’s house or whatever.

Now, if you want to mess around and make your own electronic sounds, then you want a programmable synthesizer. There are some great, affordable options out there for these as well.

I noticed you didn’t say “get whatever your favorite musicians plays” or “what was used to make your favorite song”…

That’s not really a question, but good catch. Here’s why my answer was different: You can get a Stratocaster, or something very much like it, for a reasonable price. They’re still being made. That’s not the case with most vintage synthesizers. There’s no Prophet 5 in production now, so they go for $3,000. And, honestly? Since you’re making your own sounds, you can do that for a lot less than $3,000.

I’ll go with a synthesizer. Should I get one that’s analog or digital?

Doesn’t matter! In a lot of ways, they’re just different ways to get to the same result. It’s true that there are some thing unique to each approach, but the biggest difference is in the workflow. It’s about how you are comfortable making the sounds.

Your best best is to kind of figure out what features are important to you and start from there. Do you need full-sized keys or will the cheaper, smaller keys work for you? Do you want to do one note at a time (a monophonic synthesizer) or do you need to be able to play chords (a polyphonic synthesizer)? Do you want to be able to save your settings and recall them later, or just twiddle the knobs each time and see what you get?

That’s a lot for a beginner!

It is. Sorry about that. But, the upside is that it’s a lot of fun! It’s very satisfying to make a cool sound. Again, I strongly recommend going to a Guitar Center or some place that sells keyboards to check them out to see if any jump out at you.

Do I need an amplifier for my synthesizer?

Maybe? Many of the newer synths have headphone jacks so you can play through your headphones or even computer speakers if you want. Older synths may not have this option and, to be honest, amps are more fun anyway. I use my MicroCube for my synths and my guitar.

If you HAD to pick one to start with, what would it be?

I’m a huge fan of the Korg Minilogue. It has tiny keys, but it has more programming capabilities than any synthesizer I’ve ever owned. They’re a little expensive (~$400), so if you’re not wanting to spend that kind of money, I get it. Honestly, it has so many options that it might be a little daunting.

A better starting place might be the Behringer MS-101. Behrigner has taken to making inexpensive clones other companies’ old synths, and they’re doing a fine job of it. the MS-101 is a remake of the old Roland SH-101 which was one of my first synths. It has incredibly intuitive workflow to create sounds from scratch and hit has full-sized keys. You can only play one note at a time, but it does have the ability to put a guitar strap on it and play it like a keytar, so that’s cool!

What about those computer instruments you play by hooking a keyboard up to a laptop?

We’re a little out of my range of experience here; I’m a big fan of hardware synths as opposed to the software synthesizers. That said, they’re great. They can emulate many expensive older synths very well and at a fraction of the cost. You obviously have great flexibility and a fairly small gear footprint going this route. I’m just not that familiar with the landscape, so you’ll have to research this option yourself.

What about other instruments?

Pick ‘em up and play ‘em! Do it! It’s fun. Seriously, if you pay attention, you can almost always get an instrument for what you could sell it for, so don’t think of it as an investment: Think of it as putting down a deposit and then using it for as long as you like at no cost.

What about those ukuleles? Are they even instruments?

Absolutely! That’s a completely legit instrument. You want to make stringed-instrument sounds with a minimal investment? You just like the sound of a uke? Do it! I’ve read reports that ukuleles are the only thing keeping the “guitar” industry afloat.

* I bought mine for $350. Like I said, they appreciate.

Where the light is golden and the grass is soft

Texas had a rather unexpected spring this weekend. I mean, we technically have Spring for, oh, about a quarter of the year, but it’s not really spring, you know? We go from chilly and flood-y to blistering over the course of a weekend and it tends to stay that way until it switches back sometime during autumn. We thought we were already into the near-Summer days when we got a front on Friday. It dumped some rain on us and then left us with a cool, glowing kind of Sunday that we don’t see very often. “spring",” in the spring-iest sense of the word.

I could get used to this, but I’d best not as I’ll wager it’s not going to be with us for long.


The last time I wrote here, I thought I was enjoying a bit of decent health. The Gods In Charge Of What We Call “Ironic” Punishments But Not In Any Way Genuinely Ironic decided to bop me with another round of vertigo last Monday, which completely took the wind out of my sails for the week. It didn’t help at all that work was unusually intense and, in spots, dramatic. I’m too old for this. Of course, no one is correctly-aged for this kind of thing. You get through it, but it’s not anything I’d recommend to anyone.

On the plus side, it’s been a lovely weekend. We had a dance party on Friday night, by which I mean, I lumbered around our living room listening to the mix I made for our road trip but didn’t get to listen to much of because dark desert highways don’t have much in the way of data service.

Saturday, I took the nap of all naps. It’s the first time I’ve felt truly rested in weeks. I know it’s not exciting to write about naps, but this was one for the ages. Nicole came in to wake me up when I’d asked her to and, when she told me I could sleep a little longer, I was, for just that moment, perhaps the happiest man alive.

Today’s been chill. Just eating leftovers and enjoying the sun out on the patio with a glare of cats. We’ve been like our feline roomies, too. Sit in the sun, get too warm, move to the shade, get too cool, repeat ad infinitum. There are worse ways to spend an afternoon.

Today, my second job didn’t exactly end, but it’s going to be more of a non-paying hobby than a non-paying job for a while. I did twelve months at the helm and did it well, so I’m going to step back from it a little and let someone else take the reins next year. I had a lot of fun with it, but I think I’d like to have a little flexibility with my weekends for a while now.


This has all become a bit Live-Journal-y, hasn’t it? I apologize for that, but I’m a little out of it. I haven’t been reading on the train for the last couple of months and I just feel kind of hazy and unfocused. I’m struggling to finish things right now; I have a song I’m working on based on a mis-heard progression from an old Chris Isaak song (no, not that one) that is resisting become a finish “thing” so I may have to just set it aside for a bit and work on something else.

So it goes. I think I’m going to go and make some soup right now and enjoy it out on the patio and hug my beautiful wife for all she’s worth (a lot, in case you were wondering). Hope you’re all enjoying the day as well.

-RK



There again and back again

Huh…it’s been two weeks again, hasn’t it? Bother. I’ll be honest with you: While I’m thrilled that my new medication is working a treat, the fact that I’m no longer receiving regular steroid shots isn’t doing anything for my energy levels. Four years on steroids leaves one accustomed to the feeling, and going cold turkey has left me feeling a little blah. I have a bunch of stuff queued up for this space, but it’s just taking me longer than normal to get to it.



In the meantime, we’ve made yet another trip out to beautiful Marfa, Texas. This is pretty much a perfect time to go out to the desert: It’s warm without being oppressively hot and the nights are chilly without being cold. It helped that there happened to be a meteor shower, so I saw a handful of shooting stars and that’s something I’ll never get tired of.

We stayed with a few friends (Danielle, Lauren, and Stuart) and rented a house instead of the usual trailer lodging at El Cosmico. This afforded us a proper kitchen, which resulted in some gazpacho and nachos (not at the same time) and gave us somewhat better toilet facilities than we normally have.

I also brought my old MG-1 synth out there with a bunch of pedals, which Stuart took too like a fish in something fish like very much. It turns out I don’t know much about using a delay pedal and he made it make some noises I’ve never been able to find. Humbling, but a lot of fun to watch.

Anyway, that’s still our default getaway until it winds up being to people-y (and it will, sooner rather than later I think). We have some other destinations in mind, but I think our next one will be Terlingua, an hour or two south of Marfa.

As a side note, the drive is pretty brutal (7 1/2 hours-ish), so we broke it up by driving halfway Wednesday night and staying at a Motel 6 in Ozona. I cannot in good conscience recommend staying at the Motel 6 in Ozona. At $50 a night, it was no bargain at all. The less said about it the better. We would take Amtrak out there, as the train stops in Alpine (15 minutes from Marfa), but the only train going out there leaves San Antonio at 3:45 AM and that isn’t quite as convenient as the planners at Amtrak seem to think it would be.


One especially nice thing about the trip was getting to see Träd, Gräs och Stenar play at El Cosmico. They give the sense of having been around since the dawn of time (actually 1967m which is pretty much the same thing). I won’t try to describe the music beyond saying that it was ideal listening for sitting in a hammock at a trailer park in the middle of nowhere. For some reason, they remind me of King Crimson in that they seem to be ruled by an aesthetic of how they make their music as opposed to the traditional “we gotta write 10 songs and make a record” routine. I can’t really justify that impression, but that’s what I thought of. Really great sound-if you get the chance, make some time to see them.

Unfortunately, I didn’t get to see Khruangbin, who I really adore. I’m confident I’ll get a chance to do so again, but very much my loss in this time around.


And, then home again. Everything is suddenly hot and muggy which is the opposite of the desert. My skin has felt sticky every day since returning. To make up for it, Nicole (who is now “Coco” thanks to Jules, our waiter in Marfa) has been buying some marvelous ingredients and daring my not to screw them up. Last night, we had a handful of big scallops to grill along with artichokes, ramps (which are amazing, btw), and grilled focaccia, which we topped with goat cheese, roasted garlic, smallish, semi-hot peppers, and fiddlehead ferns. Fancy, right?

Tonight was just as good, but I’m too tired to list out the ingredients which I hope I treated as well as they deserved. I’m beat. Off to bed, and tomorrow is Friday which is coming too soon and not nearly soon enough at the same time. I figure most of you know what I’m talking about.

Goodnight,

-RK

Accountability

Didn’t I just say that I was going to post here twice a week? Um….yes. Yes I did. I also haven’t finished the song I was working on in March and my weight loss goals are unmet as well. I am not doing well at all at keeping up on this. I haven’t even been reading on the train. What gives?

Things have been kinda sucky lately. There’s been some ill health in the family, work has been rough, and…well, I guess that’s about it. I mean, other than the continuing horror show that is Our National Discourse, which I suppose I ought not discount. It’s not been a great month.

But…I can’t get back on track by not continuing to avoid this stuff, can I? So, here’s me trying to get going again.


Here’s what I’ve been listening to this month:


This is what happens when you listen to some stuff Warren Ellis suggested, you have some creative friends, you’re going to a really minor music festival in the middle of the desert, and you just finished re-reading all three volumes Phonogram. Some much for glitchy drones. The ear wants what it wants.

On a slightly more technical level, I’ve been really, really into interesting reverbs and how they sound with old synthesizers. I have two machines that have perfectly good-to-great delays built in, but some of the modern reverb pedals are just amazingly evocative. Some people say that effects are what people who can’t play use to sound interesting, and in my case they’re not wrong, but I’d really rather sound interesting than sound like what I sound like without effects, ya know?


I’ve broken more bones than I can remember, including one particularly memorable corkscrew break of a two combined with two dislocated joints. I’ve torn skin open to the bone, and I’ve split a tooth in half. But, nothing comes even close to the pain I experienced during one particularly nasty ear infection.

I am getting an ear infection. This does not please me.


This next week is going to be ugly and I don’t know how much good/interesting stuff I’m going to have time or energy for, but I do have a few posts queued up for this space. In the meantime, you might want to sign up for Max Romero’s The Beef newsletter. Max is someone you want to know and I say this on the authority of actually knowing him. That’s it for tonight as I am whupped. Take care of yourselves.

-RK

All of my new is now old

My favorite two musical periods are the 1989-91 era and the early 2000s. The former gave me Nine Inch Nails and Public Enemy and Pop Will Eat Itself and Bad Religion and They Might Be Giants and a stack of others I can’t recall right now. Some of them had earlier albums, but this time period marked my entry point for a lot of music that was new to me. It changed everything, to. I started dressing like Baphomet in The Wicked + The Divine, a look that I can no longer pull off for a multitude of reasons. I went to concerts, I went to dance clubs, and I did this all the time, and it was amazing

The early 2000s, on the other hand, were about re-discovering joy in music. Bands like Metric, The New Pornographers, Ted Leo + Pharmacists, Stellastarr*, The Arcade Fire, The Futureheads, MGMT, The Kaiser Chiefs, and most especially Ambulance, LTD, made concert-going fun again for me. It really was an amazing time, at least for me. It wasn’t particularly great dance music, but man, you could sing along with it at the top of your lungs and be guaranteed a great time (mileage for listeners who had to hear me do this may vary).

Part of the joy was not just in the discovery, but in the fact that I could still discover. Nothing makes you sound/feel/be old like saying “Music today sucks, it was so much better back when <insert your preferred touchstone here>.” In the grand scheme of things, that’s not the most self-defeating attitude there is, but it’s probably on the list.

But…2003 was a long time ago, wasn’t it? 16 years is forever in musical terms. It’s almost long enough that we’re due for a revival of some sort. How long is 16 years? The length of time between the first Rolling Stones album (The Rolling Stones, 1964) and their last real album (Tattoo You, 1981) was only 17 years. It’s six years longer than the entire career of Led Zeppelin. Beyoncé was still touring with Destiny’s Child in 2003. In 2003, Taylor Swift was in middle school and just learning to play guitar and Ariana Grande was singing karaoke on cruise ships.

It’s been a while, huh?

Music is how I mark time, so this all gets under my skin a little. Time to refocus a little and see what’s going on. There’s great music being made out there because there’s always great new music being made. You just have to be open to it.

Short 1989-91 playist.
Short early 2000s playist.

(Speaking of “open”, if y’all have any suggestions, I’m all, or at least mostly, ears.)

FP2: Beats of Rage, or, what the hell did I just watch and why did I enjoy it so much?

So, one of Nicole’s friends is really, really into The FP, a film that I haven’t seen yet so I won’t even try to describe it. When the sequel, FP2: Beats of Rage was playing in town, she absolutely insisted that we go and see it with her (even though she’d already seen it several times).

I’m glad we went. This was one of the oddest films I’ve ever seen. It’s the Mother of All High-Concept Films. In what is presumably a post-apocalyptic future, conflicts are settled by the bloodsport to end all bloodsports: A dance-based video game. If that sounds strange, well, you’re right, but it doesn’t play out the way you’re probably thinking.

Going in to this film, I was sarcastically wondering if I’d be able to follow the plot if I hadn’t seen the first one. As it turned out, I really do wish I’d seen the original and plan to do so soon. There’s a lot more world-building than you would probably expect from a film of this…genre?…and budget. Some of it seems to have come from The FP, but I get the sense that there’s more backstory here than ever makes it to the actual story in a weirdly Tolkien-esque sort of way.

FP2:BoR makes an explicit nod to Tolkien, and to The Empire Strikes Back, and Big Trouble in Little China, and Mad Max, and probably a bunch of other references I either didn’t get or missed from laughing so hard. This is a really, really funny movie, and it’s funny because this really sophomoric concept is played absolutely straight by everyone in the film. There’s no winking, there’s no irony, there’s just a bunch of actors playing out an epic as conceived by a teenager as though it was a serious film.

I found it hilarious. I can completely understand if some people don’t. I don’t think this film is for everyone. But for people who like this particular type of absurdist humor, writer/director/star Jason Trost really hit it out of the park.

Another word for "resolution"

I’m officially older-by-a-commonly-accepted-increment of one year now. After as many of these as I’ve had, they don’t pack the same wallop as they used to. That may be a temporary thing; it could well be that as they start to add up to some really big numbers, I may regard each one a bit more dearly. Mile markers are hard to judge when you don’t know where the destination is, I guess.

Nicole treated me to a lovely surprise on the morning of. She’s thoughtful to a fault…scratch that, as I’m not sure someone can be too thoughtful, but you get the idea. It’s nice, though. She never lets me feel anything less than appreciated and that’s the kind of feeling that keeps a body warm in these strange, bitterly cold days.


I’ve done my first home self-injection with the Scary New Drugs. It was a weirdly uneventful thing. Take a syringe out of the fridge, swab my side with something antiseptic, and stick the needle in. I understand that there’s risk in being too casual when it comes to needles. My doctor made damned sure that I understood this. So, I’ll make it a point to be careful.

It does seem to be having a positive effect. I’m still not going to be wearing short in public any time soon, but I can see the changes. It’s supposed to reach peak effectiveness six weeks after starting, so that puts me on course for mid-April for “as good as it’s going to get”. At this point, I don’t think the effectiveness has quite matched the quarterly steroid injections, but the trajectory seems good. We live in hope.


I saw my therapist this last weekend and it was an unusually focused session, and I mean that in a good way. We spent most of the time talking about trying to find personal value in a situation that I was becoming more and more detached from (yes, vague, I know, but for good reasons). Our brainstorming came up with some fine approaches, some things I can genuinely get excited about.

That alone was worth the price of admission, but we also talked about…I’m hesitant to call them “resolutions”, but that’s essentially what we’re talking about here. She used a different word because she’s a professional, but I can’t recall what it was. Anyway, the gist is there are three things I’m to work on:

  • Post 3 times a week (probably twice here as job #2 will qualify as one of the three).

  • Write 1 song per month.

  • Drop 4 pounds per month.

These are all very achievable things. She big on “achievable”. She’s pointed out, at length, that setting un-achievable targets is just giving yourself an excuse to give up. I can’t imagine why she’s point that out to me. Oh wait, yes I can. That’s totally something I would do, have done, and likely will do again.

Now, I’m nothing like a musicians. I can honestly say that, while I can pick up many musical instruments and make recognizable sounds with a great many of ‘em, I am not good at playing any of them. That makes it no less fun for me to do it. I have a lot to say on the subject that’ll have to wait, Yeah, that’s going to be a long-ish post, but I think it’ll be a good one.


Here is one of our beautiful snails on the back of a very grumpy sea turtle.

Here is one of our beautiful snails on the back of a very grumpy sea turtle.

Oof…that’s about it for now. Time to make dinner, and by that I mean “heat up the oven and that’s about it.”

-RK

One week into the new normal

Hi.

It’s been a strange week. Last Wednesday, I did my first self-injection of a new-ish treatment called Dupixent that’s meant to bring some degree of normalcy to my skin. Every two weeks now I’ll be injecting this into my (fortunately voluminous) sides. In theory, the side effects are extremely minimal. That’s unusual for this kind of a treatment, but hey, I’ll take it.

The first thing I noticed, less than 48 hours after the injection, was that my skin had oil in it. I’ve had incredibly dry, crepe-like skin for some time now which is almost certainly contributing to my situation. Quite suddenly, I mean jarringly so, my skin felt…normal. Nicole noticed it as well. That was cool.

As far as the healing goes, it’s hard to tell. It’s getting better very slowly, or perhaps getting worse very slowly, or maybe staying exactly the same at a very high rate. I think there’s some healing going on. My “canaries”, the things that flare up first, seem to be doing better. I am cautiously optimistic.

The bad news is that this is not a cure. What we’re hoping for is just keeping the condition in check. So there’s no end to the treatment. If it works, though, then it’s well worth it. Hopefully it will remain so to my insurance company.


We did wind up having an absolutely lovely Valentine’s weekend. This may sound a little nekulturny, but we decided to stay in the first evening because we got a peach of a parking space and didn’t want to lose it. Fortunately, it’s not difficult to get things delivered these days. We got a feast-full of fruit, cheese, bread, and meats as well as some wine and didn’t miss going out at all.

It helped that the hotel room in The Lumen was embarrassingly large. It was bigger than our apartment, with a monstrous “living room” area that had a hanging 55” TV. Both sides of the place had floor-to-ceiling windows and the bathroom was appropriately decadent. I also ordered a Chromecast because I wanted one, but they are of no use in hotels that have decent network security (device isolation is a good thing, mind you) unless you want to put too much effort into it.

For our Big Night Out, we had reservations at Fearing’s which was a fairly typical pinkie-up kind of experience. We went full-on costumey with our attire. I went with my banded collar suit because I always do, with a bright red collarless shirt. Nicole…how do I describe this? A platinum wig with a backless red dress featuring a scandalous neckline, a fur wrap and a jeweled broach. Add to that picture the most sparkliest of lip and eye makeup and some seriously sparkly heels and you’re in the neighborhood. The food didn’t quite live up to our get-ups, but we make a spectacular couple. Mind you, she would have been spectacular on her own.



One brief work related thing: When my office does big events, there are usually custom t-shirts or hoodies created for everyone who attends. I have never been able to wear any of these because they would likely make my skin fall off. This year, they went out of their way and got me a jacket by a brand I can actually wear. It’s one of the coolest things they’ve ever done. Seriously. I let the Big Bosses know how much I appreciated their doing this. To protect the innocent (and the somewhat less-than-innocent as I’ve known these folks for a long time), I won’t name names, but y’all get the idea.

-RK

vertigo

Austin, TX

This has been something of a lost week. Monday night, I was hit with what I refer to as “the dizzies”. We think it’s Meniere’s Disease, but it’s hard to get a solid diagnosis of something that hits once a year and comes on very, very quickly.

On Monday, I was sitting at our kitchen island, not doing much of anything, and Nicole, who was across from me, started moving from left to right very quickly. We’ve been through this just enough to know the routine, which is strictly a triage sort of thing. I get into be immediately and Nicole goes and gets me some motion-sickness meds. The pills serve two functions: They help a little with the sense of spinning and they also knock me out cold. That’s a very good thing in this case.

What i need to do in these cases is to stay in the dark, stay cool, and no matter what, not open my eyes. I’m nauseated, but I’ve never actually been sick. That’s a good thing because sitting up when I have one of these spells is difficult. Walking is out of the question. I can crawl, but that’s about it.

For the most part, after a nap of four hours or so, I’m good. Well, at least I’m not dizzy anymore. I am pretty physically wiped out at that point like I’ve just spent four hours doing cross fit. It can take me several days to really recover, which is a royal pain in the buttocks.

We’re not 100% sure what’s going on. It seems to be related to my hearing loss in my right ear. The initial reaction to that loss was “Huh. That’s weird. Let’s do an MRI and do some tests to see if you have cancer.” That was fun. It turned out that I did not have cancer, but the official explanation was “Damned if we know.”

The working theory is that there’s fluid or something that’s putting pressure on my inner ear on the right side. Not only does that make your hearing suck, but it causes a problem with the semi-circular canals. One of them is normal; the other is getting some pressure on it and isn’t sure what’s going on. The result is that my brain is getting two wildly different readings as to my orientation and it interprets this as “spinning”.

After the nap, the two sets of semi-circular canals have re-calibrated and come to an agreement as to where I am in relation to the rest of the world. That’s a nice feeling. Anyway, as you can imagine, this dominates my thoughts for a few days and thought I’d share what it feels like. There are worse things. There are many, many worse things. It’s just that, for a few hours, it doesn’t seem like it.

-RK

P.S. This morning (Friday) it hit me again. I’ve never had two back-to-back like this, and I’ve never had it start while I was asleep. This is annoying and worrying. If there’s another incident in the next week or so, it’s off to the doctor for Ridley. Yay!

another grey world

Austin, TX

We had a ridiculous amount of fog this morning, which made the pond look like a Bob Ross painting:

IMG_20190203_090434.jpg

It finally (sort of) burned off this afternoon, so we saw a little sun for the first time this weekend. It’s still hazy out there and we can’t really see downtown without squinting, Doesn’t exactly encourage one to get out and about and do things. Plus, I’m “on call” this weekend, which is a buzzkill of the first order.


Not receiving pay stubs anymore, either as paper or email, has left me less aware of the amount of vacation time I have accumulated. I hadn’t looked in several months, so when I checked in last month, I discovered that I was effectively maxed out. That means that, going forward, I’m effectively donating my vacation time to the company which isn’t real high on my list of “ways to use vacation time”.

So I tried something different this quarter: Instead of blocking off a week, I took 2-3 days each month to give myself a little something to look forward to each month. It seems like a pretty good approach, especially in the winter when travel is a lot less attractive (I don’t ski, in case you were wondering). It’s nice to be able to recharge the batteries once a month but…once spring rolls around, I may have other ideas.


Job two is going remarkably well. Not in the “I am making good money” off of it way, but more in the “I’m starting to feel like I’m pretty good at this” sense. In general, I’ve found that optional second jobs can be a lot of fun. I haven’t done the math, but I can think of a couple of reasons for this. The obvious one is that, since you’re choosing to do it, there’s a pretty good chance that the second gig is something that’s interesting to you and/or something you enjoy.

Another possibility is that part of the enjoyment comes from the fact that you don’t need that job. You can leave any time you want without a huge impact on your financial situation (please remember I’m only discussing optional second jobs here; when you have to take a second job to pay the rent, that’s another animal entirely). This one’s interesting to me. I wonder how much job stress comes not strictly from the job itself but instead from the sense that you are not free to leave it? If it’s a good amount, and I suspect it is, then a lot of stress could could be alleviated just by having a more fluid system of employment and a better safety net. Even something as simple as universal healthcare (health insurance is one big reason why people feel they can’t leave their jobs) would improve a lot of people’s lives just by allowing them to feel a little less trapped by their jobs.


I write most of my what-might-generously-be-described-as music on piano because that’s the instrument I’m most comfortable with, but I do get into ruts with it sometimes. And by “ruts” I mean “whenever I get frustrated I go back to playing stuff I’ve played a gazillion times and then getting up and going for a soda. So, inspired by Behold! We May Rock You! I decided to do a little composing on guitar and see what happened.

The first thing that happened was a recollection of why I don’t write much on guitar. I am not very good at playing the guitar. I can awkwardly strum a barre chord with the best of ‘em, but beyond that? Pfffft. Nonetheless, I persisted and actually came up with a little something. It’s a little something that I think sounds better on the piano, but…it’s also something that I probably wouldn’t have ever tried. It was surprisingly rewarding. I haven’t recorded any demo-y bits yet, but I like the way it sounded, so we’ll see.

I guess that’s about it. I hope you had a lovely weekend and that you enjoy the football game if that’s you thing.

-RK

I was, in fact, rocked

In the interest of honest disclosure, I know the gentleman who wrote this book and count him as a friend.

However, if I am to be completely honest, I have read things by friends and acquaintances that I didn’t care a whit for. Some of it has been downright painful. So please understand that while I may be a friend of the author, I am also a reader and if I don’t care for what he has written, I will say so, or, more likely, I wouldn’t say anything at all.


Behold! We May Rock You!  by Jim Kuenzer is a very funny novel. Before we go any further, I ask to take a moment to consider how many genuinely funny novels you’ve read. Douglas Adams and Terry Pratchett wrote quite a few, as has Christopher Moore. A Confederacy of Dunces was terrifically funny. But beyond those few, there aren’t many, are there? There are many, many humorous memoirs and collections of stories, but when it comes to novels? It’s a pretty short list, and Behold! We May Rock You! is now on it.

Not only is it funny, but it doesn’t read like an attempt to imitate any of giants of the genre. Kuenzer has his own, unique voice that will frequently make you laugh, or at least grin, without being exactly certain why. There’s no “hipper-than-thou” showboating, no attempt to be edgy. In fact, it’s exactly the opposite of edgy while being sublimely absurd at the same time. By the way, trying to describe humor is quite difficult and I’m certain that I’m not getting it exactly right, but I hope I’m somewhere in the ballpark.

Behold! We May Rock You! is the story of the least-likely success story in the history of music. You may think you’ve heard that story before, but this is even less likely than that one. The rise and…not so much fall as dilution of the band zips along with its own odd but somehow inevitable logic. It’s a quick read, far more importantly, it’s a fun read. You really ought to check it out.

-RK

P.S. I’m also inspired to write some softer, less aggressive music. No snide remarks about that not being possible, if you don’t mind.

try not to sleep

Austin, TX

As soon as I fall asleep, it will be Monday morning when I open my eyes. I rarely look forward to Monday mornings. Aside from the obvious reasons, part of it is that fact that there are people I work with who I only hear from on Sundays. That’s weird, right? I know they’re busy and all, but it’s the sort of the thing that turns Sunday into extended prologue to Monday and that’s no go.


I wrote a really fun post on Saturday, but it wasn’t really the sort of thing that goes here. That got me to thinking about doing a spring cleaning of my online presence and reorganizing what goes where. I don’t think Squarespace will be the platform for this Other Thing I’m thinking about, but I’m not sure what will be. I don’t enjoy using Blogger, I think I’m over WordPress, but there are some interesting new-ish options out there. Wix looks solid. Weebly seems functional, although it’s a little odd that it’s owned by Square (not Squarespace), isn’t it? I love the idea of Penzu, but it’s a poor fit for this other thing. Anyone have any experience with these, or any other suggestions?


There’s a freight train going by about 100 yards from our open window. On weekdays, commuter trains run on the line, but the transit authority only leases this stretch of rail. At nights and on weekends, huge freight trains rumble by, shaking our bed even though we’re four floors from ground level. I love those trains. At night, I can’t really see them but they sound (and feel) like I always imagined a stampede would.


There’s a song I recorded last year, a drone-y thing I made to showcase the ridiculous modifications that Switched On performed on my MG-1. I loved the sounds, but I grew to hate the drum track. It was an ugly snare and kick pattern that I messed with by changing it from 12/8 to 13/8 to 14/8 not because it made any sense, but because I wanted it to be disorienting. Honestly, it just sounded bad.

So…back to the laboratory! I ripped out the drums and shitcanned a high, tinkly piano thing that couldn’t have been more derivative. I replaced the drums with a tom and samples a 1960s drum machine to try to give it more of a bongo feel. The result is a much, much better track:


Ok, I am sitting here just getting angry that I can’t renamed my Chromebook. Someone stole my Google password earlier today. It did them no good as I have gazillion-factor login turned on, but I noticed something that had never occurred to me before: Google kept track of the computer names of the devices that had logged in using my password (yay), which meant it was easy to recognized a Windows computer that wasn’t one of mine. But…I also noticed that Chromebooks just show up as the make and model of the device. That’s fine if there’s only this one in the neighborhood, but we have dozens at the office. You’d think that being able to uniquely identify the machine would be a good thing, wouldn’t you? Grr…

And, if I’m talking about stuff like “not being able to rename a laptop makes me angry”, then it’s probably time for bed. G’night all, and thinks for sticking around while I try to work through a few things.

-RK

Late to the party: We finally see The Wolf of Wall Street

Austin, TX

For some reason, after a long drive, we decided to watch a movie at home. We narrowed it to two choices: Blade: Trinity or The Wolf of Wall Street. We chose poorly.

It was well-made. I mean, with Scorsese at the helm and with that cast, how could it not be? It was funny in parts, and the debauchery was jaw-dropping the first time we encountered it. But…I don’t think I’ve ever been so bored by a film. By the time it enters its third hour, I just wanted it to be over. In the past, I’ve criticized directors for taking shortcuts, for using montages to indicate a rising or falling action without actually taking you through the whole thing. I finally get why they do that.

For all the craftsmanship, this was a story so familiar that you could guess the beats from reading a one-sentence synopsis. Very little happened that you haven’t seen before, only it’s shown a with a good deal more graphic flare in The Wolf of Wall Street: He starts out naive, he starts from nothing, builds a massive fortune by breaking the rules, refuses to recognize the warning signs, and then is undone by his own hubris (sort of, since he never really gets any comeuppance and there’s no growth to his arc).

Naturally, he starts out with a loving, supportive wife who is “Hollywood homely” who will be dumped for a trophy wife midway through the film and never, ever even talked about again. I would say this was a spoiler, but the movie is five years old and, besides, if you didn’t see this coming, you have literally never seen a Hollywood movie.

Women are not treated well in this film. With the exception of the first wife and perhaps the second wife’s aunt, they’re just objects. This point is hammered home over and over, well beyond the threshold of “gratuitous”. There’s a little homophobia tossed in as well. I get that these guys were not meant to be thought of as “heroes”, but we got the point the first five or six times.

Of course, if they’re not meant to be heroes, then what are the guys in this film? They’re just “guys”, guys who cheat on their wives, spend all of their money on drugs and prostitutes, steal from their customers, screw each other over, and break the law without a second thought. It feels like, in an effort to distance himself from Oliver Stone’s preachy Wall Street, Scorsese refrained from passing any judgement whatsoever on his characters no matter how richly they deserved it.

Ultimately, though, the biggest sin of The Wolf of Wall Street is that it was just so boring. There was a good, sub-two hour film in there somewhere that would have been taut, funny, edgy, and, most importantly, would have ended without overstaying its welcome. I might have liked that film, but The Wolf of Wall Street was just an aimless mess of a film that wasn’t anywhere near funny enough to warrant its running time.

-RK

You haven't done well

Austin, TX

We had us quite a sunset the other day, didn’t we?


Has it been a couple weeks since I’ve posted here? Ugh. I guess so. It’s been a busy couple of weeks, mostly good, some less so. It’s been a mostly-garbage day as my body seems to be purging a lot of bile from the last week or so, which means I feel well off my game right now. I’m listening to Mogwai’s Rock Action right now in case you were wondering what kind of a mood I’m in tonight.

The worst allergy season in our neck of the woods is officially underway. The cedars (which I understand aren’t properly “cedars” at all) are in full rut and it’s making everything feel as though I’m slogging through deep sand. My dreams have been lousy of late, including one where my late father appeared and passed me a note reading “You haven’t done well.” I wonder if allergies affect dreams. I wouldn’t be at all surprised if they did.


My wife Nicole is a treasure for many reasons, but not the least being her willingness to throw herself into the silliest of projects and turn them into something lovely. This is a long way of saying that she made a video for my Pieology jingle.

It’s a better video than the song deserves, and it was created entirely on her iPad. I’m thrilled to shared it and hope y’all enjoy.


So, my friend Jim Kuenzer has published his first novel, and it’s currently available for pre-order on Amazon. I’ve read quite a bit of his work and I can vouch that you’d be a loony not to check him out. The book is titled Behold! We May Rock You! and I’ll write more about it when it ‘s out, but I’ll tell you this: I enjoyed the daylights out of it. It literally has no daylights left.


Well, you’ve stuck around this long, so the least I can do is share some of the Mogwai with you. This one’s called “2 Rights Make 1 Wrong” and it builds into something huge and uncharacteristically beautiful for Mogwai and I love it very much. It’s also the wakeup music for my alarm.


Good night, and have a great week,

-RK

NYLO - The Starbucks of boutique hotels?

Plano, TX

We stayed up in Dallas for the New Year, attending a birthday party for an old friend of mine. I’ll likely write more about that later, but what I want to talk about before it slips my mind is the really unusual hotel we stayed: The NYLO hotel in Plano.

The NYLO is Hilton’s attempt to mass-produce the boutique hotel experience. I’d say that they did better than I expected, but there are still a few wrinkle that remind you that you’re staying in a big chain hotel and not a tiny one-off.

The name “NYLO” stands for “New York lofts”. That’s very much evident by the amount of concrete on display. The lobby is concrete. The meeting room is concrete. The walls, floor, and ceiling of the rooms are all concrete. Is there exposed plumbing? You bet! Uncovered lighting? Do you even have to ask?

But ya know, this isn’t a bad thing at all, even if it feels a little contrived. The big hotels have felt pretty much the same for as long as I can remember, which is a disturbingly long time. This is a very modern take on a hotel. The bed, which was comfy, is on a raised platform at the end of the room. There are curtains hanging from the concrete walls. And, hallelujah, there are electrical outlets everywhere. That one little feature makes more of a difference than I’d thought it would.

What didn’t work was the bathroom, which had a sliding door (fine) and a shower instead of a tub & shower (bummer, but not a big deal). The problem was that the walls of the bathroom didn’t reach the ceiling. This may well be “authentic”, but sometimes authenticity gets in the way of common sense. When there are two people (or more) in the room, you really, really want a bathroom area that is isolate. Also, weirdly enough, the toilet paper was awful. I’m sure it’s biodegradable or something, but it was super thin and very rough.

One thing I would strongly recommend they do, going forward, is to lose a little bit of their floor plan efficiency and break up the hallways a little so you don’t just have a bank of doors on either side of hall. If you’re trying to role-play as a boutique hotel, nothing breaks the illusion faster than those long, straight corridors.

The exterior has some of the same problems that the Rangers’ soon-to-be-replaced stadium does. It’s very retro and urban and, thus, completely out of place with its surroundings. It looks like it belongs downtown instead of in the middle of the Land of Corporate Headquarters in deep suburbia. It’s not a bad look; it just highlight’s the fact that this is a chain hotel in boutique drag.

The room was smaller than what you’re normally expect, but that was fine. We had a king-sized bed and enough room for our clothes and, unless you’re planning on entertaining, that’s more than enough. The price reflected the space savings: We paid under $100 for a king room on New Year’s Eve, so yay for that.

Would I stay there again? Absolutely. The price was right, the place was clean, the staff were good, and I appreciate the modernity, even it is to “boutique hotels” what Starbucks is to “neighborhood coffee shops”.

grumpy old man critiques list of top 100 "indie rock" albums of the 2000s

Plano, TX

While I’m sitting here waiting for 2019 to emerge from the womb and trying to figure out if anyone actually liked the song I posted last night, I’ve decided to pore through a list that Google thought I would enjoy: Treble Zine’s Top 100 Indie Rock Albums of the 2000s. I love lists, and 2000s* indie rock is pretty much my bailiwick, so this should be fun, right?

The whole list is here, but rather than go through it album by album, I’m just going to comment on each section of ten (which is how they’re organized on the Treble site) and offer up some albums I think were mistakenly omitted at the end. Let’s do it real time, so I can be surprised by their #1.

91-100

Lesser albums by The Strokes (Room on Fire), Phoenix (It’s Never Been Like That), and LCD Soundsystem (self-titled) show up at the bottom of the list, leading me to suspect we’ll be seeing these bands later on. Don’t really see Room on Fire as a top 100; The Strokes didn’t really live up to the hype in my opinion. Low’s Drums and Guns is on the list which is…odd. Let me check. OK, this list came out in 2017, so Double Negative wasn’t out yet, so Drums and Guns makes sense. Nice to see Neko Case (Fox Confessor Brings The Flood) and Belle and Sebastian (The Life Pursuit) get a nod, but since those are among their strongest works, I doubt we’ll be seeing them again.

81-90

Matador Records, represent! Cat Power’s You Are Free, Yo La Tengo’s I Am Not Afraid Of You And I Will Beat Your Ass and Interpol’s Antics show up here. Kudos for the Interpol record, as I think it was an improvement on their debut (although I’m probably in the minority). Crystal Castles’ debut is in this section, but thinking about them just makes me feel skeevy for what Alice Glass went through. Bright Eyes I’m Wide Awake/It’s Morning is rated just about right. I’m not a huge fan, but it’s kind of hard to knock Conor Obert’s influence.

71-80

Some of the big ones from my concert going experiences finally arrive. The Yeah Yeah Yeahs Fever To Tell and Ted Leo + Pharmacists’ The Tyranny of Distance are in about the right place. MGMT’s Oracular Spectacular, on the other hand, is way too low. History will not look kindly on that rating, or it wouldn’t, if history cared about lists like this.

61-70

Hey! Neko Case’s Blacklisted made it here, so she got a couple on the list at least. A lot of “OK, I guess, maybe” records here: Beruit’s Gulag Orkestar, The Decemberists’ The Crane Wife, and Titus Andronicus’ The Airing of Grievances are tough to argue with, but I’m not really feeling it. I’m hoping that Titus Andronicus’ The Monitor is somewhere a little higher on the list as I like both the music and the ambition better than their debut. Sonic Youth’s Murray Street, the second SY record on the list, feels way too high to me. Their best work was in the 90s in my opinion.

51-60

We’re getting into “no respectable list would leave these off” territory, which isn’t as much fun. Spoon’s Girls Can Tell isn’t my favorite of theirs, but it’s fine. Sleater-Kinney’s All Hands On The Bad One is right where it should be. TV on the Radio’s Dear Science might be a little lower than it ought to be, but let’s see the rest of the list before judging. Elliott Smith’s Figure 8 was going to be somewhere, just a matter of where, right?

41-50

Top half of the list! Sigur Ros’ () is at #50, which is too low in my book, but I can see that one being wildly divisive. We get Of Montreal (Hissing Fauna, Are You The Destroyer?), The Shins (Chutes Too Narrow), and The Killers (Hot Fuss) back to back to back, which is a pretty strong set, even if I liked Wincing The Night Away better. Death Cab For Cutie’s Plans clocks in here and there really had to be some Death Cab, didn’t there? A little surprised to see …And You Will Know Us By The Trail of Dead’s Source Codes and Tags this high up the list, but I’ll take it.

31-40

Everything from here on up should be borderline-classic, and they do pretty will with this segment. Animal Collective’s Merriweather Post Pavilion absolutely belongs and Spoon’s Kill The Moonlight is exactly right for Spoon’s best record. You can’t have any indie cred at all if you don’t list Godspeed You! Black Emperor’s Lift Your Skinny Fists Like Antennas To Heaven, so that box is ticked. The New Pornographers’ Twin Cinema is here, and it’s definitely top 40 material, but the problem with the NewPos is that damned near everything they did is just as worthy.

21-30

Twee is the order of the day in this segment. Bon Iver’s For Emma, Forever Ago and The Postal Service’s Give Up are like bookends for the era (Grizzly Bear, The National, and Fleet Foxes are in this section as well). TV On The Radio’s Return To Cookie Mountain is a classic, so yes, it’s rated about right, but I’m unconvinced of the Arctic Monkey’s debut, Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not. I know it was the hype record, but their recent stuff is miles better in my opinion.

11-20

Top 20 means pretty much album-of-the-year cred at this level….and I’m not on board with most of what’s here. Sure, Phoenix’ Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix rules the airwaves, so that’s fine. But, Death Cab’s Transatlanticism and Spoon’s Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga aren’t their best work and I don’t see them as anywhere near top 20 material. The top 2 here are Vampire Weekend’s self-titled debut and The Strokes’ Is This It and…nah man, I’ll pass. Maybe on the bottom half of the list, but they’re both essentially one-trick ponies who wore out their welcome pretty fast.

10-1

Ok, let’s start with the positives: Bloc Party’s Silent Alarm , Modest Mouse’s The Moon and Antarctica, Sufjan Stevens’ Come On Feel The Illinoise, and The Arcade Fire’s Funeral are all solid, top ten choices. There are a couple of impressive, idiosyncratic choices here as well. Sleater-Kinney’s The Woods and Fugazi’s The Argument are albums I loved and didn’t expect to see here. Wilco’s Yankee Hotel Foxtrot was inevitable, and I can’t argue with it. But this section is bookended by Franz Ferdinand at 10 and Interpol’s Turn On The Bright Lights at #1. Franz Ferdinand ‘s debut was a solid, if monochromatic, record that got big due to a ton of payola, and while I like the Interpol record, is it the best album of the first 18 years of the millennium? Not even close, in my opinion. It’s not even Interpol’s best record.

There are a ton of records that I could nominate as worthy of top 100 recognition, but I’m going to stick with what I think were particularly egregious omissions.

Old World Underground (Where Are You Now?) by Metric-This Montreal outfit is the best of the Broken Social Scene offshoots, and they’re a lot more fun than anything BSS ever made. The debut is the new wave revival you never knew you needed. Should be in the 60-70 range.

Hearts of Oak by Ted Leo + Pharmacists-I’m a biased Ted Leo fanboy, so I can’t be objective, but I feel like this is The One for Ted Leo fans. Should be in the 30-40 range.

Stellastarr* by Stellastar*-This should be a favorite of everyone who loved late-era Talking Heads. It’s fast, it’s fun, it’s smart, and the songwriting is, um, stellar. Sorry about that. Should be in the 50-60 range.

Employment by The Kaiser Chiefs-It feels weird to have other buzz bands like The Strokes and Franz Ferdinand on the list, but nothing by The Kaiser Chiefs. If you like big choruses, this is THE album for you. Great live show, too. Should be in the 70-80 range.

The Witching Hour by Ladytron-Synthwave before synthwave was popular. “Destroy Everything You Touch” was one of the best singles of the decade, not that anyone asked me. Should be in the 40-50 range.

We Are Beautiful, We Are Doomed by Los Campesinos! - The tweexcore Arcade Fire, with a gazillion times more energy. Gazing at your navel has never been more fun. Some folks prefer Come On Now, Youngster, and fair game to them, but this is my commentary. Should be in the 60-70 range.

Electric Version and Challengers by The New Pornographers - for reasons given above.

LP by Ambulance, LTD-An absolutely flawless compendium of guitar-based soft rock, power pop, neopsychedelia, and everything things a band can do with guitar based indie rock. Every song is great. My favorite album of the millennium so far. Should be in the 1-5 range.

That’s about it. Anything I’m missing?

-RK

* 2000s indie rock is way better than the music from my high school years, or, more accurately, I enjoy it more. I reckon this makes me a generational traitor or something, but the ears want what they want.

afterglow

Austin, TX

I’ve been working on this, on and off, for almost a month so I thought I’d share my progress before I put it away for a while. It’s a cover of Genesis’ “Afterglow”, one of their more lush and romantic songs, pure Tony Banks. It builds up to this huge ending, so it was their closer for live shows for over a decade. If you’re not familiar with it, here’s the original:

It’s sort of a go-to for me to play on piano since it’s both easy (a must for me) and, I think, quite beautiful. One night, I think Nicole was at work, I was just playing it very slowly, with one chord per bar and no movement beyond that. I thought “Huh. This would make a really nice, sparse, glitchy, electronic thing and I bet I could do that.”

So that’s what I’ve been doing.

The performance of the parts was actually pretty straightforward. I know the song pretty well, and I had a clear idea of what I wanted. All of the chords hitting on the first beat a piano, albeit piano being clobbered by weird delays and stuff. The parts that were originally guitar parts are very thin synths. I did add a couple of real guitar tracks (only one is recognizable, I think), the rest is all synths and effects.

Here’s what I have so far:

I’m putting it away for a while because I’ve been messing with it for so long that I’m not really hearing it anymore. I’m pretty sure that I’m going to rip a lot of it out because it’s busier than I really want it to be, but I’m not sure what to remove. It’s not quite as “minimalist” as I’d like, but it’s not too far off, I don’t think.

So, this is anywhere from 70-90% done, depending on what I decide to change when I come back in a couple of months. It’s…not quite what I imagined when I got started, but it’s a good deal closer than I thought I’d be able to get, if that makes any sense. If you’re in to this sort of thing, enjoy! If not, then….endure?

-RK

P.S. The mix is stereo, but I’ll be honest, there’s a lot of guesswork involved as I am functionally deaf in one ear. The meters say there’s some interesting separation, but I have to take their word for it.



How To Change Your Mind: The best book I've read this year (and why it pisses me off)

Austin, TX

I finished reading Michael Pollan’s How To Change Your Mind this evening, just in time for me to list it as the best book I read in 2018. It’s been a strange year from a reading standpoint. There of the standouts for me have been in the non-fiction category: How To Change Your Mind, Why We Sleep, and Other Minds. I don’t recall my favorites being quite so lopsided in this regard in the past, but there you have it. It was a good year for reading about brains, I suppose.

Back to Pollan’s book, because I really cannot recommend this one enough. Not only have I never used psychedelics, but I came to this book almost completely ignorant of their history and the research that’s been done to figure out how they work and if they can serve a therapeutic purpose. If you’re already pretty well versed in these things, then I don’t know that it will be as thrilling for you, but I wouldn’t rule it out. My therapist is reading it for the third time and I suspect she’s not unfamiliar with some of the contents.

The first section of the book discusses the history of these molecules, starting with Albert Hoffman and his accidental discovery. Within ten years or so, psilocybin was also introduced to the U.S. (at tremendous cost to the woman who let us in on the secret). At the time, psychedelics were not only legal but even somewhat respectable. A tremendous backlash, the blame for which Pollan lays squarely at the feet of one Dr. Leary, caused the cessation of psychedelic studies until the 1990s when they started to make a return to the “legitimate” medical community.

The middle section describes the author’s own experiences with psychedelics, which he hadn’t tried prior to his 60s. He details how he navigated the underground community and had the opportunity to try LSD, psilocybin, and 5-MeO DMT (“the toad”).He details his trips in about as engaging a fashion as one likely can, but nonetheless, they’re still descriptions of someone else’s drug experiences. I found this section the weakest of the book, but nonetheless you couldn’t write this book without this telling these stories.

The final section concerns current research and goes into detail describing studies using psychedelics to treat the terminally ill, the addicted and the depressed. The results of the tests are cause for cautious optimism. The terminally ill aren’t cured, but their quality of life over their remaining months can apparently be markedly improved by treatments including these drugs.

Of course, you can’t just give someone LSD and cure their smoking habit. That’s where it gets weird and it explains why scientific trials are so difficult. It’s not the drugs that help so much as the experience you have while on them. That means, for it work, you have a guide, and a setting, and you discuss intentions, and all kinds of quasi-shamanic stuff. It is really odd, and odd in a way that science struggles with.

For me, a person who’s never tried anything like this, I found the entire book fascinating. There’s so much history and science to go along with the drug talk that I felt like I was learning new things on every page. It helps that Pollan is both skeptical and grounded, so he doesn’t come across as someone advocating for people to go out and start shoving mushrooms down their gullets. He’s also a fine writer, which always helps when you’re writing a book.

The only thing that pisses me off, and it’s a big one, is this: These treatments would seem to be exactly what a couple of friends of mine, dear friends, could have used. It’s too late for them, and of course, I can’t know that treatment involving psychedelic drugs would have made any difference, but it might have, and that’s made it hard to sleep these last couple of nights.

Anyway, it’s a great book. It’s one of the best non-fiction books I’ve ever read and I would recommend to it pretty much anyone who has any curiosity about the mind and consciousness, or really any curiosity at all.

-RK

Holiday music, video, and a new tradition?

Austin, TX

A few years back, I decided that I was giving up the fight on “begging the question.” I know the correct use of the term, but it’s almost never used that way. Usage changes, and at some point you go from being “correct” to being “a pedantic asshole”, and that’s the time to give it up. I may not use “begs the question” to mean “raises the question” but realistically, that’s what it means now and that fight is over.

This year, I’m giving up on the goatee. The word “goatee” is usually used to describe any beard without sideburns. In ye olden days, that’s not what it meant:

FWIW, I think he looks quite dashing with that Van Dyke.

FWIW, I think he looks quite dashing with that Van Dyke.

I decided to give this one up while reading a thread on Twitter discussing which celebrities should and should not wear goatees. Properly speaking, none of them had goatees, but who cares? Everyone knew what they meant. Usage changes. As P.J. Fry once said: “Time makes fools of us all.” Henceforth, they’re all goatees. It was a dumb thing to take a stand about, wasn’t it?

I should make this a new Christmas tradition: Give up being a pedantic dork about terms that don’t mean what they used to mean, or maybe they do, but no one uses them that way and who cares anyway? I like that. Let’s circle back on that next year.


The new Lil Jon song featuring the Kool Aid Man is all the rage this year, and with good reason; it’s one of the best Christmas songs I’ve ever heard. There’s probably no better hype man for Lil Jon than the Kool Aid Man, and the song just confirms to me that Lil Jon is one of the chillest dudes out there.

Searching for other songs to put on the mix this year, I came across this gem by Slade. You may know them as the band who did the original (and vastly superior) versions of every Quiet Riot single. They’re also the best-dressed band of the seventies, if you’re into glam-meets-hard-rock-by-way-of-English-thrift-shops (and honestly, who isn’t?). I know it’s probably too late to add it to your rotation this year, but keep it in mind. You’ll be the coolest holiday DJ, especially if you’re showing the videos as well:


Here’s a video my wife put together featuring some highlights from our 2018. She’s awfully good at putting these things together and I wanted to share it with all 16 of you who are likely to see it. Happy whichever holiday you chose to celebrate. I hope you get what you want out of this winter, and that you’re happy and safe.

-RK

(If the video doesn’t play, you’ll want to pop it out into another window. Something to do with third-party cookies and Google Drive.)

approaching holiday perihelion

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Austin, TX

These sunny, 70-ish days seriously lack the sort of atmospherics that put one in a holiday mood, don’t they? Fortunately, the fact that I have a few days off more than makes up for that. The middle of March would feel like a holiday with enough time off, wouldn’t it? Maybe I’ll test that theory this year.

I’m in bed, watching a bunch of kids on those motorized scooters that have been irresponsibly dumped on our streets in the middle of the night before the city could get around to making a law that would prohibit that sort of thing. That’s the business model of the disruptive startup, isn’t it? Do something that could/should/would be against the law and try to make it ubiquitous before anyone can do anything about it. Not that it would make any difference if the city were to pass laws against the cursed things; the state is thoroughly in the pocket of Uber and their ilk and will not hesitate to overrule any local ordinances that might hurt their business.

Yay democracy.

My experiment with the social network Vero is being put on hold until they get a user base that’s more useful to me. It wouldn’t hurt if they were to get a little less text-phobic. I can’t say anything on their site without first uploading an image or linking a song or video or, almost-ironically enough, a book. I can do that, sure, and I guess it fits the site’s aesthetic better if people aren’t treating it like Twitter, but it just seems kind of obtuse to discourage what I consider a key feature of social networking. Oh, and they could maybe stop trying to get me to follow Zack Snyder every time I log in. That would be nice.

So, anyway, back to trying to find a place that fills void caused by what feels like an eventually-inevitable departure from Facebook. Does it even need a replacement? Mmmmmaybe? I don’t know, but I’m not quite sure what the shape of that thing would be. It’s not shaped like Vero, for what that’s worth. Maybe Twitter plus keeping a blog is enough. It feels a little light to me, but that’s not an entirely unappealing thought.

Much of the holiday rigmarole is in the rear view mirror. Gifts and cards were launched into the ether, I saw my mother and sister last weekend, so it’s mostly a countdown at this point. We’re hunkered down here in the apartment doing amazing things with crafts and music and…OK, we’re playing a lot of video games. Is that what you wanted to hear?

Job #2 is going well right now, thank you very much. I’m in a weekly rhythm with it that’s working well for me and I think I’m doing a better job at it each week. Sure, it would be nice if the pay amounted to anything, but it’s one of those (and I canNOT believe I’m saying this) resume-builders that’s also a lot of fun for me, so I intend to keep at it and see if it goes anywhere (which is probably will not).

My big goal for the holiday is to finish the song I’m working on, or at the very least get all of the tracks on the laptop so I finish it there. I’ve only recently discovered the concept of “parameter modulation” in the effects section, which puts things into a semi-modular kind of territory that is ….wait, are there words I’m using even real words? They are, and there’s a real chance I’m using them correctly, but let me just say that there are some new toys in Reaper that I’m super-eager to play with because I think they’ll give me something very close to what I was imagining when I started this project.

One thing that living on the fourth floor, as opposed to the ground floor, offers us is the opportunity to leave the windows open at night. It is getting properly chilling in the deep parts of the night, which makes blankets feel that much better. It’s not like camping, but it does give the nights something of a “vacation bungalow” feeling sometimes. We both sleep better with the windows open, at least in the winter when the allergen-producing plants have the decency to keep it to themselves. There’s a full moon out there somewhere. I can’t see it, but I can see the shadows it’s casting. It’s a good night for sleeping, so I think I’ll do some of that now.

-RK