Sunday, April 26, 2015

work work work ...

I’m going to have to miss another post this week.  I have a fair amount of work to do, of all stripes, and I just can’t seem to scrape together enough time to crank out a reasonable post.  The Mother and 3 out of 3 of our human children (and 1 out of 5 of our furry children) will be off without me during the upcoming week, so hopefully I can parlay that into a chance to get back to being ahead on blog posts for a change.  No promises, but it’s a worthy goal.

In the meantime, you’ll have to find some other corner of the Internet to amuse you.  But the Internet, being made of cats, is a vast place, so this should pose few problems for you.

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Saladosity, Part 3: My Chosen Path

[This is the third post in a long series.  You may wish to start at the beginning.  Like all my series, it is not necessarily contiguous—that is, I don’t guarantee that the next post in the series will be next week.  Just that I will eventually finish it, someday.  Unless I get hit by a bus.]

So, if I don’t buy into any of the nutritional tribes I talked about last time, what is my personal food philosophy?  What is my diet?  (And remember: “diet” means the food that you eat all the time, not a temporary menu change for losing weight.)

Well, until about a year ago, I didn’t really have one.  I had managed to cut sodas out completely, almost by accident,1 and I’d radically reduced my McDonald’s consumption,2 but not eliminated it completely.  My beer intake had declined to the point of near-non-existence.  As a family, we were eating more organic foods and cutting out a lot of the pre-processed meals.  But there was no real guiding principle behind any of it.  Until one day, The Mother said, “let’s do Whole30.”

Now, Whole30 is a form of paleo, and I’ve already given you my views on the paleo tribe.  So, on the one hand, I wasn’t completely on board.  But, on the other, if I’m going to do something, I’m going to do it right, and, if The Mother is going to do something, it’s just easier to say I’m going to do it too.  So I started looking into it.  And it definitely has some upsides.

I’m not going to try to convince you do the Whole30 yourself—that’s above and beyond the scope of this series—but I’ll just give you a couple of reasons why I found it helpful.  Basically, the program involves cutting vast swaths of food types out of your diet, but only for 30 days: after that, you add them back in, slowly, preferably one at a time.  This allows your taste buds to “reset,” first of all.  If you’re like the vast majority of Americans, everything you eat is too salty and too sweet.  When you cut out all that stuff, everything tastes remarkably bland for about a week or so.  Then everything tastes fine again.  Then, when your 30 days is done, you’ll find that you can’t really go back to the same crap you were eating before, because it now tastes awful.  This is a good thing.

Your digestive system will reset as well.  There’s a decent number of things your body is simply tolerating right now.  Give your body (and in particular your gut) a chance to live without the constant bombardment of that stuff for a while, then, when you try to go back, your body will happily tell you just when to slow down.  You can listen to your body and trust it to know when things are bad for you ... but only after you recalibrate it to real food.

There’s also some stuff in the Whole30 program about not replacing things.  For instance, if pizza is your downfall, don’t just start making pizza with almond flour instead.  Almond flour is perfectly fine on the Whole30 plan.  But the point is to break your bad habits, and almond flour pizza or almond milk ice cream or sweet potato chips is not helping you do that.

But, as I say, my goal is not to convince you to try the Whole30 program.  Rather, I’d like to talk about what you can and can’t eat during that 30 day period and how I’ve modified that to suit my own needs.

So, the first thing to say is that when you look at what Whole30 wants you to cut out, it seems impossible.  In fact, it is technically impossible, unless you never eat out.  It’s just completely impractical to try to quiz your waiters to that level of detail about what’s in the food they’re serving you.3  But that’s okay.  Even if you’re only hitting 95% of your goals, you’re achieving a massive improvement in your diet.

Now let’s look at each category of things that they want you to cut out and see if we agree with where they’re coming from:

No added sugar of any kind.  This the big one.  It’s huge, in fact.  There are very few things you can buy at your grocery store that don’t contain any added sweeteners, even if you’re shopping at Whole Foods.  And companies have gotten insanely good at finding new names for sugar.  “Evaporated cane juice” is one of my favorites—it’s even more ridiculous than referring to water as “hydrogen dioxide.”  How do you think they make sugar, anyway?  But the main point here is that you’re not just cutting out high fructose corn syrup, which I think most people already agree is pretty terrible for you, but even the healthier versions: your honeys, your molasseses, your raw organic cane sugars.  I agree with this one, for the most part.  I was willing to give them all up for 30 days, and I’m still pretty selective in how much I allow currently.  Get used to food without all the extra sugar first, then you’ll be better able to keep your total amounts down.  In the salads that I’m going to show you, the amount of sugar or other sweeteners will be remarkably small (and zero for some of them).

No grains.  This is one is pretty damn big too.  Mainly because corn is a grain, and corn is also in just about everything you buy at the grocery store.  (This probably has something to do with the nearly 7 billion dollars per year in corn subsidies.)  This not about removing gluten from your diet;4 this is about all grains.  Whole30, being paleo, will tell you this is because primitive man never cultivated grains.  I say that’s a silly reason.  Better to focus on the fact that grains are nearly pure carbs, which are not only bad from the paleo standpoint, but even worse from the Atkins standpoint.  And the first thing your doctor will tell you cut down if you start developing diabetes.  My family has a fair amount of that in its history, so cutting out grains was a no-brainer for me.  Hard as hell, of course, but I couldn’t really argue with it.  There will be no grains of any kind in any of our salads.5

No legumes.  This is one of those things that doesn’t seem so bad at first.  No beans: well, I like beans, but I can live without them.  They’re pretty damn starchy, so I can’t really argue with the nutritional advantage.  No peanuts: now it’s starting to sting.  Peanut butter is one of the healthiest things I used to eat, really.  Shame to lose that.  But it turns out that cashew butter is pretty damn awesome, especially if you mix a little almond butter in it.  So I’m okay there.  But here’s the one you forgot was a legume: soybeans.  And soybeans are in just about everything in your grocery store that doesn’t have corn in it (and most things that do, as well).6  And the problem with soybeans is, first of all, the same as it is with corn: we just plain eat too much of it.  Even when something isn’t bad for you, eating massive quantities of the same thing is probably bad for you.  But, worse, soybeans (along with corn) are one of corporations’ favorite things to genetically modify, if you believe that that sort of thing is bad, plus there are new studies suggesting that the compounds in soy that mimic estrogen are pretty awful for us too.  So I’m down with cutting out soybean oil, as really really difficult as that may be.  None of the salads I present in this series will contain any legumes at all.

No dairy.  And here we hit the first place I disagree with Whole30 completely.  I actually don’t drink milk any more because I’ve become fairly lactose intolerant as I’ve gotten older.  But who can live without cheese?  I would miss sour cream as well, though I could live without it, but there’s also yogurt.  Assuming you’re managing to find yogurt which has not been infested with high fructose corn syrup (a difficult proposition, granted), that’s a pretty healthy product right there.  Also excellent in helping keep your digestive tract on ... well, track.  As I said last time, I’m unwilling to give up dairy just because cavemen hadn’t gotten around to domesticating cows yet.  So there will be cheese7 in some of these salads.  But often that will be easy to omit if you don’t agree with me on this one.

No alcohol.  Twaddle.  First of all, new studies show that alcohol in moderation can actually help reduce your risk of a heart attack.  But for me it’s not really about drinking.  It’s practically impossible to go out to eat without encountering some sort of sauce containing wine—especially if the restaurant is Italian.  Hell, even most dijon mustard has wine in it.8  Now, I still respect the restriction on grains, which means no beer (or not very often anyway).  Also no whiskey or derivatives, and no rum (’cause, you know: sugar).  But vodka and tequila and gin are okay ... and wine.  Still, there will only be alcohol in any of our salads if your particular brand of dijon has wine in it.

No fries or chips.  Originally this rule was no potatoes.  But then they realized that it meant people were avoiding relatively healthy things like potato leek soup and aloo gobi and just eating sweet potato chips and sweet potato fries instead.9  Not ideal.  I mostly respect this—I’ve cut potato chips down to no more than once a week, and fries to even less than that.  But there won’t be any chips or fries (or potatoes, for that matter) in our salads.

No carageenan, MSG, or sulfites.  Well, first of all, there are natural sulfites in wine, and also balsamic vinegar.  But those are not the sulfites that Whole30 is attempting to ban.10  It’s the sulfites used as preservatives.  In fact, this whole rule is about avoiding food additives, as far as I’m concerned.  There’s lots of debates about this sort of thing, and “additives are bad” is a bit like “drugs are bad” (which is to say, lumping all of them together is pretty silly).  Nonetheless, simpler is better in my opinion, so additives in our salads will be few to none.

So that’s what I got out of the Whole30 plan in terms of nutritional goals for myself, and my salads.  My nutritional philosophy isn’t really Whole30, or even paleo at all.  Or any other tribe.  It doesn’t have a name, and I don’t feel compelled to give it one.  I don’t follow it slavishly, and you needn’t follow it all, if you have your own ideas.  Or you can feel free to follow it partially: adopt some of my salads and reject others.  Personally, I’m pretty happy with this level of selectivity: it cuts out a lot of things which are most likely bad for me, but completely eliminates hardly anything.  I tend to believe in “everything in moderation,” but moderation can mean pretty small amounts of some things, and pretty hefty amounts of others.  Preferably all-natural organic others.

And at least now you know where I’m coming from.

Next time, we’ll go shopping.


1 Which is an amusing story in itself, but too long to go into here.

2 Thank you, Morgan Spurlock.

3 And likely they wouldn’t admit to every last ingredient anyway.

4 Although I’ve tried avoiding gluten as well, even after reintroducing grains into my diet.  It doesn’t seem to make a lot of difference for me personally, but it does for The Mother.  So that’s something you’ll have to experiment with yourself.

5 Okay, technically speaking, the shredded cheese I use for one salad has corn starch in it to prevent caking.  But I’m willing to allow that much.

6 If you need more sources than just me to tell you that nearly everything you buy in your grocery store contains either corn or soy or both, I’m happy to oblige.  But just go read labels.  It won’t take you long to figure out this is correct.

7 And other dairy as well.  But mostly cheese.

8 Not all, admittedly.

9 I know I was.

10 They already banned wine with the “no alcohol” rule and vinegar is an explicitly listed exception to the rules.

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Saladosity, Part 2: The Nutritional Tribes

[This is the second post in a long series.  You may wish to start at the beginning.  Like all my series, it is not necessarily contiguous—that is, I don’t guarantee that the next post in the series will be next week.  Just that I will eventually finish it, someday.  Unless I get hit by a bus.]

First of all, let me say that I don’t particularly subsribe to any one nutritional philosophy.  Much like religion.  Gandhi once said:

I came to the conclusion long ago ... that all religions were true and also that all had some error in them, ...

The same is true of the various camps on nutrition, as far as I’m concerned.  In fact, people treat nutritional philosophy a lot like religion: if you’ve ever had a friend go all Atkins on you, you know very well that’s it’s hard to distinguish that from their having joined a cult.  But, I’m not going to get anywhere trying to convince you that your favorite nutritional evangelist is really a televangelist.  So let’s not call them “cults” ... let’s call them “tribes.”

So I believe the various tribes are all right, a bit, and all wrong, a bit.  The truth of the matter is that the complexities of the way nutrition is absorbed by the human body are so intricate, and they vary so widely across individuals, that even as much as we know about biology and science, we still don’t know exactly what’s good for us to eat and what’s bad.  We have ideas, true, but unfortunately many of the ideas are contradictory.  Also, many of them are most probably wrong.  Too bad we don’t know which ones.

And so we’re presented with a bewildering barrage of information with no clear way to choose which bits to rely on, and it constantly changes.  Remember when cholesterol was bad for you?  Well, now only some of it is bad for you.  Remember when milk was the most awesome thing you could drink?  Now it’s full of fat and complicated by lactose intolerance.  Remember how butter was terrible for you and margarine was the savior?  Now margarine is Satan because it contains trans fat and butter looks pretty healthy in comparison.  Whenever anyone tells you that this or that food is “bad” for you, you can almost bank on the fact that, if you wait five or ten years, it’ll be good for you again.

Amidst all this data flying at you, groups will agglomerate certain facts, conveniently ignore others, and announce that they now hold all the secrets.  The majority of these have a rationale that sounds perfectly sensible, so it’s easy to fall under their sway.  The trick is to remember that nutrition is often counter-intuitive, and to question everything.  I’m going to briefly cover what I consider to be the most important of the nutritional tribes (in no particular order), and I’m gong to tell you what I buy and what I question.  These are only my opinions.  I might throw in a few links here and there, but I’m not trying to convince you to believe what I believe, especially since what I believe changes fairly regularly.  I just want to you hear my reasoning, and hopefully convince you to question things for yourself.

The Low-Fat Tribe

I sometimes call this the Weight Watchers tribe,1 but that’s an oversimplification.  Lots more folks than just Weight Watchers believe in the siren call of low-fat.  The rational here is pretty simple: if you don’t want to be fat, stop eating food that contain fat.  An offshoot of this tribe is the low-calorie tribe, which is so similar I just lump them both together.  The low-calorie rationale is only slightly more complex: you consume X calories, and you burn off Y calories.  If X is bigger than Y, those extra calories turn into fat.  If Y is bigger, you lose weight.

Where I think these guys get it right is in their emphasis on exercise.  You really do need to burn some calories or you’re not going to get very far.  Besides, exercise is not only important for losing weight: there are plenty of other health benefits to be gained from reducing your sedentary time.

But the questionable bits here are pretty questionable.  Recently a lot of nutritional folks are saying that not all calories are created equal, and that fat doesn’t actually make you fat.2  Rather, it’s sugar and carbs that make you fat.  Some folks will even go so far as to say that reducing fat intake can be less healthy for you, if you’re reducing certain types of fat.  (But of course no one will agree on which fats are which.  Except everyone agrees that trans fat is evil.)

The Atkins Tribe

The natural reaction to information that fat isn’t bad for you but carbs are is to create a new tribe.  The Atkins folks have the most complicated rationale of any of the tribes (which is why it sounds the most cult-like).  There’s a lot of stuff about glucose and ketosis and it sounds all science-y and cool.  And it absolutely is based on actual science.

The good parts of Atkins are that carbs really are evil ... or at least mostly evil.  Lots of folks, even outside the Atkins tribe, are now agreeing on this, particularly as regards refined sugars and refined flours.  Reducing carbs also seems to help with diabetes, which is one of the major health issues with being fat.

On the other hand, cutting out all carbs is not sensible, and some folks have claimed it isn’t healthy either.  Looking at it from the opposite angle, I agree that fat can be good for you, but that doesn’t mean I agree that consuming all the fat you can stomach is good for you.  And all that meat ... too much meat makes me feel vaguely ill, and if that’s not a danger sign, I don’t know what is.

The Paleo Tribe

The paleo folks have taken a riff on the Atkins philosophy and then doubled down on it: it’s not the carbs that are bad, per se, it’s the grains.  Also the starchy vegetables, and the diary ... basically, if cavemen didn’t eat it, you shouldn’t either.  The rationale here, as usual, sounds pretty believable: the diet of our primitive ancestors was, by definition, the most natural diet we’ve ever had.  Every technological advance took us farther and farther away from that ideal.

Rejection of preservatives and sweeteners and suchlike is the best advice from the paleo tribe, in my opinion.  Folks can say all they want that there are no studies proving that all our modern food additives are to blame for all our modern health issues, but the fact that we didn’t have the health problems when we didn’t have the additives is pretty hard to argue with.  The way I see it, it’s entirely possible that sodium benzoate is perfectly safe.  But it’s also entirely possible that it ain’t.  Do I really need it that bad?3

The problems with the paleo tribe is, again, going too far.  No dairy?  Really?  Yogurt and cheese might well be the most healthy things I ever ate, before I got onto my salad kick.  Do I really want to eliminate all dairy just because cavemen hadn’t manage to domesticate cows yet?  Also, there’s sort of a giant flaw in all this: who wants to have the life expectancy of a caveman?

The Vegan Tribe

The vegetarians and vegans are possibly the most interesting group of all.  Lately they’ve almost entirely given up on trying to convince us that cutting out meat is more healthy, and concentrated instead on pointing out that it’s a hell of a lot cheaper, uses less water and energy, and produces a hell of a lot fewer greenhouse gases, if we put our time and energy into growing crops to eat instead of growing them to feed herbivores so we can eat them instead.  All of which is hard to argue with.  Also, cows, and pigs, and chickens are cute, and we should probably stop torturing them.

There are lots of studies that suggest that reducing meat in our diet can be healthy.  Unfortunately, nearly all those studies are contested on some grounds or other.  For instance, if a study suggests that people who eat more meat are more likely to get cancer, someone is bound to come along and point out that the most likely reason for that is that meat tends to get overcooked more, and we already know that burned stuff is carcinogenic.  And, honestly, that sounds pretty logical.  Still, I can’t deny that I don’t feel good when I eat too much meat, or eat it too often, and I know for a fact that cutting back my meat intake is the surest way to guarantee that I lose weight.

Again, though, elimination of all meat just feels like going too far to me.  I love animals, and I really don’t want to see any of them mistreated.  But I also know that a carnivore is a carnivore, and animals eating each other is a perfectly natural part of life.  And we are animals, and we most definitely are carnivores.  Watch a documentary on chimpanzees sometime.  They don’t eat meat all that often, but, when they get a hankering for it, the results are ... bloody.  There are also plenty of studies that show that the protein from meat is crucial to our diet (those are also always contested, of course).

The Other Tribes

This list isn’t exhaustive, of course.  It isn’t meant to be.  It’s just designed to cover what I feel are the most convincing viewpoints out there, and why I think they’ve all got something going for them ... and yet I’m not completely sold on any of them.  But there are plenty more folks out there who claim to have The Way and The Light when it comes to knowing what you should eat.  There’s the juicing tribe, and the fasting tribe, and the raw tribe, and the Weston A. Price tribe, and oh-so-many-more.  All of them sound very convincing—at the very least in that late-night-infomercial way that sounds good at first, but can break down after you examine it later a bit more critically.  Many of them even hold up after careful scrutiny, just to disappoint you with mediocre results when you try them out personally.  There’s a lot of reasons for this, many of which I mentioned above.  But the biggest one is this:

People are all different.

Oh, we’re all the same, too,4 but we’re certainly all different, often in very fundamental ways.  And I’m not just talking personalities here.  We’re biologically—genetically—different.  And we start out different and get differenter as we go along—as some of us get diseases others don’t, some are subjected to stresses which subtly alter our internal processes and some aren’t, some of suffer injuries that change our bodies in fundamental ways while others never even suffer a scratch—until it’s frankly amazing that doctors can treat people at all, that biology doesn’t just throw up its hands and go “the answer to everything is: it depends!”  It’s one of those cool things that makes us stand out as individuals—even identical twins can be distinguished by people who know them well.  But every upside has its downside, and the downside of this one is that you’re always going to run into advice of a medical or biological or anatomical—or nutritional—nature that simply won’t work for you.  That doesn’t make it bad advice, necessarily (though certainly a lot of it is just that), it just means it doesn’t work for you.

And absolutely that applies to my advice as well.  Take it all with many many grains of salt, modify it to suit yourself, question it and test it and disparage it as you will.  But I think there’s some value in some of it, sometimes, for some people, so I’m going to keep on prattling on about it.

Next time I tell you what my personal goals are in designing my salads (and some of my oher meals too), so you can better know which of my advice to take to heart and which to throw out on the grounds that I’m insane.

1 I did so in our last installment, even.

2 I could link you to several articles, but, again: question everything.

3 Let me stress that I’m perfectly willing to risk purely hypothetical dangers if there’s some benefit from it.  I’m just not seeing the benefits here.

4 As I explained both in my views on balance and paradox and individuality.

Sunday, April 5, 2015

Rose-Coloured Brainpan I

"Billion Year-Old Carbon"

[This is one post in a series about my music mixes.  The series list has links to all posts in the series and also definitions of many of the terms I use.  You may wish to read the introduction for more background.

Like all my series, it is not necessarily contiguous— that is, I don’t guarantee that the next post in the series will be next week.  Just that I will eventually finish it, someday.  Unless I get hit by a bus.]

In the beginning,1 there was a mix called Depression, which I would play when I was in a bad mood.  There were two problems with this:  First, it was a bit too on-the-nose.  That is, 90 minutes2 of continuous, depressing music is not helpful when you’re already depressed.  And, if you’re not depressed, it’ll just make you depressed.  Secondly, not all the music on this mix was actually depressing.  It was all slow, sure, and full of minor keys, but, even so: it turns out that music is quite good at doing different shades of “depressing.”

Next came Wisty Mysteria, which was one of the pre-modern mixes.3  As I explained when discussing my penchant for bizarrely named mixes in the first place, “Wisty Mysteria” is supposed to convey the concepts of “wistful” and “mysterious” at the same time, plus a few more for good measure.4  These tunes weren’t really depressing, but they filled a space that Depression used to ... at least partially.

And now we’ve arrived at April 2002, which is when I watched episode 7 of season 2 of Six Feet Under, titled “Back to the Garden.”  The episode was named after the lyrics of “Woodstock” by Joni Mitchell, and featured that song in a central role.  Now, chances are that I’d heard this song before, but I likely dismissed it because I’m not that huge a fan of the seventies.  There’s a few bits of it I like,5 and a few bits I don’t mind so much, but as a general rule I consider it the low point in the history of rock.  So every now and I again I can still be pleasantly surprised to rediscover some 70s gem.  Like this one.

“Woodstock” is not so much wistful as nostalgic.  That’s a subtle distinction, but I knew right away that this tune would not fit in with the rest of Wisty Mysteria.  Those songs have a sense of longing, often for something that you can’t really put your finger on.  This song— this mix— is about reimagining the past to suit the needs of the present.  Although it’s entirely possible to appreciate the lyrics of “Woodstock” without ever thinking about its eponymous festival, it’s also worth noting that this is a song about Woodstock written by someone who wasn’t there and always regretted missing the opportunity.  The resulting hyperpoetic romanticization is emblematic of the mood that this mix projects.6

So what we end up with is a collection that’s mellow, certainly, but not that depressing.  I don’t really even make mixes that are completely sad any more, but Rose-Coloured Brainpan isn’t even as downbeat as Wisty Mysteria, or Tenderhearted Nightshade.7  This is music about examining memory and retrofitting it: a little bit nostalgia, a little bit regret, a little bit wishful thinking.  To see the world through rose-coloured glasses means to put an optimistic spin on things ... even when those things don’t really deserve it.  And if the “things” in question are memories, the bits of flotsam one finds in the bottom of one’s neurological oilpan, perhaps ...

Unlike many of my mixes, there’s no set of bands or albums that dominate this mix, although there are certainly a few that lend themselves to it.  The first time I ever heard August and Everything After, for instance, I didn’t particularly care for it.  Too wimpy, and I really didn’t like “Mr. Jones.”  Still don’t, for that matter, but I’ve come to appreciate that the annoyingly pervasive single was the worst song on that album, and what I perceived as wimpiness was actually a quiet, mellow brilliance.  “Round Here,” with its opening lyrics:

Step out the front door like a ghost into the fog, where no one notices the contrast of white on white.

is just too perfect to pass up for this mix, as is the lush, not-quite-goth of Peter Murphy’s “Marlene Dietrich’s Favourite Poem” from Deep, which contains nonsensical but strangely haunting phrases such as “sad eyed pearl and drop lips.”  The former Bauhaus front-man put out a moody, atmospheric album that I fell in love with as soon as I picked it up off the strength of “Cuts You Up.”  And our old friends from Smokelit Flashback, Naomi, are back with a rare vocal track, “October,” whose thoughtful, almost surreal, lyrics are, again, perfect here.

On the other hand, some of my other choices are from unlikely sources.  If you know the reggae-tinged alt-dance of Escape Club,8 you may not expect the pining quality of “Only the Rain.”  And if you know the upbeat punk-pop of Tuscadero,9 you may find “Nancy Drew” surprisingly reflective, if still pretty peppy.

Which brings me to another important point about this mix: not all the songs are slow songs.  In fact, after the classic Smiths bridge “Please Please Please Let Me Get What I Want,”10 which is about as close to depressing as this mix gets, I launch into a far more upbeat set, starting with the Smithereens’ sixties-throwback-tune “Groovy Tuesday,” off their killer album Especially for You,11 then proceeding through the aforementioned “Nancy Drew” into “No Regrets” by Dramarama, the almost upbeat “Tread Lightly” from Kirsty MacColl, and finally winding down with OMD’s quirky “Women III” off Crush.  Both “No Regrets” and “Women III” are self-critical examinations of a life from a female perspective as sung by male singers, so interposing the bittersweet “Tread Lightly” between them seemed almost a necessity.  All three of those source albums12 are among my favorites, for different reasons.  They have very different styles, but somehow this set of songs seems to flow very well.

Closing out the album is “A Month of Sundays,” one of the few songs that can reliably make me cry if I sing along with it.  I picked up Building the Perfect Beast in my freshman year in college on the strength of the poppy hits “The Boys of Summer” and “All She Wants to Do Is Dance,” but ex-Eagle Don Henley has a mellower, serious side as well.  Perhaps it’s because three of my four grandparents were raised on farms that this song strikes such a chord with me.  But maybe it’s just the strength of Henley’s touching portrait of an old farmer who seems a bit lost in the modern world.

And, finally, “Dust and a Shadow,” which closes out Shriekback’s Go Bang!, also concludes this volume.  This track is one of the few moments on Go Bang! that echoes earlier albums such as Big Night Music, and I always thought it was very pretty.

The mix starter also provides the volume title.  We are stardust.

Rose-Coloured Brainpan I
    [Billion Year-Old Carbon]

        “Woodstock” by Joni Mitchell, off Ladies of the Canyon
        “Can't Find My Way Home” by Swans, off The Burning World
        “Marlene Dietrich's Favourite Poem” by Peter Murphy, off Deep
        “October” by Naomi, off Pappelallee
        “Round Here” by Counting Crows, off August and Everything After
        “So gone” by Myles Cochran, off Marginal Street
        “Only the Rain” by Escape Club, off Wild Wild West
        “Girls' Room” by Liz Phair, off Whitechocolatespaceegg
        “Please Please Please Let Me Get What I Want” by The Smiths, off Pretty in Pink [Soundtrack]
        “Groovy Tuesday” by The Smithereens, off Especially for You
        “Nancy Drew” by Tuscadero, off The Pink Album
        “No Regrets” by Dramarama, off Stuck in Wonderamaland
        “Tread Lightly” by Kirsty MacColl, off Kite
        “Women III” by Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark, off Crush
        “A Month of Sundays” by Don Henley, off Building the Perfect Beast
        “Dust and a Shadow” by Shriekback, off Go Bang!
Total:  16 tracks,  66:32

The other tracks here are mostly unsurprising.  While I don’t find The Burning World to be the equal of Love of Life in general, there’s no doubt that the Swans’ cover of Blind Faith’s “Can’t Find My Way Home” is one of Jarboe’s finest vocal moments, and it flows so beautifully after “Woodstock” (and also drifts seamlessly into “Marlene Dietrich’s Favourite Poem”).  Liz Phair’s spare arrangement on whitechocolatespaceegg‘s closer “Girl’s Room” serves as a fantastic winding down of the quieter first set on this volume, working as a bridge to the bridge of “Please Please Please Let Me Get What I Want.”

And finally I’ll mention Myles Cochran, who is one of the artists I discovered through Magnatune.  I found Magnatune while exploring darkwave, because they’re the primary label for Falling You.13  Unlike those labels which epitomize one particular style of music, Magnatune is all over the map.  Cochran is described on their site as “alt-country”; although country is the one style of popular music that I can’t stand, apparently I’m okay with alt-country.14  Definitely Cochran’s easy-going style has a lot of twang to it, but it never crosses the line for me.  “So Gone” is one of the best tracks on this album, which you should hop over to Magnatune and check out: you can listen to the entire album for free.  In fact, you can listen to all their albums for free.  As their motto proudly proclaims: they are not evil.

Next time around,15 we’ll take a step back to look at one of my all-time favorite volumes.


1 By which I mean in the mid-eighties.

2 This was before CDs, so I made my mixes to fit on a 90-minute cassette.

3 Meaning we’re still talking about cassettes as opposed to digital playlists, but at least by now I was recording off of CDs.

4 I’m sure we’ll cover the full gamut once we reach Wisty Mysteria in our series.

5 Primarily the Doors and the Eagles, I’d say.

6 Admittedly, sometimes it’s difficult to figure out whether a song should land on Rose-Coloured Brainpan or Wisty Mysteria, and I have a couple that regularly float back and forth as I change my mind on where they belong.

7 Both of which we’ll come to in the fullness of time.

8 Most famous as one-hit wonders for their hit “Wild Wild West”.

9 Known— as far as they were known at all— for songs like “Latex Dominatrix” and “Candy Song.”

10 Which, at under 2 minutes, I’ve used to fill small gaps at the ends of mix tapes for years.

11 Which I believe was another of my finds at Unicorn Records, which I mentioned back in Smokelit Flashback II.

12 That is, Stuck in Wonderamaland, Kite, and Crush.

13 Whom you may recall we discussed back in Smokelit Flashback II.

14 Remember from Smokelit Flashback I that I also mentioned I like Chris Isaak.

15 Remember, not necessarly next week.