Sunday, July 5, 2020

80s My Way I

"There's a New Wave Coming, I Warn You (1979 - 1981)"

[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 series introduction for general background; you may also want to check out the mix introduction for more detailed 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.]

Well, it’s only been 3 years since I said I was going to start on this mix, and I think I’m pretty happy with volume I.  At this rate, I’ll be done memorializing the 80s in about 2047.  Hopefully I live that long.

This whole mix is trickier than most, for reasons that I outlined—okay, more like belabored—in the intro.  And the first volume is super-tricky, because I’m attempting to epitomize a genre which didn’t really exist yet.  What to include? what to skip?  There’s a lot to consider.

After a lot of agonizing, I decided to include a number of songs which were not really alternative at all, but I consider them (at least in retrospect) as harbingers.  I open the volume with the undeservedly forgotten “My Girl” by Chilliwack, usually considered one-hit wonders here in the US, though less so in their native Canada; I then follow that with Australia’s Little River Band and their guitar-heavy “Night Owls.”  Both came out in 1981; the former reached #3 and the latter peaked at #6.  In many respects, these were perfectly normal, straight-up rock songs, particularly the single by LRB: often known for softer, power ballads like “Reminiscing” and “The Other Guy,” this was one time that they just rocked out.  Chilliwack wasn’t much known for anything, but their song also featured some solid rock guitar work.  So why do they appear here?  Well, in between the almost expected hot licks, these two experiment, just a touch: “My Girl” features some beautiful almost-a-capella harmonies backed only by a drumbeat, while “The Night Owls” plays around with dynamics, creating a hint of lonely echo on some of the background power chords.  Throughout this mix, I will not be afraid to throw in songs that I only discovered much later, on the grounds that they should have been part of my 80s, but these are two songs that I distinctly remember hearing at the beginning of the decade, and they were two of my earliest memories that something ... different ... was on the wind.

Also in this camp are the classic “Jessie’s Girl”—possibly more famous for rhyming the word “moot” and confusing an entire generation who didn’t realize it was a word1and Billy Joel’s “It’s Still Rock and Roll to Me,” which simultaneously touched on the very edge of the new sound while singing about it, a new level of meta which came to characterize a lot of 80s pop culture.  Joel sang: “Next phase, new wave, dance craze, anyways, it’s still rock and roll to me,” and he was right ... and yet he was wrong.  It was still rock and roll, but just barely, and it was morphing every day.

What were we to make of “What I Like About You” by the Romantics, for instance?  It certainly wasn’t punk, and it absolutely wasn’t new wave,2 but it somehow was something more than simply rock.  And how about “Kids in America” by British pop star Kim Wilde?3  That ain’t pop—Wikipedia wants us to believe that Wilde was “inspired by the synth-pop stylings of Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark and Gary Numan,” but I’ve got news for you: it ain’t synth-pop either, although that’s closer.  There is a strong synth throughline, and I’m betting that’s clearly a drum machine you’re hearing, at least for part of the song, but it’s also ... more.  It holds on to the standard forms of rock and pop, while going in new directions.  Wilde sings:

Giddyup to East California,
There’s a new wave comin’, I warn ya ...

and any line that prophetic is not to be ignored.4

And there’s even weirder stuff in the mix.  The Easybeats were sometimes called the Beatles of Australia, and they too drifted into the psyschedelic territory that the Beatles trod.  Two of them in particular began a project after the Easybeats were no more that they called Flash and the Pan which went even deeper into psychedelia, and, in 1980, they released an album called Lights in the Night and their first single was a bizarre little track called “Welcome to the Universe,” which combines ambient synth, voice distortion, rock guitar, and a rollicking piano performance that could almost be considered boogie-woogie.  When I first heard this song,5 I had no idea how to categorize it.  Hell, I’m not sure I do even now.

And then we have the real new wave.  There are two songs that will always exemplify the sound of new wave to me: “Pop Muzik,” by M, and “Cars,” by Gary Numan.  Now, “Pop Muzik” is a bit to the left of europop, and it’s got a lot of disco influence as well, but the synth layers, and the way the guitar is used—not licks or power chords, but just individuated notes that seem to vibrate in your head—that’s new wave, baby.  But if I had to describe new wave in one word, that word would absolutely have to be “Cars.”  It’s nothing but synth and drum machine, and whatever buzz there is is not provided by guitars at all: it’s just more synth, made jagged-edged and discordant.  “Cars” is the first time I can remember hearing sounds that were essentially sci-fi sound effects used as actual music ... and it works.  A healthy chunk of the entire genre of electronica can be traced back to Gary Numan, as far as I’m concerned, and while I’m not a hardcode Numan fan, there’s no denying the absolute majesty of this song.

Of course, the other two classic new wave bands of the 80s are DEVO and the B-52’s, and both are here, because they were both putting out amazing songs right from the start of the decade.  Sure, including “Whip It” means I can’t6 include “Working in the Coal Mine” or “Girl U Want,” but come on ... “Whip It”?  That was a harbinger of the decade if ever there was one.  Likewise, “Rock Lobster” is here bumping out “Private Idaho” and “Channel Z,” but I decided to include it for a couple of important reasons.  First of all, while the B-52’s are undeniably a new wave band, they’re not synth purists the way some of the others are.  “Rock Lobster” includes some great guitar work that almost sounds like it’s played on a bass guitar (but it’s not).  Again, this echoey, almost ringing guitar sound would become very prevalent in much of the alternative to come.  But one of the most interesting things about “Rock Lobster” is that it was originally released in 1978—and then appeared on 1979’s The B-52’s, when it entered the charts, and finally peaked in 1980.  So I feel fully justified in including it here, but it’s fair to note that this is the earliest song to appear on the mix.  That kind of ahead-of-its-time phenomenon is too important not to celebrate.

But the real reason this retrospective on the 80s actually starts in 1979 is “My Sharona.”  Unlike the B-52’s, there was no other option for the Knack, but there was also never any question not to include this iconic track.  If “Cars” single-handedly defines new wave, “My Sharona” does the same for post-punk.7  This track isn’t quite the punk that the Ramones and the Sex Pistols were delivering, but it owes so much to it: you can clearly hear the punk in both guitars and drums.  The harder edges of alternative stem mostly, in my opinion, from this one song.

Of course, another band that is often the recipient of the “post-punk” moniker is Joy Division.  I’m not sure I can entirely see it, though.  Let’s take “Love Will Tear Us Apart,” for instance—their highest-charting single, which, sadly, peaked well after lead singer Ian Curtis was already gone.8  It’s an almost goth tune, with all the sense of melodrama that the word implies, but also containing a fair amount of synth.  Compared to “My Sharona,” this is an entirely different sound, but a no less important one.

Of course, the heavy synth makes sense, as the post-Ian-Curtis remnants of Joy Division would go on to become New Order, one of the most important synth bands of the decade.9  Synth pop, in fact, is one of the most crucial musical components of my 80s, because it’s where most of my all-time favorite albums of the decade truly fall.  And synth pop really starts, in my opinion, with Soft Cell, and 1981’s “Tainted Love.”  It may not have been the first,10 but it was the one which exploded onto the scene and changed the landscape in a pretty fundamental way.  The song itself explodes into being too, using sounds which we previously had thought were only useful for laser blasters in Star Wars.  It’s a cover, although most people have never heard the original,11 a rockin’ Motown number.  Soft Cell remakes the song so fundamentally that people will forever think of their version as the way it should be sung (similar to what the Marcels did to “Blue Moon”).  It stayed on the charts for a record-making 43 weeks: nearly a year, all told.12  To my mind, it ushered in a new era that would eventually bring some of the greatest bands of the 80s: Depeche Mode, Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark, Tears for Fears, New Order, a-ha, Naked Eyes, my all-time favories Yazoo—all of whom we absolutely will be hearing from on future volumes.  On this volume, though, the only other synth pop classic from the start of the decade, in my opinion anyhow, is “Don’t You Want Me” by the Human League.  I don’t know that the Human League lives up to the standards of some of those other bands, but at least Dare was a pretty good listen all the way through, whereas Non-Stop Erotic Cabaret is pretty awful apart from “Tainted Love.”  Still, while a few other tracks on Dare are pretty cool (I particularly like “The Things that Dreams Are Made Of,” and I have a soft spot for “I Am the Law,” goofy as it is), there’s no doubt that “Don’t You Want Me” is a powerhouse pinnacle that the League would never reach again.

Many of the other choices here are fairly predictable.  Picking only one Police song is particularly painful, especially since Synchronicity was such a major part of the soundtrack of my senior year in high school.  But “Don’t Stand So Close to Me” was the first Police track I ever heard, and it really did have quite a big impact on me.  Picking only one Men at Work song is a bit easier, but there were still several other good choices (“It’s a Mistake,” “Dr. Heckyll & Mr. Jive,” or even the contemporary hit, “Who Can It Be Now?”, which I almost certainly heard prior to “Down Under”).  But, in the end, this is such a great tune, with some impressive flute work from Greg Ham (more typically their sax player).  Likewise, the Go-Go’s present a number of excellent candidates, including “Vacation,” “Head Over Heels,” and, once again, a contemporary song that technically preceded my choice here: “Our Lips are Sealed.”  This was a much tougher choice, as I like both songs equally, and I changed my mind several times before settling on “We’ve Got the Beat.”  It’s a great example of the dancier side of alternative, and I think it presages stuff as diverse as Animotion and Bananarama.  Finally, the Vapors certainly didn’t give me anything to work with even remotely as well-known as “Turning Japanese,” which, despite its racist overtones, is still such an intrinsic part of my 80s memories that I couldn’t exclude it.

80's My Way I
[ There's a New Wave Coming, I Warn You (1979 - 1981) ]

“My Girl (Gone Gone Gone)” by Chilliwack [Single]
“The Night Owls” by Little River Band, off Greatest Hits [Compilation]
“Welcome to the Universe [single mix]” by Flash and the Pan [Single]13
“My Sharona” by The Knack, off Reality Bites [Soundtrack]
“Jessie's Girl” by Rick Springfield, off Working Class Dog
“It Must Be Love” by Madness, off Complete Madness [Compilation]
“Harden My Heart” by Quarterflash, off Quarterflash
“It's Still Rock and Roll to Me” by Billy Joel, off Glass Houses
“Pop Muzik” by M [Single]
“Cars” by Gary Numan [Single]
“Tainted Love” by Soft Cell, off Non-Stop Erotic Cabaret
“Turning Japanese” by The Vapors, off New Clear Days
“Kids in America” by Kim Wilde, off Kim Wilde
“We Got the Beat” by The Go-Go's, off Beauty and the Beat
“Down Under” by Men at Work, off Business as Usual
“Call Me” by Blondie [Single]
“What I Like about You” by The Romantics, off The Romantics
“Don't Stand So Close to Me” by The Police, off Zenyattà Mondatta
“Generals and Majors” by XTC, off Black Sea
“Don't You Want Me” by The Human League, off Dare!
“Rock Lobster” by The B-52's [Single]
“Whip It” by DEVO, off Freedom of Choice
“Love Will Tear Us Apart” by Joy Division, off Substance [Compilation]
Total:  23 tracks,  84:38

I’m not sure there can be any real “unexpected” or “non-obvious” tracks on a mix like this, but I will address a few of the songs that exist at the edges of alternative.  Let’s start with Madness, who are 100% pure ska.  And yet, they pepper it with just enough pop that a track like “It Must Be Love” can break into the ostensibly rock charts; while it only reached #33 in the US, it got all the way to #4 in the UK and #6 in Australia.  Strangely, this is another cover that I (like, I suspect, most of you) never knew was a cover: the original was a more folksy affair by a British guitarist and poet named Labi Siffre.  I would say the Madness version is better, but perhaps it’s more fair to say it’s just different.14  This track, along with Madness’ other contemporary hit “Our House,” was a big part of what led me to discover and then treasure retro-swing, which of course leads inevitably to Salsatic Vibrato.15

But I would have to say my love of saxophone in particular was engendered by hearing Quarterflash’s “Harden My Heart.”  Quarterflash is one of those bands that’s hard to pigeonhole into a style: Wikipedia just calls them a rock band, but that’s so generic as to be useless.  They remind me slightly of Romeo Void16, but also of Scandal,17 which is a bit of a feat, considering how different those two bands are.  Scandal is solidly female-fronted post-punk, while Romeo Void leans hard into the new wave side.  Quarterflash is neither, really, though guitarist Marv Ross has some chops that certainly feel punk-inspired.  But the revelation of Quarterflash is of course Rindy Ross, whose velvet vocals are filled with a longing quality that her gorgeous sax playing only echoes and accentuates.18  Saxophone as part of rock music was nothing new of course; we’d been hearing it since way back on “Get a Job” by the Silhouettes in ‘57, if not long before that.  But the sax in alternative music is different, somehow: less punctuation and more emotional backdrop.  Rindy Ross prepared me for Andy Hamilton’s break in “Rio,” and Kirk Pengilly’s amazing scales in “What You Need.”

The reason Blondie is such an amazing icon of the alternative movement is their refusal to stick with one style.  They’re playing rock, mostly, but each song delivers a different sub-style: “The Tide Is High” gives a little reggae, “Sunday Girl” leans towards an almost loungy jazz, and “Rapture” was the first proper rap that some of us white kids ever heard.19  But “Call Me” is the one I went with here: with its strong disco influences, this track is just a poster child for the transition from 70s to 80s.  I never liked disco, but I love this song.  The fact that Blondie can make me like things I never did before is a testament to their genius, and their influence on the 80s alternative movement.

Finally, I threw in “Generals and Majors” by XTC.  While XTC is a band that not as many folks are familiar with, for me they provided just as many options as the Police: all the way from “Making Plans for Nigel” in 1979 through “Mayor of Simpleton” in 1989.  I suspect that 1982’s “Senses Working Overtime” was the first track of theirs I ever heard, while 1986’s Skylarking is one of my all-time favorite albums, including classics like “Earn Enough for Us” and “Dear God.”  But, while I never heard “Generals and Majors” until close to the end of the decade, it’s such a classic XTC tune that I felt like it had to be the one I chose.  It’s poppy, satirical (“generals and majors always seem so unhappy, ‘less they got a war ...”), and most of all layered.  Layers of guitars, layers of percussion, layers of synths, I’m sure, although never too obvious, there’s whistling, and soft vocals, and jangle-pop guitars, and just a touch of post-punk.  There is never any question that XTC should be considered “alternative,” but that’s only because you have no idea where else you could possibly put them.

Next time, we’ll see the first second volume of a pre-modern mix.

80s My Way II


1 If you have an older friend who tends to say “the point is prob’ly mute,” it’s entirely Rick Springfield’s fault.
2 Fuck you Wikipedia.  You don’t know squat.
3 We talked about the weird dichotomy of Wilde back on Salsatic Vibrato V: in the US, she’s thought of as a one-hit wonder, while in the UK she’s a mega-star.
4 So much so that I made it the volume title.  Natch.
5 The fact that I ever did, and how that came about, probably deserves its own blog post.
6 According to the rules I set out in the intro, that is.
7 I typically despise terms like “post-punk” or “post-grunge,” as “post-X” just means “the music that comes chronologically after X,” which could describe most anything.  But, then again, the term “alternative” is already pretty generic and meaningless—especially after alternative music became mainstream in the 90s!—so I’ve pretty much given up.
8 I also confess that “Love Will Tear Us Apart” was not a part of my 80s experience at the time: I had to go back and learn about them a bit later in the decade.
9 I predict we’ll see them show up around volume VII or so.
10 Wikipedia wants to credit first Giorgio Moroder, who was of course busily inventing Italo disco, and then Gary Numan, who we’ve already pointed out was the progenitor of new wave.  Then they throw in “Video Killed the Radio Star” by the Buggles, which is harder to argue with ... I suppose that’s synth pop, sort of, but I just never really thought it was that good of a song.  Which is why you don’t see here on this volume.
11 I certainly hadn’t, before writing this post.
12 Admittedly, nowadays the record is closer to nearly two years.
13 As always, I hate linking to YouTube.  If you want the 9-minute version of the song, you can find it on Amazon ... but you don’t.  It’s not that good of a song.
14 If you want to hear the original to compare for yourself, as always YouTube is your friend.
15 On which mix Madness have made two appearances: once on volume III and once on volume V.
16 Who we will absolutely hear from when we reach 1984.
17 Ditto.
18 For the ultimate Quarterflash experience, though, you must listen to “Find Another Fool,” where Rindy not only channels Pat Benatar, but also provides us with what has to be the world’s only saxophone-electric-fiddle duet.  Yeah, that video is ultimate 80s cheese; maybe try just closing your eyes and listening.
19 I’m not claiming it was a good introduction, of course.

Sunday, June 28, 2020

Isolation Report, Week #16

[You could also read the most recent report, or even start at the beginning.]

I originally thought I might make up for last week by doing a full post this week, but a number of factors have conspired against me.  One is trying to finish a thing for $work.  Probably the more time-consuming, though, is that our cycle of D&D (and other TTRPGs) has cycled back around to the Family Campaign, which is the one game where I tend to put in a lot of work.  So I suppose we’ll have yet another virus isolation report.

Aside from the slight interruption of Father’s Day, it’s been pretty much business as usual.  The news seems to be confirming that, yes, we did open back up too early—perhaps I’m just cynical, but is there really anyone out there who is surprised at this news?  Experts said, if you do a thing, another thing will happen, and then people who are supposedly in charge did the thing, and then the other thing happened.  To borrow the eloquence of a fourth-grader: well, no duh.  I’m definitely not feeling bad about our family’s decisions to maintain our mostly-staying-isolated lifestyle.  In fact, honestly I would say we’re staying at home even more now than we were at the beginning of the pandemic: we’re going longer between runs to the grocery store, we’re eating out way less, and, while The Mother and the smallies have been out a couple of times recently, expanding our “social bubble,” overall extra-domiciliar expeditions are, on balance, reduced.

Protests over our militarized police state continue, but the media seems less inclined to continue focussing on the story, which is ... frustrating.  I guess we’ll just have to see how things keep going.  I do find it encouraging that so many people—especially so many white people—are calling for change.  On the other hand, the idea that the public outrage might  be quelled by the 24-hour news cycle is ... frustrating.

So far, I haven’t baked any sourdough bread or tried to pick up any new hobbies.  Unless my daughter sucking me into Portal Knights counts.  I have been, admittedly, watching a shit-ton of television, have blown through most of my podcast backlog, and been trying to watch more videos on the Internet, but there’s not as much out there as I wish there was.  In many ways, we’re getting some cool new stuff—to name just one, check out Josh Gad’s Reunited Apart series—but a lot of what I used to watch is struggling to figure out how to cope with the new normal, and that goes for television too.

One spot of good news: Critical Role is returning this coming week.  This is good news, because, I gotta tell you: watching people who normally play games together live try to figure out how to play on Zoom or other videoconferencing technology where the lag is just enough to make it difficult for people to figure out whether to jump in or shut up and let someone else talk is ... not as satisfying.  The people who have been doing it that way for years already have a leg up, of course, but a lot of the streams I’ve tried to watch (such as the otherwise entertaining annual livestream games from the makers of D&D, this year called D&D Live 2020) are just not what they used to be.  So the news that Critical Role is going to come back, filiming with everyone in the same room (albeit no longer at the same table), is quite welcome.  And, also, they’re going to keep doing their Narrative Telephone series (new episode came out on YouTube just yesterday), which brings me a lot of joy.  We’ll see if the new format works for Critical Role or not.

In the meantime, we’ll soldier on, try to stay safe, and try to stay sane.  Hopefully you all will as well.

Sunday, June 21, 2020

Father's Day Amusements

Well, there was going to be a regular post this week, but I’ve spent Father’s Day weekend playing games with my kids and essentially accomplished nothing.  But, you know: in the best way.

Yesterday was around 5 hours of Portal Knights.  If you haven’t played it, it’s basically Legend of Zelda meets Minecraft.  So there’s equal parts fighting wandering monsters, exploring dungeons, and talking to townspeople along with planting trees, mining for copper, and constant expansions to the insanely large house you’re building.  The cool thing is how these seemingly dissimilar gameplay elements interact: can’t reach a cool place you want to explore?  Just build a bridge or some stairs to it.  Can’t find the door to the dungeon?  Just pickaxe through the wall.  Contrariwise, can’t build that cool wardrobe you need to hold all your extra stuff?  Just explore until you find someone else’s house that already has one and just take it.  I had a human wizard I made back when I played for a while with the Smaller Animal, but for this game it was just the baby girl and I, so I created a furfolk ranger.  I optimized him for being able to just sit still and shoot the shit out of things: I put every ability point into dexterity and constitution, built the best bow I could, took bow master and the sentry power that increases your damage if you shoot without moving.  Then I started grinding: I let my daughter concentrate on house building and interior decoration while I provided construction site security.  Eventually I got to the point where nothing in the level could kill me before I just shredded it into oblivion without ever moving.  Sweet.  And then of course I started fulfilling requests from my daughter (go find me a wardrobe, we need more copper blocks, etc etc).  It becomes very easy to lose yourself in games like these, where they’re just hard enough that you’re not bored but just easy enough that they don’t piss you off too much and you quit.  The 5 hours was gone before I knew it ... and that’s why I don’t play videogames any more.  I’d never accomplish anything.

Today was board games, by my specific request.  We started “simply,” with The Wizard Always Wins.  This is one of those games that seems moderately simple: the rules are just barely complex enough to warrant a second reading to clarify some of the finer points, but it turns out that it’s chock full of interesting choices and competing strategies.  We really enjoyed it.

Then we moved on to Betrayal at House on the Hill.  This is a quite complex but amazingly fun game.  The storyline is very Cabin in the Woods, although it precedes that movie by several years.  Basically, you build a haunted house out of tiles, thus making it different every time, and the various rooms give you items, events, and omens.  Items are usually good, events are often bad, and omens are usually a mixed blessing: it can be a valuable item for your character, but every time you get one, you have to roll for the haunting to begin.  You have to get more pips on your roll than there are omen cards on the table, so obviously there will eventually come a time when you just can’t beat it.  But of course it might come much sooner than that if you have shitty dice luck.  If you fail this roll, you look up which haunting you get by cross-referencing the room you were in with the item the omen granted you: there are 50 different scenarios in all.  Typically, one of you becomes the betrayer—it might be the one who failed the roll, or it might be someone else entirely, or it might be no one ... yet.  We played this twice, and it was entirely different the second time, which was amazing.  We’re looking forward to playing again soon.

(By the way, I have to thank The Mother, who picked out both of those games.  She doesn’t even like playing board games that much, but she knows what we like.)

So that ate up another several hours, and thus no proper post for you.  But I had a great time with all my children, so I’m not complaining, and hopefully you won’t either.  Until next week.

Sunday, June 14, 2020

Isolation Report, Week #14

[You could also read the most recent report, or even start at the beginning.]

So, these past couple of weeks have been a bit surreal.  People are trying to open the country back up, but nothing about the virus situation seems to have changed: still insufficient tests to see if you have it, still unreliable tests to see if you already got it and recovered, seemingly no closer to a cure or a vaccine.  I did see one report that the number of reported cases is starting to climb again—to which I say, “no shit”—but no one is sounding any alarms yet.  Which I find disturbing.

But perhaps that’s understandable, since the pandemic as a news story has been eclipsed by the tenacity of the Black Lives Matter protests, at least in the US.  Although I understand that some protests are taking place in other countries too, so perhaps more than just here.  This is another issue that I hope for balance on: I am so happy to see that the protests are not just going to go away, as they have in the past, but I’m also very concerned that that crazy person in charge of our country is going to actually do something crazy as opposed to just talking crazy.  Following the news has become completely surreal: if it weren’t my country, I could almost find it ridiculous.  Is this what people in other countries were feeling right before their democracies failed?

And we’re still supposed to be having an election.  The primary voting is still fucked, and some election officials are saying “we’ve got time” to fix it ... but there isn’t.  In large counties, they have to pre-plan the elections months out—sometimes up to a year—and it’s very hard to change directions less than five months out.  And, even if some places are willing to try to do that hard work, other places just aren’t.  Hell, the president openly admitted that making voting easier makes it harder for Republicans to win.  (Well, I say “admitted” ... I guess “bragged” is more appropriate, as he was celebrating defeating legislation to make voting easier.)  Will our elections be fair?  Will they even happen at all?  The president is asking people to apologize for polls that don’t show him winning, and he already seemed perfectly fine with tear gassing citizens.  Once upon a time the concept that a sitting president might attempt to delay or even cancel our election would have been utterly ludicrous.  Now it’s only mildly silly, and becoming increasingly feasible every day.

So, I don’t really know.  This is supposed to be a virus isolation report for me and my family, but, for us, little has changed.  The “reopening” of things has certainly not been heartening, and we’re in hurry to rush out and mingle with the folks who don’t seem to give enough of a shit about their fellow humans to cover their faces.  We’re eating out slightly less, trying to get back to homeschooling the kids regularly, trying to reduce stress wherever possible.  Which is tough these days.

I’ll toss you a few more links for things I think people should watch, even when they’re difficult:

  • Anthony Mackie makes an emotional appeal in an appearance on Jimmy Fallon’s show.
  • The Daily Show once again exposes hypocrisy on Fox “news”; in this case, they interleave clips of Fox anchors and commentators ranting about racial justice protestors with clips of pandemic lockdown protestors.  (Of course, the Fox folks had nothing bad to say about those people being in the streets.)
  • Dave Chappelle is full of (understandable) rage, and never afraid to be offensive, but I still think this show, which he believes to be the first in-person concert in North America since the pandemic started, is worth watching.
  • Wyrmwood is a company that makes some things I like, and they released this video where they solicit opinions from all their employees about the ongoing protests.

I particularly want to highlight the last one.  You don’t know who Wyrmwood is, and, for purposes of watching the video, you don’t really need to know.  It might be useful to know that they’re craftspeople—they’re makers.  But even that is purely optional in the end.  The point is, this company didn’t just want to make a blanket statement, which many would (rightly) perceive as just words, and perhaps suspect that the statement is more for show than anything else.  Instead, they wanted to ask their employees what they thought.  Their employees don’t agree on what the right response is, and they put that in the video.  Their employees have different opinions, and different levels of engagement, and they put that in the video.  There are black employees and white, women and men, gay and straight.  Each one has a different take, and it’s all in the video.  Probably the most compelling opinion came from a white employee, who said this:

So, I’m a combat vet.  ... If a solider kills an innocent civilian in another country, you’re going to Leavenworth.  If a cop kills a person here, who is innocent, did not pose a threat, they at worst get fired.  That’s a huge issue.  There’s a lot of good police officers, just like there’s a lot of good soldiers.  How you deal with those bad people defines you as an organization.  And an organization whose slogan is “to protect and to serve,” if you’re putting your life before the people you’re supposed to be protecting and serving, that is an inherent problem.  The consequences for actions, those are what need to change.  You change those, you change the equation.

Just in case you decided not to watch the whole thing.  But you really should.

Finally, on a lighter note, I’ll leave you with another call to check out “Narrative Telephone.”  My peeps over at Critical Role have kept it up, and I swear it’s the only decent thing about this whole pandemic bullshit.  Not only the fun of watching the story degrade hopelessly over time, but the joy of watching their faces when they watch the same thing you just watched: they give each other shit, they shake their heads in despair at their own foibles, they analyze what went wrong and where.  It makes the whole thing take more than twice as long, but it’s so worth it.  Remember: you don’t have to enjoy D&D or even know anyhthing about it; just enjoy the stories.

Because there should be a little joy in the world.  The pain is necessary, but sometimes you need to take a break.

Sunday, June 7, 2020

Protest Is the Bedrock of Democracy

The world is suffering through interesting times right now—and I use the word “interesting” in the same context as the supposedly (and apocryphally) Chinese malediction “may you live in interesting times.”  In my own country (the United States), we are now undergoing a layering of protest against racial injustice on top of the pandemic concerns.  There are a lot of opinions on this out there, and I wonder if anyone still reading things on the Internet like this post has an opinion unformed enough to be changed.  I suspect not.  I suspect that we all just read and watch the things we already believe, so that we can feel good about how sound our beliefs are, and don’t do much challenging of them.  I don’t exclude myself from any of my criticism, of course, but then that’s why I named this blog what I did.

Nonetheless, I have listened to a few opinions that dissent from my own—probably not as many as I should, but a few.  I have to confess, though, that I’m a little puzzled this time.  That is, on many issues, I can at least understand where people are coming from, even though I don’t agree with them.  If you say that it’s wrong to steal money from the rich via the gunbarrel of taxes, and we should just rely on their generosity to support charitable works, I understand that point of view.  It’s crazy, of course—it didn’t fly for Scrooge, and it doesn’t fly today—but at least I see where you’re coming from.  If you say that your holy text tells you that non-heterosexual non-cisgendered people are an abomination, I of course violently oppose your viewpoint, but at least I know which religious passages you’re wilfully misreading.  This one though ...

I understand racism, at least a little.  I am, after all, related to a lot of racists.  If I were to tot up all of my blood relatives, I would feel pretty confident in coming up with more racists than not, even considering that a lot of the most racist ones have done the nation the great service of dying.  I understand that the majority of it stems from not understanding any culture outside their own, from the systemic dehumanization that was the foundation of slavery in this country, and from being educated in systems that didn’t address any of those issues on the grounds that this was “too delicate” to discuss with children.  At this point in history, it really requires a stubborn insistence on ignorance, but at least I understand the root causes.  But, okay: say you hate black people.  They’re less than human, you’re sure of it.  Now, how do you then take the leap to say it’s okay for police officers to kill innocent people without repercussion?

Because, you understand that the legal systems in place that protect the cops don’t just protect them when they kill black people, right?  It so happens that they tend to kill more black people than anyone else, and that’s why this issue has become centered on race, because figuring out why the police are more likely to kill blacks than whites (or even Hispanics, or Native Americans, or Asian Americans, etc) is a pretty damned important thing to figure out.  But the truth is, the police kill all of those types of people, and probably plenty more besides, and they are protected from prosecution for murder regardless of whether the victim was innocent, whether the officer in question followed procedures or not, or a million other things.  Are all police killings murder?  No, of course not.  But how can we know how many of them are when there is no way for the officers to be held accountable ... hell, not even any way to simply track how many deaths there are.  No matter how racist you are, I can’t see how you can be comfortable knowing that, if a cop decides to shoot you in the street tomorrow, there will not be any consequences.

And I also understand the fact that protests are inconvenient.  I understand that, when Colin Kaepernick takes a knee in the middle of the anthem while you’re just trying to enjoy watching a football game, that’s irksome.  But I don’t believe that anyone on Fox news actually believes it when they try to argue that this is the not the “right” time to protest.  The national anthem is not the right time to protest, right after a mass shooting is not the right time to protest, right now right here in my very own city: that’s not the right time to protest, people say.  But of course, this is a moronic argument.  If the protest didn’t disrupt your life, it wouldn’t be much of a protest, would it?  Of course “this” is not the right time to protest, no matter when “this” is, because the wrong time to protest is the only time to protest.  If there was such a thing as a “right” time to protest, protesting then would be meaningless.  And, again: regardless of how you feel about the protestors, you already know this.

Even more incomprehensible to me are the people trying to say that protesting is itself undemocratic, somehow.  Many of these same people claim to be students of American history, claim to idolize the founding fathers.  So obviously they know that this country was founded on protests.  We were protesting unjust government by the British, not being treated equally with citizens in the motherland, taxation without representation ... remember that great American slogan?  That meant that the government was taking money and not listening to those they took it from.  That was worth protesting.  But now some say that it’s not okay for the government to take lives and not listen to those they take them from?  How can anyone reconcile this position?

Though it’s written in a different time, for a different issue, in a different country, I feel these words from a British student protestor still have relevance today:

Those who take to the streets, or engage in direct action, don’t have lobbyists to fight our corners. This is the only power that people can exercise, beyond box ticking in a ballot once every five years. Protest is vital to our democracy, giving a voice to those with no platform or privilege. So next time you read about troublemaking activists, wait before passing judgment.

And yet this is not just a matter of people talking: the police themselves are more often than not taking the attitude that protestors are the enemy.  Not just through tactics of violence against them, which is already deplorable, but through tactics such as not allowing protestors to leave so that they can then arrest them for being out past some arbitrary curfew.  And localities are encouraging this by instituting more and more ridiculous curfews: I heard Stephen Colbert ridicule some places recently for 6pm curfews, but I’d say his research team needs to step up their game: here in Los Angeles, where I live, many localities are declaring 4pm curfews.  Is anyone even trying to justify this?  What justification could you even give, apart from trying to curtail or even eliminate protests, or to have a legal excuse to arrest people?

I’m even going a step further: to hear conservative pundits rail on about the horrors of looting, and what terrible people these must be ... again, are these not the same people who claim to idolize the founding fathers?  What the fuck do they think the Boston Tea Party was?  It was a massive, coordinated act of looting, which resulted in property damage of over a million dollars by today’s standards.  This is what the major conservative organization in America is named after, for fuck’s sake!  And now they want to turn up their nose when people are looting?  The hypocrisy is so rank you can taste it.

Look, I’m not advocating looting.  It’s terrible if you’re a small business owner, minding your own business and someone breaks your windows and takes your shit.  But we live in a capitalist society and, the sad truth is, if no one’s losing money, no one’s taking action.  I’m sorry, but in our country the bottom line is the bottom line.  Once the rich people start losing money over this issue, then we’ll damn well see some action taken in the government to fix it.  Am I happy that this is the fucked up way our country works?  Of course not.  But I’m not going to try to deny it either.

I guess the biggest thing I can’t understand is how anyone can continue to support Trump.  The man literally had people shot and gassed for a photo op.  Some of the people shot with rubber bullets and gassed with tear gas were journalists; others were clergy and lay members of the church Trump desired to stand in front of.  Sure, you could argue that Trump denies that they ever used tear gas, but but do you expect me to believe that you trust the word of a man who lies so often that he constantly contradicts himself over the word of dozens if not hundreds of eyewitnesses, one of whom is a Catholic rector?  Seriously?  This is the philosophical equivalent of plugging your ears and screaming “la la la I can’t hear you!” at the top of your lungs.  I understand that you can make such a statement.  I just can’t understand that you could do so sincerely.  I don’t buy it.  You know in your heart what is true.  You know what is right.  It’s time for us all to be honest with each other.  It’s time for us all to stand up for what we believe in, rather than just paying lip service to it.  It’s time for us all to stop trying to make our side “win” ... it’s time for us to just be human and strong and do what we know is right.

Links to things I think everyone should watch:

Sunday, May 31, 2020

Isolation Report, Week #12

[You could also read the most recent report, or even start at the beginning.]

Well, as promised (threatened?) last time, I took a week off from bitching about the virus and did a normal long post last week.  So now I have two weeks to report on.  What’s been going on?

Well, both the Mother and I lost parental siblings: she lost her favorite aunt, and I lost my only uncle.  In her case, it may have been COVID-related; in my case, it definitely wasn’t.  In neither case were we able to attend the funerals, both due to enforced smaller funeral sizes and just having travel be way too much to deal with right now.  So there’s a bit of grieving going on, which doesn’t do much to lighten the mood.

A few days ago I finally had to buy gas for the first time since this whole thing started.  It was under $3/gallon, which is a price I haven’t seen around here for perhaps 10 years.  I spoke to a friend on the East Coast and he said he also had just had to buy gas for the first time in a while, and it was under $2 for him.  Wacky.  I guess that’s what happens when the price of oil futures goes negative.

Possibly the biggest news, though, is that our governor (among many others, I hear) has finally reopened things, at least partially.  Restaurants can now have people dine in, for instance.  On the face of it, this seems like good news.  But ...

We’ve always eaten out nearly every Friday: it’s our family night, and having a nice meal is typically part of that.  Occasionally we’d cook something special, but often it was eating out—if we were managing to be good, it would be the only time we’d so that week—and, every other Friday, which was payday, we’d almost always go to a decent restaurant and sit down to eat.  It’s become something of a ritual for us.

Well, we didn’t necessarily want to let the virus stop us, though of course going somewhere to sit down and eat was obviously out.  But I could still go out and pick up some food from somewhere: I have a mask (not a very good one, granted, but good enough), and I know how to wash my hands when I get home, and anyway the local restaurants could use the business, because they’re struggling just like everyone else.  So we’ve been picking a different local spot every week and ordering a decent meal and sometimes we get it delivered, but usually I go get it.  Mostly these haven’t been chain restaurants, but I don’t necessarily have anything against the chains, and franchise employees gotta eat too.

This Friday I decided I wanted a good Cobb salad, and one of the places that had a decent one on the menu was TGI Friday’s.  And it just so happens that’s the one we picked.  I haven’t been there in a long time, but, again: nothing against it.  It’s slightly generic, but the food is often perfectly lovely.  So we ordered, and I trekked out into the night, not even thinking about the fact that this was the first Friday—if not the very first day—in our county that restaurants were allowed to have actual customers inside.  Foolish of me.

When I arrived there, the first red flag was that the parking lot was full.  You don’t realize how fast you get used to everything being deserted all the time, but I sure noticed when it wasn’t, all of a sudden.  Then I come up to the front door, and there are at least 16 (yes, I counted) people hanging around, waiting to get in.  And I don’t mean hanging around in widely spaced groups: I mean, bunching up, two or three feet from the neighboring group, just chatting gaily.  I actually heard one person high-five another and say “feels good to be out again!”  The accompanying “woohoo!” that I’m hearing in my head is almost certainly a false memory, but that was the sentiment, for sure.

Inside, there were a few tables with signs reading “this space reserved for social distancing,” but I have to tell you: it still felt pretty packed.  Outside, I didn’t see any tables marked off that way.  All the employees had masks, but very few of the customers did: I saw perhaps 4 or 5 out of the dozens and dozens that were there.  Most disturbingly, to get inside far enough to attract the attention of an employee, I had to pass through the little waiting area ... you know, the roughly 6 x 10 foot area with a bench on either side where, under normal circumstances, you cram in to sit and wait to be called to your table?  Well, these were not normal circumstances as far as I was concerned, but this place was just as cramped as it would be on any Friday night before the pandemic: I counted at least eight people, no more than 2 masks, and additionally two infants, in car seats.  And I could not help but think to myself, what sort of maniac takes their INFANT out into a crowded place during a time when a serious virus is out in the world?  Sure, this virus is hitting children way less hard than most do, but, still ...

Look, I have spent a lot of these virus reports saying that I fear that we’ve gone too far with draconian measures and pointing out that, no, you’re not staying home because you may kill someone if you go out—that’s still completely hyperbolic and, actually, ridiculous.  It might appear hypocritical of me to now complain about people going out and congregating in mass numbers.  But I’m not backtracking on any of my previous statements.  Remember that I’m the guy who believes in balance.  Both of these extremes are bad, in my view.  Just because “never leave your house or you could KILL me!” is completely crazy doesn’t mean that “the governor said we can go and eat so let’s see how many people we can infect!” is any more sane.

There has to be a middle ground here, people.  I hope we find it soon.

Sunday, May 24, 2020

Snaptone Glimmerbeam I

"All I'm Sayin', Pretty Baby"

[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.]

When it comes to music, I don’t actually care that much for instrumentals.  I like to be able to sing along to my music—despite not being very good at it—and it not having any words sort of puts a damper on that.1  Still, there are quite a few places where downbeat instrumentals can land in my mix universe: if they’re dark and somber, they go on Shadowfall Equinox (which is almost entirely instrumentals); if they’re dark and trippy, they go on Smokelit Flashback (which is typically anywhere from a third to half instrumental); if they’re dark and creepy, they go on Phantasma Chorale (which is composed mostly of songs that, even when they have vocals, don’t have intelligible words).  But what if they’re upbeat instrumentals?  You know, the sort of song you might like to listen to as you snap your fingers, walking along in the summer sunshine, pleased with the warmth on your skin and the world in general ...

Well, in that case, they go on Snaptone Glimmerbeam.

One of the first instrumentals I can remember really digging from my album collection was Faith No More’s “Woodpecker from Mars.”  The great thing about this tune is that it feels like, at any minute, Mike Patton will launch into some cool-ass vocals.  He never does, of course, but the song rocks anyway.  Next in that vein was Hot, by Squirrel Nut Zippers.  This is an utterly amazing album, which I’ve talked about before,2 but I don’t know if I properly explained how good it is.  “Life-changing” would be only mildly hyperbolic here.  It includes not one but three instrumental tracks, the best of which is almost certainly “Memphis Exorcism.”3  It rollicks along, almost demanding that you snap your fingers in time with it.

But the honor of being considered the mix-starter I give to Combustible Edison’s “Vertigogo,” which is the opening music for the movie Four Rooms.  In fact, that soundtrack is almost entirely composed of Combustible Edison, who do a sort of retro-exotica with a lot of jazz and lounge leanings.  They’re only about 80% instrumental, once you leave the sounddtracks and get into their actual albums, and some of Miss Lily Banquette’s vocal numbers are quite stunning.4  But it all started with the Four Rooms soundtrack, which is a cornucopia of bridges, as we’ve heard several times in this series.5  But the opening theme is longer and more upbeat and just way too fun not to put somewhere.  Thus it gave me the idea to combine it with the two tracks above, give it the opener slot, and thus this mix was born.  Fun side note: the only songs on the Four Rooms soundtrack which are not by Combustible Edison are two by Mexican band leader Esquivel, one of which is so awesome that I threw it in here as well.

Which brings us to electronica.  I never dug most electronica: techno can be fun for about a minute and a half (which is when I start to get sick of it), house and D&B are often too loud and chaotic for my taste, and EDM can be awfully esoteric.  And what they all have in common: nearly all of it is quite repetitive, and I don’t dig that.  Except ... well, ambient and other forms of minimalist music can be repetitive, and trip-hop can be repetitive, so perhaps I’m painting with too broad a brush.  What’s the difference?  Well, obviously, all those electronica forms are strongly upbeat, while the ones I like are way more downbeat—hell, a lot of ambient doesn’t even have a beat.

So I quickly learned that there’s one form of electronica that I do like, quite a lot: downtempo, sometimes called “chill.”  Of course, after (at time of writing) 5 volumes of Smokelit Flashback and 7 of Shadowfall Equinox, this is probably not news to you.  A lot of downtempo is instrumental (as is a lot of ambient), and that’s lovely.  Most of it finds its way to one of those two mixes.  But, every once in a while, a solidly downtempo album will have a more upbeat track on it.

Now, don’t get me wrong: “upbeat” downtempo is only upbeat in relation to other chill tracks, obviously.  But, still, what am I to do with them?  Assuming they’re good enough to go somewhere, they certainly won’t fit on either SFb or SfE.  So, here they are.  The two most obvious choices were probably Bonobo’s “Kong” and “In the Bath,” by Lemon Jelly.  Both are amazing downtempo artists that we’ve seen on Smokelit Flashback6, Paradoxically Sized World7, Cantosphere Eversion8 and Moonside by Riverlight9  But “In the Bath” is a bit of silly fun that wouldn’t fit on any of those, while “Kong” is not so much upbeat as just smooth and happy-making.  Both work well here.

Other downtempo artists and tunes I thought worked well here are Amon Tobin, who brings us “Keepin’ It Steel,” which is sort of the chill version of industrial; “Something for Madeleine” by the Karminsky Experience Inc, which gives us a rolling beat punctuated by organ and trumpet; and A Forest Mighty Black, whose “Fresh in My Mind” is too good not to appear somewhere, and, while still pleasant, is a bit more mellow and thus makes a great closer.

For a more freeform, jazz-like approach to instrumentals, there’s a few great options that I had to throw in.  Banyan, the solo project of Jane’s Addiction drummer Stephen Perkins, is sort of psychedlic jazz.  They give us “Lovin’ Them Pounds,” with some great clarinet, trumpet, and bass by Mike Watt (formerly of the Minutemen).  Shadowy Men on a Shadowy Planet, most famous for doing the theme to Kids in the Hall, are more of a bass-heavy guitar band, with strong surf rock leanings.10  “They Don’t Call Them Chihuahuas Anymore” [sic] is a fairly typical outing for them, and it leads beautifully into the somewhat bizarre sound of Gary Sredzienski & the Serfs, who fully embrace their surf music sound and combine it with, of all things, polka.  “A Good Looking Cossack!!” is, in my opinion, about the best example of their sound, sounding just a little bit like both at once, without ever really sounding like either.  Finally, Smokey Bandits11 are here with the very first tune of theirs I ever heard: “Holidays in the Sun.”  It’s great, happy tune that I’m glad to finally have somewhere to put.

Another solid instrumentalist, Chris Joss puts out songs that sound like they ought to be in movies—I don’t think I can describe it any better than that.  In particular, he’s quite eclectic, and few of his songs sound the same.  I think I first heard “Count the Daisies” (which showed up on Paradoxically Sized World I) on my old cable provider’s “zen” channel (the source of many great finds, and I was sad to see it go).  Then I picked up the album and found gems like “Magic Tubes,” which ... well, I don’t think I can adequately describe it.  There’s a lot going on in this song, which you really have to check out.

Snaptone Glimmerbeam I
[ All I'm Sayin', Pretty Baby ]

“Vertigogo [Opening Theme]” by Combustible Edison, off Four Rooms [Soundtrack]
“Lovin' Them Pounds” by Banyan, off Anytime at All
“Memphis Exorcism” by Squirrel Nut Zippers, off Hot
“She Walks on Fire” by Royal Crown Revue, off Walk on Fire
“Mexican Sausage Link” by Chingón, off Mexican Spaghetti Western
“Holidays in the Sun” by Smokey Bandits, off Debut
“Sentimental Journey” by Esquivel, off Four Rooms [Soundtrack]
“Keepin' It Steel (The Anvil Track)” by Amon Tobin, off Supermodified
“Something for Madeleine” by The Karminsky Experience Inc., off The Power of Suggestion
“Magic Tubes” by Chris Joss, off Teraphonic Overdubs
“In the Bath” by Lemon Jelly, off [EP Compilation]
“Kong” by Bonobo, off Black Sands
“They Don't Call Them Chihuahas Anymore” by Shadowy Men on a Shadowy Planet, off Sport Fishin'
“A Good Looking Cossack!!” by Gary Sredzienski & the Serfs, off Cruisin' the Creek
“La La Love You” by Pixies, off Doolittle
“Woodpecker from Mars” by Faith No More, off The Real Thing
“Rock & Roll, Part II” by Gary Glitter [Single]
“Mick's a Hippie Burning” by Big Audio Dynamite, off Megatop Phoenix
“Lost in the K-hole” by The Chemical Brothers, off Dig Your Own Hole
“Fresh in My Mind” by A Forest Mighty Black, off Mellowdramatic
Total:  20 tracks,  74:11

Now for the less likely candidates.

I can’t even tell you why “She Walks on Fire” by Royal Crown Revue is on this mix.  It’s not instrumental, first of all.  Not even sorta-kinda instrumental like “La La Love You” is.  Perhaps it’s because the words are so irrelevant to the music—they’re completely unnecessary, and, once you start paying attention to them, sort of silly.  So definitely don’t pay attention to them.  Consider them just another instrument that comes together to give this song a peppy, expansive feel.  (Which the words totally don’t support, by the way: yet another reason to just ignore them.)

This also explains why the only truly non-instrumental song on the volume doesn’t provide the volume title.  “La La Love You” by the Pixies does.  And it’s not really instrumental either, but, since it only has about 3 or 4 lines repeated over and over, I don’t really think of it as truly vocal either.  But it’s an absolutely amazing track, for sure.

Robert Rodriguez’s Chingón, with their spaghetti western æsthetic, may also seem like an unusual choice here, but I think they work perfectly well: I’ve already referenced Four Rooms, which features one segment directed by Rodriguez, after all.  “Mexican Sausage Link” is a short tune with some fine mariachi-style guitar work as well as some lonely trumpet, and it flows beautifully after the Latin-flavored “She Walks on Fire.”

Big Audio Dynamite’s insanely good album Megatop Phoenix is probably most useful for its plethora of bizarre bridges between songs; I stole two for Cantosphere Eversion, and I’m stealing another one here: “Mick’s a Hippie Burning” is really four or five different things all jammed together, and yet they flow, and then flow beautifully into “Lost in the K-hole” by the Chemical Brothers.  In a similar vein to what counts as “upbeat” for downtempo being a good fit here, what can be considered “downbeat” on an album primarily consisting of acid house also works out to just about the right tone for this mix, and I’ve always considered this track somewhat psychedelic, but in more of an optimistic way than a mellow one.

Finally, I’ll mention the “guilty pleasure” of the set: Gary Glitter’s “Rock & Roll, Part II,” which is these days commonly associated with live sporting events.  I never quite got that.  I don’t think of it as a football song or anyhthing like that: it’s just a fun track that makes you happy.  I suppose you can use it to be happy while watching sports if that’s your bag.  But I think it can be much more than just that.

Next time, I think we’ll finally go back to the 80’s.


1 Although I will happily “sing” the guitar parts, trumpet parts, or any other bits I can find.
2 E.g. on Salsatic Vibrato I.
3 Althought the other two are great too, and we’ll probably be seeing them on future volumes.
4 As I’m sure we’ll hear in the fullness of time.
5 Specifically, on Phantasma Chorale and Salsatic Vibrato.
6 Lemon Jelly had two tracks on SFb I and II, while Bonobo was on volume V.
7 Bonobo appeared on volumes I and II.
8 Lemon Jelly on that one.
9 Bonobo showed up on MbR II.
10 Although, amusingly, they’ve constantly rejected that label, even specficially titling one song “We’re Not a Fucking Surf Band.”
11 Who I talked about most extensively on Paradoxically Sized World V.

Sunday, May 17, 2020

Isolation Report, Week #10

[You could also read last week’s report, or even start at the beginning.]

This week ... well, honestly, it’s been pretty much exactly like last week.  Which is sort of the problem, I suppose.  I would appreciate it if time would move forward.  But I don’t think that time is predisposed to accede to my idle wishes.

The never-changing sameness we seem to be stuck in doesn’t lend itself to much in the way of news, and I’ve already philosophized as much as I care to.  I may even stop doing these reports weekly; perhaps I can go back to my previous habits of long post / short post, with the short posts being these “isolation reports.”  But I can’t make any promises: these are uncertain times, and who knows what tomorrow may bring?

In a vague attempt to make this post not entirely worthless, I’ll let you know some of the things I’ve been watching to try to keep my mind off the fact that our country is in the midst of a crisis without anyone even remotely competent in charge:

  • The Mother and I finished up Altered Carbon season 2 [Netflix] this week.  She said it was perhaps even better than S1.
  • I started on the final season of Blindspot [Hulu].  Honestly, these last few seasons haven’t lived up to the promise of the first two (or even one), but I’m a fan of Ashley Johnson (and her character), and it’s only half a season to find out the ending of the whole saga.  So I’m sticking with it.
  • I watched the entirety of McMillion$ [HBO] this week.  When I first saw a commercial for it, I was intrigued, and then I saw that it was 6 one-hour episodes.  And I was like, interesting story, maybe, but does it really need 6 hours?  But it actually turned out to be pretty good.  Documentaries are normally not my bag, but I enjoyed this one.
  • The kids and I started on season 2 of The Hollow [Netflix].  If you dig animation that’s kid-friendly without being dumbed down, this is not too shoddy.
  • If you’re looking for more of a “here’s what we’ve been doing during the quarantine” type thing, the first episode of McElroy and McVarney came out this week.  Being two folks who I find entertaining anyway, it was a no-brainer for me.
  • There was a new “Narrative Telephone” this week.  (See virus isolation week 8 for a bit more on what that is.)
  • If you happen to like actual play D&D (or maybe just want to give it a try), there’s a new series of D&D parents and their kids all playing together which I’m finding pretty entertaining.  It’s called Roll in the Family, and there are five episodes so far [1 2 3 4 5].  I think there will be one more next week and that will wrap up the storyline.  The DM is top-notch, and all the younger players (and almost all the older players) are damned entertaining.  Plus, it’s for charity.

That’s all I’ve got for you this week.  Perhaps next week, I’ll take a break from all this virus talk.  Maybe.

Sunday, May 10, 2020

Isolation Report, Week #9

[You could also read last week’s report, or even start at the beginning.]

This week the Slack channel at work informed me that I was going on PTO.  You see, the work calendar connects to the Slack and, when there’s an all-day event, it announces it the day before around 6pm.  So, paydays, company holidays ... and people’s PTOs.  Helps us remember that so-and-so is going to be out for a few days.

In this case, I was completely caught off guard.  PTO? what for?  Finally, I worked it out that The Mother and the smallies were supposed to be going to Great Wolf Lodge for a homeschooling conference (slash vacation), and I was going to take a couple days off from work to just chill out at home.  But, you know, those plans were made a long time ago ... as of now, there’s no conference, no Great Wolf Lodge, and no need for PTO.  It’s a bit of a sad reminder that, you know, even though this interminable situation seems unchanging from week to week—to the point where it’s super easy to lose track of what day it is—time still is marching on, and more and more of our lives are being eaten up by this crisis.

Will it be over soon?  There are rumblings of reopening various things, but that’s primarily because our moron-in-chief seems to think that killing his voters is preferable to having them upset at him.  Who knows? maybe he’s right.  For the rest of us sane humans, though, it doesn’t seem like this ordeal is going to be over any time soon.

On the plus side, we’re gaming pretty regularly now.  I still have my two campaigns going, my eldest is up to two as well, and this week my youngest suggested that she’d like to try running a game.  At 8 years old, I’m sure she wouldn’t be the youngest GM ever, but surely in the ballpark.  We’ll see how serious she is about it.

Other than that, not a huge amount has changed.  The Mother’s sister had her baby, so that’s taken up some of her attention.  Sadly, she also has an aunt who’s in the hospital and not expected to make it.  This is an older woman, so the sickness is not coming as a shock or anything, but the fact that no one can visit her in the hospital is quite depressing.  And, if she does die, they will likely only allow a fraction of her family to attend the funeral.  It’s not clear if the illness is related to the ongoing virus or not, but respiratory failure is a component of the illness, so it’s certainly possible.

But, other than that, we continue to solider on, taking the good with the bad.  Hopefully we’ll last another week before having to return to the grocery store, and we’ll likely keep eating a lot of takeout and not nearly as much produce as we should.  But we’re together, and safe, and I’m sure there are plenty of folks in the world who are in worse situations than we are.  So we’ll be thankful for what we’ve got and hopefully things will return to some sense of normalcy before too long.