Sunday, August 5, 2018

Hotel California




A couple of years ago, I attended a work retreat with a bunch of co-workers where we were introduced to Insights Discovery training.  I will let the Insights Discovery organization describe themselves:

What is it? At the very start of the self-awareness journey is Insights Discovery. A psychometric tool based on the psychology of Carl JungInsights Discovery is built to help people understand themselves, understand others, and make the most of the relationships that affect them in the workplace.

Yes, this was some sort of employee bonding bullshit that many of us are forced into and dread.  The kind where we have to talk about our feelings, split into groups, play games, and pretend that we’re there for more than the paycheck that keeps us afloat.  At least there weren’t any trust falls.  Overall, it actually is pretty insightful (I guess that’s where they got their name), especially since the pre-session questionnaire was short and simple, while the personality profile they conjured up was, for me, fairly spot-on.  With this collected information, they place each person’s results into a color wheel that is made up of four general categories.  Obviously, they all bleed into each other and we all carry some of each color, but most of us have a dominant quadrant that describes our dominant personalities.



One of the exercises that we all did, was wear a color wheel taped on our backs, while we all moved about the room to initial the place of wheel we perceived everyone else.  Some people had marks all over their wheel, while most had a common position.  No surprise, everyone marked me as a blue.  Cool blue.  And, yes, my test results also placed me in that category.  What I found personally interesting is that the test results scored people’s personalities for both work and home.  Everyone that shared their results with me had two different versions of themselves.  For example, they may be more Earth Green at home, but ramp up their Fiery Red attitude for the office.  In my case, my scores were essentially identical (fractions of percentages off).  I’m not sure what exactly this means or how to take it.  I’ve always felt trapped inside myself.  Apparently, no matter the situation, I am inescapably me.  Over the years, when I’ve asked friends for suggestions on how to win over whatever current crush I have, the most common answer is: “Just be yourself.”  I’ve never understood this, because being myself has never worked with any success previously, and now I know, that I am ALWAYS myself.  It’s no wonder I get so sick of my own company.  Having said that, we’ve had a few follow-up Insights sessions since, so it’s fresh in my mind.  It has me considering my sameness.  It has me considering how I’m perceived by others.  It has me thinking about others – not just colleagues – and why they do and say the things they do.  What are we?  How many versions of ourselves do we all have?  I know I’m not sure what to make of my own actions sometimes, or my motivations.

In a recent conversation with my friend Mindy, she was telling me about her hotel accommodations during a recent visit to Portland.  I began to reflect on my own history of motel/hotel stays in my life from the small freeway truck stop towns and their one or two run down motor lodges my family stayed in on our occasional pilgrimages to Spokane to visit my mom’s side of the family; to the sleazy dives my friends and I would cram into on road trips to play golf or go to Confusion Hill as a joke; to the more business class style hotels I’ve chosen as I’ve grown older.  I no longer have any interest in sharing a room with pals to save money.  I still cannot afford fancy, but I do now demand a much higher grade of place.  It has to be clean and the bedding needs to be something I feel comfortable crawling into.  We’re talking your Courtyard’s, Double Tree’s, Garden Inn’s, Clarion’s, Comfort Inn’s, and Embassy Suites’.  You know the type, they have conference rooms on the main floor, a strange bar that seems to only open when an employee feels like going over to it, and they have those little breakfast areas, where one can load up a plate with mini muffins, burn yourself on the tiny waffle iron, choose amongst several juice dispensers, and if you’re super lucky get a cooked to order egg.



The first one of these I remember staying in a place like this was in Honolulu for Wil’s wedding in the early 2000s.  The hotel would leave the daily newspaper outside the door of my room each morning.  While I was there, I was still undergoing three times a week dialysis treatments, so I took to reading the Honolulu Star-Bulletin in its entirety during the four hour session.  I have never been a regular newspaper reader.  My family only subscribed occasionally, and I would only check a few comics, the sports pages, and the entertainment section for ads for concerts when we did.  But, as I was asking Mindy about her current room, I began to realize that I have developed strange habits in these business hotels over the years.  Things like reading the newspaper, and drinking coffee.  I know it is sacrilege to a lot of people, but I never acquired a taste for coffee.  I think it tastes freaking awful!  Plus, I have a very limited desire for hot beverages.  And yet, often while waking up early in my rented business class room, I will sit down at the desk, read from a newspaper, maybe have CNN on the TV, and make a tiny pot of coffee that they provide.  Even for a single night’s stay, I will unpack my clothes and utilize the empty dresser drawers.  I will hang shirts in the closet, and most of the time, I will actually work up a sweat trying to unfold the seemingly always ancient, difficult to manage ironing board that is usually hanging in the closet.  It will screech and howl its discomfort at being roughly stretched and manhandled, but I become determined to wield the hot steamy iron and smooth out all of my clothes that are not used to being cared for.  I also must take advantage of the free (I know it’s not free) breakfast spread down near the lobby and likely will have to deal with the others doing the same thing.  There will inevitably be uncomfortable greetings as we watch someone take the last two biscuits, and some awkward small talk possibly about the headlines from the free newspaper I just boned up on. 

Why do I become this person?  Is it some kind of need to fit in?  My history does not suggest this.  I’m fairly positive that I’ve been the only person in a black clad crowd at goth, punk, or industrial concerts before wearing a golf shirt and shorts.  I’m not sure why I become this person.  Is this someone still the same one from my color wheel?  Is it a part of my thrifty nature to suck every last amenity out of my hotel stay purchase?  This seems likely.

In a few weeks, I will, once again, be attending the annual LPGA tournament both as volunteer and spectator.  I seem to become another person in this environment too.  I become outgoing (a big ole’ Sunshine Yellow!) and engage all kinds of strangers in conversation.  I actively seek out areas where people are congregating, as opposed to avoiding them like the plague, as I would normally do.  Even while I’m out there in the summer sun for entire days on end, I wonder who I am.  Maybe I should tape a color wheel to my back while I walk from hole to hole and ask people to guess my color.



This piece is dedicated to Mindy Crandall who encouraged me to write about my strange hotel behavior, but also because she and I share a mutual hatred for the Eagles and their song “Hotel California.”  Sorry, Mindy, thiis piece took a turn I did not plan for and I could not resist utilizing our favorite song for the title.




Monday, July 30, 2018

Fita



Oxy
Fita
(Lo-Slow)

One of the reasons why I have always struggled writing music reviews or synopses of albums that I really like is describing the why.  Why do I like it?  What makes the music so worthy of further investigation?  Sometimes it’s easy, because there are records that tap into just the right sections of my grey matter that inspire words by transporting me to another place in my mind, or tap into seriously deep-seated emotions.  Some bands are simply easy to compare to others.  Most of the time, like regular people, I like what I like, because the music provides me joy.  When it comes down to it that is the main reason why we all like what we like.  This leads me down the road of trying to figure out why I’ve always had the inclination to try to sell people on the music that I think is worth hearing.  What’s the old simile?  “Writing about music is like dancing about architecture.”  It’s not easy.  Maybe I do it, because I like to write, and am unbelievably passionate about music.  Essentially every moment of my life is linked in my thoughts with a soundtrack of some sort.  It is the way I remember dates, seasons, people from the past.  And when I say ‘I like to write,’ that’s really only true conceptually.  I am only occasionally inspired to actually attempt the work, and I have essentially no audience to write for (thanks to those who do stop by and read!).  Hence, my reluctance.  I occasionally awkwardly write about mostly fairly obscure music to an audience of almost no one.  What is the point?  The point is that when I come across music that I enjoy so much, that I cannot at least try to scream it out to the world, and so here we are yet again.

Brazilian five-piece Oxy have released a debut album, Fita, that is providing me great joy.  There is something very comfortable about their sound.  The music hits notes that my brain seems to be seeking.  Not to get too sciencey, but Oxy’s sound molecules are causing my ear molecules to tingle the feel good molecules in my brain.  When I first heard the single, “Pink Socks,” I felt like I was listening to one of those formative songs that expanded my tastes back in my teen years.  It’s not that it sounds like anyone in particular or of a time, it’s that the song feels like it’s been a part of my life forever.  If forced to give comparisons, I would say that they lie in a beautiful dream pop world somewhere between the crisp pop-rock of Julie Plug/Marine Life and the more shoegazey Mira

Fita feels like a more veteran album than a debut, because it is unified throughout.  The quiet and pleasant opening notes that begin the slow burning “Into,” are seamlessly repeated at the end of the closing “80s.”  “Into” is the perfect song to begin an album with.  It is simple and mellow and step by step, patiently, it builds tension and suspense, until it explodes to a wordless musical chorus that stretches to the far corners of the stratosphere and then rebuilds again.  During the second explosion, we find what seems a pronounced Pink Floyd influence, as a guitar solo takes command (not sure who plays what) in a similar tasteful style of David Gilmour.  This wonderful guitar work also shows up midway through on “Reality” and the previously mentioned “80s.” 

Meanwhile, “Realdaze” and the first single “Pink Socks,” are absolutely stunning pop songs – the kind that should be dominating the hit charts all over the world, but don’t ever seem to.  “Realdaze” has grit and emotional impact along with its lyrical refrain “I choose you,” while the more atmospheric “Pink Socks,” glides along with a bassline that makes one instinctively bounce along.  Come to think of it, the fourth song, “Carriage,” should be a huge single too, as Sara Cรขndido’s varied vocals really stand out on this song. 

Speaking of varied, Fita, has a nice mixture of styles and tempos as it progresses, without breaking from the very strong vibe that unifies the entire collection.  The second half runs a little long, but once you’re in the album’s zone, you really don’t want it to end anyway, so that’s a minor issue.  Like I said earlier, their sounds hit just the right notes.  “Trying” is a fairly straightforward rock song, while the penultimate, “6th Sense” covers all kinds of ground with its catchy guitar melody, fast chorus, and alternately dreamy and chaotic bridges.  I bet that one is a highlight live.

It seems as though shoegaze is alive and well in Brazil.  I’m surprised by the resurgence over the last ten years in places like Texas, but I’m learning that it has caught on all over the world.  As long as we keep getting great music out of it, I’m all in.  Please do yourself a favor and listen to this wonderful collection.




Oxy "Pink Socks"




Sunday, July 22, 2018

Becoming Real Forever




Tender Age
Becoming Real Forever
(SINIS Recordings)

Holy shit, have I been out of it!  As mentioned in the previous post (It’s Beginning to and Back Again), I’ve been on autopilot for a few years with regards to keeping up with music, but, thanks to Amber Crain’s amazing When the Sun Hits blog and internet radio show on DKFM, I got clued in to Tender Age just in time for their debut album’s release and I am thankful.  Tender Age are from Portland too, so they’ve been right under my nose this entire time. 

This young five piece apparently recorded this album in a shack over at the coast, in Seaside.  Having grown up on the Oregon coast, I can just imagine how out of place their squealing guitar feedback and extreme dissonance must have been, but at the same time, it somehow makes perfect sense.  I have a distinct memory of riding in a car crammed full of high school classmates heading southbound on Highway 101 on a school night in the late 80s to attend an art opening at the Cultural Center in Newport.  Everyone in the car had a piece in the show, but me.  I was, and still am, the eternal supporter (the bridesmaid, the caddie, the cling-on, the groupie) of the arts – never the artist.  Along the way, we were listening to Sonic Youth’s brand new Daydream Nation, which I had dubbed for my old friend Ian, who was driving.  I distinctly remember gazing out over the Pacific Ocean at sunset on the way up the hill of Cape Foulweather with a huge grin on my face taking in the stunning view as the middle part of “Silver Rocket” went about destroying the car’s speakers.  Becoming Real Forever reminds me of this moment.

From what I’ve seen, Tender Age sometimes get labeled with the “shoegaze” tag, likely because of their liberal use of feedback to create some pretty intense soundscapes.  They remind me more of the aforementioned Sonic Youth, or Dinosaur, or Pussy Galore school of rock and noise - something that would come out on SST, or Homestead Records – all influences on those early shoegaze bands.  Plus, vocalist/guitarist, Tauna Leonardo employs a cool, otherworldly and disconnected Kim Gordon style spoken word approach on songs like “Olives Choice,” “Dark Circles,” and the first half of the epic “Cellphone Tower.” Tender Age are excellent when it comes to using three guitars (Leonardo, Elaina Tardif, and Christopher Klarer!!!) to create feedback which invigorate their songs with chaos.  The searing presence of the noise gives their songs an urgency and the feeling that the entire procedure might run off the rails at any moment.  It’s exciting!

It doesn’t hurt that the opening song, “Don’t Mind,” is an addictive pop song buried within a Psychocandy-era Jesus and Mary Chain wall of screeches, a ramshackle looseness, and a deep bassline that booms and moans like a really strange harbor buoy that’s way too near for comfort.  I find myself listening to it over and over.  When drummer, Olives, leans into the hi-hat during the bridge between the chorus and the second verse, I feel like an itch is being scratched.  That crazy low sonic boom bass, creatively guided by Bryan Robertson, guides the similar “Isn’t Real” as well.  The trudging and heavy “Lowers” leaves behind a trail of wreckage in its wake, along with a surprising sing-along vocal melody in the chorus.  The funky shuffle of “Deluxe” is the oddball track of this bunch, but a welcome breath of fresh air, and a touch of needed variety – making it a standout.  So too, the breathy acoustic ballad, “Nothing” that closes side one with a real touch of beauty.




Overall, Becoming Real Forever, seems to express a sentiment of feeling disconnected, disengaged, and separate from the rest of the world.  This is a feeling I think a lot of us can identify with in this age where so many of us are overcrowded yet completed isolated.  So much of what happens anymore does not seem real at all.  There is a definite surrealism to their sound with all of the noises coming at you from everywhere, as well as decay and destruction.  They build somewhat basic rock song foundations and then take sledge and jack hammers to these structures and present the remains as the finished product.  Have you ever wondered how an old section of sidewalk can become so broken up over time, when it is made out of concrete – something so indestructible?  Tender Age might have been there blasting away just before you arrived.  I highly recommend this album.





Tender Age "Isn't Real"





Saturday, July 7, 2018

It's Beginning To And Back Again



About a month ago I received an iPhone from the IT guy at my job.  This was to replace the Windows Phone that I hadn’t really used for several years at work and rarely pulled out of my desk drawer.  The sad fact is, the Windows phone was my first smart phone and it was terrible.  My personal cell phone is very very old.  It was a free knock off Blackberry.  The only reason I bought a cell phone in the first place was when I was on the kidney transplant waiting list in 2004 and I didn’t trust the beeper the transplant clinic provided me.  I get made fun of a lot when I pull out my antiquated old phone, but I never really had much of an interest in having a smartphone.  My biggest fear being that as soon as I had one, I’d be somehow connected with work all the time.  I can barely mentally take a full day at the office as it is, why would I want to deal with the constant crises 24/7?  This is the same job where someone urgently called me for some simple question while I was being poked and prodded in the ICU a few years ago.  There is a level of helplessness that many of my beloved co-workers seem to possess that constantly flusters and frustrates me.  Being reachable at all times worries me.  If you’re still with me, you’re better than me, because writing that paragraph bored me.  At any rate, I have decided to actually give this 21st century phone thing a try. 

Yes, I have found that I now check my work messages during evenings and answer work phone calls on weekends.  Yes, it has already spoiled a night’s attempt at sleep a few times.  In fact, I just reflexively checked the work Outlook for emails as I’m typing this on a Saturday.  WHY?!  I don’t want to know even while I’m in the office!  However, what I didn’t think about is the easy access to music that this new-fangled phone provides.  I also discovered that my ears quickly eject the earbuds that came with the phone by spitting them out every few minutes. 

Music has been my lifeline since I was about twelve.  When I was first able to get a job at the age of 14, I began spending all of money on records and it rarely slowed down since.  It has all evolved ever so slightly over these way too many years, but the search for new-to-me sounds seems to be part of my DNA.  I don’t play any instruments, my voice is like some sort of nasally appropriation of a Peanuts cartoon adult (come to think about it, so is my writing voice), but I can handle listening to music intently and with purpose and telling anyone and everyone I can about the stuff that inspires and energizes me.  That’s been predominantly what this blog I’ve mostly abandoned is all about – sharing my love for the music I choose to purchase (and yes, I do purchase it) and doing my best to get others to do the same.  Alas, I’ve never been able to find much of an audience over all of these years, so I crawl back into my shell and keep to myself. 




The last few years my music passion has admittedly cooled.  I actually went through a period where I purchased no music between August 2015 and April 2016 (I did receive a couple of crowd-funded CDs in the mail during this time), which was disconcerting on many levels.  However, this smart phone has changed things.  Now, when I leave the office, I head to a place where I can walk in a forest, or quiet neighborhood, and jam those earbuds in for a few minutes at a time, and walk with a soundtrack of fantastic music!  These are all things I could’ve accessed before on my laptop, but just didn’t - things like: Jack Rabid’s weekly Big Takeover Radio show (I’ve been reading his magazine for 27 years!!), or the When the Sun Hits show every Wednesday on DKFM preceded by Louder Than Bombs on local station House of Sound (Wednesday evenings have become a new version of my old Sunday nights in High School with the New Music Show on Q105 and MTV’s 120 Minutes!).  What this phone has taught me is that I had stopped seeking as much as I used to.  That I was falling into complacency.  I had followed the When the Sun Hits blog for years via Facebook, but only barely paid attention to the posts.  Most of the artists mentioned were unfamiliar, so I skimmed by and I regret it.  Now that I’m actually listening to host Amber Crain’s carefully curated show, my ears have been opened again, and I feel pretty damn excited about it.  I haven’t been introduced to this much new music in such a short span of time, since I was in my early 20s and it is refreshing.  And DKFM!  An internet radio station that plays so-called “shoegaze” music 24/7?  Are you kidding me?!  A couple of Sundays ago, I went for a morning stroll (awkward stumble?) and tried out DKFM’s Classic station and heard eight straight songs I spent time and effort tracking down in the late 80s and early 90s!  It was as if I ran across an old mixtape and popped it into my Walkman.  The source material is expanding too, as I have been turned on to The Kitchen Sink (Elizabeth Klisiewicz's show on Strawberry Tongue Radio) and This Radiant Hour (Girl Afraid's show on on DKFM).  I’m sure there will be more.

Here I am, not jabbering on about the music I think you should be listening to, but instead where you can find the great music you should be listening to.  



This image is the Decayfm.com logo.




http://bigtakeover.com/radio
http://whenthesunhitsblog.blogspot.com/
https://decayfm.com/
https://www.mixcloud.com/louderthanbombsus/
https://www.mixcloud.com/Girl-Afraid/
https://www.mixcloud.com/eklisiewicz/
http://houseofsound.org/



Monday, January 15, 2018

Keeping a Balloon in the Air


“Go ahead and sit down,” Jaime directed after stopping the timer in her hand.  “Good job!  Do you need some water?”

It was a little early to be wrapping up that day’s session, but I was exhausted from trying to balance on the half yoga ball things while trying to bat a balloon around.  Something was up.  Jaime was being very quiet.  Generally, we chattered through entire sessions.

She began her unbelievably fast and rather loud typing into the computer – updating my records.  This was my penultimate appointment.  Next week would be the last session of outpatient physical therapy permitted by insurance.

“You’re doing well Chris,” Jaime smiled as she glanced momentarily at me.  “Remember when you first came in and you couldn’t keep your eyes open and would get exhausted just standing for a minute?” 

“Thanks to you Jaime!” I encouraged.  “These appointments are the highlight of my week!”  It was true too.  I had returned to work three months ago and was now back to full time.  I was still using a cane some of the time, but about to make the jump to no cane at all.  Despite this, I would get really depressed each day feeling like I was no longer improving.  I was committed to my assigned exercises, but I was still struggling to get around.  Still trying to get used to having to consciously think about every step or move I made, because any lapse in concentration could mean disaster.  It was during these appointments when we would go over baseline tests that I would actually see my progress.  My hard work was paying off.  It was actually the only time each week I felt any kind of joy or relief from the mountain of uncertainty and fear weighing down on my shoulders.

“Aw, that’s nice to hear,” Jaime replied sheepishly and looked down at the floor.  “There’s not much more I can do for you Chris.  Your coverage ends next session, but you’ve achieved all of the goals you need to reach.”  I looked down as well, knowing what was next.  She was getting ready to pull the Band-Aid.  She was dumping me.   “This is going to be your graduation.  Congratulations!”

This should’ve been a happy moment, but neither of us seemed very ecstatic.  I was in a state of shock, because I relied on these appointments to keep myself going and I still felt so unsure about my condition.  I can’t speak for her, but it felt as though she had more work for me.  Like she had more tools to help me recover from my stroke, but her hands were tied by the limitations of my insurance and financial means.

++++



This last October, I found myself kind of reliving my hemorrhagic stroke from Halloween of 2015.  I was having a lot of terrifying dreams related to the experience at the same time as finding myself reading a book called A Stroke of Faith (2017), written by Mark Moore, which I received as a gift the prior spring when I attended the American Stroke Association’s local “Saving Strokes” golf teaching event (can we find any more plays on the word “stroke”?).  I also happened upon a powerful Netflix documentary named My Beautiful Broken Brain (2014), about a stroke survivor’s struggle to recover.  Mark Moore’s experience definitely rang familiar in many ways to mine, so I could relate in a very tangible way, but it was the moving movie that really got to me emotionally.  Though Lotje Sodderland’s experience was very different in that her after effects were more cognitive and less physical than mine, her portrayal of loss, loneliness, disorientation and helplessness was spot on, and brought tears to my eyes along with a deep sadness and underlying fear that a stroke could come back at any moment.  Her story, however, glosses over her recovery after a meaningful meeting with her hero David Lynch, and then provides the audience with a rundown that she’s basically living happily ever-after now.  It feels a bit disingenuous, especially after her big set-back within the film.  Which got me to thinking about most of the great recovery stories I’ve heard since I’ve joined this club no one wants to belong to.  Without question, all of them are heartwarming, but I’ve noticed a commonality – good healthcare coverage.  Moore’s story is well told, but a big part of it is how his great business success prior to his stroke afforded him comprehensive coverage, the ability to have the best care possible, and to take the necessary time to truly recover.  I also heard the story of a local woman who spoke at the “Saving Strokes” event I attended in 2016 who tearfully spoke about her 10 year struggle from a devastating stroke that left her unable to speak, read or write, and here she was publicly speaking about her journey.  She was also fortunate enough to have come from old Portland money and had a personal therapist guiding her through this journey.  Even Lotje, being in the UK, could recover at her own pace due to public health coverage.  I do not hold this against them.  Actually, their examples are not only of triumph of their spirits, but of the importance of having true reliable health insurance.



I’m not saying that I didn’t get good healthcare during my ordeal.  In fact, it was mostly excellent, once I got into the right hands.  I had some really fantastic doctors and all of my therapists (physical, occupational, speech, recreational, etc.) were exceptional, as were the rehabilitation nurses and counsellors.  What I’m saying is that our health professionals really know what they’re doing and can, with a patient’s effort and cooperation, pretty much perform miracles.  What is strange to me is that the insurance that most of us spend so much money on each year only goes so far.  The downfalls in my experience wasn’t the care itself, it was that the care was limited and had an end date before I was ready.  I consider myself lucky in that I did have insurance and help and support, but still felt the pinch financially in very real ways.  I had to return to work and learn to try to manage without help long before I was physically and mentally ready.  What about the multitudes of those who have less or no coverage?  It scares me to think about not having a safety net of some sort, because serious illness effects every aspect of a person’s life – not just physically.  Yet, as long as we have healthcare for profit as a thing, helping people will never be the end goal of these businesses – just a possible side effect of doing their business to make money for their investors.


It all makes me think about those awful weeks, after leaving the hospital, trying to pry my eyes open long enough and to summon up the stamina to address my unopened and unpaid bills, trying to read through form after form to try to secure short-term disability (who treated me like a freeloading thief), to consider looking for a way to find assisted living housing if need be, to sign up for ADA public transportation, and to navigate the nearly five day a week appointment schedule with doctors and therapists.  I could not do any of those things.  I could not do anything.  Unfortunately, I do not know how to help change things – to get it out of politics.  Maybe if everyone could feel that terror of helplessness brought on by some sort of serious health crisis for at least a few moments to understand how important true full healthcare coverage can be - to experience true empathy.  But I wouldn’t wish that on anyone.