Monday, December 31, 2018

Top 15 of 2018

2018 has been an eye opening one for me with regards to music.  It started out simply enough, new releases creeped into my subconscious the first few months of the year, but then I learned about DKFM – a “shoegaze” online radio station.  This linked me to a ton of new music via their regular playlist and especially from their wonderful weekly shows such as: The Shoegaze Collective, This Radiant Hour, Muso Asia, Somewhere Cold Radio, and the highlight of my listening week: When the Sun Hits (and the brand new show Drowned in a Sea of Sound).  These shows, along with weekly listens to Louder Than Bombs, The Big Takeover Radio Show, The Kitchen Sink, and Emmas House Music, have broadened my musical scope ten-fold.  I don’t think I’ve devoured new music like this since I was in my early twenties.  It’s been an exciting whirlwind and incredibly overwhelming.  Just as I settle into a flood of new purchases, I am on to the next batch. 

As is tradition, I am going forward with an annual favorite releases of the year, with the caveat that for the sake of brevity there are many that could be on this list that are not.  The ones that have made the list are all in alphabetical order and not ranked.  Also, I will keep my jabbering out of it.  Each of these releases speak for themselves and I invite anyone and everyone to take the time to sample music from each of these remarkable artists.

Cheers to a great New Year!

the black watch Witches!

Collapse Delirium Poetry (ep)

Endless White Flow West To You

flirting This Would Be Funny If It Were Happening To Anyone But Me (ep)

The Goon Sax We’re Not Talking

Habitants Habitants

Jetstream Pony Self-Destruct Reality (ep)

Kill The Moose To The Moon and Back (ep)

Last Leaves Other Towns Than Ours (2017)

Lowtide Southern Mind

Oxy Fita

Sharesprings Paraparlor

Soft Science Maps

Tender Age Becoming Real Forever

Wild Meadows Wild Meadows

Thursday, December 20, 2018

Echoes (an attempt to DJ an 80s high school dance)

This story was assigned by a friend to be an intersection with a far superior, fully realized story.  This is like a 2nd unit production for a movie – a story done in conjunction to the main production as filler.  Yet, having said this, it was fun to try to get back into writing short stories again, and though it is completely superfluous, I thought I’d share it with anyone who has the inkling.

Not sure how I got into this.  I had sworn off doing music for dances.  Yet, here I was, leaving school on a Friday afternoon and needing to get prepared for a dance.  It was another misty day.  Misty and windy.  My car, a white rust bucket, was squeezed between Mark’s grey Sundowner and Simpson’s blue Jetta (also known as Blue Thunder).  I’m not sure how I was ever able to get into the car after school, because they always pinned me in when they arrived for school in the morning.  I drove a hand-me-down Buick Apollo. It was identical to their flagship Skylark, but for some reason was known as Apollo. My dad’s step-mom kept it in pristine condition for years until she gave it to my dad in ‘78.  My mom drove it for a short while once we moved to the coast, but then it was mostly left to sit in the driveway until I was old enough to try to revive it so I could drive.  The coastal air quickly turned that spotless car into a rusted out hunk of scrap metal.  There were holes in the floor, where mushrooms would sprout in the fall.  The doors were nearly ready to fall off.  Every time I opened the driver’s side door, its weight would cause it to drop and debris would sprinkle the ground.  My friend Gary had long ago coined the car “Squashed Yogurt on the Road,” which had evolved to simply “Yogurt.”

I slammed the door into the side of the Sundowner pick-up with no concern of leaving a mark, and did my best to squeeze my thick torso into the small opening and behind the wheel.  I could hear loose objects moving around inside the door.  I slammed the door shut and tried to settle in.  The seat was damp, but not as bad as it had been that morning after an overnight downpour.  I turned over the ignition, shifted into reverse and without looking, scooted back out of the vice grip the Yogurt had been wedged.  I stopped to reach over and hit play on the cheap boom box lying flat in the passenger seat, shifted into drive, and pulled away from the school – passing the twenty miles per hour sign on High School Drive, which had once again had been altered by spray paint to kind of read “80.”  The warbled strains of acoustic guitar from the intro to Red Lorry Yellow Lorry’s “Only Dreaming,” wheezed out of the player before finding its bearings.  I had clearly cued this song up upon arrival that morning.  Essentially, I had been playing it over and over for weeks.  That grinding bass lead, the gruff vocals, and the lyrics of self-loathing all felt real and true to my 17 year old heart, while I pined for a girl who I would never summon the courage to talk to.  My lack of self-confidence would prevent me from doing so.  I had never really had a girlfriend up to that point, so I assumed that my first would be some kind of one-sided mess where I willfully allow myself to be used and mistreated.  “My arms around you / put me down / In such a special way.”  This was definitely going to have to be on the dance playlist later.

As I drove along Highway 101, heading home, the mist had become too heavy to continue to drive without windshield wipers.  They had stopped working at the end of summer, but I learned to drive without them pretty well.  The blurring lines made me imagine that reality was shifting and that I was either tripping or simply losing my grasp of things.  In this case, the mist and wind had made it too much of a hazard.  I pulled off the highway in a weird wooded area just north of Nelscott, where the sand and gravel place sat.  That place was always a mystery.  It didn’t seem big enough for them to continually mine sand or gravel from.  It always looked the same.  A pile of gravel with some trucks sitting around.  Never any activity.  I let the tape continue to play the rest of the Nothing Wrong album at a volume which was way too much for the cheap speakers to withstand.  It was a shame.  There was a cassette deck attached to the underside of the dash, but it was unusable.  Years prior, in the brief time my mom drove the car, she had stuck one of my brother’s mix tapes into the player.  It was named “All My Best.”  A Memorex that came in a case with an L-shaped hinge that lifted to free the tape.  Back then, these tapes came with tape head protectors – little white nodules that kept the reels from moving.  Well, she put the tape into the player with those nodules.  This did not end well, being such an old and fragile player, bought and installed in the summer of ‘78.  I’ll never forget my excitement when my father came home one day with the cassette deck installed and three tapes: Steve Miller Band’s Fly Like an Eagle, Roger Whitaker’s All My Best (clearly an inspiration for the title of my brother’s excellent early 80s mixtape), and something awful from Jimmy Buffett.  The mysterious part is that beside my mom once commenting that she liked Roger’s voice which she heard on TV advertising one of those album collections, none of these artists were particularly interesting to anyone in the family, including my dad who made the selections.  These would be our soundtrack for a weekend road trip to Roseburg.  Steve Miller was okay.  We all thought the hit song was decent.  Roger made us joke about TV sold music collections from Slim Whitman and K-Tel, as well as the various amazing gadgets from Ronco, and my class would sing some of these songs for the music portion of the day at my elementary school.  Jimmy Buffett?  It was awful!  None of us could take it.  We had to switch to AM radio.  Why didn’t he buy the Blondie, which we all loved?  Why not some Pink Floyd?  Why not the Kraftwerk that he played at home?  Or Paul Simon, Neil Diamond, Neil Young, or The Beatles?  I suppose it was because all those albums were at home on vinyl.

Once the mist lessened enough to get back on the road, I realized that I had to get some gas.  The only station in town that sold regular LEADED gas was the old Franco.  It looked abandoned, but if you pulled up to the tanks, a wandering eyed old man would emerge from the empty building where he would be perched atop an overturned bucket, and pump your gas.  He would always mime something strange with a toothless grin, in this case, he pretended to squeegee away water from the front of his eyes.  I asked for five bucks of gas, my last five bucks, and turned the tape over to start The Go-Betweens’ 16 Lovers Lane.  I had purchased these CDs together and immediately copied them onto tape so I could hear them in the Yogurt.  “Was There Anything I Could Do?” was definitely going to be on the playlist.

After the gas adventure, on the road again, I caught police lights in my rearview.  This had become a tradition.  The gas tank opened into the rear of the car, under the license plate, and since the plate hinge had long ago rusted out, the old Franco man would always fail to re-attach the plate, so it was visible.  This would generally get me pulled over.  The traffic stop only took a few moments.  Oddly, the fact that I had non-functioning windshield wipers was not a concern.  There was an odd dichotomy with how the local cops dealt with us teenagers roaming around a boring small town.  There was an element of harassment, because they were constantly pulling one of us over for minor or simply perceived infractions, yet when they did nab a carload of drunk kids all carrying open cans of beer, they rarely did anything but give a warning and dump the open containers.

The Ski Club asked me to put on this dance.  I do not know why.  My only provision is that I get free reign to do whatever I want.  Which was granted.  I was never sure who all belonged to the Ski Club, but I doubt many of them were involved with this misguided decision.  It was Lance, my longtime friend and classmate, who asked.  He was also quarterback of the awful football team, the point guard on the equally bad basketball team, and a star golfer on the oddly state title dominating golf squad.  I suppose with that, he garnered some kind of super powers.  After the last couple of dances I DJ’d junior year, I was done.  The effort of toting the tunes, my turntable, and CD players around was too much and after the dance earlier that spring, my CD player went dead and two records were broken.   The shine had worn off.  The first dance I did went swimmingly.  It was a fundraiser for my sophomore class.  A couple of seniors that year tutored me on setting up the speakers and the sound board.  Both seemed dubious of my decision to also connect my home stereo consoles to the board, but they obliged.  Everything I played that night seemed to go over well.  I ignored requests for Bon Jovi and Europe in favor of The Cure, Depeche Mode, Front 242, The The, Julian Cope, The Smiths and The Bolshoi.  Even when I played an epic fifteen minute version of the Communards’ cover of “Don’t Leave Me This Way” for a dance contest, the floor was filled and people were having a great time.  Meanwhile, the dance where my CD player died was full of struggle.  I couldn’t get the speakers to sound good.  No matter what adjustments I made to the connections and on the soundboard, the speakers only expelled painful vibrations.  Waves of sonic pain.  When I played Nitzer Ebb’s “Murderous,” the few people who had come, fled to the school’s front hall, or simply left.  Only Kurt stayed in the gym to high kick his way around the room, while I tried to figure out what was going wrong.

This time, I requested the dance take place in the multi-purpose room where our tiny drama club would perform their one play a year.  It was also our lunch room.  A smaller room meant, I could bring in my own tower speakers as well as Mike’s, who was also set to bring some dry ice for atmosphere.  We coined the dance “Echoes” and I made fancy posters that utilized photocopied album covers and shiny silver tape for borders to give people an idea of what would be in store.  Not only would they be hearing the Cure in place of Escape Club, but it might be Faith or Pornography Cure.  They would hear Joy Division instead of New Order.  They might hear Bauhaus or Tones on Tail instead of Love and Rockets.  I was excited to play something off the new Sonic Youth that I picked up at Driftwood Mac’s the prior Tuesday.  Could I get away with something like “Silver Rocket” and its middle section of two or three minutes of pure feedback, or would it be another noise to drive people away?

I had become accustomed to working every Friday night, but took this one off to DJ the dance.  During my senior year, I decided to forgo all extracurricular activities and work essentially full-time at the pizza joint in town.  I had played basketball all of my life, but it had become a grind.   I wanted to start earning and saving money for college, which turned out to be code for spending more and more money on records and CDs.  Friday nights were long, because we would get extremely busy with the influx of tourists coming to our decrepit coastal town looking for a fun weekend on the beach away from home, and then late in the evening many of my schoolmates would trickle in and take over the corner booths and divvy up an order of jo-jo’s amongst six to ten people and smoke cigarettes and drink Pepsi’s often filled with smuggled alcoholic swill.  As long as we had “customers” we would stay open.  It was bittersweet.  It was good to see some of my friends, yet they were keeping me at work.  The pizza joint's parking lot was a mystery to me.  I know that high schoolers would congregate out there as a meeting point, or just to hang out, but every so often some kid would come in bloodied from a fight looking for help.  It was bemusing.  I never knew what was going on out there.  All I know is that Joan Jett’s “I Love Rock-N-Roll” was likely playing on the jukebox for the 456th time that night and Whitesnake or White Lion was blaring from the little stereo blasting from the dough room in the back.  All I wanted to do was get home, shower off the pizza stink, and watch my late night music video shows and then listen to music on my headphones until I mercifully fell into a fitful sleep.  I wanted to escape.  A piece of me wanted to be a part of the party scene, but a larger portion wanted to be alone.

At home, I was filled with a deepening dread as I began the process of taking apart all of my stereo components to take to the dance.  I carefully bundled cords – including the 100 foot speaker wires that I had purchased for this dance.  I dusted each component and made sure each was secure in a box.  I envisioned them all catching fire at the school.  I lugged the giant speakers into the back seat of the Yogurt and made sure they were protected from the elements by wrapping them in towels.  As I selected what CDs and records to take, I began to panic, seeing my room bereft of its central shrine.  When I bought my stereo a couple of years earlier, it was a huge event for me.  It was the entirety of my savings.  All that mattered to me was finding a sound system worthy of the amazing music I was ravenously consuming.  My musical lexicon had expanded a thousand fold in the last couple of years with aid of this stereo and I could not get enough.  The idea of not having it made me queasy.  Same with the music.  Would the dance end with me weeping over a pile of scratched and broken discs?  Would some be missing their sleeves, or just simply missing?

Like my new attitude with school, I had made no concrete plan for the evening’s playlist.  All of my life, I had made an effort with school.  I had always managed to get good grades, but always felt like I lagged behind many of my friends.  For my senior year, I’m not saying that I had given up, instead I decided to not try so hard.  What I learned is that I was a terrible note taker.  I would get so busy trying to keep up with the lecture that I really wasn’t absorbing the lesson.  Having stopped taking notes, or really reading from text books, suddenly, I began exceeding.  I was acing tests and scoring well with my assignments.  It was a strange new confidence.  The only thing I had ever felt confident about in my life was with my music choices.  All I needed to DJ that night was a few songs in mind to be a beginning, middle and end.  The rest would come to me by feel.  I could barely talk to girls, or anyone else for that matter, but I could match songs together until the end of time, or at least until two tomato boxes from work full of records and CDs ran out.

Setting up in the Multi-Purpose Room went as anyone could expect.  Mike was late and so was everyone else who claimed they would be there to help.  I began the task of setting up the speakers.  Since Mike wasn’t there with his pair, I placed mine in the corners nearest the entrance and as far from the stage as possible and traced the cords along the walls back towards the mixing desk.  I decided to drag two of the school’s surprisingly powerful monitor speakers out from oblivion and add those to the mix.  I set those up along the walls on either side at about the midpoint of the room.  Mike’s speakers could go by the stage whenever he decided to show, along with the dry ice.  If he decided to show.  I didn’t know Mike well.  He was a friend of friends.  I had worked with his older brother at the pizza joint.  The main thing I knew about Mike is that he seemed to get into a lot of car accidents.  A lot.  Yet, he always had a pristine grey Nissan Sentra.  It never made sense to me.

One thing I’ve learned when setting up this kind of equipment, nothing works at first.  I had everything jacked in, the mixing board’s sound meters jumping, but no sound.  A few random lever adjustments and plug checks and POP – the sound came blaring out.  It was New Order’s “Temptation,” which always gets my adrenaline going.  I began jumping around the empty space both out of sheer love of the song and to gauge the sound quality for the dance floor.  This was about the point when Mike and Trevor arrived, each lugging a speaker into the room to witness an awkward, overweight, acne-ridden teen with a nightmare mop of hair bouncing around the empty room.  My heart missed about three beats and my face flushed with embarrassment at being startled, while I tried to pretend that I wasn’t dancing around, but instead checking out the speaker connections.  No one said anything.  We quickly hooked up the last pair, then Mike brought in the dry ice score.  He prepared us for disappointment.

Considering that we spent nearly every cent of our meager budget for the dance on this big dry ice plan, it was sad to see how few of the little chunks of the stuff we could scrounge.  As the start time approached and a few people began to hover around the periphery, we decided to activate the blocks with some lukewarm water in a tray underneath a chair near the room’s entrance.  A tiny bank of fog swirled around beneath a chair and nowhere else.  Trevor ran to find a fan.  Meanwhile, I turned out the lights, and realized that we had nothing planned for a light show of any kind.  No colors.  No gels.  Nothing.  It was just dark, save for the hallway light entering via the front hallway, and a couple of stage lights where the mixing desk stood.

There was a mirror ball hanging from the ceiling not too far out from the stage, so I jumped up onto the stage, or really clumsily climbed, and searched for a way to point one of the stage lights towards it.  Trevor and Mike went in search of lights.  We had about ten minutes before the official start time.  A couple of teachers as chaperones made an appearance: The Barn, the 10th grade English teacher and The Hippy, one of the two science teachers - both of whom I actually traded mix tapes with on occasion.  I’m certain they were curious as to how this “Echoes” thing would pan out.  The Barn let us into a closet off the stage that had a couple of light stands with colored gels.  We quickly set those up in the room to illuminate the dance floor.  Trevor did yeoman’s work getting the lighting to be presentable.  It almost looked as if we had a plan.  We had been friends and neighbors ever since he moved to town just as High School began.  He would soon star as Charlie Brown in the play that would be produced later that school year.  He was the anti-Charlie Brown in real life: outgoing, confident, two time student body president, successful at reaching goals, but he made his performance work. 

I was drenched in sweat and beginning to grow anxious about this entire event.  It was time to start the music, and besides the two teachers and Mike and Trevor, there were only two or three other people milling about just outside the doorway.  I hadn’t even begun to cue up potential songs for the night, though I already had decided with a strange dedication that I would open with Leonard Cohen’s “First We Take Manhattan.”  It was a decision I made because it did not seem like a good one.  An old croaky man crooning a story of intrigue over a lukewarm dance beat.  The vocals are way out in front of the music, which sounded dated at the time of release.  Yet, this was Leonard Cohen!  I needed to educate, although I’m sure that thought never crossed my mind.  Leonard was a legend.  While many of my peers had been hungrily buying up CD reissues of bands like Led Zeppelin, Jimmy Hendrix, the Rolling Stones, and the Beatles, I had been discovering Cohen, the Velvet Underground, the Stooges, old David Bowie, and as many of the post-punk bands inspired by these artists.  But most importantly, Cohen was still creating new tunes to enjoy.  Besides, if the song went down in flames, hardly anyone would be present.  In order to check the sound again, I wandered back out onto the floor, and nodded to a few recognizable people coming in.  It was Celeste’s gang and their two hanger’s on: the photo-negative twins – Ox and Nolan, who reeked of cloves.  This was when I noticed that the dry ice fog that had been keeping the atmosphere creepy under a folding chair had completely dissipated before the conclusion of the opening song.

A few songs in, once I got to the Swans cover of Joy Division’s “Love Will Tear Us Apart,” people started to fill the room and everything became a blur.  I do not remember much from then until a technical issue about three quarters of the way through the dance.  I remember being out on the floor a lot – paranoid that things sounded bad and dancing around so it would look like someone was interested in this music.  There were a handful of obligatory requests.  I politely declined most of them, using the excuse that I did not have what they wanted to hear.  If they produced a cassette version, I would continue to decline, because I intentionally did not bring a tape player.  My hatred of pre-recorded tapes was at a peak.  That night I did play a request for Echo and the Bunnymen’s “Seven Seas” from Todd, who appeared out of nowhere, and who had graduated the prior spring.  I hadn’t seen him since.  He grabbed my shoulder and pulled me back.  He was wearing a black trench coat, which smelled of pot, and intoned slowly: “Seven Seas.”  I winced from the booze that travelled ahead of his words.  Then, he was gone.

While I was setting up a stretch of Creation Records singles to play, all of which I had found in the city the prior weekend, I received another request.  This one came from Kate.  She approached hesitantly, so much so, that I wasn’t sure if she was actually coming my way.  She was a part of Celeste’s group of friends, who included Gary’s younger sister.  Even though she was younger, she seemed worldly to me, and it turned out that she would become a seasoned traveler.  I knew nothing about her.  She was the host sister for an exchange student and at some point I think she dated my friend Trevor for a brief period, but none of us ever talk about that sort of stuff.  Instead we’d make grand schemes to conquer media, to tie 100 foot pieces of kelp to our cars and cruise Wayside, or to walk through town in dresses and motorcycle helmets carrying around giant wooden silverware wall decorations at 3 AM to the grocery store to harass our biology teacher who works there.  This willful ignorance and my self-imposed isolation made most people seem more experienced and interesting to me.  I always felt envious of those who did things, whether it turned out well or not.  I was always too afraid to take risks. 

As I transitioned from the live Rank version of “London” by the Smiths into House of Love’s incredible “Destroy the Heart” single, Kate leaned over and shouted “Do you have Sonic Youth: Daydream Nation?”  I responded with a smirk and an affirmative nod.  “Would you be willing to maybe play “Teenage Riot?” she continued.  I nodded again.  Of course, I would!  This request became a flash of inspiration.  I’d never heard the comparison before, but the guitar sound that opens “Teenage Riot” always reminded me of the sparse early recordings by the Cure.  I began to shuffle through one of the CD boxes for Seventeen Seconds and my new, but already broken CD case of Daydream Nation.  As “Destroy the Heart” abruptly stopped, a brief moment of quiet filled the fairly full room before me.  Then the massive treated beat of The Cure’s instrumental “Three” filled the space.  Ox and Nolan started stomping their feet along.  It’s a shame the dry ice experiment failed, because it would’ve worked well at that juncture.  I nudged the volume up a touch just as the song gained a bit of momentum before it ended with a powerful repeating sonic pulse that I wanted to vibrate everyone’s teeth and ribcages, as the quiet opening of “Teenage Riot’ and Kim Gordon’s disembodied voice intoned some kind of one-sided argument about who is “it” in a game of tag.  The next record had already been lined up: My Bloody Valentine’s “You Made Me Realize” would be next. 

This stretch was magical.  This was why I agreed to DJ.  This was the narcotic that infected me to always want to share the intense feelings that music generates inside me.  I wanted others to experience this same rush.  Kate was dancing with a big grin on her face.  Her friends were all out there.  A smattering of mine were on the scene: Simpson, Trevor, Mark, Lance fresh from the football game, and their respective girlfriends.  Even the girl I had a crush on appeared in the doorway.  She was definitely one of the reasons I had agreed to do this.  A lame effort to get noticed.  To impress.  She looked around for a moment, heard the blaring squall of not very danceable feedback, put her fingers up near her ears, leaned over and said something to her friend, and then disappeared.  Fittingly, this was when things turned.  The sound suddenly cut out in the area of my speakers.  I panicked and ran to them, as if my children were in danger.  I had no song in the queue.  Sure enough, my speakers had stopped emitting sound.  I checked the cords.  They were still in place.  Sweat poured into my eyes as my body temperature increased by about 100 degrees.  The music was off.  The only sound was that of multiple conversations at once.  I kept looking at my speakers.  Back and forth.  Distraught.  Wanting to kick everyone out like at a party when the parents get home before expected.  That was when some fumbling came from the other four speakers and Lance’s voice boomed out, “How’s everyone doing tonight?!”  He rambled on like a radio DJ for a few moments as he introduced a live version of Big Country’s most famous song “In A Big Country” from my trusty dusty copy of the double LP Vertigo Sampler.  I’m not sure if it was the damp windswept weather, but for some reason, Big Country was nearly a universal favorite among my schoolmates.  I cannot recall how many times someone would ask if I could record that live version for them.  All of my friends wanted it, but as time passed I was often approached by someone I didn’t know, or never communicated with.  With his sudden turn at cheesy radio DJ, Lance saved the night.  The show went on a bit more, but I was mentally done.  I unhooked my unresponsive speakers and took them out to the car one by one, swaddled like infants, before heading back in to finish playing music until the allotted time ended.  People began to trickle out.  Making post-dance plans – either looking for somewhere to party or for some privacy. 

Mercifully, the time came to shut it down.  I closed the night with the frenetic Peel Session version of Joy Division’s “Love Will Tear Us Apart.”  Yes, again.  Only a few people remained by that point.  By the time I finished putting things away and gathering my stuff near the front entrance of the school, no one was to be found.  I propped the door open with one of the tomato boxes, pulled my car up to the drop off circle, loaded the car, and headed home to the tinny soundtrack of Red Lorry Yellow Lorry’s Chris Reed singing through gritted teeth that there’s “Nothing Wrong.”

“Feeling Good, Feeling wrong
Holding out, holding on
There’s a lot to do, lot to say
Just so you can have today
Party here, party there
No one ever really cares
If you’re holding out, feeling strong
Tell yourself there’s nothing wrong”

Thank you DJ MC Fresh for making this happen.