Becoming Digital.

(Mirrored at conformer.wordpress.com.)

About a hundred years ago, Your Humble Narrator had a job at the local community college's radio station. In addition to initiating an appreciation of jazz, forcing a surface knowledge of classical music, and exercising cut-and-paste mixing skills, the other primary takeaway was an exposure to a relatively large record library of fairly diverse genres. Coupled with a weekly dance music program on WXRT, and my primary musical education, flawed as it was, seemed complete. "Flawed" as in I was more or less immersed in the underground electronic movement that bled over from the '80s with Front 242, Nitzer Ebb, and Front Line Assembly, into the '90s with The Shamen, LaTour, and The Orb, among others.

Among the myriad albums and twelve-inch singles I either duped onto cassettes. mixed into my "Earth Noise" freeform show, or stole outright was the vinyl single for The Creatures' "Fury Eyes" remixes. The Creatures were an on-again, off-again side project of Siouxsie and the Banshees, and the sound of their second long-player Boomerang (1989) hinged on multilayered, organic, percussive sounds that would eventually act as a gateway to other similarly-styled acts in the near future, such as Orbital, Leftfield, and The KLF.

The standout from the "Fury Eyes" twelve-inch (other than a ten-minute remix by Pascal Gabriel, whose name I misread at the time as Peter Gabriel) was a B-side instrumental called "Abstinence:"

Fellow music nerds will recognize the rhythm section of a traditional bluegrass train song. Unlike other traditional American songs that celebrate the railroad in verse, a bluegrass train song will actually attempt to recreate the sound of a rolling and passing train in music; complete with clackety-clacks drummed out on banjo heads and screeching steam whistles simulated by extended draws across fiddle strings. Imitating the inherently percussive sound of a train is additionally challenging when you realize that most bluegrass bands don't have drummers. True to its near-obsolete status, train songs rarely show up in modern music; Banco de Gaia's "Last Train To Lhasa" is probably one of the few easily-recognizable electronic train songs:

"Abstinence" haunted me for years afterwards, partly because I had neglected to steal the original vinyl, but mostly from the spooky artistry of Siouxsie and Budgie, taking disparate elements of percussion, flute, and marimba and coalescing them into three-plus minutes of rhythm and sound that could logically go on forever and not even loop once. As Web 1.0 flourished, however, I was able to locate a CD copy of the single on eBay, thus filling another gap in The Concrete Standard at the time. It's survived every purge I've made on my collection for various reasons, and still holds a place among the coveted survivors:

fury eyes front

The obvious counterpoint to this story is that the interregnum between coveting a thing like the "Fury Eyes" single and acquiring it wouldn't be nearly as drawn-out today as it was for me a hundred years ago. Just now, a Google search for "creatures fury eyes site:blogspot.com" returns at least three hits in the top ten for potential downloads of the single. Whether this "small world effect" is a good or a bad thing depends on your perspective, but also on your equipment. Even if I had remembered to nick the Creatures vinyl back in the day, I wouldn't have any gear to play it on today, because I no longer own a turntable. So even if I hadn't picked up the single, I still probably would have resorted to the resources of the internet; co-opting bits and pieces of other people's libraries into my own.

So, if so many people online are sharing their records with the world, and so many people are taking advantage of the exposure to these libraries, like I was back at the radio station, doesn't that constitute a crowdsourcing effect? Everyone who downloads music made available by someone else is contributing to the world's biggest, most diverse, infinite mixtape.


So Far, So Green.

Originally uploaded by conformer

(Mirrored at conformer.wordpress.com.)

To-day, for lack of a better (or less clever) term, is Your Humble Narrator's two-year "veganversary." At this moment, and probably for the remainder of the day, this will trump "blog" as my number one loathed post-millennial Newspeak word.

I chose Cinco de Mayo for an official starting point primarily as a mnemonic device; whenever I'm asked about my relatively uninteresting vegetarian origins, I'm able to rattle off the location (Original Joe's in downtown San Jose, CA) and the circumstances with mimeographic clarity. But when it comes to recalling the precise date and year, that's when everything gets all fuzzy, kind of like when your body's blood sugar starts to crash and you get all cranky and sluggish at around siesta time. Was it New Year's Eve night or New Year's Day night? Was it on my birthday or Boom-Boom's birthday? Was it just some randomly chosen date in the summer, or was it just some randomly chosen date in the winter? (Believe it or not, even in a temperate, desert state like California, there is a discernible difference between the two polar seasons)

So, I just say that my vegetarian career lasted for "about fifteen years," a number which sounds both impressive and excessive. The other reason for using to-day as a temporal bookmark is that it gives the day slightly more legitimacy than the fake Mexican holiday it shares.

Two years ago, I was still working at GDI, a company flush enough with cash and smart enough in the personnel department to take the connection between happy workers and happy products to a whole new level by providing massive amounts of complimentary food for the staff throughout the workday. I think you already know which company I'm talking about, and I can credit this generous black hole of resources for turning me towards the dark side of veganism. By making the ingredients of their menus freely available, I was given a unique insight as to what I was putting into my body. At a certain point, the barrier between a "mere" vegetarian and "full-fledged" vegan becomes little more than a single act of what might be seen as denial or exclusion, but which I like to interpret as just a different level of choice and free will.

It reminds me of the oft-repeated conversation, which never really happened:
Q: You're a vegan? So what do you eat?
A: Anything I want.
Last year, I evaluated my choice to date and more or less came to the conclusion that, while I took on the lifestyle as an experiment and gave myself an out at the six-month mark, I had taken it far enough already for it to be a lifelong change. Additional benefits included a hyperawareness of the kinds of food all around me, a transparency of the food that I was eating, and an almost complete dearth of eating out. (barring free lunches at work)

So, what about the long-term benefits? Like Prozac, the larger changes of a lifestyle switch-up like this aren't always immediately observable. It often takes periodic retrospection for any positive or negative effects to jump out at you; weight loss, clearer skin, more regular regularity, etc. All of these have happened, which is not to say they've been permanent changes. Everything you eat is eventually exuded through your skin, moodswings and chemical imbalances can radically alter the volume of food we shovel into our mouths, and gastrointestinal stability is a crapshoot at best. For me, the larger takeaway is what something like vegetarianism or veganism does to your overarching attitude concerning food.

I started as a pragmatic vegetarian, because "Joe's Special" at Original Joe's made me so physically sick it convinced me that the change would allow me to live longer, assuming I survived the night. And while I adopted the same stance when I went vegan, I also believe that there is no such thing as a pure pragmatism or pure ethics when it comes to dietary lifestyles like these. Perusing the myriad food blogs in my newsreader might give you pause, as a number of the vegan bloggers can come across as militant and polarized, but for the most part people will eat what they want, enjoy what they eat, and let any transgressions or screw-ups roll off their backs.

Veganism may be the original green diet, but it's not my place to say it's the only way to eat. Because in the long run, food is still just fuel for the body. Comedian Chris Rock put it pretty well (even though he was talking about religion at the time) when he said, "I refuse to believe that on Judgment Day, my diet is going to come into question." But because food can be both pigeonholed and demonized, it can't always maintain a single occupation for everyone, and its significance is often multifaceted from person to person. While we all have to eat to live, not all of us live to eat, although the influence of foodies, locavores, and gourmands is certainly helping to bring the pleasurable aspects of food more to the fore.

Eat what you want.


It's Not My Problem.

(Mirrored at conformer.wordpress.com.)

Is ignorance really bliss, or is it just selfishness?

The line between selfishness and selflessness is already a fuzzy one without the wildly inconsistent variable of human opinion as a factor. And as small as we think the world is getting with each burp of new technology, for the most part a majority of our movements and directions are dictated by the range of degrees from an event or object or action we find ourselves from.

When Eyjafjallajökull erupted last month, it apparently brought the industrialized world to a near-standstill, apparently. I say "apparently" because if it hadn't been for the handful of newsfeeds I monitor at Monkworks, it may as well not have happened at all. I wasn't scheduled for a European overseas flight at the time, I didn't have a ticket to Coachella, and I'm not Icelandic. I have no commitments in that part of the world, I have no family or friends in Iceland, and I have no vested interest in airline stock or international travel. Eyjafjallajökull effectively had no effect on me whatsoever.

Now, is this bliss, or selfishness? If I am so far removed from a situation that impacts so many other people in the world that I'm almost unaware of it, to the point where I can effectively say "I don't care about this," does that make me ignorant in a stupid way? Does my uninvolvement in a situation that has no hold over me turn me into an enemy, simply because I'm not with the team?

Arizona's immigration law. Proposition 8. The BP oil spill. All hot-button topics, all relevant, and all polarizing to one extent or another. But the cries of yea or nay that dominate the unavoidable debate almost always drown out the silent and invisible faction of the ones who have no opinion. For one reason or another, (or none at all) there will always be a third side to every issue, involving people who don't know, don't care, or have no investment; emotionally, politically, or otherwise.

So, if we do nothing about something we don't care about, are we guilty of negligence? If we don't care about something that doesn't affect us or anyone within our six degrees, does that make us unfeeling to the plight of others? If we don't involve ourselves in a problem that has no clear solution, are we selfish, self-centered, self-important? How many of us are not furious, not because we're not paying attention, but because we know we can't afford to distribute ourselves so thinly?

Just as the world is not always to blame for an individual's problems, the individual is not always obligated to sacrifice themselves every time the world has a conniption.


Retroactive Continuity Is (Still) Bullshit.

(Mirrored at conformer.wordpress.com.)

On a recent trip to Thrillsville's local used bookshop after a relatively extended interim, I was drawn towards this U.K. printing of Gordon Dickson's Dorsai!

dorsai uk

There's already a copy of Dorsai! in Monkworks' library (the ninth Ace mass market paperback printing from November of 1986) and while I have yet to reach this "keystone of one of science fiction's greatest careers" in the chaotic and interminable queue of books lined up waiting to be read before Your Humble Narrator dies, (or goes to prison, whichever comes first) the oddities and idiosyncrasies of the British edition were enough to compel me to add it, OCD-style, to the stacks. Plus, it was only two dollars.

Dorsai! was first published in 1960; originally titled The Genetic General it was culled from a serialized version that appeared in the seminal sci-fi journal Astounding Science Fiction the year before. It's spawned a half-dozen additional volumes that are collectively known as the Childe Cycle series, although most people just call it the Dorsai series. The rub is that the initial subsequent Dorsai books are actually prequels, with the content taking place before the events of the first book. Therefore, the blurb displayed on the cover of the Sphere edition above, "the third in the Dorsai! trilogy," is technically correct, it just follows the continuity of the story, and not the publishing history.

This kind of marketing-style indexing raises an interesting question, in addition to wondering how non-American reading habits differ when it comes to taking in a serialized story in order. If, for example, one or more of the Harry Potter or Twilight or Wheel Of Time books were prequels, how would a relative newcomer to the series be advised to approach the stories as a whole? Would they benefit more from reading the series in its internal chronological order and getting all the information from square one? Or would it make more sense to replicate the experience of the readers that had come before, and take the books as they were released by the publisher?

When hopping back and forth between the past and the present and mucking about with the more intricate mechanics of storytelling is done on a larger scale, it's often referred to as retroactive continuity. Most commonly associated with the comic book industry's massively unwieldy multiverses, retroactive continuity also shows up in more mainstream venues. One of the more infamous examples is when George Lucas swapped out Sebastian Shaw as Anakin Skywalker in the special edition DVD release of Return Of The Jedi with Hayden Christiansen after completing the Star Wars prequels.

The unspoken law of retroactive continuity basically says that the most current truth is the only true truth, all other history is apocrypha. And while this makes perfect sense from a marketing perspective, especially when attempting to manage the tangled plot threads and multiple personalities of comic book timestreams, or in an effort to maintain the public's interest in an aging franchise such as the expanded universes of Star Wars or Star Trek; but at its core, it's essentially bullshit.

Prequels, in general and in particular, are especially guilty. While the fundamental differences between books and movies is recognized, (with comic books occupying an uncomfortable no-man's land inbetween) both are methods of storytelling, and storytelling often involves backstory, mystery, and unanswered questions. Just as a good plot twist can make or break a film, so can the withholding of crucial information in a story intensify the eventual reveal. At the same time, no story is perfect, no plot is airtight, and even the most masterful of bards can leave behind inconsistencies in their universe. (The best of the best do it on purpose.) Similar to the real universe, storytellers can create complete, self-contained microcosms with clear beginnings, middles, and endings; and the imperfections in their warp and weft can only add to the richness of the universe as a whole. The complete runs of Cowboy Bebop and Firefly (plus Serenity) come to mind.

But a prequel, in its worst incarnation, seeks to fill in those holes, to solve the leftover mysteries, to add backstory and motivation and Mommy and Daddy issues. Like brunch, another useless invention, prequels can knock the center out of a perfectly well-established universe and suck out the sweet security of the unknown. Prequels can take niche objects of desire, coveted by a select few who "get it," and turn them into mass media franchises, retconned to suit the tastes of a lower, more common, denominator of audience. While Star Trek is one of the more visible examples of this, a more pervasive franchise is the one grown from Frank Herbert's Dune novels. Admittedly, when Herbert was alive he eventually forgot himself and stretched the legitimacy of the sequels beyond the original trilogy; but it took the tapping of world-class hack Kevin J. Anderson as captain of the expanded "Duneverse" to broaden appeal through innumerable prequels, while minimizing risk with his stunted, L. Ron Hubbard-style of bland prose.

The argument can be made that retroactive continuity, prequels, and expanded universes in general are the natural extension of stories that grow too large to be contained by a single format or genre or generation. And while the disparate differences between something like the two sets of Star Wars trilogies can create conflicts between generations, in the long run an overarching goal has been met: what started out as a single story for a single generation now encompasses multiple demographics, genres, and strata. What was once niche now belongs to everyone, which is a far better fate than moldering away in a museum as untouchable gospel.

But at the same time, not all mysteries need to be solved. Not every ending needs to be definitive. Not everything needs to be perfect.

laughing man

Lather, Rinse, Retweet.

(Mirrored at conformer.wordpress.com.)

How can we create new content? How can we create our own, original material? What is our impetus for creating content, as opposed to repeating, retweeting, reblogging someone else's?

We repeat, or at least we think we repeat, and retweet, and reblog, because we take it initially as common courtesy and a shield from accusations of plagiarism; giving an author proper credit for the content we are viralizing, instead of claiming it as our own. We can keep this up for as long as the application or software we're using insists on flagging the provenance of whatever we stumble upon online and push along to the eyeballs that regularly or occasionally brush across the home pages of our own blogs. But at what point do we stop creating our own content and become exclusively distributors of prepublished content? When does putting down a sentence, stringing together a paragraph, arranging an image, coalescing a concept, or pinning down an idea become too much work for our overstimulated brains, overriding the desire to form our own opinions, to point in our own slightly-north-by-northwest directions, to produce something of our own that is itself, repeatable, retweetable, rebloggable?

This is a somewhat disturbing turn the path of online amateur journalism has taken from its original power shift after stealing the thunder from the big boys. Now, not only can anyone get online, open up their own blog and start creating their own content and make it as freely accessible as any other reputable source; but since there is so much content being produced and so much of it flying between so many nodes at any given time, it almost makes sense to simply cast your net into the stream, see what you catch, and toss the good bits in the direction of your own audience. It's more cost-effective, less labor-intensive, and the chances of your readers appreciating the redistributed content is just as good (or remote) as if the content was original.

On the other hand, five fingers: maybe this is a good thing. Maybe the encouragement of social media to "share" and "like" things will serve to weed out the true amateurs of the internet, leaving the ones who still produce their own content to bubble up through the charts.

Whether it's a problem or not, at least the whole bleeding situation has produced one good thing to-day: this post.


Capit Nusquam Facio Nusquam.

It's been difficult, as of late, to convince myself that I have any worth, that existence is something else than pointless, that it's possible to rise above the status of stardust.

The moments between the witching hour and first light have become my only solace, giving me a rare and brief clarity, a lucid introspection into the machinations of my soul.

My conclusion is that I don't particularly care for the person I've become. I don't relish the idea of being blackhearted and acidic and bitter as the template for my remaining years on this piece of dirt.

At the same time I also seem to have painted myself into a corner with the paradigm that it's too late to change some things, that some things are too ingrained and embedded to shake loose, that my brain has hardened over like a dried-out kitchen sponge and is incapable of taking in any new information.

The calendar I bought last month is still turned to February, as if I don't change it, I won't have to deal with the future; I can just stay in an stagnant, artificial, toxic feedback loop indefinitely. The Zen theme I purposely chose is stale and contrived, (so much for being a better Buddhist) the plain line drawings too two-dimensional, too sticky and clingy to the past, the old ways, the first ways, the simple ways.

When I get this way, I can't help but get all turned around and wonder why things can't be simple.

And it's because nothing in this world is simple.

praze bob

From C To Sea.

  • Ralph Schuckett: Alabama Song
  • Johnny Cash: When It's Springtime In Alaska (It's Forty Below)
  • Wilco: Hotel Arizona
  • People Like Us: Arkansas Explorer
  • Propellerheads: Take California
  • R. L. Burnside: Georgia Women
  • Elvis: Blue Hawaii
  • The B-52s: Private Idaho
  • Tom Waits: Johnsburg, Illinois
  • The Birdlanders: Indiana
  • Lee "Scratch" Perry: Kentucky Skank
  • John Lee Hooker: Goin' To Louisiana
  • Bee Gees: Massachusetts
  • Jelly Roll Morton: Michigan Water Blues
  • J. G. Thirlwell: Mississippi Noir
  • Frank Zappa: Montana
  • U2: New York
  • Jack Guthrie: Oklahoma Hills
  • Cinematic Orchestra: Oregon
  • Glenn Miller: Pennsylvania 6-5000
  • Elvis: Memphis, Tennessee
  • Waylon Jennings & Willie Nelson: Luckenback, Texas
  • Frank Sinatra: Moonlight In Vermont
  • jj: Golden Virginia
  • John Linnell: West Virginia
  • Maggie Estep: Why I Don't Like Wyoming
(not represented: Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Iowa, Kansas, Maine, Maryland, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, North Carolina, North Dakota, Ohio, Rhode Island, South Carolina, South Dakota, Utah, Wisconsin)


E. S. L.

  • Annabouboula: Baby Wants Kisses (Greek)
  • The Beatles: Sie Liebt Dich (bad German)
  • Chumbawamba: Tubthumping (French mix)
  • Cibo Matto: Águas de Março (Portuguese)
  • Everything But The Girl: Corcovado: (Portuguese)
  • Faith No More: Das Schutzenfest (German)
  • Falco: Der Kommissar (German)
  • Les Négresses Vertes: Sous Le Soliel De Bodega (French)
  • Ashley MacIsaac: Sleepy Maggie (Gaelic)
  • MC Solaar: Nouveau Western (French)
  • Mediæval Bæbes: Sal Va Nos (Latin)
  • Milla: In A Glade (Ukrainian)
  • Oh! Penelope: Lait Au Miel (French, after Japanese)
  • Panjabi MC: Mundian To Bach Ke (Punjabi)
  • The Pixies: Vamos (Spanish)
  • Plastic Bertrand: Ça Plane Pour Moi (French)
  • Elvis: Wooden Heart (German)
  • Seymour Rechzeit: Battle Hymn Of The Republic (Yiddish)
  • Peter Schilling: Major Tom (German version)
  • Super Furry Animals: Fix Idris (Gaelic)
  • Tokyo Disneyland Cast: Tiki Tiki Room (Japanese)
  • Betty Roos: Blaur Montag (German, after Portuguese)
  • Tom Waits: Kommienezuspadt (fake German)

Clear Your Plate.

  • The Ready Men: Shortnin' Bread
  • Dizzy Gillespie: Salt Peanuts
  • Mr. Scruff: Fish
  • Shonen Knife: Banana Chips
  • Booker T. & the MGs: Green Onions
  • Mudhoney: Goat Cheese
  • Negativland: Perfect Scrambled Eggs
  • People Under The Stairs: Eat Street
  • Lee "Scratch" Perry: Roast Fish & Cornbread
  • Macka B: Baked Beans & Egg
  • Elvis: Queenie Wahine's Papaya
  • Louis Jordan: Saturday Night Fish Fry
  • Fat Boys: All You Can Eat
  • Beastie Boys: Peanut Butter & Jelly
  • Mongo Santamaría: Watermelon Man
  • Hot Butter: Popcorn
  • Super Furry Animals: Guacamole
  • Cibo Matto: Le Pain Perdu
  • Euel Box: The Frito Twist
  • Shinehead: One Meatball
  • Alex DeGrassi: Shortnin' Bread

Question Every Answer.

  • Bella & Me: Whatever Happened To The 7 Day Week?
  • Wilco: Was I In Your Dreams?
  • The KLF: What Time Is Love?
  • Pet Shop Boys: Was It Worth It?
  • They Might Be Giants: How Can I Sing Like A Girl?
  • Dreadful Snakes: Who's That Knocking At My Door?
  • Badly Drawn Boy: What Is It Now?
  • Banco de Gaia: How Much Reality Can You Take?
  • PJ Harvey: Is This Desire?
  • Leadbelly: Where Did You Sleep Last Night?
  • Basement Jaxx: Where's Your Head At?
  • Tom Waits: What's He Building In There?
  • The Smiths: Is It Really So Strange?
  • MC Frontalot: Which MC Was That?
  • OK Go: WTF?
  • The Flaming Lips: Are You A Hypnotist??
  • Harry "The Hipster" Gibson: Who Put The Benzedrine In Mrs. Murphy's Ovaltine?
  • Frank Black: Whatever Happened To Pong?