A song I hadn’t heard for years came on recently. It’s from one of the first ten albums I bought on CD.
“What kind of music do you like then?”
I’m 15 and in a music store at the mall, surrounded by CDs all priced at $16.99. This short man who looks like Ricky Gervais with greasy auburn hair years before anyone has any idea who Ricky Gervais is has just asked me what kind of music I like because he works there.
“Punk, jazz,” I answer. He cocks an eyebrow. “No, for real.”
“Like what?” I’m stunned by how the question comes out of his mouth, very savage. This guy’s got to be in his mid-20s and, you know, I’m just a kid here — though I know enough by this point to know that I made the mistake of saying “punk” to a record store snob in the 90s, so now I’m on the spot.
“Count Basie,” I say.
“Uh huh.” I know I can’t keep listing jazz forever. He knows too.
“Uh, like, Velvet Underground, Replacements, some stuff my cousin put on a tape that I don’t know what it is.” And I’m not lying, though I do make sure to keep Green Day from slipping out of my mouth. I’d been in that conversation before.
He looks genuinely impressed. “No shit,” he says. I look at his store badge with his name in bolded Times New Roman: “Gary”. “I got something I think you’ll really like.” He walks me over to one of the shelves near the end of the alphabet and pulls out a blue album that says “The Verve Pipe” and “Villains” on it, and I can’t figure out which is the name of the band and which is the name of the album. “It’s this band from Michigan that’s blowing up huge.”
He starts going on and on about their big single, a song called “Photograph” and how good it is (spoiler: it’s not good. Apparently the best way to guarantee a song will be tedious and annoying is to call it “Photograph”, regardless of what decade it is) and he still hasn’t said the name of the band.
“So is it Villains or The Verve Pipe?” I ask. It’s the first thing I’ve said in minutes now.
“The name of the band,” I say, pointing at the words on the album in his hand. “I can’t tell from the album art, and either one puts it in the V section here.”
“Huh,” he says, his head bobbing up. “Well shit, you’re right, it’s pretty ambiguous.” This time he says “shit” in a hushed tone, like my friends do when their parents are in the next room. A moment later, a similarly dressed employee passes by us. That must be his manager. “They’re called The Verve Pipe,” he says, making sure the manager can hear him, “and I think you’ll really get into it.”
I end up buying the album on his recommendation because I’m 15 and he said “shit” — TWICE — while he was on the clock so he has to be someone with an opinion worth considering. I listen to it at home and end up convincing myself I like half the songs on the album and that I love one of them because I’m 15 and I spent $16.99 plus tax in mid-90s dollars on this thing. Even still, “Photograph” is not one of the songs I like and oh, did I try to.
Recently I’m reading an interview article that features a local producer who’s taking some severe liberties with facts about the shows they put on, speaking in competitive terms to answer simple questions — all that was missing were buzzwords and cliches to clinch the huckster stereotype. It bothers me even though I’m only tangentially related to the scene in question, in the same way that battle of the band-style contests have always bothered me. Divisive competition is scene poison, period, objective truth. There aren’t many hills that I’ll die on unconditionally, and that is definitely one of them.
I get it, though: it’s all about the ends, and every decision, interaction and process falls into the means. I recognize it because I used to think that was how things worked best too. It’s a claustrophobic and miserable state of doubt, image obsession, superficial connection and cyclic revalidation that I wouldn’t wish on anyone. It’s also the sort of thing you only realize in retrospect, so this person isn’t even aware what they’re doing or how they’re coming off to everyone who isn’t doing it too — it’s just the way it’s done as far as they’re aware. They’re an accidental jerk. I recognize it in the same way as when I hear a song I totally forgot existed, remember I used to love it, and realize I can’t stand it now. Sorry, The Verve Pipe.
There are different kinds of accidental jerks. One of the best things I ever ate was when I was staying at my friend Z’s place. His apartment was basically one large room divided into functional areas with a separate bathroom attached, so the kitchen wasn’t a kitchen so much as it was the wall that had the sink. He’d always buy these crazy vegetables and make stews and stuff so the whole place smelled like an apothecary. One day he made a stew that had this amazing aroma. I wish I knew everything he had put in it — all I remember is that he said it had bok choy and I was food-ignorant enough at the time to have never run across that word before, so it stuck with me to the point that whenever I hear it, I think of his place. I asked if I could try some of the stew and so he handed me a bowl which I didn’t waste time finishing off.
“That was incredible,” I told him.
“Oh thanks,” he said. “What sort of flavor did you get from it?”
I told him my impression of it and I got pretty flowery, because it was that good.
“Oh cool. I’m glad you were so detailed in your description, because that was all I had made of it. It sounds like it was very good.”
The thing about being that kind of an accidental jerk is that you’re the only jerk who knows you’re only a jerk accidentally, so everything that you think to say just makes you look like a worse jerk.
“Why would you make such a small portion in such a large pot?”
“Why would you hand me your entire bowl instead of just a spoon?”
“Why didn’t you, I don’t know, speak up when you realized what was happening?”
I didn’t say any of those things, instead deciding to say “How was I supposed to know!” which is worse than if I’d said all three of the other things, especially since I said it with an exclamation point instead of a question mark.
NOTE: Any question sounds more threatening when you leave off the punctuation entirely. Try it in a chat or text message some time.
Times New Roman Gary was an accidental jerk of the third kind. Villains by The Verve Pipe was standard grungey blandness, nothing remotely like any of the bands I’d listed. His job was to push that particular product that week, by way of having conversations just like real human beings do if necessary. It wasn’t anything personal, in any sense of the word. Kind of like that producer, I guess.
I get it. And it’s still nauseating. “…humanity becomes more obscene for the vague resemblance.” Anyway, they’ll figure it out if they do. I’ve got new stuff to give you.
Links get easy to ignore after enough of them get sprinkled around a post. I’m counting on you keeping that in mind so you can avoid passing over any of the links I’ll be putting in the next two or three paragraphs.
“Songs For Cello At Night” is an EP-ish thing I made nine years ago and discontinued seven years ago and remastered last month and reissued three weeks ago and wrote about just now and today you’re going to download it. There’s not a single cello on the entire album and a lot of you figured that out as soon as you read its title.
And hey will you look at that, out of nowhere my second release through Flaccid Plastic Records is now up, or maybe it’s my second, third and fourth releases. However you want to categorize them, it’s all new stuff on three EPs that share seven words of an eight word title that has the word “word” in it — I call it: “Jak Is A Four Letter Word Side A” (anti-folk), “Jak Is A Four Letter Word Side B” (experimental), and “Jak Is A Four Letter Word Side C” (noise music).
Coming later from Flaccid Plastic is a lathe cut split I’m doing with one of Dingle’s new experimental projects called Spacings. You can hear some of what he’s doing with that project here. My side will have one or two tracks depending on how big a record we get cut, and will probably have a run of 20. I’ll talk about it more between here and social media when it’s a thing.
Some days from now I’m going to be singing “Underground” from the Labyrinth movie looking something like David Bowie looking like Jareth the Goblin King. At an average rock show, that would be the big showstopper. At The Dirty Dime Peep Show, a hard-edge burlesque revue, it’s gonna need something else. If only the Jim Henson Company owed me a favor. If nothing else, the hair will look awesome, seen here modeled by Duckface Moobsman. I’m talking to Freaksheaux To Geaux’s Kali about doing some fire spinning while I sing, so maybe there will be a Firey up there with me. If six-year-old Jak could see that sentence, he’d be horrified — those guys traumatized me as a kid.
Some days ago, like many people, I spent New Year’s Eve with some friends. Like not nearly as many people, I spent about fifteen minutes of New Year’s Eve fighting with an aging FC Twin’s NES cartridge slot — “aging” because it’s two years old which is apparently ancient in Famiclone years. There’s this magic angle of insertion that needs to be *just* *so* *slightly* skewed to one side, so delicate that any less than six asterisks wouldn’t have adequately communicated the precision involved. A real NES system displays a blue screen when cartridges aren’t connecting. This one shows a random pastel color like mauve or yellow. While trying to get Metroid to work, we play a dozen rousing rounds of “Guess The Next Shade” like we do every other time this happens, and I’m ready to give up.
“Three more,” I say. “I’m going to try it three more times.”
“Purple,” Joe guesses, because it had been purple the last two times. He’s wrong. It’s light orange. I shut it off and pull the right corner of the cartridge out of the slot by like the width of a few hairs.
“Pink,” Adam tries. He’s right. I turn it off again and try the left side this time.
“Beige,” Joe says, and he’s wrong again. It’s purple this time. I realize he hasn’t guessed correctly even once yet.
“Stay away from roulette wheels,” I tell him. I grab the cartridge and start pulling it out of the console. “Well that’s that then.”
“Try it one more time,” Adam says. “I have a feeling the fourth time will be worth it.”
“Oh all right.” I push the right corner back down, leaving the left one barely unseated and turn the power on. It’s working, sort of. The sprite grids are corrupted to blocks making it look like Metroid via Atari 2600. For the next five minutes this is the coolest thing we’ve ever seen for some reason. Here, see it for yourself.
Parting gift: When Youtube suggests this, you watch every second of it.