catching

Once again it’s January and once again I’m thinking about putting together a tour, this time for the Rock Show. Of course I say that like you knew this was a regular thing for me — I never mention it online because I know that nobody wants to hear about something that’s only an idea unless they’re part of the process. And yet like some kind of flagrant idiot, here I am doing just that. Well there’s more than just an idea here, this is bigger than all of us — this happens to be a quest! I bet you feel foolish now!

If you listened to Side A of Jak Is A Four Letter Word (and of course you did, because it costs you zero dollars to stream and download), you heard a track that consisted entirely of someone talking about flipping the tape when it stops at the end. That was a recording of my friend Amanda from twelve years ago, and I hadn’t talked to her much in about ten years.

When people start talking to someone again after a very long time of falling out of touch, they usually use the term “catch up”. I’ve never liked that, even when I’ve used it myself. The semantics really do make a difference here because to “catch up” with someone requires that there be a finite end to the process, and I think that’s why the term has always bothered me: once you’re caught up, you’re done. In most cases it’s maybe a few weeks of small talk and eventually you’re “catching up” again another span of years later. And really, social media has kind of obsoleted “catching up” anyway. Thanks to Facebook, I didn’t have to talk to her to already know she owns a place called Zog’s in Chapel Hill, NC and that she’s just ordered herself a lime green melodica from Amazon. Thanks to Facebook, she didn’t have to talk to me to know whatever it is I’ve been up to that I post or that gets posted about me and linked on my wall there.

When I emailed her to let her know “Hey, I made this really noisy album and, oh hey, you’re on it, here’s the track” she took that as a good reason to pick up where we left off rather than “catch up”. And yeah, it pretty much is. Here is the email she sent me back:

“What’s been going on with you lately? In an effort to bring that question away from the mire of small talk, please list three bulleted points about your life. Thank you.”

24 hours of bullet points and chat later we have a co-authored weblog thing called Three Bullet Pointz (I swear we’re not 14, it’s only because Three Bullet Points with an S was already taken on WordPress) where we write three related bullet points(z) per post on whatever topic we feel like to each other as if the internet’s not looking and then let the internet look at it. Theoretically, anyway — how much of the internet would want to look at something like that is a mystery to me. On the other hand, the internet looks at some really bizarre things sometimes so I have no idea. I just put things on it.

Though honestly, no, you really should look at it. How else will you learn about the dangerous game of Breadsy? You didn’t even know you were curious about Breadsy until just now. Just think of what else you might be missing out on…!…?… .

It was around this time that I put together an ambient drone track called “Fever Dream” for a Flaccid Plastic floppy disk split release with Spacings (coming soon). I based it off when I had pneumonia a couple of years ago and I’d get stuck in these horrible repeating dreams where I was sitting in a chair at a table playing chess with the personification of Mathematics who insisted on discussing philosophy with me instead of ever making his move. We were submerged in some murky fluid, floating about lazily. I could never follow a word of what he was saying, and he was relentless. For a few days until my fever broke, whenever I would start to sleep, it was always the same progression: a few moments of blissful rest and golden warmth, followed soon by forceful philosophy with that jerk Mathematics, and it would drag on mercilessly until I’d inevitably wake up with a pounding headache.

A couple days after writing “Fever Dream”, I got a fever that would reach a high of 102.8. My next song is going to be called “One Billion Tax Free Dollars In My Bank Account (And I’ll Stay Young And Healthy Until I get Tired Of It)”. Let me know if you want in on this action, I think I’m magical.

Anyway

I’m chatting with Amanda, and at this point I’ve only hit 100.6 degrees and trying desperately to convince myself that I don’t have a temperature that’s rising one degree per hour, that it’s all just some fluke with the air conditioning, the way I’m sitting, what I ate most recently, and my imagination, in that order. It makes perfect sense at the time, and don’t expect me to remember any aspect of why anymore. I hate being sick so much that I’ll do some serious gymnastics of logic to convince myself that I’m not really sick. At some point in talking to her, the melodica gets brought up. It’s funny to me because whenever I’m talking to somebody who I’m friended to on Facebook and something comes up that I already know about via their feed, it reminds me of when I watch a movie based on a book I’ve read and see something straight from the book on the movie screen. It’s a very 21st century feeling.

Anyway, the melodica comes up and I remember that I’ve forgotten I wanted a melodica twice now — once in 2008 when Adam Rouse brought his over to a practice to see if it could sub for the accordion part in “Battle Hymn” for the acoustic tour we ended up taking in December (it totally could! He didn’t end up coming with us on that tour though); and again last September when Dr. Sick played all of three notes on one at a Freaksheaux To Geaux revue (there’s no follow-up parenthetical anecdote here — I just put them here to balance it with the other one). I tell her this.

“I’ll make a deal with you,” she says.

“I’m listening.”

“I will purchase another melodica and have it mailed to you.”

“The lime green melodica.”

“The same.”

“That isn’t ‘a deal’. There’s more to this.”

“Yes. I will purchase the melodica and have it mailed to you if you promise to play Zog’s at some point in 2013. No show, no melodica.” She’s sent this all as one block of text, and for some reason I insist on reading it in my head with dramatic pauses and imagining sinister music swelling underneath it all. It’s the fever. I try to ignore it — I’m having a conversation here! I fail: the music I’m hearing in my head is just too good at creating the mood. For a moment, I keep reading it over and over again with various villainous deliveries, completely forgetting that someone’s actually waiting for a response from me.

Finally I snap out of it and read it properly. I decide I don’t like it. It feels too much like getting paid in advance for a job — the effort-to-reward flow is all backwards and wrong. “Here is an amended proposal,” I say.

“Okay.”

“Go ahead and get the melodica.”

“Okay.”

“And have it delivered to YOUR house.”

“O…kay?”

“And I will come to pick it up when I play Zog’s this summer.”

“Done. And if you never, ever come play Zog’s, I will burn the melodica on a funeral pyre and post pictures of its lime green guts on your Facebook page every day.” And knowing her like I do, I absolutely do not doubt for a second that this would happen.

“Now *that* is a deal,” I say.

I’m right, and I’m also wrong. It’s a deal and it’s so much more than a deal. We call it “MELODICA QUEST: It Probably Resembles An Adventure” and it’s going to be around seven or eight days in July or August. Exciting! It could be your town we play in! It will more likely be your town that we drive right past the exit of. It will most likely be that we won’t even be in the vicinity of your town!

***

There are days when nothing seems to go right. In no-budget filmmaking, those days are called “every shooting day”.

In October we did the first shoot for the Targeted project, the brothel scene. Angelle and I got to the set at 6:30 in the morning with a list of tasks and how long they should take. The list was adorable in how wrong it was. The wall construction was estimated at thirty minutes; it took an hour and a half. The light setup was figured at five minutes — HA, closer to twenty-five, courtesy of not threading the bulbs into the sockets properly because I’m trying to make up lost time and being too hasty. I don’t think there was a single item on the list that didn’t take at least three times as long as the estimate, and each delay just made us prone to making more mistakes and more delays.

I’d call crew members to see if they were close to arriving only to have them tell me they were just now waking up. One of our actresses dropped out and another one went to the emergency room that morning so we had to find two willing replacements within a couple of hours — it didn’t help recruiting efforts that the roles were “Whore #2” and “Whore #3”. Somehow our casting wizard Melia was able to find two who were willing and available.

Even with the cast and crew all there, diner customers kept wandering onto the set in the middle of shots. Every time a truck would pass on the highway next to the building, the walls would rumble and ruin the audio of any takes in progress. Video poker machines and sink faucets added anachronistic sounds that we had to wait out.

“There’s this image I have in my head for situations like this,” I say to Angelle while we’re waiting for the camera battery to recharge for the second time.

“Yeah?”

“I’ve never tried to verbalize it to anyone before, so bear with me.”

“Okay.”

“There’s these four walls all in front of each other, each with small square holes cut in them. All four of these walls are moving left-to-right and right-to-left against each other at different speeds, so VERY rarely, the four square holes will be lined up. On one side of these walls is a man with a bow and arrow and on the other side is a target. Each take is the man shooting an arrow and trying to hit the target.”

“Trying to get it through all four holes when they’re lined up,” she nods.

“Except he’s blindfolded.”

Somehow we got enough good takes to finish the scene. I remember being completely drained and wondering if I was cut out for this kind of thing at the end of the day. This was nothing like the short subject films and music videos I was accustomed to putting together up to this point.

“It’s no wonder most of my filmmaker friends are going bald,” I said.

“This is just the first day,” Angelle reminded me.

“Just, wow.”

3 months and a number of shoots later was the Pinkerton Agency scene that we did this Sunday. I wake up at 6:45 in the morning to day six of being sick. I check my phone, thinking “Okay, let’s see what crises happened overnight.” Sure enough, the actor playing the reporter in this scene dislocated his shoulder and is still in the emergency room — he won’t be able to make it.

“The guy playing the photographer is now playing the reporter,” I text to Melia. “And the backup actor who was on standby is now the photographer.” I go find something to eat. Later, on set, we find out the actor playing the photographer decided not to show up.

“How about our backup?” I ask.

“He’s not answering his phone either,” because of course he’s not, why would he?

“For the next ten minutes, everyone contact anyone you know that wants to be in an ultra low budget underground western with us for a couple of hours.” I then get back to screwing light bulbs into the softboxes and figuring out what wardrobe would look best on me as the photographer, glancing at the storyboard to determine if we can shoot the angles that character is in without catching his face since I’m already playing one of the main characters too (we can). I stop for a moment because I realize that the sudden vacancies of two important roles in today’s shoot elicits the same reaction from me as having to screw in light bulb #8. “Well, that needs to be done next, then. Okay.” The contrast of how we handled October’s shoot comes to mind and I smile, even in the midst of all this chaos with my head and lungs full of virus. This must be progress of some sort.

This is good.

We did find two fine replacement actors and the shoot ended up going great. Somehow it always does. Pictures from it are up at the Targeted project’s Images page, with more to come soon.

***

Two days prior to that was my performance as Jareth the Goblin King with Kali for the Dirty Dime Peep Show. If you want to hear me sing with one-sixteenth of a voice and a fever while Kali spins fire inches from my face, you’ll probably want to click on this video link, you sadist.

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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.”

“Oscar Peterson,”

“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.

“What?”

“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.