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.

bias is often called identity

I was talking to an insanely talented performer after a rehearsal for a show we’ll be working together on next month.

“The difference between professional and amateur performances is how much they’ve been perfected,” he says.

I’m pretty sure I disagree, though I haven’t thought it through or heard it out enough to commit to saying something about it one way or the other. “Mm,” I hum instead. I nod my head up gently as I make this noise. It’s enough to acknowledge “Yes, that certainly was a thing you just said and I sure did hear it” without obstructing or leading the dialogue yet.

He goes on, “In community shows like what’s standard around here, you’re always playing to the same crowds, so you constantly have to keep coming up with new material. You can’t spend months honing an act to perfection like when you’re on the road and it’s always new audiences every night.”

While that’s true, there’s such a thing as “too perfected”. Perfecting an act means calculating what actions at what times will generate the desired appropriate response from the audience. This, of course, is a vital component to any act worth seeing more than once.

If you’ll allow me to get all douchey artistic-minded (and you will, because that’s how reading other people’s words works)…

Where it gets “too perfect” is when the creativity and initial drive behind the act gets eclipsed and replaced by those calculations. And yeah, it’s not hard at all to fake enthusiasm enough to fool people when you’re already performing at such a level that would lead to that point.

Who’d want to though? At that point it becomes a crass and soulless meta-performance, doesn’t it? To me, it’s right down there with “How’s everybody feeling tonight?” or “What’s up, [town name]?”: a meaningless effort with a guaranteed reaction because there will always be at least a few people who feel obligated to respond to that sort of thing with some kind of positive noise.

Some of the best acts I’ve ever seen fly completely by the seat of their pants, rehearsing just enough to have nothing more than a general direction and they still carry the performance with their ability and personality. I’ve also shared bills with acts that have every second of the show from the song intros to the stage blocking meticulously planned out and honed months in advance that completely failed to entertain anybody.

It’s not what he meant, and so I don’t say it.

I do say “I don’t think it’s possible to standardize what’s ‘professional’ in entertainment.”

“Mm,” he hums, then “True.” I feel like I should be happy that someone I have so much respect for agrees with me, and I’m not. Instead we share an uncomfortable moment of silence because we both realize at that point that it would make our jobs so much ridiculously easier if it weren’t true.

…on the other hand, we get to do this for a living. We move on to other topics. Later I get home and finish up the audio / video pairings for the sheriff’s office scene in Targeted, a process that is so boring it won’t get mentioned again once the period ends this sentence and here it comes and here it is right here.

The next day I wake up to an intense argument going on outside my window. A man and a woman are having it out in their carport in machine gun Spanish. Thanks to the distance, the speed of the words and the twelve years it’s been since I spoke Spanish with any regularity, I can’t even catch a gist of what they’re arguing about, except that they are both throwing some righteous rage each other’s way.

I’m annoyed that I don’t remember more Spanish. If someone’s going to argue loud enough to wake me up from a house over, I want to follow the story. It’s a public performance at this point, and I can’t tell if it’s amateur or professional.

Fifteen minutes later, a car door slams and the ignition roars. I imagine her twisting the key so hard that the top snaps off. The woman’s voice fades in like someone turning up the radio from zero really fast as she starts yelling again inside the car a few seconds before she rolls the window down so he (and I) can actually hear her. There’s something very funny about that to me that I can’t even explain to myself.

They, of course, spend another couple of minutes screaming back and forth, because nobody ever just immediately drives off in these situations. She eventually volleys a sentence that satisfies her and does drive off. It feels like a song that ends on an unresolving chord. What was all of this about? Who won, if anyone? Will this pick up again when she comes back? How much Spanish can I brush up on between now and then?

I have things to do though. I’m going to busk with Remy and Thugsy on Royal so I step outside to put my guitar and ukulele in the car and there’s my neighbor, still pacing the carport.

“Hello!” he calls with a cheery wave. “How are you today?” His voice sounds sluggish and labored somehow.

“I’m fine,” I answer back. “Going to play some music for a while.” Now my voice sounds strange too, and I realize it’s because for the last half hour I’ve been listening to enraged Spanish. In comparison, English sounds like a series of yawns. “What are you up to today?”

“Rearranging the patio,” he says. His grin drops and he looks away for a moment, then back at me, smiles, looks away, frowns, smiles, and then turns away. It looks even more awkward than it sounds like it would.

“Good luck with it,” I say, not meaning the patio.

He nods and tries to mask a sigh as an “mmmmmhmm”. The shoulders give it away. The shoulders always give everything away. I feel bad for him, and just a little guilty that I get to go have fun on Royal Street.

I shouldn’t have, because four hours later I was in a pretty bad car wreck. It’s good to get the first wreck over with early. My ugly green Kia Soul is currently in the parking lot of a collision center, sitting next to other smashed-up vehicles like it’s waiting to be seen at an emergency room. Since I first bought it I’ve said it’s so ugly, it’s charming. Right now it’s so ugly, it’s ugly.

***

A clarifying moment is a point in time where every bias and subjective tint falls away, leaving only an objective truth. That sounds really deep and important, doesn’t it? It’s not. Most clarifying moments are inconsequential.

On the other hand, it can be argued that everything is inconsequential if there’s a large enough perspective applied, so I guess it depends on what’s important to you.

A while back I played through Final Fantasy V. I found it extremely hard which usually means I was playing it wrong, like when I played through Final Fantasy VII with only level 1 limit breaks because I didn’t know any better.

One of the mandatory bosses in FFV is a beast called Twin Tania, and he will absolutely wreck your shit. There’s an undisplayed time limit to the battle, at the end of which he’ll cast a spell called Gigaflare which wipes out your party even if they’re all at full HP. It’s not a long countdown at all.

The game isn’t content simply ending the battle with a Gigaflare cast though. It gives you a facade of hope by allowing you ONE MOVE between the “Gigaflare gathering power!” message and the nuclear payload. This detail is important enough that you read about it in a book a bit earlier in the dungeon.

The rub is that despite knowing about the grace period, it’s worthless knowledge. Unless you’ve spent weeks just leveling up your characters to Herculean heights, there’s nothing you can do in one move to kill Twin Tania by this point. It’s SquareSoft sticking a gun in your face outside the convenience store and saying “I’m going to kill you no matter what you do. So what are you gonna do?”

Things like that give the most valid idea of exactly what kind of RPG gamer you are, moreso than playing every RPG ever made ever will. What do YOU do with a meaningless move seconds before an inevitable Game Over?

Seeing a pair of headlights rapidly approaching brings about a clarifying moment that fits in a larger perspective. The thoughts you have besides “OH SHIT” in that sluggish space between realizing “this is inevitable” and the actual impact are a clear picture of the sort of person you truly are.

I saw a man in his 50s in the driver’s seat of the truck. There were no passengers. “I hope he doesn’t get hurt,” I thought. “Well, here it comes.” And I think I can live with being that sort of person.

As for Twin Tania, I cast Meteo on my party because I’ll be damned if I give some six-legged warthog the satisfaction more than once.

***

What else? Oh! The Jak Locke Goes Too Far EP is finished and I released it online a couple of days ago. Here, listen to it! Enjoy it while it’s still something new!

12/21/2012 ADDITION: Apparently the proper way to beat Twin Tania is that you’re actually supposed to wait until the Gigaflare is charging and then use something with an instant death effect on it. The book is supposed to be a clue to use that method. Because it’s been more than seven years since I played it, I’m going to go ahead and blame the Playstation version’s lousy translation for not making that clearer, even though I have no idea if it was the translation’s fault or not. That version’s localization was so awful that I’ll take any possible opportunity to slag it.

There’s probably a metaphor somewhere here for seemingly meaningless things actually having a function if only the proper knowledge is applied, and it’s a shame I have no interest in finding it.

mainly stalling here

Angeli on Decatur has a very good calzone and even better honesty. I like a place where someone on the staff tells me “the pizza here is shit” when I ask what they recommend, because sometimes a reduction in choices is better than a suggestion.

“The pizza here is shit,” this person said. Man? Woman? I’ll never tell, because their boss might find out and then one day someone will have to eat a bad pizza.

“A good thing to know,” I said. “What would you get here?”

“Get a meatball and pepperoni calzone,” said the unmistakeable voice of Frances from behind me. It’s a very deep and authoritative voice coming from this thin frame dolled up in feminine fashion. I worked with him a lot last year in Razorblade Waltz Revue and would love to work with him again soon in, well, anything. I’d read bingo numbers with Frances.

“Yeah, that,” I told the person taking my order. Frances explained how they make the meatballs the proper Italian way, so they’re spicy and tender, and then we went on to drink way too much between there and Aunt Tiki’s down the street.

I made a point to try to see what the pitches were like on Decatur. I’m told that a spot where you throw down a hat or something and play music for money is called a pitch. If I actually use the term, maybe it won’t feel so silly coming out of my mouth. So I looked for pitches and realized that I don’t really know the difference between a good pitch and a bad pitch yet, so I may as well have been saying “that’s a corner! And that’s a corner!” At least I know the right term though, right?

I’ve been busking with Remy and Thugsy from the Freaksheaux To Geaux band at different pitches that they pick on Royal Street whenever we’re all available and it’s not raining. We’re doing mostly vaudevillian numbers, Depression-era songs and spirituals with a couple of more modern surprises here and there. If you’re the sort of person who walks around New Orleans, you should come find us and throw your money at us. This is assuming I remember to mark the calendar on the front page here before I head out there. Some of you already know I’m pretty bad about last minute updates.

I’m also apparently bad at remembering things I’ve actually already done because as I was typing that, Angelle from the Strangers From The Internet podcast (among other things) mentioned my cameo appearance on their Halloween episode which I don’t remember at all. I’m going to listen to it after I post this up. Here, you do it too. They use one of my songs on the latest podcast, which is super cool of them, and is another fact I’d completely forgotten because I’m a jerk who doesn’t remember to listen to podcasts that people I know work hard to make.

“Bethany edited this month’s episode,” she messaged me. “She used quite a bit of BDtbD.”

I tried to figure out what it could stand for and failed. “Bless you,” I messaged back. Which is funny to me now because I remember Frances saying he’s actively trying to stop using superstition-based phrases like that.

“Beautiful Day To Be Dead,” she messaged back to me. It’s a strange feeling, seeing an acronym someone else used for something you made, even if they only did it because it’s an absurdly long title to have to type out.

Angelle is also part of the crew and cast for the film aspects of the Targeted project, which filmed another scene on Sunday. Not everyone in the cast is on the crew. Everyone on the crew is in the cast which means some of the more physical crew positions rotate a good bit. I’d been looking forward to this shoot because it was the first one that I didn’t have to act in, so I would be able to direct without anything else on my mind.

Something came up and our usual sound man Charles couldn’t make it so I took the job for the day, which entails holding a five pound pole up in the air out of the shots and wearing headphones with every sound around you amplified about ten times their volume. I figured it would be educational for me if nothing else.

And it was! I learned that five pounds gets really heavy after seven hours of holding it, people make really awful sounds when they drink water between takes, and the lightest tap on the boom pole will register deafening in the headphones. I told Charles the next day that I don’t know how he does it. “Strength of will,” he tells me. I don’t believe him one second — I think he’s either a masochist or a mutant, especially considering he volunteered for the job.

The shoot went well, if a lot longer than we expected. You can see pictures from it on the Targeted project page.

Even with all these things I’ve done over the last week, I feel like I’ve spent it not committing to any music backing for the last unfinished song on the Jak Locke Goes Too Far EP that you’ll be listening to before the end of the year. For me, the hardest part of a project isn’t starting it, it’s when there’s maybe one day’s worth of a few things left to do because those are the details I always kept putting off. “Let that chump Later Jak do it,” I must think.

Of course it’s what I think, because I’m thinking it now. Gah! Enough stalling! I’m going to go finish an album. After I listen to this podcast.