A Special Election Selection

So here we are, on the Big, Big Day. Marcia and I cast our votes in Iowa, which technically remains our home state as we’re in a rental transition period in Arizona for the month, and could not have confidently registered to vote here. Both states are potential squeakers, so we figure we’re helping Team Tiny Blue Isle either way.

We know it’s going to be a stressful, painful day. Or more likely days. Or weeks. So much at stake, and so many incredible structural challenges to the spirit and the letter of the laws of the land. When a major party’s campaign tactics are based on disenfranchisement, intimidation and outright cheating, you know something’s bad wrong. And when there’s a high probability that such tactics may be successful in some states or precincts, it raises the wrongness levels to intolerable proportions.

So we’ll be working to distract ourselves for much of the day, rather than getting sucked into the soul-destroying morass of sensational media coverage of horse-race outliers and the flat-out stupidity of political social media. We’ll get a nice hike in, work a bit, maybe read some, have a nice dinner, and keep the music playing instead of the news while we’re around the house, at least until the meaningful reportage begins later tonight.

On that music front, if you need something to distract you from the details of the day, while hewing to what we’re up to as a nation thematically, I offer a special selection of election songs below to prime your jukebox. Some of the themes and lyrics of this baker’s dozen pile of tunes are explicit, some perhaps more subtle, but the rationale behind my choices should be evident, I think. Should be an hour or so of music. Load ’em up on your portable playlist machine and maybe they’ll keep you rocking and bopping while you stand in line (safely, distantly, masked, please) at your polling place. Hopefully you don’t have to repeat the list too many times while you wait . . .

#1. Alice Cooper, “Elected”

#2. The Specials, “Vote For Me”

#3. Clutch, “How To Shake Hands”

#4. Stevie Wonder, “Can’t Put It In The Hands of Fate”

#5. The Temptations, “Ball of Confusion”

#6. The The, “This Is The Day”

#7. Childish Gambino, “This Is America”

#8. Culture, “Election”

#9. Sha Na Na, “The Vote Song”

#10. Canned Heat, “Election Blues”

#11. The Move, “Vote For Me”

#12. Cream, “Politician”

#13. The Spooky Men’s Chorale, “Vote The Bastards Out”

Unusual Occurrences in the Desert

A couple of days ago, Marcia and I did an absolutely stellar hike of about seven miles, starting and ending at our temporary home in Sedona. Our favorite hikes tend to be loops (in preference to “out and backs”) with some “there’s a there there” spots along the way. This walk met both of those criteria well.

One of the highlights of the day’s ramble was clambering atop a rock formation called Hole in the Sky atop Brin’s Mesa, affording really wonderful 360° views of the various Red Rock formations north of town. There was a young couple from Louisiana atop the rock when we arrived, and with attention to safe social distancing and masking, we swapped photos with each other, eschewing the usual selfie approach. Here we are atop Hole in the Sky:

After exchanging thanks and pleasantries, I walked to the other side of the rock and snapped a southward-facing vista. It looked like this:

I shared that photo on a web forum where I’m active, and as I saw it on a bigger (e.g. non-phone) screen for the first time, my eye was immediately drawn to what appeared to be a figure sitting on a log just below the rock, in the sort of scalloped curve in the yellow stone that shapes the lower left quadrant. Dammit! Did someone photo bomb my scene? Grrr! I had neither seen nor heard anybody down there, so it seemed a sneaky surprise. I blew the photo up a bit and looked closer:

Hmmm. Is that a black-clad goth grrrl sitting on a rock with legs crossed, leaning with elbows on knees while looking back up at me? That seems odd on such a hot day. Or did I capture some hidden person or desert spirit or (burnt) wood nymph enjoying a sunny day instead? Another zoom:

Yeesh. Now it’s sort of starting to take on monstrous proportions. Were scary things moving in the desert in advance of Hallowe’en and its second blue moon of the month? Did I need to investigate paranormal activity hereabouts? By all popular accounts, there’s a lot of it.

After I posted that first blow-up image on the web forum, other folks pointed out some additional oddities in the scene to the left of the Ghostly Goth, highlighted in orange below: a couple of smiling heads at top left, a ballcap-wearing ghost at center, a strange cat-bird hybrid at bottom left:

I’m sure if we kept searching, we’d find plenty more haints and boogers and ghouls and horrors in that clearly haunted little dell tucked in below the big rock. Or, conversely, we’d find more fine examples of pareidolia, defined as “the tendency for incorrect perception of a stimulus as an object, pattern or meaning known to the observer, such as seeing shapes in clouds, seeing faces in inanimate objects or abstract patterns, or hearing hidden messages in music.”

Did we see something ghoulish in the desert on Thursday, or did we see a jumble of wildfire-burnt logs and rocks stacked up randomly per common natural causes? One of those explanations is fun and freaky, especially given the season. One is not so much so. You be the judge. We’re heading out into the rocks again today, so I’ll update you if Ghostly Goth Grrrl and her Parade of Pareidolic Phantasms turn up again . . .

(P.S. Count yourself a good music nerd if you know from whence I cribbed the title of this post).

We and VOC

As an avid history reader and having been to the Netherlands a couple of times, when I see or hear the acronym “VOC,” the first meaning that pops to mind is “Vereenigde Oostindische Compagnie.” That’s the “Dutch East India Company” in English, one of the world’s greatest mega-corporations in the 17th and 18th Centuries, shaping trade and political history in profitable ways that could (and likely did) turn countless monarchs and despots and ministers bright green with impotent envy. The VOC had a bad-ass logo that they stamped on pretty much everything they touched, hence imprinting those three letters deeply in public consciousness, even centuries on. Here, eat your hearts out, modern clip-art and Photoshop designers:

Google has a different reaction to “VOC,” with pretty much the top four pages of search returns being dedicated solely to “Volatile Organic Compounds.” They’re a constant presence in our “better living through chemistry” world, though most of them are things that we’d really be better off not breathing, eating, touching or manufacturing. Needless to say, most of those high-placing search returns are related to ways that you can mitigate or minimize those flavors of VOCs, ideally by purchasing one or more products from helpful merchants using Google advertising tactics to top the returned links and pages.

The Free Dictionary includes 49 references associated with other uses of the acronym VOC, some of them arcane, some of them somewhat obvious. But Marcia and I have learned a 50th definition of the term this week: Village of Oak Creek. It’s a census designated place about eight miles south of Sedona, Arizona, with a population of about 6,500 people. And it’s where we found a house we loved, put in an offer, and have gotten a contract in place for our next permanent home. There are still all of the various paper and legal machinations to grind through over the next few weeks, but it’s a safe bet that we will be in the house before Thanksgiving, and hopefully our household goods will be delivered around the same time.

It was a relatively quick process, on-location, though we did a lot of research and work in advance of our arrival, and it paid off for us. I’ll write more about it once we’re all properly ensconced, but for now, here’s a teaser photo of our new digs. We think it will be a most pleasing new nest!

And Into Sedona . . .

I opened my prior post with a photo of our penultimate sunset in Des Moines. The photo above offers the flip-side of our ongoing half-continental moving experience: this was our first sunrise in Sedona, Arizona, taken this morning from the patio on the rental property that we will call home for the next six weeks. Quite the change in scenery!

We did the Des Moines to Sedona trek in four legs, with overnight stays in Atchison and Dodge City (both in Kansas) and Santa Fe, New Mexico. Plus a quick stop at the Iowa-Missouri border so we could capture the moment of departure from the Hawkeye State in real time. In a pleasing happenstance, the skies were grey behind us, but a bright shaft of sunlight illuminated the path before us to the South. We took it as a positive sign and omen. Because of course we did!

Atchison is a lovely town on the Missouri River. We were a bit bummed that the dreary, rainy skies that had made our moving-truck loading experience in Des Moines sub-optimal then followed us to Kansas, so we were not able to explore it on foot. I had lived just south of Atchison in Fort Leavenworth when I was in sixth grade, and when my father was at the Army Command and General Staff College. (That’s when I adopted The Beloveds as my baseball team of choice). Marcia’s oldest brother had taught Chemistry at Benedictine College in Atchison for 12 years, so we did make the effort to drive by the house he and his family had lived in, as well as the building where the Chemistry Department makes its home, so we could send him current photos. We also drove by Amelia Earhart’s birthplace, in her grandparents’ home on a bluff above the river valley, and had a surprisingly good take-out dinner from a local restaurant called Lopez de Mexico. I commend it to you highly, should you find yourself thereabouts.

Dodge City wasn’t quite as nice a stop, alas. The city has an extraordinary history, though much of the physical proof of that is no longer standing, replaced by modern replicas and/or roadside vernacular offerings. Our hotel was fine, though the view out the window of a trailer park wasn’t as inspiring as other views might have been. Well, except for what appeared to be a double-tall double-wide in the middle of the park, the redneck engineering of which did deeply pique my curiosity. Had it also not been cold and windy there, I’d have felt compelled to go check it out up close and personal. Despite the chill, and desperate to stretch our legs, we found a nice park downtown with a pleasant urban trail, but it didn’t go as far as we normally like to walk. So, being adventurous, we noted that there was a cement drainage ditch that seemed to run the rest of the way southward across town, so we clambered down and walked a while in that as well, ducking through culverts to get under roads, and seeing things that I’m not sure the tourism board would want us to see, e.g. vile racist graffiti, boo hiss!!

Then onward out of Kansas and across the Oklahoma Panhandle to Santa Fe, New Mexico, which was wonderful. We’ve been there before, and we enjoyed seeing some of the changes that have taken place there, most notably a very nice rails-to-trails system that gave us a great walking opportunity. We stayed close to the historic downtown area, which was also nice to re-explore, though it was a bit sad to see the impact of COVID on the vibrant arts and culture scene there. It was also sad that as we were walking about, a rally was being held at the State Capitol Complex against the (smart) measures New Mexico’s elected leaders have taken to combat the strong resurgence of the virus. It did not feel good, at all, to hear “Lock Him Up” chants wafting across the downtown area, though we are not sure who the Covidiots were wishing to incarcerate.

Our final drive took us westward to Flagstaff, then southward to Sedona. There was a major wind event unfolding over the last two days of the drive, making for more of a white-knuckle experience than I would have liked as we were hauling ass at 80+ miles per hour while the car was being buffeted by 50+ mile per hour crosswinds, and we nervously watched 18-wheelers wobbling in their lanes against the heavy air. We made a pit stop in Winslow, Arizona, so we could stand on the corner of Old Route 66 immortalized by Glenn Frey and Jackson Browne in the Eagles’ first hit song, “Take It Easy.” And we got snacks at the local Circle K there, so the rural economic function of that little tourist attraction was properly satisfied.

Much of our trip followed the historic Santa Fe Trail, the Route 66 Mother Road, and/or the BNSF main rail line from Chicago to Los Angeles. It was always interesting to think about how many people, in how many different ways, have made the same journey we made, under often much more difficult circumstances. Good perspective to have, always.

We’ve already done two hikes since arriving in Sedona, walking from our rental house into the Red Rocks region surrounding the town. We’ve also already visited eight houses for sale, and two of them are serious contenders for us. We’re looking at more tomorrow. It’s conceptually possible that we could make an offer and have it accepted before the week is out. We shall see. Lots of exciting potential, in any event.

As always, I’ve been snapping away as we’ve driven, stopped and walked our way westward. You can click on the photo below if you’d like to see the full album of the trip. This shot was taken in Oklahoma. It’s representative of what that entire leg of the journey looked like. Stark, for sure, but beautiful and haunting in its own deep ways. I must say that I prefer scenes like this to scenes involving horizon-to-horizon fields of Monsanto Frankencorn. I guess that’s good, since we’re out of the crop zone for the foreseeable future. Not complaining. Not one bit.

Ioway Out

I snapped the photo above sitting at my working desk, looking west out of our apartment over the Des Moines River at the downtown city skyline. In a few hours, if I happen to look up at the right moment, I’ll get to see my last sunset as a resident of Iowa. Our movers arrive at 8 AM tomorrow, and once they’re gone and we’ve done our final cleanup, we’re hitting the road. We should be in Kansas by tomorrow’s sunset.

I doubt that I’ll get a nice scene like that for our final Iowa sunset, given that this is what things look like outside right now, with a view slightly to the left/south of the sunset one:

Ennnnhhhh, dreary. Although I guess that beats what I saw yesterday morning when I looked out the north window of my office:

We almost made it out of town before that stuff started flying, and we’re supposed to have rain and driving wind tomorrow when the movers are here, but I guess it’s good that we didn’t get a combo platter of all that plus some ice and hail, since that’s all within the realm of normal here in late October. There’s a lot of reasons that we’re happy to be leaving Iowa and headed to Arizona, and that dire weather deal is high on the list. I’m ready to be warmer, and spend more time under sunny skies, than has been the case for most of our time in Iowa. Or Chicago. Or Upstate New York. Or Idaho. It’s been a long, long time, actually, since we’ve lived in place that isn’t normally the butt of weather jokes. Three decades, more or less. How times flies when you’re cold and wet.

In the past, I’ve written posts about things I’ll miss, and things I will not miss when we’ve moved from place to place. I was considering doing that this time, too, but honestly, I’m just tired of thinking about it. Suffice to say the “will not miss” list is a good deal longer and more meaningful than the “will miss” one. Couple that with pandemic ennui and the underlying sense of anxiety that our pending election breeds, and it’s hard to want to spend much time right now beefing about things in Iowa that we’ll be leaving behind. We’re making our case with our feet and our funds, at bottom line, and they’re carrying us elsewhere, fast, where we can invest in a new situation, happily. Enough said.

If all goes as planned, we’ll roll into Sedona, Arizona on Sunday afternoon. We already have house-hunting appointments set up for Monday morning. Very excited! I’m sure we’ll stop for walks along the way, and I’m sure I’ll take pictures when we do, so feel free to follow along here as I update our latest adventures in the days, weeks and months ahead. Are we there yet?

Most Played Songs of 2020 (Transition Edition)

I have as a matter of long habit done a variety of “year-end” lists and articles in various areas of interest (to me), including a list of the Most Played Songs around the Smith household, as calculated by the iTunes account where I synch all of our iPods. I’ve been doing this since 2007, when we got our first family iPod, a Mother’s Day gift for Marcia, at her request. Today, we still have eight iPods in use in various locations (car, living room, bedroom, gym, etc.), and I’ve been scavenging online to build  a little trove of models I like (old Shuffles and Nanos, mainly) to keep my current listening paradigm going as long as it can. Not a fan of change for change’s sake, no sir, don’t like it.

As noted in yesterday’s report, I will be packing up my desktop working computer in the next couple of days, and it will be in storage until late December, if not longer. It occurred to me that once my computer gets packed, that’s it for any updates to those devices and play count numbers for 2020, so it seemed prudent to go ahead and prepare a post with the Most Played Songs list to date for the year. It still represents about 11 months worth of data, as is turns out, since I reset 2019’s play counts and lists around Thanksgiving-time, as we wanted/needed a new mix of music for our holiday travels. So not too much of a short-year, really, and the top of the pile is not likely to change that much anyway this late in the cycle, even if I did keep the computer up and running through our move to Arizona.

As has been a recurring theme for me over a lifetime of listening, I do again recognize that I’m once again fighting a rear guard battle with my iPods, with playback technology making another of its seismic shifts from a purchased media file model to streaming services, delivered over various smart devices, and designed so that we never actually own anything musical anymore, but just rent it. (That link in the prior sentence goes into more detail about why I don’t like that, if interested). That said, Marcia needed to get a Spotify account for her yoga instructor class last fall, and we have been using that account and a BlueTooth speaker exclusively while we’re in hotels and rental properties on our travels this year, and that has worked out fine, as much as I hate to admit it. And as much as it bothers me that the play counts for those songs so played aren’t readily aggregated into my master list. Oh, the humanity! The horror! The Horror!!

I noted in conversation recently that Marcia was moving me into a new listening paradigm going into this multi-phase family relocation, as she has done before, buying me my first CD player after I resisted them for years, and bringing the first iPod into our household. She disagreed with that assessment, seeing me as still too resistant and reliant on my old approaches, knowing that if left to my own devices, I’d just snuggle up and stubbornly not budge from my comfort zone, no sir, not gonna. We agreed that I may be charitably characterized as “new paradigm adjacent” instead. I guess that’s progress, of a sort. In any event, it’s conceivable that next year’s Most Played Songs list will be created based entirely on Spotify numbers. We shall see.

One other note I usually make with this annual article: since we synch all of our many fiddly widgets to one computer and one master iTunes account, the Most Played Songs list represents the aggregated play counts from all of our iPods. This means that the Most Played Songs of the year are often unexpected, since they represent the heart of a musical Venn Diagram where our family’s tastes most closely overlap, even though each of us individually may like and listen to very different things. I spin a lot of Napalm Death every year, for example, but they very, very rarely show up on these lists, since they’re never played when Marcia and Katelin are around. The grindcore is for me-time only. And I usually don’t listen to music alone.

My computer tells me that I currently have 15,804 songs on my hard drive. In 2020, we played 4,120 of them at least once. Of those active songs this year, here are the 40 that received the most spins around our household, with the #1 most played spot going to a trenchant cut by Snog main-man David Thrussell’s Crisis Actor side project. (Watch out for Snog to feature highly when I do my “Albums of the Year” list for 2020 in a month or so, as his latest LP is a masterpiece). You can create a Spotify playlist of the songs below (because I know that you all just love creating Spotify playlists, just to spite me)(Spitify, it should be called!), and that will give you a sense of what it might sound like to spend time around our spaces. It covers a lot of stylistic ground, which I like. Maybe the list will inspire you to further check into some of these excellent artists’ catalogs. They’re all great, guaranteed!

  1. “Bringer of War” by Crisis Actor
  2. “Bebey” by Theophilus London
  3. “Stop This World” by Mose Allison
  4. “Hann Gat Ekki Setið Kyrr” by Karl Olgeirsson (feat. Rakel Sigurðardóttir)
  5. “Agony Box” by Shriekback
  6. “Electronic Eye” by Crisis Actor
  7. “Where Are We Now?” by David Bowie
  8. “Leon” by Theophilus London (feat. Kristian Hamilton)
  9. “Ball and Chain” by The Who
  10. “Marchin'” by Theophilus London
  11. “One of These Days” by Mose Allison
  12. “Street Song” by The Who
  13. “Jesus Just Left Chicago” by ZZ Top
  14. “WAVIP” by The Coup (feat. Das Racist and Killer Mike)
  15. “We Lost Sight” by dälek
  16. “Anitra’s Basement Tapes” by The Coup (feat. Tune-Yards and Jolie Holland)
  17. “Bad Worn Thing” by Wire
  18. “Orange Man Bad” by Crisis Actor
  19. “Boys Keep Swinging” by David Bowie
  20. “Your Capricious Soul” by Michael Stipe
  21. “Quiet Dog” by Mos Def
  22. “Bollo Rex” by Shriekback
  23. “Pretty” by Theophilus London (feat. Ian Isiah)
  24. “Waters Flowin'” by Uriah Heep
  25. “Melt the Guns” by XTC
  26. “Rosalie” by Yusef Lateef
  27. “Tush” by ZZ Top
  28. “Towncar” by BEEF
  29. “Cheap Sunglasses” by ZZ Top
  30. “Another Song About the Moon” by Buggy Jive
  31. “The Mighty Burner” by Charles Earland
  32. “Goin’ to the Meetin'” by Eddie “Lockjaw” Davis
  33. “Afterglow” by Genesis
  34. “Lord Do It” by Rev. James Cleveland
  35. “Adamine” by Mowgan (feat. Solo Sanou)
  36. “Cuba” by Theophilus London
  37. “Mary Don’t You Weep” by The Caravans
  38. “Corrupt (Knuckle Up)” by dälek
  39. “Follow You Follow Me” by Genesis
  40. “Gånglek från Älvdalen” by Jan Johansson

Final iPod Synch Party in Iowa. Fiddly widgets FTW!