#smhedia

My friend Kenny (who once made the observation “Centipedes are the spiders of the bathtub” in a perfectly contextual fashion) posed a question on Twitter this morning:

Is there a word for when something or someone stupid gets an outsized amount of news coverage and is getting spread way further than it should have? Could be used to describe Raw Water, Flat Earthers, James Damore, etc.

I pondered Kenny’s question for a while today. My answer? Yes, Kenny, there is such a word, and it is . . .

Let’s break it down . . .

The source of the “media” part of the portmanteau word should be obvious: them what propagate such idiocy widely, for fun and/or profit.

“SMH” is textspeak for “Shaking My Head,” and Urban Dictionary tells us it is “usually used when someone finds something so stupid, no words can do it justice.”

I then take it one level deeper than that. Because it is often written “smh” in posts, my brain actually reads that as a pronounceable word when I see it onscreen — “s’meh” — which I perceive as shorthand for “it’s meh.” And quoting Urban Dictionary again, “meh” means “indifference; used when one simply does not care.”

So . . . we’ve got the media issuing stories so stupid that no words can do them justice, to which most people are indifferent, and simply do not care.

That’s smhedia. Or better yet, let’s hashtag it: #smhedia. Does that work? Can we make it propagate, tagging #smhedia to such things and then moving on quickly when confronted with such idiocy? It probably won’t change anything . . . but it will be fun.

Let’s do this!

(P.S. Note: I post this little piece here about #smhedia today because I coined another word long ago, and didn’t realize how widely it had propagated until it started showing up on albums and in interviews years later. The ground zero for that word was lost in the ancient archives of early ’90s CompuServe, so this time, I figure I’ll put this origin story here, now, and if someone turns it into some #smhedia-worthy profit-engine down the line, I’ll show up for my handout with a date-stamped copy of this blog post).

 

2017: Year In Review

We are closing in on the shortest day of the year, and that always puts me in a reflective mood, so how’s about a trawl through 2017 to summarize the year that was, for those interested in such matters. (And if that doesn’t include any of you, well, then at least I’ve given myself a nice summary for future reference. Excelsior!)

ON THE WEB:

I posted 35 thingies (some fiendish) on the blog this year. The number actually surprised me; I would have guessed less. Last year I posted 27 times, though I was working on the short story project, so at least I was producing more long-form stuff than I did this year. In 2015, I posted 77 times. I guess either this blog’s swirling along a slow spiral to oblivion (like most blogs), or this is just the new normal. We’ll see what 2018 brings us. The ten most read new posts here in 2017 were:

The ten old posts that got the most traffic in 2017 were as follows. It’s always fascinating to me which of the 1,000-ish posts that I keep on the blog interest people (or search engines, anyway) the most all these years on . . .

I gave up on Facebook years ago, but I remain active on Twitter. I have learned after a very long time online that accepting or seeking connections just for the sake of doing so is a tool for madness, so I generally ascribe to Dunbar’s Number and try to keep my follows and followers around the 150 level. I am a little high on both fronts right now, so there might be some purging to be done by year’s end. On a political front (while I try not to write about that much here), Tiny Blue Isle is my go-to aggregator for Chicago-oriented progressive stuff. Bonus points for them using my poem as inspiration for their handle. I should also note that a photograph I took during the Chicago Marathon went wildly viral, for all of the wrong/right reasons (depending on whose views you take).

Where I used to regularly read one or more newspapers each morning to get my day started, my train commuting routine now involves three websites, which are almost always refreshed on a daily basis, and which fill the time in a very satisfying fashion as I rumble down the rails from Chicago to Naperville. In the order that I read them each day:

  • The Fall Online Forum: I’ve been a reader here for about 15 years, and an active poster for over a decade. You don’t have to be a fan of legendary English band The Fall to have fun in this forum: it’s high volume, with threads on pretty much everything under the sun, and some things from elsewhere, if you’re willing and able to trawl around a bit. It’s an old school message board, so there’s a nice nostalgia factor in play there, too. (Edit: Literally days after I posted this, the hosting site unilaterally updated the FOF, so now it looks like a typical modern web forum. Phooey!) Recommended, if you need a place to romp and stomp and waste time on the man’s dime. Smart people, passionate and knowledgeable about all sorts of arcana and oddities, and a great place (for me) to get an outside-the-US perspective on what the hell’s going on in the world these days. Plus the time difference between the UK and Chicago means that in the early morning here, I’ve got hours of new posts there to peruse.
  • Thoughts On The Dead: My favorite purveyor of semi-fictionality (have you heard of the concept?) has produced two novels’ worth of utterly stupendous world-building in his ongoing Little Aleppo Chronicles, along with a surrealistic treasure trove of character-based stories, timely satire, and the best writing about everybody’s favorite semi-defunct choogly band to be found in this universe and time stream. And if you nab the time sheath, you might find that it’s the best such writing in any universe or time stream. Try not to commit any felonies if you do that, though, please and thanks. Oh, and Thoughts On The Dead is being considered for an Oscar this year too! Be sure to check out his Christmas List if you visit, and do the right thing, namsain? You don’t want Donate Button to come looking for you.
  • Electoral-Vote Dot Com: I’ve been depending upon (and writing about) this website for my election season news aggregation since 2004, long before some of their more-highly-visible imitators started pilfering their data-driven approach. Normally, after the final counts were tallied in late 2016/early 2017, they would have shut down for a couple of years — but things this year are just so freakin’ weird that they’ve decided to keep rolling with the daily posts, for which I am thankful. There’s lots of political news aggregators out there on the web, and I consider these guys to be the pinnacle of the form. Good data, good sources, no bullshit, solid interpretation. Highly recommended.

TRAVEL

Marcia and I began the year in Reykjavik, watching the citizens of Iceland lose their collective minds in an orgy of fireworks and bonfires. We are going to end 2017 in Key West, with Katelin in tow this time. We were there for New Year’s Eve 2009/2010 as well, and it was a hoot. Here’s hoping that the city is well recovered from its hurricane damage, and that we have a nice warm night for the drag queen drop to marshall us into 2018.

I had tried to travel less for work this year, but it didn’t really quite work out that way, as my annual travel map (including planned holiday travel) indicates:

There were loads of adventures and lots of good work done over the the course of the year, but the particular highlights (beyond Iceland) of 2017 travel included: a family trip to the Netherlands and Belgium (where Katelin got to meet her spirit animal); getting to experience the solar eclipse in the mountains of North Carolina with the extended Smith-Duft families (minus Katelin, alas); a trip to the National Museum of African American History and Culture, where I go to see (ZOMFG) The Mothership; and riding the Tour des Trees in and around my old stomping grounds of Washington, DC and Annapolis, where I got to dedicate a Liberty Tree on the grounds of the State Capitol.

Leaving a nicer legacy in Annapolis than I did 30+ years ago. (Me in yellow NAVY cap).

RECORDINGS:

I already published my Best Albums of 2017 (26 years and counting!) and my Most Played Songs of 2017 reports, so probably don’t need to say much more on that front.

FILMS:

We have two good movie theaters within easy walking distance of our apartment, not to mention Amazon Prime and Netflix, so we watched a lot of movies this year. At the time of this writing, here are my Top Ten Films of the Year . . . though I note that I have some Oscar Bait movies to see between now and early January, so this list could change a little bit before the dust settles on the year.

  • Get Out
  • Trainspotting 2
  • mother!
  • The Big Sick
  • A Ghost Story
  • Dunkirk
  • The Disaster Artist
  • The Florida Project
  • Lady Bird
  • The Darkest Hour

Special mention to two epic television experiences that held us bound in front of the screen this year: Amir Bar-Lev’s outstanding Grateful Dead documentary, Long Strange Trip, and David Lynch/Mark Frost’s thrilling and maddening Twin Peaks: The Return. I’m not sure which story was weirder . . .

BOOKS:

Years ago, I summarized my  general book reading habits thusly: 10% Fiction, 40% Natural Science and History, 40% Music Biography, and 10% Tales of Human Suffering. Nothing too far afield in the mix of this year’s Top Ten Books, even if the percentages change, so I remain adamantly predictable in my tastes. (Note that a few of these books came out toward the end of 2016, but I didn’t read them until this year, so I’m recognizing them now):

  • Autonomous by Annalee Newitz
  • Borne (and The Strange Bird) by Jeff VanderMeer
  • The Salt Line by Holly Goddard Jones
  • Apollo 8: The Thrilling Story of the First Mission to the Moon by Jeffrey Kluger
  • Homo Deus: A Brief History of Tomorrow by Yuval Noah Harari
  • The Erstwhile by Brian Catling
  • The Show That Never Ends: The Rise And Fall of Prog Rock by David Weigel
  • The Undoing Project: A Friendship That Changed Our Minds by Michael Lewis (December 2016)
  • Other Minds: The Octopus, the Sea, and the Deep Origins of Consciousness by Peter Godfrey-Smith (December 2016)
  • The Gradual by Christopher Priest (December 2016)

I should note that this list is based on traditional print media output, but if we expand the definition of “book” to include serialized fiction online, then we must also add A Book With No Title by Thoughts On The Dead (see above) to the list.

PERFORMANCES:

We also went to a ton of live performances this year, in a variety of genres and idioms. Rather than break them up into different bits, I list my 15 favorites below, chronologically:

  • Too Hot to Handel, Auditorium Theater, January 15
  • Carmen, Lyric Opera, March 3
  • Hedwig and the Angry Inch, Oriental Theater, March 11
  • Adrian Belew Power Trio, Old Town School, April 1
  • Destiny of Desire, Goodman Theater, April 8
  • Jean-Michel Jarre, Auditorium Theater, May 22
  • U2 and The Lumineers, Soldier Field, June 4
  • Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, Auditorium Theater, June 16
  • Paradise Blue, TimeLine Theater, July 15
  • Wire and Noveller, Metro, September 16
  • Rigoletto, Lyric Opera, October 14
  • Giselle, Joffrey Ballet/Auditorium Theater, October 29
  • Pere Ubu and Minibeast, Beat Kitchen, November 18
  • King Crimson, Riverside Theater (Milwaukee), November 26
  • In The Next Room, TimeLine Theater/Stage 773, December 9

ART:

As with so many other things, we’re blessed with a plethora of riches right here in our neighborhood: The Art Institute of Chicago and the Chicago Cultural Center are both within 10 minute walks of our apartment, so I visit each of them every few weeks, just because they’re my fave indoor places to go, solo or with friends. Here are the ten art happenings in Chicago that most moved me in 2017 (in no particular order), and those two venues feature most heavily, just because I’ve seen everything they offered in both permanent and temporary exhibitions over the past twelve months.

  • Revoliutsiia! Demonstratsia! Soviet Art Put To The Test, Art Institute of Chicago
  • Takashi Murakami: The Octopus Eats Its Own Leg, Museum of Contemporary Art
  • Along The Lines: Selected Drawings by Saul Steinberg, Art Institute of Chicago
  • Chicago Architecture Biennial, Chicago Cultural Center
  • Tarsila do Amaral: Inventing Modern Art in Brazil, Art Institute of Chicago
  • Ben Shahn: If Not Now, When? Spertus Institute for Jewish Learning and Leadership
  • Provoke: Photography in Japan between Protest and Performance, 1960–1975, Art Institute of Chicago
  • Jack Kerouac’s On the Road Scroll, American Writer’s Museum
  • Eugene Eda’s Doors for Malcolm X College, Chicago Cultural Center
  • India Modern: The Painting of M.F. Husain, Art Institute of Chicago

And . . . I guess that’s it! Unless something moves me profoundly to write here in the next couple of weeks, it’ll probably be 2018 when I next check in at the blog. ‘ta ’til then from all of us in The Adventure Family . . .

So Many Ways To Say “Some Stuff”

I’ve had a blog since before there was a name for blogs. See the archives scroll at the right for evidence of that, and then keep in mind that I’ve probably removed at least another 500 pages from this website over the years for a variety of reasons, atop the 1,034 that are here now.

Sometimes the posts are deep digs into specific topics, or at least touch on a single concept, message, or theme. Other times, though, I just use the blog to share a bunch of unrelated news items. Early on in this enterprise, I usually gave such posts some sort of generic “Bunch of Stuff” title. One day, though, I realized that I’d used “Odds and Sods” (named after The Who’s 1974 rarities and outtakes album) three times, so I figured it might make sense to come up with some other naming rubric, lest I confuse readers, bots, spider and myself. Since it was a song by The Who that caused the problem, I just decided to pick another Who title (“Underture”) and went from there; all omnibus posts would now be titled after songs by The Who.

The Who song titles on for awhile. I tried to look for titles that had some vague connection the “bunch of stuff” rubric in some way, or a conceptual tie to the lead article in the sequence, or a number in the title that matched the number of elements in the post. Eventually, though, there were no more Who titles that seemed to fit, so I decided to shift to another band’s songs titles. Then I did that again. Then I did that again. Then eventually I decided that song titles weren’t getting the job done, so I started collecting antiquated or foreign words that meant something along the lines of “odds and sods,” one way or another.

And I’ve been doing that for a long time now, most recently with the prior post, “Hunnik Asju,” which is Estonian for “a bunch of things.” With this post, I now think it’s time for me to come up with a new theme the next time I have a motley collection to share with you. So as I bid this era of assortments adieu, I thought it might be fun (for me, anyway) to go back through the various approaches I’ve taken to these collections over the years. Primarily so I don’t repeat one of them again, memory not being what it once was.

So . . . in reverse order from most current to oldest, here are all of the miscellany posts (well, at least the ones that are still on the blog), clustered into their various eras’ naming groups. It makes it pretty clear, if nothing else, how much more prolific I was in this space, all those years ago!

Foreign/Obscure Words Meaning “Assortment”

Hunnik Asju
Mengelmoes
Goedjies
Dingen
Okuxubile
Raznovrsnost
Shumëllojshmëri
Ezihlukahlukene
Pudi-Padi
Kholimog
Hondakinak
Kort Mengeling
Aštuoni
Változatosság
Verscheidenheid
Mélange
Cumulation
Colluvies
Farrago
Gallimaufry
Salamagundi

Nick Cave/Birthday Party Song Titles

Brave Exhibitions
Pleasure Avalanche
Capers
Shivers

Genesis Song Titles

As Sure As Eggs Is Eggs
Visions of Angels
Paperlate
Afterglow
How Dare I Be So Beautiful?
Deep In The Motherlode
Many Too Many
Seven Stones
Evidence of Autumn
Keep It Dark
Where The Sour Turns to Sweet
Dodo/Lurker

Frank Zappa Song Titles

Status Back Baby
A Token Of My Extreme
America Drinks And Goes Home
Strictly Genteel
The Lifestyle You Deserve
Galoot Up-Date
The Voice of Cheese
City of Tiny Lights
He Used To Cut The Grass
It Ain’t Necessarily the Saint James Infirmary
Don’t You Ever Wash That Thing?
Entrance of the Central Scrutinizer
We Made Our Reputation Doing It That Way
What Will This Evening Bring Me This Morning?
What’s The Ugliest Part Of Your Body?
For The Young Sophisticate
Nine Types of Industrial Pollution
Trouble Every Day

Emerson, Lake and Palmer Song Titles

Manticore
Hoedown
From The Beginning
Tiger In A Spotlight
Take A Pebble

Bee Gees Song Titles

This I Where I Came In
Monday’s Rain
Lemons Never Forget
Remembering
Don’t Forget To Remember
If I Only Had My Mind on Something Else
Spicks and Specks

The Who Song Titles

Sparks
Meaty, Beaty, Big and Bouncy
The Kids Are Alright
Cobwebs and Strange
Underture
Odds and Sods (three times!)

Pre-Conceptual Titles

Ten Quick Bits
Six Pix
Dix Axiomata De Axon Anon
Fiat Linx
Quad Quix
Seis Snaps
Two Bits
This and That
Musical Miscellany
Sundries
This That
This, That, T’Other
Miscellany
Odd Ends
Some Things
Odds and Ends
Take Two

Oh No Man, I Haven’t Got The Time Time

A friend of mine died this week, too young, and too soon. He was a music nerd, cultural commentator and technology geek par excellence, and will be missed by many — in both virtual and real world spaces. He was a private soul in his personal life, so I’ll not mention his name here at this sensitive time out of respect for him and his loved ones, but I do want to publicly note his passing, and celebrate his life for those who come here and knew him.

We met in virtual space in early 1993 in the CompuServe RockNet Forum. He later launched and managed a series of online communities and websites under variations of the “Xnet2” moniker that survive to this day, with about ten folks from around the world having been connected in one way or another pretty continuously from ’93 to now. Others have also joined along the way. The community currently resides in a private group on Facebook, so when I left that social media platform, I ceased being actively engaged with them on a regular basis. I had assumed that, as has happened in the past, the group would eventually reconstitute somewhere else so that I could jump back in, but that’s apparently not to be at this point, alas.

My friend and I likely exchanged hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of written words over the years, both within the group and in private. He was always a good sounding board for me, and I tried to be the same for him. We only met in person a few times, relatively early in our relationship, when people were still figuring out what online friendships and virtual social networks were all about, so that “RLCOs” (real life conferences) seemed to be required events to cement those bonds. These days, I think most digital citizens understand those aren’t necessary, even though they’re fun when they happen. We saw Pere Ubu together once with other friends from virtual and real world spaces. That was a very good day.

My friend shared my penchant for seemingly pointless surrealist games, and was willing to create time-consuming silly things just because it was fun to do so. He and I and others in the group romped and stomped in little self-contained worlds in a variety of amusing (to us) ways and places over the years. One example: if you remember my “What Would Don and Walt Do?” page (offering random life tips from Steely Dan lyrics), I hatched the concept, but it was his programming skill that made it actually work. There was also an interactive dungeon. And a tree house. And other similarly goofy things.

We both later wrote and published novels: he inspired a character in mine, and I inspired a character in his. He recorded a great album, and I gladly wrote a press kit for it. He hosted and helped me design and maintain a variety of personal and work websites over the years, including early versions of this one. There was always lots of creative energy in the spaces between us. And some friction, I have to admit, as is to be expected over a 22-year relationship between two strong-willed, highly cerebral, opinionated, and sometimes touchy individuals. I’m glad and thankful that our last communications were positive ones. I just wish that there had been more such missives lately, but with all of the moves in my own life over the past year, I was unfortunately not the best correspondent.

The Xnet2 group that my friend organized and sustained did have a public face at some points in its history. Most people came to that portal via word of mouth from current members. Very occasionally, outsiders would join us cold, if the following “invite” on the ’90s version of the Xnet2 website didn’t scare them away:

This is the XNet2 antiSocial club.

XNet2 is dead. Long live XNet2.

If you’re interested, send an e-mail to [redacted] with “info xnet2” in the body of the message.

If you’re still interested after you do that, send e-mail to [redacted] with “subscribe xnet2” or “subscribe xnet2-digest” in the body of the message.

You’ll get the hairy eyeball from all of us if you do, so make sure you know what you’re doing, please and thanks.

Oh, yeah. It’s a community. Really. We don’t want a whole ton of people moving in. Just you. Maybe.

The SnotNet Collective

If that enticed you enough to investigate further, there was an Xnet2 Charter and an Xnet2 FAQ (Frequently Asked Questions) List, both of which were randomly generated in real time from snippets and fragments that members of the group could create and save as the spirit moved us. The FAQ List grew to contain about 1,200 mostly absurd entries before SpamBots overwhelmed it and it was abandoned. I have the full list, and reading through it provides a wonderful remembrance of the creative and fun spirit of the group and the person who built and sustained it.

So in honor and memory of my friend and creative foil, I picked my Top Ten Xnet2 FAQ’s and I share them with you below. He wrote some, I wrote some, other people wrote some, and some we just stole. They make no sense, and yet they make all the sense in the world, depending on the lens through which you view them. Life’s like that, right?

#648 (5/18/2000):

Yes yes yes, it was a very, very interesting episode in Xnet2’s history: a crime drama with both philosophical and psychological overtones. During Japan’s 12th Century, a music critic and a programmer relate conflicting stories to a young woman known as “The Mistress of Light” as the group takes shelter in the Tricycles of Love. The different tales revolve around a trucker who has attacked a couple wandering through the woods, tying the husband up and forcing himself on the wife. The husband was found dead in the forest by the music critic, but what actually happened between these people is inconclusive. The trucker, the wife, the husband (through an Australian medium), and the music critic all present different and irreconcilable versions of the events in question to the authorities. The music critic and programmer are disturbed by the absence of an objective truth, but the young woman seems not to care. The three find an abandoned baby inside the Tricycles of Love, and the young woman steals some of the items left with the child and leaves. The programmer fears for the baby’s safety, but the music critic states he already has several children and offers to care for this one as well. Weird, huh???

#738 (12/14/2000):

Was the fire in a transformer box, the round garbage can looking thing with a couple of insulators and wires leading in and out? Did it drip anything cool on the ground? Did the neighbor’s cats lick it up and turn into Wizard of Oz flying monkeys before they died screaming?

#465 (10/8/1999):

Bambino fui merino, Bambino fui un puta.
Bambino fui asi asi, Bambino fui prosciutto.
Bambino pecorino, Bambino molto gnocchi.
Bambino-bino-bino fui un roll e roll e rochi.
— “Rock and Roll Genoese” by Xtobal Colon, 1492

#1004 (7/6/2004):

Employee X is a 52-year-old accountant and holds an MS in Accounting. He started working in New York City restaurants in 1992 and continues to enjoy the torture of restaurant employment. As a result of his restaurant experience, he is familiar with virtually every aspect of restaurant operations, as well having gained an insight into the minds of its owners, staff, customers and vendors. More importantly, Employee X’s dubious past gave him an inside peek into the brains of the freeloaders, ass-lickers/kickers and ecstasy club kids that have come to define a certain segment of the restaurant industry. Employee X chooses to hide behind a pseudonym out of an overwhelming respect for the Slavic mafia.

#147 (8/8/1998):

Mistuh Whatever is here tonight. He gonna git down tonight brother. He gonna git wid it.

#80 (7/8/1998):

It’s all in your head. We spent years trying to get it all out, but not the merest portion would come forth, no matter how we drilled.

#46 (1/6/1998):

Intuition just bein’ logic you ain’t quite figured out.

# 715 (9/17/2000):

Once upon a time there was this list, see? Almost like a regular internet mailing list, only . . . not. No real subject, no real raison d’etre, if ya know what I mean, just a bunch of folks who kinda sorta knew each other (“friends”) suddenly roped together into a chain gang, or a reality tv show, out in a still-unsettled frontier corner of cyberspace, where the people were a little . . . off, all of em, in their way. “Quirky.” “Eccentric.” A real esprit de corps, tho, if ya get my drift. Possessed of a sense of *PURPOSE*, but no idea [thankst gawd] what that purpose might be. Anyhoo, that list blowed up and reassembled itself a few times, one too many times, and the final blow-up was way nasty. All the folks were sitting in their booths, chowing down on Big Macs and Pronto Pups and soy burgers and sate and parathas, smirkin’ and snarlin’ and sneerin’, when all of a sudden a coupla heads exploded, just like that, squirting hair, teeth and eyeballs, and special sauces of various flavors [no vegemite, tho!] in a zillion directions, all on the plate glass window out by the jungle gym, on the uniform of the manager (whose own head had, not coincidentally, been one of the ones that exploded), on a few particularly surly customers (the Gary Glitter dude, in particular, got blown across the room and wound up in a barrel of peanut saus, and was ejected from the joint looking like a headless tub of goo who’d, uh, had an accident). Some of the folks who were there headed for the hills, some of em re-grouped and moved to Brighton, where they amuse themselves to this day sitting on benches, playing skittles and cribbage, occasionally staging three-legged races and such. And we, many of us, wound up here.

#311 (1/16/1999):

They are tuned into fighting and procreation, and as long as you ain’t humping along on your belly going bbrrrrup bbbrrrrup bbbrrrrruuuup they ignore you.

#49 (1/6/1998):

Whatever this is, this is NOT art.

Shumëllojshmëri

1. Rosie the orange point Javanese cat joined our family in July 2004. She had some personality quirks, and a complex relationship with our other cat (The Bumble) but has been a sweet member of the household all these years. On Wednesday, she had rapid onset kidney failure and left us. She will be missed.

The Bumble will not have to share her toys with Rosie anymore.

The Bumble will not have to share her toys with Rosie anymore. Farewell Nervous Orange Kitty!

2. Marcia, our friend Kelli and I attended a wonderful concert by the Anat Cohen Quartet on Thursday night. A spot on review from The Tribune‘s Howard Reich here. If you are not familiar with her work, I highly recommend you check out Cohen’s latest album, Luminosa, from which her set list was drawn. The cross pollination of Brazilian musical motifs, Cohen’s Israeli upbringing and current Brooklyn music scene sensibilities makes for an intoxicating mix.

3. On our way back from the Cohen concert, as we tooled southward on Lake Shore Drive, Marcia and I were treated by a shockingly large and bright fireball dropping from the sky. It was at the back end of Leonid Meteor Shower season, so I’d expect to see a few streaks and flashes across the empty sky over Lake Michigan, but nothing this dramatic. It reminded us a family vacation at Acadia National Park when Katelin was little. We went to an evening educational program after dark, and the docent at one point in his talk about the stars raised his hands over his head and reminded us how the ancients looked up at the same sky we did. As if on command, the largest bolide I’ve ever seen rocketed across the sky, disintegrating with an audience boom. After a moment of stunned silence, our presenter received what I suspect was the biggest round of applause he’s ever gotten for that talk.

4. My current “Serial Monogam-E” home (the one place on the web where I most frequently interact in real time with other people) is the Fall Online Forum, where a quirky international collection of music nerds and culture geeks gather to share their affections (most of the time) for Mark E. Smith’s timeless group, The Fall. The gang is currently deep into The Fall Cup, parsing all 502 songs in the group’s catalog down to a single champion, in the same tournament format that I use for a lot of writing projects here. We are currently on the cusp of boiling a Final 32 down into a Sweet Sixteen, and the whole shebang should wind up in mid-December. If you’re a fan of the group, I heartily endorse joining the Forum and helping us make the big Cup decision for the first time since 2007’s tournament. And even if you’re not passionate about The Fall, the Forum is a delightful and deep treasure trove of cultural arcana, with pretty much something for everything, especially nerds like me who like lists, polls and strongly held opinions about way too many topics. See you there?

5. Having completed my 2015 Album Of The Year Tournament, the next musical tradition in our household is the annual resetting of playlists in the family iTunes account, which combines play data from six iPods used by various of us in different places and times. It’s always interesting (to me, at least) to see how our listening habits overlap to create a mix of most-played songs that are eclectic, to say the least. Looking at the table now, the Top Ten includes a soundtrack song sung by a famous actor, a classic jazz number from 1951, some old school reggae, African music, and anthemic rock from one of the world’s biggest groups. It will be interesting to see how much it tweaks out in the next couple of weeks before I reset it all, clearing the decks to tap other components of our 10,000+ song collection on the computer.

Farewell, Metroland?

For the first time in 38 years, Albany-based alternative newsweekly Metroland will not publish a new edition this week, following the seizure of its offices and property by the New York State Department of Taxation and Finance. Having just read Paul Grondahl’s interview with Metroland Editor and Publisher Stephen Leon, I’m not seeing any likely scenario where the once vibrant paper is going to be making a return anytime soon in anything approaching its historic editorial and aesthetic configuration.

That’s sad news for me, since I have a deep history with the paper, and I owe Steve and many members of his team a debt of gratitude for allowing me to become part of the Albany cultural community in ways that would have been largely closed to me without my Metroland bylines and connections. While the left-leaning, sometimes sanctimonious paper was certainly not universally loved in and around Albany, it had wide distribution and extensive name recognition, and it was the go-to resource for the region’s cultural calendars for years before the internet rendered it irrelevant.

My history with the paper actually pre-dates my time in Albany. Marcia and I both worked on media and press relations for the Naval Reactors program in Washington, DC in the late ’80s, and Metroland was a thorn in our side for its nagging, niggling coverage of a series of whistle-blower based incidents at the Knolls Atomic Power Laboratory in Niskayuna. While I can’t discuss the details or merits of those claims and Metroland‘s coverage thereof, I can tell you that the paper was doing its job from a journalistic standpoint, raising questions and covering angles that the larger daily papers were often missing at the time.

It was my job with Naval Reactors that later brought us to the Capital Region after a stint in Idaho, and through a fortuitous series of personal network connections (thanks, Paul Rapp!) I found myself as one of the new music critics for the paper in 1995 — hot on the heels of a financial meltdown and recovery that ousted the original ownership group and replaced it with Stephen Leon’s team. My first two articles were reviews of records by The Roches and Foetus, and I oscillated between such extremes throughout my time with the paper, eventually branching out into travel writing, interviews, think pieces and other feature work.

I freelanced for Metroland for nearly a year while still working for Naval Reactors, keeping a low profile (beyond my bylines) on both fronts, given the awkward history between my full-time and part-time employer. I rarely went to the Metroland offices during my first year with the paper, which helpfully allowed me to remain largely unrecognized and unknown in the local music community when I started covering it, thereby providing a degree of safe objectivity as I lurked in the shadows at concerts. Even the other Metroland writers had no idea what I looked like or who I was for much of that period, and a former editor once told me she was shocked when she met me, as she expected me to be a leather-garbed, long-haired, heavily pierced rock n’ roll rabble-rouser, based on my writing style and interests.

When I resigned from Federal service in 1996, Steve put me on a steady weekly retainer, which was tremendously helpful as I made the transition from government to nonprofit service. I’m still grateful to him for that key opportunity at a key time. I ended up with over 750 bylines in Metroland between 1995 and 2003, plus probably another couple of hundred pieces that ran without credit, e.g. the “Noteworthy” columns of key upcoming concerts. The first incarnations of my personal website included a lot of these pieces, way back in the days before Metroland itself had much of a web presence. The exposure I gained from my work with the paper directly contributed to my involvement (eventually as on-air host) with Time Warner Cable’s Sounding Board music television show, along with many other freelance writing assignments over the years. It remains a great item on my professional resume.

I stopped reviewing live music for Metroland when I started booking shows at the Chapel + Cultural Center in 2002, as I considered it tacky and unprofessional to fill both roles within the same market. I later asked that my name be removed from Metroland‘s masthead during the early days of the Iraq War, as I was uncomfortable with some of the positions and tone that the paper took with regard to the soldiers, aviators and sailors (and their families) who served at the time, and did not want to imply my approval thereof in any fashion. It was a good run, and I mostly enjoyed it all, except at the very end.

All that being said: even back in 1995, it was something of a running gallows-humor joke among the freelancers that remuneration for our services was going to be neither quick nor efficient, and the lag-time between submission and payment for works often grew to six months or more during my time with the paper. When I was writing every week, this didn’t bother me all that much, since I eventually got to the point where I had a paycheck every couple of weeks — even if it was for work that had run months before. But for those who depended more heavily on these paychecks than I did, it was certainly a burden, and it apparently got worse after I left, when I heard tales of bounced checks and even longer lag times.

I suppose, then, that it shouldn’t come as much of a surprise that the tax man was treated no better than the creative types who made the paper possible. It’s a slippery slope once you decide to forsake timely payment of obligations, and once you get away with it, it’s a hard habit to break. Still, though, it’s a rotten ending for a business enterprise that made a difference in its own ways. I hope that Steve and the current staff and freelancers (plus their families) will be okay once the dust settles — though I suspect that will be a long, painful process along the way, and that once it’s done, Metroland will either cease to exist, or will become a captive faux alternative arts and culture advertising broadsheet for one of the region’s daily newspapers.

End of an era, either way.