A Lifetime of Listening

A friend over at the Fall Online Forum (FOF) recently started a discussion called “Music Formats and You.” There had been a little sparring among members about digital vs analog formats in various threads, so to pull the conversations into one place (and possibly to reduce bile levels elsewhere), he framed a new discussion with a simple statement and question:

All of us on here, I’m presuming, started out with music in an age where vinyl/cassettes were the norm. But music purchasing/listening has undergone a radical transformation over the last thirty years or so — so what has your experience been?

I responded to the question there in the community thread, and my answer turned out to be longer and more complex than I would have thought. So I decided to bring it over here and flesh it out a little in a couple of places, to see if stimulates any of your own reflections about how you’ve chosen to tickle your ear buds, then and now, and maybe tomorrow.

Here ’tis . . .

Being a child of the middle ’60s, my parents had a record player, and so I played records. (Nobody called records “vinyl” back then. I wonder when that affectation started?) From my earliest sentient years, I can remember having my own little record player, I think inherited from older neighbor kids. It was a little portable job, with red and white checkered paperboard casing and a white plastic handle, perfect for playing 7-inch singles like “Snoopy vs. The Red Baron” by The Royal Guardsmen, over, and over, and over again. It had 16, 33, 45, and 78 rpm settings, which added to the amusement factor when those singles were played at the wrong speeds.

At some point, I moved into fiddling with my parents’ record player. It was a bit more complicated, and I wasn’t sure why the discs on their platter were bigger than mine were, with smaller holes in the middle. But I persevered, and started trawling through their albums, with some unexpected consequences, in one notable case.

When I was living with or near my grandparents intermittently during the late ’60s and early ’70s during my dad’s military tours overseas, my aunt (who was just a few years older than me) had one of those groovy space ball 8-track tape players, so I used to play her 8-tracks a lot when I was there. Steppenwolf Gold is still a fave album from having overplayed it for years on 8-track, but I still expect to the hear the distinctive ker-CHUNK sound in the middle of some cuts that were split for time sequencing reasons.

My Dad was in the Marines and liked tech, so when he came back from Japan some time in the early ’70s, he had a cassette tape console for the home stereo. I had friends who were using little reel to reel recorders to tape songs off the radio, so I had a leg up on them in being able to make better mix tapes from radio and records, and to listen to the mix tapes that my Dad made. I am pretty sure we were ahead of the curve as a family on this format, since I do not remember other kids having cassettes so early.

I got my own little “all in one” stereo for my bedroom in 7th grade. It had radio, record player and 8-track, but no cassette. (We were still ahead of the curve on that front, apparently). I started earning my own money around this time with various small jobs and most it went to buying records. I mostly stopped making mix tapes since I had to be down at the family stereo to do that, and I preferred being up in my bedroom alone. As one does.

I got a knockoff replica of a SONY Walkman in 11th grade, and since I was not making many tapes in my bedroom at the time, I started buying pre-recorded ones so I had stuff to listen to while walking about, and later driving. When I went to the Naval Academy, we were not allowed to have any stereos or other music playing devices throughout the entire plebe year, but I carried this Walkman and a dozen favorite tapes in with me to Annapolis, and listened to them late at night under the covers. Plebe Year offered many challenges, and for a music junkie, being starved of tunes might have been among the most formidable of them, psychologically speaking.

Sophomore year at Navy, I got both my own modular stereo (now radio, records, dual cassette recorder) and a TEAC Tascam 4-track recorder. I bought tons of albums through college, and I made tons of mix tapes, along with recording my own music.

Compact Discs emerged during the latter part of my time at Navy. The first one I heard was Pink Floyd’s The Wall at high volume in an audiophile friend’s room and it was awesome. But by this time I had a collection of about 2,000 records and big carrying cases full of cassette tapes, and I really did not want to re-purchase everything in a new format. I knew that once I switched to CDs and embraced their (seeming) convenience, sound quality and durability, it was going to render my record collection obsolete, so I resisted CD’s charms for a long time.

My wife Marcia brought that era to an end one Christmas when she got me a CD player. I think the first CD I bought was Hawkwind’s Masters of the Universe compilation. As predicted and expected, over the next 15 years or so my CD collection grew, often as a result of trading off my records for store credit which I immediately used to buy shiny silver discs. I still made a lot of mix tapes from CDs to cassettes in this era, mainly for listening in the car (early automotive CD players were terrible), or to send to friends.

I got online in 1993 and quickly found a group of music nerds to hang out with in various communities, one of which had a mix tape trading group called TATU (“Tapes Across The Universe”). Sometime in the late ’90s the core of the TATU team (now mostly moved over to a little online Tree House called Xnet2) switched to trading CDs, so I acquired the ability to play and burn CDs on my computer instead of just via the home stereo.

I will note here, though, that I was among a probably small number of people who actually acquired the needed adapters and plugs to record between CDs and tapes and back on the computer, rather than on the stereo. That was a short and pointless technological cul-de-sac, and it was just a world of little shiny discs for a long time afterwards, until file sharing emerged.

With some probably unwarranted sense of pride, I note that I saw Napster as an ethical monstrosity and I never had an account for that or any other platform for stealing music that I had not purchased. Artists united, represent!! As a result of that particular paradigm shift, though, I did watch all the brick and mortar record and CD stores in my town bite the dust in rapid succession as the world moved away from physical ownership of music and into a world of bits and bytes alone. That was a great tragedy in this story arc, I think, and one from which we’ve never really recovered.

And so enter the iPod and iTunes era. As had been the case with my records when CDs emerged, I resisted this brave new world, because I knew, once again, that when I jumped to another entirely new platform, I would buying the very same things for a third or fourth time, and my CD collection would be shed like a husk at some point.

As was the case with my records, it was Marcia who eventually pushed me into the new paradigm, when she asked for an iPod as a Mother’s Day gift in 2011. I had to get it for her, of course, and I had to acquire an iTunes account so I could put music on it, though in the beginning I still just converted stuff from CDs to digital files, rather than buying songs from iTunes.

Being somewhat averse to Apple products (I still do not like Mac computers), when I finally decided to find a way to buy music online, I chose eMusic, which was more heavily weighted toward indie and underground music while iTunes just had the hits early on. I liked eMusic’s subscription model too: you paid a certain amount each month, and could download a certain number of songs from any album or single during that month. The download rights did not carry over from month to month, so I actually explored and acquired a lot of stuff that I would not have otherwise this way.

But over the years the variance between their model and iTunes’ model closed and it just became easier to have the single account within the Apple Empire. I got my own iPod at some point, and then we got one for the new iPod compatible family stereo, which was a relatively tiny box with relatively tiny speakers, so the old Bose Speakers and CD player and amp and all the other things that had defined the Hi Fi experience went out the door when we moved from New York to Iowa.

That remains the status quo as of autumn 2018: I have an iTunes account on my computer with about 14,000 songs available to me, all backed up on an external 1.0 terabyte hard drive. I manage six iPods for myself and my wife, making new mixes as new things come in for all of the various players. Apple recently ended their own “gadget era” (e.g. no more standalone music players, since you supposed to get music on your phone or tablet), so these great little players are on their way out, and I have acquired a stockpile of Nanos and Shuffles to rage against the dying of this paradigm as long as I can. Yeah, I could play stuff on my phone, but I don’t like carrying it around, since I have a big phone, while a Shuffle fits nicely in my pants pocket.

I still purchase all of my music online, album by album and song by song, though more often than not I actually pay for it with points that I can get from my credit cards (rather than getting airplane miles or whatever). I have not yet made the leap to Spotify or any of the other similar subscription streaming music services as I still like “owning” and not “renting” my music — even though the physical embodiment of my ownership is just a bunch of data in a little little six-inch by six-inch by two-inch black box, not the glorious milk crates of musty smelling cardboard and plastic of yesteryear.

At some point, yeah, I know I will have to jump forward again, and Marcia will probably deploy the cattle prod to make it happen at some point. But for now, I’m fighting it, knowing that I will ultimately lose this battle, as I always do.

I guess it’s the struggle that inspires me. Along with the tunes.

It sounded like crap, but no playback device ever looked as cool as the Weltron 2001 Space Ball 8-Track Player

Skycrane!!

We live on the 27th and 28th floors of a building with a view of Chicago’s busy heart, so we’re accustomed to seeing and hearing helicopters at or below our balcony level, doing police work, traffic reports, or stunts for movies and the gazillion stupid TV shows filmed in our neighborhood.

Today, though, soon after I brought Marcia her morning coffee, the helicopter noise was a bit more prominent than usual. I walked outside and had a GAWP! moment as a huge Sikorsky S-64 Skycrane buzzed right by me, and then settled slowly to hover above the corner of Randolph and Columbus, half a block away. Wow!

The Skycrane made two round trips from that corner up to the top of AON Tower — two buildings over with a rooftop just a smidge over 1,000 feet tall — carrying new transformers up and ferrying old ones down. Over the course of an hour or so I snapped and snapped and snapped, whee!

Here are some of the better shots from this morning’s entertainment, for the aviation dorks. Click for bigger versions, if you’d like, though I might have to apologize for my camera’s graininess if you do.

#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).

 

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

Hunnik Asju

Note: Certain portions of this article were separated into their own standalone post, here. If you’re looking for The Mothership, that’s where you need to go . . . 

1. Marcia and I purchased our first home computer nearly 25 years ago. Since then, I have been very good at maintaining and updating Die Maschinen, I always practice “Safe Surf,” and I am averse to technological change for change’s sake. This means I’ve managed to do everything I’ve ever done on computers at home while only owning three Maschinen. (That number could conceivably have only been two, actually, had not my spawn melted down Das Maschine Nummer Zwei accidentally during those awkward early teen years, enticed by the dangerous computer-eating wonders of the early social web). My current Das Maschine has been running like a champ since 2007, but Microsoft, Mozilla and others have announced that they are ending support and upgrades for its operating system (MS Vista), and I’m not willing to maintain an unsupported system for very long once that goes away. I researched updating the OS, but the economics of doing so didn’t make sense, so I finally succumbed and bought a new Das Maschine (Nummer Vier) last week. It arrived yesterday, and last night I went to break the news to Ol’ Yeller 9000 (Das Maschine Nummer Drei) that it was time for us to take a walk out behind the woodshed to talk about stuff, just the two of us. Things went downhill from there, though . . . negotiations are ongoing . . .

Ol’ Yeller 9000 doesn’t believe in fiat currency, so we’re negotiating in precious metal and booze . . .

2. I had hoped and planned that 2017 would be a bit less travel-heavy for me than 2016 had been. Looking at my first quarter route map, I’m thinking this may not actually turn out to be the case:

Upcoming stops: DC (again), Cleveland, Grand Rapids, Indianapolis . . .

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.