Sunday, October 27, 2013

Anatomy of a Record Collection

For years I have thought about compiling a list in a spreadsheet of every record I currently own and including other interesting information such as the year it was released, the name of the producer, whether I own it on vinyl or compact disc, etc.  I always thought it would be a monumental task.  It wasn't so bad, actually.  I only spent a few hours a day over a period of five days getting this job completed.  The payoff takes only a few seconds after applying a pivot table to the data!

So, without further ado, here's a summary of the 1,000+ recordings.

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There are a scant few MP3s and some flexidisks taken from magazines which would take this up to 100%.



The Producers:

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This is essentially a three-way tie. Steve Lillywhite isn't far behind. Sad to say but both of the Martins are now deceased. Martin Rushent went to the great studio in the sky earlier this year.  So Hannett won't mind that his 2nd T got cut off.



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This data would probably be vastly different if I had kept all the albums I purchased as a teen. However, the early 1980s were a great new era for me with punk/new wave stuff. I was a bit perplexed by 1995 showing up here but after investigating I realized this was largely due to my enthusiasm for jazz which began to blossom in the mid-90s.





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And speaking of jazz.  I have some older Bessie Smith from the 1920s on CD, but that was all part of a compilation pulled from different times and performances.  I included this Stan Getz release because it was the oldest material I have that was ever released originally under this album title.  Unfortunately I do not own it on vinyl.





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 I was a bit surprised by this.  I expected the UK bands to edge out the US.  But there are even greater surprises ahead.



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While the US and UK artists comprise the vast majority of my collection, the #1 and #2 artists most represented in my collection by albums are Canadians!  And as if that's not enough, the Canadian band Rush is about to get bumped into the #1 position as soon as I replace a few albums that I had as a teen and unloaded!  Go Canada!



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While Stan Getz gets the award for oldest recorded album, this is actually the oldest original vinyl I own. I would love to know how many parties this one serenaded in the late 50s!  FIESTA!!




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I guess I wasn't terribly surprised at the #1 record label represented in my collection. Some of the earliest albums I loved as a teen were on this label.  And it just kept going... Jazz, rock, new wave, country, blues.

However, I have taken Frank Zappa up on his advice and not done a breakdown of my albums by genre.  That's too damn hard and, frankly, it is a ridiculous exercise.  It's music.  If you love it, listen to it.


This post is dedicated to this guy.


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Friday, June 28, 2013

Get The Funk Out My Face

I really do not know where to start.  Maybe if the people had started a revolution in the streets in 2000 I would not now be at such a loss for words.

I've been in a major funk now for at least 6 months. By major funk I mean severe mood swings generally ranging from lethargy (i.e. not giving a fuck about anything) to morbid depression.  As for the good moments, yes I do have a few.  They tend to be short-lived, perhaps an hour here and there, unless you count the three hours in the evening when I am inebriated and even those are not always a joyous occasion.  At least hard liquor is no longer a player in this game.  It has been almost two months since vodka has passed my lips, and prior to that episode it had been a month.  So, in three months there's been one bottle of vodka.  At this point I guess I can rule that out as being a cause of this intense malaise.

There really is no clearly defined reason for this.  I have a job.  I work from home.  I have decent benefits including health insurance, if you call a $5,000 deductible good health insurance.  I do not.  Basically any medical needs are out-of-pocket but I'm insured against a mild to major catastrophe should I happen to need medical services running in the $6,000 to $10,000 range, or $100,000 for that matter.  Of course, with the next calendar year I'm back on the hook again with a $5,000 deductible.  I guess the worst case scenario would be running up about $4,900 in medical bills every year which would be a truly fucked scenario.  But I digress so let's not go there.

I do get thoroughly disgusted by politics.  I was foolish enough to believe that if I could ever get through eight years of George W. Bush, everything would be better.  In theory that might have been true.  At least we didn't get McCain/Palin served to us in 2008.  (I actually had to Google "2008 presidential election" because I was drawing a total blank on who the assholes were during that cycle.)  But what we got was a black man.  OK, so he's half black, but that's black enough for the knuckle draggers to get their panties all knotted up in their ass cracks.  Honestly, an eight year cycle of blatant racism is not what I expected as a follow-up to the Bush terms.  It never showed up on my radar because I thought, for the most part, we had moved beyond that like Paula Deen.  I guess I was afflicted with SCOTUS syndrome before it became trendy.

Aside from that pesky little race thing, there have been a series of disappointments politically.  I cannot quite fathom why there is such a divide in this country.  Every election and opinion poll seems to be ridiculously close.  The election of Scott Brown in Massachusetts threw me into a tizzy.  Yeah, he served one term and yeah, he was defeated by Elizabeth Warren in 2012.  That's what I would expect in Massachusetts.  I grew up with the impression that Massachusetts was one of those liberal places.  However, if a 54% to 46% victory is what defines a liberal place now after the glaring mistake of voting in Scott Brown, we're in some deep fucking shit.

It would be nice to claim it as an aberration but the most recent victory by Democrat Ed Markey over Republican Gabriel Gomez was 55% to 45%.  It matters not to me whether all eligible voters would have made this a more decisive victory, and it probably wouldn't have.  But the fact is, here we are in 2013 and it's tough to find any issue where there isn't a 55/45 split, or closer.  Hell, 5-4 decisions by the Supreme Court have become about as predictable as a murder in Chicago.  I guess that's just where we are.  That just seems absurdly close to me, given the issues and the records of the candidates.  Perhaps Texas isn't so bad after all given the fact that Governor Rick Perry was elected in 2010 with only 55% percent of the vote.  Of course, I guess that's generous considering what a egregious despicable fuckwad he is. 

The problem seems to be the stupid white people. Exit Polls showed Perry winning whites by 71% to 29%, and losing the African Americans vote by 88% to 12% and Latinos 61% to 38%.  Why any white person would claim to be superior to others, or being God's chosen race is beyond my comprehension.  Let's be honest here:  most white people, and specifically most white voters, don't exactly fill my coffers with a lot of hope.  Those are overwhelmingly the so-called "swing voters" who can't quite make up their fucking minds just what they are besides fickle and stupid.

As much as I love to fantasize about moving away from Texas for the sake of my sanity, it really is a tough call when deciding where I would go.  Sure, we have this Asshole with good hair here posing as a governor and a bunch of silly pricks in the legislature who don't know the difference between a time stamp and a rape kit.  Sure, our fucking prick condones murder but have you checked out governors in places like Maine, Wisconsin, Florida and even New Jersey?  (Yes, sorry to break the news but Chris Christie is a fucking asshole.)  Let's not overlook Ohio and Virginia.  Ken Cuccinelli can suck my ass.  Yeah, like I'm gonna go to the trouble to pack up everything I own just to get away from here so I can be there and endure that.

No matter where I go, I will also know that my rants against whomever are being gathered up by the NSA/PRISM clusterfuck for safekeeping.  I can't imagine anyone in the Obama Administration deciding to personally let Governor Prick know that I think he has shit for brains.  But if they do, so be it.  Last time I checked we still have free speech rights in this country, as long as I don't interpret my speech rights to mean I can take some chalk down to the local Bank of Fucking America and give them a graphic piece of my mind on their cement slab.  Or the Fucking Bank of America for that matter.

If I could live anywhere in the US (and technically I could), it's a really tough call figuring out where now that politics have become so intolerable in so many places. Despite my profanity-laced diatribe, I don't want you to think I attribute all of my malaise purely on politics.

Last year during 10 months of unemployment I did a lot of religious soul-searching and came to the conclusion that I am, and have been for decades, a Buddhist.  And one thing that Buddhism taught me (and I'm paraphrasing here just a bit) is that all of this rampant bullshit stupidity is but a fleeting nanosecond on the great celestial clock.  The system is rigged and I can't change it by myself.  And if enough people aren't willing to listen and act, then fuck it with a bean pole.  I'm 53 years old.  If the future has a pocket to pick, it's with those who are 18-35 who still have about 30-45 more years of this shit to live with before facing whatever fucking passes as retirement when that time rolls around.  Jesus, I sound like one of those fucked up newfangled Myanmar Buddhists but seriously, I'm not violent;  I'm just fed the fuck up.

I should count all my blessings. The good news is I'm a white man.  I'll probably never have to wait more than 20 minutes to cast a ballot.  The bad news is I don't even care anymore.  Give me some time away and I'll check back in when the white man is playing second or third fiddle.  And thank God I'm not a young woman.  The idea of having to carry around a baby for 9 months, by law, after getting raped by an uncle, a brother, or a total stranger just does not sound very appealing to me.  I'm made as hell because my life is going to be disrupted for one Monday afternoon in August thanks to a jury duty summons.  I trust the system of justice in this country like I'd trust George Zimmerman with a handgun in colored town so pardon me if I seem un-American when it comes to my civic duties and all that shit.  I'm not the right guy for it.  Trust me, I know.

We don't have many politicians willing to go to extreme effort to do what is right to have a positive political impact and even then you can still get bulldozed over.  Fuck, you can do the most amazing service to your country ever and still get 45% of voters in the next election wanting your sorry ass removed, assuming you are lucky enough to get 55% or even 50% who want to keep you in.  It's fucked up.

Something else getting on my last nerve lately is Facebook.  At the time I'm writing this post I'm at the threshold of 2 weeks since I have posted a status update.  The longer I don't post the easier it is to not post. I certainly have not been off Facebook; I comment here and there on posts of other people, but I just haven't been in the mood to post anything of my own.  And I can't seem to make the leap to shut it down because in all honesty I'd lose contact with some people who are important to me.  I suppose I could always call them on the phone and talk live in real time but I have about as much use for a phone as I do a printed newspaper.  So I guess that's out.  Besides, I don't want to clutter up the NSA/PRISM database more than necessary.  But then again, I'm a white guy so I probably have a lot less to worry about.

I should probably avoid Facebook altogether around all holidays both major and minor.  Christmas, Independence Day, Thanksgiving, Flag Day, Memorial Day, Fathers Day, Armistice Day, you name it.  The Borg collective kicks into high gear spending one day out of 365 to remember something or someone and then after that it's back to the bacon humor or whatever.  Seriously.  God herself didn't make these rules or set aside these days.  We did.  And it's pretty fucking stupid and arbitrary if you think about it.  And if you think 80% of your Facebook friends whom you've never met give a shit what your dead mother looked like then you are delusional.  And if you think it makes your dead mother proud then you have even bigger problems than I thought.  Deviate from the herd:  give her a shout out in the middle of October for no other reason than you were thinking of her.  Maybe it won't get lost in all the motherloving frenzy of a marketing gimmick.

And this leads me to prayer.  What is up with that shit?  I'd rather do something constructive with my time like clip my toenails.  I am no stranger to this religion stuff.  As a child I was hauled to a church pew every Sunday.  And my dad had been known to preach from the pulpit on occasion.  But when I'd ask, as a child, why does God let people die in horrible accidents, I'd get the cop-out line that "God works in mysterious ways" or "We don't always understand why but God has a plan for those people."

So basically then, why the fuck waste time praying?  God is busy.  Let God do God's infinite business and stop with the fucking selfish interruptions.  God isn't going to alter the outcome of your sports team's shitty performance.  God isn't going to save you from burning in the inferno of an airplane (or Ferrari) stunt gone awry.  God isn't going to breathe life into that dead cat you love so much and God sure as shit isn't going to bless your fucking corrupt nation.  So get over yourselves.  Can you imagine how it might impact OPEC if just the Southern Baptists stopped driving their SUVs to church on Sunday?  If it's that important to you, walk to church!  Like Jesus.  You know, instead of walking 5 miles on that dumbass treadmill at the secular gym.

Of course there are good religious people out there and my rant is not directed at those people.  I still don't get it but if it makes you feel good then do it.  My beef is primarily with people who feel they can pray away teh gay and others of that ilk.

What the fuck does the valet have to do with anything??


The past 8 weeks have probably done more to destroy my hope for the United States than anything in the last 12 years combined.  And that's really saying something considering some of the good news out there.  Everyday is either something new or more of the same bullshit.  Maybe I'm just too sensitive but a big part of me knows it's just horribly wrong, unethical and immoral when my government is creating crime and popping people off on death row while screaming about the sanctity of life. This is all fucking nuts!

I think I need to go away to clear my head.  Iceland comes to mind frequently.  Hell, I'd even take Ecuador.  But I'd want a direct route, not some bullshit detour through Hong Kong and the fucking Sheremetyevo transit lounge in fucking Putinland, however nice it may be with the amenities and all.  And it may take me quite a while to clear my head so can I just buy a one-way ticket for now and come back when the job is done or will that flag me for a fucking strip search and a DNA harvest at the airport?

This is all moot speculation.  I don't even have a valid passport.

Happy Friday!  Let the good times roll!

















Friday, March 29, 2013

Good Friday Pussy Blog

Sweet Pea
1999 - 3/29/2013

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What a strange week it has been.  Sweet Pea was his usual old self until a few days ago when I noticed he wasn't eating as much.  Then a day or two later it was obvious he wasn't eating anything.  On Wednesday Sheldon noticed he seemed weak and wobbled a bit when walking.

We agreed he probably needed to see the vet.  Sheldon made the call and brought the pet carrier out to the patio.  Sweet Pea was curled up at the fence in the back of the yard.  He seemed oddly nervous when I went to fetch him.  In fact he tried to get away from me but I carried him to the patio and poked him into the carrier.  He let out a very guttural protest -- a sound I would only hear him make when he had eaten something and was about to vomit, or when he had a live critter in his mouth.

I really didn't think for a moment that it would be the last time I'd see him.  But that's how it played out.  Sweet Pea fell to the same liver/kidney failure that claims so many other cats including at least two of our previous felines. 


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Sweet Pea and his two siblings were brought to our back patio by their mother.  The mother lived across the street from us and I never knew her name.  I just referred to her as Big Thumbs.  She was a polydactyl with an extra toe on each of her front feet giving her the appearance of very large thumbs.

There was Sweet Pea, the short-haired black cat; Coal Pot (on bottom in photo) was black with longer hair, and then Sissy the tortoiseshell.  Sissy, named for the Sissy Hankshaw character in Even Cowgirls Get The Blues, also inherited the big thumbs.  Sissy was the only one of the three we kept inside the house.  Coal Pot disappeared after perhaps a year.

Sweet Pea has been a fixture in the back yard for so long I can hardly believe I won't be watching him strut across the yard as I sit at my desk working during the day.  On a positive note I won't be having to run out on a lizard rescue mission every few days this summer.  He had a nasty habit of catching lizards and bringing them to the patio in his mouth.  I'd have to grab his neck sometimes to get him to release them and often they wouldn't even have a puncture wound.  I won't miss those moments.  The lizards can finally live in peace.

I am convinced Sweet Pea, perhaps like all cats, was psychic.  He was very skittish around strangers.  A strange car pulling into the drive would raise all kinds of red flags with him in spite of the fence between the yard and the drive.  And yet, if he was sleeping, I could go out the front door of the house and walk around to the back, open the gate and walk on up to the patio where he was sleeping without him even flinching or raising his head.  Somehow he always knew it was me and not a stranger.

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He would always respond in some way when I'd say his name.  Even when he was coiled up sleeping I could whisper his name and the white claws on his feet would extend along with a bit of paw curling.  He also enjoyed it when I would grab his snout and rub up his face, across his ears and all the way down his back to his tail.  One of my favorite things to do was to grab his face with my hand and shake his head vigorously while saying "Sweet Pea!  I'm going to pinch your head off!"  He actually enjoyed that.

Once in awhile we'd allow him to come in the house in the evening for a few minutes.  He'd walk around and check out everything and then was ready to go back out.  Two or three times I took him to the master bedroom where Sissy lives so he could visit with his sister.  Sissy is about ten times more skittish of just about everything.  She despises Tater Tot and Jessie Lee and prefers solitude and being left alone.  Allowing either of those cats in the bedroom would send her scurrying for a place to hide.  Strangely enough, even though she hadn't been with Sweet Pea since they were kittens, she had no problems with his presence.  I would even take Sweet Pea in there and place him on the bed with her and there would be no adverse reaction.

This is my fourth cat to cross over to whatever comes after.  Three of the four have timed it to happen around some memorable date.  Jezebel was the first and had to be put down on Memorial Day.  Samantha just expired in the house on some anonymous date that I don't specifically recall.  Tiger took care of his own expiration last year by doing it on or just before my birthday, and now Sweet Pea exits on Good Friday which made it impossible for me not to... umm...resurrect the Friday Pussy Blog.

So long, boy.  I know you loved me and the feeling was mutual.







Tuesday, January 01, 2013

2012 In My Rearview Mirror

I still like these even if Joe thinks they are passé.  However, my life is a bit more boring than Joe's.

1. What did you do in 2012 that you’d never done before?

Probably coming to terms with the fact that I'm more Buddhist than I am anything else in terms of religions.  I've never been hellbent (pardon the expression) on religions and I seriously explored Judaism this year, but Buddhist is what I've always been, even when I didn't know it, or thought I had no religious slant.  But I'm not in your face about it.  It just is.

2. Did you keep your New Year’s resolutions, and will you make more for next year?

I've kind of given up for the most part.  It's too hard for me to adhere to one single day to make a resolution.  I need to ease into it.  I did get a picture hung today which has sort of been a resolution off and on for 20+ years. 

3. Did anyone close to you give birth?

Not that I know of.

4. Did anyone close to you die?

Lost a Facebook friend in April.  And I'm kind of glad we had never met because it's so much easier to deal with when you remove that personal dimension.

5. What places did you visit?

Like travel?  I didn't leave town unless you count Round Rock for an IKEA trip.

6. What would you like to have in 2013 that you lacked in 2012?

I would like to have a job for the entire year.

7. What dates from 2012 will remain etched upon your memory, and why?

(a) Election Day because I never get what I want and this time I got a bonanza on so many different levels.

(b) The day after Election Day, while I was enjoying my blissful state, I got a job offer which I accepted.

8. What was your biggest achievement(s) of the year?

Probably getting about 25 books read while I was unemployed.  I got reconnected with Buddhism and Eastern philosophy which helped eradicate a lost of depression I routinely experience.

9. What was your biggest failure?

I didn't stop smoking.  I gave it the best run for the money ever, and for a few days I was down to 3 cigs a day.  Then 3-5.  This is the hardest thing to kick. 

10. Did you suffer illness or injury?

None at all.

11. What was the best thing you bought?

Really happy I decided to get a Nikon D7000 camera.  That was a great gift to myself.

12. Whose behavior merited celebration?

I have to quote Joe verbatim on this one:  Chief Justice John Roberts. I may never agree with another decision he makes in my entire life, but by casting the swing vote to uphold Obamacare he quite literally changed tens of millions of American lives for the better. Good on him.

13. Whose behavior made you appalled and depressed?

The leader of the NRA whose name I shall not speak.  And pretty much anyone and everyone on the far right during the election year. 

14. Where did most of your money go?

Beverages.

15. What did you get really, really, really excited about?

I was really excited about reading books!  And when my stereo amplifier when on the fritz I had to hook up my mid-80s tube amp in the interim and was blown the hell away by how great vinyl records sounded.  And Elizabeth Warren beating Scott Brown.  And the marijuana vote in Colorado and Washington.  Buying a box set of every Blur LP.

16. What song will always remind you of 2012?

This is always a tough one because music is pretty timeless for me.  And just because a song reminds me of 2012 doesn't necessarily mean I like the song.  But Gotye's "Somebody That I Used To Know" caught my attention during the start of the year when I was being laid off AND feeling like shit.  So definitely that one.

17. Compared to this time last year, are you:

a) Happier or sadder?
Happier.  Definitely.
b) thinner or fatter?
About the same.  Thin with a beer gut that needs to go away.
c) richer or poorer?
Richer.

18. What do you wish you’d done more of?

For some reason I can only think of things I wish I'd done less of.  Sorry!

19. What do you wish you’d done less of?

Oh fuck.  I didn't see this coming.  Just go back to #9.

20. How did you spend Christmas this year?

Lunch with my neighbors and their family.  It was lovely.  Then an evening at home.

21. Did you fall in love in 2012?

With more music.

22. How was work?

Considering I didn't work between 13th January and 8th November it was great!  But it's been even better now that I've started back again.  I'm getting my mojo back again.

23. What was your favorite TV program?

Just whatever.  Home improvement shows and cooking shows.  (I am going to miss No Reservations.)

24. What did you do for your birthday in 2012?

Nothing much.  Read a book.  Probably went out for lunch.

25. What was the best book you read?

Mercy.  I can't begin to tell you.  I enjoyed the hell out of Alan Watts.  And a D.T. Suzuki book called "Zen and Japanese Culture."

26. What was your greatest musical discovery?

Blur and Gorillaz.  I totally fell in love with Gorillaz and then Damon Albarn and then started working my way back thru the Blur discography.  Got their box set on vinyl and have had a blast with it.  It takes me so many different directions and levels.  So many great influences that sometimes come through the music in abundance.  I've had whiplash on a number of occasions.

27. What did you want and get?

Lots of things.  If I want something I usually find a way to get it.  I guess the biggie was the camera.

28. What did you want and not get?

Toyed with the idea of a turntable upgrade and a newer model tube amp but that can wait.  There ain't nothing wrong with what I've got.

29. What was your favorite film of this year?

Didn't see one that was released this year.  Not one.

30. Did you make some new friends this year?

Surprisingly enough, yes.  Mika and Jen who are living next door to us, renting rooms from our neighbors.  We had lunch with them today!

31. What one thing would have made your year immeasurably more satisfying?

Being 27 again.

32. How would you describe your personal fashion concept in 2012?

Cargo shorts with hiking boots.

33. What kept you sane?

Walking when it was warm.  Playing music when it wasn't,  and sometimes playing music when it was.

34. What political issue stirred you the most?

I can't really disagree with Joe on this one either, so I quote: Guns. I could say the election or the bullshit around the fiscal cliff, but no, guns. With each gun massacre it seems the fuckhead gun apologists double down. People come out of the woodwork to explain how guns aren't the problem, that gun control can't work, that guns have nothing to do with gun massacres. FUCK guns.

Yeah, that's about it.  I was so depressed about Sandy Hook I damn nearly deleted by Facebook page, and I felt the need to unfriend a couple of people just so I wouldn't see their incessant pro-gun posts.

35. What political issue stirred you the least?

Again Joe nailed this one:  Benghazi. I wish a permanent case of herpes on each and every Republican liar who tried to turn this unfortunate event into a political scandal. They should be utterly ashamed of themselves. Disgusting people.

36. Best sports moment?

Seeing the Razorbacks fire their good coach because of some infidelity and then go on to have a horrendous losing season, getting beaten by some embarrassing teams.  There was a lesson to be learned here.


37. Who was the best new person you met?

I don't think I met any new people besides Mika and Jen.  See #30.  I don't get out much.


38. Burn any bridges?

I try not to.  Some bridges do need to be burned though.

39. Best new restaurant you went to?

Cafe Malta for Sheldon's birthday.  We just don't go to places like this often.  It wasn't fancy.  In fact it was rustic in a European way, and tucked inside a strip mall in south Austin.  But I was so taken with the place that I ordered an appetizer AND a dessert, AND coffee.  And it was divine.

40. Tell us a valuable life lesson you learned in 2012.

Easy.  Don't allow work to rule your life.  It's OK to do a good job and not allow it to consume you or extend into your personal life.  There's no reason to feel guilt for that.

Monday, December 31, 2012

Rejoice! We're All Gonna Die And Most Of Us Won't Be Young Or Pretty


For the past two years or so I've been undergoing some morbid grappling with mortality.  Often I am observing a family with children in a restaurant and I will begin to see the children maturing and becoming adults and eventually old and dying after their parents have long since passed on.  Some of this could be triggered by my own identification with the children.  I have vivid memories of my parents taking me to great restaurants -- particularly in New Orleans, and I wonder if anyone then was observing me with the same realization that someday I'd be a man in my fifties rather than a child of five.

Thirty years ago on December 30th my father ceased to be.  It is really difficult to imagine 30 years passing so quickly given that it simply ticked away moment by moment in a steady clip as time always does consistently and without fail.  I think of everything I have done and experienced in that time and it is mind-boggling to me.  It is truly a lifetime ago.  Sometimes I look at life as being comprised of several lifetimes.

There's the lifetime as a baby and a toddler.  I was here and alive but there's nothing much about it I remember.  There was no concern for anything nor was there a concept of time ticking away.  Then as memories started to gel into strings of events another lifetime began.  From about 4 or 5 I became more aware of my environment, learning the meaning of more words, learning how not to choke on hard candy, realizing how much I really disliked church, always looking forward to Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny, and a tooth falling out so I would be visited by the tooth fairy.

I don't remember my first day of kindergarten nor would my developing mind have understood the point of it.   I don't recall any sense of anxiety about the new experience or being separated from my parents for a few hours a day.  It was an important first step in learning how to behave and in the development of social skills (and look how THAT turned out!) I suppose.  It was mostly just fun although I have absolutely no recollection of any other children there on a personal friendship level.  It's almost as if they were abstractions.  I was more fascinated by the mentally-challenged woman who was charged with placing out cookies for us to eat.  I remember my towel I would roll out on the floor when it was quiet time and we were to stretch out and shut the fuck up for a few minutes.  I think I enjoyed that part.  Early developmental chillaxing.

The lifetime of being schooled was definitely a kicker.  It is hard for me to fathom how 11 years from first grade to being a high school senior could seem to take so long to pass.  Initially I wasn't even looking ahead to high school graduation.  That might as well have been a century in the future.  Starting out it was just one year at a time.  Getting on the school bus in the morning, writing out ABCs and learning to count and whatever the hell else we did in first grade (for me it was drawing pictures of body parts), and then back on the school bus to come home.  Get up the next morning and repeat.

By the time I was in third or fourth grade the reality was starting to settle in that this was going to be one slow slog getting finished with it.  I can imagine having asked my mother when will I no longer have to go to school.  If she had said after the 12th grade I at least had learned to count the different between 4th and 12th and it seemed like one hell of a duration.  The older I got the longer it seemed.

Finally 9th grade rolled around and this was the home stretch:  four to go.  How in the hell four years could seem to pass so slowly is beyond my comprehension.  (Contrast this with the last four which seem to have flown by in an instant.)  High school was like a lifetime within a lifetime.  

Somewhere in that mix was a realization that I was on the verge of becoming an adult.  Thoughts of leaving home and starting a new life were forming.  Choices of college and fields of study were contemplated as well as career options.

Packing most of my treasured belongings into a car and heading off to college was probably another lifetime.  Four years to be devoted to advanced study seemed as eternal as those four years of high school.  But there was a big difference:  I was now in control of the situation.  I could take those four years and stretch them out to eight if I wanted.  And apparently I wanted.

Fields of study were embarked upon and discarded, swapped out for something else, and discarded again.  But hey, if you stay at it long enough you'll eventually get a degree in something just by default.

I was only 22 years old on December 30, 1982 when I received the phone call from a nurse at the hospital informing me that I needed to come to the hospital.  It never crossed my mind to ask why.  I knew.  This was probably the first major lesson in life I would learn.  When I walked into the hospital room there was this moment of intense clarity that only one other living person was in the room.  That was my mother.  The pile of flesh on the bed was nothing but a corpse.  There was no life in it.  And I will never forget that odd vibe in the room.  The man who had been my father was no more.  That lifeless body was not him.  I didn't know where he was but he wasn't there.

It is startling to me to reflect back on that day as if it happened a month ago and realize just how much time has passed.   I had only recently become the owner of a SONY Betamax video player/recorder.  In order to use it I had to go to a store and buy or rent media.  It would never have occurred to me to take a picture of it to share with friends because that would involve sending off the film to be developed, and then sending photos through the mail to whomever I wanted to see it.  Yeah.

I was very much aware that the future held great promise and that technology would unfold in marvelous ways.  There was already talk about these things called compact discs which would replace vinyl platters and turntables.  (And much, much later there would be talk of replacing compact discs with vinyl records and turntables, but I digress.)

The year 2000 was something I pondered a lot ever since I was a child.  It was thrilling to fantasize about that futuristic world even though I was always aware that I would turn 40 that year.  That fact was disturbing.  It meant I'd be old, and probably too old to enjoy the marvels of the time. 

There was a lot going on with me in the decade of the 80s.  Even at 22 I had no idea what I was going to do with my life, what career I would pursue, whether or not I'd ever find love, or how I was going to cope with this persistent homosexuality lurking in my core.  The following summer after my father died I packed my bags and moved to London.  I never gave a thought to my widowed mother or whether she might need me.  I was being called to my next lifetime.

Living alone on another continent with an ocean between me and my past was exactly what I needed.  I came to terms with being gay.  I scored a lot of music on vinyl and compact disc.  I bought my first truly high-fidelity music system at the age of 24 and little did I know I would still find myself thrilled with it at the age of 52.

In 1985 I was back in the US and decided to wrap up this college education thing.  I was still clueless about what I would do with my life but I at least wanted to put a degree in my pocket.  I didn't care what degree it was.  Finally, in the summer of 1987,  I took my last college course in British history and made one of the very few A grades I'd ever earned.  I was done.   In January of 1988 I was handed a diploma.  On with life, whatever that meant.

That was just a bit over six years after my father's body had been placed in the cold ground on December 31, 1982.  That seemed like a lifetime and the future was as blurry as ever.  For the first time in my life there were no guideposts for me, no benchmarks I could reach for, nor were there any job prospects; there was just me and the wide open future.  Little did I know that another lifetime was right around the corner in less than two years.

I moved to Denver for a year and then moved to San Diego in 1990 where, within a few short weeks of my arrival, I'd meet a man and fall in love.  Then I'd move to Los Angeles in search of some kind of job.  That's where I landed in advertising at the ripe old age of thirty.

This is the point where my concept of time took a bizarre turn.  I no longer seemed to have one.  I felt stable with a secure job and a comfortable relationship.  Had I suddenly "arrived?"

Promotions and pay raises came quickly and I was totally focused on my career.  There were some good upheavals along the way:  buying our first home together, getting a cat, and then within a year or so, selling the house, packing everything up and moving to Austin after buying another house. 

All that dread I had about being 40 in the year 2000 suddenly and abruptly became a reality.  It was one thing being 25 and feeling old because I was at the quarter-century mark, and it was quite another being 40.  It was horrendous for me.  And thrown into that mix was a job layoff which would become a decade of instability.  Job number 2 became job number 3, and then numbers 4, 5 and 6.  And then it was 2010...another decade.  And 50.  50.  If there's anything that can make you feel a fondness for 40 it's 50.

And then came job #7 which wasn't an event out of my control.  It was a choice I made.  I'm not sure whether getting laid off from #7 in January 2012 contributed to my current mentality or whether it's just another element in a big pot of steaming soup called life.  And I suppose that 10 months of unemployment in 2012 probably did me a world of good on one level.  It was the longest break in employment I'd ever had since entering advertising in 1997.  It gave me time to think about life.

If my father dying when I was 22 and my realization that life can leave in an instant was a watershed moment for me, then my studies of Eastern philosophy this year were another.  In all my years of life I had never once stopped to think seriously about the source of life.  Where do babies come from?  Not from a stork, of course.   Men and women have sex and if everything is in good working order, a baby happens.  A spark of life came from somewhere...God, the cosmos, maybe life is just a continuous strand and doesn't really spark or emerge suddenly.  But what I had never contemplated before is that it comes from the earth.  What you eat and drink -- and both of those are pulled from the earth in some capacity -- contribute to forming sperm and eggs, just as they are instrumental in growing your bones, muscles, skin, teeth, and hair.  Something that was once alive, maybe a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, went into the formation of sperm and eggs which then formed another life, and all of it pulled from this earth.

And this earth was pulled and formed in a similar manner (and I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but it was considerably longer than 6,000 years ago) by whatever shit was out there drifting around the universe looking for a purpose.  Funny how that happens.

What I find so incredibly frustrating is how I have to stay focused on facts like these to keep from going totally insane about life and death and the crap in between.  I am bitterly angry (and somewhat confused) by how my life has evolved.   I'm not even sure I've been living between 1997 and now.  It just seems like a bunch of shit involving career obsession, what kind of cars to buy, or appliances, gadgets, phones, radios, TVs, pods, pads, computers, wireless mice, sofas, chairs, tables, plants, weather stations, backup drives, cameras, records, CDs, printers, batteries, books, curling stones, shiva lingams, and a fucking shitload of software.

I get frustrated sometimes just looking at people and how they have aged.  It almost seems like some cruel joke.  Sometimes I feel as if I have awakened from a long coma and I simultaneously marvel at the world and curse it. Sometimes it's not even a coma feeling.  I wake up from a nap and I'm not even sure who or where I am.  And then I hear Sheldon snoring in the other room and I'm not sure who he is either even though we have lived together for 20 years.  Is he the same person?  Am I?

 I see photos of people on Facebook -- people I went to school with, or people I've known since I was in my 20s, and I barely recognize them.  Everyone is getting older.  And the older we get the more crap will be thrown at us.  Older people you've known your entire life suddenly start dying off.  Then people your age start dying.  Even a few younger people start dying.  I don't have a clue how I got here or why this is happening.  And that bitter anger serves no purpose either.  I might as well bitch about the weather.  Same difference.

Sometimes I just want to give up.  Sometimes I want to try and recapture two decades which seem lost in a haze of work and devotion to career.  Of course, I can't recapture anything because it's gone.  What's left of it, or what's to come, depending on how you view it, is here.  This is it.  It should be beautiful and right now I harbor contempt for it.

Somewhere along the way I lost my awe of life.  I find myself increasingly disgusted by it.  I'm saddened that we can't stop all the senseless killing and take a break just long enough to come together and have a discussion about how magnificent our world could be if we could just work on our potential.

How, in a life so short, can people be so hung up on themselves, clinging to outdated beliefs, stockpiling weapons, being hell-bent against helping out anyone less fortunate, spending lavishly on shit they won't care about later, or eventually won't be alive to enjoy?

Most people act as if they have no clue how fleeting life is.  They are absorbed in power games and greed.  Are they really the ones in denial or is it just me who is fucked up?

For 2013 I need to figure some of this out and recapture the missing awe.  Because in the time it took me to get a college degree I'll be the same age my father was when he ceased aging.  I don't want to be bitter about it, and I sure as hell don't want to be looking back at 52 wishing I was here again.  That ain't happening.

I try really hard sometimes to be a good Buddhist and live in the moment and only in the moment.  I just can't sustain it for more than...a... moment.  It pisses me off knowing that I could lose track of time again and another 25 years will pass and I'll be 77, if I'm so lucky.

One of the things that grounds me is knowing that in 50 or 60 short years, everyone reading this will either be a dead and distant memory, or about to start banging on death's door.  The latter are the lucky ones who are 20 now and think they are immortal. 

Perhaps this is just a mid-life crisis.  I wouldn't know for sure because I've never had one.  If it is, why can't I be normal about it and just go buy a fucking Porsche?

OK, so who wants a cocktail?  Happy New Year!

















Tuesday, August 07, 2012

The Return of Vacuum Tube Fidelity

Back in 1984 (!) I purchased this amp and preamp combo in a Tottenham Court Road audio shop in London. It was really a top-of-the-line deal back then and I absolutely could not afford to be buying stuff like this. (That's why I used the AMEX card!) I think the pair were around US$1,700 and I added a comparable pair of speakers which tacked on another $1,500. So it was a major purchase for me and one that I hoped would last a lifetime. (OK, being 24 years of age I really had no concept of what lifetime meant, but whatever.)

Sometime in the very early 1990s in Los Angeles, there was a rather nasty electrical storm at our apartment and I was not using a surge protector (ahhh, stupid youth!) and one of the units got a part burned out. Rather than having it repaired (which I assumed would cost a fortune) and knowing I didn't have the financial means at the time to replace it with equal quality, I opted to store it in the closet and buy something affordable which was an all-in-one SONY product for about $300. Since we were living in an apartment and I didn't feel I could blast music anyway, it didn't seem to matter.

Twelve years passed until I finally convinced myself to start building up a top-notch audio system again. I splurged on a new English-made integrated amplifier and turntable. The total cost for both was about the same as what I paid for the amp/preamp combo twenty years earlier. I had a hunch the quality wouldn't be quite the same given that fact. I also didn't feel like I could splurge on high-end speakers yet, so the only listening I did was with headphones.

Around 2006, a work colleague told me her husband had a friend who could probably repair my speakers and burned out amp. Even though I no longer needed them, he thought it would be very affordable to fix. I shipped two speakers, the amp and preamp out to California and waited a few months. The verdict was that the speakers could not be repaired but he was able to repair the other units. And it only cost around $300.

When the amp equipment arrived, I placed it back in storage. There's not even a headphone output and I still had no speakers! So the status quo carried on until around 2009 or 2010 when I FINALLY decided on a pair of high-end speakers. When they arrived I was eager to test my old 1984 vintage equipment. After getting everything set up there was no sound coming out. I thought that was odd considering the guy who repaired it told me it "sounds great." And why would he ship something back to me that really wasn't working. I convinced myself some part had jiggled loose during shipping, so I put it back in the closet. It didn't matter really. My "new" (by 2010 the amp was 7-years-old) amp sounded great after finally being wired up to speakers!

Awhile back I started hearing static in my system and sometimes one of the two channels of audio would drop out. Correcting it only requires a tap on the input selection knob on the amp but it is still rather annoying. Sometimes I have to do that 2 or 3 times each evening. I've been rather stressed because I will have to box this up and ship it somewhere to be fixed. Apparently it's a common problem as I learned from internet research. I could live for a couple of weeks with playing television audio through the tinny little speakers on the TV, but I wasn't sure I could live without music options.

This morning I decided to drag out the 1984 equipment, hook it up, and just be certain it really wasn't working. Guess what? It DOES work! Apparently when I tested it before I did something wrong. So I've spent the better part of this day hooking everything up to it and listening to various things on vinyl and CD. At one point you would have thought Elvis Costello's wife (that's Diana Krall and I am just assuming they are still married) was banging away on a piano in my living room while crooning about having her grape peeled.

Vacuum tubes, baby!!

Yeah! OK, if you want me to be brutally honest, I'm not sure there's a helluva lot of difference between this old stuff and the amp I bought in 2003. If I could do a real side-by-side comparison it's entirely possible I'd detect differences between the two such as that proverbial "warmer & richer" sound from the vacuum tube amp. But since I'd have to unplug and replug a device and unplug and replug speakers to compare, I am just not sure I'm all that bothered to know. They both sound incredible.

There are so many variables to consider.  Even proper speaker placement can make a big difference.  I repositioned my speakers slightly while testing out the old amp and that made quite an improvement in the sound!

Maybe after a couple of weeks with the old amp while the new one is being repaired I'll notice a step down once I get the repaired amp returned to me. I am just thankful I went ahead and got that old unit repaired so I won't have to be music-less for however long it takes to get the newer amp repaired.   It's going to be fun spending some quality time again with this old friend from 1984.


1984 amp and preamp.

Back view of preamp.

You may call me a geek now. And I'm sure some of you who have your music in the "cloud" and listen thru ear buds are wondering what the hell is wrong with me.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

The Great Constitution of the United States of America

Some of this hasn't even taken effect. In fact it's steadily going the opposite direction. Read it. I'll be back with some thoughts.