What I'm Saying is Eleven

24 July 15

When I lived up in rural Oregon back in the eighties, I lived in the middle of nowhere. That’s not strictly true. You had to drive a half hour and then you would find the middle of nowhere. Popular culture was a rumor. One of the only ways for me to get music to listen to that wasn’t adult contemporary AM junk was to tune in a local student-run radio station, which was right at the edge of reception. Overnight, the usually deadly dull station would let volunteers run it and they would broadcast the good stuff.

Me and my friends would hook our radios up to tape recorders, get a super-long cassette and then record it overnight and then listen to it in the morning when we woke up. Sometimes you could even get half the cassette filed as it faded in and out. One day, one of our friends came in with a bizarre recording of something that had Russia, call-in radio, and strange references to time zones. Oddly, it had no music.

We were totally obsessed with it, and listened to it over and over. Amongst my friends, we can fully communicate with each other using only terms from that track and know exactly what we mean. A year later, when I was on my own in college, I made several trips to record stores to try and find this recording – but it wasn’t easy, as we had no idea who made it or what the title was. Eventually, after four or five dedicated trips, combing through racks and racks of vinyl, I finally got it. I was ecstatic. It was actually one of the most fulfilling moments of my life to find a needle in a musical haystack.

That song was Time Zones by Negativland from the album Escape From Noise

Six years later, I’d find myself moving to California and trying to desperately find a place to live. I ran it down to the last second and found a tiny apartment that I still live in, twenty years later. Out of pure random chance, it happened to be across the street from a radio station where Negativland did a weekly radio show called “Over the Edge.” More accurately, it was a show done by Don Joyce, a principal member of Negativalnd. So over the last several years, I’ve walked by the station and looked for a burnt ochre Chevy Nova in the parking lot, which was Don Joyce’s car, and knew that he was on tonight.

I never did talk to him, as I could not explain my accidental stalker-like presence very easily. As of today, that Chevy Nova will no longer be in the parking lot. At 71, Don Joyce passed away and I’ll never be able to explain to him how much that track he made meant to me, but I think that’s okay. He did something he loved to do and I got to listen to it. That was enough of a relationship.

Please take a minute to explore their records. They are fantastic and unique.

Below is a track I put together, editing down the “Time Zones Exchange Project” CD into ten minutes. I did it for my own amusement, as a kind of sequel to “Time Zones.”

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The Day the Whistling Stopped: The Short, Tragic Life of Harriet Zwindel

6 June 15

Most of the time, celebrities are junk. Disposable, discardable, and eminently ignorable. There are sparingly few that have actually achieved anything worth carrying with you through your life.

The shows that David Letterman put on the air marked a real, identifiable, tangible change in the world I knew. Up until that point when it debuted in the early 80’s, as far as my mind had been able to discern, life was run by the bean counters. Creativity was an ingredient in their recipes for success. If you wanted to get anywhere in this world, you had to have one great idea and build upon it to make your fortune.

What the Late Night show taught me was that creativity wasn’t just an ingredient, nor did you have to limit yourself to one idea in your life.

When you watched an episode of Late Night, you hung on to something that was nailed down, because you were going to have an hour where you were fighting against a tidal wave of creativity. On that show, ideas weren’t coming out of a eyedropper – someone had lopped off a fire hydrant in the street and creativity was spraying 75 feet in the air. I remember being grateful for commercial breaks so I could catch my breath.

Creativity was more than an element in a life of toil. You could make a living on creativity. You could get where you wanted to go in your life just on your ideas. If that was what you were good at, and it brought you joy, you could dine on your ideas and survive. That’s what that odd little TV show taught me, and it’s provided the best possible guidance in my life.

David Letterman was just the face of a larger group of people who put his shows together… I don’t know the details. I don’t know what happened behind the curtain. Whatever it was, it changed everything for me and, I suspect, it truly changed the world for a lot of people. For them, and me, that show meant everything.

So even though a lot of people deserve recognition, all I can do is thank David Letterman. Thanks for everything.


Shared Insanity

3 April 12

The real world, as has been noted, is not a very nice place. Most of your life is spent trying to escape it. Ultimately, you will be successful in doing so. In the mean time, you look for pockets of comfort in a swirling uninterpretable maelstrom of indifference and malice.

The reason for bringing this up and reminding you of something you really spend a lot of time and effort ignoring, is a thought about business and employment. Most jobs are dreadful. Absolutely awful. You’re not so much being compensated for your contribution to a company as you are being bribed to do the awful thing you do.

Part of that is your fault. You took the job you hate to do. Sometimes it’s just a matter of having to earn a living, but the honest truth is that you’re clinging to your job like a scared lemur and won’t let go. There’s no blame for this. If you’re paying attention, most people are in the same situation. It’s just a normal part of our mammalian instincts.

Unfortunately, it’s also being exploited. If people weren’t willing to do awful jobs, would awful jobs exist? If you couldn’t find someone to make a telemarketing sales call to generally piss people off, would a telemarketing industry be a part of our world?

There are awful jobs that do, absolutely, need to be done. Life would be pretty shabby if someone didn’t have to get on their hands an knees and crawl inside a sewer pipe to clean them out. There are lot of like jobs that just need doing and nobody really wants to do them. They should probably be paid more than they do.

A job shouldn’t be viewed as a bribe or a pact with evil. It should be viewed as one of these pockets of comfort. It should be a collection of people who share the same disease you do.

If you think about the “movers and shakers” in this world, you might think that these people who make things or do things or smile pretty are special. They’re not. They are special in a loose interpretation of the word, but really, they’re diseased.

Someone on TV, a celebrity, is diseased. Even the nicest possible, most personable and honest TV person who you can think of, is not right in the head. Because they, for some unknowable reason, say to themselves: I think this world would be a better place if it just had more of me in your life.

But that thought may not be incorrect. After all, they do seem to have gotten this far.

So the disease works for them. Crazy people can get ahead. Crazy works. A crazy person made your cell phone. A crazy person wrote that book you love. Many crazy people get elected to office. Crazy people drive the world forward.

It’s not normal to believe you can make a difference in the world. Most people don’t think that way. Many like to dream about it, but few think of it as a certainty. Some just have this as an intrinsic part of their personality.

Now by crazy, that doesn’t mean they start clucking like a rooster or wear their shoes on their hands. Just some part of their mind is a little off. Everyone is a little nuts in some part of their mind. Face it, there’s some part of your brain you’re particularly happy with. As any psychologist would tell you, there’s really no way to fix insanity. You have to manage it. These crazy but successful folks have just found a way to let that insanity guide them.

When deciding what to do with your life, if you do get that chance, that’s what you do. You let your insanity guide you. Your unique ability to make bad decisions is what will save you. That impulsiveness to do really stupid things like jump off a building to see how it would feel should be managed. But that life-long drive to do the dumb thing that every voice inside and outside your mind is nuts – it’s your one true hope.

Do you need to start a business, quit the rat race, stop shaving and move to upper Nevada to do this? No. If six billion people started a business, following their inner voices, that would be a problem for international commerce. Some people’s drive simply tells them to be a Soda Jerk in Ann Arbor. A drive can be bold or modest.

The reason for discussing this subject is that there’s a lot of businesses that get this wrong. Businesses will exploit an employee by keeping them clutching to their fur.

A good business is shared insanity. A collection of people who all have that strange drive to do something. Maybe they all have the same drive. Maybe they just have interlocking drives that work well as a part of a puzzle. Whatever the arrangement, businesses that aren’t cognizant of this element of their existence are dreadful, awful places to spend your life.

The first person they hire who is “just working there” is the one who will screw it up. They’re the one who hires more people along their own lines of thinking. The line of thinking that a job is a means to an end. Their goals are vacation time and perks. They want to get it over with. Drinks at T.G.I. Fridays.

It’s the places that share the insanity of doing what they do that need to be prized and sought after. Places like that are soft spots of comfort that can make you feel a lot better about yourself, before you get shown the door. Your one shot at being alive is winding down right now, and it’s probably best to use it the way you feel you absolutely have to.

Another observation: only the insane die happy.