Unhinged late summer miscellany (transcript)

Published September 3rd, 2016

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Hello, babies! Welcome, welcome, welcome to the velvet pantry, the tuck and roll phone booth, the single seat waiting room draped in satin and freshwater pearls. Sit down, make yourself comfortable. There are a large number of angry bees right around the corner, so stay close. It could be a hive, I’m afraid to look. Settle in. Wind down, Wonder Woman. It’s safe and warm here. That fragrance? It’s jasmine, rose hips and amniotic fluid, just like you requested at the last meeting. There you go. Once everyone is comfy we can begin. I’ll wait. That’s kind of creepy, isn’t it. It’s like the beginning of that Prince song – “Wendy? Yes Lisa. Is the water warm enough? Yes Lisa. Shall we begin?” What was that? Computer Blue. Ah, who could forget.

You know, I was settling in to record this and I figured I’d have a beer while I was doing it, so I opened the beer, turned on my lights, and reached over to turn the recorder on and promptly knocked over the beer bottle. Which I had set down on the small table that holds all the recording gear. And can you guess what happened next? If you guessed that I got icy cold beer all over my recorder, mixer, preamp, vintage DBX compressor, headphone amplifier, headphones, some random expensive microphone cables and Hosho McCreesh’s book of drunken poems (which has been on this table for months because I’m supposed to record a few of the poems in it), congratulations! You guessed correctly. So that happened, and the post idiot cleanup happened. Everything still smells like beer, but if this equipment can’t take a little beer, fuck it. What’s funny is this isn’t the first time I’ve spilled a drink on this table. One day I’ll learn not to put liquid on there. One day. For now there’s another beer on there. I figure the law of averages is on my side tonight and I can’t knock over two bottles. We’ll see.

Did you hear? The very last VCR ever made was manufactured last month. What’s that, you say? You thought the last VCR was manufactured 10 or 20 years ago? Well, it might have seemed like that, but apparently people bought almost a million new VCRs last year, but now the VCR era has come to an official end. Do you think that 20 years from now a bunch of kids with long beards will be selling VCRs and old VHS tapes in their record stores? Somehow I don’t think so. Some old technology just won’t be brought back, no matter how much nostalgia you’re full of, and I think the VCR is one of those old technologies. You probably couldn’t even plug a VCR into the TV you have right now. Not to mention that in 20 years the kids probably won’t have long beards anymore. Maybe they’ll go further back in time and start wearing pilgrim clothes. “Hey! Easy, you’re stepping on my big shoe buckle, homie!”

Well, saying “the last VCR” is kind of misleading, because the things they sold almost a million of last year weren’t VCRs like you remember, they were VHS/DVD combo machines. About four years ago I tried to buy a regular old garden variety VCR, because I got ahold of this converter that would burn DVDs from any RCA input – which is those three wires, the red, white and yellow ones that used to dangle from the back of your VCR, those are RCA cables – so I had the converter and a bunch of VHS tapes, but the only old VCR I had lying around gave up after dubbing two or three tapes. It done died dead and I figured, no big deal, I’ll just go buy a crappy new VHS machine…they must be like $50 these days. But I couldn’t find one anywhere. Eventually I found one of the VHS/DVD combo thing, and used that. I still have it, though I’m not really sure why. But it was weird, that search for a VCR. Or not so much the search, but the fact that the VCR had just kind of disappeared when I wasn’t looking.

Not unexpected I suppose, but yeah, weird. Something that was so common such a short time ago, now it doesn’t exist. Like a lot of things. Or, you know, everything from the 1980s. But we don’t usually lose things as quickly as we lost the VCR, so it just seemed odd, you know? I mean, Sony only stopped making Beta tapes in March of this year. Can you imagine? Where the hell did you even buy those tapes? I think what all of this really tells us is there’s a whole world out there, where people use technology that we think is obsolete. Well, for as long as they can anyway. So dig out your old VCR, play a tape in memory of the format, then throw the thing in the garbage, since that’s where it belongs. Terrible technology. I mean, miraculous at the time, in the late 70s or early 80s. Just incredible and wonderful. But still, crappy technology. If you don’t believe me, go watch a VHS or Beta video tape. On an old, square TV. Good luck.

I just dubbed a couple of movies from VHS tapes to DVDs – because the movies aren’t available on DVD – and it’s kind of shocking to see what we used to accept as high-tech. I mean, I had VCRs that cost $600, back in the 80s and 90s. Probably even more than that. And the early ones were twice that price. But the tapes look like some 10th generation pixilated jpg or gif that you downloaded on your old Nokia flip phone. That’s how you say it, by the way: GIF. There’s no controversy over that. Anyone who says JIF is simply wrong. Glad we could clear that up. It’s important to focus on issues and themes that carry a lot of weight, that are crucially important to our times. Like VCRs and GIFs.

Old technology dies for a reason. The reason isn’t always that they technology is bad. Look at Polaroid pictures. They had come pretty far. That Spectra film – you could make some good pictures with that, but they stopped making it because digital cameras came along and people said, “Fuck you, Polaroid! I ain’t paying you a dollar a picture anymore! I can take 400,000 pictures for free!” And music CDs. CDs are going away, they keep telling me. All evidence seems to contradict that claim, but people like to say it. Everyone wants to download everything, they don’t want shelves full of useless plastic cluttering up their spiffy lofts and post and beam farmhouses.

Me? I’m shopping for a good photo printer, because I want to start making archival prints of digital photos. I have 15 years of digital photos, and every time I move them or back them up or do whatever you have to do to move forward, to progress, I know I lose some. I can go into a box or photo album and pull out 50, 60, 100 year old pictures, but I know for an absolute and incontrovertible fact that my digital photos from 2003 will not exist in 2053. They probably won’t exist in 2023. That’s why I want to get some of them down onto paper. And that’s why I still buy CDs too. Lots of them. Because if I find myself out in a little desert shack in 20 years with no Internet and no computers – ooh, I got kind of excited just saying that – but if I find myself out there, I’ll still have all these plastic circles, and I’ll still have a machine – or a little group of machines – that can get sound out of them.

I don’t know. I don’t know why I worry about the future, there is no future, there’s only now, this moment that you and I are having together, and there’s no music playing. I don’t hear any music anyway. Maybe you do. But I do buy things, accumulate things, for some “future,” that may or may not come to pass. I have a box here, a CD release, it’s 170 CDs, every one of Mozart’s works. From K1 to K600-something. The K numbers are catalog numbers, from a chronological list of Mozart’s work that was compiled by a guy named Ludwig von Köchel – I’m not exactly sure that’s how you say that last name, it has an umlaut over the ‘o’ which I think means you say ‘er,’ but try to remember his name because what he did was pretty impressive.

Ludwig first published his list or catalog or whatever you want to call it, in 1863. Now, Mozart died in 1791, so what Ludwig did was catalog someone’s life’s work that had started more than a hundred years earlier. You might be doing some math in your head and thinking, “Well, okay, so that would be like me cataloging someone’s work that was made from 1915 or so to 1945 – big deal? What’s so great about that?” No. No it wouldn’t be like that. Because there are a lot more things to help you now, to make it easier to get back a hundred years in time than there were in old Ludwig’s time. Von Köchel must have been a hell of a researcher though, because he succeeded where others had failed or given up. You might also be thinking, “Who the hell even knows if von Köchel got it all, or even got it right?”

The truth is he didn’t get it all or get it all right. Others have come along and improved on his list, and more Mozart works have been found, stuff Ludwig didn’t know about. But Ludwig planted that flag in a specific spot and time and said, “Here is where we start, this is what we know,” and someone has to do that or things never get done. It’s like the never ending task of trying to catalog Bukowski’s work in the Bukowski database. He’s been dead for more than 20 years, you’d think everything he wrote would have to be known by now. I mean, this stuff wasn’t written or published that long ago. But newly discovered work or newly discovered appearances of known works surface all the time. If it’s that difficult to gather someone’s work, someone who was still alive and writing 25 years ago, how hard must it have been to gather shit from the 1700s? I can’t even imagine.

Hmm, but my point was – my point was I’m not, in my life as it exists right now, going to listen to all 170 of those Mozart CDs. But every time I walk past the wall of CDs I have here and see that red box sitting there on the shelf I think, “Well, one day. Out in the desert. I’ll be glad I have those. I’ll listen to one of those every day.” That’s what I think when I look at the box now. Which is probably not normal. Or not smart or healthy or reasonable. It can’t be. Because like I already said, there is no future. So maybe the Mozart CDs don’t even really exist. Ha. But there’s another curse that CDs have afflicted me with, and that’s the idea that I have to get something when I see it, buy it right away, the CD. I have to amass these things, because they go out of print so quickly now.

What happens is I often find out that something is on CD that I’ve always wanted to have on CD, or always wanted to hear, period, or whatever. Usually something older, not new music. And I think, well, that’s great, let me go buy that, but it’s not available anymore because it was only made once in 2007 or something, and there were only a thousand pressed and I didn’t get the memo. So now if I want it I have to pay some schmoe on eBay or discogs or Amazon $75 for a copy, or $150 or whatever people think they should charge just because something is out of print. And I really like music, but not enough to pay $150 for a CD. If I had a billion dollars in my PayPal account I wouldn’t pay you $150 for that CD that’s worth $15. I just can’t.

So what do I do? I wait and watch until I can grab one off someone who’s reasonable, or someone who doesn’t know they’re supposed to be wildly inflating the actual value of the thing, just because the thing isn’t easy to get. And that usually works. But like I said, the side effect that whole rigmarole has on me is to make me feel like every CD purchase is some kind of god damned emergency. And I have to buy it NOW, even if I don’t intend to listen to it very often. Because it’s AVAILABLE now, and if I do want to listen to it in 10 years or 30 years, well, it won’t be available then, will it. Is that too much? Have I told you too many details about one of my many psychoses? Don’t worry. I’ve got an endless supply of them. Of weirdness. You thought I had it together, didn’t you? Thought I had it all worked out. Oh, you didn’t? Okay.

And really, as far as those pictures go, how bad would it be if all of our digital pictures disappeared? Sometimes I look at an old picture and think, wow, but it has to be really old, or a picture of me when I was young and pliable. So I can look at it and think, “Who is that?” Or like when you look at an old picture of Los Angeles in 1896 or New York city in 1905, and the pictures aren’t even special, they aren’t even good photographs, but because they’re so old, everything in them is gone or antiquated, so they’re fascinating. But I think we could lose 99% of our existing digital pictures there would still be enough pictures floating around a hundred years from now to amaze someone. I don’t think we have to worry about that.

I had a photography teacher in high school who always told me to take pictures of things that I thought might be boring or not deserving of a picture. Because remember, you only had so many frames on a roll of film back then. And only so many rolls of film. And back then I developed my own film and made my own prints, so it was quite an elaborate and ridiculous process to get one picture. So most of the time I would be really careful with that film, or treat every picture like it was precious, like whatever I was pressing that shutter button down for better be important. But this teacher, this hippie teaching a bunch of loser kids photography in a St. Paul high school in the 1970s, he was kind of a genius, because he said things like, “Take pictures of your bedroom,” and as stupid as that sounded to me as a teenager, those old pictures of your bedroom or the street you grew up on are fascinating when you look at them a couple decades later.

Or I guess they could be. I took what he said to heart and shot a whole roll of picture of my bedroom when I was 15 or 16 years old. I didn’t develop the film right away because, well, I lived in that bedroom, why develop the film. But I held on to that exposed roll of film. It came out here to California with me when I was 24, it survived half a dozen moves, and then finally, at some time in the early 90s, I was living in Redondo Beach and I was there in that house for a while and had space in the garage so I thought, “I should build a darkroom again,” and I did.

The processes for developing film and photos isn’t terribly complicated. I mean, it’s an art form, so there are a million ways to go about the simple things, but the basics of it – there’s not much to it. But that doesn’t mean you don’t need a hundred pieces of equipment and chemicals and paper and a room no light can get into, etc., etc. In other words, setting up a darkroom was a drag, but I didn’t have anything else to do, so what the hell. I trotted off to the camera/darkroom store – do those even exist anymore? – well, I went there and gathered up the necessary mountain of equipment and supplies. I set it all up, over the course of a couple weeks, and I was ready to go, ready to develop my first roll of film in, what – probably 15 or 20 years? So I went and found that roll of film from my bedroom, threw it into the changing bag with a reel and a film can and I was off.

It was like riding a bike. Once I got my hands into that changing bag the process for getting the film off the spool and onto the developing reel came right back to me. Once the film was in the developing can I took it out to the garage where I’d mixed up the developing chemicals and had everything set up, timers, a rinsing thingie in the sink, I was ready, man. Poured in the developer, tapped the edge of the can to dislodge any bubbles from the surface of the film, gently agitated the can by hand…oh, I had that shit down, all of my technique came back to me, I was the master photographer in his element, man. I poured out the developer and reached for the stop bath, but – somehow I’d overlooked actually mixing the stop bath. All I had was the concentrated chemical that you made the stop bath from.

Here’s the thing though, after you pour the developer out of the film can, the film continues to develop in there, until you pour in the stop bath. Now you see why it’s called stop bath. It stops the development. So it isn’t like I could say, “Oh, bother, now I have to go mix some stop bath!” No. No time for that. So what did I do? I poured the concentrated stop bath into the film can. You gotta do what you gotta do, right? Well, don’t ever do that. I continued on with the development, dumping out the super concentrated stop bath, pouring in the fixer, rinsing the film, all of that, then I pulled the film off the reel and held it up to the window and it was all baked. Like the film was opaque. Except for one little corner of the first frame.

On that enticing, sad little corner of the film I could see a tiny little bit of the guitar I had when I was 16. It was there leaning against my dresser. You know, the little corner of it anyway. It would have been a lot better if the entire film had been opaque and I hadn’t seen that corner of that frame. Because seeing that gave me an idea of what else could have been on there, a glimpse of the possibilities, of how great it would have been to step into my 16 year old environment for a while. After so many years I wasn’t even sure that was the bedroom film, but seeing that corner confirmed that it was. Standing there in front of that sink holding the wet film up and looking at that corner my heart sank for a minute, but then I just thought, well, I fucked that up. And that was that. What else could I do?

So yeah. If I lose my digital pictures from 15 years ago I’m not going to cry, but I also don’t want to be sitting here fully aware of the certainty that I will lose them and not do something to save some of them. Hence the printing of the photos. The ceremonial printing of the dumb pictures. For the future. For my future or the future generations who don’t care about me. For both. Really though, the world won’t care. We aren’t doing anything cool now anyway. What are most of our pictures? Food? Selfies? The future doesn’t need those. “Oh! Look at how they prepared mashed potatoes in the 20th century! Fascinating!” No. We don’t need that now or in the future.

Speaking of a horrible, distopian future – or something like that – what’s all this hubub in the news over “trigger warnings”? I haven’t read any of the articles because I don’t want to know. I don’t want to know about the ridiculous things that we think are worth fighting for these days. “Let’s take a stand that no one’s feelings should be hurt! No one should ever be uncomfortable!” How brave of you. I hope you didn’t spill too much blood over that important human right. I’m not saying we should be unfeeling or unaware of someone’s specific feelings about some specific thing. If you tell me, “Okay, we’re going over to talk to Bob, but listen, he burned down a village full of women and children in Vietnam, and it fucked him up so he don’t like to talk about the war,” I get that. I won’t say ‘Vietnam’ to Bob. I won’t purposely bum him out.

And I understand that a lot of horrible things can happen to people in this world, and sometimes when those horrible things happen to you, you don’t necessarily want to talk about them or be reminded on them. But one of the worst things the Internet has spawned is the modern lynch mob. The self-important, self-centered “activists” – I can’t put that word in enough quotes – who pile on to anyone who has been deemed to have misspoken. Anyone who has stepped on their virtual toes by having the gall to say something or express an opinion that differs from the mob’s. Anyone or anything that is not “correct” in their definition of correctness. All those mobs do is stamp down expression, they make people afraid to say anything – potentially offensive or not – because they’re afraid of bringing the wrath of the mob down on them. Which the mob will never recognize or care about and will never see the cruel irony of.

The Internet is a horrible place for discourse or discussion anyway, we all know that. It’s impossible to avoid idiots on the Internet, so the whole thing is a losing proposition. And why is it impossible to avoid idiots? Because they have the same right that you do to get themselves onto the Internet and say what they think. Hooray! But that’s the price you pay for your freedom to say what you think. Anyway, if you’re so fragile or damaged that reading certain words can send you careening over a cliff, then maybe – hear me out here – just maybe that’s your problem, and mot mine? Just putting that possibility out there. I’m sorry you’re in that position. I really am. Just not sorry enough to change the entire world to ensure your comfort. You know, just so we understand each other. You’re behaving like an infant, okay? Knock it off.

I really reject the idea that no one should ever see or hear or smell anything that is disturbing to them. Warning: this program contains scenes which some viewers may find disturbing…so what? What’s wrong with being disturbed? Sometimes being disturbed is the best thing you can be. I find most of the things people do every day to be disturbing. For me, there would have to be a trigger warning on everything:
Warning: the person you are about to encounter is wearing an oversized T-shirt bearing a gigantic logo and brand name!
Warning: the person you are about to encounter has tragically stupid facial hair!
Warning: the person you are about to encounter drenches themselves in cheap cologne or perfume that will cling to you for the rest of the day!
Warning: the person you are about to encounter is totally fine with picking their nose and wiping the boogers on their pants while they carry on a conversation with you, after which they will want to shake your hand!
It would go on forever, I tell ya. The warnings.

But that’s my problem, and I understand that. If I can understand it, so can you. You’re just as great as I am. Or just as stupid. I respect you, that’s why I’m telling you to stop behaving like a child with a rare disease who is allergic to air or sunshine or potato chips. Stop putting yourself into a bubble that you made. Come out and play. You might skin your knee, I’m not going to lie. And you might get a bloody nose once in a while. That’s just part of being in the world. Embrace it and carry on. Thank you, that is all. Well, it’s not “all” all. I’m not ready to leave you yet. Thought you were getting off easy, didn’t you? Sorry, no such luck.

Yeah, we’ve created so many new ways to express our many psychoses and bits of weirdness. I never saw or read anything about “trigger warnings” before the Internet. Or even in the early days of the Internet. We seem to create a lot of new stuff these days. Much of it completely unnecessary or absurd or “stupid,” as the kids might say. Like knolling. That’s: k n o l l i n g. The history of the term isn’t important, but it’s a recent thing in our history. And you’ve seen it. You’ve seen at least one of these pictures – probably a lot more than one – of these pictures of things arranged in a neat square or rectangle, and every item in the picture is parallel or at 90 degree angles. If you didn’t know what the hell that was, well, it’s knolling. Don’t you feel better now that you know it has a name?

Knolling can be traced back to our friends in the design world. Or our friends in the modern design world, I should say, since computers and the Internet have made everyone a designer. Just like everyone is a DJ now. We were all DJs when I was a kid too, since we all had record players. We didn’t call ourselves DJs though, we just said we were playing records. But now that everyone is a designer, we have navel-gazing shit like knolling. But just like DJing, we’ve always had knolling too. Only we used to call it “obsessive compulsive disorder.” If you walked into your friend’s garage and all the tools were laid out in a grid with everything perfectly aligned, you’d have said to your friend, “What the hell?” and your friend would have been embarrassed and said, “Yeah, my dad…he’s…we don’t talk about it…”

But now it’s celebrated. It’s pictures of grids of tools, or the crap that you carry around every day, or something mechanical or electronic taken apart with all its parts carefully arranged in a grid and photographed. It’s weird, if I can be so bold as to suggest that. It’s a weird way to spend your time here on earth. You know you’re going to die one day, right? I don’t know you, but I’m pretty sure while you’re experiencing your last moments of life you’re going to be really pissed that you wasted hours arranging shit and photographing it. For what? For who? Your kids? Posterity? For fun? I’m calling bullshit on that, because there’s nothing fun about painstakingly arranging a bunch of shit and photographing it.

And it isn’t easy to photograph a square. You have to go to great lengths to photograph a perfect square. You have to get the camera up above it so all the sides look equal. You have to get the camera up there, or a mirror – something, you can’t just pull the crappy phone camera out of your ass pocket and take these pictures. That’s not how it works. If you did that the squares would be distorted and that would defeat the purpose of the knolling. Whatever purpose that is. I mean I know what the purpose is, it’s to show the world your stuff. Look: it’s a big square of camping gear. I like camping. I’m healthy and outdoorsy. Or, here’s a big square full of used moleskine notebooks or high heels or bottle caps. This is who I am. Know my grid, know me. Know my knoll, know me. Knoll me. It’s kind of a selfie for your junk. And since your stuff can’t make duck lips, you arrange it in a very particular way.

I’d say it’s sad but it’s really not. Well, except the lost hours of your life part. It’s no more sad than a lot of things we do now, none of which we’ll do six months or six years from now. They’ll all be gone, like our photographs and our DJ sets and our poetry websites. They’ll all be obsolete if they aren’t just plain gone, which is pretty much the same thing. One day even this Internet that we all exist on now will become obsolete. Hard to imagine, isn’t it. But it will. Just like VHS tapes and floppy disks. It will be replaced by something that’s probably worse. Something that has some sort of control over it. Parental, governmental, some other kind of “mental.”

Then we’ll all sit around saying, “Why’d we get rid of the Internet? It was a pain in the ass, but it was great.” And some kids in whatever city is hip at the time, Boise or Krakow or someplace, will re-create the Internet, only it will suck and be a shadow of its once great self, so they’ll eventually abandon it, like kids abandon everything, and we’ll be back to square one. Which isn’t a bad place to be, square one. Square one is where all the fun is. Where all the discovery happens. Maybe we’ll even discover each other again. Like re-discover the fact that we can sit around a table – with no electronics within 50 feet of us – and still be entertained. Still entertain and amuse each other. I know, you don’t believe it, but it’s true. I’ve seen it. It used to happen all the time. Ask your mom.

Okay, so here we are, on the first Saturday of September, in America, 2016. Alive and well. Alive and living, anyway. Show me what you’ve got. Tell me something good. I’ll be back here on the first Saturday of October to listen. Well, I’ll be talking mainly, not listening, but you understand. You understand me. You get me. You’re the only one, so don’t leave me hanging. Bye.