Posts tagged: Vinyl

Remembering Ian Curtis

By , May 18, 2010

I attended public school until the end of junior high, but once I hit the 9th grade, my parents enrolled me into the nearest Catholic high school. I found myself thrust into a brand new school, populated mainly by children from wealthy families, nearly all of whom had grown up together and gone through the same private school system since preschool. I was a 13-year old kid, already feeling the uncertainty and disorientation that comes with that age and the leap to high school, and I was completely out of my element. I was surrounded by kids from an utterly different background, all of whom were ensconced in long-formed cliques. I had little in common with anyone at the school, and as the school was an hour’s bus ride from my home, I didn’t even have any friends in the area to whom I could turn. I could not have been any more lost or alone.

Had my life been a Hollywood teen film, I would have accidentally befriended a popular and wealthy student who would have been enamored of my lower-class upbringing. After some humorous early false-starts, our friendship would have cemented over some exciting incident, and by the final reel, he would have introduced me into high society and I would have spent my remaining high school years enjoying friendship and popularity. I’d like to think I would have dated a cheerleader. However, as I actually dwell in the real world, I made no such friend. Instead, I drifted from one awkward false start to the next, and didn’t form close bonds with anyone; I was too athletic and tough to be a geek, but too poor and punk rock to be popular. I ended up a loner.

I cut class one day early in the school year, and ended up at a nearby record shop. At the shop, I purchased Unknown Pleasures, Joy Division’s first album. I was mesmerized by its iconic Peter Saville pulsar cover; that somber image summed up my mood so precisely that I bought the record without even being fully aware of who the band were. I carted the record around town with me for the remainder of the day, not quite sure what I had, but hoping it would live up to its promise. How could it not? Those stark, white lines radiating from the all-black background promised something foreboding and otherworldly; that night at home, I was at last able to play the record. From the opening line, I was entranced.

I’ve been waiting for a guide to come and take me by the hand.

I played the record over and over that night; as soon as side B finished I would flip it back over and play it from the beginning. In the voice of Ian Curtis, I had found poetry that spoke directly to my sense of isolation, and thus began a long-lasting fascination with not only the band’s music, but the singer and his life. When I learned shortly thereafter that Ian Curtis had committed suicide, the bond only grew tighter. Perhaps paradoxically, even though his lyrics were so often grim, and spoke of fear, disillusionment, and helplessness, I found something life-affirming in them. This man, who had felt so deeply the sorrows about which had sung that he had killed himself, somehow came to represent hopefulness to me. My fascination with Curtis and his music lasted well past my awkward adolescent years; just look at the title I chose for my blog.

Today marks the 30th anniversary of Ian Curtis’ death. In the three decades since his departure, his influence and legend have only grown. Joy Division, a band virtually unknown when I was in high school, today enjoys huge popularity. Movies have been made about the band, and about Curtis’ life, and it would not be a stretch to say that the band today enjoys more popularity than ever before. Yet to me, Ian Curtis and Joy Division remain a very personal facet of my life. When I had nothing of substance, Ian Curtis gave me something of depth in which to immerse myself, and offered a beacon of hopeful light at the end of what had once been Stygian emptiness.

Oh, I’ve walked on water, run through fire
Can’t seem to feel it anymore
It was me, waiting for me
Hoping for something more
Me, seeing me this time, hoping for something else.

Ian Curtis
Ian Curtis (15 July 1956 – 18 May 1980)
Love Will Tear Us Apart

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Music Saves

By , June 28, 2005

I’ve been through many times when I thought I might lose it
The only thing to save me has always been music

– Mike D

At one point in time it would have been difficult to imagine a Beastie Boy lyric being used as the epigram for any bit of serious prose, but there you have it. Today I turn to Michael Diamond for inspiration. The above couplet resonated with me when I first heard it, and it has never rang true so clearly as of late. A while back, a groom’s request of Fifty Cent prompted me to write in semi-jest about the power of music, but in all seriousness– music has always been integral to my life (which I’m sure it is to many people’s lives), and a never-ending source of solace when circumstance deals an unexpected or difficult blow.

I think it was also Mike D. who rapped:

Life ain’t nothing but a good groove
A good mix tape can put you in the right mood

Of course, mix tapes gave way to the mix CD, which has in turn been replaced by the iTunes playlist. I’ve concocted a fair number of playlists since the advent of the mp3, and lately I’ve put together a new one. At the risk of appearing old-fashioned, I will confess that mp3 playlists always feel more than a little bit sterile to me. I’m not a hardcore vinyl purist, but I still prefer whenever possible to listen to an actual record. I often consider selling my vinyl collection– after all, most of it is languishing in storage– but I reconsider whenever I play one. A song feels so much more alive on vinyl, whether it be from the physical act of dropping the needle into the groove, or the faint crackle of dust in the background… Tangent aside, I’m here to talk playlists. The title of this one says it all– Melancholy. And before anyone chimes in with a comment advising me to avoid playing sad songs when I’m sad, let me offer this bit of, well, for a lack of a better word, wisdom.

There seems to be two general ways that one can deal with great sorrow– either hide from it, i.e. bottle it up, push it deep down inside of yourself, and try to forget about it, or embrace it and let it take you places within your psyche that you would otherwise never dare go. I am a big proponent of the latter method. It has always been the saddest times in my life that have taught me who I really am, and allowed me opportunities to improve myself. Often it seems that only by listening to my darkest emotions and visiting the farthest reaches of my soul can I get to the bottom of what ails me. Sure, my method is not a happy one. You’ll visit dark places, and you’ll suffer, but when you emerge from mourning, you are a better person for the experience. Conversely, I think the people who ignore or bury the sad feelings find those feelings cropping up to haunt them later in life, usually in altered, unrecognizable forms which take years of therapy to identify and conquer.

What does this all mean? It means that lately I’ve been listening to a lot of sad songs. This trend has not been the result of a conscious effort; I haven’t trawled my iTunes folders on a quest for unhappiness. It was more of an organic process, but the resultant playlist, which I’ll share below, definitely has a consistent vibe to it, hence the aforementioned name I assigned to it. For me, music and poetry have long been my main access points to my inner self. I frequently find myself aware of an attitude or emotion I didn’t realize I had, or at least had been unable to crystallize into coherent thought, after hearing a similar sentiment expressed in a song.

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My Living Room

By , December 8, 2004

I’ll show that Yale just who has an ugly apartment. Prepare yourselves for a virtual tour of my humble home. Today I give you, my readers, the opportunity to decide if an ugly blanket belongs in my pad.

I think the perfect place to begin is with my couch. Doesn’t it make you want to curl up with a nice book, or a martini? Or me?

Tiger Print Couch

Here we see what was once a plain, simple bookshelf. A nice coating of faux leopard fur jazzed it up nicely, don’t you think? Couple that with the faux giraffe drapery hanging from a bamboo pole and you have yourself a swanky soiree waiting to happen.

Giraffe Print Curtain

Here is a close-up of my bar. Cocktails, anyone?

Tiki Bar

Below the bar you can see my collection of lounge records and vintage board games. I’m always up for a game of Risk. You should totally come by some time and play me.

Vintage Boardgames

Let’s move along to the corner of the room now. Very lovely, isn’t it? Since this picture was taken the CD case has been moved across the room, but it looks lovely here, no?

Tiki Themed CD Shelf

Here are some DVDs.

Tiki Themed DVD Shelf

This next little beauty I built myself, from scratch. Just wood, screws, hinges and so forth. And of course, faux fur. Is there *anything* that doesn’t look better when draped in fur???

Fur Coated Entertainment Center

Did I mention that I hot-glued faux zebra to the television? Well, actually Fizzy did. Turns out she is far more adept with a glue gun than am I. She is responsible for most of the actual attachment of fur to the various items. You go, Fizzy!

Zebra Fur Television

The furry TV stand opens up to reveal the stereo, as well as many vintage Tiki coasters, matchbooks, menus, and ads.

Tiki Decorated Entertainment Center Left Side

This is the other side:

Tiki Decorated Entertainment Center Right Side

I am very proud of this next part. I was able to build a sliding tray to hold a turntable! It pulls out so I can put on a record, then slides back in real good like. I done good.

Turntable Shelf

The speakers, too, are covered in leopard fur. Oh, do you see the lovely blue palm frond serving dish? That dates back to the 1950s. I have no idea where those handcuffs came from. Who put those there?

Leopard Print Speakers

Overseeing everything is the great god Tiki.

Tiki God

We had some leftover leopard fur, and that lamp was practically *begging* to join in the fun.

Leopard Print Hanging Lamp

And now a nice shot that gives an overview of the entire living room. It’s that rug that really ties it all together. In the background you can sort of peek into my ’50s diner themed kitchen, but that is a post for another day.

Tiki Living Room

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Just a Perfect Day

By , August 3, 2004

Currently Playing: Lou Reed – Perfect Day

Sunny day + Long Walk + Canopy of trees overhead = visible beams of sunshine

Neapolitan slice at Arinell’s Pizza

Working the N.Y. Times Crossword while eating (sipping?) an affogato at Gelateria Naia.

Paying the extra $1.50 for the cash-strapped couple in front of you in line at Gelateria.

Comic store!

Browsing the used record bins at Amoeba Records.

Playing the saxophone over the din of the Port of Oakland

Pickup game of basketball at the Berkeley RSF.

Dinner and a movie with Fizzy.

Today’s Question: So, like what’s YOUR perfect day?

Interesting tidbit– I met a fellow who was contemplating opening a gelato shop on Fourth St. in Berkeley. He told me the tale of why Mondo Gelato is now called Gelateria Naia. So Mondo Gelato had three shops– Beijing, Vancouver, and Berkeley. The management of the Berkeley store, in true Berkeley fashion, staged a coup and broke free from the parent company. They basically took over the store, closed it, and re-opened under the new name. They had to vary the recipe for each gelato, but otherwise kept things the same. And now it is Gelateria Naia. That is neat and disturbing, all at once.

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Ruining It for Everybody

By , July 8, 2004

MP3 Blogs are all the rage these days. I suppose in a way, with my occasional song blogs, Divisione di Gioia is something of an MP3 Blog, but the people quoted and mentioned in the linked article have taken it to an entirely different level.

I actually know one of their sources, though it has been a few years since we’ve crossed paths. Oliver Wang, a.k.a. O-Dub, used to hang out with me and my crew when we did our radio show back in college, and he’d show up at many of the parties I’d DJ. I mostly remember him as the kid trying to learn about hip hop, who was constantly asking “what song is that? what song is that?” and then jotting down the information we’d give him. It seems to have really paid off– he now markets himself as quite the expert on hip hop and old soul music. And before you read this as some sort of condemnation, or damnation via faint praise, I give him props for making a name for himself, and even more props for being honest– I see in his blog that he credits his mentors and admits to being a late-comer to the hip hop bandwagon. You’re welcome, Oliver.

After reading a bunch of the MP3 Blogs, I remember why I stopped collecting old soul and breakbeat records: it became this fetishist obsession that everyone and their brother was doing, seemingly more to be trendy than for any admiration of the music. When I started collecting records, virtually no one else was really into that style of music, but I loved the stuff; there is a rawness to those records that was nowhere to be found in the polished fare being transmitted over the airwaves at that time (or now). This meant that I could find great records at affordable prices all over the place. When hip hop went from being underground to mainstream music, a sudden interest picked up in the soul and funk records that spawned the genre. It was neat at first, as I suddenly had other people to talk with about the music, but once it reached a sort of critical mass there was this influx of the fetishists, and it all changed for the worse.

It became crappy for a few reasons, the first of which was strictly supply and demand. As people began wanting the same records, they became harder to find, and record sellers began upping their prices. Not only could I no longer find something awesome in the 99 cents super-saver bin, I pretty much couldn’t find it all. And if I did, the seller wanted $100 for the record.

Economics aside, by far the worst byproduct of all was that I had to associate myself with all those nouveau record-geeks. Imagine if something very personal and enjoyable to you suddenly became the trendiest fad among, say, the popped-collar polo shirt preppie and sorority girl set. Unless those are your people (and if so, my apologies for singling them out as especially moronic), you’d be embarrassed to associate yourself with them. And that’s how it became with the “crate digging rare groove beat junkies,” as they began to label themselves.

They all dressed the same, spoke the same, and had the same want lists. Once one of them would find some great new beat, they all had to have it. They produced massive lists of “All the Funky Songs, Ever” and distributed them. Maybe I am an elitist, but I believe in the whole pay-your-dues, old school mentality. I don’t want to know every great breakbeat record. That takes the fun out of discovering them. When I first found The Incredible Bongo Band’s “Apache” or Billy Squier’s “The Big Beat” it was a treat, because I had come across a great track that I knew nothing about. Certainly, other DJs, and some collectors, already must have had those records, but the fact that I’d found the record myself made it fun. Now it’s like collecting stamps. You have this master list of every soul record ever released, and you are supposed to search and search until you find a copy. Boring.

It grew so tiresome, in fact, that eventually I just quit collecting records. The Oliver Wangs of the world had officially sucked all the fun out of it. As he says, now “the whole point is to show off.” To me the point was to find music I liked. Again I should point out– Oliver, pretty okay guy. He is just today’s magufffin, to use what seems to be my new favorite word.

When you like something, sometimes it’s great to find other people who share similar interests. But when that interest becomes something thousands of people are turning to simply because it has become a cool thing to be into, it starts to suck, and when a faddish “scene” develops around it, it sucks even more. There may be a more graceful way to phrase that, but that is basically how I feel. It sucks that a fun hobby was ruined when it became mainstream. I hear people bitching about this all the time with regards to any of a number of once-personal/ now-mainstream interests, and I empathize completely. It does indeed suck.

Today’s Question: Doesn’t that totally suck?

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Los Angeles to Atlanta – Day Three

By , June 20, 2004

It sometime seems that each American city has its own particular vice. Los Angeles got “shallow,” San Francisco got “snobbish,” New York got “rude.” Well, Dallas clearly got “garish.” Words can’t describe the gaudy homes that line the neighborhoods of Plano, a wealthy suburb of Dallas, so I won’t try. Oh hell, sure I will.

My brother lives in the suburb of Plano, and as I drove to visit him I passed one ludicrous house after another, each almost seeming to top the one that came before it. They were all enormous. In Texas, that’s a given; every house was at least 2000 square-feet in size, and those were the modest homes. Some must have topped the 5000 square-foot mark.

I won’t be able to do justice to what I saw in terms of architecture, because anyone reading will assume I’m exaggerating. Victorian-style homes with faux Roman columns sporting a giant fountain in front topped with Spanish tiling? Par de rigueur. It’s as if they want to incorporate every over-the-top style of architecture into one massive estate, then repeat the process for every house on the block. The best, and most honest, description I can give is that the homes look like entrances to Disneyland attractions.

Other than that, Dallas is pretty neat. It is far too large to be explored in a day, but I liked what I saw. I found a great record shop, and bought some CDs. Should we be calling them CD shops? Honestly, I have a hunch records may outlast CDs. MP3s are becoming the standard, but there will always be vinyl collectors. I get the feeling that in ten years time CDs will be somewhat akin to cassettes, while records will still have a following. In any event, for the time I’m sticking to calling them record shops, even if I go there to buy CDs.

Speaking of music, I guess I should continue the trend of reporting what was on rotation in the CD deck during the recent leg of the trip:

The Beach Boys Pet Sounds
Pulp His ‘n’ Hers
Bauhaus In Flat Field
Count Basie Essential Basie: Volume 1
Suede Dog Man Star
Van Morrison Moondance
EPMD Strictly Business

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