Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Spring Fever

Strange day today. Started strange, when I was awoken by my alarm at what I thought was 8 AM, but turned out to be 7, because my clock was running an hour fast. I didn't realize it for about an hour or so. Continued to be strange and then ended strange. Nothing specific, just a feeling.

Is this what Spring brings in? Cold nights and late night mystery labors by crews with klieg lights at the Masonic Home?


Friday, March 27, 2009

Gold Star

Welp, I got me an 'A' in my Algebra class. That's five tests, with scores (respectively) of 100, 100, 95, 86, and 99. In case you can't tell, the subject got progressively more difficult, then much easier. In fact, sections three and four I spent the most cumulative time on (about a month), and I still kind of blatzed the test for section four, which was all about adding and multiplying and dividing polynomial fractions. Lots of factoring of the kind where one accidentally reversed sign can give you an answer that would have your moon mission landing in Akron, if you were an orbital scientist employed by JPL.

Section five, on the other hand, was so easy that I almost lost all confidence, in that 'there's no way that I got that right with no effort' kind of way. Just square roots (radicals) and the quadratic formula. In fact, I took test four on Monday after ten really intensive days on the subject, and had intended to take all this week to really cram section five to make the noon Friday deadline to complete the course. Turns out I already knew it cold, and decided on a whim to scoot over to RCC and take the test after work on Wednesday. My best guess as to why I did so well with this part (apart from square roots just being rote memorization, rather than actual thinking) is that I must have also put in the effort to memorize the quadratic formula a couple of decades ago, and I found it easy enough to access that lost part of my brain and recall it with very little effort (which is the exact amount of effort I like to apply).

Now comes a brief pause in my mathing, just enough time to relax. Then it's back onto Trigonometry, Pre-Calculus and then Calculus. The deadline here is that my father is moving to Whitehorse, Yukon in August, and my Learning Annex Math Course goes with him. So I'll be relaxing the schedule just a little - but then it's on to math of the kind that made me stop taking math as soon as I was allowed in high school. Shudder for me, won't you?


Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Stupid Morning Epiphanies, or, 'The Ironic Shirelles'

I define myself largely as a musician and songwriter. By extension, this means that I regard myself as having refined, informed taste in music. Why, then, do my tastes diverge so very far from what's generally considered the canon of what's good? I mean, it would be one thing if I liked all the critical favorites and then had my proudly open dirty little secret prog love on the side - every music lover has that one thing that they know is impossible to defend, yet they love it without irony. So if my library and pantheon were to consist of the acknowledged greats - a little Graham Parker here, some Patti Smith, Laura Nyro, Radiohead, etc. - I could justify my love of emotionally distant and pointlessly intricate tripe* as a mild eccentricity.

But no. Twenty years after I'm supposed to have moved on to more mature stuff, I still find the greatest listening pleasure to be had in comparing live performances to studio versions of Supper's Ready.

For all of that, my other favorite music is new wave, the explosion of (mostly) ultra-pared-down rock that ruled from 1977 to 1984 or so. It's where punk went to get top 40 action - the love child of disco and garage rock. Many of the artists of new wave took their cues (as had the generation before them) from the black soul and r&b artists of their youth. Talking Heads took more from Al Green than just the one lone cover. Gary Numan polished up the Parliament synth groove so successfully that he ended up being a favorite sample of hip hop producers thirty years later. The Police rode in on the ska/reggae wave that swept through the UK, also with Madness, the English Beat, UB40 and... uh, Eric Clapton?

Anyway, I'd suspect that a lot of the reason I like new wave is for the weird ghostly echoes of black musical forms. So why, then, do I finally have to admit that I have little love for Elvis Costello - a man who is generally perceived as being among the finest songwriters and performers of his generation, who was at the vanguard of the new wave and who slathers his work with deep soul references?

Wrong references.

Listening to the radio in the car this morning, it hit me: Christ, this fucking Costello song sounds like the wall of sound on the morning after. Byzantine, echoey production with tambourines and clanging piano, like the shit you'd fire a wedding band for playing. Really, they all sound like that. Billy Joel got it out of his system with one song, but Costello's entire career is one long weird ironic take on The Shirelles. Even as a producer, he drags down Squeeze with that slop.

The dead giveaway - the real hand-tipping moment - was when Costello paired up with Burt Bacharach (who I actually rather like) for new songs that were supposed to artificially generate nostalgia for that 60's period of Bill Building dominance. In a way, it worked: upon seeing Costello and Bacharach performing a song live with a Montovaniesque string section on Letterman one night, I became instantly nostalgic for the period before I heard them do it.

Anyhow. I finally have a definitive answer as to why I do not like Elvis Costello. So stop pestering me about him.


*Curious note: though the phrase 'emotionally distant and pointlessly intricate tripe' can easily apply to Phish, I do not like them. At all. The earheart is a strange creature.

Bedtimes and Broomsticks

Really, I should be sleeping - it's not that late (about 12:30), but I've spent 12 of the last 14 hours staring at a computer, plugging in articles and such, and I'll be doing that again for several hours tomorrow. So it's not so much that I'm tired, it's just that I'm Macintoshed out. I suspect that Tuesdays on the Rambler for the next while will be slim, as a result.

Case in point.


Monday, March 23, 2009

Behind the Panels

One thing is for sure: at some point in the hopefully not-too-distant future, I'm going to look back at the winter and spring of 2009 and let go one huge mother sigh of relief. Really, I feel like I've been holding my breath one way or another for most of the past decade, and the last few months have had me hitching it tighter and tighter. The expanding oxygen-poor dead zones in the Pacific off the Oregon coast aren't due to any kind of global warming phenomena - it's because I've been holding all the extra air in that the fish need. Sorry, fish.

Bits of business: I did promise that I would fill in the story behind that comic from Friday, didn't I? Not so much to tell: the editor of "Signal to Noise" (the music magazine that I did the Street Fair comic for a few months back) contacted me back in January and proceeded to give my ego one of the better strokes it's had in many a year - namely, that David Greenberger was going to be writing a comic for the magazine, and out of all the samples that the editor (hereafter known as 'Peter') had shown him, he decided that he wanted to work with me. Which was (is) very cool, considering the place in alternative culture that Greenberger holds and the artists that he's had illustrate his stories in the past. I'll really have to track down a copy of 'Duplex Planet Illustrated' to find the full list, but Dan Clowes and Jason Lutes were definitely in there, and that's company I'm pretty pleased to be in with.

But the main thing that made it cool was that when I first responded to the editor's ad for submissions last summer, it was with the hope that I'd get a chance to collaborate - something I've always enjoyed but had little chance to do. I was sort of surprised that no-one on his staff had any script or anecdote they wanted to see as a one-page comic, so I semi-reluctantly wrote one myself and they happily ran that. From my perspective, the first comic was a mixed bag - decent drawing and nice concept, but dry and kind of pointless.

So when Peter asked me if I wanted to draw a comic written by David Greenberger for the follow-up, it was a bit like playing bass in an anonymous amateur bar band for a first gig, and then getting asked to produce a Hüsker Dü record. I'd wanted to draw a comic from someone else's script. I was thrilled to have that someone be a writer whose work I've admired for some 20 years.

The actual process was quick and straightforward enough. The script itself was essentially just the monologue, accompanied by Mr. Greenberger's suggestion that it should be illustrated with the speaker in the center, surrounded by unspecified images of recording and music technology, past and present. I thought about it for a little bit, and offered the concept of the panel transitions instead, with a marked difference in illustration style between the speaking panels and the spot illustrations - playing off of a documentary idea, with black & white interview footage and color flashbacks. He liked it, and I did the comp, below:

You'll note that the final parallels it almost identically - the simplicity of the approach let me off the hook when it came to laboring over extensive drawing. I have to give credit to Marina, here, for offering the suggestion of the iPod image, when I couldn't think of what would represent modern electronic music. Without a doubt, the sharpest idea on the page. The only change that Greenberger had was asking me to make her hair a little more feminine, which is a spot-on criticism, in retrospect. I'd been making the mistake of thinking of her as a wiry old broad, but it's sometimes easy to get too caught up in little ideas like that and forget to convey the basic information visually as fast as possible. If there were any confusion about the gender of the speaker (she does look pretty mannish in the original sketches), it would bog the reader down.

The final color illustrations were done very, very quickly, with lightbox, watercolor, sepia ink and colored pencils. I quickly abandoned the idea that I was going to try to get all of the black and white and color images produced on the same page of original art - the logistics of that were daunting and would have added hours of work time. Doing each color illustration separately and then placing them in the layout digitally let me do the entire final page - pencils, inks, letters, color, and assembly - in record time. And I have to say I'm much happier doing real world color than computer color, which can be tedious to produce and overdone.

At any rate, both Peter and David Greenberger were happy with the results, and hopefully we'll be doing another of these sometime closer to the summer.

I'm hoping to put all of these little experiments with form and media together into something a little longer - the 'Renunciation' 10-page story that I mentioned here back in Spring of '07 would be a perfect candidate for the watercolor, prismacolor and sepia ink method.



After spending a few hours this morning reviewing math with my dad, I came home and spent the rest of the day in bed with Yesenia, watching stuff on Hulu. Good way to spend a Sunday, I must say.


Saturday, March 21, 2009

Here's something...

...I'd been saving for a rainy day. Just the comic, now - I'll fill in the story of its making tomorrow.


Friday, March 20, 2009

Musical Meat Hooks

The Band With No Name had its first group jam in several months this evening. Which isn't to say that we've been dormant over that time frame - no, we've recorded here and there and had jams with one or the other member missing. One thing that has not happened over that time, however, is me sitting my ass behind the keys and playing them. Since the pressure was lower at those partial attendance practices, I took advantage of the situation and played guitar. Sloppily, and noisily, no doubt.

But the payback came tonight when I looked at the 73 keys on the Rhodes and saw the words of a language I'd temporarily forgotten how to speak. That's not an infrequent feeling for me with instruments - with bass, keys and drums, if I play regularly enough, I can get into a zone and do things that (at least for me) feel like I'm reaching something more. And then I don't pick up and play for a while, and all of my smooth goodness has flown out the window.

I don't really have this problem with guitar since I never seem to get any better or worse at the instrument; I've been playing since 1989 and I achieved a basic level of competence within a few months and never gotten any better or worse in the intervening two decades. There are some instruments you can just 'see,' and guitar is not one of them for me. Likely, the fact that I've played with a couple of really stellar guitar players over the years - Shaun now, and Rick, Ansley and others before - means that I haven't had to bother. In fact, as mentioned perviously on the Rambler, the only time I developed a working, valid electric guitar style was in the first year that Edz and I played together, where there was no guitar player to be found and so like insulating foam, I spread to fill that void as best I could.

These days, what I like best about playing the guitar is that I have no expectations for it and let myself suck. I feel vaguely ashamed when I don't have my shit together on keys or bass, as it's a point of personal pride that I'm good at those instruments in my style. Guitar, being freed from such ideas of quality control, is sometimes more fun. What's most fun, of course, is when the full band is up and running and I can get back to doing what sounds best. Maybe I'm not always home on keys, but I'm still comfortable enough to go into the refrigerator without asking.


Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Newspapers and Math

Sorry for the drop in service, faithful riders. Here's my excuse:

Early, early on in the development of my blogging philosophy - go through the archives from April or May 2007, it's in there - I declared my intention to not let the Rambler ever become too much of any one thing. And the thing that I wanted to avoid the most was turning it into an entire symphony of the world's small violins playing a whimpering dirge of how lousy I've got it. In other words, I really, really, really didn't want to use the Rambler to complain about my own life.

Actually, I wanted to not contribute to the general beat-it-with-a-stick negativity that pervades blogs in general. Much like argumentative bleach blondes in beach houses are the meat and potatoes of reality television, self-pity or anonymous mockery at a distance are the foundation that internet opining seems to be built upon - and I decided that the Rambler was going to be different. Certainly, I've done my fair share of both, but if I find myself Rambling too far in one direction for too many entries in a row, I grab the tiller (there's an image for you) and hard about towards some other subject.

Occasionally - very occasionally, considering the Rambler has been daily for close to two years - I find myself too caught up in my own personal mire to keep it from entering this nightly extemporaneity, and there follows a week's worth of a beggars choice: short-to-nonexistent, or lengthy and distressingly solipsistic.

What I'm getting at is this: my life the last few weeks has been a giant ball of well-earned anxiety, mirroring exactly the real-world anxieties of the current economic argybargy. And it's not as though the Rambler is meant to be escapist entertainment for anyone, but I can't imagine that you want to spend a day hearing tales of the middle-class in trouble on CNN, only to come here every night for more deep-soul rolfing courtesy of my own travails. So, lacking the wherewithal to keep on writing fluff, I shuttered.

But fuck it. The Rambler was created as an outlet for stress back in a tight period in 2007, and even though my current stress is of a different sort, I'm better off processing it here than throwing it to the angry dog in my garage. I guess this means the Rambler is back, and the sound you're hearing is the miniature violin section tuning up.

Sorry. You have been warned.

As for tonight's title; well, that's what most of my life is taken up with, right now. I've become the designer for a local newspaper, and I'm simultaneously learning all of Algebra, with a deadline of next Friday. I'll likely not be discussing the former here, so buy me a beer the next time I see you and I'll fill you in (it's not bad). The latter is going well enough that I don't want to put the P.C.M.A. Curse on it by talking about it here, so I'll hold off on any info until the end of the month.

As far as the dangling little life-plot threads from the Rambler before it withered a few weeks ago:

- My back is fine and was fine pretty much the next day;
- There's been some progress on the Copper Man site, but I'm trying to finish another couple of sites before I get back to it. Likely there will be a 1.5 release in the next week, with just enough stuff to justify putting it up.
- No progress on the basement.
- Obama is still President
- I saw Watchmen and was underwhelmed. I initially thought I had script issues, but it mostly boils down to the casting of three roles: Patrick Wilson, Malin Akerman and Matthew Goode. Sorry, guys - you tried. At least Billy Crudup and Jackie Earle Haley got it done.

I just realized that my cat is outside, and it's close to midnight, so good night. I will see you tomorrow.


Monday, March 2, 2009

Upper Butt Pain

Really, it's lower back pain again, but that sounds so mundane. Thankfully, it's not so severe this time - regular readers may recall a bout back in the beginning of 2008 where I was laid out for about two weeks straight. Well, laid out for two days and then seriously bent for another ten or so.

Of course, the 2008 case came because I did a whirlwind day of emptying my storage unit and shuttling in a baker's dozen of surprisingly heavy cinder blocks - taking everything back into my basement. Impatience did me in then, since I grew so bored with carefully moving things from unit to truck to basement that I started to pick up way too many things at once and move them too quickly.

This time around, I did nothing to provoke it. And there wasn't even that one moment where I was fine, and then bent over and couldn't stand back up from the sudden, excruciating agony. No, this back pain crept up slowly over the course of Saturday afternoon - like it was shy or embarrassed to be here. The pain itself is paradoxical, since I was sure that snow shoveling today (twice, once in the morning and once in the late afternoon) was going to do me in, but if anything, I actually feel a little better.

Maybe it's the endorphins?

Shit, that probably means I'm really in for it tomorrow. I'll let you know. You'll probably be able to hear the pathetic whimpering if you just open your window and lean out.