Of Loss and Illness: A Personal Entry

This is a personal entry of sorts. I’ve worked up a great deal of enthusiasm for a story I began to plot just before the New Year. Started drafting it out, and got about 5k words of it down in the first five days of January. I awoke on the sixth day of the year to find I’d missed two calls from the home of my parents. I returned their call, and received the news that my grandfather on my mother’s side of the family had passed away earlier that morning. His health had been in decline since a close call in 2016. A closer call last year had his medical professionals calling him the miracle boy. His survival through those ordeals allowed him to attend my wedding and meet his great granddaughter, for which I will be eternally grateful. I’ve been luckier than most, in that I’ve had both sets of grandparents into my 30’s. My grandfather lived most of his life in Columbus, but moved to Florida with the intent of enjoying his golden years in the sunshine state. He was a working class musician and youth athletics coach for many years, in addition to the “professional” jobs he held throughout his life.

Later that day I had a Skype session with a friend who is currently residing in Los Angeles. Aside from catching up, the purpose of our conversation was to have him describe his life in Hollywood, as I intend to write about such places. It was during our chat that my wife entered the bedroom with our baby, the both of them covered in vomit. I told my friend we’d have to resume the talk at a later time, ended the session, and promptly bathed the child. The stomach bug ran through our home, and made the week the most miserable in recent memory. Everyone took a turn being bedridden. Once the stomach issue had passed our baby seemed lethargic again, and a visit with the doctor confirmed respiratory and ear infections, though both were minor. She’s been prescribed some medicine, and seems to be doing better.

I’m not sure why I’m writing all of this out. Complications from being sick and familial loss have brought the writing to a halt, except in this strange exercise. We’re heading into the weekend, my wife intent on starting her new job with a nine-hour shift on Saturday, followed by the family gathering that’ll take us into next week. I guess I’m exhausted, and instead of putting words down on my new piece of fiction I’m just here making excuses. But you’re allowed to be tired. You’re allowed to take a break. Family and health take priority, and I’ll not be shamed for it. I’ll not shame you for it either, when the time comes. I’m rambling at this point, but it’s my declaration that I’m taking a short break to recuperate and be with family. Rest easy, Grandpa.

Bad Witch: Music Review

With ‘Bad Witch’ Nine Inch Nails has completed a trilogy of EPs, as was promised with the initial release ‘Not the Actual Events,’ and followup, ‘Add Violence.’

The EP begins with the chaotic rock of an old school NIN release. The two opening numbers, ‘Shit Mirror’ and ‘Ahead of Ourselves’ are politically charged excursions that express rage in the aftermath of apathy. Lyrics like, “I think I knew when it crossed the line” and “why try change when you know you can’t?” reflects Reznor’s internal struggles onto the world at large. The songs talk about squandered potential. When left to our own devices, we’re most likely to destroy ourselves in spite of some better vision. The verse/chorus structure of the first two songs offers a comfortable way to start the album by this uncomfortable artist.

Then the record changes course an instrumental track, titled, ‘Play the Goddamn Part.’ Noise levels border on cacophony before the music settles on a path that refuses the straight and narrow. What’s truly unique here is the saxophone, as I haven’t heard an honest horn section since ‘Pilgrimage’ from 1999’s ‘The Fragile.’ Aside from that you’d have to go back to 1988’s ‘Purest Feeling’ to find horns on a NIN track. While it’s been documented that Reznor played the sax during his high school years, up to this point he had left it in the past, as the previous examples were made with synthesizers. The third track moves with the grace and balance of a living entity.

The fourth track is titled, ‘God Break Down the Door,’ and is rife with saxophone, uptempo drums/synthesizers, and a vocal composition that reminds me of David Bowie. The lyrics declare, “You won’t find the answers here… not the ones you’re looking for,” in spite of the effort required to break down the perceived barrier.

‘I’m Not from This World’ is an unsettling instrumental track that creates a sense of space. The tempo slows down, and audio levels are below that of the other songs. It’s a haunting soundscape that deviates from the thoughtful composition of ‘Play the Goddamn Part’ as it wanders into the void of space.

‘Bad Witch’ concludes with my personal favorite track, ‘Over and Out.’ This song returns us to the beat driven downtempo that is a NIN standard. Heavy drums and beeping synths set the foundation of what feels like an instrumental journey. A bass line jumps on, and the wall of sound layers up. It feels like one of Reznor’s signature works, but a surprise is offered up when vocals break the ice, as the styling again reflects that of David Bowie. There’s no verse/chorus structure (same with ‘God Break Down the Door’), so the voice expresses, “Time is running out,” and all the complications associated with the passage of time.

With ‘Bad Witch’ being the final installment in this three-EP series, I’m hoping for a world tour that’ll land near me. It’ll be damn cool to see Atticus Ross in the live lineup. The new collection of songs are definitely worth a spin.

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Book Review: A Glitch in the World

I read ‘A Glitch in the World’ on a whim. Alex Drozd offers questions regarding the human condition through the scope of science fiction, and on the surface his vision of the future feels incredibly real.

Debate is used in ways that reflect upon contemporary issues with a futuristic spin. One of my favorites centered on the topic of music production. Computers and AI produce music, as there’s no human element in the popular songwriting process. One character prefers this, while another expresses a nostalgic longing for the days when people made music on computers. It reminds me of a conversation I had with my father when I was a child where he described the virtue of music produced without computers, whereas I have a taste for music made on computers.

Another question the book proposes revolves around the worth of an individual. Motorized vehicles are 100% automated and with AI responsible for driving, the value of a person is brought into the equation when it comes to the occasional accident. People are quantified based on a number of variables, and the computer does everything possible to spare the more valuable entity, even if it includes killing the lesser person. I feel the value of a person could be considered controversial if corrupt powers have any sort of influence, but Drozd did not venture there.

What we get is a story about a teenager full of angst, and the complications that arise after a friend commits suicide. There are beings from a parallel universe that only appear to our protagonist, and my only gripe is that their motives seem bigger than the end result. Even still, the ending offers a twist of sorts that is great fun.

The book was well edited in terms of proper grammar, but I feel some of the phrasing throughout could’ve used a little more tweaking. Drozd offers readers a fantastic effort in his debut.

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Violence and Entertainment: Some Thoughts

In the wake of the commonplace mass shooting that occurred at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, blame has been thrown in every direction as a means to pivot away from any real action. Mental illness is further stigmatized while the notion of gun control is entertained, but not considered with honest intent. The president has fallen on the age-old rhetoric that blames the glorification of violence as presented in our media, specifically video games and film. These mediums aren’t to blame for the ills of society. I recall a similar instance from my youth, one that involved casting blame on a rock and roll star following the mass shooting at Columbine. Video games (Doom) and films (Natural Born Killers) were scapegoated as well, but Marilyn Manson became the figure of cause, or in his own words, “the poster boy for fear,” in an arena where the artist had no business.

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Violence in entertainment has been normalized through the ages. Shakespeare had to compete with a bear-baiting arena that stood within walking distance from The Globe, where dogs were set against bears. Violence is an unfortunate byproduct of the human experience, to which entertainment falls short of reality. Does entertainment glorify the vices of violence and drug dependency? Absolutely. Can entertainment have a psychological impact on the person? Studies conclude our violent media doesn’t make a violent mind. I’d ask the POW’s whom the United States government exposed to singular songs on repeat at volumes too great to withstand, but that’s use of media as a means of torture. I guess I’ve never met a person who watched Breaking Bad, and decided to try their hand at cooking crystal meth.

Still, I will say that though some media is horribly toxic (especially without proper context or critical thinking skills), mass shootings don’t stem from a ‘life imitating art’ philosophy. No one kills a police officer because they could in Grand Theft Auto. No one shoots up any array of social settings because of the music/images associated with Marilyn Manson. Such arguments serve only to pivot from the issue, with the intent of leaving it unaddressed. Jim Carrey possibly disagrees with me, as he decided to not promote a violent film he had acted in, following the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary. He drew parallels of self-importance, and saw his participation in the production of the film as something bigger than what it was. While I admire him wanting to bring attention to the issue, the source of his conviction was one rooted in error.

There’s a greater cultural problem that won’t be solved through a singular idea, and Americans need to acquire the skills of civil debate if compromise is to be reached. Without adjustment the shootings will continue. Even with adjustments the shootings will continue. Resolution won’t come overnight, and the first steps shall not yield instant results. There are growing pains ahead if we are to grow from these events, but the ‘pivot blame game’ falls on the same old arguments that have-time and time again-been reduced to falsehood. Video games, music, and movies entertain, and at times provide a coping mechanism by means of catharsis. Should we ban the work of William Shakespeare before the influence drives more teenagers to kill themselves and each other?

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Greater insight is necessary. What of violence in the real world? News programs use significant portions of their broadcasts to examine violent events within any given community, and break them down in such a way as to have the viewer feeling relieved. They’re left with a feeling of, ‘at least I’m not that bad,’ which serves complacency. They speak of wars in foreign lands with a particular cruelty, and equate their human condition to a sordid less than. Further down the pipeline is a subculture that celebrates the tragedies our society bears. Before the shooting at Virginia Tech, the shooter made a video where he paid homage to the school shooters that had come before him, even naming a few. When the Vegas concert shooting left 58 dead, and 851 others injured, particular online message boards discussed how he’d fallen short of the ‘high score,’ by referencing the mass shooting in Norway that left 80 dead in 2011. Violence is encouraged in a way that mimics the most morbid of support groups. There’s enough real world influence to claim our entertainment is not as harmful as some would allege.

 

No Good Deed: Book Review

No Good Deed examines and satirizes the complications of long-term friendships. We’re brought in on the premise that our main character offers some money to a homeless person, and is thanked by name. After an awkward moment Alan realizes he’s staring at his childhood friend, Craig. He takes his old friend to a pub, and then to his home in an attempt to help him up.

Alan’s a semi famous food critic. Craig played guitar for a band that got big in the early 90’s, and then fizzled out. It feels of an age-old story where the emphasis resides upon the reversal of fortune. Themes of carnival surface as one character is brought up, while the other descends to ruin. These classical notions mixed with contemporary commentary make for an excellent piece of cultural satire. Niven delivers, again.

It is the unspoken feelings long harbored between the two main characters that motivate them to actions both comical and wretched. Distance of years would not change how they felt about each other. It is expressed that, “all the money and fame imaginable could never re-engineer how we come to define ourselves as teenagers” (165). I found myself laughing out loud at the insults, and feeling a genuine emotional investment when dealing with the prospect of loss.

At one point Craig is being interviewed about his story. He is honest about his spiteful feelings toward Alan, and describes him with a harshness that seems far away from the warm feelings we typically associate with friendships. Niven offers an insight that feels all too relatable,

“It did make her slightly sad, however, the realization- common to many jobbing journalists who must routinely deliver copy crafted to suit many different publications – that lurking beneath the piece she was going to write about the life-affirming powers of friendship, there was another piece, a different piece, a better piece. One about the strange currents and deep, dark pools that hide beneath the surface of many lifelong friendships, especially ones that have involved dramatic reversal of fortune” (198).

It’s just fantastic. Probably the best overall work from Niven. My personal favorite since The Second Coming.

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Not the Actual Events: EP Review

With the year coming to a close I figured the Trent Reznor/Atticus Ross camp was going to hold off on new Nine Inch Nails until after the New Year. I’d been satisfied with the ‘Before the Flood’ soundtrack, but new music with little notice is always a perk worth the excitement. Not the Actual Events is a five track EP that explores solid walls of distorted sound. Over the years I’ve come to develop certain expectations of Reznor and his work, but what makes this record special is that where it doesn’t deviate, it exceeds. Old tendencies are coupled with fresh ideas, and the resulting record feels like something that would’ve been produced in the 90’s, without sounding dated. The word ‘thick’ kept coming to mind as I listened through it. Thick beats, dirty bass, and layers upon layers of oppressive noise.

In terms of songwriting and production it’s a complete departure from the 2013 release, Hesitation Marks. It’s full of screeching, distorted, atmospheric guitars, scattered throughout the EP. The use of guitars and bass with this approach to production is more in line with rock, but the result is less polished than previous rock records. It’s not pop, and doesn’t have anything that would appeal to mainstream rock radio, which is why it’s sure to please the diehards. There’s a lot of moving action and sequencing, the sort of thing that merits multiple listens.

As a drummer I’m always fascinated by the variation of drums, and Not the Actual Events delivers in that category. Electronic drums are sequenced through songs like Dear World, while the booming roomy sound of She_s Gone Away are a quick disconnect from the previous track. These changing elements keep the movements fresh, which is common with NIN, but worth the observation here.

Certain parts of the record reminded me of The Dillinger Escape Plan. Specifically the vocal inflection during the chorus of Branches_Bones, and the rhythmic procession of The Idea of You, stood out as things I’d expect from Dillinger. Not a criticism, just something I noticed.

While the wall of sound is what got to me through my first couple of spins, I came to find my attention drawn towards the vocal production. Throughout the record the vocals are mixed in such a way to obscure what’s being said, which may frustrate the casual fan, but I find it to be part of the charm. In other places the voice is loud and clear. The theme of balancing nihilism with passion reveals an individual who is uncertain, and often-in denial.

Overall Not the Actual Events is an experience that can’t be disproven. It’s short, bitter, and made of all the pieces/parts of a great Nine Inch Nails record.

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UPDATE: 03/06/17

When I initially purchased the mp3s it included a “physical component” to be mailed at a later date. It was something to hold in your hands, and seemed like a nod to our collective nostalgia. After a few weeks I sort of forgot about it, until it arrived at my door, and made me excited to listen to the EP again.

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A caulk like-charcoal dusting had blackened my fingertips right out of the plastic. It contained a transparent piece of film with an image of Trent/Atticus. Then a paper slide for each track with lyrics. The backs had more of the charcoal residue textured to an aesthetic visual, and came up/smeared with a touch. Most interesting (to me) was that the page with the lyrics for “she’s_gone_away” had the lyrics to their 1994 track “reptile” squeezed in between the lines, which suggests some kind of narrative connection.

This’ll Feel Like Home-My Friends of Mumvies Boy

Disclaimer and personal opinion: the unique band name is derived of a story oddly close to infringing upon the copyrights of Friday the 13th.

My time with Mumvies Boy came with a predetermined expiration date, so I knew from the start that we’d share a limited series of moments. No long-term commitment allowed me to apply effort without any real pressure. I felt free to be myself, and play the parts as I saw fit. The core members consisted of the songwriting duo Michael Davanzo and Tommy Isaac, and their plans involved relocation after obtaining their respective degrees. With their previous drummer having departed from the Columbus area I was welcomed into their circle. Bias runs through this text, but music is best described in terms of taste… their approach to creating music is most tasteful.

I met Michael at Ohio State in the fall of 2013. Through our studies we became acquaintances, but through music emerged friendship. He was living with Tommy off of Hudson, and I met him when I finally came over to jam last winter… no strings attached.

While my drumming resume ranges from metal to musical theatre I’ve never taken part in anything that would fall under the banner of folk. Michael plays an acoustic guitar with a style that nods towards that of Lindsey Buckingham. Tommy brought flare to the table with erratic synthesizers, and the occasional complimentary ukulele. Together they seek to craft a sound that is a hybrid of minimalist electronic and folk.

The only Columbus show I played with them took place at the Space Bar in early February. At the time they had acquired the talents of Sylvie Mix to round out the group on bass. I remember the burden of concern that Tommy had expressed for that show. To consider a rhythm section that hadn’t ever gone over the songs together would sound the alarm of inadequate preparation, and yet the set started, we all clicked, and the crowd was none the wiser.

After that Sylvie departed for the endeavors of her own plate, and Mumvies Boy would continue without a bass player for the remainder of their time in Ohio.

We started tweaking songs and playing gigs in their hometown of Mansfield. The duo had acquired the vocal talents of local artist Erin Mason (to my knowledge she performs with a multitude of other acts, but I’m only certain of Hello Emerson), and the harmonies she and Michael produced gave the sound an extra layer of magic. I loved the charm of their music, and their Mansfield. Up to that point in my life I’d never experienced latte art, and assumed the patterns atop coffee cups to be the beautiful lie of Photoshop. Though I’ve seen pictures of such imagery online, the physical cup of chai tea amused me beyond what it had merited… a simple pleasure serves best.

The Mansfield gigs included the basement office space of a newspaper production house (of which there is a recording), the patio of a local brewery, and a larger outdoor stage that we shared with another Columbus act, Coal Fired Bicycle. Within the scope of that time I met their families, was a guest in the homes they grew up in, explored high rooftops, carousels, and developed friendships outside of a classroom setting. All of which happened to be more than I expected to take away.

With their departure I find a personal joy in acknowledging their hopeful spirits. They venture west in search of the next chapter of their lives, without burning the pages of previous endeavors. I write this only to reflect, and wish them well. I hope they settle into their new home with an ease that allows for their musical project to take root, and continue with the most limited of interruption. I believe in the horror story that is Mumvies Boy.

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From left to right: Erin Mason, Michael Davanzo, my horror-show self, and Tommy Isaac.