Sunday, August 20, 2017

If I Were Talking with Chris Hardwick


I used to hate “talk shows” when I was younger.  I still do hate most of them.  But more and more I find that I enjoy watching certain people ask questions of people that I know the work of (be that musical, cinematic, or what-have-you).  I have some vague thoughts on why that is, which will perhaps become its own blog post one day.  Today, though, I wanted to chat briefly about one such certain person, mainly to use that as a springboard for a whole ‘nother topic.

This certain person is Chris Hardwick.  So far I’ve watched every episode of his new show, titled simply Talking with Chris Hardwick.  I didn’t actually expect to enjoy it, but I figured, I loved @midnight, and I enjoyed Talking Dead (and the far more occasional Talking Preacher), so why not give it a try?  And I’ve actually liked it quite a lot.

This has a huge amount to do with the fact that it’s Chris Hardwick asking questions.  I enjoyed Jon Stewart interviewing people, and I continue to enjoy Stephen Colbert doing the same.  Once upon a time I was really into Inside the Actor’s Studio with James Lipton, and I’ve even listened to quite a few episodes of Fresh Air with Terry Gross.  What all these people have in common is the ability to ask interesting questions, the sort of questions that you wish you’d asked.  Often the sort of questions that you didn’t even know you wanted to know the answer to before it was spoken aloud, but now that it has been you’re really desperate to hear the response.  And they’re all interesting people themselves, people who can interject their own stories without taking over the conversation, which is a tricky thing to manage.  An interviewer who talks about themself too much instead of letting the guest talk is annoying, but an interviewer who just asks question after question without throwing in their own 2¢ every now and again is boring.  It’s a delicate balance, and these are the folks who get it right, at least for me.

One thing that Hardwick does that reminds me (fondly) of Lipton is that he ends each interview with the same format.  In Lipton’s case, it was the long-form Proust Questionnaire.  Hardwick takes a simpler approach, and just asks a single question: what’s one piece of advice that has always inspired or helped you, that you might want to pass on to other people?  He rearranges the wording every show, but that’s the gist of the question, and I think it’s a good one.  His guests have had some interesting answers.

And, to once again quote Bill Cosby,1 I told you that story so I could tell you this one.

Sometimes when I watch or listen to one of these shows, I imagine how I might answer the interviewer’s questions.  I’ve come up with answers to Lipton’s whole list, at various times.2  So, the other day, after watching eleven episodes of Talking, I started to wonder what my answer to this question would be.

Of course, I couldn’t have a simple one-line answer.  Like everything I write, or say, or think, the full answer is more complex.  But, if I had to boil it down to a one-liner, it would be this:

Choose a job you love, and you will never have to work a day in your life.


Now, this is generally attributed to Confucius, but that’s mainly because all quotes in the history of man were either spoken by Confucius, Voltaire, or Mark Twain, and which one your quote was spoken by only depends on how old you’d like to pretend it is.3  But it doesn’t really matter who said it; it’s a pretty little nugget of wisdom regardless.

It reminds me of something I read on Bruce Campbell’s website.  Now, if you visit his site today,4 it’s all slick and commercial and bleaugh.  But once upon a time it was all dorky and stripped down and black and white and blue, mostly consisting of big walls of text and looking like he slapped it together himself.  (Which I suspect he did.  For the record, Mr. Campbell, I liked it better before.)  But it had some cool shit on it.  Like this quote, which I immediately stole for my quote file:

I just love acting.  I can never understand why more people don’t make their hobby into a career.  Sure, it’s unpredictable, but no job is 100% secure these days anyway.

    — Bruce Campbell


Ain’t that the truth.  And it perfecty dovetails with my personal experience: I ran my own company for years, and it was not always fun, and it was never easy, but I loved it.  I loved what I did, and I loved all the people I did it with,5 and I loved being able to set my own schedule, and I loved being able to say “no” to work if it offended my sensibilities, or if the customer skeeved me out, or whatever.  I loved being the conduit for other people coming to work every day and loving it.  I loved being in charge when I wanted to be and making other people be in charge when I didn’t.  And, even after I stopped running my own company and went to work for someone else, I still loved it.  I’ve had pretty decent luck picking great companies who respected me and trusted me and gave me freedom,6 and I tell computers what to do for a living, which I find to be creative and satisfying.  I love my job, and I think I’ve had success and happiness because of it.

But it also occurred to me to contrast the Bruce Campbell quote with another quote from another screen star—in this case, Mike Rowe, famously of Dirty Jobs.  And here’s what he had to say on this topic:

The idea that there’s a perfect job is really comforting ... but dangerous, in the same way that there’s a perfect soulmate. The guys I met on Dirty Jobs, and the women, by and large, were living proof that the first thing to do is to look around and see where everybody else is headed, and then go in the other direction. The second thing to do is embrace the thing that scares you, frightens you, or otherwise makes you blanch. The third thing to do is to become really really good at that thing. And then the final thing, the thing that makes really happy people happy, is to figure out a way to love it.

    — Mike Rowe, Ask Me Another, 5/20/2016


Now, I have to tell you that, at first, I hated this quote.  It seems to be saying the exact opposite of what the Bruce Campbell quote was saying.  Instead of “follow your passion and turn that into your career,” it says “find a career that nobody else wants and then learn to love it.”  That didn’t feel right to me ... at first.  But then I realized: it really is the same thing.  Either way you get there, you arrive at loving what you do.  In the end, does it really matter which route you took?

So I think this is the heart of the advice: love what you do.  Whether that means to take what you love and do it for a living, or whether it means to throw yourself into what you do so hard and so thoroughly that you come to love it, the point is that, when you love going to work every day, you’re a happier person.  When you dread it, it’s hard to be happy with everything else you have in life.  If your work makes you miserable, you’re going to be miserable, and also you’re going to make everyone around you miserable.  That’s no way to live.

But when you love what you do, every day is like a gift.  Oh, sure: you don’t always love every dayyou don’t always love every gift you get either.  There will be bad days among the good, sure.  Days when you come home and you’re just tired, and you don’t want to think about anything.  But those are the exceptions.  Most days, you get to work and you see a bunch of people that you like (or at least ones that you don’t mind tolerating for the bulk of your day), and you sit down at your desk (or whatever workstation your job demands), and you do something fun.  And even when it’s frustrating, or it pisses you off, or it makes your brain hurt, it’s still fun anyway.  And one day you wake up and realize it’s been years, and that you’re still happy, and then you think about what it might have been like if you’d just done a job all those years for nothing but a paycheck, and you’re glad you didn’t have to find that out.

So, Chris Hardwick: that’s my piece of advice, the thing that inspires me, that I think would be useful for other people.  Love what you do.  It’s always worked for me.



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1 Who has become a much more controversial figure since the last time I used this quote.  To the point where some may say I should not continue to use it.  Obviously I’ve decided to do so anyway.  Not because I’m a Cosby apologist—on the contrary, I’m quite disgusted by the whole situation—but rather because I don’t believe that the bad that people do erases the good.

2 For the record: I’ve decided my favorite curse word is “fucksticks.”  But it’s a tough choice.

3 For an excellent breakdown of the possible origin and certain popularization of this quote, the excellent site Quote Investigator will hook you right up.

4 No, I won’t link you to it, as I didn’t the last time I mentioned his website in a footnote: see my open letter to Wil Wheaton.

5 I mean, of course I did: I hired ’em all.

6 Which you may recall is, according to me, the 3 things that employees want.









Sunday, August 13, 2017

Multiclassing, Part 1: History of the Multiclasses (2nd edition)


I think it’s about high time I address a topic which is near and dear to my gaming heart: multiclassing.  There are many different angles to approach this topic from, and, as always, I choose all of them.  But we have to start somewehere, and I think it makes the most sense to start with the history of multiclassing in D&D.1

The early editions of D&D were fairly adamant about every player having exactly one class.  Because fighters always fight, and magic users always use magic, and nobody ever does both, in any fantasy story ever.  Yeah, early D&D players didn’t buy that either.  So the concept of having more than one class—multiclassing—was born.

We could start with 1st edition, but from what the Internet tells me, it’s not significantly different from 2nd ed; I personally have very limited experience with 1st edition—I’m sure nearly everything I did was wrong, and I certainly never got as far as trying any multiclassing anyway.  So let’s just jump directly into 2nd edition.

2e proper actually had 2 forms of multiclassing: one was actually called “multiclassing,” while the other was called “dual-classing.”  From the names, you might imagine that dual-classing was when you chose 2 classes, and multiclassing was when you chose more than 2; not so: multiclassing most commonly involved 2 classes (though it could involve more, in rare cases), and dual-classing involved as many damn classes as you liked (although admittedly it was more often 2 than any other number).  So what was the difference?  Well, we could talk about the distinction that one was only for humans and the other was only for non-humans, but I don’t think that’s particularly productive.  Now, I don’t want to get into whether or not limiting things to humans or non-humans is a good idea or not—we’ll talk about whether and to what extent applying limits on multiclassing is a good idea in a future installment.  For now, I’m interested in the mechanics of how muliticlassing worked when it was allowed and not so much why and when it wasn’t.

So the more interesting distinction is that multiclassing was something you picked at the beginning of your career.  If you wanted to be a fighter/thief, for instance, you chose to be a fighter/thief at level 1, and you were a fighter/thief forever.  Which, if you think about it, is a strangely inflexible way of providing more flexibility than you could get with a single-classed character.  Dual-classing was a bit better, but also somewhat inflexible.  You could change your mind about your class after level 1, but you did so by abandoning your original class entirely and choosing a new class.  So still not really ideal.

The nice thing about multiclassing was that the way experience progressions worked made it so multiclassed characters were never too far behind their single-classed brethren.  So a figher/thief had to divide all their experience in half, true—with half going to advance their fighter class and the other half going to the thief class—while a fighter got to put all their experience into the one class.  So the fighter gets to level 2 first, well before the fighter/thief gets to 1/2, much less 2/2.2  But the fighter/thief would get to 2/2 just before the fighter hit 3, because of the exponential increase of XP required per level.3  So the multiclassed character with 2 classes was only ever a level behind his single-classed compatriots.  If you were crazy enough to try a triple multiclassed character (such as fighter/mage/thief), then you might end up 2 levels behind part of the time.  But still, that wasn’t so bad.

Dual-classed was way more complicated.  Once you switched from one class to another, you kept all your old hit points, but you weren’t allowed to use any of the other class features, either at all (early versions), or you could use a feature, but then you lost all your experience points for that session (later versions).  This went on until your new class level exceeded your old class level, at which point you could start using the features of both classes.  But of course remember that those first few levels require much fewer XP to level up.  So, to take another example, let’s say you started out as a fighter and got to level 4, at which point you decided you were going to switch over to being a thief.  To get to level 5 of fighter, you’d need 8,000 more XP (on top of the 8,000 you already had).  But those 8,000 XP is also enough to get you 4+ levels of thief, so while the rest of your party is hitting 5th level, you, once again, are 4/4, only 1 level behind everyone else.  And, once you get just 2,000 XP ahead of everyone else, you hit 4/5 and now you can do all the fighter things and all the thief things, and then you’re really set.

So the good is that you can multiclass, and that your multiclass character stays fairly viable throughout all of its career (if multiclassing) or most of its career (if dual-classing).  In fact, as far as effectiveness goes, multiclassing is pretty solid, regardless of what combo you use.  Dual-classing is more limited, in that not only are certain combination sub-par, but it depends on what order you do them in.  Starting out as a fighter and switching to mage, for instance, is a pretty workable plan.  But starting out as a mage and switching to fighter is just terrible.  Plus, since you can never go back and gain levels in the original class, you have to be very precise in the level you achieve before you switch over.  Adding a third (or more) class just complicates things, no matter which method you’re using.  And there’s the bad: multiclassing is hard.  It’s complicated, and difficult to predict whether it’ll work out, and may involve temporary stretches of suckiness.  But at least it’s possible.

Now, this history is primarily intended to be a history of the mechanics of multiclassing, but I want to diverge just a bit to talk about my personal history with multiclassing.  See, I was never too much into the 4 base classes: fighter, mage, cleric, thief.4  My earliest D&D PCs were druids and bards.5  So, in a sense, I was reaching for multiclassing even while I was single-classing.  And then Skills & Powers came out, which opened up your class options considerably.  For a while I became obsessed with creating the perfect blend of wizard and rogue;6  S&P gave me the opportunity to try it both as a wizard with some rogue skills and as a rogue with some wizard features.  It never quite jelled either way, but it was an interesting experiment.

S&P took nearly every possible class feature and assigned a point value to it.  It didn’t really turn D&D into a classless system ... but it could come close, if you were willing to house rule a little.  You could pick and choose your features from a smorgasbord of class choices, so you could effectively “multiclass” by just allowing one class to pick a few options off another class’s menu.7  The biggest problem with this was that the points you got for different classes weren’t particularly balanced against each other.  For instance, fighters got 15 points, while mages got 40.  Now, you could make an argument that fighters got a lot of non-class-feature bonuses—combat stats, saves, weapons and armor, hit points, etc.  However, that breaks down when you then throw thieves into the mix, because thieves received a whopping 80 points, even though they had better combat stats, weapon selection, and HP than mages for sure.8  The truth was that thieves just had an insane number of skills they needed to spend points on, and all features were a multiple of 5 points, and, if the designers had just assigned 5 points to all skills, then they wouldn’t have any way to make the statement that certain skills (e.g. pick pockets) were just plain better than other skills (e.g. detect noise).  So thieves needed a whole lot of points just to recreate the PHB class, while mages just needed 5 points per school they had access to, which, in the PHB was all eight of them, therefore 40 points.  You could somewhat work around this (as I gleefully did) by taking “disadvantages,” which traded (typically) roleplaying downsides for (nearly always) mechanical upsides.  This led to two of my favorite all-time D&D characters—Shan, the spell-dabbling thief who could only speak in a barely audible whisper, and a Vistani mage whose demon-blooded ancestry had left her with blue skin, red eyes, and an actual pointy tail,9 and therefore became really good at being stealthy—but obviously it had the potential for terrible abuse.

Directly after a few aborted attempts at campaigns using the Player’s Option books,10 which many folks called (in retrospect, at least) 2.5e, we strayed from D&D for a while.  I invented my own, completely classless system, using the character points from S&P as a jumping-off point, and both I and another member of our group ran campaigns using those rules.11  We had just about come to the conclusion that, while having a classless system sounded good on paper, in practice it left you with a paralyzing amount of choice and no structure to help you resolve it, when along came 3rd edition.

Next time, we’ll look at how 3e revolutionized the concept of multiclassing ... for better, and for worse.



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1 Note: For this installment, I was obviously inspired by Brandes Stoddard’s excellent History of the Classes series, which you should absolutely read.

2 Remember that each class leveled up at different rates.  Thieves leveled up the fastest.

3 Specifically, a fighter needs 2,000 XP for 2nd level, and a thief needs 1,250.  So a fighter/thief hits 2/2 at 3,250, whereas fighter 3 takes 4,000.

4 Yes, yes, I know: “magic-user.”  I refuse.

5 Not the original bard, where you had to dual-class for aeons before you eventually got to be cool.  Rather the bard based on the Dragon Magazine article “A different bard, not quite so hard.”

6 No, not a bard!  This would be a totally different thing, which I have a tendency to refer to as a “nightblade.”  Since 2e, I’ve tried the nightblade as a 3e class and a Pathfinder class, and I’m thinking about trying it out as a 5e subclass, probably a rogue archetype, but possibly as a warlock ... something.  Warlocks are somewhat frustrating to design for, as they have a huge amount of fun design space to play in, but patrons are somewhat thematically limited and pact boons are extremely mechanically limited.  But I’m pretty sure I could get something to work in that space.

7 Again, I must stress that this was a house rule.  I don’t wish to accuse the writers of S&P of any more insanity than they actually perpetrated, which was already quite a bit.

8 You could debate saves.  Saves in 2e were super-funky, so they were nearly always debatable.

9 She was sort of an extreme version of a tiefling well before we had tieflings as a racial option.

10 In addition to Skills & Powers, there was Combat & Tactics and Spells & Magic, and we used ’em all.  We were starved for character-building options back in those days.

11 Obviously he tweaked some of my rules for his own purposes.  But I expected no less.









Sunday, August 6, 2017

A Brief History of Mistakes


The other day, my boss Steve1 asked me about a ticket I had written a long time ago.  Was the problem I had reported still a problem, he wondered?  Well, yes, technically speaking, it was still a problem, I responded, but not a very big problem.  After all these years, we’ve mostly worked around the minor pains-in-the-ass it causes.  And while it could cause a bigger problem, and in fact had just done so no more than two weeks ago, the truth is, as I said to him, somewhat tongue-in-cheek:

That blip was the first one in forever, and, try as I might, I couldn’t get Arya2 to be worried about missing an entire day in his reports.


Now, some hours after I sent this, as I am wont to do, I started wondering about my own choice of words there.  I made it sound like I had actually put some effort into trying to convince Arya that the problem was significant, even though the most likely person to be impacted by it was him, and he was obviously not worried about it.  Not to mention that, if he did decide to do something about it, the something he would do is make a ticket for me to fix it.  So whatever effort I was putting into this argument was only going to end up making work for myself if I “won.”  And yet, it sounds like I put some effort into this argument because ... I actually did.  So, now I wondered: why?

And thus we begin what I suppose is now part 4 of my ad hoc series, “Why I’m a Pain in the Ass at Work.”  Last time I briefly reviewed the first two installments, then went on to recast my being a stubborn ass in as positive a light as I could manage, which mainly consisted of pointing out that I’m trying to keep from making—and/or trying to help someone else avoid making—some mistake that I’ve already made once and don’t have any desire to repeat.  And, unlike last installment, I’m not going to say today that I think there’s more to it than that.  On the contrary, I think I might have nailed it down pretty thoroughly at this point.

What I was pondering that led to today’s post, instead, was why sometimes (as in all 3 of the incidents that spawned the previous posts) I seem like I can’t let it go, and will go overboard in my objections, whereas sometimes (such as with this particular incident) I put up a token resistance, but then I cave pretty easily.  I mean, either way, it’s a mistake that I’ve seen happen before, right?  Either way, to let it happen again is going to be frustrating ... right?

Well, after much pondering and soul-searching, I’ve come up with an answer.  I wish I could tell you that I thought that, when people have this reaction, they base the intensity of their argument on their assessment of how much damage the mistake could cause, or perhaps on the likelihood of that mistake actually happening (is it nearly guaranteed, or a longshot that anything will ever go wrong?).  I do wish that were the case.  But I don’t believe it is.  I believe that rather it depends on whether you were the one who had to clean up the mess or not.

See, I’m not the only person who has these types of reactions.  Oh, sure: I’m probably the biggest pain-in-the-ass at my current job, I won’t try to deny that.3  But I am, occasionally, believe it or not, on the other side of this debate.  I am, occasionally, the one who’s saying, “yeah, okay, maybe that could happen, but that doesn’t sound so bad.”  Where this most often comes up, for instance, is with two of my co-workers who are very focussed on security.4  They’re always trying to convince me that we should implement this or that piece of authentication that I’ve no doubt will leave us safer, but which will probably be a big hairy annoyance to me in the meantime.  And, sure, I nearly always lose these debates,5 and nowadays my ssh key has a more-than-40-character passphrase, and my hard drive is encrypted, and I’m about to start undergoing the horror that is Multi-Factor Authentication.  But, still, whenever the topic comes up, I’m nearly always the one going, “I hear you about what could happen, but I’m finding it hard to get too worried about that.”  And it’s certainly not because I’ve never seen inferior security measures fail.  And I’m pretty sure it’s not because doing it the “right” way is going to make more work for me: I’ve argued to the death for making more work for myself on many an occasion.  Nope, I’m pretty sure that it’s because, whenever I have seen such things, it was never my job to clean up the inevitable mess.

Contrariwise, when it’s a question of making a sub-par design decision, I get very invested in making sure we don’t go down a road that is going to cause us heartache one day, because in that case “us” inevitably means “me.”  And, even if it doesn’t mean me in the future, it certainly has in the past.  I’ve seen the crap that can fall out of one bad choice, and I’ve had to go in there years later and try to figure out how to undo it.  And those are painful memories.  And, as far as I’m concerned, these are things that will happen, eventually.6  So it’s not a question of “if” but rather “when.”  I distinctly remember one such discussion, which happened to also include my boss.  He seemed genuinely puzzled at my passion for whatever particular design principle was at stake.  Intellectually, I believe he knew that what I was predicting could happen—maybe even he knew it was likely to happen.  It just didn’t seem that big a deal to him if it did, and I bet that’s because he just never drew that short straw of having to wade into the cesspool and shovel out the shit.  And, in the end, I let that particular point go because I was pretty sure that, whenever the shit hit the fan, the fan was most likely going to be pointing at someone else anyway.7

And, in the situation that spurred this post, I also knew that it was probably pretty unlikely that I personally would be responsible for the clean-up.  This was really only going to go wrong if the particular day that was missing from reporting—and, really: not even missing from all of reporting, just missing from one subset of reports—happened to contain a significant number of results from one customer, or maybe a set of customers, and therefore the lack of those results would significantly alter an aggregated view (likely a monthly one) in a way that was big enough to make a (business) difference, but small enough not to be glaringly obvious that data was missing, and if the report went through enough hands that the numbers were used to make some wrong decision, or sent the business off on a wild-goose chase involving many employees and lots of wasted time, but not so many hands that someone along the line didn’t remember that, hey, didn’t someone say there was a whole day missing somewhere?  And damn, that’s a lot of “if"s.  And, if anyone comes to me about it, I get to point out that I already told everyone I could imagine to watch out for this, and the worst that can happen is that someone makes a ticket for me to fix it, which is honestly what I was sort of pushing for in the first place.  So, you know: no skin off my nose.

So, yeah, I did try a little bit to convince Arya that he should be worried about a missing day in his reports, because if the worst case happened, I would feel bad for him (’cause he’s a genuinely good guy, and I love working with him, and I hate to see him stressed), but, no, I didn’t try that hard, ’cause, in the end, Arya gets to make his own decisions (and his own mistakes), and I can’t make ’em for him.  But maybe also because—just maybe—not only am I pretty sure that I won’t have to clean up the mess in this situation, but I’ve never had to clean up the mess in any past, similar situation.  And I’ve seen some.  Ignoring reporting data glitches will nearly always come back to bite you in the ass, sometimes in small ways, sometimes in big ones.  But it’s never been something I’ve personally had deal with.  Never have I personally been the one who had roll up their sleeves, muttering non-stop profanities under their breath, throwing all their current plans and schedule out the window, and start doing shit-work to clean up all that fertilizer that just passed through the oscillating air distribution device.

And I’m trying to figure out if that makes me a bad person.

I hope not.  I hope that I’m just a person who, like pretty much all people, is subject to confirmation bias (or maybe some other kind of bias; Wikipedia cautiously suggests correspondence bias), and that sometimes I’m on the receiving end, and sometimes I’m on the other end.  Maybe understanding that will help me handle these situations a little intelligently, and hopefully a little more diplomatically.

Or maybe I’m just fooling myself again.  But either way I found it an interesting meditation.



__________

1 Okay, Steve is technically my boss’s boss.  But I don’t usually think of him that way.

2 Arya is the head of the business analyst department, and the person on the business side that I work most closely with.

3 Yep, and probably the biggest pain at my last several jobs.  I can own that too.

4 One of whom is my actual boss, and the other of whom is our sysadmin.

5 Did I mention that one of the other parties was my boss?

6 Well, unless the code doesn’t last that long.  But I don’t accept that as a useful counterargument; that’s pretty much like saying “it’s okay if we build a completely flimsy house, because there’s a decent chance we’ll tear it down before it gets the chance to fall over.”  Which is cold comfort if you’re the one who has to live in the house in the meantime.

7 Interesting side note: the co-worker who was most likely to have said fan pointing at him has since left the company.  So now I suppose I’m back in the running for most-likeliy-to-be-spattered.  Lovely.









Sunday, July 30, 2017

Shadowfall Equinox IV

"It's Dark and It Looks Like Rain"

[This is one post in a series about my music mixes.  The series list has links to all posts in the series and also definitions of many of the terms I use.  You may wish to read the introduction for more background.  You may also want to check out the first volume in this multi-volume mix for more info on its theme.

Like all my series, it is not necessarily contiguous—that is, I don’t guarantee that the next post in the series will be next week.  Just that I will eventually finish it, someday.  Unless I get hit by a bus.]



This is the fourth volume IV I’ve written about so far.  And, much like the previous three,1 this mix of contemplative, mostly-ambient music is settling into a groove.  By volume IV, you’re looking to revisit some old friends at the same time you introduce some new ones.  And I think this volume delivers on that promise admirably.

So, right off the bat, we of course can’t have a Shadowfall Equinox mix without our old friend Jeff Greinke.  Having utilized 5 tracks off of his excellent album Wide View over the past 3 volumes, I decided it was time to branch out.  The main problem with that idea, though, is that Greinke, like Joe Jackson, never does the same album twice.  And, where Wide View is perfect for this mix, no other album of his is.  Still, we can find a few tracks here and there, and I went looking for them, scouring his back catalog as best I could.  What I came up with for this volume was “A Splash and Thunder,” off of Timbral Planes.  The majority of that album is dark and echoey, and a bit creepy.2  “A Splash and Thunder” retains a slight air of that creepiness, but it’s mellow enough to work here.  As the name implies, there’s a bit of (fairly abstract) thunder in this tune, which works well for this mix, because rainy days are perfect for staring out the window and just thinking about life.

Tim Story is also back,3 with “The Moors.”  It’s not quite as perfect as “Without Waves” was, perhaps, but it has a synthy, burbling water quality that I find very soothing.  Kevin Keller also makes a return appearance—his third in a row—with “Innocence,” another quiet piano-driven track, even slower than the previous two, that fits the mood of this mix quite well.  Stellamara, who graced us with tunes on volumes I and III, gives us an encore performance with “Leda,” a short but memorable track with a somewhat haunting quality.  It’s spare—two instruments at the most, and perhaps even only one, although I’m not sure which one(s).  Hammered dulcimer, perhaps? oud?  Well, no matter what the instrumentation, it’s another beautiful instrumental from the Balkan-focussed duo.  Also, Angelo Badalementi is back with another tune off the Twin Peaks soundtrack, and Hope Blister returns as well with another (even longer) minimalist track, this time off their Sideways promo release.  Finally, Smokey Bandits is back with “Last Mile,” a somewhat lonely-sounding track that’s primarily trumpet-driven.

In the category of harkening back to the inspiration for this mix4 but new to the mix itself, Ruben Garcia makes his debut here, with the same track of his that appeared on Hearts of Space: “The Continuation of Slow Motion,” off Lakeland.  This is a long, slow track, composed mostly of quiet piano melody backed by noises of distant thunder.  In that way, it’s like a combination of the Greinke and the Keller, which of course is pitch-perfect here.  And, being part of the original inspiriation, it by definition helped determine the sound of this mix anyway, so I’m glad to finally present it here.  We’ll be hearing more from Garcia on future volumes.

Then there are the artists we’ve heard from before, but not on this mix.  One of whom is David Darling, a cellist who I also discovered via Hearts of Space, and much of whose work is better suited to the mix we’ve featured him on so far: Numeric Driftwood, where he’s appeared so far on volume II and volume III.  Those tunes were more upbeat and soothing.  “Children” showcases his more somber side, and I’m sure we’ll hear more of that on volumes to come.  And, straight from his appearance on Smokelit Flashback IV, Carmen RIzzo gives us a Middle-East-flavored instrumental, “Strada.”  It’s got a little bit of mystery to it, but it’s still quite meditative, so it works well here.

Our opening stretch, composed of four shorter tracks—ranging from 1:05 to 2:12—also contains a few familiar faces, and some new ones.  I made the unusual choice of opening this volume with a “bridge,” which is really in this case an intro.  In fact, it has “intro” right in the name, and is in fact the opener for Visions by Jakatta.5  It’s called “American Dream (intro),” primarily because it lifts its basic melody from Thomas Newman’s theme for American Beauty.  The full length “American Dream” track is more of a house-style electronica tune, but this “intro” is more quiet, more thoughtful, and it builds into ... well, on Visions, it builds into another track entirely, but here I’ve let it flow into Bruno Coulais’ “In the Bed,” off the Coraline soundtrack.  So far we’ve only heard Coraline on Phantasma Chorale (which is, let’s face it, what that album was made for6), but this particular track is less creepy and child-like, and more fitting for inclusion here.  Plus it flows nicely into another new artist, Twine.  Twine is a long-distance collaboration by two purveyors of downtempo and trip-hop, one on the east coast and one on the west.7  “Small,” off Violets, is a short piece of nighttime contemplation that works beautifully here, and flows perfectly into Jami Sieber, cellist and Magnatune artist, whose pieces we’ve heard on Smooth as Whispercats I as well as Numeric Driftwood II.  “Homage” is also pretty much a bridge piece, building slowly and inevitably up to her fellow cellist David Darling.


Shadowfall Equinox IV
    [It's Dark and It Looks Like Rain]


        “American Dream (intro)” by Jakatta, off Visions
        “In the Bed” by Bruno Coulais, off Coraline [Soundtrack]
        “Small” by Twine, off Violets
        “Homage” by Jami Sieber, off Hidden Sky
        “Children” by David Darling, off Cello Blue
        “Strada” by Carmen Rizzo, off Looking Through Leaves
        “Leda” by Stellamara, off Star of the Sea
        “A Splash and Thunder” by Jeff Greinke, off Timbral Planes
        “Red Water” by Rapoon, off Cidar
        “The Continuation of Slow Motion” by Ruben Garcia, off Lakeland
        “The Downward Pull of Heaven's Force” by Babble, off The Stone
        “Momentary Truths” by Australis, off The Gates of Reality
        “The Moors” by Tim Story, off Threads
        “Innocence” by Kevin Keller, off The Day I Met Myself
        “Plainsong” by The Cure, off Disintegration
        “The Last Mile” by Smokey Bandits, off Debut
        “Sideways Four” by The Hope Blister, off Sideways
        “The Dawn” by Ēbn-Ōzn, off Feeling Cavalier
        “Laura Palmer's Theme” by Angelo Badalamenti, off Twin Peaks [Soundtrack]
   
Total:  19 tracks,  76:17


Of course, perhaps the most surprising inclusion here is the decidedly non-ambient track from the Cure, which, being the only song on the volume with any words in it at all, naturally provides our volume title.  “Plainsong” is the closest to ambient that the Cure gets on Disintegration, and, like most of that album, it’s quite gothy while not strictly achieving full goth status.8  But the use of the chimes gives it a shimmering quality that offsets the gloom of the lyrics and makes it quite lovely, and very workable for this mix, in my opinion.

Another Magnatune artist, Rapoon is really Brit Robin Storey, who comes to us via :zoviet*france:, who were an early bridge from proto-industrial to ambient.  As Rapoon, Storey is exploring Middle Eastern and Southeast Asian textures with a style often referred to as “ethno-ambient.”  “Red Water” is dark, and minimalist, and you’ll hear just a twinge of exotic lands in its relentless rhythms.  In complete contrast, Ēbn-Ōzn is pure 80s synthpop, and 99% of their output would be freakishly out of place here.  But there’s something about the synth-wash of “The Dawn” which I find irresistable.  They used it as the closer of their only full album, 1984’s Feeling Cavalier.  But I like it better as a bridge, in this case leading up to our closer here, which is the Twin Peaks selection.

And that just leaves our centerpiece.  It opens with another bridge piece, coming off the long (nearly 16 minutes altogether) minimalist trio of Greinke, Rapoon, and Garcia.  This time it’s from Babble, which is what the Thompson Twins morphed into once they actually were down to two people.  Babble isn’t bad, but it isn’t anything to write home about either.  On their debut album The Stone, there’s one good track,9 one interesting track,10 and there’s this: “The Downward Pull of Heaven’s Force,” a minute and forty seconds of slowly building synth noise that starts out like the distant noise of rushing wind and then gradually adds soft notes, like the dawn breaking over craggy mountain peaks.  Which builds beautifully up to Australis.  I can’t remember just how I discovered this great band, who are somewhere between new age and ethno-ambient, but I’m glad I finally did.  In this case, the name doesn’t refer to Australia at all, but rather harkens back to the original Latin meaning (“from the south”), and refers to the fact that this Utah project is spearheaded by Peruvian-born Oscar Aguayo.  There is occasionally some South American influence that you can pick out, but this is not Peruvian-pan-flute-style new age, if that’s what you’re worried about.  Australis has depth, complexity, and their tunes are quite interesting—and “Momentary Truths” is no exception.  We’ll be hearing more from this band, both here and on other mixes.


Next time, we’ll go from a four to a six.


Shadowfall Equinox V




__________

1 Those would be Smokelit Flashback IV, Salsatic Vibrato IV, and Paradoxically Sized World IV, natch.

2 Although not his creepiest, which would have to be Cities in Fog.

3 From Shadowfall Equinox II, that is.

4 That would be the Hearts of Space program “Shadowfall II.”  Refer back to the mix intro for full details.

5 The alter ego of British DJ Dave Lee.

6 Or I suppose it’s probably more accurate to say that mix was made for that album, since Coraline’s “End Credits” is the mix starter.

7 Of the US, I mean, in case any of my readers are not US-based.

8 Okay, maybe “Lullaby” is full-on goth.  Spiderman is having me for dinner indeed.

9 Which I haven’t figured out where to put yet.

10 Which I know where to put, but that mix is a long way from being ready for prime-time.









Sunday, July 23, 2017

Saladosity, Part 10: Dry, but Good


[This is the tenth post in a long series.  You may wish to start at the beginning.  Like all my series, it is not necessarily contiguous—that is, I don’t guarantee that the next post in the series will be next week.  Just that I will eventually finish it, someday.  Unless I get hit by a bus.]


Finally we come to the last bit of shopping that we’ll need for our salads.  Today we’re going to close out our long trip1 to the grocery store by looking at the dry goods aisle.

Spices and Seasonings

This list is surprisingly short.  I don’t have anything against dried spices per se; I just tend to use them more in cooking than in salad-making.

Salt.  Obviously you need salt.  It’s difficult to make much of anything—or at least anything you’d actually want to eat—without salt.  For the most part, we’re not using any other ingredients that might also include salt, so we get to add it ourselves.  Which is nice, because we not only get to choose what kind of salt we put in our food, but (more importantly) how much we add.

In terms of kind, for my money it’s tough to beat straight up sea salt.  Whether you like it coarse ground or finely ground is just a matter of preference, but I would stay away from the crappy iodized stuff, and contrariwise I wouldn’t bother with the super-fancy stuff, like pink Himalayan salt or what-have-you.  Good old sea salt is natural, tastes good, doesn’t require a large amount to make itself heard, and it’s fairly inexpensive to boot.

When it comes to amounts, I’m a firm believer in the “pinch.”  You can have a “little pinch,” which I would define as still being able to feel the pad of your thumb with your index finger, or you can have a “big pinch,” which to me means it’s nothing but salt between your fingertips.  If you really seriously must measure, you can always work with a big pinch equal to about 1/16 of a teaspoon, and a little pinch perhaps half that, but, really: don’t bother.  Learn to pinch.  It’s a valuable skill that never ceases to be useful.

Pepper.  By which we mean black pepper.  Now, when I was growing up, I hated pepper.  What I came to learn is, I don’t actualy hate pepper ... I just hate that crappy black pepper dust that you buy for your shakers.  My dad absolutely adores that stuff.  Whereas I can’t stand it.

Now, freshly ground peppercorns are a whole different beast.  That, as it turns out, I love.  Buy whole black peppercorns (organic if you like, but I don’t think it makes as much difference for peppercorns) and get yourself a good grinder.  (We’ll talk more about that when we get to equipment.)  And, just like I don’t actually measure salt, I don’t measure pepper either.  For me, pepper is delivered in only one unit: grinds.

Of course, the truth is, how much pepper you get out of “a grind” of your pepper mill depends on several factors, most especially the size of your grinder and how much rotational freedom your wrist has.  But, here’s the thing: how much pepper you want depends on your personal relationship with pepper.  So I don’t get fussed about exact measurements for pepper, because they likely wouldn’t work for you anyway.  Just start with however many grinds I suggest the first time you make it, then adjust for taste thereafter.  I do love pepper, but I don’t put way more pepper than you can stand in anything.  Except eggs.2

Garlic Powder.  The most important thing to note here is that garlic powder is not interchangeable with garlic salt.  Remember: we want to control how much salt we’re adding to things.  Trying to substitute garlic salt when I tell you to use garlic powder is just going to end up making everything too salty.  And too much salt is not particularly good for you—not as bad as too much lots-of-other-things, but not great either—so that would defeat the purpose of eating healthy via salad.

You can buy organic garlic powder if you like, but, as with the peppercorns, I doubt you’ll notice much difference (if any).  Could you substitute fresh garlic instead?  Well, I suppose you could.  Should you?  I personally don’t think so.  There are several spices where fresh is the same as dried, only nicer: oregano, for instance, or cilantro, or parsley, or basil.  Garlic is not one of them.  Garlic powder is just not the same as fresh garlic; they’re two entirely different beasts.  But, hey: you do you.

Optional:  In the you-don’t-need-it-but-you-might-want-it category, it won’t hurt to pick out a nice taco seasoning.  It’s hard as hell to find one without any undesireable ingredients in it: most of them have corn starch, which is silly, and almost all of them have sugar, which is just annoying and unnecessary.  Even the Trader Joe’s store brand3 fails me here—they’ve omitted the corn starch, but left in the sugar.  Et tu, Trader Joe’s?  I bite my thumb at you, sir!

So get whatever you can find.  It’ll be nice to have if you want actual meat when we come to the Mexican salad.

Oils

There is huge debate over which oils are good and which are bad.  Some like canola; some spit on the ground in disgust at the mere mention of it.  Some favor flaxseed; some say it’s vastly overrated and tastes terrible to boot.  Some rave about coconut; others claim it has more detrimental effects than beneficial ones.  I’m not here to settle these debates for you.  I’m just going to give you a few options that I myself use, and then you pick what you like.

Remember: for this application, we’re not going to be cooking anything with these.  That means it’s okay to get delicate, flavorful oils, even those that have a low smokepoint.  (In fact, delicate and flavorful is desireable; low smokepoint is just irrelevant.)  Look for cold-pressed oils wherever possible; most experts agree that extraction methods that involve heat tend to destroy at least some of the valuable nutritional bits.4

Avocado Oil.  Avocado oil is my new favorite oil of all time.  It has a great, fruity taste which is ever so vaguely reminiscent of avocados, without being strongly redolent of them, and it turns everything a delightful, delicate shade of green.  It is a bit pricey, and you can overdo it; for both those reasons, I often use half avocado and half something else, or perhaps two-thirds avocado and one-third something else, if I’m feeling saucy.  But you owe it to yourself to try some, at least once.  It’s really worthwhile.

Grapeseed Oil.  This is a weird one.  Grapeseed oil has a piquant taste that can easily overpower things if you’re not careful.  I originally bought it to experiment with it as a mayonnaise base, but that was a big flop.  Then, just to get rid of it, I started using it for my cilantro dressing, and it actually shone there, so I’ve continued using it for that.  In fact, that’s now the only thing I use it for.  If you don’t want to have an extra bottle of oil lying around, you can skip this one and substitute any of the other oils in the cilantro dressing, but I like the grapeseed there.  Just not anywhere else.

Sunflower Oil.  Sunflower oil is a great neutral oil: it doesn’t have a strong taste, and it has a decent smokepoint, so you can actually cook with it as well.  For our purposes, we’re mainly going to be using it to cut the avocado oil, lest that get overpowering.  But it’s a handy, versatile oil that you can use for lots of things, so it’s handy backup.

Fair warning: some people put sunflower in the category of “bad” oils.  My personal opinion is, it’s leagues better than corn or soy, and I personally think, from my limited research, that it beats out canola as well.  But you make your own choices.

Optional: It’s hard to go wrong with a good olive oil.  Personally, I like olive oil for cooking certain things—especially Italian things—but then, if you’re going to cook with it, you don’t need the fancy extra-virgin stuff, which you do want for cold applications.5  So I end up buying the cheap olive oil to cook with, so then I don’t want to use it in dressings, and besides I think avocado oil is more interesting anyway.

Things in Jars

Probably the vinegar should have gone here, but I stuck it under condiments.  Ah well.  That leaves only one thing ...

Dill pickles.  Now you may recall that I’m not a huge fan of vinegar, which means I don’t like pickles.  Which ought to mean that I don’t like pickle relish ... except I do.  I cannot explain this.  But I like pickle relish on hot dogs, I like pickle relish in deviled eggs—and, more relevantly, in egg salad—and pickle relish is an absolutely crucial ingredient in Thousand Islands dressing, which is one of my favorite dressings.6

But, here’s the thing: sweet pickle relish is not really healthy.  It’s usually sweetened with terrible things, and you really don’t need the sweet.  Honest.  I would not lie to you.  But you can’t buy non-sweet pickle relish ... unless you go to Whole Foods and spend a buttload of money.  And we’re not going to do that.  We’re just going to make pickle relish.

Which, as it turns out, is stupidly simple.  And here’s the thing about a jar full of dill pickles: it has 0 calories, and 0 fat, and 0 carbs.  Which means the pickle relish will have 0 all-that-stuff too.  Good luck getting that with your sweet relish.



And, with that, the shopping is over!  Next we can move on to equipment.



__________

1 Considering that our first grocery store post in this series was over 2 years ago, it’s a hell of a long trip indeed.

2 Remember that last caveat when we come to our egg salad.

3 You haven’t forgotten that I do the vast majority of my shopping at TJ’s, now, have you?

4 But not all experts, of course.  You’re never going to get all experts to agree on anything.

5 Also, if you’re going to cook with it, don’t forget that olive oil has a terrible smokepoint—worse even than butter—so you should only use it for cooking low and slow.

6 Note that, from a Whole30 perspective, Thousand Islands is completely cheating, unless you’ve found some Whole30-approved ketchup.  See the condiments post for more ideas on that.









Sunday, July 16, 2017

Another lost week ...

The clock has gotten away from me this weekend and I’ve run out of time to prepare a post for this week.  I’ll continue to soldier on and claim that there’s a chance of having something up here for you next week.

Sunday, July 9, 2017

Musings on the past, and on the future


I’m once again locked into that mode where I’m wrestling with a thorny problem for $work, and behind on some personal/family chores as well.  Add to that the fact that our A/C doesn’t work and the “feels like” temperature outside was 111° today, so that I spent a good deal of my weekend time in the pool, and that our middle child has a friend over for the night so that I’ve had to do a minimal amount of “entertaining,” and I just don’t have the time (or energy) to devote to a proper post this week.

Now, I know that this scenario is becoming all too common lately.  And that’s a shame, because I have no shortage of topics that I want to write about.  And, even if all of you (or I suppose all of the potential “yous”) have actually taken my advice and nobody is reading this blog, that doesn’t particularly deter me.  I like having a place that I can reference by throwing out a link to in an online discussion, or a place where I can point my family to if they want to understand me a bit better.  To expand on that last point, The Mother is a scrapbooker: she’s constantly taking pictures and making pages out of them, and our children don’t necessarily look at them ... right now.  But I’m sure one day they’ll be pleased to have all those pictures to remind them of the good times they had as kids.  Similarly, most of my family (even The Mother herself) don’t pay a lot of attention to my ramblings from week to week.  But I have faith that, someday, they may be interested to go back and learn some things about their old man that they might not remember ... or maybe even never knew.

So I do intend to keep this blog limping along, even considering the recent reductions in posting frequency.  Whether you, dear reader, will keep tuning in to read the next installment—or just to see if there is a next installment—well, that’s entirely up to you.









Sunday, July 2, 2017

Thrashomatic Danger Mix I

"Dog Will Hunt"

[This is one post in a series about my music mixes.  The series list has links to all posts in the series and also definitions of many of the terms I use.  You may wish to read the introduction for more background.

Like all my series, it is not necessarily contiguous—that is, I don’t guarantee that the next post in the series will be next week.  Just that I will eventually finish it, someday.  Unless I get hit by a bus.]



“Angry” music is stereotypically associated with teenage boys.  I certainly was a teenage boy once,1 and I listened to my share of angry music then.  But I never really stopped.  I find there to be something cleansing in music that you need to crank way up or else it’s not worth listening to—music to make your ears bleed, music to headbang and thrash and pogo to.  I was, in fact, exactly 26 years old when I heard these lyrics:2

No new tale to tell,
Twenty-six years on my way to hell.
Gotta listen to your big-time, hard-line, bad luck, fist fuck.
Don’t think you’re having all the fun:
You know me, I hate everyone.


Now, I certainly didn’t hate everyone back then ... but, you know, everyone has those days when they just want to say “fuck the world.”  And when those moods hit me, I mainly want to put in some music that fuels my rage—“unchecked aggression music,” I sometimes call it—because, after I’ve finished listening to that, after my adrenaline has shot through the roof then slowly wended its way back down, after I’m physically exhausted from the jumping around that is absolutely required to keep up with the beats of these songs ... after all that, I just feel better.  These are songs that (at least for me) stoke my rage, sure, then whirl it around, carrying me helplessly along, then the music stops and my rage is gone.  It washes into me, through me, and then out of me.  This is not music which makes my black moods worse: this is fucking therapy.

Of course, this is not to everyone’s tastes.  There will be lots of F-bombs (three just in the post so far), and some people don’t like that.  There will be screeching guitars, and some people don’t like that.  There will be screeching vocals too, and some people really don’t like that.  So if this mix is not your cup of tea, I can dig that.  But, if you’re open to some good, old-fashioned, “angry” music, I think you’re going to enjoy the shit out of this one (profanity very much intended).

Now, some people have a tendency to pick an angry music genre and stick with it: punk, or metal, or industrial, or grunge, or what-have-you.  I’m a bit more eclectic, so this will definitely be an “all of the above” approach.  Why limit yourself?  You’ll see all those subgenres represented below, plus more specific variations—speed metal, or hardcore punk—and other styles as well, such as nu-metal (which is not quite metal), skate-thrash (which is not quite punk), funk metal (which is not quite anything but itself), and some just plain pop that got out of control.  And whatever in that rage soup that we only brush lightly here in volume I you can rest assured will be more fully explored in volumes to come.

This volume actually started out life as a pre-modern mix.3  Most of the tracks that were on the original version are retained here, and mostly in the same order.  However, I’ve also taken the liberty of expanding it and diversifying it somewhat, to reflect my chameleon moods (by which I mean that I have many shades of black).

Let’s start by looking at what may well be my absolute favorite unchecked agression music: industrial.  Early industrial (which I generally refer to as “proto-industrial”) is not, in my opinion, very good.  It’s messy and experimental, much like no wave, only even more chaotic, if such a thing can be imagined.  This phase is epitomized by Cabaret Voltaire and Throbbing Gristle, and especially the granddaddy of all industrial, Einstürzende Neubauten, who were known for things like beating hollow metal pipes against the concrete walls of underpass tunnels and calling it music.  While I don’t much care to listen to that sort of stuff, I do acknowledge that I owe a great debt to those bands, because without them we wouldn’t have the great industrial bands of today.  I like to think of industrial as being split down the middle, with the guitar-based bands on one side, such as Big Black and Ministry, and the synth-based bands such as Nitzer Ebb and KMFDM on the other.  And, of course, bridging the two, the perfectly balanced guitars-and-synth-working-together of Nine Inch Nails.

For this volume, we have two entries from the life-changing NIN, including the one I quoted at the beginning, “Wish.”  I was originally going to try to restrict myself to only one, but “Wish” is just too perfect to leave off, and there was absolutely no way I was going to bump “Sin.”  Off Reznor’s amazing first album (which really did change my life, in some ways) Pretty Hate Machine, “Sin” vies with a lot of other great candidates: “Head Like a Hole,” “Terrible Lie,” “That’s What I Get” ... hell, nearly the entirety of that first album could fit here.  But there’s a special place in my heart for “Sin.”  Perhaps it was playing it at a college party once and seeing a good friend of mine really get into it,4 or perhaps it’s just the perfection of the lyrics (“you give me the anger; you give me the nerve”), but I just adore this song.  It really gets under my skin, to steal a few more of its excellent words.

But the industrial train doesn’t stop there: we also get to hear from Ministry, with their amazing “Stigmata,” and Big Black, with the insanely good “Kerosene.”  Both of these bands can be hit-or-miss with me.  Ministry has a few other tracks that I think are almost as good as this one,5 while Big Black has hardly anything else which comes close.  But these two songs are just fucking brilliant.  Again, the lyrics are a big part.  Here’s a bit of “Stigmata”:

Just like a car crash,
Just like a knife,
My favourite weapon
Is the look in your eyes ...


There’s also a line about “chewing on glass,” which is pretty much what the music sounds like, but in a good way.  And then there’s “Kerosene,” which absolutely has to be the number one most perfect song ever written about the hell of living in a small town:

Never anything to do in this town
(Live here my whole life)
Probably learn to die in this town
(Live here my whole life)
Nothing to do, sit around at home,
Sit around at home, stare at the walls,
Stare at each other and wait till we die,
Stare at each other and wait till we die,
Probably come to die in this town ...


The music for this tune is bass-heavy, menacing; it stalks you, like a kerosene fire, waiting to pounce on you ... which, eventually, it does.  “Kerosene” (and Big Black in general) was another introduction by the same friend of mine who first played me “Goo Goo Muck” by the Cramps and made me truly appreciate “Troy” by Sinead.6  She always said it was the only song that could make her dance on the table ... so naturally we played it often at parties.  But above and beyond the fondness of my personal connection, it really is just an amazing song that you sort of have to hear to believe.

Moving on past industrial to grunge, we of course couldn’t have a mix like this without throwing in some Nirvana.  My original cut at this mix included “Smells Like Teen Spirit,” but it was just too obvious ... and, anyway, that’s not the best/thrashiest song on Nevermind.  I personally give that honor to “Lounge Act,” whose third verse features some of Cobain’s best tortured screaming while still being a very hooky tune somehow.  To complement Nirvana in the Seattle grunge scene, I went with a more obscure option—Mudhoney.  Who really shouldn’t be obscure: the half of Green River that didn’t go on to form Pearl Jam7 became Mudhoney, and, while they may not have been as influential in the popularization of grunge as their fellow Seattleites Nirvana, Pearl Jam, Soundgarden, or even Alice in Chains, honestly, they kick more ass than most of those other guys put together (and that’s saying something).  Mudhoney’s first album is their rawest, and therefore their best, and I was torn on which track off it to include here.  After narrowing it down to two, I finally went with “Get into Yours.”8  It’s a fairly short track—as are many of the songs here9but it gives you a good idea of the Mudhoney style.

When it came to Boston grunge, I could of course have gone with Dinosaur Jr, or even Buffalo Tom, but in the end there really is no substitute for the Pixies.  Of course, the Pixies were more than just a grunge band, but, if you had any doubt that they were at least a grunge band, put them to rest with the two offerings I present here.  Off of Doolittle, there is the classic “Debaser,” in which Black Francis would like you to know that he’s got him a movie, slicing up eyeballs (oh ho ho ho!).  But the grungiest Pixies album of all has got to be Trompe le Monde, from which I chose “Planet of Sound,” which is just an amazing ride that builds to a frenetic wail by the end.  It’s not to be missed.

Now, when it comes to heavy metal, I confess I’m not much of a fan.  My favorite Metallica album is the Black Album, which I gather many hardcore metalheads felt was a bit of a sellout album for them.10  But even on the original iteration of this mix I knew I couldn’t realistically put together something called “Thrashomatic” with including some Metallica, so I went to a friend of mine who was a huge Metallica-head and asked for some ideas.  After rejecting many (many) suggestions, I finally decided that “Trapped Under Ice” wasn’t too awful, and it might grow on me.  (Which in fact it has.  A bit.)  When I built this version of the mix, I also decided to throw in the one and only Anthrax song I like: their cover of Joe Jackson’s “Got the Time,” which I find simultaneously hilarious, headbanging, and almost subversive.  I’ve used it as the volume closer here.  Of course, I’ve now pretty much shot my speed metal wad, and future volumes may just have to fight over “Enter Sandman.”

Which leaves us, among the big four, with punk.  Of course the huge names here are the Sex Pistols and the Ramones, and I’ve not included either of them, which is probably a bit sacrilegious on my part.  But I did throw in a short Black Flag tune—“I Don’t Care,” which, despite being a bit macho, I still think is an absolutely great snippet of hardcore punk.  Moving from the late 70s to 1990, I next went to Sonic Youth’s album Goo, which is a fantastic album that you should run out and buy right now.  Sonic Youth is a bit of a bridge between punk and nu-metal, and they can do feedback-laced noise-rock with the best of ’em.  “Mary-Christ” is the hardest thing on Goo that I actually like; anything harder than that (e.g. “Mildred Pierce”) is a bit too angry even for me.  Finally, when looking at modern punk, you’re talking about two major bands: Green Day, and the Offspring.  While I’ve no doubt that something appropriately gnarly off Dookie is looming in our future for volume II, for this volume I chose “Bad Habit,” which is certainly the greatest ode to road rage ever written:

You drive on my ass,
Your foot’s on the gas,
And your next breath is your last ...


Looking at the choices which are a bit of a mixed bag, there’s Suicidal Tendencies, who are ostensibly a hardcore punk band, but who also evince elements of skate-thrash and funk metal.  Many people favor “Institutionalized” for a Suicidal choice,11 and, while that’s an amazing song, I fell in love with “You Can’t Bring Me Down” when I first heard it.  Probably mostly because of Mike Muir’s confrontational lyrics: not only does he advise his listeners that they wouldn’t know what crazy was if Charles Manson was eating fruit loops on their front porch, but he also points out that:

Yeah, maybe sometimes I do feel like shit.
I ain’t happy about it, but I’d rather feel like shit than be full of shit.
And if I offended you, oh I’m sorry.
But maybe you need to be offended.
But here’s my apology, and one more thing ... fuck you!


But let’s not give short shrift to Rocky George’s amazing guitar work on this track either.

I also threw in a track from the Vines—the magnificent “Get Free”—which I suppose is categorized as nu-metal, and one from the Butthole Surfers, who are generally not considered categorizable in any way.  Not all their music is angry, but it’s all somewhat mindbending, and their bizarre “Human Cannonball” is actually fairly tame for them.  But it’s plenty punky enough to warrant inclusion here.  Then we have whatever you want to call Bad Brains ... mostly I’ve heard them referred to as “hardcore.”  Now, hardcore is a term which was originally short for “hardcore punk,” and it applied to bands like Black Flag and the Circle Jerks.  Somewhere along the line it became shorthand for a strange marriage of punk and metal, and then it sort of became its own thing.  And Bad Brains is the hardcoriest of hardcore, as far as I’m concerned ... I can listen to very few of their songs in a row before my eyeballs start to bleed a little.  But “Soulcraft” is certainly the best of their best, and I couldn’t omit it for this mix.

Well, there are some Bad Brains songs I can listen to without physical damage, and that’s because 30 – 40% of Bad Brains’ output is actually reggae.  Not like reggae-tinged, nor reggae-influenced, nor even reggae-infused ... just plain straight up reggae.  I don’t know if there’s a word for bands that do partially thrashy-ass hardcore music and partially laid-back reggae, but, if there is, it also applies to 24-7 Spyz, who have some absolutely fantastic reggae gems on their debut album Harder Than You.12  When they’re not doing laid-back, they’re amping up with a branch of hardcore that’s probably closest to funk metal: nice strong basslines, and just a touch of hip-hop sensibility that’s hard to put your finger on.  I find “Grandma Dynomite” in particular to be an incredible piece of thrash, and there was never any question in my mind but that it would be showcased here.


Thrashomatic Danger Mix I
    [Dog Will Hunt]


        “Trust Me” by Jesus Jones, off Doubt
        “Wish” by Nine Inch Nails, off Broken [EP]
        “Jerry Was a Race Car Driver” by Primus, off Sailing the Seas of Cheese
        “Mary-Christ” by Sonic Youth, off Goo
        “Human Cannonball” by Butthole Surfers, off Locust Abortion Technician
        “Bad Habit” by The Offspring, off Smash
        “Debaser” by Pixies, off Doolittle
        “Grandma Dynamite” by 24-7 Spyz, off Harder Than You
        “Dad I'm in Jail” by Was (Not Was), off What Up, Dog?
        “Soulcraft” by Bad Brains, off Quickness
        “Sunless Saturday” by Fishbone, off The Reality of My Surroundings
        “Kerosene” by Big Black, off The Rich Man's Eight Track Tape [Compilation]13
        “Trapped Under Ice” by Metallica [Single]
        “Waiting Room” by Fugazi, off 13 Songs
        “Get Free” by The Vines, off Highly Evolved
        “Planet of Sound” by Pixies, off Trompe le Monde
        “I Don't Care” by Black Flag, off Everything Went Black [Compilation]
        “Sin” by Nine Inch Nails, off Pretty Hate Machine
        “You Can't Bring Me Down” by Suicidal Tendencies, off Lights ... Camera ... Revolution
        “Get into Yours” by Mudhoney, off Mudhoney
        “Stigmata” by Ministry, off The Land of Rape and Honey
        “Lounge Act” by Nirvana, off Nevermind
        “Got the Time” by Anthrax, off Persistence of Time
   
Total:  23 tracks,  78:39


Genre-wise, that only leaves us with funk metal.  Again, there are two big names here—Red Hot Chili Peppers and Primus—and, again, I’ve chosen only one representative.  We may see the Peppers here eventually (although honestly they’re mostly better suited for a different mix14), but Primus can thrash a bit harder when they put their minds to it, in my opinion.  “Jerry Was a Race Car Driver” is the ultimate expression of that,15 and it was always on this mix, quite near the front—it may have been the original opener, in fact, though I can’t recall now.  The lyrics are not particularly angry, per se, but they are Primus-typically whimsical and, as an added bonus, they provide our volume title.

For more excellent examples of funk metal, I’ve chosen Fugazi’s not-nearly-well-known-enough “Waiting Room,” which is one of my all-time favorite bass-heavy thrashers.  It lends itself to moshing most excellently—I had some friends that had a band and they used to play a cover of this song, and I’m pretty sure it was mainly to watch me attempt to mosh to it.  And then we have Fishbone, architects of my all-time favorite party song.16  Not everything Fishbone does is funk metal, but they have a knack for it, and The Reality of My Surroundings is the album on which they achieve it most often.  “Sunless Saturday” is a vicious attack on urban decay full of power chords, a thumping bassline, and some fine trumpet work by Walter Kibbey II.

Which just leaves us with the two “what the fuck?” choices.  Our volume opener is the opener for Jesus Jones’ second and best (by quite a large margin) album, Doubt.  While the majority of this album is full of slick pop gems like “Right Here, Right Now” and “Real, Real, Real,” there are also a couple of surprisingly hard-edged tracks there as well.  There’s the sludgy “Stripped,” reminiscent of the electro-industrial of bands like Stabbing Westward or Machines of Loving Grace.  But it’s the sudden blast of “Trust Me” that really blew me away.  It sails in smoothly on a meager feedback tone, there’s four almost quiet drumstick hits, an electronic voice says “trust me: I know what I’m doing” ... and then the guitars and drums just explode.  I don’t know what you normally expect from Jesus Jones, but I bet it isn’t this.  It’s only 2 minutes long, but it’s the perfect opener.

Finally, there’s the bizarre little minute-and-a-half that is “Dad I’m in Jail,” by the ever-eclectic Was (Not Was).  A lot of their music has a bit of a soul feel (such as “Spy in the House of Love” or “Walk the Dinosaur”), but they are far-ranging, which explains why we’ve seen them so far on mixes as diverse as Bleeding Salvador, and Moonside by Riverlight, which is just about diametrically opposed to this particular mix.  “Dad I’m in Jail” was a weird little snippet that I first heard in the background of Pump Up the Volumea movie which is decidedly average, but that song really stuck with me.  I had almost forgotten about it when I happened to pick up a copy of Was (Not Was)‘s What Up, Dog? in a used CD store one day and nearly hooted in delight upon perusing the tracklist.  I bought it mainly for that one track, but there are 1517 others to recommend it as well.  “Dad I’m in Jail” is a gleeful, cacophonous, discordant jumble, with distorted cackling from David Was that’s just perfect when you’re feeling a need to vent.


Next time, let’s take it way down from this energy level and go back to something much more soothing.



__________

1 Yes, yes: long ago.  But once.

2 Primarily because Trent Reznor and I are very close to the same age.

3 Remember, that means it was originally a one-off mix tape, back in the early 90s.

4 There’s something energizing about watching someone you care about really throw themselves into a song.  We’ll see it again when we get to “Kerosene.”

5 And I’m sure we’ll see them on upcoming volumes.

6 And, honestly, I think she may have introduced me to “Stigmata” too, now that I think about it.

7 Via Mother Love Bone, of course.

8 And we’ll see that other choice on volume II, I’m sure.

9 I think this sort of music just lends itself to shorter songs.  Unchecked aggression is hard to maintain over long periods.

10 Which—let’s be honest—is probably why I actually liked it.

11 And we’re sure to see that one on volume II, because, you know: all I wanted was a fuckin’ Pepsi!

12 Which produced, so Wikipedia tells me, the first ever video to get played on 120 Minutes, Yo! MTV Raps, Hard 60, and Headbanger’s Ball.  Just to give you a taste of how eclectic they were.

13 If you just want something downloadable, you can also get “Kerosene” off of Atomizer.  But you really owe it to yourself to pick up Rick Man’s Eight Track if you can find it.

14 Which we will come to, of course, in the fullness of time

15 Again, just my opinion ... but, then, it’s my mix so it’s my opinion that counts, don’t ya know.

16 And the only exception to the No Reuse Rule.  See the series list for full details.

17 Yes, fifteen!  Quite a bargain for a single album.