Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Ignoring a Gift Horse Full of Books....

Space. I need space in my office. I've long felt trapped, nearly consumed, by all the books in my office. So, I pulled together some 200-plus books: mostly trade paperbacks, but a handful of mass markets and hardcovers, and decided to donate them -- I just needed them gone, if you can relate to that.

A friend of mine suggested I donate them to the local library. So, I searched for a list of all the San Jose Public Library branches in my area, and selected the branch to which my daughter takes her daughter -- my granddaughter. I found the branch's Friends of the Library president's email address, and I emailed her. Explaining who I was and why I had a lot of brand new, unread books available to donate. The following day I realized I had neglected to mention one more point so I emailed her again. After a week of no response whatsoever, I emailed the library branch manager. She responded within a day, telling me that the president of the Friends was the correct individual to contact and that I should email her again -- this time, with more details on the books: if these were all unique titles, or duplicates, etc.

I deleted that email.

I waited another week. Still no reply from the president of the Friends of the Library. Since school had started I assumed this individual wasn't on vacation, but simply was not responding to my email.

I'm not going to email again and beg for this person to take my 200-plus free books; I'm not going to email and elaborate on the contents and makeup of these free books. They. Are. Free! They are packed in boxes, they are ready to be delivered, all I needed was to know where to take them and hopefully have a representative there to take the boxes off my hands.

The library is going to have a book sale at some point, and people are going to pay $5 or $10 or whatever it is the library charges for a bag of books: brand new, unread genre books that the library is getting for free. And these $5 or $10 amounts are going to add up and go towards needed resources for that library. But, this individual chose to not respond to my offer of free books.

Screw 'em.

The boxes are now loaded in my car, and tomorrow I go to The Salvation Army where they will take all 200-plus books off my hands, no questions asked, and gladly spread them throughout their South Bay stores with a $1.00 or more price tag per book. (No $5/$10 per bag at The Salvation Army!) And hopefully a lot of the books will sell and the organization will use the money for the various charitable projects that they support.

And I will write off the entire donation on my taxes regardless.

Saturday, August 27, 2016

Redux: Glimpses by Lewis Shiner

"Maybe it's our generation. We seem to have a hard time growing up. Maybe because when we were in high school we thought we'd never have to. The music told us we would live forever, everything would be love and peace and harmony. It took me a long time to let go of that....But I've finally started to get there."

I was nearing the end of Glimpses, by Lewis Shiner, when I read this paragraph -- and for some reason, the words just stuck with me.

The protagonist in Glimpses, Ray Shackleford, meets up with his first true love, a woman named Alex, a couple decades after their relationship ended. (I assume "Alex" is short for Alexandria or some such; and I don't recall ever learning her last name, either). They're catching up on old times, and also talking about current times.

Anyhow, since these words stuck with me, I just wanted to share them here. You can read my previous blog post on August 24 on Glimpses.

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Now Reading: Glimpses by Lewis Shiner

Shiner_GlimpsesGlimpses, by Lewis Shiner, was originally published in 1993 by William Morrow and Company. The following year it won the World Fantasy Award for Best Novel. I read Glimpses when it was originally published -- at a time when I was listening to a lot of music on CDs. Since then, the book has sat on a shelf, until now....

The protagonist in the story, Ray Shackleford, has his own stereo repair business; obviously he listens to a lot of music. He's also caught up in an eleven-year marriage that is cold, unemotional: a dead-end. He's also dealing with the recent death of his father: a man Ray hated, but he never got the opportunity -- or was never man enough -- to tell his father how he felt.

Amidst all this grief and angst, Roy has discovered the ability to channel his emotions into the music of Jim Morrison, Brian Wilson, The Beatles, and Jimi Hendrix -- music that the musicians attempted, almost created, but never completed. Only this time around Roy, in a dreamlike fugue state, is able to record this music that never was.
"Shiner couldn't have written this book without a deeply felt sense of the fragility of art, of how many great works have passed into the ages never to enlighten, inform, or entertain new generations. Though the masterworks he conjures up in such exquisite detail are lost to us, we now have a bit of compensation for their absence: a masterpiece of the imagination called Glimpses." —Richard Foss, Los Angeles Reader

"You don't have to be a musician to love Glimpses, but musicians will appreciate how free it is of the strained, embarrassing attempts to describe the musical process that torpedo so many non-musicians when they try to write about music. Much less gimmicky than it sounds, Glimpses is ingenious, well-crafted, and deeply moving."
—Joe Gore, Guitar Player

"Though he's dealing with a somewhat strained metaphor—the unfinished business of a generation—Shiner is enough of a storyteller that you're never put off by the underlying sentimentality. Even more impressive, he makes you believe the albums his (admittedly autobiographical) protagonist conjures up are the masterpieces they're supposed to be. Quite a performance." —Stereo Review

When the book was published in France in 2014. Shiner's French publisher put together a complete playlist of all the songs mentioned or played throughout the novel. (Scroll down at the link; but one caveat: the text is in French, but you can still make out all the song titles.) But the French publisher didn't stop there: he put together a YouTube video playlist of all the songs as well. So as you read the book, you can hit YouTube to listen to all (or most; some vids are not available in the U.S.) of the songs as they are mentioned throughout the novel.

Glimpses was reprinted in paperback in 2012, with an absolutely dreadful blue cover; so if you were ever to purchase a copy, please snag the original hardcover, pictured here. Since the original hardcover is long out of print, you can actually pick up a used copy that's very inexpensive, in fact cheaper than the paperback edition.

Saturday, August 20, 2016

Foo Fighters' Sonic Highways Blu-ray

Sonic Highways_Foo FightersI just finished watching all eight episodes of Sonic Highways, an HBO original series about the Foo Fighters, that was originally broadcast in 2014. The series documents the band's road odyssey to write and record eight songs in eight different cities for their eighth album, to mark the band's fifteenth anniversary.

I lost track of the number of "wow!" moments while watching these eight eps. Each one an in-depth history lesson on the city, its music and culture. The interviews with record label execs, producers, writers, musicians, journalists, etc. were flawlessly edited and mixed throughout with cityscapes (historical and current) and performance clips documenting each city's musical heritage.

I'm now planning on ordering the eight-track album. If you read the album's reviews on amazon, you'll notice that many of them are mediocre: some good songs, not the band's best or typical album, and such. But if you then read the comments to these reviews you'll see that, every time, the responder states that you can't appreciate the songs if you haven't seen the video. Why? Because each song was influenced by the recording studio in which it was recorded; by the history, the spirits if you will, of those who played before: the same piano that Ray Charles played when he recorded in that very same studio decades earlier, for example. And the lyrics that Dave Grohl wrote for each song were also some of the same words spoken by those interviewed throughout the episode. I think at one point Grohl even states that the song is more of a document, a record of the city's musical legacy.

Bear with me and I'll give you an example.

Here's the album's track list:
1. "Something from Nothing" - recorded in Chicago at the Electrical Audio Studio
2. "The Feast and the Famine" - recorded in Washington D.C at the Inner Ear Studio
3. "Congregation" - recorded in Nashville at the Southern Ground Studio
4. "What Did I Do?/God As My Witness" - recorded in Austin at the original Austin City Limits Studio
5. "Outside" - recorded in Los Angeles at the Rancho De La Luna Studio
6. "In the Clear" - recorded in New Orleans at Preservation Hall
7. "Subterranean" - recorded in Seattle at the Robert Lang Studios
8. "I Am a River" - recorded in New York at the Magic Shop
The last episode featured the city and music of New York. In 1961, when Bob Dylan was nineteen, he knocked on the door to Woody Guthrie's apartment. Guthrie's daughter, Nora, answered the door. When she saw it was some stranger, she closed the door on him. He knocked, she opened the door, and closed it once again. The third time Arlo answered the door, saw that this young stranger had a guitar, and invited him in. Dylan has always said that Woody Guthrie was his biggest influence. If he didn't get invited into that apartment that day, what affect would that have had on the burgeoning folk -- and later folk-rock -- scene at the time in New York City?

Nora Guthrie also tells of receiving a package in the mail shortly after 9/11, long after Woody had passed away. The package was wrapped in brown paper and twine, with no return address -- exactly the type of package she should not have opened at the time, but she did so knowingly anyhow. The package contained four small spools of silver wire; no note in the package; she had no idea who had sent this to her. The spools contained "live wire" -- a recording process used for about a year and a half in the late 1940s, after which recordings were made using tape. These wire spools turned out to be the only recorded performance of Woody Guthrie in front of an audience. Steven Rosenthal, at SoHo's Magic Shop recording studio, brought that wire recording to life. The album The Live Wire: Woody Guthrie in Performance 1949 won the 2008 Grammy Award for Best Historical Album.

In the Foo Fighters' song "I Am a River," the lyrics "The channel's changing / The heart is racing / From voices on a wire" refer to that "live wire" Woody Guthrie recording. And the song title itself? "I Am a River"? Refers to the underground river that Jimi Hendrix discovered when he built Electric Lady Studios in New York. Who would have thought a river flowed beneath 52 West 8th Street in Greenwich Village.

This, and more, is what I learned from just one episode of the Sonic Highways Blu-ray.

Check out the three-and-a-half-minute trailer below, and then go buy your copy of Sonic Highways from amazon, or wherever it is that you buy your vids.

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

Now Reading: Freak Out! My Life with Frank Zappa

Freak Out!In my previous blog post I wrote that I was boxing up years of editorial ephemera and shipping it out to the respective authors -- or, if unwanted by said authors, tossing it into the city-provided recycling bin. Yes, just one publisher for right now, nearly ten years of my life, in boxes and bins.

Anyhow, the process of unloading so many paper-filled boxes in my office allowed me to access other boxes that I haven't been able to get to in years.

And in one of those boxes I found this book -- Freak Out! My Life with Frank Zappa, by Pauline Butcher -- that I had been wanting to read for some time, but was unable to find it! Yes, things (books, postal scales, notepads, cables and other gear) actually do get lost in my office. I purchased this book in the summer of 2012 (it was officially published in October 2011) after learning about it on Facebook, from the author herself, on a Frank Zappa page.

Ms. Butcher was employed by Forum Secretarial Services, located in the heart of London in 1967. On August 16, 1967, Pauline happened to be the one to answer the phone because the owner was out of the office. The call was from the concierge at the Royal Garden Hotel: "We have a client who wants a typist at six-thirty." As Pauline took the call -- and none of the other workers were particularly anxious to go out -- she accepted the job.

Upon arriving at the hotel, and taking the "lift" to the fourth floor...
...I trotted along the corridor to Room 412, set my cases on the floor, and knocked.

Nothing prepared me for the figure that opened the door.

Squiggly, ink-black curls fell below his shoulders. He had a long, thin face with a thick, drooping moustache and an extra tuft under his bottom lip. He wore an orange t-shirt and pink trousers over the skinniest of bodies. I blurted out, " Oh, I'm sorry, I've come to the wrong room."

"Par-leen Butcher?" he said in a deep, American drawl.

"Yes, is Mr. Zappa here?"

He held out a straight arm and I stood there, astonished. This was Mr. Zappa? Undeniably, he had a Mediterranean air with his swarthy skin and dark eyes that held mine in a bemused gaze. We shook hands and he said, "Come on in." He pressed his back against the door as I picked up my bags and brushed past. He kept nodding confusedly, as if he'd expected a fifty-five-year-old with flat shoes and Lisle stockings.

Pauline eventually went to work for Frank Zappa -- and later his Bizarre Records label -- initially living in the Laurel Canyon "log cabin," located in the Hollywood Hills, for about a year, with at least a dozen other people: aside from FZ and his wife Gail and daughter Moon, there was PamZ, Christine (one of the GTOs), Calvin, occasional members of the Mothers of Invention (primarily Ian Underwood), and others. At any time, day or night, you might find Mick Jagger and Marianne Faithful hanging about, or members of The Monkees, or Eric Clapton, or Jeff Beck and Rod Stewart, or members of Pink Floyd, or Grace Slick, or.... Once word got out that FZ was residing in the log cabin, anybody and everybody managed to drop by at some point in time.

Ms. Butcher kept a journal during her tenure with FZ, and wrote regular letters, at length, to her mother in England, who kept those letters. This memoir is based on her journal entries and letters to her mother.