Monday, November 30, 2009

Blue Cyber Monday

For about ten minutes, today was a really good day.

Things didn't start off very promising; I'd slept in past my intended target hour and was wondering as I checked e-mail if I was going to get any of the four things I needed to get accomplished that I'd listed out last night:

1. Mail dropoff at the Post Office
2. Fluid top-off/computer inquiry at Valvoline
3. Return/exchange at Borders
4. Cyber Monday orders (if applicable)

Cyber Monday was pretty good for the store this year, and by the time I'd generated the shipping labels for the stuff sold from the store account (and the couple that had sold from my own), it was already nearly 3:30 in the afternoon. Thus, I arrived at the Willowick Post Office at one of the worst times to visit any such place (the late afternoon), and true to form, I lost a half hour of my life waiting in a seven-person line that moved slower than a herd of turtles. Good lord, I hate these places. As I was mailing a couple of international packages for the store, I didn't have much of a choice in the matter and did my best to reach that inner state of Zen I seek whenever I find myself trapped in situations like these. I can't put into words how glad I am that I ponied up for that postal scale back in April and am able to do most of our shipping from work or home: it gets very easy to understand exactly how and why people "go postal" when you are the second person in line for fifteen of the thirty minutes you are in these horrible places.

Despite the clammy, frigid conditions and the barely detectable snow flurries that fell like tiny grains of sand from the slate gray sky, it felt positively wonderful to finally get the hell out of that post office and back on the road, even if it was Vine Street at 4 PM. I made Record Den my next stop, and spent an hour there packaging all of the Cyber Monday orders that had come in by then and ultimately managed to get them all of them ready for our typical 5 PM mail pickup. Two objectives down, two to go.

After spending an extra half hour attempting to wait out the worst of the evening rush hour, it was off to Borders to return a couple of bookends I'd purchased the night before. The traffic on Mentor Avenue was still pretty grating to deal with, but it was at my destination where the day suddenly took a surprising turn for the better.

A bit of background explanation: I am completely out of room for CDs in the office. All of the shelving units behind me are currently packed end to end with music, and there is no more room for any more shelving in here. While selling a few hundred pieces on Amazon had partially eased this problem for a while, but nearly all of my recent online listings had been coming from the boxes of CDs I have stashed in the closet (most of them banished here years before for the crime of only having one good song on them or whatever other reason I could come up with). As a temporary solution, I decided to take the box sets out of their alloted space and move them on top of these shelves for the time being, using bookends to keep them in place.

When we finally came across these bookends last night, I was a bit crestfallen to find out that that they were freaking expensive (at least the cool-looking ones, anyway). After some chin-stroking and frowning over the options, I selected a pair that were by some measure the cheapest models available. Problem was, they were also by some measure the smallest and lightest models available. Upon getting home, I quickly deduced that these little guys were not up to their intended task and opted to return them the next day and use the exchange credit towards a set of more expensive (and weighty) models.

After leaving my too-small set at the front counter with the same clerk who took care of the sale last night, I headed back to their "decor" section of the store to pick out the cheapest, heaviest set I could find. To my considerable surprise, the simple, elegant green marble "triangle" style that I had looked at the night before had magically been marked down thirty dollars over the last twenty four hours to $19.99 a pair. Fuckin' score! Elated, I grabbed two sets and wound up spending only ten bucks on top of my exchange credit.

A bit flush with success, I decided to stop over at Kohl's (as it was right down the plaza from where I was parked), hoping to find some slipper socks and lounge pants for my dad's Christmas gift. While hunting about for the above, I came across a winter hats sale (50% off, natch) and picked out a couple of new "beanie"-style caps for myself as well as a couple of convertible hat/mask thingies for my younger brothers.

From there, I had to make a bit of a mad dash clear across the county to fulfill my last objective: a monthly topping off of car fluids at Valvoline, hopefully along with a resetting of the Saturn's computer. A few days before, my SERVICE ENGINE SOON light had come on and had kindly provided some company for me to and from work over the holiday weekend. Touched by the gesture, I took the Saturn to Autozone on Sunday and had the problem diagnosed as the gas cap not sealing correctly. A problem very easily corrected! Hurray!! Since the Autozone tech could not reset the computer once I had replaced the cap, I took a chance that the Valvoline guys could do it and was pleased that they could and did. With all of my objectives completed, I grabbed some Chik Fil-A and headed home feeling a real sense of accomplishment and of things being in their right place. Hell, I even just beat the train signal on E 305 and didn't even get the red light at the South Marginal intersection. It was a truly wonderful ten minutes.

As I was coming home and maneuvering through the parking lot, I noticed the SERVICE ENGINE SOON light came on again. I was a bit surprised and irritated, but not really worried as the problem had been corrected. The tech at Valvoline had told me that if that light came on again, then I'd need to take the car to a shop to get it looked at, and it was that scenario that annoyed me more than anything else. After dinner, I drove the car to Autozone again just to be absolutely sure that the gas cap was (somehow) still the culprit here.

Great news! It wasn't!

Instead, I was presented with an all-new error message that read "GEAR 1 RATIO INCORRECT," which based on my research appears to be a kind of mechanical shorthand for "your transmission is having minor issues that are not going to go away and will likely become totally fucked at some point in the future."

So, yeah. Great. Wonderful. Coming right smack in the middle of my Christmas shopping (and just after a recent splurge purchase on my behalf on a couple of box sets), this may be my most impressively-timed bit of bad financial news since about August of 2006.

Bah. One of these years, I will enjoy an entire holiday season without once worrying at any point about future insolvency thanks to something inside of a car I own picking that particular point to cease working correctly. Believe me, when this happens, y'all will be the first to know.

NP: Devo Duty Now For The Future

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Google. Learn it, love it.

I am sometimes forced to wonder how many people online right at this moment even know that Google exists (much less how to use it).

It's staggering to me that I am still getting calls from people who are obviously looking for songs to download on their computer (the giveaway is when they ask you to spell out the name of the artist and/or the song).

Worse, these people not only want me to provide them with the information that they cannot find on their own with a simple two-second web search in another window (you can have more than one window open at a time. I checked.), but in many cases, they wind having me use Google to find their songs for them when even I don't know what tune they are talking about.

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

Thoughts On Synth Britannia

It isn't often that I come across a documentary that hits so close to home for me by zeroing in on a subject I was once truly passionate about, whether we're talking space exploration, oceanography, paleontology, cartography, or, in this particular case, the electronic pop music of the early 1980s.

BBCFour's fascinating documentary Synth Britannia was, for me, a lot like watching a documentary about my own "musical awakening" in 1981 and 1982. Like pretty much every other kid in seventh and eighth grade, I listened to the local Top 40 station and let them relentlessly pound the hits of the era into my skull, but it was that exotic, impossibly perfect, alien-sounding electronic pop music that I could only find on MTV that held me completely rapt back then.

A year later, for a few incredible months, that same wonderful, mesmerizing music actually threatened to become the Top 40 in this country; a time that I will always remember as one of those mini "golden ages" when it seemed like mainstream radio could do no wrong (sadly, I don't think another one of these eras came along until 1990 or so). Synth Britannia covers that magical time period and the years that led up to it, tracking the rise of electronic music as a form of pop music from roughly 1977 to the middle of 1983.

Ever since watching that program, I've been stuck in a bit of a time warp as far as my home play list is concerned. The last two weeks in this office have been soundtracked by the best of the golden age of wireless; revisiting the early glories of Ultravox!, discovering the rich solo career of their forgotten original leader John Foxx, marveling anew at the recently remastered Kraftwerk catalog, taking another stab at Throbbing Gristle and Cabaret Voltaire (two challenging proto-electronic acts that I last sampled during my early 90s industrial phase) and playing through the entire Depeche Mode catalog while poring over the incredible Beatles Anthology-styled mini-movies packaged with their "collector's edition" releases that cumulatively chronicle their entire existence from 1991-2002 in incredibly revealing detail.

There were many joys and highlights to Synth Britannia, but perhaps the most striking part of the program was seeing these once unremittingly dour pop culture figures opening up a bit and showing that they didn't take themselves as completely seriously as, say, Sting does. OMD bassist and lead singer Andy McCluskey in particular was hilarious, while Human League singer Phil Oakey spins a good tale as well. Both figures offered plenty of pointed (and funny) insights into the electonic scene and their respective roles in it (with McCluskey getting a delicious parting shot at 90s Britpop at the very end). It was also interesting to hear deposed League synthesist Martyn Ware admit his jealousy at Gary Numan's "Cars" and discuss his motivations to challenge the his former band's chart supremacy with Heaven 17.

Now for the inevitable whining blogger complaints ...

The biggest problem with Synth Britannia is that, even at 90 minutes in length, you come away from the program a bit let down in the end since it seems to run full-tilt into a brick wall about 88 minutes in. I can understand and maybe even agree with Mr. Critic's point that the genre turned overtly commercial somewhere during 1983 (and the quick cut from that statement to poor Howard Jones dancing about with Jed The Dancing Mime was admittedly a hoot), yet it felt like a cop-out to end the program by saying "... and then things got really lame. The end." Regardless of what the producers may think of the Thompson Twins, I wanted more, and being told in effect that every synth-based act to come down the pike after the middle of 1983 was another load of bandwagoning crap struck me as irritatingly purist, especially when following the lionizing of Soft Cell, for crissakes.

I was also a wee bit irked that the Walter/Wendy Carlos' soundtrack to A Clockwork Orange seemed to be the lone early progenitor to synthpop, with no mention whatsoever given to David Bowie's Low (an album that, to me, is a far more obviously influential work). This omission becomes a bit more glaring when significant face time is slotted to Numan, whose twin genre classics Replicas and The Pleasure Principle owed an undeniable stylistic debt to Bowie's 1977 masterpiece.

Lastly, there is that inevitable list of bands that failed to make the cut. I'm sure this had much to do with time and budget constraints, but you also wonder if there was some unspoken lumping in of these missing artists with the post-1983 acts disparaged above. Was Thomas Dolby too commercial to count as true synthpop? Talk Talk? Visage? Pete Shelley? Blancmange?

My own geeky grumbings aside, Synth Britannia is definitely worth your time if you're into this kind of music. Here's hoping there will be some more in-depth examinations of this era in the future.

The videos linked throughout this post (and a lot more in the same spirit, including some very cool live BBC performances) can be found here.

Sunday, November 01, 2009

E's List Of "People Who Have Been Kicked Out Of Marilyn Manson"

This list is not from E! the cable network, but E the singer/songwriter and leader of Eels. The following was cribbed out of the liner notes for his Useless Trinkets rarities compilation:

1. Fiona Hinckley
2. Ladybird Bundy
3. Baby Jessica Speck
4. Alanis Mussolini
5. Hilary Rodham Berkowitz
6. JonBenet Hitler
7. Lady Diana Dahmer
8. UnaBarbara Bush
9. Mother Theresa McVeigh
10. Son Of Sally Jessy Raphael
11. Anita Hillside Strangler