That night half the band met a “record producer” in jail

by Steve, October 25th, 2019

(Adapted from a post I made on TalkBass.com)

I don’t know what made me think of this, but thank you for your indulgence in this longish tale of band hijinks of yore. The story takes place in the late summer and early autumn in a Midwest college town, circa 1989. Names are changed to protect the guilty and their enablers.

After loading out from a successful gig, Bob the rhythm guitarist and Serge the drummer departed in my girlfriend Linda’s Buick station wagon, and promptly ran into a phone pole in the alley behind the club. The cop shop was about a block away, and Officer Friendly soon showed up and hauled Bob in for DUI and Serge for possession (he was holding a little weed). Linda’s car got a little banged up and was towed to the impound lot.

Linda was not pleased, but she’s the one who had agreed to loan her car to Bob in the first place. I was not held responsible, but Linda had words with Bob.

A day or two later, we were hosting a party at the band house out in the country. Bob and Serge had been released on their own recognizance, and they invited a friend they’d met in the hoosegow.

Shawn Stanton was the scion of an oat roasting executive in neighboring Oat City, well known for the cloying odor of burnt oats that sometimes wafted as far south as University City. He showed up early with several sacks of groceries for the party. Also showing up early was our number one groupie Beth-Anne, who was excited to make us all stir fry with the supplies Shawn brought. Bob later wrote a song about Beth-Anne and her penchant for making us all stir fry and sitting in on band meetings and giving Serge advice on how to not get kicked out of the band.

Bob excitedly told the rest of the band how he and Serge had met Shawn in jail, how they got to talking about the band, and that Shawn wanted to produce us and sign us to a recording contract.

The lead guitarist Mike and I raised our eyebrows at this.

“You want to produce us, and you haven’t even heard us?” said Mike. “Sounds fishy.”

“I’m offended that you don’t trust in my ability to describe the band and sell us!” said Bob.

“You want it in writing? Get me a pen and something to write on!” said Shawn, also offended at our lack of faith. At some point he produced one of those business-style check books that’s a three-ring binder, as if to show us he was serious. Between that and the 70 bucks he dropped on food for us, who wouldn’t take him seriously as a record producer?

Anyway, much big talk was made about flying us to New York to re-record the album we’d just recorded but not pressed, yada yada yada. We all got drunk and high on weed and shrooms and god only knows what else, and everybody had a good time eating Shawn’s food and drinking cheap Midwest beer from a keg.

When the keg ran out, I headed up a mission to drive to town to get another. On the way out, we ran into Ray, who was in his van on the road at the end of the driveway.

“What are you doing up here alone, Ray?” I asked.

“Drinkin a beer,” he said. “You want one?”

“Oh, no thanks man,” I said.

“Too bad,” he said, looking down.

I didn’t know what to say. Ray looked up after a bit.

“Where you goin?” he asked.

“Keg’s out; we’re goin into town to get another,” I said.

“You know there’s bad spirits by the river,” said Ray. “You gotta do something about that.”

“What am I supposed to do, Ray?”

“When you get to the bridge, you gotta stop the car, and you gotta stomp out a cigarette on the side of the road,” he said.

“I don’t smoke,” I said.

“Take one of mine.” Ray handed me a pack or Marlboro reds. Ray was dead serious, so I took a smoke from the pack and put it behind my ear.

“Do I have to smoke it?” I asked, handing him back the pack.

“You gotta light it, and you gotta stomp it out,” he said.

“OK,” I said. Ray was not messing around.

I got back into Margot’s car. Margot was Mike’s girlfriend, and she must have been the most sober person at the party who had a car. I explained what I’d agreed to do.

“Oh OK,” she said. “I’ll just pull off before we cross the river, and you can do your thing.” Margot was always game. I gave Ray a wave the tires crunched on the limestone gravel and we pulled away.

The bridge was about a mile down a gravel road, then a quarter mile right on a paved county road. Margo pulled off at the bridge, and I got out of the car, lit the cig, tossed it onto the gravel shoulder and stomped it out. No spirits were observed at that time, but I admit to having been a little spooked. And a little nauseated from lighting the cigarette.

When we returned with a fresh keg from the Kum & Go, Ray was still drinking alone in his van. Shawn was gone. The party was raging and went long into the night. Nobody signed any record contracts, but we had a good time dancing and singing and howling at the full moon.

A few weeks later, Serge was working a dinner shift at his job as a dishwasher in a restaurant owned by Fern, who also owned a crystal shop and practiced the kind of meditation that supposedly can lead to levitation.

Serge had forgotten to show up to court for his possession rap, and Officer Friendly showed up at his workplace to arrest him on a bench warrant.

Fern was not pleased by this, of course. The restaurant had an open kitchen, and Serge’s arrest was quite public.

When Serge got out, Fern told him he was fired from his job as a dishwasher. Not because he was arrested during his shift, mind you.

Fern told Serge he was fired because his seventh chakra was flaring.

The band didn’t fire Serge, flaring chakra be damned. We all kind of liked him, and he had more friends who came to our gigs than anybody else. Maybe that flaring chakra made him play a little busy at times, but it all seemed to fit. All the bohemian college kids and townies danced and danced.

Shawn Stanton disappeared into the riff raff; maybe he went back to Oat City. We never heard from him again. Since we didn’t get that record contract, we went back to plan A, which was to move to the west coast, where we played a few gigs before breaking up and going our separate ways.

Serge got a job laying tile, and he’s still hitting the skins last I heard. Bob still writes good songs. We did some long-distance collabs a few years ago. Mike and I see each other ever few years. Everybody but me went through some form of rehab or got sober at one time or another, and I don’t think anybody ended up doing hard time (unlike the drummer from the band I played with in high school).

Anyway, thanks for your indulgence if you got this far. Bob and Serge, if you find this and remember any of it differently, you’re entitled to your own versions of history.

Rebranding the SUB

by Steve, April 16th, 2019

Hello nobody, what is happening. Hockey? Pens swept in four by the Islanders. Bolts swept in four by the Blue Jackets. I guess I’ll root for Toronto. But that’s not what I logged on to talk about. I’m here to talk about rebranding cheapo imported guitars! Sort of like how I rebranded my Walmart fat bike, I just finished rebranding a Squier by Fender Mini (an imported, miniature version of the iconic Fender Stratocaster) and a Sterling by Music Man S.U.B. Ray 4 (an imported version of the iconic Music Man Stingray).

A Squier Mini and a Sterling by Music Man SUB series Ray 4
A Squier Mini and a Sterling by Music Man SUB series Ray 4, rebranded

With computer-aided manufacturing, these budget-line Indonesian-manufactured instruments have become very cheap at the same time they have become consistent and decent in quality. With these, along with G&L’s Tribute line (also made in Indonesia), you can get the same models as Fender, Music Man and G & L (all makers of guitars designed by Leo Fender and their descendants, by the way) you can get the same models as their American-made counterparts with pretty damn good quality at a fraction of the price. (American models generally have higher end hardware, often, but not always, different pickups, and generally better fit and finish and quality control.)

Anyway.

I ended up with the mini on a trade. I always kind of wanted a mini electric guitar since I saw Howard Leese play one with Heart back in the 80s. now I’ve got one, and it actually looks, plays and sounds amazing (these things retail for $130 new). The SUB Ray retails for $300, and can be found used for $150.

ANYWAY.

These cheapo guitars sound great, play great, and look great. Except the headstocks. I have a theory, which I’ll get to in a sec, but first fo all let’s just appreciate what I mean when I say the design is egregious. They are one-color (black) silk screen logos. The more expensive big brothers typically have two-color logos, often with one color being metallic. The Squier logo is in the classic Fender script, with “by Fender” in the same font smaller underneath, which is awkward. And then… blank at the rounded end.

Squier Mini, original branding
Squier Mini, original branding

The SUB is even worse. First, the branding on all Music Man instruments has become ridiculously confusing. Modern versions are branded “Ernie Ball Music Man”. The cheap import brand is “Sterling by Music Man.” The Stingray model is called the “S.U.B. Series Ray 4″, but they leave off the Ray 4 part on the headstock. (Current models omit the S.U.B. on the headstock and include Stingray, even though the model is the Ray. Ernie Ball Music Man also has a high-end model called the Sterling, which is totally bonkers.) So from confusing branding comes… confusing graphics.

Sterling by Music Man S.U.B. Series, original branding
Sterling by Music Man S.U.B. Series, original branding

I decided to do tongue-in-cheek versions, based on 70s versions of the Stratocaster and original Stingray.

I did a little research, and came up with a plan. Inkjet decal stock from Amazon, some very fine (00) steel wool, and a can of Rust-Oleum satin clear coat.

First step is to remove the tuners and string trees and tuner hole washers or whatever they’re called, then put a little elbow grease and steel wool into it. It took about five minutes of rubbing to remove the logos on both. They were both satin finish, and both silk-screened. The steel wool doesn’t leave any marks or take off much finish, but just to be sure, I gave it a quick coat of clear coat after removing the original logo.

Sterling headstock in progress
Sterling headstock in progress

Then I designed the logos. I wanted the classic 70s look for both. The original Man Logo is a stylized “M” that forms the legs of two figures playing guitars. I decided to make a play on “Music Man” as “Mountain Man,” and make the guitarists skiers. And instead of “StingRay,” “SteveRay.” Instead of a ® symbol after the brand, I used a backwards “C” (copyleft) symbol.

For the mini strat, I wanted something starting with F, for the iconic Fender F. I somewhat randomly chose “Freeware” (inspired by the copyleft idea on the bass) and “Stevercaster” for the model. I also copped the fender “Original contour body” decal that is common on various strat headstocks.

Decals applied, ready for clear coat
Decals applied, ready for clear coat

Since inkjet ink is water-based, you have to seal the decals with clear coat before applying. I did three coats, and let them dry before cutting and applying to the headstocks. I practiced on the mini strat, and didn’t get the decals in exactly the places I wanted them. I ended up printing multiple pages of the decals because I kept messing them up.

After applying them, I did a couple coats of clear coat over the decals, and then re-assembled the hardware and strings. I think they look pretty good!

rebranded axes
rebranded axes

Some people take issue with making these budget brands look like their more expensive cousins, which I can understand if you’re being deceitful for the purposes of selling. I’m not, obviously, but back to my theory. I think, since these budget lines have gotten so good in terms of look, feel and sound, that the owners of the brands (Fender, Music Man and G & L) insist the budget lines have to appear cheap somehow. So they slap some cheap-ass branding on the headstock, and maybe you can keep some people interested in paying literally seven times the money for a properly branded model.

Stand up, walk out: how to deal with Trumpism

by Steve, May 24th, 2016

When I heard that students at Forest Grove High School walked out last week to protest a racist, Trumpist banner (“Build a Wall”) that was briefly hung in their halls, and that other suburban high schools joined the protest with their own walkouts, I was thrilled.

This is what democracy looks like. My daughter, who attends a high school that is 28% Hispanic, reported that teachers and administrators were generally supportive of students leaving class. I told my kids, if something like this is going on, and you feel strongly about it, get up and walk out no matter what the teachers say. You don’t ask permission to stand up for human rights.

The next day, there were more protests across the metro area, and the local middle school my son attends, which is 20% Hispanic, had some kind of preemptive “protest” led by the (white) administration. An email from the principal described it:

We did have a student walk-out on Friday, the students who participated listened to administrative direction, and were thoughtful and considerate of multiple different viewpoints. The students were allowed to walk around the property, and not leave campus. The students then entered the cafeteria to participate in a conversation about the proper way to use voice, work within a system, and be an active citizen in the democratic process.

(Emphasis mine.)

Bad grammar aside, this was not a walk-out. And “the proper way to use voice” is offensive bullshit. No oppressive system ever ended because oppressed people politely asked it to stop. There was an organic, spontaneous, metro-wide response to a direct, racist threat against a minority group that makes up a significant portion of my kids’ generation. And my son’s principal’s message is don’t break the rules.

My message to my kids: we, as privileged white people, have an obligation to stand up for and with our Hispanic friends and neighbors when they are faced with this kind of thing. We cannot allow Trumpism to stand unchallenged. And sometimes that means breaking the rules. Grownups have allowed Trumpism to get this far, and Portland’s suburban youth are standing up and walking out in response.

When high school students showed up at the middle school “protest,” somebody (ahem) called the cops. Again, from the middle school principal:

We did have roughly 50 students from another school attempt to gather our students and have them march off campus. None of our students participated and remained in class. The Beaverton Police Department called a lockout for roughly five minutes as the other school students were marching toward [a nearby elementary school], and when one of our schools goes into lock out, the other does, as we are so close. There was never any harm or danger targeted towards [redacted] Middle School or [nearby] Elementary School.

So the message is clear: it’s okay to “protest,” as long as you follow the rules. (Or, put another way: It’s not okay to protest.) According to my son, the principal was “really mad” when some students attempted to join the high school students and march off campus. Also according to my son, actually, we’re all immigrants.

The middle school “protest” debacle notwithstanding, seeing a spontaneous, widespread, multi-day protest erupt gives me hope for our future.

Check the #StandUpFG hash tag on Twitter.

Beach biking the Oregon coast

by Steve, May 2nd, 2016

Long shadow
Here are my tips.

  • The first thing you’re going to need is a fat tire bike. You can spend thousands of dollars on a fancy one, rent one somewhere, or do like I did and buy a cheap department store bike and mod it. Besides fat tires, you want light weight and low gearing (my Land Shark is a 50 pound tank, and I’m kind of a tank too, but I geared it nice and low).
  • Ride like the wind. We get a lot of wind at the Oregon coast, and you want to ride with it at your back as much as possible. Think about it like canoeing. Either ride into the wind (upstream) for the first half of your distance, or ride on paved streets into the wind and then on sand with the tail wind. Or, use two cars. Park one down wind at your finish point. If you’re riding both ways on sand, you really, really want to ride into the wind first. The wind can come from any direction at any time of the year, but it generally blows from the north in the summer and the south in the winter.
  • Know your tides. You want to ride while the tide is going out, on the wet sand that’s been packed down by the surf. Depending on how long I’m planning to ride, I like to leave about two hours before low tide. You can ride when the tide is coming in, but…
  • Be aware of sneaker waves. Know your surf conditions, and always be watching the surf. A sneaker wave can occur any time during the tidal cycle, without warning, and could easily knock you off your bike. At the very best, you’d soak your precious metal in salt water (bad; see below), but even worse, you would die and somebody else would get to ride your bike. Wouldn’t that suck? On high surf days, especially ones with wind, you’ll have more fun if you just stay home, anyway.
  • Keep your bike out of the surf. It’s actually really, really fun to ride in the surf, but it’s really, really bad for your bike. Salt water eats metal and can wear away grease. It also makes sand stick to your drive train. Hose your bike off when you’re finished.
  • Know your sand. Oregon’s sandy beaches range from fine sand to coarse gravel, and everything in between. Finer sand, finer ride. Coarser sand, harder slog. If you’ve got gears, you can handle the loose stuff. But you’ll have an easier cruise on the light tan sand between the surf and the tide line. The coarser sand/gravel is darker brown.The road less traveled
  • Take water. You may not know this, but salt water is not good to drink.
  • Take a bag or something to collect treasures. The biggest agates I find are on beaches not easy walking distance from places you can park a car. I always have a plastic bag strapped to my bike rack, and you can almost always find pretty rocks in my pockets.
  • Take a camera to collect visual treasures. The same beach never looks the same. It changes every day.
  • Be prepared to talk to people, because fat bikes draw a lot of attention. They are less of a novelty than a year ago, but there are still plenty of people who want to stop you and ask questions. If you’re feeling sociable, you will enjoy the opportunity to tell people that yes, those tires really are big and yes, they work pretty good in the sand. If you’re not sociable, get used to smiling and saying the same anyway. We try to uphold that polite Oregonian vibe for our inlander tourists.Rain stopped, and I couldn't keep it in the shed
  • The sand isn’t always good. Beaches change every day, especially in the winter and spring. Our beach has some steep parts, and the flat parts tend to have a lot of gravel. Gravel on steep is the worst. With that in mind…
  • Don’t worry if you have to get off and walk part of the way. Especially if you’ve got a one-speed like me. It’s all about being on the beach and getting a workout, and there is nothing wrong with a walk on the beach.
  • Riding at sundown is sublime. Golden light on the waves, a little spray on your face, maybe a seal swimming along in the surf… There is nothing else like it in the world.Biking with a friend
  • Stay the hell away from seals and sea lions, especially pups (above video shot with telephoto). They may look abandoned, but mama seals often leave their pups unattended on the beach while they fetch fish. Adult seals will probably just jump in the water, but they could mess you up if they wanted to. A sea lion won’t hesitate to mess you up. (We’ve got a big harbor seal colony at the spit end of our beach.) Besides being rude, it is a federal crime to disturb marine mammals. So if they notice you and start to move toward the water, just move slowly away. I like to stay at least 100 yards away, and even that can bee too close sometimes.
  • “Have a good time, all the time. That’s my philosophy, Marty.”

Making the public private, courtesy Neil Goldschmidt, Inc.

by Steve, December 6th, 2015

Merry Christmas kids!

At times like these, all I can think about is Fred Leonhardt, once the risen star of political speech-writing in Oregon, and how his career was destroyed by the still-powerful politico-corporate network of child-rapist Neil Goldschmidt. So I dedicate this to Fred and to his family, and all they’ve sacrificed to support Fred’s righteous bravery. (Here’s Nancy’s take.)

Oregon’s Port of Portland and its unique Metro regional government have long been known as warrens of sinecures for ex-Goldschmidt operatives, along with executive positions at private corps like NW Natural and Nike.

Goldschmidt is still praised by many for his civic mindedness, primarily the prioritization of rail over highways. I appreciate that, and benefit from it. (But as a daily user of regional rail transit, I can tell you Portland’s system has proven poorly designed, with many choke points, inefficient routes, and inadequate capacity, especially during any kind of weather. But I digress.) The point is, Goldschmidt’s legacy hasn’t actually been all that beneficial for the public. To the contrary. I would argue that in addition to child rape, patronage and enlarging the public trough have been his enduring legacy.

Now comes Christmas in Portland, prime season for the privatization of public space. As soon as they lit the big tree, it and the entirety of Portland’s Fucking Living Room (Pioneer Courthouse Square) is cordoned off for a privately-organized, for-admission, 21-and-over booze fest. For a week. Merry Christmas, kids! Come back next week after we’ve hauled off the drunks, taken down the tents and hosed off the bricks! To be fair, I don’t know of a Goldschmidt/booze fest connection. But the Metro/Oregon Zoo connections are long-standing and well-known.

Last week, the Oregon Zoo announced that, in an effort to thin crowds, ticket prices are going up. Yay! Fewer poor people to have to stand in line with. Not sure why the Zoo can’t figure out how to, I don’t know, sell timed tickets like every museum that ever hosted a popular exhibit. Better yet, make it free, and have a lottery for available time slots. Our taxes are paying for it, so why should we pay twice? Oh, that’s right, so Metro can continue to host six-figure jobs for the Goldschmidt network.

And who’s quoted in the O, pimpin’ the price hike? None other than Krista Swan, who’s never been shy about her public adoration of “the man” Neil Goldschmidt.

“It should be a magical, fun experience,” said Swan. For those who can spare 50 or 100 bucks to take their families to see lighted cages. (I know, I know, they don’t actually light the cages. But the whole place is a damn cage.)

It’s naked elitism. They don’t give a fuck. I kind of admire the chutzpah it takes to say “screw you” to the people paying your salary and totally get a way with it. But I literally feel sickened by this.

My long-term, ongoing revulsion of zoos was recently enhanced by a $125 million zoo bond that was supposed to provide a large, off-exhibit elephant sanctuary for surviving victims of the zoo’s shameful captive breeding and exhibition program. As a pioneering captive elephant breeder (and one of few remaining), the Oregon Zoo has long used elephants as the face of its marketing campaigns. At some point after the bond was passed, the zoo decided they were going to spend that public money on exhibit space, and maybe think about a sanctuary some time in the future. Let’s not kid ourselves; the improved exhibit space is designed as an improvement for ticket-buying human spectators, not elephants.

The zoo has launched a massive outdoor media campaign promoting the new exhibit. The over-sized billboard hung from the side of the O Dock grain elevator in the Rose Quarter reminds me of Portland past, where there were industrial jobs that paid enough for a family to survive and buy a house. Now their tax dollars are paying to advertise the offensive, unethical exhibition of elephants they probably can’t afford a ticket to see.

I really hate the zoo. It’s a publicly-funded, commercial entertainment enterprise that is cruel to animals and increasingly off-limits to working people. At this point, I would be in favor of full privatization (with fair market price for the land and facilities). And we should legislate an end to captive breeding of elephants. End of story.

This is a salient piece of the Goldschmidt story: how he created an elite and powerful network that survived his rape of a child, and continues to make public policy decisions largely for their own benefit, paid for by working people.

Update, 2:50 pm

Poor Krista thinks we’re picking on her.
swan1
Also, we don’t get it! It’s actually cheaper for the masses if they pack in on poor people nights! And she can’t be elitist, she scrubs baseboards with a toothbrush! (?)

And we must be living in the past to continue pointing out Goldschmidt’s nefarious influence. Also, we might need therapy.

swan2

Here’s a public official, complaining about hearing from her constituents. I’m afraid it’s Krista who doesn’t understand how public debates about public policy regarding public spaces are supposed to work.

Third wave espresso sucks

by Steve, November 25th, 2015

There, I said it. (And craft beer sucks, too.)

Now before you get your knickers in a knot, hear me out. I’m not a fan of Folgers or Budweiser.

I had my first espresso circa 1990, when second-wave coffee was pretty well on the way to jumping the shark. Starbucks led the way, selling primarily steamed milk flavored with a variety of syrups and espresso. My first double shot was from Captain Beans on Southeast 12th Ave. in Portland, and quickly grew to prefer it to drip coffee. I’m not a milk drinker, so I never bothered with cappuccinos or lattes. I’ve always preferred it straight up, with no sugar or milk.

In the early 2000s the “third wave” came along, with Portland’s Stumptown setting the tone. I grabbed a double shot at their original Division St. store after a dentist appointment once, and remember how awful it tasted. Not so much bitter as sour. Not the well-balanced flavor I had grown accustomed to. They call it Hair Bender. A balanced shot of espresso should not bend your hair. It should warm your soul.

Now in 2015, I find myself working in downtown Portland, trying to find a decent espresso. All the cool places have that awful sour taste. I braved the self-conciously hip Courier (record player on the bar? seriously?) to try their version of the double shot, and literally threw it away after a single sip. Mugshots: same story. Nasty. Ken’s Artisan Bakery? Same story. Spella? Not quite as bad, but definitely a noticeable sour taste. What’s the deal, I wondered.

One idea I had was that there’s some kind psychology in foodies that requires “good” things to be an acquired taste. Just like beer snobs have acclimated to dramatically over-hopped, unbalanced flavor in their beer, third-wave coffee snobs have convinced themselves that “sour” equals good in espresso.

The other thought I had was that most people drink espresso buried under two or three cups of steamed cow’s milk, and without sour espresso, they wouldn’t be able to differentiate “good” espresso without the sour tones cutting through all the lactose and milk fat.

Today I found a blog post about this flavor trend that explains it a little better. It seems in an effort to preserve the individualized flavor of single-source beans, third-wave roasters lightly roast their beans. Unfortunately (for those of us who prefer balance of umami and bitter), the preserved flavor agents are acids that would otherwise be muted in a darker roast. The result is a very unbalanced, acid-forward flavor. Maybe with a ton of sugar and/or milk this would be pleasant to drink. But that doesn’t sound very foodie, now does it?

It turns out that like beer brewing, it’s hard to improve on the Europe’s espresso tradition. Starbucks, for all their sins (and there are a lot) still makes a damn good shot of espresso.

Yes, you can learn to like bitter and sour things, and then pretend people who don’t like it are Budweiser- and Folgers-loving troglodytes. Or you can appreciate a smooth, rich, balanced thing, perfected over generations, in no need of improvement.

Nutria-henge-quinox, autumn 2015

by Steve, September 30th, 2015

On the seventh day after the vernal and autumnal equinoxes, the sun rises above the the highest point in the East, a snow-capped volcano named Wy’east and Hood, when viewed from the ridge named Cooper in the Tualatin Valley on this planet called Earth we are born of.

At first, when we began our residence on this ridge, we were not aware of the icy, brooding peak beyond the green Tualatin Mountains, until the skies cleared that Spring. It may have been the following fall, or the next spring that I first noticed the sun crossing Hood near the equinox. It was another equinox or two later that I discovered the deep and steady rhythm of it.

We live on an astral clock, Mt. Hood the style on a planetary sundial for this particular location. Upon first discovering the division of sunrises, spring and summer north, fall and winter south of Mt. Hood, I dubbed it Nutriahenge, for the furry denizens of the wetlands and streams of the valley (and the triliths of Wiltshire).

The equinoxes mark the points in the earth’s orbit where the its tilted axis is perpendicular to the sun’s rays, and the days and nights are equal. As we swing around the ellipse of our orbit now, the northern half of the planet is tipping away from the sun, sliding us into longer nights and shorter days.

This year, I’ve declared a new sacred festival, in my personal church of the universe, in honor of nutriahenge, a week-long observance of the sun crossing Mt. Hood. Beginning sunrise on the equinox, Nutria-henge-quinox week culminates eight days later with the sun rising over the summit of our nearest volcano.

This first official Nutria-henge-quinox week was marked with a special celestial alignment, the rising of the fully eclipsed super moon above Mt. Hood on the Sunday midway between the two Wednesdays of equinox and nutria-henge-quinox.

The week started with some broken skies and the sun beginning its approach to the northern slopes of Hood.

autumnal light

The universe painted with a full pallette encouraging us to join the celebration of light.

It's complicated

(The universe doesn’t care about you and me, that’s just a literary device. It’s called personification. We humans do a lot of it and shouldn’t take things so literally. This is a basic tenet of my nature church.)

Then, on Sunday, the moon rose red out of the haze, and soared above Hood.

rising full over Mt. Hood

Our planet cast its shadow across its satellite, but the fleet moon was soon revealed in its former brilliance.

Leaving full

In the days before the crossing, the rising sun causes Mt. Hood to cast a shadow in the haze, up and to the south, betraying the sun’s position beneath the horizon.

getting ready to burst

By the morning of nutria-henge-quinox, the moon had regained its brilliance, but was losing its shape to its drifting phase, revealing mountains and crater walls in the shaddows.

morning moon

And then the sun rose, the closing act of the festival, a breathtaking dance of earth, moon and star.
Nutria-henge-quinox

We’re just specks of self-aware stardust, hydrogen and carbon and oxygen, wandering the surface of this wet rock looking for meaning. I say look up. See yourself as an infinitesimal piece of this infinitely beautiful universe. That’s all you need to know. That’s all there is. Peace out.

And the sun went down

by Steve, July 17th, 2015

 
Lots of jellies have been beaching. I don’t know why.
(Are they really jellies or just some gelatinous goo?)
The sea is a mysterious place, at once inviting
And foreboding.
Jellies in the sun

 
When the sun hits the water there is a tremendous rumbling hiss
And a spew of steam (no not really; the sun doesn’t actually go into the water,
That would make a really big mess; it just looks like that).
funnel

 
The caps of the waves, lit from behind, bring to mind a wave form,
Electrical energy mapped on a back-lit screen, green flashes of consciousnes
Flitting up down and past me like the hummingbirds in the yard
This afternoon when I watered.
I've always liked backlight

 
There are angels in the clouds, flying north; the mother reaches out to her child
Sheltering and guiding her with her wings
Like the migrating gray whales in the spring, teaching their calves to feed
In our fertile water. It’s a 3-D painting that changes while you watch it.
ocean waves

 
The sunset doesn’t end, it just keeps going, a traveling light show
Rolling around the globe.
The big waves are just tiny ripples, out beyond this log I’ve used before.
Drift log

 
From up above, I see a seal in the surf in the twighlight
And rays fade into being radiating from the source.
The seal feels the wind when she comes up for air
(Does she feel the sun?),
And is pulled on unseen currents below.
There is a bat on the way home, winging crookedly around the chimneys
Capped with conquistador helmets which squeak as the wind swings north.
Rays

Ultimate Philip Glass Fanboi

by Steve, April 10th, 2015

musicI’ve liked Philip Glass since I first got exposed to his work in college in the 80s (yes i’ve heard the knock-knock joke; no, I don’t think it’s funny). I think Ben had a record of Einstein on the Beach, and maybe the Kronos Quartet. But it was Godfrey Reggio’s 1983 film Koyaanisqatsi that really blew my mind and got me hooked. In more recent history, I’ve seen Portland Opera’s productions of Orphée (2009) and Galileo Galilei (2012), both brilliant, but not as brilliant as the Met’s televised production of Satyagraha (2012) which Nancy grudgingly admits she liked.

Anyway, Glass has written a memoir, and he’s hitting the airwaves and lecture circuit to promote it. I heard him with Terry Gross on her NPR show Fresh Air the other day. I have a real love/hate attitude toward Gross. She’s actually a really good interviewer, but it’s partly because she so unselfconsiously asks really stupid questions. (She’s famously bad at talking to black people.) Anyway, she plays a kind of clueless everywoman, with just enough book learnin’ to be dangerous. If her guest isn’t completely offended, it makes for pretty good radio. Like this exchange with Glass:

GROSS:
I always think of there being something obsessive about your music because of its repetitions and then variations on the repetitions and the speed of it and the precision of it, and I’m wondering if that’s fair to call… Like, do you think of your composing or your performances as having an obsessive quality to them?

GLASS:
You know, that’s a fair question and I’m wondering would people have said the same thing about Brahms or Chopin? ‘Why is he playing that strange music? Why do we hear those chords over and over again?’

GROSS:
You know why I think of it with you too, because I think, um, pattern is often a part of obsession? Like repeated patterns, shifts in patterns, and…

GLASS:
Well I certainly didn’t invent that, that’s been around for a long time.

GROSS:
Mm hm.

GLASS:
I think it may have been also, not just the music itself, but the way it was presented with the ensemble, you know with amplified music, it could be interpreted as being aggressive, though that would only be true if you didn’t know anything about popular music, and that most popular music was already much more heavily amplified than anything that we did.

GROSS:
So you’re telling me you’re not OCD. (laughs)

GLASS:
(laughs) I’m not saying that either.

GROSS:
Well are you? Are you?

GLASS:
I don’t think so.

GROSS:
OK.

GLASS:
But how would I know?

***

It’s actually a broad-ranging interview, worth listening to all the way through. Later on, Terry returns to her passive aggressive shading of Glass’ music:

GROSS:
Do you ever think, in spite of the body of work that I’m famous for, I feel today like writing a simple song with an easy-to-sing melody and some nice chords behind it?

GLASS
(Laughter) I feel that all the time.

GROSS
Do you write it?

GLASS
I’m always trying to – I’m trying to. I’m writing an opera right now for the Washington Opera, and I’m always looking for clarity and simplicity. It doesn’t come easily to me.

***

Glass is speaking at the Newmark Theatre in Portland April 14. Admission includes a copy of his new book, Words Without Music.

Embedded quotes

by Steve, April 9th, 2015

Back in the 90s I wrote some skunkworks software for work. Since I find computer languages bland and inexpressive, I included some poetry (Pablo Neruda and Alan Chong Lau) and some quotes. We stopped using the software a few years back, but I found the source code is still out there on an old machine at the data center. Here are the quotes.

  • “The only people worthy of consideration in this world are the unusual ones. For
    the common folks are like the leaves of a tree, and live and die unnoticed.”

    -Scarecrow, The Land of Oz, L. Frank Baum

  • “Your knowledge of what is going on can only be superficial and relative.”

    -William Seward Burroughs

  • “We know only a single science, the science of history. One can look at history
    from two sides and divide it into the history of nature and the history of men.
    However, the two sides are not to be divided off; as long as men exist the
    history of nature and the history of men are mutually conditioned.”

    -Karl Marx

  • “In my life, I have prayed only one prayer in asking for divine favor: ‘O Lord,
    make my enemies ridiculous.’ And God granted it.”

    - Voltaire

  • “If there ever was in the history of humanity an enemy who was truly universal,
    an enemy whose acts and moves trouble the entire world, threaten the entire
    world, attack the entire world in any way or another, that real and really
    universal enemy is precisely Yankee imperialism.”

    -Fidel Castro

  • “Rationalists, like Euclidean geometers, based their case on a few ‘self-evident
    truths.’ But Einstein convinced the world that there was no such thing as a
    self-evident truth. A few things were self-evident all right; but they were not
    true. The shortest way between two points is not the straight line; Time and
    Length are not absolute notions. This seemed to be the death-knell of
    Rationalist philosophy. If there is no self-evident truth, there is no
    Rationalism. But Rationalism refused to lie down and die. Luckily, Rationalism
    was not quite as rational as all that.”

    –George Mikes

  • “A commodity appears at first sight an extremely obvious, trivial thing. But its
    analysis brings out that it is a very strange thing, abounding in metaphysical
    subtleties and theological niceties.”

    -Karl Marx

  • “Everything you’ve learned in school as ‘obvious’ becomes less and less
    obvious as you begin to study the universe. For example, there are no
    solids in the universe. There’s not even a suggestion of a solid. There
    are no absolute continuums. There are no surfaces. There are no straight
    lines.”

    -R. Buckminster Fuller