2019, my musical year in review

by Steve, December 23rd, 2019

Dear diary and clever internet spies, This year I: Learned to play the bass (again, still, different). Quit one band, started another. Recorded a #YOLO Christmas EP in a week, mastered it and got it on the streaming services just in time for Christmas (see above). Marked 30 years in Oregon as of November.

When I moved to Oregon in 1989, I was playing my Fender basses in the jam band I moved here with. In Iowa City, I had borrowed Mr. Y’s Ampeg Baby bass. I never found out where he got it, but his wife was Cuban, and those things were popular on the island and in NYC, so maybe it was hers. I hadn’t gotten into Afro-Cuban music yet, so I wouldn’t have been interested. I loved playing that upright; I played it on Carmen Miranda on Totem Soul’s 1980s cassette release “What’s it to ya” and on charity gig at Gabe’s. I thought maybe I’d get a real double bass when I got to Oregon.

But the band broke up, and I got back into winds, bought a sax, studied classical on clarinet, learned some jazz, played lead alto sax in a latin band, and never bought that bass.

I took 20 years off from music to raise a family, notwithstanding playing clarinet and handbells with my girl, and leading the handbell combo, playing either electric guitar or bass guitar with my girl on the drums, her bf on guitar, and sometimes A on the keys to accompany the high school handbell choir at the Universalist Social Club and Bumper Sticker Society. Mostly we played slightly outdated pop songs arranged for bells: Katy Perry and Cold Play. Making music with your kid is top shelf; I don’t even care if the arrangements are dorky af. I recommend it. It got me reading on bass again (or really for the first time), so that was good.

With the kids older, and with me getting settled into an emptying nest, last year for my B-day I bought myself an double bass (a.k.a. string bass, upright bass, contrabass, bass viol, standup bass, doghouse bass, bass fiddle, bass violin, bull fiddle, etc.). It’s a 1938 Kay, a brand prized for its durability and serviceability. It came with a bow (German, or underhanded), which I’d never used before.

This year I learned how to play the thing. I figured out how to hold it and do some basic bowing from YouTube. Then with the expert guidance of Teacher D., started working through Franz Simandl’s 1881 New Method for the Double Bass (still the standard for classical and jazz fundamentals) and learned some new (to me) approaches to jazz.

I can’t remember when I met Tall T on Craig’s List, I think was early 2019, but we had some fun. He’s an ex-con (he was framed) biker dude with a solid book of originals in a 60s and 70s rock idiom. Not my groove, so it never really clicked. That man is a gem, though, and it gave me the opportunity to work with drummer H, who was the long-time house drummer for the Groundlings in L.A., along with a guy who now tours with Brian Wilson and got us comps to his show at the schnitz with The Zombies opening. So, that put me like one or two degrees of separation from the friggin Beach Boys? Who’d a thunk it. (Which brings us to another 2019 milestone: the the first time I saw a rock star escorted on stage with a walker.)

Yeah, rock and roll is getting old (honestly I was done with it by the 90s) and I don’t know what to play on the bass for it. All the stuff I listen to — jazz and Latin, mostly — swings hard. Rock just… doesn’t swing, man. Thudding along with straight eighths on Is and Vs doesn’t light my fire, and I don’t play pentatonic licks so I’m bad at rock bass fills. So it was my good fortune to find Latee Da on Craig’s List. A couple weeks after jamming with Latee, I quit the Tall T band. We hit it off, despite my concerns that she’s going to need a better bassist.

I mean, she’s really good. She’s got pipes for days and can sing anything, and plays piano like a pro. But she’s very down-to-earth about it all, and we like a lot of the same kinds of music. We’re putting together a couple sets of jazz and swinging blues and R&B, and still looking for a drummer. She called a couple weeks ago and said hey, let’s do a Christmas album.

This was the first week of December. In my mind, that’s the time to be releasing a Christmas record, not starting it. But that’s just me being conservative and cynical! Latee says look, we’ll do it in a week, and release it in time for Christmas. Why the hell not?

Latee started sending me tracks the following Tuesday. I learned the songs and figured out bass parts and started recording evenings after work. Last Saturday I spent 14 hours in the studio, mostly on bass. Sunday I woke up with a numb left hand, and recorded final drum tracks. Latee came over, re-recorded some vocals, and we mastered the whole thing and put it up for a day of private previews on SoundCloud. We remastered a couple tracks Tuesday, and got it submitted for streaming Thursday. The following Sunday (yesterday!), two weeks from the start of the project, it was streaming on Spotify and Amazon Music and YouTube.

Of course I hear every mistake and out of tune passage (I play “arco” or bowed bass for half the tracks, and sing lead on one verse of one song, both of which make me cringe a little). In the interest of time, our standard for takes was “can I live with this?” not “is this is the best I can do?” So it’s YOLO release, for me anyway. Latee sounds friggin great on everything. I really enjoy hearing her sing, so it was a pleasure to back her up on this thang!

Anyway, that was a nice cap to a good musical 2019. I’ve been dinking around with digital recording for a couple decades now, and this thing popped me out of some long ruts in my musical road. I feel unstuck! (Thanks Latee! and Teacher D!) Here’s to keeping it rolling into 2020.

Happy New Year, y’all!

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.

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.”

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

I’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.

Hey Hey

by Steve, February 27th, 2015

Another long-distance collaboration between me and Jay:

The Misanthrope’s Field Guide to Noncharismatic Megafauna

by Steve, February 13th, 2015

Wildlife biologists refer to large animals that attract positive human attention for conservation efforts as “charismatic megafauna.” It’s not a scientific classification, just a way to refer to large animals that attract positive human attention. They are rarely the most important organisms in a biosphere, but they get the most human attention for better or worse. Around these parts, we have cougar, wolves, coyotes, bobcats, black bear, deer, beaver, nutria, eagles, osprey, hawks, herons, egrets, whales, sea lions and seals, among others.

But we’ve also got a ton of what I like to call “noncharismatic megafauna,” primarily great apes of the species Homo sapiens sapiens. Yes, the common human, or “house ape,” frequently accompanied by another common type of non-charismatic megafauna, Canis lupus familiaris, the domestic dog. As these non-charismatic species are often noisy, smelly and aggressive, charismatic megafauna flee before them.

Lately, I’ve encountered enough humans and their dogs to become an expert of sorts, and herewith offer my field guide to their behavior when they leave their habitat and interact with other fauna in the wild.

Habitat

Humans live primarily in what they call the “built environment,” and try to limit contact with the natural environment as much as possible. This habitat consists primarily of enclosed spaces, with artificially controlled environmental conditions. Outdoor spaces are dominated by hard surfaces constructed for the purpose of moving between enclosed spaces in vehicles they construct of metal and plastic. The vehicles are fully enclosed and also feature controlled environmental conditions.

Behavior in the wild

When they leave their built environment, they take with them many tools and accessories that allow them to survive comfortably and remain connected to their built world. Males of the species tend to display these technologies as if in constant mating. (Humans do, in fact, mate year round.) Juveniles of the species tend to be especially noisy and unconcerned with their surroundings, built or natural.

Many house apes travel with captive dog companions, and this species is hyper aggressive toward wildlife and other house apes. Humans often allow the dogs to run untethered, despite signs with pictographs and human language prohibiting it. Dog feces litter the routes they have carved through the natural environment. House apes sometimes pick up feces in plastic bags, and then leave the bags along their routes. It is unclear whether this is some kind of territorial marking ritual, or if it has something to do with parasites from the feces making the humans go mad. Most “wilderness” routes are lined with small plastic bags of dog shit, which pretty much guarantees that charismatic megafauna will avoid these areas.

House apes vocalize loudly in the wild, and when, for example, encountering other humans observing charismatic megafauna, say things like: “Is it dead?” and: “Well I’ve heard they have those around here!” and: “Aren’t they really just pests?” and: “They have to trap them down in the valley on the farms, because they eat everything!” and “Do you think it’ll eat bread? Here, I have some I was going to throw at the ducks!”

House apes will feed human food to any fauna they encounter. Juveniles will often try to capture other fauna, and if that fails, try to injure or kill them with stones, sticks, or other missiles they can find.

Encountering Homo sapiens sapiens in the wild

When exploring natural areas for relaxation, education or spiritual purposes, it is almost certain you will encounter house apes who very little interest in cohabiting with native fauna or other humans. In order to avoid unpleasantness, it is advisable to step well off of trails when you hear or see them coming. Find a large tree or rock to hide behind until they pass. It is unlikely they will notice you, since they will generally be talking loudly and are typically not observant of their surroundings.

WARNING: If you are unable to avoid an encounter with a house ape in the wild, you may be subjected to tedious, inane conversation known as “smalltalk.” Males of the species will preen in the presence of others, proudly displaying branded clothing and accessories. Talking to them only encourages this behavior, so it is generally best to avoid them at all costs. Since most house apes are averse to extended physical exertion and exposure to the elements, they are best avoided in deep wilderness at least 20 miles from trail heads and roads and far from urban centers.

The Long Distance Cosmic Express

by Steve, January 11th, 2015

jayharden1I haven’t played in a band since 1997, but just recently started some long-distance collaboration with a bandmate from Totem Soul, the group I moved to Portland with back in 1989.

Jay Harden has been keeping himself busy performing and recording, and asked me to add some tracks to some stuff he recorded.

I started with “Get Along,” which features Naomi Wedman on violin and vocals. I threw in some bass and drums.

[audio:GetAlong.mp3]

Then there’s “Sleepy Head,” which has a nice country blues feel. I threw down some bass and drums again, and thought about some backing vox. But couldn’t find a harmony I liked, so left it simple.

[audio:SleepyHead.mp3]

Now, if we’re lucky, Jay will make us a couple cheap-o videos.

The typical Oregonian

by Steve, November 5th, 2014

Judging from last night’s election results, we can surmise the following about a mythical “typical” Oregon voter:

  1. He doesn’t give a shit about higher ed funding. Measure 86 would have helped people pay for college without raising taxes. It’s going down 58%-42%. This surprises me. State Treasurer Ted Wheeler, who spearheaded the measure, was philosophical about its defeat. “Measure 86 was a bold idea,” he wrote on Facebook. “In a state that can’t seem to prioritize higher education, we came up with innovative ways to leverage non-tax resources to get the job done. Sometimes new ideas take time to catch on.”
  2. Our typical Oregon voter is a racist with no understanding of how our broken federal immigration system requires agricultural workers to come into this country without papers. Measure 88 would have let these hard working, tax-paying people to get licensed to drive. It’s a public safety issue as well as a basic human dignity issue. They’re here, they’re not going away, and they’re going to be driving with or without a license and insurance. But the measure is going down 67%-33%. No surprise here. The white nationalist know-nothing opposition was well-organized.
  3. Hooray! He paradoxically thinks women should be constitutionally protected from discrimination. Measure 89, Oregon’s Equal Rights Amendment is passing 64%-36%.
  4. He’s perfectly content with an electoral system that, particularly with state legislative elections, is closed to anybody not registered R or D. Measure 90, the top-two primary universally opposed by the powers-that-be in both major parties, is going down 68%-32%. No surprise. I wonder how a measure to do top-two primaries for the state legislature would do. Because seriously, unless I register Democrat, I have zero say in my representation in Salem. This is not democracy, people.
  5. He might be a little conflicted about it, but damn it, he likes to get high. Marijuana will be legal in Oregon next July, with Measure 91’s passage by 55%-45%. Good. But the fact that this is the only significant bright spot is kind of depressing. And the fact that Oregonians value this more than higher ed and the public safety/human dignity issues makes this victory feel hollow.
  6. He doesn’t want labels on his food telling him if his corn has fish genes, because Freedom, damn it. To be fair, basically every packaged food in America has GMO ingredients (unless it is specifically labeled organic or certified GMO-free). Anyway, this one is still too close to call, but Measure 92 is leaning toward failing on a razor thin margin. The big money came out for this one. I figured this would go down hard, given how much fear, uncertainty and doubt was spread by big agribusiness. The fact that it’s too close to call is heartening.

Of course there is no “typical” voter, and money is always the decider in these things. But Oregonians have a long-standing aversion to funding education at all levels. And the nationwide tide of reactionary white nationalism is a strong undercurrent in lily-white Oregon, even (or especially) with its nominally one-party Democratic rule (protected by the defeat of Measure 90).  I hope Ted Wheeler’s right about changing attitudes on education funding, and I know looming demographic shifts nationwide will fundamentally alter the electoral landscape going forward.

So I have glimmers of hope. And a bong.