Snow Day

1.  Yesterday was my first snow day as a parent, which meant that, among other things:

  • my wife and I still had to wake up at 6:30 and be coherent and spatially aware enough to change a morning diaper;
  • all the candy and booze I’d stockpiled couldn’t actually be used during normal business hours; and
  • our usual snowday routine of movie and videogame marathons had to be put on hold.

Instead of getting drunk and watching every Wes Anderson movie in chronological order or what-have-you, we instead had to watch marathons of Team Umizoomi and Blue’s Clues and build forts under our kitchen table and such.  This is fun, in and of itself, and the kid is adorable, and we had a lot of fun.  BUT.  It made me realize that snow days will never be the same again.

2.  Yesterday was also the release of Grim Fandango Remastered, which (after much hair-pulling) I finally managed to get working after the kid went to sleep.  Grim is one of my favorite games of all time, and I hadn’t been able to play it in probably 15 years, and so I was very anxious to get my hands on it and see if the game still held its own against my murky memories of playing it.

After about an hour or so, I came to a few conclusions.

  • The game is still remarkably well-written.
  • The puzzles are still astoundingly obtuse, and I’m never going to finish it without a walkthrough.
  • I’m not sure that Tim Schafer – and I’ve played nearly everything he’s ever made – had ever made a truly great game.  His writing is always terrific, his characters are always interesting and relatable, his world-building is always unique, his situations are always engrossing.  But the part where you actually play the thing has never really been all that great.  Psychonauts is probably the closest he’s ever come to a complete package, and even then it wasn’t without some significant flaws (i.e., the Meat Circus).  Brutal Legend… well, I’ve talked at length about how sad I am about how that game turned out.  Broken Age is certainly promising, but it’s also (currently) half-finished, and it’s also not terribly innovative – it is, by definition, a call-back to these old-school point-and-click adventure games, which is what brings us back to Grim Fandango.

The “remastering” isn’t a top-to-bottom remake, like what happened with Oddworld: New & Tasty.  Which isn’t necessarily a bad thing; I kinda like that it’s still a little fuzzy around the edges.  The art style is still bold and vivid even if it’s not in crystal-clear 1080p; the music apparently has been re-recorded, however, and it’s as wonderful now as it was then.  The control scheme has been modified, which is much appreciated – even if it’s still wonky at times.

No, the problem is the puzzles, which are as mind-clutchingly obtuse as they ever were.  I managed to make it up to the point where our hero, Manny Calavera, meets his femme fatale, Mercedes Colomar, and that’s only because I happened to remember how certain puzzles were solved after all these years; and even then, I only vaguely remembered what it was that I was supposed to be doing at any given time.  For example – I remembered that I needed to put one of Manny’s playing cards in the secretary’s hole puncher, but I couldn’t remember why; I also had a vague recollection that I needed some empty balloons and that I needed to screw up the pneumatic tube system, but it took me a while to remember how that worked, and even now I can’t recall why I needed to do that.  The game doesn’t really ever tell you what it is you need to do next, which is why I’m sure I’ll need a walkthrough before too long.  (Fortunately, it would appear that the same walkthroughs I used all those years ago are still useful today.)

3.  On a related note, ye gods, PSN still drives me up the goddamned wall.  It turns out that anyone who pre-ordered and pre-loaded Grim Fandango for their PS4 wouldn’t actually be able to play Grim Fandango because of a technical SNAFU that wasn’t ever adequately explained.  I was eventually able to get it working (which involved deleting it from my PS4 hard drive, then re-downloading it from a certain queue in the PSN web store on my computer), and it should be noted that because I was playing with my kid all day I wouldn’t have been able to play it until the evening hours anyway, even if it had been working the way it was supposed to.  It’s a minor annoyance in the grand scheme of things, but had I been devoid of parental duties and spousal company and thus free to finally replay one of my favorite games in almost 20 years, only to find that my pre-ordered copy didn’t work, I would’ve lost my mind.

Weekend Recap: Before the Storm

Some quick ramblings while the snow starts to accumulate:

1.  I’m roughly 14.5 hours into Far Cry 4.  The front splash screen tells me I’m only 36% complete.  I clutch my head in despair.  I find myself pressing on in spite of everything telling me to stop, including the game itself.  For example:  I’m in the mood to do some of the propaganda missions, so I open up my map, set a waypoint to the nearest one, and then find a car.  5 seconds after I start driving, I get a radio message telling me that the camp I just left is under attack, and so if I don’t immediately turn around and defend it, I lose the camp again.  This doesn’t feel like dynamic, organic gameplay in a living, breathing world; this feels like the game yelling at me to do a chore that I already did.  And yet, as I said, I’m compelled to keep playing.  In addition to the numerous side activities, I did quite a few campaign missions over the weekend; I visited Shangri-La for the first time; I conquered my first fortress; I upgraded my homestead.  I do appreciate that I can make a 15-minute session as productive as a 4-hour binge, if I so choose.  But it’s hard to get past the underlying blandness that permeates everything.

Speaking of which:

2.  The last FC4 campaign mission I finished before checking out for the weekend involved me taking over a “brick factory” / opium den, and once I was inside my character started hallucinating (i.e., things changing colors, weapons changing at whim, enemies exploding into colorful chalkdust).  This reminded me quite a bit of Saints Row 4, and then I remembered – oh yeah, I rented the Xbox One version that just came out last week, why not check that out?  And, um, it’s pretty underwhelming.  I’d finished the original game on my PC, and while my PC is not a powerhouse by any standard it still looks better there than in this XB1 version.  I can forgive that to a certain extent, but more troubling was that the combat/shooting felt kinda terrible, too; maybe it’s because I’ve been playing a lot of FC4 and GTA5 lately, where the combat feels quite good (or maybe it’s just the lock-on targeting in those games is a bit more pronounced and I know how to use it well), but I felt wildly inaccurate when shooting in SR4’s opening missions; and I’d be remiss not to mention that the combat didn’t feel particularly powerful or meaningful.  Granted, I know full-well that you have to play SR4 for more than 10 minutes before it starts getting meaningfully insane, but given that I’ve already played it… I’m not sure I need to continue.  As far as HD remasters go, this one is pretty disappointing.

3.  Surprise surprise, I splurged a little bit in the weekend PSN Flash Sale / 10% Discount.  Among the haul:

  • Super Mega Baseball
  • Costume Quest 2
  • Guacamelee
  • Shadow Warrior
  • Geometry Wars 3

And, separately, I pre-ordered Grim Fandango Remastered.  Yes, I know I said I wouldn’t pre-order anything this year, but Grim is a special case.  And given that NYC might be under 12 feet of snow tomorrow, I’d rather have that shit already downloaded before I need to worry about power outages.  (Which is to say – I’d like to have the Vita version downloaded as well, so that I can actually play it in the event of a power outage.)

4.  I’m about to finish reading Your Face Tomorrow, Volume 1.  I’m enjoying it, and I’m looking forward to the next one, but it’s a very hard book to recommend; for a 380+ page book that I was given to understand is a postmodern spy novel, very little actually happens – it’s mostly a series of endless paragraphs filled with laconic, obsessively detailed observations about human nature.  There is value in such a thing, and I’ve been highlighting quite a few passages that resonate with me very strongly, and it’s because the writing is so unique that it doesn’t often get tedious.  But I’ve found that it can be difficult to stay engaged with it when I’m in bed.

I thought I had enough for a 5th bullet point, but I guess not.  If you’re in the Northeastern US, stay safe and warm and indoors.

RPM 2015

So I have officially signed up for the 2015 RPM Challenge, which is something I’ve signed up for several times in the past, and which I’ve never actually finished.  (For those not in the know, the RPM Challenge is the musician’s equivalent of NaNoWriMo – you have the month of February to write 10 songs or 35 minutes of music.)  I’ve gotten quite a few demos and sketches and interesting things out of my previous attempts, but I’ve never actually finished anything.

This is partly because I inevitably run into technical problems that derail the whole thing, but mostly because I tend to pat myself on the back after coming up with something cool-ish, and then I slack off and fail to stay motivated.  (See, for example, the fact that I haven’t done any recording since coming up with that loop from last week.)

What’s different about this year?  A few things come to mind:

1.  First and foremost, I’d already decided to make a new album well before I remembered that the RPM Challenge is a thing, so I’m already raring to go.

2.  I’m going to do my best to limit my technological problems before they get started.  To wit: in years past, I’d sign up for this thing and then decide to buy a new bit of software, and then I’d spend most of the month learning how to use it instead of actually using it.  (In this particular case, there’s a part of me that really wants to buy the latest editions of both Reason and Logic, but that’d be setting me back almost $500 before I even record a single note.)  I do need to buy a new external hard drive, but that’s it as far as purchases are concerned; the hard drive is (a) necessary and (b) does not require me to learn anything.

3.  The last time I tried to do this in any serious capacity was in 2011.  I don’t know what happened in 2012, and in Feb 2013 we were getting kicked out of our apartment while my wife was 7 months pregnant – saying that “the timing was bad” is putting it very, very mildly.  Ironically enough, I did end up putting out Untrue Songs in May of 2013, which I did mostly because at that point my son was already born, and I’d started getting some sleep on a quasi-regular basis, and I felt like I needed to give him some sort of document of who I was, and what I’d done.  None of the stuff on that album was technically “new”, even if nobody besides me had ever heard it; it was basically just the best stuff I’d recorded over the last 6-8 years.  (Actually, now that I think about it, I’m pretty sure that at least 2 or 3 of the songs on Untrue were originally intended for my previous attempts at RPM Challenges.)

4.  I’m not sure if I’m going to be writing any lyrics for this thing (especially since recording vocals in my apartment is a very difficult thing to do with a toddler), but I do very much have some things I want to say, or convey, and that sort of thing carries a lot of weight.  When I’d signed up for NaNo last year, I did it because I wanted to do it, but I wasn’t at all prepared for it.  For this year’s challenge, it’s not only about me finally having creative momentum; it’s about having creative intention and direction, which are things I’ve not had in quite some time.  It would seem that I need to get some things off my chest, and this might be the best way to go it.

5.  It’s too early to talk about this yet, but when this thing gets finished (not if, but when), something interesting might be happening with it.  I’ll keep that cryptic for the time being.

Every time I’ve done this in the past, I hem and haw about documenting it; the RPM site has a blog function, and of course I have this blog and my Soundcloud page, and it’s always tempting to document the process (even if I know that nobody cares except me); but inevitably, once I post a demo or two, those demos become “finished products” and then I stop working on them.  So maybe I’ll post some vague progress reports here or on Twitter, but it’s probably just for the best if I keep my head down and stay focused and not get sidetracked by feedback (or the lack thereof).

The 3-Day Weekend Hangover

It’s nearly 5:00 pm and I’m only now getting over last night’s NyQuil haze.  This doesn’t bode well for future winter-related headcolds, and I barely managed to put this thing together as it is:

1.  I’d hoped to unveil a new feature today – the SFTC KILL COUNTER, which would be a running tally of how many people I’ve killed across all the games I play this year.  Unfortunately, the PS4 version of Far Cry 4 doesn’t seem to have this sort of stat handy, and I wasn’t about to start keeping manual tabs on it as I played.  So, then:  know that if it did, I’d start up a widget post-haste.  (Maybe it’s OK to wait on this, given that FC4 is, technically, a 2013 game.)

2.  In lighter, non-virtual murder news, I’m finding myself surprisingly excited by the prospect of a new, current-gen Rock Band, and I’ll be even more excited if a new Rock Band works with my old, 360-era plastic instruments (and DLC, of course).

3.  As much as I liked the idea of Borderlands, and as much as I liked the actual Borderlands 2 game (even as the Vita version was kinda shitty), I am not necessarily all that enthused about the forthcoming Borderlands HD remasters.  I don’t need to play those games again.  I’d rather wait for a completely new title.

4.  I will not playing the Resident Evil REmake.  I only barely touched the original game, and so there’s no nostalgic value for me to tap into.

5.  I will be playing a little bit of the new Saints Row thing (on Xbox One).  I don’t expect to get particularly far into it, given that I already finished SR4 on my PC; I skipped the PC version’s DLC (which, apparently, is just as well), and so I’m really just curious to see what it’s like on a console.  I’m also curious to see if my current distaste for virtual murder can be alleviated by SR4’s completely batshit insanity.

On that note – and also to call back to #1 above – I’m still plugging away at Far Cry 4, doing some more sidequests, trying to finish my upgrades, etc.  My opinions about that game have not changed, and the fact that I’m still going back to it is only indicative of the fact that there’s not much else holding my interest at the moment.  The story is garbage, and the only saving grace to that game is that there’s so much else to do in spite of it.  Is that a good thing?

I’m Getting Too Old For This Sort Of Thing

I wanted to meet interesting and stimulating people of an ancient culture… and kill them.
– Full Metal Jacket

My gaming backlog remains intimidating, and ever since I started getting back into a music-making groove (i.e., since Monday) I’ve been less inclined to allow myself to waste time gaming, especially if it’s a game that I’m not particularly enjoying.  To that end, Far Cry 4 has taken over what remains of my gaming attention, and… it is what it is, I guess.

If Far Cry 3 had never existed, I suppose I might be less cynical about the FC4 experience.  And if I hadn’t played every other Ubisoft open-world game released last year, I suppose I might be a little more appreciative of how much there is to do.  But, alas, I did play a hell of a lot of Far Cry 3, and I also played as much Watch Dogs and Assassin’s Creed as I could stomach, and for all intents and purposes I’m starting to feel like I’m done with this sort of thing.

I don’t know.  I know I must sound like a broken record, considering how much I talk about shooter fatigue and virtual murder and everything; and I also probably sound like a hypocrite, given that I still continue playing these games even as I grow tired of what they ask me to do.  But I can’t help it; I’m tired of guns, I’m tired of shooting, I’m tired of killing as the only way to get from point A to point B.  I’m tired of open-world games that ostensibly want me to create my own fun, but constantly interrupt my own experience to remind me that there’s 500 other things I should be doing.   I’m tired of stories that don’t take any real risks; I’m tired of gaming’s casual, thoughtless sexism; I’m tired of doing the same damn thing over and over again.

I’m tired about feeling self-conscious about calling myself a “gamer” when this is what playing games boils down to.

Where did it go?
Can’t say that I know
Those times of revolution

Of burnin’, burnin’, burnin’
All so cool and gone
What was, just was

We tried, my brother
To hold on to our fate
Or was it late for revolution?

Too tired, too tired, sister
To hold my fist so high
Now that it’s gone

Too tired, brother, sister
To hold my fist so high
Now that it’s gone, gone away.

Where did it go?
Can we say we know
Those times of revolution
Our time of revolution

A New Tune, and The Same Old Story

MUSIC:  Not other people’s, but my own!  Yes, I’ve finally gotten my recording studio set up again – I disassembled everything when my kid was born in order to make extra room (and also to make sure he couldn’t knock anything over), but that’s just a convenient excuse for me saying “I’m too exhausted to be creative right now.”  I’ve been wanting to get back to work for a long time, and the other day I decided that I’d procrastinated for too long.

Now, I’m not necessarily going to be posting everything that I end up making – I gotta save some stuff for the album I want to make, after all – but I am going to post bits and bobs every once in a while.

This particular loop is basically the first thing I’ve recorded in… almost 2 years, I think.  This is mostly a proof-of-concept, that I could successfully loop something in a 5/4 time signature, while also serving as proof that I still know how all my software works.  I guess I’m mostly just pleased that it’s not terrible.  It’s obviously going to need some further development, but in any event there’s something about this in its current state that’s pleasing to me.

Pity, though – while I’m relieved that my MacBook still works and that I remember how to use Logic, it seems that my external hard drive is dead, and so all the rough drafts I’d recorded since 2011 (some of which are pretty good, actually) are going to remain in the rough draft form I left them in unless I re-record them all from scratch.  Perhaps I’ll upload those to Soundcloud as well, just so that they can exist in some form beyond my iTunes library.

GAMES:  When I’m in need of a recording break, I’m continuing on with Far Cry 4.  I’ll find a tower I need to unlock, or a base to liberate, and then once those are over, I’ll save/quit.  The individual arcs to each of these events are enjoyable enough, but the game is rapidly becoming overstuffed with random side-stuff, and at this point I have absolutely no idea where I’m supposed to go in order to continue the story.  Maybe that’s not a bad thing, given that what I’ve seen of the story so far is kinda dumb, and in any case the game is so tonally all over the place that I’d much rather make my own way than try to engage with the game in any serious way.  I’m mostly focusing on trying to finish crafting all the stuff I need to craft, which requires liberating towers in order to open up the map to see where the various necessary materials are, and then I just hope I don’t die along the way.

Also:  I’m always a sucker for a match-3 RPG, and to that end I must recommend Hero Emblems on iOS ($2.99), which is surprisingly deep for one of these sorts of things – there’s an element of strategy involved where you must think offensively and defensively, all the while setting up combos and match-4s and the like.  Plus, the writing is pretty charming thus far, and I almost always skip past the writing in these sorts of things.  (Also, the King’s name is Henry, so.  GOTY, is all I’m saying.)

I have no opinion on today’s Nintendo news.  A new 3DS?  Of course.  Would I be able to play the new Majora’s Mask on my old 3DS XL?  Have I even turned my 3DS on in the last year, ever since I was so thoroughly disappointed by the new Mario Golf?  Meh, I say.  The impending re-release of Grim Fandango is way more important to me than anything Nintendo’s got to offer.

Weekend Recap: Wishes Upon Wishes

BOOKS:  Finished Arthur Phillips’ The Egyptologist very late last night, which made for some strange dreams.  It’s very nearly impossible to discuss without spoiling what makes it so intriguing and puzzling, and it’s got the sort of ending that you’ll need to re-read at least twice, and then also flip back to the very first chapter, and then step back and realize what the fuck just happened.  That being said, it’s an excellent book, a “literary murder mystery/adventure” story set in a rather unique period in history (and one that certainly piqued my interest, being that I – as I’m sure many other people my age – had a rather rabid interest in ancient Egypt as a kid); and so even if I can’t remember why I bought it, I’m very glad I did.

Next up: at long last, Your Face Tomorrow, Volume 1.  I sincerely hope I haven’t set myself to be majorly disappointed, given how badly I’ve wanted to read this for so long.

GAMES:  There was more free gaming time this weekend than I expected to get – chalk it up to the wife’s recent promotion, which means she also has to bring work home with her on occasion.  Still, I’m in that awkward situation where, while I do have a backlog to deal with, I’m remembering why that stuff got put on the backlog in the first place, and so I’m kinda just flipping back and forth between a few different things, not really getting into the rhythm of anything in particular.

Specifically, my attention was split between four games this weekend:

GTA V, which made me wish I was playing Saints Row.  Honestly, I never thought I’d ever say that, but it’s true; playing GTA V for the second time makes the experience a hell of a lot more tedious and annoying – not just the horrific dialogue and misogyny and everything else, but the actual missions you do.  Like Trevor loading cargo containers onto a truck, or Franklin towing cars all over town.  Dockwork went out of style with Shenmue, for fuck’s sake.  While it’s true that the Saints Row franchise has never had a city that is as engrossing to be in as GTA, it’s also true that Saints Row stopped caring about “realism” right from the get-go, and has taken the concept of the “open world sandbox” to ludicrous extremes.  Actually, now that I’ve remembered that it’s coming out, I think I’m going to at least rent the Saints Row IV HD remaster thing that comes out later this month; I think that’ll be a lot of fun.

Destiny, which makes me wish I was playing Mass Effect.  I really only fired it up to pick up whatever legendary presents I’d been given, and then I did a Daily Story Mission or whatever it’s called, just to see if I still cared about it.  Yeah, the shooting’s still good, but there’s so little else there worth caring about.  I’m also a little pissed off; I thought I’d bought the Digital Guardian edition, and I’d bought that thinking that it was a season-pass thing for DLC.  But when I fired it up, I saw that The Dark Below expansion still cost $20.  If $20 is actually a reduced price for an expansion, then I might as well just delete the damned thing from my hard drive and be done with it.

Far Cry 4, which makes me wish I was re-playing Far Cry 3, or really anything else.  It’s also very disorienting after playing Destiny and also GTA V in first person, too, which shouldn’t be the case, since FC4 is actually supposed to be played in the first person.  I’m really just kinda nibbling at FC4; I’m unlocking towers and hideouts, and doing a mission here and there, but I’m mostly hunting if only so that I can craft everything I need to craft and then never worry about it again.  I will say that it’s a little comical to watch an eagle lift a goat straight up off the ground, but I’m not sure if that’s supposed to be intentionally comical or not.

Infamous First Light DLC, which I only really dabbled in for a brief period – it’s a free download this month for PS+ member, which is honestly the only reason why I picked it up.  Surprisingly, it was kinda neat to be back in that game again – I did like the original game even if it was somewhat empty and forgettable, and I forgot how good it looked.  I’ll probably keep this in the rotation for a little while, though it’s been so long since I beat the original game that it might take me a bit to get my bearings.

The Book Backlog

I’m going to try and read 30 books this year.  That may not sound like much, but it’d be better than the 24 I managed in 2014, and the pitiful 6 I managed in 2013.  (Finishing 30 would be the most for me since 2010, when I started 38 and finished 31; I apparently didn’t keep track of this stuff before then.)

To that end, this is my current to-read backlog.  This is all stuff I’ve bought, currently idling in my Kindle account, waiting to be started.  I’m simply listing them in the order they’re appearing on my Kindle; I don’t know that this is how I’ll take them on.

  1. The Martian, Andy Weir
  2. Silver Screen Fiend, Patton Oswalt
  3. Your Face Tomorrow, Vol. 1: Fever and Spear
  4. Your Face Tomorrow, Vol. 2: Dance and Dream
  5. Your Face Tomorrow, Vol. 3: Poison, Shadow, and Farewell, Javier Marías
  6. You, Austin Grossman
  7. Yes Please, Amy Poehler
  8. Wolf Hall, Hilary Mantel
  9. The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet, David Mitchell
  10. The Exegesis of Philip K. Dick
  11. Ubik
  12. The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch
  13. Valis
  14. The Divine Invasion
  15. The Transmigration of Timothy Archer, Philip K. Dick
  16. The Malice of Fortune, Michael Ennis
  17. The Egyptologist, Arthur Phillips
  18. Skinner, Charlie Huston
  19. The House of Rumour, Jake Arnott
  20. The Disaster Artist, Greg Sestero
  21. The Flame Throwers, Rachel Kushner
  22. Submergence, J.M. Ledgard
  23. Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki, Haruki Murakami
  24. The Crimson Petal and the White, Michel Faber
  25. Orfeo, Richard Powers
  26. Dhalgren, Samuel R. Delany
  27. I Am Pilgrim, Terry Hayes

So if I can knock all those out, then I can certainly treat myself to 3 new books when I’m done, and meet my challenge.

Backlogs and futurelogs

1.  I finished Lara Croft and the Temple of Osiris last night.  I’m not sure that “underwhelmed” is the right word to describe my experience with it, though I’m having trouble finding something more apt.  The original game felt really fresh and new, and this feels very much like a safe treading over the same ground; there’s no flash or spark of inspired design.  The single-player campaign was surprisingly short, too, and even though I’ve still got some side stuff to do, it’s not all that much.  I’d still like to kick the tires on online co-op; I’ve heard that some of the puzzles change when there’s more than one person involved, and so maybe that would keep things from getting stale.  Nevertheless, I’m not feeling pulled back to beat my high scores the way I was the last time around.

2.  After finishing LC, I wanted to give Far Cry 4 another go, but for some reason I was having trouble logging in.  I’m not sure that the PS4 was having the same problems that Xbox One owners were, but the Ubisoft servers were taking a really, really, abnormally long time to get going, so I put it aside and went back to Dragon Age Inquisition to take a look at some sidequests.  Man, that game is hard to go back to once the campaign is over; suddenly all these quests seem frivolous and padded out.  I was able to overlook that when I was playing the campaign – if only because I was mostly just grinding, and the grinding was relatively fun to do – but now that there’s nothing big to work towards, I’m having a really hard time staying invested.

3.  I’m also kinda dabbling again in the PS4 version of GTA V; I’m far enough now where I’ve finished the first heist and I’ve unlocked Trevor.  Get ready for some hyperbole:  Michael is one of the worst “protagonists” in the history of the medium.  He’s such an obnoxious asshole; every word out of his mouth makes me cringe.  This is partly because the dialogue is so rotten and riddled with misogyny and condescension, but it’s also because the voice actor thinks he’s in Goodfellas or the Sopranos.  Even playing as the psychotic Trevor seems like a breath of fresh air.  I had a hard time with the game the first time around; it’s really excruciating to get through this second time, and I’m not sure I’m going to play much more of the campaign.  I don’t really know what the current state of the online side of things is; if you’re there, is it worth checking out?  I’d gotten my character to level 10 on the 360 before getting distracted with other things, and I’ve synced it up on the PS4, but… I’m not really interested in getting shot at while walking down the street.

4.  Switching gears:  I’m a little more than halfway through Andy Weir’s The Martian, which is something of a frustrating read.  On the one hand, it’s a fantastic premise for a realistic science fiction story, in that it’s about an astronaut stranded on the surface of Mars and his attempts at surviving and getting back to Earth, and all of his methods seem rooted in real-world tactics – as if the author interviewed a bunch of NASA people and asked them what someone could actually do.  On the other hand, a lot of that stuff ends up being a bit dry.  Furthermore, while the stranded astronaut is rather chipper and funny and is doing his damnedest to keep a smile on his face, there’s really no arc to him; he doesn’t have any feelings or emotions beyond finishing his next task.  The book seems to be much more about making his ordeal (and his attempts to rectify it) as realistic as possible, and I suppose the only way he could survive is if he didn’t stop to take stock about how fucked he is – and even though he does actually, literally say “I’m fucked” an awful lot, he generally manages to get un-fucked within a paragraph or two.  So there’s no real terror or dread to his predicament; he seems resigned to his fate, whether or not he’s successful at fixing it.  That’s an awfully good way to handle his predicament, of course, but it doesn’t make the book particularly moving.

5.  I’ve been trying to stop apologizing for not posting on a regular basis; I do my best to post at least 3 times a week, but sometimes it just doesn’t work out that way – for any number of reasons, none of which I can get into here.  But I suppose I should say that if it does get a little dark here in the next few weeks, it’s only because I’m working on some other projects which I am hoping to share with everyone soon enough.  I’ll keep you all posted on that stuff as it progresses, but in the meantime I’m trying to actually work, as opposed to talking about working (which is what I usually end up doing).

Skip Tracer

I’ve been waiting 20 years to post this, even if I didn’t have internet access 20 years ago.

The guitar guy played real good feedback
And super sounding riffs
With his mild mannered look on, yeah he was truly hip

We watched her fall over and lay down
Shouting the poetic truths of high school journal keepers

Now we’re told so: merge ideas of song forms and freedom

Poised, yet totally screwed up

None of us know where we’re tryin’ to get to
What sort of life were we tryin’ to build

Where are you now?
When your broken eyes are closed
Head in a cloudy dream, green & sailboats
Borrowed and never returned
Emotions, books, outlooks on life

Hello 2015!
Hello 2015!

I’m not sure many people would call Sonic Youth’s 1995 album Washing Machine their best, but it might be my personal favorite of theirs for two very distinct reasons:  (1) this is the album that finally got me to like them and understand them, and (2) this album, more than any other, is the one I associate with one of the most formative and pivotal times of my life.

In 1995 I was 19 years old, disillusioned with my college major, and in a band/circle of friends whose de facto leader was a super-hard-core Sonic Youth fan.  At the time, I was a hard-core Phish fan, and so Sonic Youth just sounded like mindless noise to me; I thought 20-minute noodle-jams had far more intrinsic value than 20-minute feedback squalls.

In any event, this was the album that happened to be released while my band was at somewhat of a creative crossroads, and so it was in near constant rotation at my friend’s apartment for months.   And unlike their earlier albums, this one struck a very deep chord with me right from the first listen – possibly because it’s a lot more melodic than what had preceded it (I’m not sure there’s a more beautiful song in their entire catalog than “Unwind”), or maybe because when you’re blitzed out of your mind at 2:00 am, “Diamond Sea” is a sort of life-changing event.

That apartment was our band’s HQ; but more than that, it was my home-away-from-home (or, to be more specific, my dorm-away-from-dorm).  I can’t even begin to count how many hours I spent there.*   In retrospect, I can’t even comprehend the physics involved that got so many of us to hang out in that tiny, tiny apartment.  At any given moment there’d be upwards of 10 of us squeezed into that space, the room filled with cigarette smoke and moleskine notepads and port wine and a 4-track machine always at the ready, someone’s hand always hovering over the record button just in case.

Anyway, as I said, Washing Machine was in constant rotation during the fall of 1995, and it’s a perfect fall album; cool and breezy and I might even say “wistful”, which is an odd adjective for a Sonic Youth album, but there it is.  We used to sit in that apartment in the wee hours, listening to this album on repeat, and this song would always perk us up; it’s a Lee Ranaldo spoken-word poem over one of the album’s more up-tempo tracks, and I suppose we all imagined ourselves as the “guitar guy [playing] real good feedback and super-sounding riffs / with his mild-mannered look on / yeah, he was truly hip”.

And at the song’s close, after a quiet interlude, the band starts pounding away on a very straightforward G chord, and when Lee shouts “Hello, 2015!”, I’m sure we all sat back in our respective chairs and tried to imagine what sort of robot hovercar future 2015 would look like.  We imagined – hell, we knew – that our band was going to conquer the world, and I guess we wondered if we’d be opening for Sonic Youth at a 2015 NYE show, or if they’d be opening for us.

(That band didn’t survive past 1996.)

* I even named one of my later bands after my time spent in that apartment, and if I ever resurrect my NaNo memoir project, I suspect I’ll be using “Midnight Thompson” as its title, too.

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