A few words about Neil Peart

I’ve been meaning to write here for the last few weeks, but instead I’ve been distracted because I’ve been listening to old Rush albums ever since the news broke of Neil Peart’s passing. Indeed, even now, I’ve got “Red Barchetta” in my head instead of figuring out what word is supposed to come next. Apologies in advance if this post doesn’t end up making any sense.

Can I take a second to talk a little bit about Rush, my 2nd favorite prog band? Especially since I’m 44 years old and no longer care about being “cool”? Because Neil Peart’s death is hitting me a lot harder than I was prepared for. I’m arguably taking it harder than I did the death of Chris Squire, the heart of my other 2nd favorite prog band.

My first exposure to Rush was almost certainly the summer camp I attended between 1986 (the summer my parents split up) and whenever it collapsed, which was probably the early 90s. Hell, that camp was my first exposure to pretty much everything necessary for the development of a young, arts-inclined teen-aged boy – prog rock, D&D, French kissing, high-speed dubbing, the breaking and mending of broken hearts.

Anyway, the point is: when you’re 12 and your home life is falling apart and you’ve discovered that you’re really into theater, which is probably going to spell certain doom once school starts, going to a performing arts camp and meeting dozens of other people just like you is basically the greatest thing that could ever happen to you. And so when these older, wiser people start introducing you to things, you pay attention. And so I was introduced to prog rock, and very specifically three bands – Yes, Genesis, and Rush.

I can’t possibly explain the appeal if you’re not already indoctrinated. Prog is inherently ridiculous and defiantly uncool; the only people who have the time for 20-minute epics about space wizards are 14-year-old boys who can’t pay attention to anything else EXCEPT learning how to air-guitar and air-drum every note of each of those 20-minute epics. Why learn how to talk to girls when you and the rest of your bunkmates learn how to air-shred the hell out of “YYZ”?

When the news of Neil’s passing hit last week, I couldn’t help myself; I immediately went back and listened to everything, though I eventually settled on my old favorites – Moving Pictures, Signals, Power Windows. And I have to tell you, those records hold up much better than I thought they would. I remember being dazzled by the production back in high school – I recall seeing the “DDD” on the back of the CD and thinking, wow, digital really is the way to go – and yeah, maybe in 2020 it’s a little over-produced, but you can hear every single goddamned drum that Peart pounds on. You can hear how ridiculously full Geddy Lee’s bass lines are. And while Alex Lifeson’s solos are perfectly fine as far as shredding, the real key to his genius is how good his rhythm playing is and how all-encompassing his guitar tones are. When I think about my guitar heroes growing up, I think about Jimi Hendrix and Trey Anastasio and The Edge, but the guitars in Rush are still fucking fantastic and when I think about my own guitar parts in songs I’ve played on, I can certainly trace quite a bit of it back to how Rush arranged their songs.

What I’m ultimately saying is that however uncool Rush might’ve been to the rest of the world, they were absolutely huge to me and a lot of the other musicians I’ve met along the way. And listening to them now – while the world is on the brink of chaos – brings me back to a much more innocent time, when all I needed to focus on was the next drum fill to play along to.

R.I.P., Neil Peart. You were a hero, even to us non-drummers.

some clarity behind a #vaguepost

I was out of commission earlier this week, and that’s maybe not even the right way to say it.  I was run over by a virus, which left me as a barely functioning human being.  My kid had been sick, and then my wife got sick, and between helping them both out and dealing with getting the driveway cleared of 2+ feet of snow, followed by a few too many celebratory glasses of scotch, it was only a matter of time before my immune system collapsed.

There are sick days, and then there are sick days.  Some sick days I can still get some stuff done; I can read, I can sit on the couch and play a game, I can try to do some writing.  But whatever I had earlier this week just completely wrecked me.  I spend most of those days horizontally, unable to keep my eyes open yet also unable to sleep, alternating between freezing and sweating every 20 minutes, just trying to stay comfortable as best I could.

So this is why I have very little to report.

I have.. um.. quite a lot I want to say, but this is probably not the best spot for that sort of thing.  If I could remember my Livejournal password I’d probably talk about it over there.  But the short version is that in December 2014, after going through my college diary for research for a writing project I was about to start, and then crumbling under the weight of 10,000 memories I’d completely misplaced and all these friendships that I’d allowed to wither, and especially all the romantic relationships that ended in something just short of chaos, I’d sent what I thought was a very sincere, heartfelt apology to someone that I’d hurt.  I had no ulterior motive.

Two days ago, I heard back.  And.. the response sorta defies belief.  My apology may have been “self-indulgent” and “masturbatory”… but the response is so bewilderingly inconsistent in its tone and message that it almost doesn’t make sense.  (You can’t write an email this hostile and then say, with a straight face, that you literally don’t care.)  The response also made sure to tell me that my original apology – which was, again, written in December of 2014 – was also apparently used as a stand-up comedy routine, so… there’s that.

I can’t even get mad at the fact that the email was used in a comedy routine, considering that I’m currently trying to finish an album that covers that specific period of my life.  It’s funny, though, because for all this time I was approaching this particular angle in a very specific way, and now, suddenly, the angle has changed utterly and completely.  The door is closed.  That question is answered.

I stopped playing those sorts of games at least 16 years ago.


As for regular pop-culture stuff, again, I don’t have much to say.  Before I got sick I was trying to grind my way up to an appropriate level in Witcher 3 so that I could finally play some of the new DLC, but I’m still a long ways off; then the cold got me, and I knew I didn’t have the motor skills to even pretend to be competent.  On Tuesday I played the first 30 minutes or so of The Witness before getting stumped, but in fairness, my brain was a bowl of cold oatmeal at the time.  I’d like to get back to it shortly.  I did finish the Baba Yaga DLC for Rise of the Tomb Raider, which was 2-3 hours of more Tomb Raider, which I’m happy to have.

I’m around 2/3 of the way through Cixin Liu’s “The Dark Forest“, which is still very absorbing.

I’ve not been listening to much music beyond my own tracks; I’ve been trying to work on lyrics for a bunch of things at once, and I need to focus on them as opposed to listening to outside stuff, which at this point is a distraction.

Anyway: I’m alive.

 

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.

a trip through the archives

Before I get into whatever this post is about, I must make mention of three excellent iOS games that I’ve picked up this week.  Firstly, there’s Rayman Fiesta Run which came out on iOS last night.  It’s absolutely fantastic, and probably somehow better than its excellent predecessor Jungle Run, and if you have $2.99 lying around you should pick it up.

Secondly, I should also mention that Tiny Death Star is out, being a Star Wars-themed version of Tiny Tower, and I’m kinda glad that I burned out on Tiny Tower so that I don’t have to succumb to Tiny Death Star, even though it’s adorable, and I need to remember to adjust my iPhone’s notification settings or else I’ll never see my loved ones again, even if we’re sitting in the same room.

Thirdly, I’m also kinda heavily addicted to the new (and free) Deadly Bullet, which has an art style very reminiscent of Hotline Miami and which has you playing as the titular bullet, mowing down gangsters, and using a control scheme that takes a bit of time to master but is quite engaging once you get the hang of it.

 *     *     *

I’m now officially working on my “farewell to this console generation” post, which will most likely need to be broken into at least 2 posts, because I have a lot of navel gazing to do as far as this generation is concerned, dammit, and I intend to do it.

Anyway:  in preparation for this epic post, I’ve been going through my old Gamespot blog, which is where this blog originally lived (back in 2004) (?!).

I’ve always gotten a little kick rummaging through my blog archives, even though the writing was worse than it is now (which is not to say that my writing now is where I want it to be).  Those old entries remind me not just of forgotten games, but of who I used to be and what I used to think about.  They tell me where I’ve come from, which also helps me figure out where I seem to have gone off to.  (They also show that I’ve probably started at least 80% of my posts with apologies for not posting, so I clearly haven’t changed all that much.)

I’m a little bummed, though, because there’s an unexplained hiatus between 2005 and 2006, and so it seems that I never wrote about the purchase of my (first) 360.  But I did find my original reactions to that Chuck Klosterman piece about the lack of a Lester Bangs of video game criticism, which can be found here (1, 2).  It would appear that I’m still in disagreement with good ol’ CK, even if my reasons have changed.

I do miss those Gamespot days.  I was part of a tight community there, and I made a lot of great friends in the forums, and it’s where I started figuring out what I wanted to say and how I wanted to say it.  I haven’t really found anything like it in the years since I left, though it’s not for lack of trying.  I’m happy to be an independent voice, for sure, but I miss the feeling of being in a community.  To be sure, there’s a number of great WordPress game blogs that I follow and engage with, but WordPress doesn’t quite do the “community” thing the way a dedicated game site does.  I suppose this should be my call to arms to start a WordPress game blog group, though I suspect I’ve probably got the smallest audience out of the blogs I’d want to court, and so who am I to lead?

Anyway, I’m suddenly full of nostalgia for the mid-00’s, which is a weird era to be nostalgic for, and so that’s what’s going on with me.  I have no idea when this farewell post will go up.  It seems silly to me to feel like I need to rush it out, though, considering that I’m not buying a new console until next spring, and I want to make sure that it’s not redundant with my Best of 2013 post, and I kinda also want to make sure that Assassin’s Creed 4 isn’t the best game of the generation before I start making lists and such.  (Oh, did I forget to mention that I directly contradicted my previous post, and ended up pre-ordering the PC version?  With a Season Pass, to boot?  Have I mentioned that I have no willpower?)