Let The World Back Into Me

This song has been haunting my dreams for a few weeks now:

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At first I thought it was a brainworm, just another catchy tune that won’t go away. Now I’m beginning to suspect that this is my subconscious trying to tell me that I need to crawl back out of my shell and see if there is still a life to be had out in the wider world. A terrifying thought.

I don’t know that I can afford to let the world back into me, but I’m beginning to suspect that I really don’t have a choice in the matter.

This one too has been haunting my dreams.

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I’m less mystified by what it means than what the first one means. I’m more than a little pissed at the people who have kept me locked in my house for three years. People who won’t do the basic minimum required of a good citizen. The basic minimum? Get your fucking vaccinations.

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Can’t Spot the Cynacism

Or sarcasm, for that matter.

I woke up with this song in my head today:

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…so I started a song radio with it on Spotify to start my morning. It wasn’t an intrusive brainworm of a song because I really wanted to hear it again, and it echoed the sentiment in some dream I was having at some point last night. Dark dreams for vertigo nights.

Song radio is Spotify’s way of creating a playlist that sounds like the song that the radio is based on. This is a technology that was started by Pandora back in the dark ages of the internet. I helped craft that algorithm to some extent because I was an early adopter of Pandora and I would still be using that software if they had the sense to grandfather their founders into the for-profit system that they are today. Instead they annoyed every single one of us with advertisements placed slap in the middle of a song unless we voluntarily started paying them money every month.

I started using other music software because of Pandora’s betrayal, and those systems whose advertising policy managed not to drive me away within the first few weeks of my testing their service out stayed in my rotation. It wasn’t until discovering Spotify and its song radio that I thought I had found a new home for my music listening soul (Still trying not to think about a million dollars going to Joe Rogan. Trying and failing) no other service could figure out how to offer me songs that fit in the vernacular of what it was I wanted to hear that day.

This was also a frequent problem with disc jockeys on radio stations, understanding why a particular song appeals to a certain section of an audience. It soon became clear that Spotify didn’t understand my attraction to this particular song this morning, either. There is a persistent cynicism across pretty much everything Donald Fagan and Steely Dan ever created. They use bright upbeat tones to masque the dark cynicism of most of their lyrics. It’s a tactic that got you airplay back in the days of human disc jockeys who only selected for audio quality and didn’t listen to the message of the song itself. Or maybe they did listen that closely and they were just cynical bastards themselves who appreciated those kinds of messages.

In either case, the song radio that was created from The Goodbye Look was populated with sickly sweet love songs, most of which have not the slightest hint of cynicism in the lyrics. It makes sense when you think about the nature of the beast that compiles these lists. Computers just know what you ask them for, they don’t understand sarcasm or cynicism. Spell checkers can’t even figure out that you mean cynicism if you misspell it. No, I didn’t mean to say Cynthia you ignorant machine.

This is why I detest voice activated assistants. They just don’t understand me at all. When I mumble my voice instructions and the AI dutifully asks me “who do you want to call?” it studiously looks for a number for Ghostbusters and offers me similar sounding alternatives to dial when I give the correct response to that question. Every human born in the last 40 years knows the answer to the question is Ghostbusters, but computers will never get that. Computers pedantically just do what you tell them every single time. They don’t understand implied meanings. Conflicting emotional undertones. They have no emotions. I wonder if that is a good thing or a bad thing?

In any case, after I weeded out the Joe Jackson and the Elvis Costello songs from the list I got down to the kinds of songs I was trying to listen to and I rediscovered Dr. John and his unusual take on popular music. Rediscovered him and added that particular song to the ever-growing list of songs I know I heard at the pool as a child. The twisted-assed nature of my emotional state has been revealed to me once again. Onward through the fog.

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Pasteboard pies and paper flowers are being banished from the stage by the growth of that power of accurate observation which is commonly called cynicism by those who have not got it…

George Bernard Shaw (h/t to amandaonwriting)

Brainworm

The last song you heard stays in your head just like the taste of the last cigarette you smoked. When it won’t go away even after the fourth or eleventh song that you’ve listened to, that’s called a brainworm. The stale riff stays in your head until you somehow replace it with a another riff. That one eventually gets stale if you don’t listen to another song. Music is a habit forming drug much like nicotine.

One man’s brain worm is another man’s favorite song. The difference lies in the answer to the question “do I want to hear that song again?” If the answer is no, then what you’ve got is a brainworm. They talk about the subject on this Shortwave episode:

spotifyNPR: Shortwave – Why music sticks in our brains – October 7, 2021

They call it an earworm in one of the ads for the episode. They don’t, however, tell you about how earworms persist or how to get rid of them. Any song that doesn’t stick in your head but silences the pattern repetition can serve as a brainworm killer. The Wife uses Mandy by Barry Manilow. I hate Barry Manilow, but I have developed a grudging respect for the song. Especially if you sing it with over-dramatic zeal:

…make it broader, with tons of shoulder. Remember, you’re a drag queen!

Victor/Victoria
Victor Victoria (1982)

Is Mandy a man or a woman? Does it matter? No it doesn’t. What matters is that you consciously force your mind to mingle the worm with the new lyrics and melody, in much the same way that you get rid of the hiccups by breathing and drinking water in a deliberate pattern, training the ticking muscles to adapt to the new pattern. You will it gone with a heavy bludgeon of Barry if that is what works.

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Postscript

Mandy was my second-most listened to song in 2021 according to Spotify and Amazon. That isn’t surprising to me. A lot of the music that I wanted to listen to again with my new headphones has turned out to be brainworms that I only forgot again by liberally applying Mandy, which I sang along to at the top of my lungs for the best effect. I even threw in a little shoulder because why not?

Why Worry?

Baby, when I get down I turn to you
And you make sense of what I do
And though it isn’t hard to say

But baby, just when this world seems mean and cold
Our love comes shining red and gold
And all the rest is by the way

Why worry
There should be laughter after pain
There should be sunshine after rain
These things have always been the same
So why worry now
Why worry now

Dire Straits
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One of my favorite songs from one of my favorite albums. It’s nice to be able to hear these songs again. This is all thanks to Aftershokz headphones. I have several pairs now. It’s been a musical desert for me until just recently. I was a serious audiophile once. Now nothing sounds right if it isn’t coming to me through these headphones.

Don’t Deny You Watch Me

Concord HPL 115 – 1979

I bought Tom Petty’s forth album when it released in 1981. It was just another cassette in a very long string of cassettes that I bought at the Hastings next to the Safeway where I worked in downtown Sweetwater that year. But it was one of the first cassettes (Much like RX5) I played on my prized new stereo that I bought to put in the first car that I paid for by myself, a burnt orange ’72 Chevelle with an all-black interior. I spent countless hours cruising the drag and the blacktop highways surrounding Sweetwater, Texas in that car. Hard Promises was one of my mainstays, an album I came back to time and again.

I never bothered to read the track list. I had a purist’s sense of album-oriented music. The tracks were irrelevant back then, the album was what I listened to. I know what the track names are now, of course. The Waiting was one of my all-time go-to songs. Eighteen and still chained to my mother and my siblings, waiting is what I was doing back then. It was the hardest part. A Woman in Love was also achingly true at the time. My fiancée betrayed me for another man, another boy-child with better prospects, not too long after I picked this album up. On replaying it after the breakup the song could make me weep almost uncontrollably.

The third song was a puzzle. I never could figure out the words of the chorus. No matter how many times I replayed the album, the best I could make it out to be was Don’t Deny You Watch Me:

Spotify – Nightwatchman

Don’t deny you watch me never made sense when coupled to the verses, and I felt like an idiot a few years later when I finally thought to read the track list. It might have helped me to understand what the title was and why if I had known that Tom Petty had a job as a security guard/groundskeeper through the years he was putting the Heartbreakers together and writing the songs that would eventually make him world-famous. The story of talking to the security guard that he credits as the inspiration for the song seems apocryphal to me. It’s a nice story to explain away the presence of the song on the forth album. It doesn’t explain the emotion of wasting your time away at minimum wage as a Nightwatchman.

I woke up with those lyrics in my head today. I’m trialing Spotify right now, so I queued up the song and let Spotify create a playlist based on that song. After a couple of false starts, it did pretty good at serving me up songs I wanted to hear as I was preparing breakfast. Then I hear the familiar funky bassline of My City Was Gone and I started to pass the song over:

Spotify – My City Was Gone

Then I stopped myself. The intro music that Rush Limbaugh pilfered and abused for more than a decade is free from his taint now, I said to myself. I will allow myself to enjoy the song as if I was hearing it for the first time again. I never knew of the song before I first heard it being used as intro music for the Rush Limbaugh show (Much as I had never heard AC/DC’s Gone Shootin’ before hearing it used as an intro for Jeff Ward’s talk show) I made a dedicated effort to understand what the show was about and why people thought it was funny back in the day, after I first dismissed the show because it replaced the talk show host I had been listening to on 590 AM in 1988. The previous show had been about Austin and subjects around Austin and it was relevant if not actually always interesting.

The Rush Limbaugh Show was propaganda crafted for a particular audience and worldview, and try as a might I could not enjoy the show or the callous bastard that was the host of the show. I did catch glimpses of his humor, briefly. It never stuck and never stood up to later analysis in the harsh light of reality. His television show was completely laughable and deserved to be cancelled. Few people even remember his abortive attempt to take over television, but it was one of the first real setbacks the man encountered. I wish he had encountered more of them, he might have become a better person.

For years, the bassline that began My City Was Gone was my personal warning to change stations, and it was the only part of Limbaugh’s show that I really ever paid attention to. I lamented his use of the song because it destroyed my enjoyment of it. As usual, with conservative politicians, the songs they pick are selected for the tones they set, and not for the actual messages that the songs contain.

Born in the USA is a lament, not a celebration. That didn’t stop Ronald Reagan from using it incessantly to promote his presidency. My City was Gone is also a lament. A denouncement of all things corporate and consumerist and new:

Hynde’s particular stolen mental property is Akron, Ohio. And granted, this is no Norman Rockwell painting small town: it’s a big city. Even so, the parts of Akron Hynde loved best had been altered beyond repair during her time away. “South Howard had disappeared,” she sadly notes. South Howard Street is the historic center of Akron. When she continues with “reduced to parking spaces,” she’s referring to how this city center was leveled to make room for an urban plaza highlighted by a trio of skyscrapers and a couple parking decks.

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The picture the song paints is not the picture that Rush Limbaugh or his fans would embrace. It is bleak and cold and heartless, like their beliefs are, but they fail to recognize. If they understood this fact they would change their beliefs. That they remain unchanged is more of a testament to their lack of understanding than anything else they might say or do.

I played the song through no less than a dozen times today, and I’ve enjoyed it more each time. Nightwatchman lead me to this song again, I can’t deny it. I do watch you, conservatives. I do watch you, and I condemn you. You can never have real music with the ideals you profess. Real music has soul, and your hollow capitalist ideal knows no soul.

Featured image is a capture from the live performance of My City Was Gone linked in this article about the song.

Unpowered Center

This is the way I saw the structure when I first noticed it under construction two decades ago, driving through one of the many new power centers that were popping up at the edges of Austin. I didn’t see it as the empty shell that would soon be filled with consumer goods that the average tech junkie would be clamoring for. I saw it as it sits now, a building that was aged and worn from twenty years of hard use, cast aside like an empty cardboard container that only existed to hold a transitory meal of convenience. A tribute to the vanity of consumer culture, unloved and abandoned.

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This is life in the city. The structures that seem to erupt suddenly out of the landscape and briefly exist as bustling hives of industry that are almost as suddenly vacant and decaying, a blight on the landscape that was perfectly fine the way it was before the bulldozers showed up to turn a farmer’s field into a parking lot. What, exactly, did this structure offer that wasn’t available at the local mall? The local mall that is now also abandoned or repurposed into something else?

Now the power centers sit just as idle as the malls started doing a decade and more ago, and the real estate developers are looking for the next big thing that they can get us all to go to and spend money we don’t have on things we don’t need. This wouldn’t be so bad if it wasn’t the same behavioral patterns that hollowed out the centers of our cities back in the sixties and seventies. Maybe it is time to stop seeking the next new, shiny thing and take a look around at what already exists that we can make suit the needs of the moment. Let the corporations and the land developers starve. The people don’t need them if they can’t serve the needs of today.

The Shit

Shit is getting real

This shit has distracted me for the last time.

I mean; I’m doing the wrong shit again. I’m doing the wrong shit after I was distracted from doing the right shit earlier today. I had to do some other shit that I needed to do after I did the right shit, but I had people counting on me to do that shit so I had to skip the important shit and do the more time-sensitive shit when that shit needed to be done. Now I’m at the end of the day and the important shit still isn’t done.

I just sat down to do the right shit, and this shit distracted me again. Well, shit!

Now I need to do the shit I didn’t do earlier after the shit that I had to do on time, and so couldn’t do the shit then. That would be the important shit, not the shit I’m doing now, because that shit still needs to be done. So I’m going to get up and do the shit that needs doing instead of this shit, so that I can finish doing the other shit that still needs doing before none of this shit gets done today.

If that happened that would be a shit end to the day and I want to avoid that shit if I can.

Postscript

Oh, yeah. That’s the shit.

The wife could tell that I was obsessed with shit. She was glad I got the shit done. I didn’t have the heart to tell her I had more shit to do, but I’ll do that shit tomorrow.

Featured image is from a facebook status, but I deleted that shit.

YouTube – Warren Zevon – My Shit’s Fucked Up (Amazon)

Going Deaf

How old were you guys when you were diagnosed and when did your hearing start needing help?

It varies person to person. No one can tell you how your disease will progress or that you will or won’t be losing your hearing over the course of years. Unless you go bilateral like I have, you will always have at least one good ear to hear with. Only time will tell, so take comfort in that.

I can’t hear music right anymore. The bass tones are gone in the left ear and impaired on the right. If I want to hear a television program I have to plug in headphones or turn the volume up very loud. I won’t use hearing aids because I’m frequently plagued with ear pain from loud noises, so I have to be careful with the volume and the mastering of modern soundtracks varies so much in volume that it can drive you crazy trying to keep the soundtrack audible and yet not painful to hear.

Bone conduction headphones are my savior. I can only listen to music through them and hear it correctly. I need to figure out how to get them to work seamlessly with the gaming console we use to watch television; get them to work for me without turning the volume off for everyone else when I turn them on. I’m still working on a solution for that.

If you do loose your hearing, you don’t want to be caught flat-footed having to learn a whole new method of communication on the fly. So if you are concerned about going deaf, study hearing loss. Learn American Sign Language. Get comfortable with the worst case scenario so that you can remove your fear of it. Once you are no longer afraid of what might happen, you can try to get comfortable with the reality that you have to face right now.

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Accendi l’arcobaleno (Light Up the Rainbow)

I can’t understand a word of this song, but it still moves me to tears:

Accendi l’arcobaleno Song by Andrea Mingardi Simona Camosci and Coro in corsia

The composition reminds me of the way that We Are the World was presented back at the dawn of time, internet-wise. According to the segment of Deutsche Welle – Inside Europe 18.03.2021 (Dany Mitzman) that brought the song to my attention, the proceeds from the sales of the song will go to funding the education of more nurses in Italy and Europe. (Spotify Link)

“At that time of turmoil and sadness, and a profound need to cling on to something good, I wanted to write optimistic lyrics that would project me towards the end of this tragic event,” she tells the BBC.

When the Covid crisis hit Bologna early last March, she had just transferred from the local health centre to a specialist hospital clinic. After 36 years, she had been hoping to spend the final chapter of her career in a less frenetic environment.

Within a week her new workplace had become Bologna’s designated Covid hospital and she was at the checkpoint, filtering patients.

Simona’s idea was to put together a group of nurses to record the song, then use it to raise money to set up bursaries at the University of Bologna. If there was one thing the pandemic had highlighted, it was the scarcity of qualified nursing staff in Italy.

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A hat/tip is owed to sky.it. It was because I discovered the video on their site that I knew it had to exist somewhere. Damn, was it hard to find on Youtube. The only way I ended up finding the official Youtube video was to follow a link from this Facebook profile that came up in a Google search for the nurses name. A hat/tip is owed to them as well. The fundraising link triggers trojan warnings on my internet security program, so I haven’t been able to go to the site without disabling security and I don’t have a disposable computer system to surf with at the moment. I consider that sentence to be a Fair warning for anyone who is concerned about internet security.