May 2009

5 AM

It's impossible to sleep on nights like these. Twin electric eels of anxiety and tension are taking turns running the length of my spine, both completely undeserved and undefined. They have nothing even close to passing for a valid reason for being there, but there they are nonetheless and they won't be leaving me alone. Not tonight.

I've been here before.

There was a time when I would simply pop a few extra sleeping pills or have a few stiff drinks to help me to a point where I would either work myself into a manic state of creativity or the chemicals would simply and mercifully drive me to a point where I would finally pass out.

Those days are long gone though. It’s a good thing.

Nonetheless, it's a dangerous time, these hours. By and large all that you can do is lie on your back and try not to think, to try and be nothing, but that stops working and before you know it, your mind begins to wander.

Usually I spend the first hour or two of these nights listening to music. Then I try to work on lyrics or writing a new song in my head.

And then, once even that becomes not enough, I start to think on things better left unthunk.

And on the rarest of rare nights, I actually begin to type those thoughts into my computer and some time later they find their way into one of these little pieces.

5 AM is a lonely hour. That much I am sure of. Only the sound of the bathroom fan to keep you company, and it always does all the talking.

I have so very much that I want to say.

For a while, I didn't, but now I do.

And Me Without My Delorean...

A few months back while I was in Cuba and after a few Bucanero’s (look it up, it’s probably not what you’re thinking…), I came to a couple of startling realizations/recollections.

We’ll start with the recollections.

I remember with crystal clarity when I first started listening to music for myself. I had a clock radio when I was a kid and I would spend hours when I was supposed to be sleeping listening to the AM signals beaming from the big city to the small towns I grew up in.

There biggest station of the time was AM 106. It was a standard top 40 format radio station but they had the first music countdown that I was every exposed to.

They ran two of these countdowns every weekday. The first was “The Top 6 At 6”, and due to dinner and homework I rarely got to listen to that particular countdown. “The Top Ten At 10” however, could be listened to under the covers with the volume low enough that I had to have my ear pressed up against the speaker in order to hear anything.

I suspect this played a large factor in my longstanding inability to fall asleep without having music playing.

Unless it’s "In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida", in which case I can’t fall asleep for the next few weeks, but that’s another story unto itself.

“The Top Ten At Ten” was particularly central to my universe because I didn’t have a portable radio at the time, and with some careful tracking it was almost a certainty that I would be able to hear at least one or two the songs I was most taken with at the time.

Made for some rough mornings and some difficult to explain speaker dimples on the side of my face come the AM, but it was worth it.

The eighties, while it was in many ways a complete debacle, did have some worthwhile contributions to music.

A few years later, my parents bought a real honest to gosh stereo system, and I discovered the limitless world of cassette recording. I mean, my God! It was possible to record songs off of the radio and then play them back at any time of my choosing! Imagine! The only drawback (and all things considered, it was a minor one) was that you had to remain in close proximity to the stereo and wait for the song you were waiting for to be played in order to hit the “record” button in time to catch it (I wasn’t allowed to be up past 9, so getting access to the stereo during the Top 10 would remain a relative impossibility for the next few years). As such, I had (and still have in various boxes) a large collection of songs that were missing the first 10-15 seconds.

And then we moved to the big city and a whole new musical world opened up.

Music stores!

I would spend as much time as I could in music stores, in awe of all of the different music that I would likely never be able to afford. In some of the stores they even allowed you to listen on the in store headphones, but those were always in high demand and almost always had some sort of a time limit attached.

But there was a way around even that financial restriction.

Cassette Singles!

I had no idea such an animal even existed until I stumbled across the singles section tucked away in the back of a Musicworld. Instead of having to pay $15 for a full album cassette, you could pay $4 for a tape that just had one song! Imagine!

I quickly assembled a respectable collection of cassette singles and began a process that would stick with me for years to come. The most sacred and serious of all music collection.

I speak of course, of the mix tape.

This was the Holy Grail as far as I was concerned. The ability to trade my music with friends for music I had never heard was unlike anything I had ever encountered to that date. I can’t even begin to list how many bands I was introduced to through the almighty mix tape, but most of the music that I listened to in my teens was directly from mix tapes.

There was a whole subculture to it. The quality of the tape and the timing of the songs were paramount. I would make complex notes before even starting dubbing to ensure that all of the songs would fit on without being cut short or leaving dead space at the end of a side. I had friends who did their own artwork for their tapes. Trading tapes was not only a sign of mutual affection or admiration, but also respect and trust. You didn’t just put any songs on a mix tape, as those choices were a direct reflection of who you were.

You could only pity the poor fool who would put “Ice, Ice Baby” or any other song that relied on the music of a previous hit to carry it. That was an amateur mistake made by those with a limited knowledge of musical history and taste and such a slight wasn’t forgiven until the perpetrator could recite from memory the lyrics from at least two or three Violent Femmes or Pixies albums. Rap was rare, but allowed, but anything close to Marky Mark could bring about swift and violent retribution.

And then somewhere in there CD’s started showing up more and more. As with any format change, there was of course resistance, but the sound quality was so much better and you didn’t have to worry about getting too close to magnets.

I didn’t get my first Discman until the late eighties, up until that point having made due with a variety of Walkmans. I chewed through batteries on an almost daily basis and literally had two speakers strapped to my back.

I cannibalized AA batteries out of literally any remote control I could get my hands on. In my wake were more than a couple of friends parents who couldn’t figure out for the life of them why their remote controls were draining batteries at such an accelerated rate. It was good times.

But I’m digressing a little here.

I’m about to digress even more.

As I said earlier, when I was in Cuba, I realized something. So many of the technologies that were at the time utterly magical are things that future generations will likely never even hear of. Cassettes? I already know 13 years old who have no idea what they were. Future generations will never know the complete joy that high-speed dubbing brought mix tapers around the world. They’ll never know the relief of not having to dig your Walkman out in –30 weather to flip the tape thanks to the wonder of auto reverse. Ipods and MP3 players have completely negated the use of Discmans and Walkmans.

Even CD singles, from what I can tell, are by and large relics from a time long since gone.

Which is a damn shame, because I believe that we’re losing something particularly special there.

I remember when CD singles first started picking up in popularity. It was around that time I also discovered what would be one of my biggest musical inspirations.

U2.

I heard Actung Baby and my world stopped. When I stumbled upon a CD single that U2 had released, I of course picked it up. Not because I didn’t have the song, I did. Several copies of the album in fact. What piqued my curiosity was the fact that there were several different versions of the same song on that particular single.

What was that all about?

Well, it was certainly set in motion one of the most financially damaging purchasing habits of my young life, that’s for sure. On this CD single there were versions of the songs that I had never heard before, as well as songs and recordings I had never heard anything about. I mean, U2 songs I didn’t know about? That was utterly unacceptable and needed to be rectified immediately.

Which it was, at great personal expense.

Compounded only further by the discovery that U2 were not the only artists out there that I was fond of that maintained this practice of “secret songs”. In fact it quickly seemed to become an industry standard.

I would, at this point like to acknowledge that singles and “extra songs” had been around for quite some time, I just didn’t know about them.

And then, as quickly as it came, the format dropped out of view.

MP3’s and the miniaturization and digitization of portable music seem to have largely wiped it out. Which I miss, I have to be honest.

Course I also miss U2, they haven’t been the same band since Zooropa (which while it had some impressive tracks, let’s be honest was a sign of things to come) and to be frank the new album is nothing short of a crushing disappointment.

I digress again.

A couple of weeks ago while I was reorganizing my hard drive in order to make room for some freshly downloaded episodes of Law and Order and some archived footage of nuclear testing I discovered that there are a couple of songs that have gone through a few iterations over the years, and some of those have never been released. Some of those versions are catastrophically bad, some are decent, and some I still enjoy to this day.

So I figured I would release my own single. Complete with remixes and live versions and all of that good stuff. It’s completely unnecessary, but it was fun for me to sit through all the different versions, so on the off chance that someone might just get the same enjoyment, I thought what the heck. Doesn’t cost anything for me to put together, so it doesn’t cost anything to download.

Weighed Down - The Single

(right click and save target as...) Enjoy.

The Shit List

(another pseudo monthly segment I will in all likelihood forget about after a few installments).

5. – The BP’s family. Run the bunch of them through that pizza oven of theirs. Yes, even the baby. You know the ones, with the sideways glasses and the talking baby. I’m sorry, but a talking baby? Are we still on that? Is that the best a company as large and financially successful as Boston Pizza can do with its marketing department? If they would just stop insulting the intelligence of anyone unfortunate to come across their TV commercials and get their takeout/delivery departments to be able to deliver a cheese steak with both au jus and gravy, I might be more forgiving, but I only do takeout now and I budget in an extra 20 minutes for all of the inevitable mistakes.

4. - The dairy queen talking lips. I have an idea for a DQ ad. A disgruntled 14 year old DQ employee complete with long hair and bad acne reaches into the frame and plucks those condescending lips into one of the blizzard blenders. I don’t know what flavour that would be, but I bet they would sell like hotcakes.

Which is just a fancy old-fashioned way of saying pancakes by the way.

3. - The Mini Wheats dancing guy. Once was cute. It’s been something like five years and now the only reason I eat them is because I know they’re high in fibre and by doing so I’m doing my part to make sure that little guy ens up where he should.

A martyr in the name of regularity.

2. - Marketing executives that fund people like the #1 most damaging people to the collective psyche of the planet…

1. - Flo-rida – Must be brought to justice. Dead or Alive (get it?). For destroying one of the best new wave one hit wonders and for further lowering the standards of the collective unconscious. This is a remake that would barely be suited for a playground, and yet somehow this gets radio play? What’s next, an x-rated version of “On top of spagetti?” If this sort of regurgitated garbage is what passes for rap/hip hop these days, we need to do whatever we can to get more guns into the hands of these “gangsters” so they do a better job of thinning their own herds.

Too Old To Take Prisoners...

I used to want to. Collect them all up and put them in a cabinet, someplace safe that I could turn to in times of nuclear holocaust or just rainy days and Mondays.

But prisoners are high maintenance. They require an unforgiving amount of effort, and in that it starts to be about what you are, not what you’re saying. Prisoners only listen because they have nowhere else to be.

Sometimes, the value of the words greatly outweighs the value of the man. I should be so lucky, but I certainly don’t count myself as any different.

I just don’t have time to clean the cages and roll out the fodder. If you aren’t careful, the show can quickly become about them and not what you’re saying, even if you do have the best of intentions. Attentions shift and the message gets lost all so people can just look at the bizarre creatures in the cages and hope for a glimpse of their strange mating rituals.

Not for me thanks.

I’ll get what I came for and hope to sleep just a little better for it. I’ve seen too many shows like that and the same old is the same old no matter how you dress it up. You take prisoners and you’ll end up one to them every time.

I’m too old for that.

Let the monkeys run free, I say.

Let the monkeys run free.

You know where to find me

Nate@natepike.com