2019/11/01

Private lives

In the late 1980s and early 90s, the main business of the company I worked for was providing searchable online periodical content, often with article text, first through CompuServe and later through public and academic libraries. In those days we "rolled our own." We started with some fairly basic software that we then changed and revised and upgraded over the years.

For several years, we logged only error messages, both fatal exceptions and non-fatal errors, such as search failures. We could tell when people found no matches for their search, but we didn't know what the failing search expression contained.

We did not go lightly into logging search expressions. By now many are too young to remember how high the expectation of privacy used to be, especially in the United States. In the early days of online activity, it was assumed that people were entitled to the same privacy as they would have had while doing research at a library or talking with someone on the telephone. And privacy meant privacy, not a pledge to take your information but keep it safe and confidential.

We really didn't want to know what people were searching for. It might be all kinds of embarrassing stuff. We thought of what we would be doing as snooping. But we realized that not saving search expressions was hampering efforts to improve our search server. If we knew why searches failed, we should be able to help customers be more successful, and we would know more about what people expected from our products.

You might find this quaint, but we were nervous about snooping. We didn't want customers to know we could see what they searched for.  We told ourselves we would use "snoopage" only for goodness and niceness, meaning to help diagnose a problem or failure.

I don't remember when this kind of detailed information capture became normal. I think it might have been another decade, or nearly so. I know that long before I retired, the logging of detailed search information had become routine, and it was used for metrics, analysis, marketing, and more.

Shortly before I left, the company was at the point of dealing with European Union privacy regulations. I'm not sure if those are closing the barn door after the horse has already gone. Maybe they're more like not letting the horse run quite as wild and crapping all over the place.

One reason the company was not drawn to mine user data was that the services cost money, then and now. We figured that entitled users to some level of privacy.

Most of the services we use now are "free." Free meaning that we don't pay a fee beyond our internet connection charge. The services are anything but free, however, when you look at what we've given in exchange—something that only a half century ago people would have preserved at all cost.

2019/10/21

Random stuff about France

As I wrote in my last post, Sweetie and I recently spent a week and a half in France: eight days in Paris, with a day trip to Rouen and a much-of-day trip to Versailles, a weekend in La Rochelle, and then one night in a rather nice airport hotel. Not gonna travelogue here, just make a few observations.

Little Dancer Aged Fourteen
by Edgar Degas
We toured the Louvre, went to Versailles, and took a selfie at the Eiffel Tower, but these are the three Paris sites that turned out to be most interesting for me: the Musée d'Orsay, Père Lachaise Cemetery, and Mundolingua.
  • At the d'Orsay, I learned how much I love the work of Claude Monet and many other Impressionist painters. As always, seeing famous works such as Monet's haystacks or Degas' young ballerina in person has much more impact than all those years of looking at photos.
  • Père Lachaise was great not only for Jim Morrison's tomb, obligatory for old rockers like us, but those of so many others, such as Edith Piaf, Gertrude Stein, Oscar Wilde, and Collette. There are heart-piercing memorials to victims of the Holocaust and other mass murders. And the grounds are beautiful.
  • Sweetie found Mundolingua, a small museum tucked into a very old building near Saint-Germain-des-Prés. It's an interactive museum of language, and if you're a language nerd, it's astounding. We had only about an hour and a half to spend there, and we could easily have spent twice as long.
Saint-Sulpice
We visited some of my ancestral churches in Paris, Rouen, and La Rochelle, churches where people from whom I am descended were baptized situated in neighbourhoods where they grew up. Saint-Germain-des-Prés, Saint-Sulpice, Notre-Dame-de-Rouen, and Saint-Saveur in La Rochelle. I'm a faithless ex-Catholic who still loves old churches, and these had particularly good vibes in them.

L'Église-de-la-Madeleine was only a few blocks from where we stayed in Paris. It's all Roman columns on the front, but inside it's a church. We went there for a free performance of Mozart's requiem that was wonderful.

Walks of Italy says that Paris restaurants open at 8 pm. Maybe some do, but mostly we saw 7 o'clock (one place opened at 7:30).

Coronation of Napoleon
Finding a restaurant for dinner on a Sunday, however, can be a challenge. You might find yourself eating pizza (at least it was good). A lot of things are closed or run differently on Sundays.

If you're not in a hurry, some buses get you where you're going in a more pleasant way than the Métro. It's nice to be on the surface when you don't know the city. The Métro is very good and useful, but it's like New York—not many elevators, some escalators, a lot of stairs, and sometimes very long passageways to connect lines.

Security is a visible reality in Paris and at all train stations. First it was because of a planned gilets jaunes march. Then there was the state funeral for Jacques Chirac. We got used to police cordoning off our corner of the neighbourhood, I think because of the nearby British Consulate General, and having to tell them that indeed we were staying there and not meeting anyone.

Grand Horloge, Rouen
Trains rule. We took a commuter train to Versailles and back. We took a regional train to Rouen. We went to La Rochelle and back on high-speed rail.

If you find yourself in Rouen on a Tuesday when most of the museums are closed, go to the Musée départemental des antiquités. The museum has a fabulous collection of artifacts mostly from the area of France, from pre-Roman on, and there's no fee.

I put La Rochelle in the trip because it was a major departure point for people who went to Nouvelle-France, including a lot of my ancestors, and I thought a small seaside city would be a nice change from Paris. As it turned out, we were completely charmed by the old port and the many walking streets, and the aquarium is first-rate. La Rochelle tugs at us a bit.

Old Port, La Rochelle
Charles De Gaulle Airport is one of the worst, but having learned a few things, getting there was much smoother than getting to Paris from there. There are three train stations at CDG connected by a shuttle, and trains from each station go to different Paris stations. If we had sussed out the shuttle and train systems (a lot to ask from jet-lagged tourists), we could have taken a train from a station that would have gone to a station closer to our abode. On the way back, it didn't cost much to take a bus from Gare de Lyon to the airport.

European washer-dryers are not much fun for North Americans. I still don't know how to make the thing not wash or rinse but only dry.

If you have a lot of time to kill at Pierre Trudeau Airport in Montreal and you eat meat, go to the Pork and Pickle. Not just a cute name but good food.

2019/10/17

Land and belonging

Plaque in Saint-Saveur, La Rochelle
I was born on the land of the Pennacook, the Abenaki, and the nations of the Wabanaki Confederacy. I grew up on the land of the Pennacook and Wabanaki, and came of age on Mohican land. I went to university and lived for many years following on the land of the Massa-adchu-es-et.

In pursuit of opportunity, I moved to land used by several nations, including Tsleil-Waututh, Squamish, Sto:lo, Stz'uminus, Musqueam, Katzie, Kwantlen, Kwikwetlem, Tsawwassen, and Qayqayt. It's a beautiful land on the west coast of Turtle Island, hemmed in between mountains and sea. But like so much of Turtle Island, the land was never ceded. In popular parlance, it's stolen land.

The title my spouse and I hold on our land was granted by the provincial authority, the descendant of the colonial state imposed upon the land and its inhabitants. The original title holder either claimed the land or purchased it, but not from any of the First Nations whose land it was. They never granted title to anyone, and they never received recompense.

I was born on Turtle Island. My ancestors for the previous 300 years had been born on Turtle Island. But before that, most of them had come from Europe. Only one ninth-great-grandmother*, with others possible but undetermined, belonged to the land already. I am mainly the descendant of people who came and stayed and imposed their colony and state upon the land.

Do I belong on this land? Do I belong on any of the land on this continent? Do 10 generations of ancestors born here make me belong to the land?

When someone asks Lee Maracle if Indigenous people want settlers to go back home, she answers with a wry "Maybe." I can't disagree with any native person who says we should leave. We perpetrated some terrible atrocities and in general did a shitty job of being colonizers. There might be nothing we can do now to make things better. So maybe there is nothing I can do to belong to this continent.

It's not that it was wrong to sail to Turtle Island or even to settle here. But it was wrong to push the Indigenous people out. It was wrong to try to convert and assimilate Indigenous people. It was wrong to kidnap them and bring them to Europe, or make them servants or slaves. It was wrong to think of them as less and to treat them as less. An early melding of cultures did not continue as settlers mostly retained their own ways.

If an edifice was constructed by enslaved people or if people were executed so their blood could be part of the foundation, can the edifice ever be simply magnificent and beautiful and glorious? Or is it forever tainted by its origins? Is there a road forward on Turtle Island? Or is the damage too deep and too messy?

Saint-Sulpice, Paris
If I don't belong on this land, where do I belong? France hasn't been "home" since the time of the Bourbon monarchy. And yet our recent visit to Paris, Rouen, and La Rochelle, left me with strong feelings that won't let go.

It wasn't that I found the culture familiar. There is no magical connection between me and the descendants of people who said goodbye to those who went across the ocean more than 300 years ago. But I found France comfortable. It fit me, somehow. Not all the time, of course, but more often than I had imagined it would. I was walking where my ancestors walked.

I might well belong on that land. Some kind of human beings were in the area of France all the way back to the original migration into Europe by both Homo neanderthalis and H. sapiens. The Romans found Celtic Gauls, related to much of the population of Europe. Frankish and other invaders did not cause the Celtic culture to vanish, but it lies somewhere between the margins and assimilation. For the most part, the French people have been the French people for a long time.

I might live out my remaining days on the shore of the Salish Sea. I might never do more than visit my ancient homeland. But I take some comfort in knowing that I might belong somewhere, even if it's not here.

[Information on whose land I lived and live on came from Native Land, an excellent interactive map project.]

* I originally wrote "eighth." "Ninth" is correct.

2019/09/10

Right neighbourly

What I did on my summer vacation: I sat on the front porch.

Our house came with a front porch, but we didn't use it much, especially after the glider broke. We had the back deck added in an early reno that included the removal of a derelict detached garage and the addition of an attached carport with a deck over top, or a deck with a carport underneath, depending on how you look at it. The lot slopes away, so in the previous configuration, there were stairs from the kitchen to the yard, and the car was parked down a short, open walkway. After the reno, we could walk out to the deck from the main floor and walk out to our car from the basement.

The deck gets a lot of sun with some tree-induced breaks. It has a two-person hammock, a table and chairs with umbrella, a blueberry bush, and a succulent. It's close to the kitchen. Yellow-jackets-willing, we can have meals out there in warm weather. We used to have a gas grill, and we've hosted lots of company back there. I've also had many a nice snooze in the hammock.

This summer, and probably in recent years, we haven't used the deck as much. In the afternoon on a warm, sunny day (not so much this summer but the last few), it can get too hot out there for a few hours. We've had some meals on the deck this summer, but we haven't been hosting much, and the yellow-jacket problem is real (although the trap seems to work).

I like that the deck is higher than its surroundings, but it's also above most of the garden. The deck of my dreams (which exists) is surrounded by forest, but we don't live in a forest. The deck is also noisier than the garden below because its elevation gives it more exposure to the nearby arterial street.

This summer, a bit late, I got inspired by some friends who live across town. They were making good use of their front porch which, like ours, is fairly close to the street, in that old-fashioned, neighbourly, non-suburban way.

There was nothing to sit on, only a small round table. I moved a folding chair out to the front porch and set it by the table. Before long, I finished an Adirondack chair from a kit that my sweetie had mostly assembled many years ago. I set it next to the table. And I built and deployed the second Adirondack chair.

The porch faces northwest, with a huge boulevard tree that keeps it shady even from afternoon sun. There are often birds in the nearby trees and shrubs. Sweetie has a lovely hanging basket on one side. I like sitting in one of the Adirondack chairs and reading, maybe with a beverage on the table nearby. It's easy to relax out there.

From the back deck, you can see people go by in the side lane at the end of the driveway below. From the front porch, you can see people only a few metres away and almost at the same level. Neighbours walking their dogs. People with kids going to the nearby swimming pool. It's a nice street to walk on, and it's good to see and say hi to and occasionally chat with people who walk by. So far I haven't had anyone want to spend time in the other Adirondack chair—not even Sweetie!—but it's good to have an inviting chair just in case.

The weather is turning cooler, but I'll probably wrap up in a hoodie and keep front porch season going a while longer.

2019/06/05

R&R

It's been just over three months since I retired. In that time, I have not been idle.

I released a remixed and remastered version of some of the best music I was part of. Mostly Still Underfoot by the Underachievers, originally released in 1986, is out on download and streaming services all over the interwebs.

I reached the end of my Big Book of Ancestors, a mostly internal document. It's not complete, but I now know the birth locations of all my ancestors whose birth location is known. Sweetie and I will have this reference for when we visit France in the fall.

New West Pride is ramping up to get ready for the August 17 street festival. I am board secretary and responsible for a few other things. It's my main stress right now, but it's not terrible.

Not like my job was.

I'm not exaggerating much when I say that my last two years of employment almost killed me. They certainly had a pronounced negative impact on my health. I was almost always sleep-deprived. I had a lot of gut pain and issues with digestion and absorption. I had myofascial issues that caused a lot of pain. There were days when I would hit the wall and have to book off for an afternoon, and times I was hit with pretty much all the symptoms associated with fibromyalgia.

As I've said before, it's not that the job was bad. It was a very good job, one I was fortunate to have. But it was the wrong job for me, and I had reached the limit of my ability to adapt myself to its needs.

I was burned out! I kind of knew it at the time but I didn't want to admit it. And I needed to put in the time so that Sweetie and I could have some kind of retirement savings. I knew I was hurting myself, but I did what my folks would have done and toughed it out. Now I have to deal with post-burnout.

My health improved very shortly after I retired. The gut issues went away almost entirely. But muscle and connective tissue problems remain, as do a few other minor things. I feel like I aged more than two years during the last two years.

So for a while, I'm going to push away feelings that I'm not doing enough. I need some time. Usually, at least if I manage things well, I no longer have to hurry. I have been in hurry mode for most of my life, and it's exhausting. Time to move at a more human pace.

I don't plan to coast from now until I hit my expiration date. I have ongoing responsibilities. I have a house to keep (that I need to do better at) and a garden to encourage. I have more musical things to do. If I can get into the proper mode, I can block out writing time.

I didn't think I'd need that much "vacation" after I stopped working. I thought I'd be rarin' to go. But I damaged myself more than I had thought I would. So enough toughness for now, and into recovery, for however long it takes.

2019/05/27

Gametes

Human beings sex each other. Our brains do it automatically, as do the brains of all animals that reproduce sexually. If potential motile gamete** producers (MGPs, a.k.a. males) and potential non-motile gamete producers (NGPs, a.k.a. females) don't identify each other, a species will not continue.

This is why the "It's Pat!" sketches that Julia Sweeney* did on Saturday Night Live were funny, at least at the time. It wasn't so much Pat's gender ambiguity that was funny (going for cheap laughs sucks). It was the lengths to which the others would go to try to ascertain whether Pat was an NGP or an MGP. Their brains would explode from not being able to tell, and viewers would laugh at their frustration and love it when every attempt would fail.

English and many other languages reflect this sexual binary and the innate desire to know who is which. The word "gender," whatever else it means, still has a grammatical sense. Most personal pronouns, for which the antecedent is a named person, have no gender. But third-person singular personal pronouns do. English and most other languages force you to declare your knowledge or assumption as to whether the person referred to is a MGP or a NGP.

There are other languages, however, that use gender-neutral third-person singular personal pronouns. Swedish has joined them. English should too. Why do we need to identify the sex of the antecedent? We don't do it for plurals. We should not have to say "the previously mentioned female person" or "the previously mentioned male person." We should be able to say "the previously mentioned person."

I understand that gendered third-person singular personal pronouns are ingrained in English, and I don't expect people's brains to stop trying to sex each other. But I would like not to have that embedded in our everyday speech.

I realize as well that people use the term "gender" in ways other than the grammatical sense, and they consider pronouns to be a reflection of gender. Some want third-person personal pronouns to be something they choose for themselves and for others to use to refer to them so they will not be misgendered.

If gender is important to a person, then it is. If someone says "these are my pronouns," I always do my best to comply. But I would so much rather use a personal pronoun that doesn't go into intimate details. I would like to be able to refer to a person as a person the way I can refer to people as people.

Ey, em, eir, eirs, and eirself have advantages. They match the form of the corresponding third-person plural personal pronouns and thus are easy to remember. They do not evoke either of the existing gendered third-person personal pronouns. They are unambiguously singular. And they don't say anything about the antecedent's sex or gender. Tell me why that isn't better.

*I had written Mary Gross. Thanks to the reader who corrected me.
**My sweetie, who is smarter than I am and more sciency (she has actual degrees), pointed out that every time I used the word "zygote," it should have been "gamete." What a maroon! I even had to change the title.

2019/05/20

Lessons



It wasn't long after Underfoot came out that I knew I should have done a better job producing. The record wasn't bad. It was just timid and safe. It didn't pop. And it didn't grab very many people.

I knew we weren't the best musicians around. We played as well as we could in the studio. I had thought part of the reason the record wasn't great was that we hadn't played well enough. That was wrong. Both playing and singing were way stronger than I had thought. Given a better mix, that became delightfully obvious to me. I heard how the drums and bass locked, and how the guitars worked in support. Mostly I heard some great vocal performances, especially by Cilla. I love the range of expression in her singing.

I really had no idea a remix could make this much difference. And this is with the engineer and me being mindful of not fixing too much. You can hear the misses because we left them there. This is the real thing, all recorded back in 1985. But you can also hear how little would "need" fixing even if we were going for perfect the way many do now. Tempos slide a bit. We did not play with a click track. I don't think we could have at that speed, and I don't think we would have wanted to. But for the most part the rhythm is solid. You can dance to it.

Only one "wish I had caught that" so far. I'm sorry the cowbell isn't a bit higher in the break in "Short Wave." It's the Morse code sound, and that's the one place where it should come up. I imagine I will hear more regrets, but I not going to sweat any of it.

Mostly Still Underfoot is only eight songs, a small slice of a particular Underachievers period. The band recorded one other time at Euphoria (the first "Friend o' Mine" and a cover of "Boys") and several times at an eight-track studio called Radiobeat (the earliest tracks were with a different drummer). I would love to put together a Radiobeat Sessions collection with "I'll Be There for You," "Wasted Youth," early tape-only songs like "Get Out," and maybe even "Crosswalk," never released in any form. I might also put some more marginally recorded stuff on SoundCloud.

On Bandcamp, the album has some pretty standard pricing. I did that because music and art are worth something, and none of it happens for free. But I don't want friends or even acquaintances to pay unless they want to. If you know me, hit me up. I have more download codes than I will ever use—unless the record explodes. Think that's likely?

2019/05/17

Let's dance/not dance



I had always wanted to end the record (the EP at least) with "Let's Not Dance." It just always feels like the way I want to end. But there was label insistence, as I recall, and the sequencing on Underfoot is only partly mine.

We had recorded "Let's Not Dance" at Radiobeat (eight-track studio), but I don't know if we ever sent the tape to radio stations. I haven't listened to that version in a long time, but I'm pretty sure it was similar. I even used Mackie's Silvertone guitar amp in both versions.

I have no idea how I came up with this song. It's not like the others. It's the closest thing to a groove that the Underachievers ever did. I think the drums and bass on this are brilliant, and I'm pretty happy with the guitar layering. Overall, the remix is pretty close to the original, just brighter and shinier.

The genesis of the song is the "see the poor girl starting to cry" part. It happened to Sweetie pretty much that way—flying elbow, lost contact lens, no more fun. It's funny, Cilla and I never did any real co-songwriting, as in sitting down and working stuff out. We weren't that disciplined. But I know that she wrote about half the lyrics to this song: the "smell like salami" verse, the "guy with lead in his toes" part, and the closing verse. And credit for the music goes to everyone.

If you write a song about annoying stuff that happened at a dance club, you should make it danceable, right?

2019/05/15

Tall, thin, cool, weird



Underachievers' drummer Bob (Mackie) MacKenzie also wrote songs. Indeed, he wrote one that's better known than any of mine—"Don't Talk to Me," which people think G.G. Allin wrote (Mackie was with his band at the time) and which has been covered by many artists, probably with no compensation to the writer.

The Underachievers played "Don't Talk to Me" live, and we recorded it on the pre-production demo. I'm not sure if Mackie ever intended that we record yet another version for the record. At any rate, by the time we did the Underfoot sessions, we were playing "I'm So Tall" in our set.

You'd have to ask Mackie how he intended this song. He is tall. Cilla was (and probably still is) smaller than size 8. Mackie was too cool to be hanging around with our somewhat uncool band. And even though none of us shampooed with Kwell, I think most of us qualified as weird. Beyond the literal, I don't have a clue.

Played live by a three-piece band, the song was pretty basic, so like most of the songs, we wanted to embellish it a bit. Mackie's Vox organ made another appearance. I can't remember what I was playing on stage, but I made up that guitar solo in the studio (you can probably tell). Marc the engineer suggested those big guitar chords that start in the third verse. I can't imagine not having them now, but Mackie took a lot of convincing.

Tom the remix engineer loved this song, especially the lyrics. And of all the remixes, I think this one surprised and delighted me the most. Mackie and Cilla did a great job on the vocals, which are much crisper and clearer than in the original mix. I love their voices together. The remix makes the song come across much more powerfully. The song used to close side 1. Now it sits as a big climax before a change of tone to finish the album.

2019/05/14

I'm going under


Before Ronald Reagan was re-elected as President of the United States in 1984, we were playing a song called "High Noon," a distinctly anti-Reagan diatribe with the refrain "Oh, wanna watch you go!" But by the time we started recording for Underfoot, his second term was well underway. At some point during that span, I wrote "Underground Again."

The title was inspired by the Jam's "Going Underground." I had already been through the Nixon and Ford years, and now things looked worse, so time to go underground again. As usual, the politics are half baked and were more about getting in the faces of regressives than about singing a protest song.

The guitars are an expansion of what I played live. I don't know why that long intro is there, but I intended it that way from the start.* The descending riff shows up again, both in the organ and at the end of the snaky guitar solo (I got a Robbie Krieger comparison in one review). On stage, for the last chorus where the guitars and bass drop out, Mackie played the fills on his kit. In the studio, he played his Rototoms. I have always loved those three lines followed by that powerful snare roll that kicks the song into the final refrain.

Nothing fancy about this song. Pretty straight-ahead rocker. Its melodic descendant is the Lisa's Hotcakes song "Je te vois partout."

*I might have written "Underground Again" as a set-opener. Starting with a long intro lets you get settled in. We had once had an instrumental called "Surf 'n' Turf" that we used as a lead-off.

2019/05/13

Gag yourself on a red Life Saver


"You're Not for Me" is a bit of nastiness. I was meaner in those days. I'm pretty sure that Cilla contributed the line I used as the title of this blog post, and she threw in "Sucker," so I can share the blame. Plus the person on whom the song was very loosely base deserved it a little.

When I don't mess up a guitar solo, that means I planned it ahead of time and didn't just make it up in the studio. Everything about this song is deliberate. On Underfoot it led off side 2. I think I had some idea that it might be our hit single, except I didn't write a catchy melody.

I heard it all in my head: the feel of the guitars in the first two verses and then the change in the third verse, the lock with the drums and bass, the hand-claps, the Lennon-esque harmonica and that descending tune that shows up in other songs, and of course the guitar solo, of which I have always been proud. With this remix, the song finally has the feel I wish I could have got the first time.

2019/05/11

Go down fighting



"Alamo" is a bit of a sport in the context of the album and in the context of our set at the time. I went somewhat cow-punk on "Underfoot," but the last lick in the guitar solo was intended to make fun of that. "Alamo," however, is full-on country shuffle, and I'm not sure how I came up with that. The battle story was inspired by Neil Young's "Powderfinger," and the Alamo has long been a symbol of hopeless resistance. But once again it all went metaphorical in some vaguely political way. Since I can't remember what this song was really about, perhaps it wasn't really about anything. Sometimes you just like how words and music go together.

Cilla added her own lyrical touches: the bit she sings at the end and the "Go down fighting!" before the guitar solo. The drums and bass really locked on this one, and now the guitars mesh with the rhythm section as they should. The guitar solo is flawed, but at this distance I can claim those squeezed notes were intentional.

For most of the songs in these sessions, we took advantage of having 16 tracks, dropping maybe only a scratch guitar/vocal. The remix of "Alamo" comes from 12 tracks. No tom hits. No keyboards or percussion. One scratch guitar and one annoying guitar not used. This is what's left.

2019/05/10

Tuned in on a short wave


"Short Wave" comes from childhood. My mémère gave me her old Crosley radio, which had an AM band and one shortwave band, with a frequency range I can no longer remember.

On AM I listened to WBZ, a Boston station that played hits in the daytime and got adventurous on their clear channel at night.* Back then, even the hits were cool songs like "Lonely Too Long" by the Rascals or "Satisfaction" by the Rolling Stones or anything by the Supremes.

Listening to shortwave was more adventurous. Sometimes I could get a good signal, often not. Lots of noise, some Morse code, and occasionally an actual broadcast. Some broadcasts were in Spanish, and I understood nothing, but I fantasized that they were speeches by Cuban leader Fidel Castro, who was a bogie man when we were growing up (along with Nikita Khrushchev).

That was the basis for the song, and then it turned into a vague commentary on freedom of information and hearing alternate points of view. Most of my political stuff was pretty punk, i.e., not always well thought out and done more for effect. I don't know why I spelled the title as two words.

As you might be able to tell, I had specific production ideas for these songs. For "Short Wave" I heard a piano in my head. I banged out the chords, and it came out just how I wanted it. It was Mackie's idea to use the cowbell to imitate the sound of Morse code. I'm afraid the remix has less cowbell rather than more, or perhaps just more of everything else.

*As you may know, at night AM waves can bounce off the ionosphere if conditions are right, so listeners can tune in from quite far away. Sweetie also listened to WBZ at night. We might have been listening at the same time.

2019/05/09

Thought you were a friend o' mine


On Underfoot, "Friend o' Mine" was not the second song. It was the last track on side two. Spindle holes are not always punched exactly on centre, and there was often some warp as well. The song generally came with a bit of wow, sonically speaking. Now it has a better kind of wow, I hope.

I wrote in the last post that "Underfoot" was not among the songs we had recorded as pre-production. Looking through my stuff, I realized that all of the songs we recorded for the EP were newer than the ones we had thought we were going to record. And the newer songs were better.

This was not, however, the first version of "Friend o' Mine" that we released. We had recorded it earlier at the same studio for the third Throbbing Lobster compilation, Claws!!! (I think that's all the exclamation points). I'm not sure why we recorded it again. I think it was because the way we did it the first time was okay, but a bit thin, the weakest of our three compilation songs, at least production-wise. But I liked the song and thought it deserved better.

It was a bit of a roman à clef, dramatized, as songs often are, about a very close friendship that went very bad (but then good again). In typical stripped-down fashion, it has no chorus, only a refrain at the end of each verse, a B part that happens twice, and then the refrain repeated at the end. Is that B part a bridge? Can a middle eight happen twice? The organ was a Vox Continental, on which the "white" keys were black and the "black" keys were white. People usually thought it was a Farfisa, which had a similar but not identical reedy sound.

The o-apostrophe in the title was a dumb inside joke. The original title was "Friend o' Mine (Plate o' Shrimp)," the "Plate o' Shrimp" being a reference to the movie Repo Man, which to this day is still one of our favourites to rewatch.

2019/05/08

If you can't help out, then don't get underfoot

"Underfoot" was the lead song on the album, same as on this EP. It was not on the pre-production tape from the previous November, so it was likely newer.

It's vaguely political, like many Underachievers songs, railing against boring, stuck people who are cogs in the system. The chorus lyrics are a bit messed up, and it took me only 35 years to realize that. They should be "You want to stand still / You want to stay put / If you can't help out / Then don't get underfoot." But we sang "don't want to stand still," which I think we always did, and which makes no sense. My bad.

As well, the words tumble out so fast that there was an actual mistake that did not reveal itself in the original mix (really don't know how) but which was now too clear not to fix. That fix is the only actual repair we did on these songs.

One naughty phrase is not a mistake and was not fixed and and so earns the song this label, which didn't exist at the time. We wear it proudly!

2019/05/06

Mostly Still Underfoot

In 1985, there was a Boston band called The Underachievers. We recorded and mixed eight songs at a 16-track studio in Revere, Massachusetts, intending to deliver an EP-length product to Throbbing Lobster, the record label. The label wanted a longer record, but we had no more money for more recording. We pulled two songs from a pre-production live two-track demo that we had recorded and created Underfoot, ostensibly an LP, but which clocked in at just over 27 minutes over both sides.

The tape with the stereo mix that was used to create the vinyl record master stayed with the label. At least I never saw it again. I took responsibility for storing the master tapes, but clearly not as much responsibility as I should have. People talk about releasing tracks from "the vault." Maybe real and/or well-off musicians have an actual vault for tapes, or at least a room with temperature and humidity control. The Underfoot tapes sat in apartment closets, were moved in a truck across the continent, and finally ended up in my basement.

I should not have neglected those tapes, but I figured I would never need them again. They were mementos. Then along came digital and streaming, and along came me getting older and thinking about legacies and stuff, and slowly I began the process of seeing if anything could be rescued from the tapes.

If took time and a false start to find a studio with a 16-track analog tape machine that would take on the job of baking and digitizing the tapes. Old tapes often need to be baked at a low temperature before they are played, because over the years the tape medium becomes sticky. I was fortunate to find an engineer/studio owner who was willing take on the task and who then did a very good digitization.

I engaged the same engineer for the remix. He is a skilled engineer and really liked the material. Between those two things, I figured I would get a good remix.

I used the necessity of remixing not to try to reproduce the original sound but rather to make it more the way I want to hear the songs now. I used only the original tracks, but ProTools and software plug-ins (so many of which emulate vintage hardware in software) do an amazing job. The result was even better than I had imagined it could be. The performances were stronger than I had realized. The remix made the songs sound the way they might have sounded back in 1985 if we had worked in a major studio with very expensive equipment.

This is close to the original EP but not quite the same sequence. I call this EP Mostly Still Underfoot. Find it on Bandcamp, and soon from your favourite streaming service.

2019/04/05

Who's your mommy?

When I started on Ancestry, I had paper copies of the lineage of my father and mother's paternal families as well as a little information about my father's mother's family, which of course was my her father's family.

See a pattern?

We sometimes know about the people from whom our parents' surnames come. But how much do we know about maternal lines? With rare exception, a father passes his family name to his offspring, and the mother's family name (which came from her father) disappears. It can be difficult to trace maternal lines because the surname changes every generation. And yet I am no more related to the settlers whose names my grandparents bore than I am to any of my other seventh and eighth great-grandparents.

Fortunately, French women, including settlers, did not take their husband's name. If I can find baptismal, marriage, and burial records, the surname will be the same. And thanks to good record keepers and Ancestry, I have found a lot of records.

I trace up the top/left of my Ancestry tree, and it follows what I had on that piece of paper, the one line of my father that leads to the namesake settler. I trace up the bottom/right of my tree and I land at Anne Asselin, a seventh great-grandmother, from whom I am descended via all those generations of women. I can follow the women's lines to reach the original male or female settler or Indigenous woman who married a settler as easily as I can follow the men's lines.

Despite Ancestry's pink and blue default icons (easily replaced), a visual depiction of a family tree is an equalizer between the sexes. I'm chuffed that I can trace matrilineal forebears. In fact, because genetic paternity is (or was then) far more difficult to establish with certainty than maternity, the line of male descent that a surname indicates, the one we tend to cite when we say "my family," might be more about legality than genetics. And it was ever thus.

2019/04/01

Slowly I turn

People say age is just a number, but it's not like deterioration isn't happening. I've been sensing signs of aging since about 60. Your mileage may vary. The last two years of barely mitigated stress certainly did not retard the aging process.

I'm not an athlete, but I've usually been a fairly active person. I walk a lot, climb stairs, and generally try to do things in a more active way even if less convenient.

When I started to feel obvious signs of aging, I thought my body would tell me when I was pushing too hard or doing too much. I thought that little by little I would slow down naturally, be unable to haul as much, be unable to lift weight I had previously. To some extent, that has happened. I don't move as quickly as I used to. But more often, this is how it goes: I do something that seems fine, and later I suffer for it. Not as in straining a muscle, but as in aching in multiple places and getting pain trigger points.

I'm a slow learner, because I keep walking too quickly, hauling too much up hills, and lifting things I shouldn't lift. I don't want to slow down. But then later I hurt, and my body says, haven't you figured this out already?

I'm finally getting it. I'm trying to start off earlier, but sometimes I might just be late. I don't need the extra hurt. When I walk, especially with cart in tow, I try to be conscious of not exerting too much effort and of keeping my legs relaxed as they do their job. It's helping.

Even as my body sends painful reminders, I still find it hard to slow down. Until I retired, I worked with only one short break of unemployment for almost 50 years. The hurry-up habit is ingrained. My parents were not much for "time wasting" either, so I probably got it from the cradle. But I would like to hurt less, and I'm willing to "waste" some time to make that happen.

2019/03/26

Past is prologue

You know what is not a brilliant idea? Restarting your blog and then going on vacation, that's what. Especially when that's followed by a week in a recording studio overseeing a remix of a band I was in back in 1985.

Two 10-hour slots and one five-hour slot in four days made for a lot of listening and deciding, especially when the day and a half off mostly meant more listening and deciding (plus a few hours for the rest of life).

Now that I have a candidate for mastering, I'm in a more leisurely period of listening and deciding. My former band mates also have access to the remix.

So far I'm mostly happy. Some songs are killer. For some, I might want changes. There might also be things my band mates want changed. But it has already come a long way from where it was.

The original record had a somewhat thin punk-pop sound (my bad, I was enamoured of Miami by The Gun Club at the time) that the label owner tried to rescue during mastering, with some success. Effects were used judiciously, and nothing is very fancy.

I knew I wanted to fatten up the sound, but I wasn't sure about making it too much shinier. I thought that would affect the integrity of the material. In the studio, I soon realized that I was never going to make it so shiny that it wouldn't sound like itself.

The remixed songs still sound like us laying down tracks, sometimes live on the floor together, sometimes in overdubs, but all us. But now the presentation has more impact. The bass is tighter, guitars are stronger, the drums are beautifully handled, and the vocals are clear and bright. It sounds better in every way. If we had been able to make it sound this good in 1985, I hope we would have.

In other news, retirement rocks, except that I still seem not to have enough time to do everything I want to do. Like write blog posts.

2019/03/12

Not dead yet

Hello, is this mic live?

It's 2019. Since whatever popularity blogs had is long gone, I'm going to start mine up again. I'm all about unpopularity. If Twitter is a conversation with yourself that you hope someone else is interested in, then blogging is like writing on spec for a publication that no one can find. But if I enjoy doing it, then I'll keep doing it. And one never knows where readers come from.

At the point when I stopped posting, life had become difficult in several ways. The combination of not yet being able to retire from a good, well-paying job that I just didn't love, and the ascendance of so-called right-wing populism, i.e., politics based on people at their un-empathetic worst took a toll everyday. I would wake up stressed about work, as well as fearing what I was going to read in the morning's headlines. It had impacts on pretty much all aspects of my health.

In all this, I lost blog mojo. Instead, I started writing a journal again. Several blank books in a row, over the last couple of years. Writing in a journal has been very beneficial to me. It's kind of a habit now, which I had never been able to develop before.

(I didn't go completely private. I was on Twitter, too much. Twitter is a very good part of my life that can also be a very bad part. It has become a vital communication tool in my city and among people here whom I know. I see breaking news, and much more that is interesting and that I want to keep up with. The downside is that it can be all-consuming while also delivering non-stop distressing content and excessive outrage in almost real time.)

Now, I am retired. I made it. After all my rebellion, I did what my parents instilled in me: found a good job, stuck with it (for far too long), and saved for retirement. They were not against having a fulfilling career—after all, my dad became a teacher and then an administrator—but as children of the Great Depression, security was paramount for them. So since I stayed the course, maybe my sweetie and I will have enough to live on until we cease to exist.

Before I retired, many people asked what I would do instead of working. My answer was always the same: all the things that I have wanted to do all my life but rarely had time or focus to do.

I have new music to make and old music to revive. Next week, I will start remixing an album my band recorded in 1985, with more material to follow as budget permits.

I have writing to do. Not sure what kind of writing at this point, beyond re-adding this blog to the mix, but writing is something I can't help but do, like music.

I have a couple of volunteer things, one of which requires a fair amount of energy. I'm cooking and baking. It's finally time to head out into the garden.

And there are things I once loved and want to bring back into my life. When I arrived in Vancouver almost 25 years ago, I had more time than money. I did a lot of hiking on the North Shore, and I rode my bicycle between East Van and UBC. Now once again having more time than money, I would like to get back to both of those activities while I am still able to do so.

My sweetie and I have things to do together, such as travel, senior days at this or that local attraction, and occasionally being ladies who lunch.

I'm only beginning to figure out this new life and new schedule. I'm going to see if blogging more than once in a blue moon can be part of it.