Archive for December, 2005

December 29, 2005

Amazon Kills Amazon

Two packages arrived this morning from our friends out in Berkeley, CA. As soon as I saw the horned tail on the side of the boxes I knew these shipments reached us via Amazon.com. I’ve never bought anything from Amazon but I don’t have any issue with their services. I bought my PA and many of my microphones and miscellaneous electronic gear from eBay and other vendors. I try to go local but budgets do dictate how some things are purchased.

The boxes from Amazon were pretty good sized (12 x 9 x 4 is printed in bold across the bottom) and I imagined we were receiving some books or something. Both were suspiciously light so I popped open the first one and inside was a card and a single CD! The second box also contained one card and one CD. Each box contained the latest in what I assume is eco-friendly package filler–bags inflated with air to fill out the entire space left over after the good is placed in the box.

Before I cut the boxes up to be recycled I grabbed a stack of CDs and did some measuring. While the box size is not suited for shipping compact discs or DVDs, you could pack 16 jewel cases in a 12 x 9 x 4 box and still have plenty of room for a card and simple packing foam. I recall when my brother sent me a CD via Amazon this summer the packing slip was included and I was shocked to see that it cost more to ship the item than the original purchase price (it was a rush delivery so that might have impacted things a bit).

Am I crazy to think Amazon could save some money which would go right into their pockets by doubling up on an order like the one that came today? I’m guessing they’re rolling in the dough during the holidays so there’s no need to consider the environmental impact of being so wasteful.

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December 25, 2005

Grumbles from the cab

I drove my cab on xmas eve and it was slow enough that we whittled the fleet down to size and I got to go home early. Most of my fares were folks going from one bar to another or going home from a bar–everyone was nice and everyone tipped well which was very thoughtful. Nights like this–slow business with more driving time to each call due to a smaller fleet–give me a lot of time to think about my years in Madison.

My first band, the Ultramaroons, had a practice space in the Union Transfer building which was the first of the many many condo creations that dominate our downtown. We used to unwind from rehearsal at Ken’s Bar (sorry no cool old pic for that) which continued to be a great small place for live music until it got knocked down a few years back. I drive by in cab once in a while just to see if it has become anything more than a pile of rubble. My tenure in Madison started in 1996, right after Club D burned and the Chamber closed so we played most of our shows at O’Cayz and when that also burned our band, along with countless others, faded into obscurity. The music scene did not die with my band’s demise–I still make music and there are still clubs and newer bands that carry the torch. But this town has changed so dramatically in the decade I’ve lived here that I hardly recognize where I am when I drive around the Capitol. I’m always surprised that there aren’t music clubs on State Street–ok the Overture Center is a venue but that’s not what I’m talking about. Once upon a time, the oldsters tell me, there was great stuff on State Street, good clubs, cool bands, etc etc but that’s no more. Now the street has a lot of bars and a lot of youngsters who hit the bottle harder than I ever did when I was their age. I used to go to the bars to drink a lot too, but I stayed for the conversation and ultimately to hear music and eventually to play it. If these kids don’t see live music, will they want to be a part of it too?

December 20, 2005

Now I'm Found

Through the miracle of blogs (and links to other folks), I found a tremendous found photo gallery. There is something strange and great about mundane pix of real people with real expressions. While scrolling through I found this one and it was so casual that it took me a minute before I recognized this famous musical couple.
December 18, 2005

Lake Michigan Shores

Things I did in Chicago:

–Saw my brother’s one man show Trust Funnin’ 2.
–Ate for the first time at Golden Nugget which is around the corner from my Grandma’s house. In all my years in Chicago I had been to most of the neighborhood restaurants but never the Nugget. I had chiliquilies which were excellent–and the one we went to (on Irving Park) is open 24 hours! I guess we have truck stops and Denny’s and Perkins to fill that niche around here, though a nice 24 diner in downtown would really hit the spot.
–Celebrated two family christmas’ in 2 days (whew!)
–Ran in my sister-in-law’s neighborhood (she lives in the northern section of Bucktown) and thrilled to the mix of houses and towering old three flat buildings and corner bars. Mixed use neighborhoods are my favorite aspect of of Chicago and cities in general–and Bucktown has massive variety of architecture and stuff all jammed into a pretty small space.
–Realized that cities are cool to visit and are probably fun to live in–and that Madison is really not much like Chicago –but feeling good about being where I am anyway.

December 15, 2005

Young & Innnocent

I left Iowa in 1996 and the major casualty of my departure to a better life in Wisconsin was lots of loose ends with my friends. I had a great time growing up in Iowa but I was anxious to get out and left without alerting the media. Now that life has settled here I’ve been curious to find the folks I once knew. Thanks to the miracle of Google (and the World Wide Blogosphere) I finally dug up an old buddy named Anne Pepper. She and I were fellow English majors and Anne blogged excitedly about our contact, summing up our realtionship very hilariously: “He and I used to screw about in Ames, IA.”

Anne is whipsmart and impressed me with her shocking grasp of pop culture. Back in the day we spent a lot of time smoking and drinking and being all we could be (as early twentysomethings often are) and pretty much kicking life in the ass. Ames, Iowa is not known for its cultural significance and so when I encountered folks who loved movies and books and art and fine conversation as much as Anne and I did (and still do) I stuck with them. We’ve been catching up and its so far the most successful friend transplant I’ve had in the computer age.

I miss those days when nothing mattered and time was cheap and plentiful. I’m much happier now of course but there is something to be said for salad days that were well spent. Anne is one of those people who taught me a great deal about how to let go of my fears and try to experience life fully, even if you have to wade through a lot of bullshit.

December 8, 2005

Gigantic

I’ve been a fan of They Might Be Giants for a long time. I remember visiting my brother when he was first in college and being tickled by the great video for “Don’t Let’s Start.” Their weird sensibility helped me branch out (I was still only listening to the Beatles and the Who at the time) and opened a lot of musical doors for me. The peak for me was Apollo 18 which contained brilliant songs as well as the fantastic gimmick song “Fingertips” which was actually 30 little snippets of songs. The liner notes encouraged the listening of Apollo 18 with your CD player on random to mix the pieces into a sort of insane album stew. The Giants slid off into mediocrity in the 90’s during which time my musical interests took many many detours and I lost interest.

10 years later I have a small child and hear that the Giants have put together a kid’s record. NO! was really a return to form on many levels, and though my son was much too young to really dig the music at the time I was ready to give these guys another chance. This fall they released Here Come the ABCs and Soren was just starting to learn his letters so the timing couldn’t have been better. The record is put out by Disney (!) and has an accompanying DVD of videos for most of the songs on the record. I can’t even begin to describe what’s going on with the music and the visuals but everyone should see this stuff, even if you don’t have kids. The songs are infectious and the animation and puppetry enhance the experience in the way that could only work for a band as wacky as the Giants.

Soren tends to get upset when I try to play the guitar when we hang out during the day (I think it’s an attention thing) but now that I can play some of the ABC songs he’s become a little less resistant. I figured he would eventually enjoy the fact that I make music but the lesson here is an old one; audiences respond to the familiar. I strayed away from playing covers for many years after I started writing my own stuff but that’s slowly eroding what with my weekly gig and my son asking if I know how to play the song about “QU”

December 6, 2005

School Daze

Soren has started preschool and things are looking good. I don’t think there were any Montessori schools where I grew up but the philosophy seems to fit my son’s personality to a tee. He loves to observe and has a thirst for trying new activities. He’s the youngest kid out of the five in his class–he’s 2 1/2 and the oldest is around 4–but he learns quickly and speaks in complete sentences peppered with big words. I’ve been his primary source of information and care giving for over two years and now he’s going to be gone for a few hours twice a week learning from other sources. I felt a bit sad when I dropped him off–the whole “my baby is growing up” clich? is true. He is growing up and is ready for experiences that I cannot give him. There must be some hormone tied directly to that feeling as my sadness was quickly replaced by a smile. Having a child is and continues to be a mind blowing experience.

December 1, 2005

Radio Waves Goodbye

Kenneth Burns already covered most of this hot bloggy topic but I’ll add my thoughts. Dave Zero goes off the air in a few short weeks and it’s going to be a sad day indeed. I met Dave back in 1997 through some friends and got to know him as a fellow scenester. When Ted Offensive left Madison to head west, Dave took over Friday afternoons on WORT and steered the show in a much more palatable direction. One afternoon I was chatting with Dave while he was behind the counter at Mad City Music and he mentioned that he wanted to have live bands on his show and would I like to be the engineer? I had zero experience (ha ha) doing that but agreed and got a crash course in Rock Radio.

I learned quickly that being an engineer is more about being a good manager than an actual technician. Most bands were thrilled to do live radio and made my job easy but some folks were not so accomodating. One band leader wanted to run the board and perform; another musician yelled at me the entire time about how I didn’t know anything about mic placement (she was correct) and how her image would suffer if her band sounded shitty etc. The flip side was doing sound for such locals as The New Recruits, Cuda, The Junkers, Noahjohn, and The German Art Students among many others. The highlight for me was when The BellRays played the Hootenanny. They were in the middle of a long cross-country tour and had driven all day to get to the show. They loaded-in slowly and warmed up modestly and I thought maybe it was going to be a mellow show. Dave introduced the band around 3 pm and suddenly they exploded in that little studio like they were playing for 1000 screaming fans. The power of radio hit home that afternoon: live music over the air had a different flavor than a stage show but had the potential to reach a much larger audience. 50 or 60 years ago there was plenty of live (and local) music on radio–but these days it’s a rarity on commercial stations. Dave Zero and WORT provided me not just with a great training ground for my musical interests but also an opportunity to preserve an old art form and contribute to the local music scene.

Thanks Dave!!!