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I continued my so-far solid year of reading by finishing another book today. Once again, I was late in arriving to the party, as the book came out clear back in 1999 and was at that time a Los Angeles Times bestseller. Like many people, though, I actually first heard about The Culture Of Fear (Why America Is Afraid of the Wrong Things) while watching the film Bowling For Columbine (Michael Moore interviewed author Barry Glassner in the film, in large part due to the section of the book that discusses school violence). It was a book that had been on my wishlist for well over a year and so when I recently ran across it at a local bookstore, I snagged it up and finally got through it.

The gist of the book (which is pretty astoundingly supported with about 30 pages of article and book references) is that the United States in general spends far too much time and money worrying about problems that are the surface may seem to be pretty bad, but underneath aren't quite as bad as they're made out to be by the media (in large part). Although it shouldn't come as a surprise, the media comes off a looking pretty horrible in the book with the sheer number of stories that they mislead with or flat-out mis-report (sometimes seemingly on purpose). It's a theory that I largely agree with, so it was interesting to have my suspicions in different stories that I'd heard about and questioned confirmed as being not always 100% valid.

One of the most interesting statements in the entire book actually arrives on the last couple pages, where Glassner states:

Will it take an event comparable to the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor to convince us that we must join together as a nation and tackle these problems? At the start of the new century it ought to be considerably easier for us to muster our collective will and take decisive action than it was for our parents and grandparents six decades earlier. This time we do not have to put our own lives or those of our childen at risk on battlefields halfway around the globe.

We do have to finance and organize a collective effort, which is never a simple matter, but compared with the wholesale reorientation of the U.S. economy and government during World War II, the challenge is not overwhelming. Fear mongers have knocked the optimism out of us by stuffing us full of negative presumptions about our fellow citizens and social institutions. But the United States is a wealthy nation. We have the resources to feed, house, educate, insure, and disarm our communities if we resolve to do so.

Of course, this book was written before September 11th, and while some of the above statements seem somewhat eerie in the shadow of that event, a lot of what he says still holds true. I'm still of the opinion that going to Iraq wasn't something that we absolutely needed to do (and indeed, those WMDs were never found), and in the time since 9/11, the amount of fear mongering that has gone on in the United States is astounding. Heck, the government even put a warning system in place to tell us just how afraid we should be. While his last line of providing housing, education, insurance, and safety (the book is by no means anti-gun, just for more safeguards, much like Bowling For Columbine) to everyone in the country seems a bit Utopian (or even Socialist), we do have one of the most wealthy countries in the entire world, and in the more than five years since his book was written, the gap between the rich and poor of our country has grown even wider instead of getting closer together.

As mentioned above, the book basically backed up a lot of the ideas that I already had about the mainstream media in our country, and while it was nice to find a heavy amount of data backing up that information, the real joy of the book for me was projecting his statements onto current events and wondering how in the world we can help reverse the cycle a little bit. I sometimes half-joke with TG about running for some sort of office in the near future, and reading books that deal with social change (or non change) and politics only keep that little wheel turning...

Because I like to be fair, here is a recent picture of Zoey (to go along with the recent picture of Elsa further below). TG took both of these pictures and I think they're the best 'serious' photos we have of the respective pups.

Zoey looking serious

Last weekend was a complete blur, and I can't believe I haven't taken the time to sit down and write about the experience that was Marianas going into a studio to record. As mentioned before, we all decided that we wanted to try to step up our overall sound quality on our next release (admittingly, a good portion of our first disc was recorded on a 10 dollar microphone from Rad Shack), so we booked a time with the well-known Presto! Studio (Bright Eyes, Cursive, The Faint, Songs: Ohia) and planned on getting as much done as we could on 4 songs in the course of 5 or 6 hours. Warning; this one could get rambling.

Because our group contains a lot of overthinkers and analyzer types, there were several conversations before we even went into the studio about which order we should record tracks and just how we should go about things. The majority of us had never actually spent the money to get into a studio, and I think that although we should have just gotten it out of our (my) head, money was sort of a figure in the back of our (my) mind in terms of wanting to get a good deal of great recording done while we were in the studio to make it worth our time and money. That's natural, I think, and yet I know that in my own mind I had to tell myself over and over that I shouldn't be disappointed if we didn't get everything that I wanted (at the urging of Malcom, who is one of the most level-headed people I know).

And so we loaded up all our equipment on Saturday morning just before noon and unloaded everything into the studio and then went to get some pizza with Mr. AJ Mogis, who was our sound engineer that day. We picked his brain a little bit over pizza and discussed how we would go about the recording setup (we needed to record a couple pieces of tracks along with click tracks) and how we would go about transferring the files to my computer once it was all done. As it turns out, those two things would both be minor details in a day full of small decisions that needed to be made.

Once we got back to the studio, we went about setting up all our equipment and instruments were isolated in different rooms and drums were set up with a whole range and batch of microphones in order to get the best sound out of Tom's snazzy (jazzy?) new kit. During this time, microphones were placed and re-placed, sound levels were checked and re-checked, and I found myself twiddling my thumbs and looking at my watch far more than I should have (in fact, I shouldn't have even taken it with me). When it was all said and done, mic placement and sound setup took about 3 hours, and I was wondering just what we'd gotten ourselves into when we hadn't recorded a note and half of the time that had proposed spending was already gone.

In actuality, I really wasn't doing a whole lot at the studio. I play keyboards in the group and run loops from the laptop, both of which were going to be added to the mix after we recorded all the other parts, so I often felt like I was getting in the way and/or simply there for moral support. As someone who likes to be involved in the process (even if only a little bit), it was a bit frustrating for me, but I think that it was probably also a good experience for me to simply sit back and really listen to what was being played without focusing on actually having to play my own parts.

Instead of tackling what we thought was going to be the most difficult song first, we actually started recording the songs in the order in which we'd be playing them at practice, and the first two tracks came together fairly quickly once everyone got a good handle on how they wanted their guitars to sound. We all made a journey to the liquor store that was located just across the street and in addition to the recording session being business, it ended up being sort of a fun social time as well. Before we knew it, it was after 8 pm and we'd been there for longer than we already thought we would have been. Instead of packing up things for the night, we all decided to take a food break, meet back up at 9 and try to get as much done as we could before we simply got sick of playing.

After getting back to the studio, the next track came together fairly quickly, and even the track that we thought would give us a lot of problems (a drastic reworking of "We Were Safe, Now We're Sorry") ended up pulling together after a couple takes. Aaron G, unhappy with what everyone else thought was a good take, even went back in one last time and nailed a final one just to be sure. Just before we left, I actually got to go into the studio and record vocals, which would be my only audio contribution of the day.

Standing in the large studio in front of a microphone was a lot different than simply singing the song in the basement during practice or even belting it out during a live show. Instead of having the cover of instrumentation and other noise around me, I had the music that had just been recorded playing in one ear through headphones and the sound of my own voice loudly in my own head. I was really nervous at first and hesitant to sing out fully, but after a few takes I did a couple run throughs that felt a little better, but I still simply couldn't judge on my own (I'm sure I'll cringe upon hearing my own voice when it comes to mixing).

At that point it was getting pretty late (almost 11 pm) and we'd went well over our time and kept AJ from his life much longer than we had said, so we decided to call it good and pack things up and head home. On the way home, I told Ryan that I didn't want to hear any of the tracks we had just played for at least a couple days, but I woke up the next morning with several melodies stuck in my head, so I guess there's no fighting good songs.

All in all, the studio experience was a great one. AJ was very cool and understanding of our somewhat odd setup for recording and even though we probably overstayed our welcome, he put up with us graciously. The next stage in the story is the recording of several more pieces of the tracks and obviously the mixing, which will probably take a fair amount of time to do right. If all goes as planned, we should have a 4 track EP ready to go around April 1st, which will coincidentally be 2 years to the day since Onward+Upward was originally released (and which we coincidentally just broke even on). At this point, it's looking like the EP will be a handmade sort of thing with a limited pressing, but who knows what will happen. All I know is that I'm excited about Marianas music and getting it out into the world again.

Without going too much into specifics, I think that sometimes I upset and/or frustrate people slightly with my lack of subtlety when it comes to giving my opinion on different things. Completely disregarding the subject of politics and focusing in on the subject of media (music, movies, books), I am often asked how I feel about these things and instead of beating around the bush and hemming and hawing I have instead come to the conclusion that it's usually best to simply speak my mind on the subject and face whatever questioning/arguments/discussions that arise because of said opinions.

Specifically, I deal with a lot of press agents in relation to my doing music reviews on my website. Many years ago when I was starting out, I didn't really deal with too many people (simply because I wasn't in a place to warrant attention from most record labels), and so when someone did respond to me (by sending me a CD to review), I felt obligated to write something nice. Some of my early reviews reflect this mindset and even make excuses for it in extreme examples. I can think of one review off the top of my head that I slanted in a severe way simply because the artist had sent me a CD directly and because I wasn't really receiving any CDs at the time, I for some reason felt obligated to write something nice about it.

In time, my position has changed, not only because I've made a little bit better name for myself, but also because I've been through the process of creating a piece of music and then releasing it for public consumption. If you've read this site for awhile, you know the frustration I went through after sending out about 50 albums for review and only getting a couple responses. In selling an album, the people you have direct contact with (people buying CDs at shows, etc) have that face-to-face connection to you and are for the most part very interested in hearing your CD (based on your live show) and therefore don't really have any opinion on your CD yet, and even if you see them again, they most likely won't tell you if they thought it sucked. Likewise, most family members and friends will for the most part be nice, perhaps offering up some slightly edited remarks that still manage to sound like praise, even if they meant differently.

Jokingly, my friend and bandmate Ryan and I actually stated aloud at one point that we wished we'd heard more critical comments about our release from people. We were fortunate to receive almost completely positive press from the people that did review our album, and while I know it would have ripped me up a bit inside if everyone would have trashed our CD, I also would have (hopefully) respected the opinions of those who did so if they had good reason for doing it.

This entry is turning into a completely unfocused slab of whatever (I'll blame the Valentine's Day champagne), but I will say that I have learned from most press people that I've dealt with that it's best to tell the truth right off the bat. In doing so, I've actually heard more positive comments from people than negatives in that they appreciate my honesty even though they may not agree with it. It's made for some lively conversations when it comes to discussions with friends and aquaintances, but I suppose that my more less-restrained approach to giving my opinion (although I still do temper it in certain situations) has mainly been a good thing. If you want to really test the waters with your friends, here are some polarizing items (sans politics) to get you started;

Babe (so excellent!)
Lost In Translation (thought it was very overrated and borderline racist)
Moulin Rouge (hated it!)
Punch Drunk Love (loved it!)

Bright Eyes - I'm Wide Awake It's Morning (c'mon, I was expecting better)
Joanna Newsom - Milk-Eyed Mender (thought it was pretty darn good)
Supersilent - 6 (thought it was kinda boring)
Wolf Eyes - Burned Mind (oh gawd, make it stop!)

After a drastic warmup last week (including record high temperatures), we're going through a bit of a cold snap here again and despite some attempts at weatherproofing earlier in the year, the basement is still getting darn cold. It's something that's to be somewhat expected given that this is an old house and the basement still isn't finished (although there is foam insulation over the poured block foundation), but it's still a little frustrating to feel like work put into keeping things warmer hasn't resulted in much. By now, I'm pretty used to it, but I feel bad for the bandmates when they come over and are subjected to much hand-wringing in order to keep warm. Especially considering we're going into a bonified studio this weekend to record.

One of the main things keeping me warm when I work on my computer at nights is having two dogs piled up on my lap in their bed. Seems like whenever it gets cold, they get even more snuggly, which is fine. Since I haven't posted pictures of the pups lately, here's one of Elsa.

Elsa looking pensive

In riding the bus, I've also made the observation that although the bus drivers often seem grumpy with passengers and people in general, they seem to have very serious comraderie with one another. Even on days when it seems like just about every driver on the streets is doing their best to motor around like a complete idiot (I have to admit that driving for long periods of my day would make me very grumpy as well), the bus drivers always wave at one another when passing, sometimes even flicking lights or beeping on the horn a little bit. I think that it's sort of a solidarity thing, that they all realize that the only other person who knows what it's like to put up with crap drivers all day is another busdriver. It's interesting to watch the driver of a bus go from muttering words under their breath to smiling and giving a power wave to another driver coming in the opposite direction.

Something I think I meant to mention in my earlier writings about riding on the bus were my observations of how people disperse and sit down on the bus and then move around within it. For example, it's fun to me to watch people avoid a seat by a certain hirstute fellow that always wears sunglasses and a long trenchcoat (seemingly whatever the weather), even going so far as standing up rather than sit down when it's one of the last seats on the bus.

Along the same lines, sometimes the bus fills up completely and everyone is left sitting in a seat. After a few stops, the density on the bus thins out a bit and without fail someone will get up from sitting right next to another person and move to a place on the bus where there is less density. I've been in this situation myself several times sitting on the outside, and I always wonder whether I should stay sitting in the same seat or get up and move. On one hand, I don't want the person I was sitting by to think that I think that they're gross or anything (I can honestly say that I've only once sat next to someone with noticible body odor, and even then I didn't move), but I also wonder if they think that I'm either creepy and/or weird for continuing to sit by them when there are obviously a lot of other seats open. I also wonder whether they'd rather have the extra space themselves, and would prefer me to move, but on the few ocassions that this has happened, I've simply stayed put and read my book as if I couldn't care less.

In actuality, I'm probably looking into things far too much. I'm sure that most people don't really give it a whole lot of thought, and are more concerned with simply getting home. There are other things that I'll probably end up writing about my time commuting on the bus (like the regular people I see and the lives I've invented for them, as well as some of the more strange conversations I've overheard), but those will have to wait for another time.

In my last entry, I made a long post about how I had finished several books in the course of one week, and this past week I managed to read yet another entire book (albeit, a short one) and start another. The interesting thing is that although I obviously don't have any more time in the day than I did last year, I found ways to slowly alter my daily habits in order to fit other things in. This was a discovery I made over the holiday break when instead of just sitting around the living room and throwing the ball and playing with the dogs, I sat in the living room and read a book while doing the same thing. I thought about other parts of my life where this multitasking could work, and while there wasn't much spare room, I realized that I spent roughly 20-30 minutes a day (and roughly 30-45 minutes a day on ones where I came home from lunch) either standing and waiting for the bus or riding on said bus on the way to work.

I've never had any problems reading in a moving vehicle (some people I know get a bit of motion sickness), so it was actually a rather natural fit. Instead of simply sitting and looking out the windows (while trying to not make anyone think I was staring at them) on my bus rides, I would bury my head in a book and in the process rumble through 20-40 pages a day in that time. That was exactly the case this week, and in the course of five days of commuter reading (I made sure to not touch the book when I was at home), I finished The Crying Of Lot 49 by Thomas Pynchon (which was exactly 150 pages).

Like another book I had read recently, this was a book that didn't really grab me much until about halfway through. When I was only about one-third of the way into the book, I actually thought about completely giving up on it and starting something else, but the completist in me decided that I should forge ahead and finish what is considered by many to be a classic. And so I finished it all and although it wasn't one of my favorite books ever, I did end up enjoying it overall and even chuckled a bit at some of the odd references and had some "aha!" moments when I realized that certain artists (Radiohead, for one) had in turn referenced it their work. While I wouldn't put it anywhere near the top of my favorites list, it's an odd little satire that's plenty easy to rip through if you have a couple hours to spare.

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