Sit down at a keyboard and bleed

Just over a year ago I wrote a big post about how I wanted to focus more on writing and how I felt sidetracked by the work I’ve put into music production (despite how much I love it).

A year ago.

Just a few minutes ago I started writing the exact same post before I realized I had already written that post. A year ago!

Do you know what I haven’t done in that last year? Finished and published a story. Joined a writer’s group. Shown my work to a friend for critique. Accomplished anything meaningful as a writer.

I enrolled in an SF&F writing course, but I was too busy to actually participate. At least, that’s how I remember it now. I was for sure super busy. But was I so busy that I couldn’t have found an extra couple of hours here and there? How much time did I spend clicking links aimlessly in the Facebook/Twitter/MetaFilter Labyrinth of Lost Time?

The only thing I hate more than writing about writing is writing about not writing. Although if we’re gonna be real about this, I hate actually not writing more than writing about not writing.

And so here we are.

I’ve been taking a lot of photos lately. It’s a beautiful contrast to the problems of writing a new album or a novella. No outlines, no b-story, no character development. Just the briefest moment in time, preserved crystal clear forever.

Toronto by Wire

The last of the Radium Girls

Mae Keane, the last of the Radium Girls, died Saturday. She was 107 years old.

Mae Keane did not care much for the job she had during the summer of 1924, painting radioactive radium onto watch dials to make them glow in the dark.

The pay was 8 cents a dial and Keane, then 18, was not as fast as her supervisor wanted her to be. Keane and her co-workers at Waterbury Clock Co., all young women, were told they could paint faster if they dipped their brushes into the radium-laden paint and then sharpened the bristles with their lips. But the paint was bitter and Keane would not “lip-point,” as the practice was known.

“I made 62 cents one day,” Keane told The Courant 10 years ago. “That’s when my boss came to me and said I better find another job.”

Mae Keane

After years of Radium being added to everything from chocolate to lipstick, the death of five Radium Girls (along with the paint’s inventor) brought a light to the unforgivable conditions in US factories, and spurred the tightening of industrial safety and food, drug, and cosmetic regulations.

Even today, you can still walk through the graveyards of Radium City with a geiger counter, and know where the Radium Girls were buried.

Top Ten Albums of 2014

Okay not really.

In 2008, Have A Nice Life released a double LP, Deathconsciousness. It is as close to a perfect album as a record can get when it’s this lo-fi and raw. It sounds like it was recorded in the basement where you first learned how hard life was really going to be.

That’s what it sounds like to me at least, maybe your basement was actually quite nice.

From the amazing Sputnik Music review of Deathconsciousness that you should really read:

On this album, I feel I wouldn’t be able to sum up my feelings on the countless moments that make this album amazing. Deathconsciousness has a dense, reverby wall of sound and a dense, lofty concept that is opaque and difficult to see through. Moments blend together and amble along for minutes at a time in the swirling mass of ideas that permeates this album. This album is the antithesis of one created by a band like Hot Cross. It is impenetrable and atmospheric, instead of tautly constructed and brittle. Deathconsciousness is an album to be enjoyed on a long car drive or a pensive late night.

Now there is a new record.

Have A Nice Life

It leaked after being up on the Pitchfork advance streamer, and I have been listening to it non-stop since. They’re posting a few of the tracks in on the Flensner Records Soundcloud. You should try to find a full copy if you can. It’s perfect music for these short days and cold nights.

Are there winter clouds in your heart? Have a nice life.

Top Ten Albums of 2013

Photo by Chris / CC BY NC SA

There are a lot of great 2013 records that aren’t on this list. And there are a lot of great 2013 records I haven’t heard yet. And hierarchies are bullshit constructs. And yet here we are!

10: Eluvium – Nightmare Ending

Guitar drones and ambient synths mixed with moody neo-classical. The only ambient record on this list that stays ambient the entire way through, without drifting into abraisive noise solos. For fans of Stars Of The Lid and Eno-style ambient.

9: Melt-Banana – Fetch

2013 comeback records that don’t suck #1: Melt-Banana. I know that japanoise bands are not everyone’s cup of tea, but just listen to Zero, this album’s closer. How can you not love this record? We all have a little noise in our hearts.

8: Roly Porter – Life Cycle Of A Massive Star

Probably the shortest record on this list? This or the Melt-Banana. Beautiful concept, beautiful tones, beautiful progression from rich melodic Tangerine Dream style ambient into moments of brutal power electronics and back again. Fun Fact: When I first listened to this album, my music player locked up and looped a 10-second clip over and over, and I didn’t notice for nearly ten minutes.

7: Chelsea Wolfe – Pain Is Beauty

This record is like if Zola Jesus listened to Doom growing up instead of Industrial. The production reminds me a lot of Earth’s last few albums, but if you dragged it through the mud and then accidentally used the ‘shoegaze’ preset when you mixed it. Basically it sounds like a lot of good things is what I’m saying here.

6: Le Matos – Join Us

I don’t even know what kind of music this is. Italian Troncore. Vangelis does Georgio Moroder on the set of Zombi 2. Sega Master System racing games fondly remembered through fever dreams.

5: Fuck Buttons – Slow Focus

Fuck Buttons is the band that proves all this whining about kids today being too soft for noise music is bullshit. Listen to this fucking record, man. This is an Ant-Zen record, this is a Tympanik record. Except the band is playing huge festivals and people are losing their fucking shit over it.

4: Diaphane – Lifeforms

I’ve loved everything I’ve heard from Régis Baillet, each album more than the last. Whenever I listen to his music, it makes me want to be a better musician. Beautiful, melodic, haunting, beautiful. Long, progressive washes of synths and loops with rare moments of driving, frenetic energy.

3: The Haxan Cloak – Excavation

If the Eluvium record is Eno-style background ambient, this is lights-off / headphones-on ambient. It is not for playing in the background while you work on wrapping Christmas presents or make dinner. It is for deep listening. There is so much here. Also there are a lot of beats so probably ambient isn’t the best word to describe this anyway.

2: Gary Numan – Splinter

2013 comeback records that don’t suck #2. The best 90s industrial rock record since the 90s. Seriously. If half the tracks on this were released by NIN as instrumental demos from The Downward Spiral no one would bat an eye. Gary Numan is one of those rare vocalists who can make any style of music sound like he invented it, and after listening to this record, I’m not sure he didn’t.

1: Pet Shop Boys – Electric

2013 comeback records that don’t suck #3. The last few Pet Shop Boys records sounded like they were made by people who hated music. It was only with a sense of deep obligation to the 80s that I listened to this in the first place, actually. It’s hard to pick a #1 between this and the Gary Numan, but it was so incredible to hear a return to form for PSB that it gets the top pick. All Pet Shop Boys greatest hits albums need to be recalled so they can add Love Is A Bourgeois Construct to the tracklist.

You always remember your first.

We’ve known each other for twenty years now, and I can still remember the first time we met so vividly. I don’t think I’ve ever seen something so breathtaking. You were the standard that everything after was judged by, and did they ever hate you for it.

We had a lot of good years, and even when it started to become clear that I needed to move forward, I kept coming back. I was so young, but you were always there, a reminder of what I needed and deserved. You were my touchstone.

Here’s to another twenty years, Doom.

Doom

Woednesday

+ Audra and I are working on a redesign for an awesome company!
- We can’t say who it is just yet.
- I still have not been working very much on my own projects.
+ I have however successfully navigated a maze of twisty little passages to make sure a ton of different business/financial/legal/boring things are in order.
- My little cat friend Mothra is pretty sick, and we don’t know how much better she’s going to get.
- Winter is on the way.
- I’m so stressed about Mothra. And she hates all the meds and treatments I’m giving her, so she’s acting totally differently towards me. I don’t even know what to do with myself.
- Sigh.
+ I signed up for an online Science Fiction and Fantasy Writing class!
- I have been so busy that I haven’t actually been able to keep up with it at all.
± I’ve been thinking about running a tabletop campaign, but I don’t know if I have the time to do it up proper.
+ I was a panelist on a Kink in Pop Culture panel at Playground Conference, talking about kink culture and imagery in music!
+ I’ve been making a big effort to hang out with new cool peeps so that I don’t just hibernate all winter.
± Sometimes I can’t tell if I’m having a hangout or a date? Either is awesome! But sometimes I think I should pass a note across the table that says IS THIS A DATE PLEASE CIRCLE ONE [Y/N] THANK YOU
! WHAT IF THEY DON’T KNOW EITHER

What about the menz (day)?

Every year on International Women’s Day I have this little ritual where I defriend everyone on my Facebook and Twitter who posts WHY ISN’T THERE AN INTERNATIONAL MENS DAY!!!!

Because, you know, there is. It’s today. And if any of those dudes actually gave a fuck about issues that concern men, they would know about it. But basically no one knows about it, for whatever reason. So every year, on International Men’s Day, I have this little ritual where I post links and articles about issues that concern men.

Some of the posts I made last year:

So I make these posts and some people reply and say “There’s an International Men’s Day?” and we usually have a good conversation about it all. Today I went online and not only does everyone know that it’s International Men’s Day, but everyone is pretty upset about it. My friends list is full of people I know — people who do great gender activism that I respect — comparing it to white pride month, saying if you make Men’s Day posts you’re clearly sexist or an MRA, and all kinds of super snarky super dismissive bullshit. I cannot tell you how disappointing it is to wake up and read this over and over again, especially coming from people who usually have great analysis. I get that MRAs are shitty and there’s a knee-jerk reaction for people. But when we discuss issues that people respond emotionally to (like privilege), we ask that they take a moment to think through their knee-jerk reaction, and to look at what people are actually saying.

Here are some things that are true:

  • Some men are marginalized within our prevailing male culture.
  • A lot of men are victims of violence from within male culture.
  • A lot of men kill themselves for reasons that have to do with male culture.
  • A lot of boys drop out of school for reasons that have to do with male culture.
  • A lot of gay kids get the shit kicked out of them for reasons that have to do with male culture.

It’s not International Men’s Rights Day. It’s not International Male Pride Day. None of these issues are in any way adversarial towards women’s issues. This year’s focus is keeping men and boys safe. Keeping them safe by trying to address suicide, by fighting our culture’s expectations and complacence on the issue of men and violence, by addressing avoidable illnesses and death, and by examining how we perceive fatherhood and male role models. These are all positive, good things.

When men come into a feminist space and start saying WHAT ABOUT THE MENZ WHAT ABOUT THESE ISSUES, they get rightly told to scram and find their own spaces to have those conversations. So here it is. It’s International Men’s Day. If we can’t, today of all days, have a rational conversation about men’s issues without being pre-emptively snarked, what the fuck is the point in trying? Because the MRAs are just going to see it as more evidence of the Vast Feminist Conspiracy Against Men or whatever, and they’re going to double-down.

The only people that are going to get silenced are the people who actually give a shit what our feminist sisters think. I know I don’t have the will or the emotional fortitude to clean the well that the MRAs are poisoning.

Healthcare in Ford Nation

I’m glad that people are talking about the reality that drug addiction is a health issue. I’m glad that my friends and the media are taking time to say that you shouldn’t shame someone for having a drug addiction. What’s being left out of the conversation is that not everyone who uses drugs is abusing them, and not everyone who abuses drugs is addicted to them.

I’m not the only person in the world with friends who are total dickheads when they drink. They’ll say shitty things, they’ll do shitty things, and you don’t want to be anywhere near them when they’re drinking. If they decide to get wasted every now and then and get into fights and drive home drunk, that doesn’t mean they’re an alcoholic. It just means they’re an asshole. Substance dependence is a serious medical issue. Being an asshole is not.

Have you ever been to a college town? Hung out at a university bar? Those drunk people trying to grab your ass or get in your face are assholes, not addicts, and it’s worth taking a second look at Rob Ford’s history and thinking about which profile he fits best.

But Jairus! Isn’t that a false dilemma? Sure. But being an alcoholic is a lot more than binge drinking and acting like a shithead, and being a drug addict is a lot more than smoking coke and calling someone a fag.

Harry Belafonte’s unfinished fight

Once, more than half a century ago, he was the handsomest man in the world.

In 1959, Belafonte was playing Vegas for $50,000 a week. Every night he looked out on an ocean of white. Black people couldn’t have afforded his show even if Vegas hadn’t been segregated. But TV? Black folks had TVs. One night on television reached more black people than a year of Sundays at the Apollo. TV, Belafonte thought, would be his hammer. He’d use the idiot box to break chains. Revlon ordered another five specials.

But after just one more show, Charlie Revson, scion of Revlon, had a problem. “The white guys down in the South don’t want it,” he said. “They’ll black out the station.” It was the backup singers, the dancers, he said. Some black, some white. Choose, said Revson. Didn’t matter which—​so long as they were all the same. He figured Belafonte would probably prefer the color, but really, Revlon wanted to respect his freedom. You’re the artist, Mr. Belafonte. So choose. Black or white.

If we knew what she knew, we’d stop too.

Pamela Jones founded GrokLaw in 2003, and for the last ten years it has provided invaluable analysis on legal issues concerning intellectual property, the DMCA, open source software, and digital privacy. The site has won countless awards from The EFF, Google, The FSF, and was selected by the US Library of Congress for inclusion in its internet materials collection.

Last week, the creator of Lavabit, an encrypted email service, shut down the mail service without warning, implying that he had received requests from the US government which would have forced him to become complicit in crimes against the American People. We don’t know what actually happened, because he can’t tell us:

There’s information that I can’t even share with my lawyer, let alone with the American public.

A few days later, Phil Zimmerman’s crypto communications company shut down their secure email service. And today, Pamela Jones has announced that she’s shutting down Groklaw:

The owner of Lavabit tells us that he’s stopped using email and if we knew what he knew, we’d stop too. There is no way to do Groklaw without email. Therein lies the conundrum. What to do?

What to do? I’ve spent the last couple of weeks trying to figure it out. And the conclusion I’ve reached is that there is no way to continue doing Groklaw, not long term, which is incredibly sad. But it’s good to be realistic. And the simple truth is, no matter how good the motives might be for collecting and screening everything we say to one another, and no matter how “clean” we all are ourselves from the standpont of the screeners, I don’t know how to function in such an atmosphere. I don’t know how to do Groklaw like this.

Groklaw is a collaboration, existing only because so many people have come together to shed light on what’s happening in the courts. Without the ability to confidentially discuss legal issues with experts, plaintiffs, lawyers and journalists, Groklaw can’t exist.

And so now, it doesn’t.


A selection of Groklaw articles by filthy light thief, via Metafilter:

  • The Grinch Who Stole Linux (November 7, 2003)
  • J’accuse! French bus service Transports Schiocchet Excursions is suing a group of ten women who carpool to work every day, alleging unfair competition with their bus line. (July 12, 2005)
  • Economics of death - How should right and wrong be measured? (July 14, 2005)
  • I fought the linux, and the linux won… SCO got a delisting notice from Nasdaq (April 28, 2007)
  • Rock and Rule - Virgin v. Thomas, the first RIAA backed lawsuit to make it to a jury trial looks likely to proceed early in October in Duluth Mn. (September 28, 2007)
  • The software patent cold war is getting less cold - Sun Microsystems announced a counter suit against Network Appliance, wherein they will draw on their “defensive portfolio” which is “one of the largest patent arsenals on the internet”. (October 26, 2007)
  • Monopoly is as monopoly does - Why Is Microsoft Seeking New State Laws That Allow it to Sue Competitors For Piracy by Overseas Suppliers? (March 24, 2011)
  • Battle at Troll Bridge - Apple has adopted new tactics in its patent war against the handheld industry (December 11, 2011)
  • Aaron Swartz’ 14,500 page Secret Service file - The U.S. Secret Service has begun releasing their roughly 14,500 pages on Aaron Swartz in response to a FOIA lawsuit against the DHS by Kevin Poulsen (August 14, 2013)

An insult to my constituents

Toronto has released preliminary results for the 2013 Street Needs Assessment, and it doesn’t look great:

  • One in five homeless youth are gay/lesbian/bi/trans/queer.
  • Half of the homeless are on a waiting list for subsidized housing.
  • Vets make up 15% of the homeless population.
  • The number of homeless senior citizens has doubled in the last three years.
  • The homeless population in women’s shelters has doubled in the last seven years.

What has to happen before people get as upset about homelessness as they do not being allowed to drink in a park?

If you have ‘Peace’, you simply haven’t yet seen the thing that’s trying to kill you.

Let me tell you about Star Control II.

ur_quan_kzer_za_wallpaper_by_dczanik-d3k1nmt

Star Control II is the best game. Like, actually the best game. If you’ve played it, you know how good it is. If you haven’t, don’t take it from me. There’s no shortage of publications who agree with me on this one.

Gamespy:

Star Control II is the best game ever made. Not the best classic game, not the best sci-fi game. Not even the best PC game. The best game. Ever. This is the kind of addicting game that invokes euphoria and will leave a great hole in your life after you’ve won. You’ll wet your pants in anticipation to play this game after you’ve had a taste of it. For those of you who have played the game and do not agree with these statements, I feel genuine sorrow for all three of you.

Gamer Theory:

Star Control II was easily the best open world game of its time. It’s really rare, even today, to find a game that offers the same level of freedom, non-linear progression, and sense of scale that Star Control II has.

Gamespot:

Simply put, Star Control II had everything. It was challenging, rewarding, open-ended, fun, and highly replayable. It’s a genuine classic that’s still unsurpassed, and it’s so original that it hasn’t even been imitated. And even though the game is more than 10 years old now, it still holds up extremely well, and most of today’s sci-fi-themed games can’t hold a candle to it. From playing Star Control II, you clearly get the impression that the game was a labor of love. Yet it’s just as evidently a work of incredible talent and creativity.

Star Control II is easily one of my all-time favorite computer games, and one of those games that makes me feel privileged having played it–I felt like I’d dug up a chest full of gold doubloons when I discovered that game, it was so unbelievably good. It’s just an amazing work of fiction, not to mention a really fun game. Long after I’d finished the campaign several times, my friends and I would still play the super melee mode for hours and hours. I never would have imagined that my favorite shooter and my favorite RPG of the era would be part of the same game.

There aren’t any other games like Star Control II. The only other game that compares in the slightest with SC2 in ambition and scope is Mass Effect, and while the resemblance isn’t coincidental, SC2′s open-world and non-linear gameplay is on another level. And it was made over twenty years ago.

In 2002, Fred Ford and Paul Reiche III’s company Toys for Bob released a partial source port of Star Control II under an open license, and over the next ten(!) years the fan community worked to transform it into a near-perfect port that is downloadable and playable on modern systems. (There’s also a great-looking fan effort to remake the game in HD that I’ll be downloading once I get home. If you start downloading it now, it’ll probably be done by the time you’re finished reading this!)

There was a sequel produced in 1996, but the creators (Fred Ford and Paul Reiche III) weren’t involved and its existence is generally ignored by most SC2 fans. For years, Fred Ford and Paul Reiche III have talked about how much they’d love to make a proper SC3, but they couldn’t get the trademark rights from Accolade.

Fans have been checking in with Toys for Bob every few years, but it didn’t look like there was ever going to be another Star Control.

UNTIL NOW:

Stardock Entertainment has acquired the rights to the Star Control franchise in the ongoing sell-off resulting from Atari’s bankruptcy filing. Stardock, producer of the popular space strategy games Sins of a Solar Empire and Galactic Civilizations I & II, has announced that it intends to use the rights to produce a new Star Control game, reviving a series that hasn’t seen a proper sequel since 1996. According to a press release issued by Stardock, the company will begin work on the game “this year,” with a release date to be determined.

The Star Control series—and Star Control II in particular—is an enormously important part of the PC gaming canon. The games are the reincarnation and true successors of the earlier Starflight series, and most modern space adventure games take at least some of their gameplay and humor elements from them (including Mass Effect, which director Casey Hudson has directly attributed to Starflight). At first blush, the news of Stardock’s acquisition seems to be excellent for fans of space exploration games.

At first blush! But it’s complicated, and there are big problems:

First, the sale was for the Star Control 2 trademark, and not the intellectual property of the games themselves. Toys for Bob own SC2 (which is why they were allowed to release the source), and any new Star Control game made by Stardock would need to negotiate with Toys for Bob to use any of the alien races or plot points from SC2.

Second, Stardock CEO Brad Wardell is a total asshole. He has a history of sexual harassment, and when he was politely asked by one of his employees to stop touching her hair (seriously) and to not make sexist jokes in the office, he replied that her request

is not acceptable to me. I am an inappropriate, sexist, vulgar, and embarrassing person and I’m not inclined to change my behavior. If this is a problem, you will need to find another job.

(Seriously!)

Third, Toys for Bob should be making this game. Stardock won’t get it right. EA couldn’t get it right. And it is for sure possible that even Toys for Bob wouldn’t get it right — but they’re the only ones who know what ‘right’ should look like.

SC2, more than almost any other game I’ve ever played, has a personality. The same way games like Portal, Thomas Was Alone, A Boy And His Blob, or Limbo have personalities. I wouldn’t want to see Portal 3 made by EA, or Limbo 2 made by Bioware. Those games were brought to life as labors of love, and no amount of homage or respect by third parties can be expected to do them justice.

In a perfect world, Stardock would make whatever game they wanted to make, and then gift a license to the trademark to Toys for Bob so that they could make the game they’ve wanted to make for the last twenty years.

Unfortunately, it isn’t a perfect world, and we’re likely going to have to live with another imperfect followup to a perfect game.

But (quite fortunately), Star Control 2 is still out there, free to play, for any of us to dive into and discover all over again.

I can’t wait.

On a sparkling evening in July

+ Audra and I have been working together as Townhall Communications!
+ I’m also working on a redesign of a major staffing firm website.
- I have not been working very much on my own projects.
- This is in part because my apartment flooded.
+ But it’s fine now!
± I have been making a proper budget again instead of being rich for a week and then broke for a week every time I get paid.
- This means I am not rich twice a month.
+ It also means I am not broke twice a month.
+ I am having friends over tonight to watch Godzilla movies.
+ I am hosting an event at the Academy of the Impossible next month about music in a post-scarcity world!
+ There are a lot more plus signs than there are minus signs in this update.

lifetime fan rapport

I could write a dozen different pieces about The Album That Changed My Life and each would be different, each would be a perfect cross-section of who I was, where I was, and how everything changed. Coil. Front Line Assembly. NWA. Tori Amos. The KLF. Haujobb.

This is about Fixed, by Nine Inch Nails.

I was young. Fourteen? I had a copy of Pretty Hate Machine, the Head Like A Hole single, Broken, and Sin. I loved Broken. It had all of the tearing guitar aggression of The Offspring’s Smash but with a kind of obsessive nihlist production that I had never heard anywhere else.

I remember borrowing Broken from a friend. Picking it up at her house. I remember her roommate’s performative dismissal when she learned what I was borrowing. “Nine Inch Nails? They’re shit now. Past their prime.” It was 1994.

When I heard about Fixed, I thought it would be like the Sin single. Or Head Like A Hole. A few clubby remixes, a few quiet remixes, maybe an extra track.

It wasn’t like that. It wasn’t like anything I had ever heard.

The remixers on Fixed include:

  • Butch Vig (Garbage)
  • J. G. Thirlwell (Foetus, frequent collaborator of Lydia Lunch and Marc Almond, currently the composer for The Venture Bros)
  • Bob Flanagan (Subject of the documentary “SICK: The Life & Death of Bob Flanagan, Supermasochist”)
  • Peter Christopherson (Co-founder of Industrial Records, Psychic TV, and Coil)

I had heard albums before that changed the way I thought about music. Albums with sounds on it that I didn’t know it was possible to make. Songs about the personal, the occult, and the psychotic. What I hadn’t heard before was an album where I wasn’t sure that it was music at all. Vocals chopped up and syllables rearranged into a violent glossalia. Songs suddenly crashing in on themselves, reduced to a half-second of guitars and drums looping absurdly on a stuck needle you can’t reach. Walls of noise cutting out to cheery commercials and back in again before you’re sure what it is that’s happening.

I didn’t listen to anything else for at least four months. Likely longer. I played that tape until all of its sharpness was lost and my walkman had been closed so long the rubber seal had started to fuse.

From that album I discovered Coil. Foetus. Industrial Records. Can. Cabaret Voltaire. Swans. William Burroughs. JG Ballard. Godflesh. NEU!. Neubauten. Test Dept. Gary Numan. Ministry. Stockhausen. Killing Joke. Brian Eno.

Everything.

Years later, Trent Reznor took some time between winning a Grammy and winning an Oscar to personally say “fuck you” on my Facebook after I said I missed the old Nine Inch Nails sound.

There’s no substitute for that kind of lifetime fan rapport, friends.

In which our hero misses his train home

I am very tired.

I’m also in Ottawa! I came down Saturday for the Ottawa Industrial League festival, and stayed a few extra days so that I could DJ at my old industrial night. The festival was a blast. I got to play live with good friends, and I got to see a ton of new talent perform. Two of the acts had never played live before. And they were great! My first show was a disaster.

DJing last night was even more fun than the OIL festival. A ton of people came out to see me play that I haven’t seen in forever. People who haven’t been to Zaphods in years. Years! I played a ton of new music, and somehow also a ton of old music. Is there anything I enjoy doing as much as DJing?

It’s actually quite emotional to go back and be the guest DJ in a place you spun weekly at for close to ten years, which I’m sure is surprising to no one but me. The place seems nicer. When I saw my old book of CDs — my book! — it seemed so surreal that I didn’t live there anymore, that I left all my music behind, that I wasn’t there every week. It wasn’t an “oh my god what have I done” moment; it was more like looking at home movies and thinking it’s so insane that you used to be seven years old and lived in that house and now you’re a grownup with grey beard hairs who has to file taxes and consider intersectionality and whatever else grownups do.

I miss Zaphods a lot. I miss the venue and the community and the everything. I don’t know if I’ll ever have a music community like that again. Probably not, right? It took almost ten years to build that one, even if you ignore everything I did before I started DJing there. If I started a weekly night tomorrow I’d be forty-five before I’d have ten years of history behind me. And the idea of starting a new weekly night in Toronto that lasts ten years is hilarious.

I miss Toronto too. I miss my house, and Josh, and Audra, and Blinky and Mothra, and the Jamaican woman who sells me my beef patties and everything else. I should be home right now, in fact. Except I ended up trapped in Orleans and wasn’t able to make my train home. So now it’s the 1 AM greyhound for me, which completely fucks everything up because there was a ton of work I wanted to get done on the train before I ran out of steam. And I’ve got Things To Do tomorrow from 10 AM onwards, including a job interview that I am going to be wiped for. Not to mention buying the extra ticket wipes out all the cash I made from selling merch, which is depressing. The only saving grace of the whole fiasco is that a May Day protest rolled past the bus station when I was buying my ticket, and I got to spend the next couple hours marching and chanting with young punks and old commies.

Aside from missing my train, which has resulted in me being that weird guy in a sports bar wearing nail polish and writing journal entries at midnight, it was a fantastic trip.

I’m looking forward to coming home.

Badass of the Month: Martyl and the Doomsday Clock

The Doomsday Clock first appeared in the June 1947 issue of The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, a newsletter-turned-journal for the discussion of science and policy related to the peaceful use of nuclear energy. The Bulletin included this statement on the inside of the back cover:

When the bomb fell on Hiroshima, it broke a six-year silence which security imposed on the atomic scientists. It also shattered the scientists’ “ivory tower” of detachment from the social and political implications of their discoveries. For the scientists — who had six years to consider the implications of atomic warfare before these implications exploded on a stunned world — recognized that they had a responsibility to see that this force would be used for the benefit and not the destruction of mankind.

One of the greatest works in all of information design, The Doomsday Clock was a brutally visceral symbol of how the world was now (and possibly forever) near to nuclear war. With the hour hand near midnight and the minute hand only seven minutes away, the clock cut through all the rhetoric and hyperbole of nuclear politics with a clear and clinical measurement: This is where we are. This is how close we are to the end of everything. We are seven minutes away.

The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists Cover, June 1947

Two years later, the clock moved forward four minutes after the Soviet Union successfully tested a nuclear weapon. Three minutes to midnight.

We do not advise Americans that doomsday is near and that they can expect atomic bombs to start falling on their heads a month or a year from now; but we think they have reason to be deeply alarmed and to be prepared for grave decisions.

The designer of The Doomsday Clock was Martyl Langsdorf, an accomplished visual artist with a fondness for landscapes. Known to the art world by her first name, by the age of 25 Martyl had sold a painting to George Gershwin at a private showing, painted a now-iconic New Deal mural of African American history, and beat classmate Tennessee Williams in a playwriting contest.

Martyl Langsdorf

Her husband Alexander was a nuclear physicist who worked on the Manhattan Project only a few years earlier. They once took a train through Japan that stopped in Hiroshima, to allow all the passengers to step off the train and spend a moment at the Peace Memorial. He stayed in his seat, crying.

Road Ink, Martyl

The Langsdorfs bought a landmark Paul Schweikher home in 1953 and never moved out, drawing the constant attention of the CIA, FBI, and State Department through their activism for peace.

Martyl died March 26th. She was 96 years old.

Flash and Thunder

I don’t know exactly where the line is between history and experience, between something that happened and something that’s still happening. Is an explosion still happening while the shockwave is racing towards a building? While you can still hear echoes of it across a river? Is it still happening when you’re dreaming of it, years later? When all you can hear on a still night is the ringing in your ears that you’ve heard since the first flash and thunder?

I think a lot about family. I struggle with it. I struggle with the challenges that family has left me, with sacrifices family have made for me, with the hole in my experience where family should have been. I live with Josh, my brother, who I grew up with. We lived together for eleven or twelve years as kids, and now again for the last two. It’s comfortable. It’s friendly and loving. It has all the things that you should have in a home.

I’ve never lived with my father (not for any meaningful value of ‘living’, at least), but he was always there in one way or another. He was the reason we would be followed home, or why we had to move, or why some of us had so much more than others. When we spent time in the same space, we would inevitably end up at a nightclub, at a recording studio. The music was always loud, painfully loud. I’d yell and ask him to turn it down, my hands over my ears. I could never hear myself yelling. He would never turn it down.

Part of me remembers him telling me to toughen up, to not be such a baby; those memories are cloudy and suspect, just as likely to be a projection of what I assume he’d say as they are to be a recalling of fact. When we would leave the studio and step into the street, everything was bright, muffled, and far away, my skull stuffed with cotton and sawdust.

No matter how hard we try, we’re all defined in some way by him. From my own hypervigilance to my brother Oliver getting locked up at Fenbrook. (It’s his birthday today. He’s 28.)

And now we all try to figure out our own damages, try to find answers where we know there aren’t any. A kind of ritual therapy for blood relatives.

No matter how many years and miles separate me from the boy stepping into the street with a head full of dust, on a still night all I can hear is ringing.

I am not good at following advice

I’ve been thinking a lot about Other Jairuses. (Other Jairii?) If I had made different choices, focused my energy on different things. What would I be doing now. What would I be good at.

Eight years ago I was trying to decide where I should put my creative efforts. In design and visual art, which I had done professionally off and on — In writing and storytelling, where I felt very confident and capable — or in music, where I had been DJing for a while but I had no idea if I had any of the necessary skills to put together a song that anyone might want to listen to.

I asked a lot of people which they thought I should focus on, and almost everyone said writing. It was my ‘strength’. A few people said design. No one said music.

Eight years later and I have a couple of releases out, I’ve done a lot of touring, and I am for sure Jairus The Electronic Musician to a lot more people than I am Jairus The DJ. I haven’t been writing regularly or doing any design that isn’t paid work. I didn’t realize it while it was happening, but I traded those outlets in to make music.

One of the things that happens when you don’t do something for eight years is you stop being really good at it. Or you stop being good at it on demand, at least. I can still write things that I feel good about, but that’s the exception rather than the rule, and oh my god is there anything less interesting than someone writing about how challenging they think writing is.

Eight years later and I feel the hole left in me where I used to tell stories. Eight years later and I remember how good it felt to be up late creating something beautiful in photoshop that wasn’t for anyone but me. Eight years later and I’m not a writer, or an artist, or even really a DJ anymore.

Eight years from now, what I am going to wish I had spent more time doing? What am I going to wish I had gotten better at? What art am I going to wish I felt comfortable making?

That’s what I need to work on today.

#MP3Tribute

I think Aaron Swartz’s death hit us all differently. I felt like we weren’t just dealing with the loss of an incredibly talented and driven mind, but also with having our collective future robbed of all of the things Aaron had yet to do. People wouldn’t have the same access to music that they do today if it wasn’t for Aaron, and I wouldn’t have had the opportunities that I’ve had as an artist if it wasn’t for Aaron. I want to celebrate what he’s given us.

I’m asking artists to join me in making 100 albums free to download in Aaron’s memory.