Monday, March 30, 2009

Klaus Nomi

I was browsing the web tonight when I ran across this link about Jobriath Boone on BoingBoing. I'd never heard of him before, but Metzger found a handful of videos, and gave a capsule career overview comparing him to early David Bowie and Lou Reed, at least in terms of sexual ambiguity. I watched the primary clip, and musically I can see a bit of a resemblance to Bowie, but his costume had me thinking of Klaus Nomi (Metzger actually mentions Klaus in passing while documenting Jobriath).

I'd like to describe Nomi, but I think it's better if you follow the Wikipedia link, and maybe watch a video or two, to get an idea of what he was like. I like "Lightning Strikes" for the surreal costume, but Renee seemed to prefer "Just a Man".

Thank you, Klaus Nomi!

Thursday, March 26, 2009


I was talking with Renee the other day about homemade bread, and a recipe that I used to make nearly every week when Jean and I were 'poor'. It was a hybrid of a recipe I got out of Laurel's Bread Book. Counting rise times, kneading, baking and cooling, it was an all-day affair, but resulted in two loaves of whole-wheat bread that had a coarse crumb and terrific taste. Two slices with a bit of tomato made a meal.

Turning on that subject, I mentioned that some of the heavier hand-crafted beers of today resembled colonial beers which were rich enough in calories that a pint might as well be a meal (don't know how many vitamins you can count on from a dark beer, though). Then of course I mentioned the salutory effect of alcohol on limiting water-borne diseases. I mentioned how the classical Greeks mixed water with wine, which might have reduced the antibacterial properties somewhat, but at least led to a less inebriated populace.

So how does this feed into the quote of the day? Whilst laid up with a bad back, I took advantage of Amazon's introduction of Kindle for iPod to download a couple of books for my iPod Touch. One of them was The Ghost Map, which I'd partially read from the library when it came out, but never finished. So I'm reading it now, and what should I see, but:

The search for unpolluted drinking water is as old as civilization itself. As soon as there were mass human settlements, waterborne diseases like dysentery became a crucial population bottleneck. For much of human history, the solution to this chronic public-health issue was not purifying the water supply. The solution was to drink alcohol. In a community lacking pure-water supplies, the closest thing to "pure" fluid was alcohol. Whatever health risks were posed by beer (and later wine) in the early days of agrarian settlements were more than offset by alcohol's antibacterial properties.

And the money quote:

Dying of cirrhosis of the liver in your forties was better than dying of dysentery in your twenties.

He goes on to discuss the theory that selection pressures actually favored descendents who could "hold their liquor", or beer, actually, as those who could not, either died of alcohol poisoning or dysentery before bearing children. The majority of the human race, therefore, now has genes which produce enzymes called alcohol dehydrogenases, allowing the ingestion of 'large' quantities of alcohol.


I now have an indictment of some aspect of the Kindle toolchain, I don't know where. In reading the book, I remember that Johnson earlier spoke about how the adoption of tea drinking in England also contributed to the health of Londoners:

Brewed tea possesses several antibacterial properties that help ward off waterborne diseases: the tannic acid released in the steeping process kills off those bacteria that haven't already perished during the boiling of the water. The explosion of tea drinking during the late 1700s was, from the bacteria's point of view, a microbial holocaust. Physicians observed a dramatic drop in dysentery and child mortality during the period.

However, in trying to locate this passage, I ran into a roadblock (I eventually used Amazon's own "Search Inside This Book" facility). On the iPod Touch, at least, while the index for the book is included, and there is an entry, bacteria, tea and, the index entry does not link back to the relevant text! Really??? I don't know if this is a limitation of the Kindle conversion of this book, a limitation of the Kindle conversion for iPods, or what, but it renders the index a cruel joke. Now if I wanted to drop big bucks on the actual Kindle e-book reader, I could use search:

Kindle makes it easy to search across your library. To use the Search feature, simply type in a word or phrase you're looking for, and Kindle will find every instance across your Kindle library.

But I don't intend to drop that kind of money, and I actually like reading on the much more portable iPod. The upcoming summer release of iPhone OS 3.0 holds out some promise:

Search capabilities will be expanded, allowing customers to search within Mail, iPod and Notes or search across all key apps by typing a key word or phrase into the new Spotlight search, conveniently accessed from the Home screen.

The only question here is, what are "key apps"? I sure hope I'll be able to use Spotlight to search my Kindle books, but I'm skeptical that that will happen...

And of Course, Illustrations...

Don't get a book if the illustrations are critical to understanding the text. They might be large enough on a Kindle, but not on the compact screen of an iPod Touch. Fortunately, though both the books I bought have a small set of illustrations, they are not critical to the understanding of the books.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Feeling Normal Again

Such as it is.

Several weeks ago contracted a short-lived but vigorous cold. After much sneezing, coughing and nose-blowing, I managed to pull a muscle in my lower back. I took anti-inflammatories, restricted my exercise routines to walking and waited. Eventually I decided to see my doctor, and of course began to feel better shortly before my appointment. He said I'd done all the right things, and turned me loose.

That Saturday morning, I was reaching up for something in a kitchen cabinet and had a short, sharp electrical shock at the base of my back. I was left holding onto the counter, breathing shallowly and unable to support my own weight. After awhile, it settled down to a nagging stab, and I was able to struggle through the day. By Monday I was feeling mobile enough to go to work. I eased myself out of my chair frequently (usually quite a production) and walked about. Walking felt better than sitting. By the time I got home, I thought the kinks were more or less worked out.

That evening, I was reaching down, and had a revisitation of the electric shock. I crawled upstairs and lay down. I knew I wasn't going anywhere, and the following morning I managed to shuffle to the phone long enough to call in sick. Days passed without much improvement, and I'm not even sure anymore who scheduled my next doctor visit, but I think it was that Tuesday night that I had such a spasm that I was yelling out loud for a couple of minutes trying to shift into a position that wasn't torturing me.

Jean called the all-night line, braved the night to pick up some muscle relaxants for me, and I took them and slept fitfully. When we saw Dr. Selby, he said I was too knotted up to work on, so they shot me full of Demerol and sent me home with a bunch of prescriptions: muscle relaxants, pain pills, anti-inflammatories; and instructions to rest for two days. That Friday I went in, able to walk without the aid of a cane, but still uncomfortable. Dr. Selby, an osteopath, did an adjustment on me, and told me to spend the weekend resting.

This past week, I've been going to work, with some pain, but most of my mobility back. I saw him again on Thursday for another adjustment, and now I am mostly mobile again. I'm crossing my fingers that I don't have one of those electric shocks again. That really sucked.

The positive part of the story is that I got caught up on my Battlestar Galactica backlog on Hulu using my laptop, and I bought two Amazon eBooks and used them with their new Kindle for iPod software. It works great. So, silver lining and all that...

Saturday, March 21, 2009

New Musical Entries

I've added two new Amon Tobin albums to my collection:

  • Bricolage

  • Out From Out Where

I grabbed a new Balkan Beat Box album (the only other one they have), Nu Med.

I've also rounded out my allotment from eMusic this period with a handful of piano pieces from Dr. John Plays Mac Rebennack: The Legendary Sessions Volume 1. I plan to get the whole album, but couldn't bring myself to wait until I had the entire lump of credits. I'll pick the rest up when my next bundle of 50 credits comes around.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Amon Tobin

Today involved lots of emails, lots of document reviews with careful annotation and lather, rinse, repeat. In cases like these, I want some background music that I can occasionally surface from my concentration to enjoy, but which otherwise forms an unobtrusive background tapestry. What Brian Eno dubbed ambient music. An album like Music for Airports is a classic example of this, but I'm willing to stray into more traditional fare such as Waltz for Debby, if it is not too 'excitable'.

So anyway, today I decided that the particular genre-unto-himself that is Amon Tobin would make a great background for the day, and just started the playlist of multiple albums that I have in my default list-of-playlists on my iPod. If you go to my Last.FM tracks page for today, you'll see the result. Cujo is just one of his early aliases...

Amon Tobin got me to thinking about my semi-random approach to music discovery. Some of my favorite albums of all time were nearly-random purchases. Judas Priest's Sad Wings of Destiny and Patti Smith's Radio Ethiopia were both bought in a record store in Houghton, Michigan while I was working at a radio station there. I'd put an LP on the turntable, lock up the studio, and walk down to the record store. Browsing covers, I'd say, "That's a cool cover, I wonder what the band sounds like?" Many times, the result was a dud, but sometimes, as with Judas Priest and Patti Smith, they became albums that have followed me my entire life.

A funny side-effect of this approach to buying music is that I sometimes fall in love with an album or albums by an artist, when it is generally agreed by their main followers that that album is one of their weakest or most atypical efforts. Amon Düül II is a good example of this effect, where I have Vive La Trance and Hijack, both of which came about during a flirtation with more commercial music by the band which upset it's core followers.

Another example would be Guided By Voices, a band renowned as a seminal force in the low-fi music movement. I picked up Do the Collapse, enjoyed it quite a lot, and only later discovered that it was Robert Pollard's "sell-out moment", taking the band into the studio for a polished production at the hands of Ric Ocasek.

Of course, sometimes the effect is reversed, and I pick an album only seemingly at random, which I've somehow heard about via the Zeitgeist. My exposure to Amon Tobin was of this nature. Some years ago, browsing the Internet, I came across a mention of a shot-by-shot remake of Raiders of the Lost Ark, done by a bunch of teenage friends. The article included a link to a short video clip showing the teenage actor portraying Indy, fleeing the giant boulder trap from the beginning of the film. Instead of copping John Williams' soundtrack, they overlaid some electronic music I'd never heard, but which I found intriguing. I had to hunt for awhile before I found the claim that it was in fact Four Ton Mantis by Amon Tobin. A little bit more hunting uncovered Supermodified as the album on which it could be found. I had to hunt a few record stores, but I got it and it remains my favorite Amon Tobin album. Guess what I'll be listening to tomorrow?