Wednesday, July 16, 2014



The 12 months since my last birthday split into two halves: "hurry up" and "wait."

The hurrying up came to a close at the end of 2013, a particularly challenging year.

In 2014, the waiting started.

Some of that waiting is about to end, so that a different kind of "hurry up and wait" can begin.

I have been carrying a tremendous weight on my shoulders, particularly the last 6 months. I am not allowed to discuss it. Along with the problem itself, the forced silence means I cannot turn to anyone for support, inspiration, or solace. In some cases, I have to deceive people I care about.

That burden has negatively affected nearly every part of my life.

I am smart, and I have the merciless, pitiless gifts of insight and memory. I catalog the mistakes, missed opportunities, flaws, gaffes, moments of laziness, all I've done wrong. What else could I do? What could I have done? When will it get better?

"That's what they pay me for."


I go stand-up paddleboarding for the first time. I am nervous, worried about falling in. But balancing turns out to be easier than I thought. I glide across the ocean, calm enough to be fun but choppy enough to remind me to be careful.

I move past the harbor seals, pungent and still in the morning air. I look at the odd collections of houseboats and stare across the bay, with clouds reflected in the water.

The weight begins to lift. Under the clouds, there is an epiphany: It is not all my fault, and not even about me. Really. I am a small bit of flotsam in the midst of the larger tempest. The wind and waves push against you, and maintaining your forward momentum can be difficult. Sometimes it is all you can do to not fall in, sometimes you can barely move forward.

There is a peace and stillness within and without, and a beautiful moment of clarity. I hear the water slapping the underside of the board.

My arms are tired, but I feel good. Try new things. Stretch. Get out of your head. This is good.


My wrist buzzes at 5 am and I slide out of bed as quietly as possible. Iran is awake, and gives me a smooch.

"Happy birthday!"

I fix an espresso and then head out for a pre-dawn run. My shoulder has been killing me the last few days, and raising my right arm is difficult.

I try not to think about it as I run intervals for an hour. It's not hurting too bad today, but it has been a few days with no obvious injury source, and I'm getting a little worried.

Later, there are birthday sweets at work and a fun lunch with the team. I laugh and smile, and I realize it feels like forever since I last did that.

The remainder of the workday, I am mostly busy enough to be distracted. I leave at 6:30 for a nice intimate birthday dinner, my shoulder complaining as I weave through rush hour traffic on the motorcycle.

I am worried about being late, but arrive just on time, with Kojak parking as a birthday bonus. Took a while, but it worked out OK. No need to be anxious, right?

At last, Atlas. Alas!

Atlas was the primordial Titan who held up the celestial spheres. Not just the earth. The whole universe.

He fought the power, and he lost. Bearing the weight of the universe on his shoulders was his punishment.

He is also the titan of astronomy and navigation.

Atlas governs the moon, which is important to Cancers.

The "Atlantic Ocean" derives from his name.

He is a symbol of endurance.


Maintaining your forward momentum can be difficult. I haven't recorded an album in a few years. I haven't performed in a long time. I haven't even written anything here for months. I've been doing stuff — playing games, writing manuals, noodling around. Thinking. Waiting. Sometimes that's just what you have to do.

At a certain age, you begin to realize you must be careful — you can push too hard, carry too much. There are consequences.

A friend of mine 10 years younger than I am suffered an aneurysm. He's in the hospital right now. I can barely stand to read about it. I send a nice card. And money.

"My life isn't so bad". I try to remind myself of this.

How we handle the struggles we have — big or small — isn't that what defines us? Isn't struggling the essence of being alive?  We already know how the game ends. The odds are against you and insurmountable from day 1. How will you play? Will you play at all? Be a sore loser?

In the face of adversity, all you have is the elegance of your behavior.


The anti-inflammatory medicine destroys my sleep. I know it's not a mechanical problem. The muscles just aren't firing. Research and testing quickly provide a solid diagnosis, which awaits a likely and perfunctory confirmation from a specialist.

I think about all the possible root causes. Was it the constant weight on one shoulder? Paddleboarding? The pull-up stretches? Sleeping wrong? Too much computer? Bad posture? Carrying too many heavy things overhead?

I catalog my life, wondering what I should have done differently, or in different quantity to prevent this.

Will I get better? Probably. But with this kind of injury, you just have to wait. Might be a month. Might be 2 years.

"One day you'll wake up and be just fine."

Or maybe not.


Sunday, February 23, 2014

We're all DEVO

1. The Sunset Strip
"Here's to Bob Casale." Michael and I clink our glasses of infused bourbon, a few doors down from The Roxy and what used to be Tower Records. Bob Casale died today. As I read about this at my work computer, I am moved nearly to tears.

I never met Bob. But I did meet Mark. And Gerry. Back when I sold audio gear for a living. Somehow I managed to get a meeting with them at their house studio up in the hills, before they moved to Mutato Muzika. I remember they had a Fairlight in the hall and bits of it in the bathroom. They were super nice. They gave me a copy of Hardcore Devo Vol. 2 and signed it.

Michael and I catch up. We talk about music. We talk about our music-related jobs. When we first met, we were both aspiring musicians, flush with youth and our own mutual darkness. That was...20 years ago. At least. Now our blackness has faded to gray. We've got some divorces between us. But we're still playing and perhaps more confident as musicians than ever.

After dinner I drive east down Sunset, past the giant tennis-ball green building that used to be Mutato Muzika (and was a bank before that!). I want to stop and take a photo to memorialize Bob. But it's a nightclub now, and there's no parking to be had, and no photos to be snapped. That's OK. Dr. Tahuti Bonzai took a much better one than I could anyhow. Funny, I met him around the same time I met Michael. Life moves in circles sometimes.

Bob, Bob, Mark, Gerry at Mutato Muzika. Photo by Tahuti Bonzai.

I got up at 3:45 this morning. I'm in town for about 40 hours. Got a lot to do. Last time I was here, I ended up leaving without my singing voice. Oddly appropriate, I suppose. Things are mostly better now.

2. DKO
I think of my brother's band, Don Knotts Overdrive. Favorably compared in the late 90's to DEVO, one of their many high points was contributing a cover of "Snowball" to the "We are not Devo" compilation.

I think Alexandra Patsavas helped get that project off the ground. She's the hottest music supervisor in the business now.

I bought it, I listened to it. DKO kicked everyone's ass on the disc, just like they did on the Exene-helmed one where they did "Relax" by Frankie Goes To Hollywood.

For a good 5 minutes or so, DKO was the hottest band in Los Angeles. Old story. They got signed, made a record, got sued by the record company, broke up. The end. But before that, they played almost every stage in LA.

I walk and drive past some of them. The Roxy. The Whiskey. The Teaszer (now a dead restaurant). Doug Weston's Troubadour. Lucinda Williams is playing there tonight. I'm sure nobody remembers DKO in this town. Today, though, most bands are at least paying some lip service to DEVO.

3. The 80s
It's the pre-internet age. The time when blurry dubs of VHS tapes and cassettes were how most culture disseminated. Slowly. You'd hear about celebrity deaths first as rumor, before confirmation by Entertainment Weekly or Tonight or Rolling Stone or Spin.

DEVO is mythic. You don't hear them on the radio. Their records are hard to find. A few kids might have one on vinyl. At a party, someone is showing their video. It's riveting, even more so than the girl in the sweater I'm trying to put the moves on. The imagery is primitive, but somehow they manage to convey so much about sex and life that other artists barely get to.

I'm still learning to listen to music, to understand how artists can mean more than one thing at a time, and how they can mean 2 contradictory things at the same time. Devo helps me understand how music can be silly and serious, mean and funny, pop and weird, commercial and a failure. Maybe I learn these lessons too well. Or not well enough.

But whether they sang about sex or politics or whatever specific things they did in Reagan's America, they are hooky and catchy and different and weird. And I love it.

4. "The Future"
DEVO was often lumped in with Kraftwerk as part of some "synth pop future". Both bands had strong visual aesthetics, wore costumes, and made "concept" albums with strong themes.

In the decades that have come along, Kraftwerk's star has only risen, despite them not making new music for years (and that a pale shadow of their classic albums). Kraftwerk plays "serious" art galleries like the Tate, with only 1-2 original members, playing their old repertoire and showing self-consciously primitive videos.

DEVO was considered the joke band. Wacky hats! Look at those funny moves! Comedy!

Yet as I look at the 2 bands now, Kraftwerk increasingly seems like the joke band, as their "vee ahr robotz!" shtick ossifies into self-parody. They haven't made any great music in 30 years, and at this point, we are chronologically as far from Kraftwerk and their innovations as Kraftwerk was from Glenn Miller when they started.

Devo, on the other hand, look more like prophets every day. Their bitter espousal of "devolution" seems all too accurate in a world where a majority of Americans literally reject evolution.

As we rush headlong into the hot, gassy future we've prepared for ourselves, the surviving members of DEVO take no pleasure in being right.

6. Are We Not Men?
When I met Mark and Gerry, I said something to the effect of "nobody really got you guys. The mainstream never understood what you were really saying."

Gerry quickly corrected me. "They got it," he said. "They just didn't like it."

Their loss.

Thank you for the music, Bob.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Music Business Thought of the Day: Look to the Book

Been reading this New Yorker article about Amazon and the discussion around book pricing.

Reminds me a lot of the endless music debates.

Always-wonderful MetaFilter offered me this comment (via user mittens):
"...The insistence on seeing books as a high-margin item is damaging, both to the book business itself, as well as to readers, and literacy generally. Libraries, used bookstores, and thrift shops are full of people who are proving the point that new books are priced too high...and those are just the people who are committed to finding the book at that low price point already, it doesn't include all the readers who could be enticed to buy at a cheap enough point if wide selection and ease of ordering were also guaranteed."
Substitute "music" for books. What's different?