Check-In 4 : Percussion Season, The Lone Ranger, Box Sets Galore

Hard to believe that January is in the rearview mirror. Where did it go? Did we skip Christmas and New Years, or were they just part of the ever-expanding existential drift known as time? A blur in our collective lives, a smear on the glasses of life, an afterthought in-between anxiety, joint pain, and the 9 to 5 hustle. Maybe nothing even that heady. Maybe holidays are just like regular days now that I have to dole out the green to make them happen. Gifts, food, preparation, clean-up…there’s nothing all that special about those things to me anymore now that I’m writing the checks. I love being together with my little family unit on those days, but just not the assumption that gifts and a big spread will be part of the deal. Holidays are for the kiddos that don’t know any better and those that still believe in magic.

Oh well.

No, but the fact that we’re gliding right into February is a little startling. I remember feeling this way last February. “Wow, where did December and January go?” Out the window, little buddy. Out the window.

With February here we’re heading into Winter Percussion season. It’s my favorite of the band activities. I don’t mind marching band season, but winter percussion I find more interesting. To me its more orchestral; there’s more of a symphonic feel to the percussion and ensemble music. A lot of it reminds me of Steve Reich, an avante composer I’ve been a fan of for over a decade now. Anyways, I dig percussion and ensemble, so traveling every Saturday for the remainder of February and March till state finals is alright with me.

Last year our band came in 2nd in state(I believe…it’s been awhile.) It was a long day and a long drive, but I fought through some serious “crowd anxiety” and was happy to see my son down on that floor. This year is bittersweet as it’s his last one. He graduates this year, and so with his graduation comes our retirement as “band parents”. I’ll miss hearing the new pieces, and I’ll miss the smell of concessions as we walk into various high school gyms and activity buildings to see performances. I’ll miss the excuse to leave early so my wife and I can hit up a local brewery for a nice lunch. These days were kind of like built-in date nights, except our son was part of those date nights…at least for the 7 to 10 minutes he was on the gym floor performing.

I guess we’ll just have to make an effort to hit the road a little more often, my wife and I, and just go do things. We don’t need a WPE performance as an excuse to get out of the house. We’re adults. We can go do something if we want to.

It’s now been two weeks since I’ve been working by myself. It’s a strange feeling, like I’m a mute. When my work partner is here we’re usually laughing for most of the day. We’re pretty like-minded and our sense of humors align, so we can make your average crappy Monday into something special. But with him now being out on medical leave to deal with the big “C”, I’ve kind of become a shut in. I got one of those Vari desks, so now I stand at my desk for most of the day. I’ve gone through a couple styles of stool so I can give my feet a break now and then, but for the most part I really like the stand up desk thing.

I told my wife that I thought I’d be a lot more stressed than what I actually am, because honestly I don’t feel much stress at all. Not having to talk or converse much I get a lot more done. The days go by pretty fast, and coffee keeps me warm when I need it. Standing at my desk I can see all, while still getting work done. My cubicle area on the dock is now more like an outpost. I’m the all-knowing eye and I can see what you’re doing, and can pretend I need to walk away from my desk to avoid you. It’s pretty great.

Don’t take all of that to mean I’d love to continue working by myself for the remainder of my time here. I’m looking forward to the day when my friend returns -cancer free – and we can laugh way too loud and bask in the insanity together. But until then, I guess I’ll just do this Lone Ranger thing.

I recently purchased a brand new Onkyo 6-Disc CD Changer for myself. The 25-Disc Pioneer I bought from my friend’s aunt’s estate sale finally gave up the ghost. Only static noise and the faint hint of music could be heard when play was pushed, so repair would cost 10 times as much as I bought the thing for(I think it was $25.) I never thought I’d have any need for a new CD player. I mean c’mon, it’s not 1995 or anything. But I’ve rediscovered that love of loading up a bunch of CDs, hitting play, and just enjoying uninterrupted, Hi Def sound for hours on end. Cleaning day is so much easier, and with my newfound love of painting it’s great having all the music playing without worrying about having to flip a damn record with hands covered in paint.

I’ve got a nice, tight collection of CD boxsets. A couple go back to the 90s, with my trusty Police and Randy Newman sets. The Police was a birthday gift from my parents way back in December of 1997, while Randy Newman was a Christmas gift from my wife in 1998. I’ve got a couple ELO CD sets as well, and two Led Zeppelin sets that are from the early 90s.

But in the last few years there’s Miles Davis’ The Complete Jack Johnson Sessions that has proven invaluable to me. I’ve got a couple Coltrane sets as well, such as The Complete Love Supreme Sessions and a set simply titled 63. My most recent purchase was Wilco’s Yankee Hotel Foxtrot Super Deluxe Edition, complete with 82 unreleased songs, a ton of live sets, and a couple different versions of the album over 8 CDs. Not to mention a book with essays and interviews with the band. Sure, I did buy the Deluxe vinyl version with 7 LPs, but when that itch hits you gotta scratch it. And after hearing all the other songs I was missing out on that completist addiction won out. It arrived last week and with the changer arriving yesterday I’ll be breaking into that set very soon.

I’ve also grabbed a couple new vinyl box sets recently. First was Pye Corner Audio’s Black Mills Tapes 5LP box set. It comprises PCA’s Black Mills Tapes releases(originally released as cassette releases), along with a lovely photo book to give the already eerie, lo fi electronic music an added visual depth. I’ve been a big fan of Pye Corner Audio for a few years now, having discovered his work around 2016. Martin Jenkins, aka PCA, is a pretty low key dude. His music was originally recorded on 4-track cassette recorders, but I’m sure it’s advanced over the years. But nothing beats the wobbly, bedroom feel of those original releases. Having these on vinyl was something I really had no interest in at first. I bought the set digitally on Bandcamp when it came out and that felt to be enough. Of course, after a couple years that “itch” returned. I started feeling that it was a mistake not to grab that set. It had long been sold out on his site, so I hit up trusty Discogs and found one that was NM. Never played, but the plastic had been torn. And the price was the same as the retail so I figured why not? I’d recently sold a record for a pretty nice sum, so I rolled that over into Pye Corner Audio. So glad I did as it sounds absolutely stunning on vinyl.

Another boxset that I recently acquired was the Yardbirds’ Roger The Engineer, which includes both the mono and stereo versions of the album, plus three CDs which include the stereo and mono as well as a disc of rarities and alternate cuts. I was into Jeff Beck long before I ever truly appreciated the Yardbirds, but once I heard this album I was a fan. Sure, “Heart Full Of Soul”, “Shape Of Things”, and “Train Kept A Rollin'” were all great and oldies radio station staples, but they all sounded too similar to all the other blues-based British rock that was happening at the time. The solo in “Shape Of Things” was pretty great, and “Train Kept A Rollin'” was in my peripherals because of Aerosmith’s cover on their debut, but once I heard “Over Under Sideways Down” I was in. What a mind-blowing pop track that showed the imagination JB had in his head. The guitar tone, the playfulness, the bluesy swagger all came together wonderfully. The whole record felt like a “moment”. It came out the same year as the Beatles’ Revolver, the Stones’ Aftermath, the Who’s A Quick One, and the Kinks’ Something Else. The musical world was molting that year, shedding its skin for a shiny new one.

With Jeff Beck’s recent passing I’d begun deep diving into his work, the stuff I wasn’t as familiar with. The 80s stuff to me was ruined by 80s production values. There And Back wasn’t bad, but he was getting into more of the constipated fusion/jazz stuff, and leaving behind the wonderful, funky soul of his early to mid-70s run. The only place to go was back, so I hit up his stuff with Rod(masterpiece, all of it), as well as his excellent Jeff Beck Group work that would morph into stuff like Blow By Blow and Wired. Beck, Bogert, and Appice was THE proto metal band that never quite lived up to its potential. Incredible band, but their album was marred in muffled, dirty production. The Yardbirds were where I needed to go and Roger The Engineer is a masterpiece that needs to be spoken about in the same conversations as the Liverpool lads, art school brats the Stones, the bickering brothers in the Kinks, and the feedback-loving Who.

That’s a whole lot of talk just to say that I’m deep diving into music to cope with changes, both good and bad. Whether it’s traveling hours to see some kids play vibraphones for 10 minute increments, or I’m loading up a bunch of CDs in a CD changer as accompaniment for my painting excursions, music has and always will be my salve for that existential dread simmering just under the surface. Do what you’ve got to do to keep it at bay. Maybe not opioids or binge-drinking, as you might be compounding the dread with poor health and an early grave.

I figure indulging in a box of music every now and then is a nice detour from the heaviness of the world we’re all living in. It gets my synapses popping and my heard pumping, and it just makes me feel not so bummed. And not being so bummed is a good damn thing.

What do you think? Let me know

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