Sunday, June 29, 2014

"Sales" update

Holy crap! Something like 60 people -- could that be right? -- have picked up FREE copies of my latest e-book, THE GAS NAZI!, since the free promotion started on Wednesday. I think the freebies continue through Sunday, June 29th, at's Kindle Store, so go to it you crazies!
AND the book got a freaking FIVE-STAR REVIEW from a guy in California I don't know and have never met! How freaking awesome is that? Told ya I wasn't kidding around about this writing stuff....
Thank you for your kind attention, and I'm gonna go have a big head for awhile....
Still not getting rich doing this, but right now I don't care.
More soon....

Monday, June 23, 2014

#754: The Return of Music At Work

After weeks/months of relying on The Radio at work -- nothing but news-radio, phone-in talk shows and occasional drop-ins at music stations -- I'm now back to playing music CD's at work with a vengeance as summer really gets rolling.
The music helps keep me moving and less-stressed, and it sure changes people's moods when they walk into the store and hear something they recognize and like -- or something good they haven't heard before.
It also leads to some unexpected reactions. The music that's received by far the best response is John Coltrane's GIANT STEPS and Thelonious Monk's UNDERGROUND, two of my favorite jazz-blowing albums ever. Haven't heard any negative reviews about either of these. Makes me wonder where all these jazz fans were back in the '60s, when both Coltrane and Monk could have used the money....
Of course it's a whole different world now, and stuff that sounded a little different back then almost sounds "normal" now.
Have also been playing Miles Davis and Bill Laswell's PANTHALASSA -- remixes of Davis's later electric-jazz-rock period. No responses to these -- but I'm starting to like "Rated X" and "Billy Preston" and the ON THE CORNER stuff, have always liked IN A SILENT WAY, and I LOVE the Duke Ellington requiem "He Loved Him Madly" -- it's VERY different with its deep bass tones and huge, cavernous sound, and Miles's thin, mourning trumpet. I'd still like to know what cave they recorded it in.
One of the big jazz fans who comes in on weekends ID'd Monk right off, and asked what else I'd been playing. When I told him, and added that I had to have some kind of TUNE to hold onto, he said I'd better not grab Miles's BITCHES BREW, because there's not a single identifiable tune on it. So, guess I won't be going there in the future. JACK JOHNSON, maybe?
Also getting raves from unsuspecting members of the public:
* Deep Purple's "Highway Star" and "Space Truckin'," though I'm starting to really enjoy "Black Night," "Speed King" and "Demon's Eye" -- especially the funny musical and lyrical steals from Little Richard and Blues Magoos. The Purps were pretty great -- too bad it took me 40 years to figure that out....
* Fleetwood Mac's "Hypnotized" and "I Believe My Time Ain't Long." Of the latter, with its jagged, bluesy guitar, one customer said "That's some REAL music playing, right there...." "Hypnotized" triggered one woman telling me about seeing the Mac at the Tacoma Dome, and how great they were. Well, I was SUPPOSED to go to that show.... So I told her about me missing out on a chance to see Mac at the start of their TUSK tour -- man, I was an idiot back then. Also been playing the Mac's "Oh Well," "Green Manalishi," and "Why?"
* Icehouse's "Great Southern Land" -- One customer recognized the tune but didn't know who it was, hadn't heard it in YEARS. Always nice when I can surprise someone like that.
* Parliament's "P-Funk" -- One guy in his late teens responded "Oh, the classics?"
* One guy who's in the store almost every night has enjoyed everything I've played from Badfinger to Coltrane to Marvin Gaye to the Go-Go's: "You're all OVER the place, man!" "Just easily bored," I said.
* Jethro Tull's "Nothing is Easy" -- Sort of my theme song at work.
* Another guy liked the jazz, said I've been playing something jazzy every time he's been in: "I've gotta say, it's a really nice personal touch you never get in corporate-owned stores." I said that was too bad -- Real People work at corporate-owned stores, too.
If I know myself, it's just a matter of time 'til I get bored with CDs and go back to cassettes -- I'm already thinking I should bring my '80s-era tapes back in and REALLY shake people up.
Having a good time with this again. More to come....

Oh By The Way Department -- My three e-books will be available FREE through Amazon/Kindle over the next couple months. My newest book, the convenience-store memoir THE GAS NAZI!, will be available free from June 25th through the 29th. My newspaper-career memoir, THE CONFESSOR, will be free the week of my birthday, from Aug. 17th through 21st. The book that's closest to my heart, the record-store memoir GUARANTEED GREAT MUSIC!, will be available free from Aug. 1st through 5th.
Kindle wouldn't let me put all these out there for free all at the same time. Feel free to grab any of these you haven't gotten to yet while the getting's good -- but let me know what you think of them, OK?
The next time I have a new e-book I'm finished with and happy with, I will of course keep you posted. I'm not getting rich doing this, but I'm pretty happy with the way the writing's turned out -- and I just want to get the stuff Out There. So let me hear from you....

Monday, June 16, 2014

#753: And now, on with the countdown....

The first time I remember hearing Casey Kasem on American Top 40 was the late summer of 1970. I'd just turned 11 years old, and had just started listening to the radio.
I stumbled over AT40 by accident, while twirling the dial looking for more good new songs to listen to. Everything was new to me then. I'm sure I didn't listen to much of the countdown -- three hours is a LONG time when you're a kid -- but Crabby Appleton's great, driving "Go Back" was in there at Number 39 or so, and I was immediately hooked.
The only other thing I remember is that I thought host Casey Kasem had an almost-too-perfect Top 40-radio-DJ voice.
I listened to the weekly countdown off and on for YEARS -- usually at least long enough to hear what the Top 3 or even just the new Number 1 song was. I hardly ever listened to the whole show -- I didn't have the attention span, and had other things to do. Plus, in the early '70s, I heard AT40 over Seattle's KJR-AM, and it was a long way off, often interrupted by fuzz and static -- and the station always cut power just before 9 p.m., making it even harder to hear the last few songs.
I remember what a surprise it sometimes was to hear what the rest of America was listening to and buying -- songs that often weren't even being played in my radio market. It was also a surprise to note what great songs DIDN'T make the Top 40, even though they got played to death in my town.
I also remember -- after 1972 or so -- what a disappointment the show could sometimes be. Back then, it seemed like ALL the kids my age knew what the big hits were locally -- just ask them. But the rest of America thought the songs that made AT40 (which recapped BILLBOARD's weekly Top 40 hits list) were the best, catchiest, most memorable current songs out there? What was my generation THINKING? Could there BE a whole generation with bad musical taste?
I remember listening to the entire countdown one summer evening in 1974 with my cousin Jim. We wrote down each hit on the way up the list. There were a few nice surprises in there -- like The Eagles' great rocker "James Dean," which I'd never heard before. (By then I was back home in Idaho, hearing AT40 on Boise's then-daring all-automated KBBK-FM.)
But both Jim and I started retching when the countdown concluded, and the list was topped by some worthless throwback piece of trash like Paper Lace's "The Night Chicago Died" or Bo Donaldson and the Heywoods' "Billy, Don't be a Hero."
Everybody knew back then that whatever 13-year-old girls requested from radio stations or bought at their local K-Mart was what ruled Top 40. Maybe that's still the case with our newer, much-more-fragmented radio formats. But some of the Number 1 hits in the '70s and '80s ... well, were those really what young female music fans were listening to? And what did they GET out of those songs?
It sure wasn't Casey's fault -- all he did was introduce the hits. And with his little back-stories and histories of the artists, he always added something to AT40, no matter how boring or predictable the contents of the countdown turned out to be.
I guess I'm saying Casey left a mark on me even if the music he played on his show didn't. I'd stopped listening to AT40 sometime before graduating from high-school. I was solidifying my own weird musical tastes by then.
The last time I remember listening, Casey introduced Queen's then-brand-new-in-America "Bohemian Rhapsody," which had just topped the British charts for two months. When my parents called me to the dinner table, I left the radio on in the living room ... and when Freddie Mercury and his buddies started doing their operatic turns, my parents asked me -- practically in unison -- "What in the hell IS this shit?"
Naturally, I went out and bought the album....
Casey died on Sunday, Father's Day, at age 82, after suffering for the past few years with Parkinson's Disease and dementia. He passed away in a hospital about 20 miles south of where I'm writing this, after his wife and children fought over his medical care for months. Just a few days ago, a local judge ruled that it was OK to withhold food and water from Kasem -- that feeding him somehow would prolong his suffering and make his condition worse.
I don't know how you reach a decision like that, and hopefully I'll never have to make such a decision myself. I don't know enough about the case to comment much -- but the family's arguing through the media was ugly. There's a lot going on there. Casey's wife Jean said she was going to hold "everyone" responsible.
Better probably to remember Casey like he was back in the '70s, when he and his show seemed to sum up for me everything that was current, happening, with-it, NOW.
Just because I didn't always like whatever was "with-it" back then doesn't mean Casey and his show didn't leave a mark on me. It definitely left me with some good memories....

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

#752: Are we wasting the Internet?

So, how did this amazing technological marvel the Internet become an overloaded storehouse of "Check out this too-cute pic of my kid/my grandkid/my dog/my cat/my hairdresser"? When did it turn from this fabulous, formless outpouring of the power of the Freedom Of Speech into just another chance to Sell You Something 24/7?
My God, some people even use it to post music and book reviews....
When did it all get so stupid and pointless? When did it get all filled up with YouTube videos of people doing Really Stupid Stuff, meaningless celebrity tweets, and of course porn? (Oh, THAT's been there from the beginning....)
Why aren't we using it to complain about all the things that bug us? I mean really BITCH about how rotten so much of life seems to be today?
Maybe because we know no one would ever comment or respond? Because the Net's supposed to be an escape from all that boring, meaningless, bad shit? Because the last thing we want in the privacy of our own homes is someone getting in our face about how bad everything is?
The Net's been used to complain and protest elsewhere. During the Arab Spring, apparently the demonstrators in Cairo's Tahrir Square used Twitter to stay up-to-date on what was happening during all-night protests -- maybe so they wouldn't be shot or hauled away by the Egyptian Army.
I'm sure there must be other examples. My understanding is that Twitter's relied on more now as a source for breaking news than for anything else.
Maybe if we weren't mostly so fat and comfortable here in America, we could find something more useful to do with the Internet. Like take out our frustrations with the way things are -- get them out there, talk 'em over, kick 'em around. Sure beats picking up a gun and shooting people until someone finally LISTENS, right?
Maybe something good could happen. There are a LOT of things that strike me as wrong, these days. Not that I have much to complain about -- I've got a job, and I'm typing on a laptop some people could never afford, so why should I complain?
But look around.
*NO JOBS -- How many million Americans are STILL out of work? Why? When Obama introduces a Jobs Bill in Congress, and even HIS OWN PARTY tells him "Mr. President, this ain't gonna fly," well WTF? The Feds did work programs during the Great Depression and World War II that put millions of people back to work building roads and bridges and dams -- why not repair all the infrastructure nationwide that's falling apart? Why is this so hard to get going? Is it just because the president can only do so much without the support of Congress?
*TAXES -- Good Lord. Be grateful you're not in Washington state, where the gas tax is at least 52 cents a gallon, the alcohol tax is something like 28 percent (I don't drink), and the tax on each pack of cigarettes is THREE BUCKS. And they're talking about raising it another dollar. (I don't smoke, either.) And all the money's supposed to go to roads and schools. There's no evidence the tax money's going there at all.
*HEALTH CARE -- Despite the "Affordable Care Act," health care in this country is still only for those who can afford it. Don't kid yourself. And the health-care-insurance providers are probably still thanking Obama for sending them millions of new customers.
*OBAMA -- Speaking of which, does anyone believe a word he says anymore?
*SURVEILLANCE -- Of course some of your taxes are being used so your government can keep track of everything you say on your cellphone or do on the Internet 24/7. Not to mention those surveillance cameras and drones everywhere. Which means this blog will probably be shut down tomorrow. Nice talkin' to 'ya. If George Orwell (1984, look it up) could have seen 2014, he would have shit his pants.
*THE ZOMBIE APOCALYPSE -- It's already happened. Two-thirds of the people who walk into my store every day are zombies, folks you can't get a word out of, who stare straight ahead and hardly ever say anything. Give 'em their gas and their smokes and their beer, and they're on their way. Wonder what they're so scared of? And what are they like at home?
*MOVIES -- Have you noticed practically every "big" movie that comes out these days is some over-the-top science-fiction/fantasy/war movie or action flick that has absolutely no connection to the real world? It's as if moviemakers don't WANT you to think about reality, ever. It's just too horrible. Movies always were about escaping reality for a couple hours, but.... Most movies set in the real world these days die a quick death. And you'll be able to get 'em all on Blu-Ray and DVD in a couple months anyway, so....
*MUSIC -- Jesus Christ I'm BORED. I've heard a couple interesting new bands since the turn of the year, thanks to SOUND OPINIONS, but most music on the radio these days bores me shitless. How did it ever GET this bad? Or am I just too freakin' old?
*RUDENESS -- Why is everyone in such a goddamned HURRY? And what the hell are they so ANGRY about?
*IDIOTS SHOOTING PEOPLE -- Why don't they just shoot THEMSELVES FIRST and save everybody some grief?
*GLOBAL WARMING -- Is it or isn't it? Step outside....
*MONEY -- Supposedly Seattle's on the cutting-edge of the push for a $15 per hour minimum wage. Yeah, Seattle's expensive, but there are lots of other places you could live. I don't think Economics is based on the idea that all you have to do to get the wage you want is keep demanding it until Management caves in.
I'm looking forward to my pay raise to $15 an hour -- that means an increase of about $1,200 per month for me, before taxes. I could use it. But I ain't holding my breath for it.
And you? What's pissing you off lately? Would love to hear some informed responses to this....

Saturday, June 7, 2014

#751: The twinkling of a dice

Robert Coover's THE UNIVERSAL BASEBALL ASSOCIATION (1968) stars a pushing-60 accountant named J. Henry Waugh, whose day-to-day life is pretty boring.
But he has a wild fantasy life. At night -- thanks to three dice and a TON of note-paper -- he runs a whole fantasy baseball league, inside his head.
Henry knows this fantasy baseball league has nothing to do with his Real Life. He knows his few friends would never understand it, or why he does it. Henry isn't even a fan of real-life baseball.
But Henry knows that somehow the League -- its statistics, its history, its traditions -- somehow help hold him together so he can get through his Real Life.
Actually, slowly, Henry's game -- and game-playing -- are taking over his Real Life, getting in the way of what he has to do to keep his life going.
And when an unexpected disaster happens in the baseball league -- an accident Henry didn't see coming and can't counteract -- his life and his fantasy baseball league slowly fall apart.
THE UNIVERSAL BASEBALL ASSOCIATION got some rave reviews back in the late '60s. I tried to read it a few years back and couldn't even get 50 pages into it. It was just too dry.
Didn't have much trouble this time. Henry's life and his obsession with his fantasy baseball league actually make pretty involving reading.
The world Henry lives in is stark and under-described, as dull as Henry thinks it is. Might be the late '50s -- everybody takes buses, radio is at least mentioned -- but it's a very different, much duller world than the Real mid-'60s. No wonder Henry repeatedly turns to fantasy to liven things up. Because things happen in Henry's baseball league that would never happen in Real Life.
I just wish Coover had done more with it. After Henry's fantasy disaster, you can see both his fantasy world and Real Life slipping out of his control, and finally fantasy takes over.
This is not as gripping as it should have been. The last 20 pages or so were a real chore to read.
Might be worth a look if you're a baseball fan. Or if you already have a really rich fantasy life.
There's also no reason the same basic idea couldn't be used with a music obsession -- something I'm trying to pull together right now, when I'm not writing here.
I have a pretty rich fantasy life, too.

Brian W. Aldiss has been berry berry good to me. His history of science-fiction BILLION YEAR SPREE told me about tons of great SF books to track down back when I was 15 years old, and his BRIGHTFOUNT DIARIES showed me how easy it would be to write a memoir.
His THE TWINKLING OF AN EYE (1994) is basically an expanded version of his writing-memoir BURY MY HEART AT W.H. SMITH'S -- only this time with all the marriage problems, psychological problems, manic depression, and chronic fatigue left in. I thought BURY MY HEART was too thin and surfacey, almost written as an afterthought between novels, though charming enough in places. TWINKLING is twice as long, nearly 500 pages.
Almost the whole first half is about Aldiss's experiences as a soldier for the British Empire in Burma in the latter days of and just after World War II. I admit I haven't read any of that -- I started with his experiences in the Oxford bookshop that led him to write BRIGHTFOUNT DIARIES.
Some of that book and BURY MY HEART are re-told here -- how his first Hugo Award arrived on his front porch wrapped in a newspaper, dropped off by his estranged wife; how fictionalizing his bookstore experiences led directly to writing his first book, etc.
There is lots more about writing, and about the demons Aldiss wrestled with while growing up as a writer and as a man. He also had lots of happiness, and through it all he wrote, no matter how weird things got.

Both of these books are about what a life MEANS, about getting at what it all MEANT.
The late Damon Rutherford in UNIVERSAL BASEBALL ASSOCIATION would tell you -- it's not a trial, it's not even a lesson. It's just what there is.