Father’s Day 2019 — via 1940

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The Watsons at the World Fair in ~1940. Left to right: my grandpa Ernest, my uncle Ernie, my dad Richard.

This is the first father’s day I’ve ever known without my father. I don’t much like it, but although Dad has been gone for months, I still feel his presence and find reminders of him at all kinds of the right moments.

Recently, I was talking with Mom about what to do with a box of Dad’s old 78 records. I love music; I love records, and these old 78s are from a special era in the 1940s when music was not as easy to come by as it is today. Songs were pressed one to a side on weighty shellac record discs which played through to a deep groovy sound we don’t hear in digital renderings today. Clearly my dad prized and loved this collection, caring for and moving the box of volumes of 78s as my family moved several times over seven decades, keeping the discs in good shape even when the instruments for playback were no longer available at home. Knowing how special these were to him (and some of these discs were also hers), Mom was having a hard time letting go of or knowing what otherwise to do with these.

I took the box with me and mulled over it for awhile. Among the professional volumes, two particular discs were out of place, set apart in a tattered old paper cover with a pencil scrawl. (“Look,” Mom said, “This one says ‘Richard’ on it.”) We had no idea what they were. The labels on these discs were plain (branded “Recordio” and “Capitol”), and a scribble on each of them in an area where contents should have been listed gave no indication what they could possibly be — except, apparently, self-recorded.

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The Wilcox-Gay Recordio: 1940 Home Recording – via http://onetuberadio.com/2015/01/28/the-wilcox-gay-recordio-1940-home-recording/

I didn’t know home-recorded records were ever a thing, but I did some research and I found out that was indeed a possibility in the 1940s. Given that my grandfather was an audio technology wizard of sorts for his time, he no doubt would have had a home recorder like the Wilcox-Gay Recordio in their home in San Mateo. Especially if these could have voices from our family’s past on them, I realized I had to find a way to listen to them.

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Unlike most of the other quality shellac 78s in the box – songs from the likes of Al Jolson, Benny Goodman, Glenn Miller, Count Basie and others – these two discs were pretty banged up. I wasn’t sure they’d be playable at all, and even so, with over 70 years of grime and scratches on them, I was not optimistic anything would be audible if they were playable. One of them, the disc with the Capitol label on it, looked like it was even fading away to some kind of strange metal underneath. And never mind that I long ago got rid of my own last phonograph. But I found a potential solution to this puzzle with Nick at a friendly and professional service across the Bay, Analog-to-Digital.net, who would give digitizing these things a try for a reasonable cost.

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The digitizations came out better than I expected. Noise, unavoidable, is reduced, and skips are all over, but the recordings are audible. I’m not sure what’s going on for a great deal of these recordings, but it is clear somewhere in all the noises, skips, pops, and hiss that here are voices from the past of my dad, his brother, maybe some friends, and even my grandparents, having a blast using a home recorder.

Nick sent me two mp3 files, one per disc. There isn’t much more than 5 minutes of recording per disc. I separated the audio files into ‘tracks’ of sorts and gave them titles reflecting my best guesses as to what’s going on in each segment. I tossed some completely unintelligible parts but liberally kept most of the action, in the order it was pressed onto each disc, and uploaded it all to two separate playlists on SoundCloud. Voila: Today’s Recordio: Voices from the Watson home in the 1940s.

I can’t help but wonder if this iteration will stand the test of time as well as heavy old 78 records to last another 70 years, until the next time this format becomes antiquated and needs to be transferred to something playable.

For now on the first Father’s Day without you Dad, I’m happy we get to join you long ago at home.

The Recordio

Capitol

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It’s Joy Division to New Order all over again

Although I loved the music of Joy Division and its successor New Order back in the last millennium and knew the basic history of the bands, I never really understood the formative influence bass player Peter Hook had on them both — until Saturday night’s show at the Warfield in San Francisco.

Not only do I now recognize the pioneering upper-registry bass hooks as Peter Hook’s signature, I also thoroughly enjoyed the show by its own right. Ian Curtis, Joy Division, New Order — Peter Hook — are alive and well and currently touring in the form of Peter Hook & The Light — as relevant and sustainingly listenable today as they were forty years ago when Joy Division first formed (holy s$%t!).

So that they wouldn’t disappear into the ether, I collected a bunch of my silly Instagram/Twitter fun-sized clips below. Thanks for the show, Victor and Laura and thanks for visiting, Peter Hook!

Setlist via Peter Hook

Ceremony — New Order

Everything’s Gone Green — New Order

Temptation — New Order

Temptation — New Order

Blue Monday — New Order

Thieves Like Us — New Order

Thieves Like Us — New Order

The Perfect Kiss — New Order

The Perfect Kiss — New Order

Bizarre Love Triangle — New Order

 

These Days — Joy Division

Shadowplay — Joy Division

Digital — Joy Division

Autosuggestion — Joy Division

She’s Lost Control — Joy Division

Love Will Tear Us Apart — Joy Division

2011 SAINTS. A musical salvation.


2011 has been a very good year for music.  While it’s not over yet, I got a jump on my end-of-year mix because of the urgency of the task. I’ve been so saved by much of the year’s music in many ways. I’m also including a nod to some of the nice surprises from 2010, but the balance is all new, all this year.

I used to do a mix every year but haven’t for the last couple of years. I’m happy to be pressing again. This one investigates the qualities and battles of light and dark — inside.  We’ve got it all.

  1. Muppet Show Theme Song • OK Go • Muppets: The Green Album • 2011
  2. Wake Up Your Saints • The National • High Violet (Expanded Edition) • 2010
  3. Holy Holy • Wye Oak • Civilian • 2011
  4. Midnight City • M83 • Hurry Up We’re Dreaming • 2011
  5. Hair • Lady Gaga • Born This Way • 2011
  6. The Change • Evanescence • Evanescence • 2011
  7. Dear Rosemary • Foo Fighters • Wasting Light • 2011
  8. Stamp • The Rural Alberta Advantage • Departing • 2011
  9. The Bad In Each Other • Feist • Metals • 2011
  10. Lily (Director’s Cut) • Kate Bush • Director’s Cut • 2011
  11. Only If For A Night • Florence + The Machine • Ceremonials • 2011
  12. Keep Your Heart • TV On The Radio • Nine Types Of Light • 2011
  13. I Don’t Want Love • The Antlers • Burst Apart • 2011
  14. Perth • Bon Iver • Bon Iver • 2011
  15. The Rip Tide • Beirut • The Rip Tide • 2011
  16. The Devil’s Tears • Angus & Julia Stone • Down The Way • 2010
  17. Like Me • Chely Wright • Lifted Off The Ground • 2010
  18. Mercy Of The Fallen • Dar Williams • Many Great Companions • 2010

it’s time to light the lights
wake up your saints
for the blessed
city is my church
this is my prayer
screaming on the inside
you’re part of me you know you are
i will save you and i don’t need you
the good man and good woman
as we journey to thy sacred feet
you came over me like some holy rite
these words are not a bit profound
climb up the stairs
something faint
the waves and i
she’s my home
they’ll love you
we have some of them inside us

PS: hands-down the best musical show of the year and certainly in the top of all time: Beirut at the Independent. Thank you Victor.

Love The Disease

That man you were going to marry – if you could have just taken a hypospray to make yourself stop loving him, so that it didn’t hurt so much when you were away from him – would you have done that? — Harry Kim

I assumed that romantic love was a human weakness; but clearly it can also be a source of strength. Perhaps my analogy was flawed; love is not a disease. Get well soon
Seven of Nine

Today, I played High Violet, the new album by American folk indie-band The National. I fell in love with the song called Sorrow. Here it is.

for @yodelmachine — and I challenge you to say it’s not for you too

Mirah and Spectratone International at Swedish American

If you haven’t been to the Swedish American Hall in San Francisco, you’re really missing out on something bizarre. I’ve been there a few times — it’s only a couple blocks from where we live — and it delights in its oddity each time. It’s like a cross between an old church and some sort of old nordic community center, replete with fachwerk, tall pointy pre-vatican-looking chairs, and dusty Market-Street-fronting windows up front, with a claustrophobic, usually cold music space at the back. (And yes, I’m babbling a bit because I’m flying on an airplane tomorrow and past blog posts, if tagged appropriately, attest to what happens to me when that happens.)

So it was the perfect place for the absolutely divine and bizarre Mirah — and Spectratone International — show this last Monday, September 8, revolving around Mirah’s latest Share This Space — revelations surrounding insects.

I admit, at first I did not think I was going to make it through the whole thing. The animation projected onto the circular screen directly above the band was technically awesome, but making me queasy. Various insects including dung beatles and glow worms — all fabricated — appeared to be burrowing into stocking-clad skin, while other slimy concoctions were sliding along the floor and some were breathing stickily in and out. Mirah’s vocal command and ethereal insect-related lyrics were fighting for my command — but I was losing track and I did want to vomit just a little bit. So that was terribly effective.

Let me say while I am at it that the accompanying four-piece Spectratone International was outstanding. The band suited Mirah incredibly well and blended together beautifully, nobody particularly outshining another but complimenting the vocals — and the insect presentation.

A fellow called Kane played an incredible instrument called the oud – a lovely guitar. Lori played just about the hottest cello I’ve ever seen. Kyle on accordion was great. And Jane Hall on percussion was utterly captivating, seeming to perform magic with her hands.

And I can say that by the end, especially with the revolving blue Q-Tip fuzzling (this was I believe a reference to a butterfly), I was utterly spellbound. OK — I guess I should finish with the superlatives.

Let me just close with this: The extra goodies that Mirah and the band threw in at the end neatly sealed the deal, and the set has been resounding through my head ever since. One standout was Windmills of Your Mind — and when Mirah was singing about the hands, I swear she could have been singing about the percussionist blending into her voice from across the stage. Nice chemistry, gals!