Random NVDT – Writerly Concerns #5

This isn’t creative, but it’s something to share, which makes it SocialMedia content. If it helps, consider it a roasted pepper salsa recipe or a trip to the zoo with grandchildren.

Attention Economy

Not long ago I made mention of Revising Prose by rhetorician Richard Lanham. That, and another of his books, The Economy of Attention: Style and Substance in the Age of Information should be read by anyone who communicates with the written word. In 1979 he identified the burgeoning modern trend of stringing words and prepositional phrases together ad nauseum to make a point. His example was no one can write “Jim kicks Bill” anymore. I won’t plagiarize his work. I will tell you this – read the first chapter (eight short pages) of Revising Prose and it will make you think better, write better, and not commit wordiness to the page. It will scare indefinite comparisons and “is,” “was,” “will be,” “seems to be” “of” and other “weak” verb glue out of your writing vocabulary for any purpose other than dialogue. If you’re like me, the first eight pages will hook you into going further into what I harp on. Sentence length, rhythm and sound. But if you read no more than those first eight pages, your word count will have dropped 45% before it ever hits the page.

I was made painfully aware of the failure to write “Jim kicks Bill” and what that directly entails in my own work, as well as in published authors’. Example – I read Richard Rayner’s 2005 The Devil’s Wind, his paean to Noir. I referred to it in another post, namelessly, as “soft boiled.” It was wrapped in “language” and “writerliness” and when he occasionally hit a “Jim kicks Bill” line it stuck out like a pew rattling fart. Rayner disregarded economy of attention (Elmore Leonard’s rule “Try to leave out the part readers tend to skip”), and I found myself skipping blocks of Rayner’s text that proved he was a writer and had done research but stalled the story. Writerliness that became an overturned eighteen-wheeler on the freeway at rush hour. Had all that excess backstory been committed on the front end and led me into the book on it’s own, defining the character? Fine. War hero changes last name, turns architect. But in the middle of the action here’s an unnecessary two-page flashback?

Virginia Wolff called thoughts “arrows.” Thoughts are often a component of stream of consciousness. Arrows with a point, that hit a target, agreed. Arrows that eat up two pages of word count way past time to be important to our understanding of the character? WTF? Granted, Rayner stylized the novel like a Noir film. I could see Mitchum sweating in black and white, staring into the bathroom mirror reliving his war experience, his white shirt gone limp in the desert heat, tucked roughly into his armpit high pleated slacks belted across his ribs. Close up of his face, maybe he pulls his bottom lids down, cue the WWII bomber footage. But it wasn’t written that way. It was a novel, not a screenplay. Which are Rayner’s claim to fame. Attention economy isn’t on the menu for Hollywood, as witnessed by this season’s incredibly boring three episodes turned into ten of Bosch. The last two aimless seasons of Justified after Leonard died. And furthered into the reading realm by books like The Devil’s Wind(iness).

“Jim kicks Bill”

I stumbled over a 1959 John D MacDonald, The Beach Girls. It has character building with dialogue scenes that should be in a textbook. I had never looked at MacDonald in any light beyond my father’s hand me down pulp with the possibilty of sex scenes. Looking at JDM in the light of verbal economics explains why authors as diverse as Vonnegut, Block, Hiassen, Koontz, Leonard, Parker, King, Philbrick, have all dedicated works to, and sung the praises of, MacDonald. My favorite description of MacDonald is “verbally precise.” Simply because he writes “Jim kicks Bill.”

Following on the heels of war and the first half of the 20th century “attention economists” like Cain, Hammett, Hemingway and Steinbeck, MacDonald leaves no doubt in your mind what is on a waning Southern Belle’s mind about an arrogant asshole. Not, “Sally thought it seemed like she felt angry whenever…” Instead he writes, “When he grins I find myself thinking how fine it would be to kick him square in the face.”* Hot damn. “Jim kicks Bill.” Emotion. No PC. No apology. Real people thoughts. Check this out. It should have its own Flash Pulitzer. “He’s a small souled man, but picturesque.”* BAM. I am amazed at how much story, how many fabulous, precise one liners are in one of those thin JDM books. If reading one does nothing but embarrass you out of trivial minutia in your storytelling and sharpen your “point,” it is worth the read as a textbook exercise.

As an example, I have a now-offended ex-friend who wrote a book. I know the guy can write, so I offered to read it as he beta read for me. It took him and his family 7,000 words to get from the curb to boarding an airplane. Another 6k to get to Paris. He was striving for humor, via overwritten minutia, hyperbole and simile. By the time they were done with the currency change kiosk, before the first security check, I was done and didn’t care what happened after that. Why? Attention Economy. Dave Barry can go to a convention in Hawaii, with his family, take a charter sightseeing boat, eat dinner and have you laughing so hard you might fall off the commode. In 2k. Or go to the proctologist with the same effect in 500. Attention Economy. Think Billy Connolly or Robin Williams on stage. It isn’t a matter of being passively entertained, it’s a matter of keeping up. No special effects. Precision phrasing. “Jim kicks Bill.” I once had a beta reader tell me that with all the dialogue a book I wrote moved almost too fast. I was upset. Now I am proud.

Mind the POV

Every modern editor with a blog has a mantra. “Watch Your POV.” With first person, you really have to watch it, and often need to narrate the adventures of other characters or share scenes with them as they are living through the “I”. Usually. There is a WordPress author, marple25mary, who writes short, delightful flights of fancy vignettes. They involve the same set of rotating characters. I can’t follow them like there’s a story line because my head will explode. They are like cupcakes. I enjoy them for what they are. Down to POV.

For over a year I read her stuff and thought the woman had a monstrous case of AADD. She knows, I mentioned it. I thought she was all over the map. What do Mary’s vignettes, JDM’s The Beach Girls and editorial admonitions have in common? Watch the POV – shift! Each of Mary’s offerings hands the first person POV to whoever is the “star” of the scene. It took me forever to catch that. Every chapter of The Beach Girls tells the story from different members of a boat dock community’s POV. Previously I have only seen drastic POV shift in the epistolary format. Maybe I have led a sheltered literary existence. But it’s a discomfiting mind bender to flip the page and be in someone else’s first person account of an unfolding story. The shifting “I”. Brilliant, if you can pull it off, and in JDM’s case it’s used in a new take on the “stranger comes to town” vehicle. As if everyone in High Plains Drifter is giving their POV of Clint Eastwood. POV shift is easy onscreen. Change camera angles, change the POV. Turn the page, no visuals? Ouch!

To me, “I” is singular. “I” am me. Which is why I usually write third person. “I” am not a gunfighter or skirt hound or detective or leap tall buildings in a single bound. “I” am not important. “I” can see it as a storytelling device. “Let me tell y’all ‘bout the time ‘I’ had a crazy jealous woman in one hand, a scalp hungry Injun in the other, a rattler in my boot and seen the tax man comin’ my way, no horse in sight.” That’s a story, by a single person. But to turn the page and get the woman’s account, and then the Injun’s and then the tax man’s, all in first person?

Gawldamn, I got fences to mend and this damned woman is about a handful of I hate you, good for nothing tomcatting SOB and if you let go of my throat I’ll bite your ear off before I’ll have good hunting with plenty firewood for my winter teepee with this white eyes hair ledgers that tell me I have a decent commission coming on this clown that thinks he can write off sunglasses because he’s outside all the I can’t hold her off much longer. I’ll take my chance with the injun and I’ll kill the SOB’s slutty girlfriend if I don’t strangle first…on and on. I repeat. Ouch.

Watch your POV. Unless you’re Mary or JDM. Mind your attention economy regardless of who you are, or people will skip your writerliness and miss your story. Leave tap dancing to professionals and say exactly what you want the reader to hear. Write your stories with the power of each phrase’s direct effect. If people wrote music like any number of popular authors write books, there would be chaos and people rolling in the streets screaming with their hands over their ears. Much like the first public performance of Bolero.

Takeaway? “Lanham, MacDonald and company kicks Phil’s ass.”

 

Invest in yourself. Lanham is here:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YpRnAJuy-Ck

*The Beach Girls – © 1959 John D MacDonald

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Random NVDT – Adieu For Now

Several things have come to my attention recently –

1- WordPress is the Album version of FaceBook. Enough said.

2 – I have easily wasted the last 8 months of creative energy. On projects and people, on and off line. Discovered that to be one of the causes of my current case of anti-social monkey butt. That one’s on me and I’ll own it and let it go. I hate whiners and those who can find a million ways to put lipstick on self pity. I won’t be one.

3 – I have a collab to edit. With someone who can write. Who will push for results. Like a real deadline, not an artificial one.

4 – Publishing anything of creative value on WP is a waste of time. No one will ever read it. They will click and be “happy to have found your wise and seriously happy blog”. One would be better off writing “#amwriting” one-liners, pathetic sexist/erotic stacked structure slacker SOC, re-blogging the end of world, hawking your wares or religion beautiful sunrise poetry or calling yourself an “editor” and hustling suckers. None of those are my gig, nor do I see them calling any time soon.

I will finish, with Jac Forsyth, “The Art of Drowning”, a project so full of various intrigues it’s crazy. I still think Bobby B is a runner, maybe on the novella side of adventure. “The Hot Girl”, in all its incarnations, will get self published if I die doing it. THG chapters are where a LOT of my short stories (aside from Lamar) come from. Any Beta volunteers, sing out.

I’ll still log in and follow my few faves, because I have found a few. The few who shirk their responsibilities duped by the social media and narcissism aspects of this crap are on their own.

There’s plenty of my stuff on here to read if anybody cares. Some of it is old and rough. And since this is Social Media I’ll blow my own horn. Some of it is golden. If you know anyone who writes better dialogue than I do, send them my way, I want to read them. If you know anyone who writes decent vignettes, I want to read that, too. Otherwise, I’m going to take my own advice and go write like I mean it. Like it matters. And then I’ll be back. Hawking MY wares. Maybe even doing some of that first person album version of FaceBook.

Nah. See what I mean about Monkey Butt? I got it bad.

Break time. If I don’t see y’all in the future, I’ll see ya in the pasture. Write like you mean it, tell your story, your way, and everybody else can kiss your ass.

Don’t Talk To The Whores

Remember Jackson from Fried Hog Poop? Here is my concept of narrative, getting him into his situation. Without pages of dense text.

Jackson rolled into the east side of Vegas on Easter Sunday, pulled the “Peeno Player Wanted” sign out of the window of a run down, rust and turquoise shit-hole motel called the Sea Wind. He took it in, offered it to the swarthy, bearded guy in the sweat stained white shirt who ignored Jackson and the sign he offered.

“Peeno player is me.”

“Yeah?” He gave Jackson’s hair a frown. “When this was?”

“I tried it once. Liked it. It’s my destiny.”

“Funny guy. You know songs people like? Last guy want to be Elvis. All time with the rollin rockin and everybody is babb-ee babb-ee babb-ee.”

“I thought being Elvis was mandatory in Las Vegas.”

“Maybe, babb-ee.” He squinted a little tighter at Jackson. “Me? I don’t like so much.”

“This is your lucky day because I don’t sing or do sing along.”

“Is good day for you, too, funny hairy guy because I think I’m liking you more, now. You have better clothes?”

“Like yours?”

Swarthy man raised one eyebrow like he’d practiced it a thousand times. “Peeno player only. Everywhere in Vegas?” He swept a thick, hairy arm in a wide arc, leaned over the counter into Jackson’s face, “I can find asshole who wants to be comedian.”

Swarthy showed Jackson some gold dental work, snatched the sign away from him and stuffed it in a wire basket full of paper. “I show you the place.” He flipped up the hinged counter, grabbed Jackson’s shoulder and turned him around. “First. Don’t talk to the whores. They waste your time to stay inside better air conditioner when should be working. You want to fuck one you pay the same for a room as anybody. If you cheapskate on me don’t fuck in your car where customer can see or they all start to do it. Shit happens that way I go broke in big hurry.” He pointed out the piano in a dim corner of a bar lit with red bulbs. “No blowjobs from under piano. Last guy banged hooker’s head on bottom, cost twelve stitches to me and too much talk to cops. Play what you want. Until customers ache their bellies to me and I fire you.” He turned, put a hairy finger almost on Jackson’s nose. “Don’t never play along with jukebox like Elvis guy.” He put on a pained face and silent scream and with both hands over his ears he tilted his head side to side. “Same shit different ways gives me headache,” he held his hands open wide around his head, “this fucking big.”

“When do I start?”

“When you put on long pants. And socks. You can wear bow tie, no shirt, I don’t care. But long pants. And socks.” Swarthy held out a foot clad in a black sock, encased in a Mexican Bazaar tire tread sandal that Jackson figured for a Sea Wind fashion statement.

“Right. Bow tie, long pants. Socks.”

“Good boy! Maybe you get hair cut sometime.” He lumbered back toward the office where two hookers stood in front of the door arguing over a room key that kept changing hands and left Jackson in the doorway between mildewed cool and the desert. From the Regent to the Sea Wind. But it wasn’t Taco Bell, and he wasn’t dead.

***

The Sea Wind sat right on the east edge of Vegas and the desert, so close the far north end of the parking lot faded into sand. It was a “plus tips” gig, and there weren’t many, and most of those were so he’d stop so someone could play the jukebox. The door was always open because the air conditioner was half-dead, flush the urinal in the men’s room and the plumbing groaned the soundtrack for The Exorcist and finished with a metal pipes thumping a Latin beat on sheetrock. The housekeepers called it the Hot Wind, Jackson called it the Breaking Wind. The lobby smelled a little like vomit, the tiny casino smelled a lot like cat pee, and he learned there was a stabbing every weekend. Usually on Saturday night. Usually in the doorway to the lobby. Usually about somebody not paying somebody else for something they shouldn’t have been doing in the first place. They wanted to charge him more to stay in a room than he was making, so for a week he slept in his car at the end of the lot where the sand started.

He drove around on his second Sunday in Vegas, looking for gas. He pulled into an ancient cinder block Mobil station because of the giant, metal sign featuring a Nineteen Forties cheesecake pin-up girl holding an oil can. He made friends with a guy named Michael who said he ran the ancient rust and cinder block station for his “lost inside his own mind Grampa.” They talked, drank a couple of almost frozen Nehi strawberry sodas from a cooler, moved on to beer.

Michael heard Jackson out, told him he could park his car inside and sleep in the service bay. Jackson took cold showers in the men’s room with the garden hose and hosed it down when he was done. Every now and then at the Sea Wind he could get into a room before housekeeping and take a hot shower, even though he was a little leery of what might be living in the plumbing. He shaved in the ladies room at the Mobil because it had a real mirror instead of the piece of bent chrome in the men’s room that made him look like one of those pictures of a kid, or a dog, that was all nose. Michael’s hospitality was Spartan but manageable. He was a little older than Jackson and had his own heartbreak story. And after about a week he was the first person to ever cast doubt on Jackson’s manhood.

Michael popped the kitchen match to life with his thumbnail. “She just got tired of you, man. She didn’t want to hurt you, you know.” He lit the joint, hit it solid but not too deep. “Didn’t want to call you pencil dick or nothin’. You were probably just a crummy piece of ass, girl had to roam.”

Jackson hadn’t even considered that. Didn’t want to, either. “Man, I’ve known girls who knew how to fuck. Crazy ass sex girls that ran me through the Kama Sutra and a couple of other books full of ideas. I never had any complaints before.”

“You ever ask her?”

“No.”

“Should have. Me, too, on that should have. We were engaged. She was a first-year third grade teacher, right here in Vegas. I came home and found a note on a Friday night sayin’ she’d run off with a textbook salesman from Baton Rouge.”

“If it’ll make you feel any better my dad used to say ‘There’s hell, and then there’s Houston. If the devil thinks you’re a miserable son of a bitch, there’s Louisiana.’”

“Never been anywhere but the desert myself. I hope she hates it. I used to hope he beat her, and if she came back? No more Mr. Nice Guy. But I couldn’t, you know, beat her or nothin’. Now I just hope she’s happy. Not too happy. Like his dick falls off and he can’t screw unhappy.”

“She tell you why she left, call you a pencil dick?”

“No. The note was the last of it.”

“‘Later, fool’ is a cold shot. You find a new girlfriend yet?”

“Nah. Hard to find one, even to have time to clean up and go lookin’. They got all the pussy, hold all the cards, man. Maybe Cinderella will pull in here one day, need a tank of unleaded and a self-service grease monkey.” He frowned, killed the joint between his thumb and middle finger. “Snowball’s chance in Vegas of that shit.”

***

 

Jackson couldn’t stop thinking about what Michael had said. Maybe he was useless, that way. Maybe if he’d tried some things on Deanna. Maybe some of what that girl welder and her Kama Sutra book and waterbed thought was fun, or some of Monica the waitress’s gymnastic sexual circus madness, Deanna might still be around. She made lots of noise all the time, though. The apartment neighbors would complain or beat on the wall, particularly on Sunday afternoons. Maybe it was just this Michael guy’s weed fucking with him. It didn’t work. He pulled the quilt out of his trunk, pulled out the bolt that held his passenger seat up, dropped it and passed out.

He dreamed of all the things he should have done with Deanna that she had someone else doing now. All of them laughing about him, how inept he was, what kind of pussy whipped idiot he’d been. She’d grabbed both sides of his face and pulled his head up. “Now,” she’d whispered through a kiss, before she pushed his face away to look at him. “Before I give you all of me, promise me you’ll love me forever. Please?” What a load of it.

At three in the morning he gave up on sleep, raised the service bay door and ran tepid water from the hose over his head. For lack of anything better to do he rotated his tires by hand under a sliver of moon that dared the puddles in the drive to last till morning.

Random NVDT – Writerly Concerns 4

Pardon me, your writer is showing

Here it Comes – Show Don’t Tell – My Take – For the most part a society that Googles everything from forgotten salad dressing ratios to what does guacamole taste like hasn’t got a clue. I looked it up for us. The takeaway?

“Show, don’t tell” should not be applied to all incidents in a story.

Why not? Because it would take forever to write. Or read. There are successful writers out there who ignore this and write and write and write. And others attributed to the same style write very little. Here we are again with a RULE that means nothing. Dial it up, dial it down, ignore it altogether. Properly applied I believe, as I do about dialogue, it all has to do with rhythm and pacing. Musicality.

The first of two approaches to “show don’t tell” involve using flowery, evocative language. Exercise: Put the reader in the stinky bathroom of a desert gas station. No, just kidding. To what end? To prove you can write about rust stains and dried turds and warped mirrors and peeling paint on cinder blocks and decades of dried urine in the grout for two and a half pages? Maybe, if it was a guy who got beat up by mobsters and left for dead in the desert and you want to put the reader’s face on that floor with him when he crawls in out of the sand. But to me that’s writing to prove you can.

The other approach is drop a few nuggets, let the reader fill in the blanks. Truth – You know we don’t see in color with our peripheral vision. Our brains fill it in for us based on context. That’s the iceberg concept. Hemingway, etc. So if I say to you “a porch twenty feet from the bayou on a humid summer night,” I might offer “pungent” and a mosquito swat that yielded blood and maybe a sweaty bandanna wipe but the rest of it is on you. Because there’s a story being told on that porch and all that flowery sense of place crap is background and there’s no reason to waste a John Williams theme on crickets and frogs and foley work. Personal opinion only. Unless of course you write like David Foster Wallace and then, by all means, watercolor it all together and knock it out of the park for us.

Narrative – Narrative is great to get from impact scene to impact scene, as above. Personally I shorten narrative to it’s extreme cutoff point. Example: Deanna stepped through the steam and the mist, boarded the train more homesick than she ever imagined possible. Done. She gets off the train and the story continues. Narrative is a great device to get some story told from point A to point B and is necessary to kick the story along without the minutia of Deanna brushing her teeth that morning and giving five pages of flashback about why she’s homesick. A decent author would have put us in her shoes chapters ago. Which brings me to –

Narrative excess – An equally wordy writerly option to show, don’t tell excess and a way to show off your research and waste a LOT of time that isn’t show, don’t tell. Unless you want to write about the texture of deciduous tree bark, like the restroom floor example above. Example: I have been reading this damn book that is both a good story and well written and a humongous PIA. I mean the main character gets up off the bed in a motel room from a conversation with a girl (not a sex scene, just dialogue furthering the story ) to go splash water on his face. We are treated to two and half pages of dense, blocks of text backstory. Which could have been easily condensed to a paragraph, or had it been me, three lines. It would have made a great ‘insert backstory video clip here’ in a movie. Maybe. And the whole damn book would have been at least 30% shorter had it been written in a linear time line. The flashbacks and backstory are worse than any Noir film. Like Timothy Leary moments. Exercise: Person sees reflection in sugar dispenser top. Now, jump out of mid dialogue getting the story told into deep reflective space for 600-800 words and then jump back into the convo with other person saying “Are you OK?” “Yeah, just thinking.” Just thinking my ass. Maybe the thought flew by but just reading it my coffee got cold and I’m still in a red vinyl booth in a diner no further along than I was three pages ago.

I don’t call the rules into question or try to sell them or even justify how to avoid them. All I want is for everyone to see that style is everything, and to write like we mean it. Regardless of what it is or where you find your voice. Tell your story. To the best of your ability. Every time. Turn it up. Or turn it off.  Remember, when your fluffy fill up space writer is showing…

And neither should we. Get to the red ‘Vette of your story. Leave the Volvo in the dust.

 

Random NVDT – Writerly Concerns 2 & 3

Handling Time – I read another book. Very noir-ish. Well mannered hardboiled. The author used a device for handling time that I got chastised severely for early on by several editorial types. I asked if there was a literary device like the old film trick of calendar pages flying off at high speed. Nobody knew of one. My solution, like this award winning Harper Collins author’s, was to put dates and location in the chapter header. Examples –

11

Burger King on Sunset Blvd, Tuesday February 14, 2005

12

Gus’s Grimy Gulf Station, Needles California, June 2000

 What? Those are out of sync! In the book I caught myself reading right past those tags as I wasn’t used to looking there. Because there were no chapter titles. I’d turn a page out of a Hollywood cocktail party and I’d suddenly be seven years in the past with people I’d never met. A third of the way into the book.

Say you open a story in 2005 and you meet the players wherever. Party, little league game, barbeque. And you develop a story line. Then you want some big motivational or deep backstory for a character, bigger than a couple of lines, so you do the example above, say five years earlier. Character x working in a gas station, 2000. Then you go right back into the “current” time frame of the story with Character x interacting in some event. This all sounds like I’m dogging flashbacks, but those are often internalized and much shorter. This was blatant, here’s a get to know X chapter, out of sync. X’s story is a subtext and crucial, but rather than weave everyone in from the beginning, we are abruptly shuttled back and forth through time. I found it to be an attack on my (elderly) readerly equilibrium. As I’ve been told and told by editors it would be, and DON’T do that. But Harper Collins signed off on it.

Dropping in backstory and flashbacks are an art in themselves. Enough to inflate a character and put heat on them in a moment, not enough to take you out of the story (techniques this author also used very well). Those things are melded into a scene, we watch the character sweat or understand the how/why of their behavior(s). But surprise, Time Machine! Full blown didn’t see it coming silent evil Jack in the Box reads like riding with someone learning to drive a standard trans. I could see the effect the author was going for, like a film effect. We see what’s now, we back up and see what was heading for now. It could have been done with that chapter that was about a third of the way through the book instead tacked on the front end and we follow these people. All in all it read like watching Double Indemnity or Please Murder Me time shift noirs. First person right now action that keeps backing up to tell another story leading up to first person narrating from now story. It sounds clumsy and it is because visuals can clue you any number of ways. Books don’t fade to black and pop up a happy Norman Rockwell moment obviously in the past because of visual cues like the age of cars or fashions or architecture or horse drawn buggies. I’m so gun shy of the time shift technique, after having tried and my hand slapped, I won’t do it again.

But here are those nasty rules that drive us all crazy. Don’t write preludes, drop in backstory when you need it. Okay, but what if there’s an important bit of backstory that is bigger than “Burger King always made Dan sick”? Tell it early, skip a couple of years to now? Don’t start a story with characters in a situation that finishes what you develop before you get there. Okay. In now time we’re talking to Albert, that we don’t know is really Dan with a name change, out for revenge on Burger King. We drop a chapter on why Albert/Dan is pissed a hundred pages into NOW if we can’t write preludes? Well, I’ll write a prelude if I have to. It was good enough for Faulkner and Steinbeck. So there’s my writerly concern number one. How to handle time. Any ideas without breaking a rule, sing out.

Writerly concern two –  LinkedIn is another SM joke like WP and FB and all the rest, but I saw an article fly by the other day. “Don’t make people feel stupid. Drop the Jargon.” Talk about selling me out of reading your story with the title, hell yeah, thanks for the free time. Seriously, there’s only a certain amount of slang and/or vocational or subcultural vernacular people are willing to handle unless you want to narrow your audience to people who work the graveyard shift in dog food plant 17 in Farmersville. Even editors. “Did they really say ‘suck’ in 1979.” I don’t know, and you’re the only one who has asked, so…

I get the need for academic or cop or conspiracy or forensic or history procedural buffs who require their minutia fix. But by and large is it necessary? Like me and Moby Dick as a whaling how-to. I don’t care. Get to the whale. I ran into this issue writing about musicians. No way did I get off into a band futzing with the minutia of setting up, or brand names of things. Why? A very long time ago I learned, as a synthesizer clinician, all most people wanted to do was have fun. “Is that not the wettest, fattest most badass bass sound you ever heard?” “Check it out. We just wrote a song using nothing more complicated than an eighth note!” “Dig this!” I did a clinic tour of Mexico (more than one) and before I went the first time they asked, explicitly, that I NOT be another one of the legion of El Lay shit-jazzers and make jokes about how some sound was used in a US car commercial. So I wasn’t that guy. I played a couple of top Spanish language radio tunes and had them find me a chick singer in every town we hit who wanted to be Gloria Estefan and we tore it up.

Yeah, there will always the pocket protector guys in the back who want to discuss quantize resolution on the knobs or the sequencer, or what sort of quark drive did the Foonblat’s use to get to Boredom Outpost 417-a, but most people just want to make noise or read and have fun. Which is why, even in dystopian made up worlds, ease off the jargon. “Set your phasers to stun” is plenty. The fact that it fits in a holster and stops naughty aliens (most of the time) is enough. Have the creepy mechanic look under the hood, fan the steam, lick his lips and say “May take a day or two to get the parts. Ma’am.” Instead of going off into alternators and muffler bearings. My .02.

Standards update – These two things communicate the same information. The USB obviously communicates all sorts of information.

For size and the cost of a plug a majority of new tactile music controllers/input devices only come with USB. Because of course you’re going to use a computer, numb nuts. Everyone does. Let your computing device sort it out for you. What? You just want to plug this USB only controller into a MIDI device and play. No computer/phone/tablet? Even if the MIDI device is a computer masquerading as a musical instrument? Sorry. You need a host to MIDI box. Sixty to a hundred bucks. One unit at a time, no hub. Why? Computers sort out hubs, fool. Until – Thank God for someone paying attention to the market – This bad boy.

Not only does it host USB to MIDI, no computer (up to 8 devices) it plugs into a PC, a MAC and an iOS device and tells them all about it. All three at the same time! Or three of the same thing! Incredible! I watched a video of someone I trust using it, and I looked at the busier than hell breakout graphic above and BAM. It’s not free, but at least instead of shoving us into a box, it rips the flaps back and says “Outta the box, make noise any way you want.” Way cool. Too bad we can’t write like that and get away with it. Or can we?

 

 

Looney Lunes #138

It all depends on where you’re standing

BLUE SKIES UNLESS IT’S CLOUDY

Headline, San Franciso Chronicle

Nowhere is that more true than NorCal. Where, in a quarter of a mile, you can go from sunny and warm and t-shirt to cloudy and cold and jacket.

Mini – When a Little is a Lot

I swore I wouldn’t do the music thing on this blog. Too late now. The device in the picture above saved, and changed my life in 1973. Mine was Mini Moog Model D #1273. I can remember that, but the rest of the mid 70s? Regardless, it’s now $4.99 on the app store. From Moog Music.

Enormous debate rages among purists over whether old is better than new, if software emulations are really any good. Dr. Bob took Arturia to task when they brought him their software version, showed them what a real one looked like on a scope, told them when they had that to come back and he’d sign off on it. They did. I have their app as well. And Moog’s Model 15 Modular. But, as anyone who ever owned one will tell you, ain’t nothin’ a Mini but a Mini.

Here’s the deal on that debate. I spent an afternoon a thousand years ago with Dr. Tom Rhea, the man who wrote the original Mini Moog manual. The book I was unable to understand when I bought my Mini. Oscillators? Modifiers? Huh?Who cares, when I do this it sounds like seagulls, and, dig this, now they’re tympani! Add an echo? Gone, baby gone.

What I learned from Dr. Tom was that no two instruments are ever the same, whether they’re made out of dead wood and wire or transistors and wire. He proved that to me by the two of us playing a dozen different Moogs in three product categories. Wetter, warmer, grittier, brighter, buzzier, tighter, sloppier. No two instruments were the same, no two pitch wheels or ribbons behaved the same way. All musical instruments are like snowflakes and fingerprints that way. But without all the side by side they were very similar, and with a little tweak one could be the other. Almost. An Earth Wind and Fire funk bass or an ELP lead could be had, though, without differentiating between is it “real or is it Memorex.” Old or new. Mini is Mini.

And the other noises this thing makes? Some may be similar and/or predictable, but never the same. Unless you save the program, something we couldn’t do in ’73. I often wonder about that. A couple of days down the road even now, you reload a patch and think, “Hmmm, that’s not quite what I thought it was…” Probably because your head is in a different place, or the humidity is up, or…

After 45 years of hearing them, I find the arguments pointless. An instrument is an instrument. I plugged a USB controller into my iPhone, loaded up this $4.99 app and went down Alice’s magic rabbit hole until the battery died. Does “my” new Mini sound any different than everybody else who will download one? I don’t know. How tight are Apple’s tolerance specs? Do I care? No. Because this app behaves like the real deal, isn’t $3,500 like a “new” one, or $7,000 like a “vintage” one, or even the $1,491 in 1973 dollars I paid for my original. Or the roughly $400 for a “boutique” clone or the damn single oscillator Moog Mother 32 I own that drifts worse than a circa 1970’s model.

Why do I mention this? Because as soon as my phone is charged I’m gone down the rabbit hole. Again. If I don’t come back I’m the guy under the bridge with headphones, a solar phone charging hat and a “Wil Mak Space Noyzs 4 Fud” sign. It may not be real, but it’s all that for me. I’d say maybe if I stay under the ‘phones long enough the mid 70’s will come back to me. Nah. And I wouldn’t want them to. “I was so much older then. I’m younger than that now.”