Missing Fiona Apple

I recently tried to do business with a record-of-the-month club called Vinyl Me Please. It was their idea, not mine. They sent me an email telling me about their featured record of the month. It was Tidal by Fiona Apple. She was all over the radio and MTV when I was a teenager. She’s a slender goddess with sullen blue eyes and large, sensuous lips. I loved her. I still do. “Shadow Boxer” is my favorite Fiona Apple song. It’s a slow, dark, dreary piano ballad. I listened to it on an airplane in the summer of 1998 while I was soaring over the Atlantic Ocean in the dead of night on my way to Germany.

Sweet, sweet memories.

I grew up listening to tapes and CDs, not records. My first CD was Higher Ground by UB40. I got it for Christmas when I was 12 years old. I listened to it in my bedroom while eating miniature Reese’s Cups. I still have most of those tapes and CDs from my childhood. They’re precious. They’re like dear old friends.

A few years ago, Jack White released Lazaretto on vinyl. The surface of the record features an angel hologram. The angel twirls in circles as the record turns. It’s beautiful and bizarre. Like so many other people, I fell in love with vinyl after seeing YouTube videos of the angel hologram. Records amaze me. There are no microchips or laser beams involved. Just grooves and a needle. It’s like magic. Not only do records actually work, they sound deeper and sharper than CDs. It’s like watching a movie in IMAX. Since I grew up listening to my favorite music on cassettes and CDs, it’s amazing to buy those same albums on vinyl and listen to them again.

When Vinyl Me Please sent me the email telling me about the Fiona Apple record, I eagerly rushed to their website to sign up.

But I couldn’t sign up. After inviting me to join, Vinyl Me Please rejected my credit card number. Over and over again. There’s nothing wrong with my credit card, mind you. I want to make that clear. I order items all the time from eBay, Amazon, and Third Man Records. They don’t have any problem taking my credit card. But Vinyl Me Please persistently rejected it.

Do you know what it’s like when you’re thirsty and you slide a dollar bill into a vending machine … and the vending machine spits the dollar bill back out at you? No matter how many times you rub the wrinkles out of the dollar bill, the stubborn machine refuses to accept it. It’s a nerve-wracking feeling. Makes your blood pressure surge. Makes you hate the world.

That’s exactly how I felt when Vinyl Me Please rejected my credit card number.

Finally, I sent an email to customer service. I explained the situation.

A couple of days later, they replied. They said my credit card number had gotten caught up in their “fraud system.” But the problem was all sorted out, they said. My payment had finally managed to get through.

Actually, two of my payment attempts had gone through. Unfortunately, both of those payments went through after the monthly deadline.

So now Vinyl Me Please is sending me two records in the mail.

But neither one of them is Fiona Apple.

If you’ll excuse me, I need to go to the kitchen now and hurl plates at the wall.

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Visiting David Bowie

A few weeks ago, I dreamed David Bowie hadn’t really died after all. He was actually working as a night shift supervisor at the local textile mill. In the dream, I eagerly drove to the mill at sunset and found him sitting inside a dimly lit office, staring at the wall with his mouth hanging open. I sat down in front of him and handed him my copy of Blackstar. I asked him to autograph it for me. But he just held the record in his hands, gazing down at it like he’d never seen it before. He was dazed and disoriented, like an Alzheimer’s patient in a nursing home. He mumbled something about cleaning out his office and going home to die. Then I leaned forward and pointed at the record, desperately trying to get through to him. I told him it was his record, that he had made it. He smiled a little bit but didn’t say anything. He was still spaced out and detached.

And that’s how the dream ended. It was disappointing and unsettling … but it was fun to talk to him for a minute. Wish he’d pop up again. I still haven’t gotten over his death.

Anyway, enough of that. Sorry I haven’t blogged much lately. I got busy promoting my new book …. and then I tried to start a comic strip …. but my passion for drawing comic strips isn’t as strong as my passion for other things — like writing books and drawing portraits. I just didn’t have enough fuel inside me to keep pursuing it. Some people (like Carl D’Agostino and Mark Armstrong) have a certain zeal for cartooning. They can keep on creating them without ever getting tired. But I’m not like that. I just shrugged and tossed that stuff in a drawer. Right now, I’m scribbling down some ideas for a new book. I feel good about it.

I hope you’re all doing well in your own little corners of the world, wherever you may be. I hope those of you in Florida are staying cool. And I hope you’re staying warm in Australia, Mabel.

Cheers.

 

Delving into my new sketchbook

My sister gave me a new sketchbook for my 35th birthday. Here’s one of the first pictures I’ve drawn in it. This is Anna Keating, the lady in charge of Sound Stage Direct, an online store that I’ve ordered a few records from. It’s fun to do business with her.

I haven’t posted much on here lately because I’ve been busy kicking around ideas for a cartoon strip and working on a new book. The new book isn’t fiction. It’s more like a giant blog post … and therefore, I’ve been pouring most of my “essay energy” into that rather than the blog. Sorry I haven’t been as sociable on Word Press lately. I feel a little bit rotten about that. I hope you’re all doing well. And I hope you have a great Christmas/holiday season.

New record


Several months ago, I bought a record player and started collecting vinyl. I buy old records at the pawn shop near my apartment (one of them is Walter Cronkite discussing the highlights of 1959 … another is a Colonel Sanders Christmas record) but I also order brand new records from online stores. Last week, I got Flood by They Might Be Giants. Flood originally came out in 1991, but they just re-released it on green vinyl. It’s one of the most beautiful records I’ve seen so far. And it’s nice to listen to these songs again, songs that I was obsessed with in middle school. I love the whole album, but my favorite songs are Birdhouse In Your Soul and Istanbul and Road Movie To Berlin.

Coffee with Jack White

I’m still hammering away on my new novel, but I took a break from it over the weekend and drew a picture of myself drinking coffee with my favorite musician, Jack White. This image popped into my mind the other night at work and I had to sit down and draw it. I hope you’re doing well. Have a nice weekend. I’ll write more later.

Lillie Mae Rische

My job has really taken a bite out of my drawing time lately, but I’m still able to sit down and do some sketching on Sunday evenings. I drew a picture of the Noid, a character from the old Domino’s Pizza commercials, last Sunday. This time, I drew Lillie Mae Rische, Jack White’s fiddle player. I bought his new CD last week while I was buying groceries and I’ve been listening to it over and over again. One of my favorite songs is Temporary Ground, where Lillie Mae sings and plays the fiddle. They performed this song on the Conan O’Brien show recently. It was brilliant. I liked their old-fashioned microphones and their matching silver instruments. I hope you all have a nice week.

“Great Day,” by Paul McCartney

I heard this song in a credit card commercial tonight. A warm, sentimental feeling washed over me. It was like running into an old friend I haven’t seen in a long time. I bought the CD, “Flaming Pie,” when it was released in 1997. One song on the CD, “The World Tonight,” got plenty of exposure on the radio, but then the album faded into obscurity. That’s the way it seemed to me, anyway.

I just dragged it out and listened to it in the car a few months ago, actually. A couple of the songs have lost their flavor, but most of them hold up very well. “Young Boy” is still excellent. “Heaven on a Sunday” continues to push my emotional buttons as well. “Souvenir” almost makes me cry.

Maybe I’m wrong, but I always felt like this CD was overlooked and underrated. That’s why I was delighted to hear “Great Day” again. I’m glad someone remembers it besides me … and Paul McCartney.

 

(My novel, Under the Electric Sun, is available on Amazon. The main character is a cybernetic raccoon named Tristan. The story takes place in the future, in a high-tech underground city beneath the ruins of Washington, DC. You can click here to download it.)

You Don’t Know What Love Is

I recently learned how to embed a video in a blog rather than just a link. I think a window with a video playing inside it looks SO MUCH better than a string of letters, numbers, punctuation marks, and “equal” signs. I feel like I’ve moved up in the world now.

Here’s one of my favorite White Stripes videos. This one is called “You Don’t Know What Love Is.” It’s on the “Icky Thump” CD from 2007. Jack White is one of my heroes. I still have a Marlboro pack he signed for me in Atlanta back in 2006.

 

Rhyan’s music box

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Lately, my co-worker has been jamming out to 90s music on Pandora. He works right beside me, just a few feet away, so I hear every song over the groaning and screeching of ancient machinery. Rhyan, the co-worker I’m referring to, is 21 years old. I’m 33, so I have a different relationship with the music. I have plenty of not-so-old memories of driving around in a ’76 Monte Carlo, listening to Nirvana, Third Eye Blind, Semi Sonic, Fastball, Ben Folds Five, and Eagle Eye Cherry. But Rhyan is probably too young to remember when all this stuff was fresh and brand-new. To him, the songs are just remnants of some bye-gone era in the distant past … the way I think of Woodstock music, for example.

 As I hear these 90s songs, I feel like I should be guzzling Surge, discussing the special effects in “Titanic,” getting ready for my school trip to Germany, and drawing T-shirt designs at a little printing company called Vision Graphics. (You’ve probably never heard of Vision Graphics, I know, but I worked there in the afternoons when I was in high school. It was an integral part of my youth.)

I already spend a lot of time reminiscing about the 90s anyway, with or without Rhyan’s high-tech music box. I’m not sure exactly when it happened, but some time in the middle of my 20s, I started thinking about the past more and more, savoring my memories of the 80s — memories of Alf, the California Raisins, Super Mario Brothers, and Ronald Reagan’s grandfather-like persona.

Now the 90s are beginning to take on that same dreamy sparkle.

There’s something very dangerous about nostalgia, though. If I spend too much time reflecting on the past, I’m going to miss the present. I have to keep reminding myself of this. My friend Hannah told me the other day that nostalgia is “quicksand covered with leaves.”

Not too long ago, while Rhyan’s music box was playing “Smells Like Teen Spirit” for the fourth time in one day, my mind floated back to 1996. Then I suddnely remembered a quote from James Herriot. I read it once when I was a kid and it has always stuck with me:

“It’s not good to live in the past, but it’s OK to visit it from time to time.”

Good advice.

British Invasion

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I was looking for Jack White’s CD Blunderbuss at Wal-Mart the other day. Unfortunately, I didn’t see it — but I had already made up my mind to buy some new music. I can only fit a limited number of CDs inside the armrest console in my car and I’m tired of listening to most of them. And good radio stations are becoming more and more scarce.

After pacing back and forth in front of the shelf, digging through all the CDs that weren’t in alphabetical order, I discovered Mod Hits: 60s British Invasion.

I grew up listening to “oldies” music (mostly British Invasion and Motown, I recall) on a station called Q 102 in Rome, Georgia. The station still exists, but it specializes in Top 40 songs now. It recently occurred to me that there are no oldies stations anymore. (Not in the area where I live, anyway.) Somewhere along the way, the “oldies” stations evolved into “classic rock” stations, playing a lot of Led Zeppelin and Jimi Hendrix, along with 80s hair bands and a light sprinkling of 90s grunge. I love and respect all of that music. Please don’t think I’m trashing any of it. But I’ve found myself missing the “older oldies” lately, if I can coin such a silly phrase. There’s something more innocent about that music.

When I popped the Mod Hits CD into my dashboard in the Wal-Mart parking lot, it was like sitting down and chatting with an old friend. A warm feeling came over me. My heart fluttered. My eyes twinkled. I nearly crashed into a stray buggy.

There’s a version of Always Something There to Remind Me on the CD, recorded by Sandie Shaw. That one surprised me. All my life, I’ve heard the version Naked Eyes recorded in the early 80s. I had no idea it was a cover. I looked it up on Wikipedia and learned that Sandie Shaw’s version isn’t even the first one — but it’s my favorite.

You can click here to order my novels, Citizens of Purgatory and Under the Electric Sun, from Amazon.