Friday, February 2, 2007

The Green Era: 1990 - 1992

I had my first experience with studio recording back in 1984 when my friend Dave used me as a guinea pig for his studio recording class. Together with a couple of other musicians I knew, we recorded a song of mine called "Song of the Sea Kings". It was a mixed success (i.e. I did the vocals with a blown voice, so my singing was pretty bad) but it was an important first step. Later, in 1989, Dave came to visit with a Tascam 4-track cassette deck, and we spent a full day recording a few of my tunes. The result was a tape that I foisted on a number of people I knew. That work sounds pretty embarrassing now, but it got me interested in putting together a home studio of my own.

In late July 1990 I arrived in Kashima, Japan to start what was intended to be a two-year stint as an Assistant Language Teacher (ALT). It was not intended to be just an adventure, but also a means to a number of ends, one of the most important of which was advancing my musical "career". When I got my first paycheck in August I bought a cheap Casio keyboard and a Victor karaoke mike at an electronics store near my flat. In September, with the coming of my second paycheck (and a bit more security with my living situation), I went up to Mito and bought a Yamaha 4-track cassette recorder. Two weeks and a few experimental recordings later I bought my bass, which was followed a short time later by my "Yamacaster" electric guitar and a couple of Boss effectors. The studio setup I had then, if you could call it that, seems like a pathetic joke compared with what I have now, but it still allowed me to get started putting my musical ideas on tape. It wasn't long before I started putting those works together into albums, only available on cassette in those days, and sending them around to people. The positive responses I got encouraged me to keep going, adding and improving as I went along.

Out of the Cold (1992)

1. Center of Your Own World
2. Pantheon pt. I
3. Pantheon pt. II
4. Impasse Adventure Series
5. It's Snowing in Kamisu
6. Now
7. And Then
8. So Profound
9. Never Getting Better
10. Entropy
11. Wind My Soul Up Again
12. Oregon Weather
13. Mo Ikkai Anata Da

There is a bit of overlap between this album and Hirokawa Gakuen, above, but all of the songs were recorded while I was living in the little house in Kashima. This was a time when both the fact of my "gaijin-ness" and my isolation started getting to me. There were two significant events related to that that had a profound effect on the music. One was a student at one of my schools who had a strong crush on me. My Japanese coworkers there encouraged me to go out with her. I admit that I was sorely tempted to do so, but in the end my conscience wouldn't allow it. My Japanese coworkers accused me of being gay, the girl turned against me, and I felt rather depressed about the whole thing. About the same time all that was happening, however, the principal of one of my visit schools asked me to give free English lessons to his "child". I assumed it was either a grade school or junior high student. It turned out to be a woman in her twenties. It wasn't long before we became friends. It wasn't much longer until we were romantically involved. (We were married two years later...and still are.)

Center of Your Own World - This monstrosity of a song was actually one of the first tunes I wrote and recorded here in Japan. However, I (and others) liked the song so much, and the recording was so pathetic, that I remade it. This is the second version. I kept it mostly true to the original. It's one of the last tunes in which I used the Casio keyboard, which was replaced by a Yamaha synth soon afterward, but I used a Roland drum machine instead of the corny-sounding Casio drums (thank goodness).

Incidentally, there have been some misunderstandings as to the song's intent. It is NOT meant to be an attack on religion...though it is very much an attack on hypocrisy. During the last week or so before I came to Japan I stayed in a flat in Corvallis (my college town). During that time I saw a lot of a Japanese woman named Kyoko, who was a good friend of mine. We had both suffered a recent crisis. In my case I had just come off of yet another romantic episode that had started well but ended in a sudden, mind-boggling heartbreak. In her case she had been suddenly dumped by her (Catholic) fiance, kicked out of her (unofficially Baptist) co-op house, and ditched by her hitherto close circle of (born-again Christian) friends because of her refusal to convert to Christianity. (I had experienced something VERY similar in my high school days, so I could sympathize, though her case was much worse.) We gave each other a lot of very meaningful words of comfort during that last week before I left. This song summarizes and sometimes quotes directly what we said to each other. The phrase, "You're the center of your own world, no one else can be," was actually Kyoko's.

Pantheon pt. II - It isn't hard to tell that this song was inspired by the women that were keeping my limbic system in turmoil. It is interesting to note that the musical style is very obviously influenced by late 80s/early 90s Britpop, which had been introduced to me during that time by the "student" who soon became my girlfriend (and later my wife).

And Then - And then...another Britpop-influenced tune! The title comes from the fact that it was a follow-up to a totally different tune called "Now". After all those weeks of argument between my ego, id, superego, memories, denial, and reality, I had finally settled into something very good.

Never Getting Better - Here's an acoustic number that has been named as a favorite by some despite its rather negative outlook on life. (People were listening to this tune at a party once, and one of my friends said, "Ah, this is a good song. Most of [Moody's] are. But never, ever listen to the lyrics or it'll make you depressed!) I actually got the inspiration for it when I was watching the movie "Dances With Wolves" and a news report came on telling of an ethnic massacre somewhere in the "civilized" world.

Civilized my arse...

Oregon Weather - Okay, I'll include this short instrumental just because I've always liked it. It was one of the first tunes that I did featuring the Yamaha synth, though it also features my 12-string guitar.

Zirdo Now (1991)

1. Gunst
2. Inner Duality
3. Pyrex Jungle
4. Clackamette
5. Goon's Circus
6. Balkan Jig
7. A Matter of Time
8. Backroad Adventure
9. Alien
10. O Mama Luna
11. Together We Shall Go
12. Attitude Inversion
13. Various Geometric Figures Dance
14. Kyrie & Postlude

When I first started transferring my old tape albums to CD this was the earliest collection I was willing to make public. By the time of these recordings I had accumulated enough gear and know-how to produce works I could really feel good about. They still sound kind of silly compared to what I do nowadays, but some of these tunes are classics. I could hardly imagine remaking them simply because they have become part of the world just as they are.

Incidentally, the album title "Zirdo Now!" is an old joke dating from my early college days. There was a religious graffiti war in progress on a poster in the music building. I was really annoyed with the whole thing, so I injected the totally random and utterly meaningless phrase, "Zirdo now!" into it. The graffiti war came to a dead stop for a while, but then it started up again with people arguing for or against "zirdo"! I did something similar with the same word later at Oregon State, and the same thing happened. No one had any idea what "zirdo" was (because it wasn't anything!) but they were still willing to take sides and fight for or against it! What does THAT tell you about human nature?

I found out later that "zirdo" means "I am" in Enochian, the language supposedly spoken by the angels (which is why there's an angel on the album cover). Interesting coincidence...or is it?

Pyrex Jungle - [Inside joke alert!] Back in my high school days I started writing theme songs for each of my friends (and even a couple of people I didn't like) at the time. Most of them weren't serious efforts, and nothing much came of them. A few, however, were completed and actually performed live, including one I penned in 1988 to play at a memorial in honor of a friend who had just died of leukemia. Those three tunes became the so-called "Epic Trilogy". In 1991, when I was satisfied that my capabilities were good enough, I recorded the "Epic Trilogy". (It was included on the tape version of Zirdo Now and on a tribute compilation Don Snabulus made soon afterward in honor of our lost friend, but I left it off the CD because I intend to remake it in 2008.) That got me started thinking about other friends of mine who didn't have themes yet. I made and recorded several but wasn't satisfied with most of them. "Pyrex Jungle" is one of very few that made it to the CD.

This song is dedicated to none other than my friend Dewkid. Naturally, as a theme song for a friend, it is full of inside jokes that will leave the uninitiated scratching their heads. Still, I think this song is one of the most memorable I've ever made, and though I've oft been tempted to remake it, I think this version is too much of a classic to improve, poor sound quality and sloppy playing notwithstanding!

(Did I just say "notwithstanding"?)

Clackamette - This instrumental was thrown together and recorded to break in the Fender Stratocaster I had just bought. The title comes from a park in Oregon City, where the Clackamas River joins the Willamette, which was our favorite hangout in our late high school and early college days. I still like this tune and wonder if I should remake it. (Yes, I was feeling rather homesick at the time...)

A Matter of Time - I tossed this one in because it's a personal favorite of mine and also makes good use of all the gear I had at my disposal at the time including both the Casio keyboard and the Yamaha wind synth.

Alien - Culture shock is something that usually comes and goes in semi-regular intervals during at least the first few years one lives in a foreign country. It's also different each time it hits. The first wave is simply the burnout that comes after the honeymoon has completely worn off. The second is more of a feeling of total isolation even when surrounded by lots of people, i.e. the knowledge that you'll never fit in no matter what you do. To me the latter was far, far worse. I was feeling both intensely homesick and intensely lonely, and the circus-freak sort of hero worship a gaijin can tend to get here only made things worse.

The idea of this song came while I was (surprise, surprise) riding the train to Mito surrounded by gawking and giggling students. There are two Japanese-spoken interludes that were real-life incidents: a taxi driver who just could not understand my very clear and simple Japanese because he couldn't handle the idea of a gaijin speaking his language, and students debating how to talk to me in English only to panic and run away when I said hello. This is followed by station announcements one always heard when riding that particular train line. I actually used this song for listening comprehension practice in one of my classes, and it made a couple of students cry.

Together We Shall Go - Just to end on a happier note, here's something I don't do very often, a romantic song.

The (de)Formative Years (1991)

1. Kacho-San
2. Wakannai (v. 1)
3. Party Crowd
4. Daily Routine
5. Heckart Lodge
6. Rad World
The Call of Cthulhu:
7. Prelude/In The Box
8. Dance in the Bog
9. Castro's Confession
10. R'lyeh
11. Escape from R'lyah
12. The Colorman
13. Goodbye Chant

This is a collection of some of the representative works from my earliest home recording period. Needless to say, the quality is about as low as it can get, since I was feeling my way around in the dark with little in the way of equipment. Still, some of the songs are memorable classics. Many people still say they like these, and they do have plenty of sentimental value, so listen and accept them for what they are.

Kacho-San - This is a fairly early recording, dating from around Christmas in 1990. The fact that it's a 12-string acoustic and bass tune with Casio keyboard drums makes it a good example of my earlier style, but the appearance of my (brand new at the time) wind synth marks it as one from the 90-91 transition period. "Kacho-san" means "(department) chief" in Japanese, and the song was inspired by a true-life situation involving a friend's girlfriend and the (arrogant, belching, farting, drunk) department chief(s) that kept trying to hit on her. Par for the course in this country, at least in those days.

Rad World - In those days I was living in a government-subsidized apartment for prefectural workers. I think you can imagine how nice it wasn't. It was a crumbling, rust-and-mold-filled concrete box in the middle of the rice fields. I had lots of space...but I also had lots of unwanted company. I learned just how pesky...and how large...Japanese cockroaches can be. They're also very survivable. In fact, I've heard that cockroaches have a very high tolerance to radiation, meaning they're likely to survive a nuclear catastrophe. That was the inspiration for this song. So was the dual-speed setting of my multitrack recorder. :-)

Prelude/In The Box - This is the first two parts of the short rock opera I made inspired by H.P. Lovecraft's sci-fi horror story, "The Call of Cthulhu" as well as the Chaosium role-playing game of the same title. I actually wrote it while still in college. This tune is significant as it's one of the very first I made using a Roland drum machine instead of Casio keyboard drums. The drum part is programmed, but the keyboard parts were all played by hand since I didn't yet have a sequencer or MIDI capability. (Unfortunately, now that I rely on sequencers and MIDI, I no longer have the ability to play that tune by hand! It's a trade-off...)

I'm planning on remaking the entire 5-movement CoC rock opera, hopefully sometime soon.

The Colorman - [Inside joke alert!] I sincerely apologize for this, but I knew my friends would never forgive me if I didn't include it. Yes, this is the same Colorman who appears in the "Radio ZRDO" show on the Acerola Cola????!? album. There's a long story behind both this song and the Colorman character, and I won't bother explaining it here.

Goodbye Chant - [Inside joke alert!] There is NO WAY I'm ending this with "The Colorman", so I'll finish up with the last tune on the album, a nice (if a bit ill-timed) bit of eight-part harmony lovingly recorded on a 4-track cassette deck. Now that I've gone back to the beginning of my recording, the time has come at last to say goodbye. Goodbye!


sunshine said...

surprise to see our ZIRDO surname as your album name. we zirdo's are based in India's north-eastern part, state name called Arunachal Pradesh. we zirdo's belong to ABO-TANI clan of Arunachal Pradesh.


The Moody Minstrel said...

Welcome! And what a surprise! As I described in the post, I came up with the word "zirdo" by combining a number of words together almost at random. It was a total (and very interesting) coincidence that it happens to be your surname, and I apologize if any offense was taken! It's also an interesting coincidence that "zirdo" is said to mean "I am" in the Enochian language!