Sunday, February 11, 2007

The Red Era: 1994 - 1995

In 1993 my JET Program(me) contract hit the three-year limit, and my tour of duty with the Ibaraki public school system came to a merciful end. That's when the real adventure began. Ironically, I had been promised a job at Ye Olde Academy, but it turned out to be a hoax just a couple of weeks before both my JET contract and my visa were due to expire. Needless to say, both I and my fiance (now fortunately my wife) were at wit's end. Then, like a miracle, I was given a surprise phone call by a fellow JET participant saying, "I know you're going to be working at [Ye Olde Academy], but just in case there's a change, my husband's school is looking for a new teacher." That started my stint with the English school owned and run by Kashima Oil Company. Ironically, I vowed never to have anything to do with Ye Olde Academy ever again. I never dreamed I'd wind up working there on a more or less permanent basis four years later!

Life from late '93 was a very different animal from before. The intrusive and overprotective yoke of the public school system was gone. I was living in a real flat which I had chosen myself rather than a government-subsidized (read "old and crappy") dormitory. I had a car which I was able to drive when and where I liked without need of secrecy or a guilty conscience. Lower income meant I had to be a bit more careful, but at least I was fully in charge of my own life.

The music I produced during the late '93 to '95 period reflects the freedom and optimism I was feeling at the time. Of course, there was also my getting married in late '94...:-)

Truth vs. Fame (1995)

1. No Lyrics
2. Just a Game
3. I'll Be There
4. PUD
5. Pumpkin?
6. Sample Basket Case
7. Left to Blow Away
8. The Last Dragon
9. Truth of You
10. The Princess
11. The Ballad of Helpful Randy
12. Brain-Dead Pop Song
13. Almost There
14. And I Pity You

This album basically picked up where Acerola Cola????!? left off. Mostly cheerful and at times downright silly, Truth vs. Fame nevertheless had an underlying theme of uncertainty, particularly the difficulty in resolving what one wants to be with what one should be. In fact, I was having a bit of trouble reconciling my newly-inspired spiritual concerns with material realities. Things were happening in the world that didn't make it any easier. This is probably the last all-analog album I made that I really feel good about.

"No Lyrics" - The album starts with this nice, naive bit of cheerfulness. I've always liked this tune for some reason.

"The Last Dragon" - This "philosophical fantasy" song was actually written by Don (Snabulus), though he refuses to take any credit for it. One day back in our early college days I was playing my guitar, and he suddenly started naming off chords at random. I played them, and next thing we knew we had this song. Quite a prolific poet at the time, he wrote the lyrics, too. I have performed this tune live many times, usually as a solo acoustic number.

"Truth of You" - Many people have named this as a favorite. The lyrics speak for themselves...the whole theme of the album. Incidentally, this is the first song in which I experimented with running a single guitar through multiple tracks, each using different effects, for a layered sound. ("You, Me, We" on the Phases of Matter album is an even better example of this...and is stylistically similar.)

"The Ballad of Helpful Randy" - One day Andy (as in Andy's Arda) handed me a page of lyrics and said, "Can you make a song out of this?" Apparently he'd heard it in a dream or something. I made the song, and it's loads of fun!

From the Bottom Drawer (1995)

1. Kinetic Oscillation
2. Man Killer
3. Not Just White
4. Seymour Deth
5. Summer Camp Song
6. Green Visions
7. Drill Sergeants
8. Another Man's Woman (for Another Man's Eyes)
9. Fog on the Horizon
10. Another Day
11. Pros and Cons of Love
12. A Bit o' Sentiment
13. Homebrewer's Lament
14. Oregon
15. Glass Walls
16. Freestyle

Right after I finished Acerola Cola?????!? I realized I had several notebooks full of songs I'd written in my high school and college days but had never really used. Then I had an idea: why not record some of those "golden oldies"? In fact, why not make an album dedicated to them?

Well, it seemed like a good idea at the time, and it was fun to make, but...this is definitely NOT one of my brighter moments. Part of the problem was that it was all so rushed. Had I taken a bit more time (and used a slower tempo on some of the tunes), well...maybe I should try again. Hey! Why don't I...(QUICK!!!! SOMEBODY SLAP ME!!!!!)

"Another Man's Woman" - (I'll take these songs in reverse chronological order so you won't run away after the first one.) "Another Man's Woman" was written during my first year at Oregon State, though the tune was actually cobbled together out of recycled bits of much older ones. I had a bad habit of falling for women I had no chance with (while ignoring the ones that were interested in me). In this case one of my friends (Don Snabulus, actually) tried to fix me up with a really cool girl he knew, but she was only interested in friendship. You see, she only had an eye for big guys in denim...who invariably treated her like crap. It was bloody frustrating. Incidentally, the original title of this song was "Big Guys in Denim", and the chorus was different, but someone recommended that I change it so no one would get the wrong idea about my sexual orientation.

"Seymour Deth" - Do you know my pal Seymour? (He often comments on my regular blog.) Well, in our late high school days he came up with a RPG character named (wait for it...) Seymour Deth. He was an instant hit, and he remained famous clear up until...well, until now! A mutual friend of ours named CH tried to write a theme song for the Seymour Deth character which was corny and portrayed him in totally the wrong way. CH handed Seymour (the person) the lyrics and cheerfully asked, "What do you think? Huh? Huh?" Seymour looked at the lyrics, made a face, and quietly threw the paper on the fire. (I'll never forget the look on poor CH's face!) I took that as a challenge to try to make a better theme song. This is the result, and to this day I have never showed Seymour the lyrics! Incidentally, Seymour played bass clarinet in high school, so I put a bass clarinet solo (played on my wind synth) in the middle.

"Oregon" - The idea for this song popped into my head while I was hiking in the Cascades. It is one of very few songs from my high school days that I've played live at all, let alone several times. BTW, the phrase "Come here to visit, but for God's sake don't come here to live," was originally said by former Oregon governor Tom McCall. Later governors tried to scoop kitty litter over it in order to promote economic growth (read "sell us out to the Californians"), but I hold that statement dear.

"Man Killer" - WARNING: CONTAINS PROFANITY (AND IS JUST PLAIN STUPID). Please just give this a cursory listen and then forget the whole thing. When we were in the 9th grade, I (on guitar), Pa've (on bass), and Don Snabulus (on lead vocals) formed something that could maybe be called a band. We went through several name changes, and a number of other members came and went, most of them drummers. I used my father's folk guitar until I finally got my first electric. Pa've first used a very cheap bass, and then he started building his own...all running through amps which were also of his own construction. Don just sang as best he could. In a word, we sucked, and we knew it, but we had a good time. We jammed on songs by Judas Priest and a few other groups that were popular at the time, but we also enjoyed coming up with our own originals. The best were ones that Pa've and I co-wrote (and he still refuses to give me permission to record), but we each had plenty of our own. Most of them have vanished into the mists of time. This one, one of my first, was (unfortunately) notorious enough to remain in memory. It was dedicated to (surprise, surprise) a girl that had really pissed me off. I present it here only for the sake of historical novelty. I recorded it the way I originally imagined it all those years ago...and the opening guitar sound is an approximation of what that Guyatone amp I used in my high school daze days sounded like when cranked up. I only wish our band had sounded half that tight...

Acerola Cola????!? (1994)

1. A Tatami Tale
2. End of the Day
3. Yours Is Mine
4. Let's Be Greedy
5. What You're Thinking
6. Mo!
7. Mid-Morning Mantra
8. Yakisoba
9. Inclination
10. Radio ZRDO
11. Unhip Alternative
12. Acerola Madrigal
13. What's In This Stuff?

One day, during one of my many visits to Kashima Shrine, I was walking by a row of vending machines when something strange caught my eye. One of the machines included, among other things, a plain, burgundy-colored can labeled "Acerola Cola". I had never heard of such a thing, and it seemed too bizarre to pass up. I tried it, and it tasted, well, like cola with acerola berries. Not only did I never see it again after that, but no one I know here in Japan has ever even heard of it. Some of them insist to this day that I imagined the whole thing.

This album is probably the all around best from my analog period, though it does have its flaws. There's plenty of humor and Moody Minstrelish sarcasm to be found here, but there are also hints of sentiment and romantic melancholy as this was the time my fiance and I were trying to convince her father to let us get married...and debating eloping if he didn't.

"What You're Thinking" - I was heavily involved in various music-related activities in addition to my home studio. My job also required long hours and sometimes a long commute. That didn't make my fiance very happy. She often complained that I had no idea what she was thinking or feeling. I wrote this song to show that I did. Basically, I'm singing her thoughts.

"Mo!" - Japanese, women in particular, often cry, "MO!!!!!" when they're frustrated, irritated, or exposed to something very silly. This tune is definitely very silly.

"Let's Be Greedy" - For a few years after coming to Japan I continued to receive an alumni newsletter from Oregon State. The early '90s was the time of the big property tax controversy in Oregon (ominous low string power chord) that led to the infamous Measure Five (loud diminished 7th chord). It amounted to an 80% property tax cut implemented in stages over five years with no alternate funding provided. Since OSU and all of Oregon's public schools received most of their funding from property taxes, it was a matter of grave concern to the university. No surprise, therefore, that the opinion pages of the alumni paper were constantly flooded with comments concerning Measure 5 and its projected effects. However, since OSU has always tended to be rather conservative, the overwhelming majority of the commentors were very much in favor of the tax cut. Some of the things that were said made sense. A lot, however, was a load of short-sightedness, apathy, naivete, and just plain hypocrisy that defied all logic. (One of my "favorites" was a woman who said something along the lines of, "If property taxes continue at this rate, I might have to give up one or both of my vacation homes. Why should I have to change my lifestyle just to keep schools and parks running?" Yippee-ya-yay, God bless the Land of the Free!) In this song I quoted a little, paraphrased a lot, and enjoyed a bit of artistic license, but it's not far from what people were actually saying! It was fun to make, at any rate...and I'm almost thankful I was here instead of there, so I didn't have to deal with it!

"Radio ZRDO" - This is by far the most famous work on the album and one of my most memorable recordings ever. A spoof radio program was something I'd always wanted to try. It contains a number of inside jokes, so don't worry if you don't understand. I'm seriously tempted to make a full Radio ZRDO album or something. Who knows?

"Acerola Madrigal" - Alright...people seem to like this album, so I'll toss in one more track. Something I used to do a lot in my analog days was spontaneous composition. I'd record five minutes or so of metronome click track without any plan in mind. Then I would improvise a series of segments of melody or rhythm and mix it all down onto one "root track". Once that was done, I'd listen back, decide what to do with each part, and flesh it all out using the other tracks...and a lot of "ping-ponging". (Sometimes I'd have as many as 16 separate parts going at once...on one 4-track recorder!) "Acerola Madrigal" is such a piece. I started with that first recorder melody and ad-libbed from there, tossing in the "Acerola Cola" theme on occasion. Since it's an instrumental, I made heavy use of my wind synth, which I rarely touch anymore. Several people have told me they like this one, and I figure it's a good example of my spontaneous composition from this period, so here it is.


Pandabonium said...

While waiting for a couple of these tunes to download, I used "the google" and found this site:Acerola Cola, from Suntory.


Pandabonium said...

ZRDO reminds me of some (weird) tapes I made in college, back in the day of reel to reel tape recorders.

Acerola Madrigal is a lot of fun. What a trip in middle with the chimes and guiro sound. I think the Flying Eggheads should play this. Really.

The Moody Minstrel said...

Huh....Suntory is marketing Acerola Cola, then? That's interesting!

Notice that the release date is in 1996. It was 1993 when I found that can in that vending machine. The can pictured on that site is also a lot fancier than the plain burgundy-with-silver-letters thing I found.

I don't remember the brand name. Maybe it was Suntory. Maybe it was Dydo. Maybe it was Skilgnarbian Bludjnorks. Hard to say. Obviously I was an unwitting test market subject.

I'll have to see if I can find some somewhere...

Pandabonium said...

Having looked again, that site is a cola "museum" so acerola cola is perhaps no longer available. suntory has canned for coca-cola and pepsi. very confusing. Perhaps it was all a dream.

I notice you ignored my suggestion of having Acerola Madrigal performed live. OK - your call.

The Moody Minstrel said...

I'll have to think about it...though arranging it might be a bit difficult. We're a bit underhanded in the percussion section, and I'm not sure what to do about the sho part.

Don Snabulus said...

Let's just agree that I was Neil Peart and possibly Terry Brown and you were Geddy Lee and Alex Lifeson.


DewKid said...

And now, a palindrome:

Dell Acerola Cola Recalled

DewKid said...

(okay, it's not perfect, but hey!)