OK Computer x 10

OK Computer Cover - Wikipedia

I don’t know the exact release date, but I do know that it was right about ten years ago that I first heard OK Computer.

In May of ’97, I had just finished my MFA in Creative Writing at UNC Greensboro. But I had no job prospects. I’d had a job lined up for me at a small press out of state, run by some dear friends and mentors of mine, but money issues and a new baby made it so at the last minute, I had to turn that opportunity down. (I handled it horribly, and lost some dear friends because of it.)

My future, or my identity in a sense, felt completely unmoored. The thing I’d assumed for two years I’d be doing after finishing my degree was no longer an option; I’d fallen out of love with teaching, and didn’t really have any good opportunities to do that anyway. All I had going was this nerdy hobby I’d been obsessing on for some years: the Web.

So, I needed a job, and ended up talking my way into a technical writing gig in the registrar’s office of my MFA alma mater. I wouldn’t be editing poems and fiction for a press or a journal (as I’d gotten used to doing and thinking of myself as doing) but writing tutorials and help instructions for complicated, workaday processes and applications. But at least I’d be on the “Web Team” — helping figure out how to better use the Web for the school. I’d been working with computer applications, designing them and writing instructions for them, off and on in my side-job life while I’d been in grad school, so it wasn’t a total stretch. It just wasn’t where I imagined my career would take me.

That summer, in a fit of (possibly misplaced) optimism and generosity, my new employer sent me to a posh seminar in Orlando to learn better Photoshop skills. And one of the presenters there was the guy who made some of the most collected X-Files trading cards around, and an acknowledged wunderkind with digital mixed-media collages. (Cannot find his name…)

As I was waiting to see this guy’s presentation, and people were filing into the presentation room, he was setting up and had a slideshow of his creepy graphics going onscreen. And this spooky, ethereal, densely harmonic, splintery music was playing over the room’s speakers. I was feeling a little transfixed.

And, of course, when I asked him later what it was, he said it was Radiohead’s OK Computer.

Here’s the thing: I’d heard Radiohead interviewed on NPR by Bob Woodward about a month or so before, where they discussed the new album, the band’s methods, how they recorded most of it in Jane Seymour’s ancient country mansion. And they played clips from it throughout, and I remember thinking “wow, that’s just too over the top for me… a little too strange. I guess I won’t be getting that album — sounds like experiment for its own sake.”

It’s just one of a thousand times this has happened to me — conservative, knee-jerk reaction to something, only to come to embrace it later.

Something about this music connected with me on a deep level at that time in my life, and through a lot of things going on in my own head. It *sounded* like my own head. And, to some degree, it still does, though now I feel it’s more of a remnant of a younger self. Yet this music still feels quite right, quite relevant now, but I hear different things in it.

So. This just occurred to me. Had to share. I’m on record as a huge Radiohead fan, even though I realize this isn’t exactly a unique thing to be. I’ve found every release of theirs to be fascinating, challenging, and rewarding once it has a chance to settle in. (Not a huge fan of Thom Yorke’s solo effort, but I’m glad it’s out of his system, so to speak — then again, who knows, four years from now it may be my favorite thing ever.)

They have a new album coming out sometime this year, if all stars align correctly. Can’t wait.

NPR : Tony Trischka, Bela Fleck & Steve Martin

I love 5-string banjo. I wish I knew how to play it … maybe one day I’ll muster the patience and discipline to learn. But in the meantime, I can listen to unbelievably cool stuff like this. I can’t quite explain how happy I am to hear Steve Martin picking again … his albums where he did both the jokes and the banjo were always my favorite.

NPR : Tony Trischka Has More Than One Banjo on His Knee

Trischka’s new album, Double Banjo Bluegrass Spectacular, is billed as an “acoustic bluegrass homecoming.” Each song features a banjo duet. The list of guest musicians includes such banjo biggies as Earl Scruggs, Bela Fleck, Steve Martin (yes, the movie star) and Alison Brown.

More SL – Ben Folds, Infinite Mind & Vega guitar

I must seem Second-Life obsessed… there really are other things going on in my life. (Getting over a horrible horrible cold, for one.)

But this seems to be the week of Second Life. They just hit a million registered users … and their media coverage has hit the tipping point. It’ll be amazing if they really have the hardware to keep up.

I had the pleasure of going to a big-time media event last night. The W Hotels company was promoting their Virtual Aloft hotel prototype thing, and it was in partership with Sony promoting Ben Folds’ new album. I lucked into a ticket in their ‘lottery’ and got to go chill on the new Aloft island (and the new Sony Media island). Apparently only about 60 people were able to go (mainly because of limits on how many avatars a given ‘sim’ or region in SL can handle at a time).

At first there was dancing to your basic dance stuff, and then Ben Folds showed up and they played music from his new album. He didn’t perform it or anything, he just introduced songs and danced with us. They had some sound issues here and there, but he was a blast — he really got into the zaniness of having an avatar that allows you to do whatever you want. (Like run around shirtless with a can of Duff beer, falling all over the floor, then attacking people with a lightsaber.)

We all got to give questions to a guy beforehand that he’d ask him (they were doing the interview live at Sony BMG in NY and streaming it). Since I kept telling myself I wished my kid could see this, I put one in that I thought my daughter might ask — who is Ben’s favorite character in Over the Hedge, the movie he did the soundtrack to. Turns out it’s Hammy 🙂

ben folds secondlife 1 Ben Folds on stage Ben folds with lightsabre
Pictures (click for the big version): First one shows Ben Folds on stage greeting everyone, and me in the bottom left evidently pretending I’m a bouncer or something. Second one is a closer look at BF. Third is BF after some partying, having ‘slain’ a fan with a lightsaber somebody handed him.

What’s very strange to me about all this is that it doesn’t take long to feel like you’re really there. The avatar eventually blends into your sense of self in a powerful way, and it’s like you really did ‘go’ to an event like this.

More SL related stuff:

The Infinite Mind public radio program has had a series going on:

The Infinite Mind programs
We here at The Infinite Mind relished the opportunity to enter the 3D arena of virtual technology and within eight weeks had constructed our own 16 acre virtual broadcast center in Second Life. From our virtual studios we went on to produce live broadcasts with guests including author Kurt Vonnegut; singer/songwriter Suzanne Vega; internet visionary Howard Rheingold; and world-renowned designer John Maeda, of the MIT Media Lab, along with others who plan, build, live, work and play in on-line “virtual worlds.” The series was taped for broadcast, in front of a live audience, from inside The Infinite Mind’s virtual studios and broadcast center on Second Life.

I haven’t heard it, but I’ll listen to the podcasts (hm, I’m not sure if they have them though).

To support Suzanne Vega’s visit, they got an SL resident to construct a beautiful guitar model for her that will supposedly help her look as if she’s really playing it along with her performance. Here’s a pretty amazing video of the guy building it in-world … I suspect this is tricked out animation wise, because I can’t see that he could possibly build that fast, no matter how good he is. Still… it’s very pretty to watch: http://secondlife.com/showcase/ (that may not work later, when another showcase item is up, and they didn’t have a permalink… but you should be able to see the Quicktime version here.)

Music and Brains

I often wondered what sorts of brain chemicals were involved in music enjoyment — I’ve definitely noticed similar emotional effects between songs I enjoy (especially cranked up while driving) and other things like caffeine. Nice quick interview at Wired News about it.

WN: What are we learning about the link between music and emotion in the brain?

Levitin: Music activates the same parts of the brain and causes the same neurochemical cocktail as a lot of other pleasurable activities like orgasms or eating chocolate — or if you’re a gambler winning a bet or using drugs if you’re a drug user. Serotonin and dopamine are both involved.

Another interesting point he makes:

Levitin: (Research has shown that) if women could choose who they’d like to be impregnated by, they’d choose a rock star. There’s something about the rock star’s genes that is signaling creativity, flexibility of thinking, flexibility of mind and body, an ability to express and process emotions — not to mention that (musical talent) signals that if you can waste your time on something that has no immediate impact on food-gathering and shelter, you’ve got your food-gathering and shelter taken care of.

William Gibson on God's Little Toys

Wired 13.07: God’s Little Toys

Today, an endless, recombinant, and fundamentally social process generates countless hours of creative product (another antique term?). To say that this poses a threat to the record industry is simply comic. The record industry, though it may not know it yet, has gone the way of the record. Instead, the recombinant (the bootleg, the remix, the mash-up) has become the characteristic pivot at the turn of our two centuries.

The Believer – Interview With Smoosh

Steve Almond is a guy I knew in my MFA Program. He’s (I think) the single most published writer from our little graduating class of ten or so people. Like, he’s an actual writer, making a living as a writer (and teaching).

Anyway, this interview he did with pre-teen-ish girl band Smoosh is fun: The Believer – Interview With Smoosh … Steve seems to keep getting published in all the truly cool places.

You can read more about Steve at bbchow.com. And I can definitely recommend his book My Life in Heavy Metal … I’d recommend the others too, but I haven’t read them yet. I’m far behind. But what the heck, read them too, I’m sure they’re awesome.

U-who

An Open Letter to U2

It’s like this. U2 has made some great music, even in the last 15 years or so. But honestly, they stopped being a rock and roll band when they cancelled a chunk of their Zooropa tour because their GIANT SCREEN TV BROKE.

I’m glad somebody is posting their opinion like on the link above, though… because really, based on the sort of persona the U2 members have cultivated over the years, you’d think they would care. (I seriously doubt Radiohead would put up with this stuff, for example.)

But U2 hasn’t really been four guys in a band in quite a while. It’s been a major media force, a corporation, for years.

You’d like to think, though, wouldn’t you… that they’d not let things like “picking the pretty people from the line for the DVD taping” happen. That’s just awful.