When I was a kid, probably between ages 9 and 12, my parents used to go out every Friday night. My brother was between ages 2 and 5, and they'd put him to bed before leaving.
This was the coolest thing. Friday nights during this period were a thing to live for. After doing homework or lazing around watching afternoon cartoons, I'd eat a Kid Cuisine or some other TV dinner (lasagna or chicken enchiladas were my main jams) at like FIVE O'CLOCK, which since I was eating so early, I got to eat while watching cartoons (instead of the PBS News Hour, which was dad's preferred dinner background when mom didn't talk him into turning the TV off over dinner).
My parents would leave around 7. In Hawaii that's when ABC's TGIF started, of course. This was my only real time alone as mom worked half time and was almost always home by the time I got home from school. It was awesome. Being asked to "babysit" made me feel adult but it was literally no trouble because my bother never woke up. I got to watch sitcoms and sing and dance by myself if I wanted to. So amazing.
They'd get home after 9 (during 20/20, which I watched religiously as well) and would always bring home an ice cream treat. I'd get Baskin' Robins if they went to the Thai restaurant in Windward City Shopping Center and Häagen-Dazs ice cream bars if they went somewhere else. We'd finish up 20/20 and I'd go to bed.
Hope you enjoy your Friday as much as I enjoyed every Friday between ages 9 and 12.
It randomly occurred to me one day that the process I use to develop the images for the Electric Grandmother live show isn’t one we talk about very much. I mentioned this to Pete one day and threw out some examples of songs in which the process was specifically memorable for one reason or another and he encouraged me to write a blog about it. So here we are!
In the very beginning, we were using an actual broken slide projector we bought on eBay for like ten bucks. You had to advance the slides by manually moving the carousel while holding the button down. It said “PLEASE RETURN TO GEORGIA STATE UNIVERSITY” on it. I wasn’t previously aware that there was such a place. Because it’s expensive to produce slides, we had 3-4 images per song. Back then we also had a bubble machine and flashing lights and such as well. At the time it was easy enough to entertain people by just throwing a picture of Bob Saget on the screen for 30 seconds because these were the mid-2000s and the hilarity that ensues just remembering stuff you forgot about five years ago was self-evident.
I don’t remember many of the images I selected for songs during this era. It seems like another lifetime. Most of them, as I said, were just still frames from whatever TV show the song was about. I was limited to what I could find online, watermarks and low resolution be damned. I think that was part of its charm but I’m not sure. I do recall two songs in particular because they weren’t expressly about sitcoms. Even Columbus fans from way back probably don’t remember the first love song we ever performed, which was called “Light Glows.” It’s a really nice one on the Dickalis album. I found a bunch of cute polar bears hanging out together. The other one that stands out in my mind was the smash hit “Tom’s Girl,” which is a song about a girl that Pete’s cousin met at a fair in Virginia whom he never saw again. I remember it because it was an inspired idea and was at the same time a little cheap. The song to me evoked the same kinds of feelings the Wonder Years did for people who grew up in the 60s, of innocence and nostalgia. So I used pictures of Danica McKellar from the show during the first half of the song and then pics of her from a spread she did for Stuff magazine in her underwears, which was still pretty recent at the time. Lots of good feedback from people on that one.
This process actually got expensive because each individual slide cost money and we’d been squirreling away the cash we got from playing shows in Columbus and just a few years hence, we got ourselves a digital projector! As you’d imagine, this opened up a ton of possibilities for us. When we first got the projector I was still relying exclusively on whatever I came up with on the internet. Then I learned how to make screenshots. Then I began to use found-gifs and finally for the songs we did on Cancelled, I made my own gifs.
The process I used for analyzing a song is not all that different now than it was when we first got the projector, despite innovations since then. I first come up with a general idea. Most songs are made up of images and gifs from one or more movies or one or more TV shows. “Purple Shit” has images from several Pauly Shore movies, for example, but “Three Men and a Baby” all comes from the same source. The images I got for our cover of “Hybrid Moments” comes from episodes of a bunch of different TV shows, but all of them feature a guest appearance from another show (e.g., Gary Coleman on Silver Spoons, Jay Sherman on the Simpsons, etc.). To contrast, the images for “Fuller House” come from a bunch of different episodes of Full House (among other things). This is all decided at the outset, but I have been known to walk away from the guidelines I initially put forth if it’s not fun or interesting enough. It depends on where I feel like I can get the most relatable/interesting material.
Next, I listen to the song several times and break it down by beat or half measure or measure or sometimes several measures if I’m using animation. I map all of this out first. I used to hand-write it on paper, but now I use a spreadsheet. I probably should have switched to a spreadsheet way before I did, but I’m slow to change in this process.
Then I begin watching whatever source material I decided to draw from. Sometimes this can be really painful because it takes much longer to watch said movie or TV show when you’re pausing, rewinding, screenshotting, and especially creating gifs. They updated VLC in the last several years so that you can rewind and fast-forward with more granularity than you used to which has slowed down the process even more. I do this with near-gay abandon, without thinking very much about the structure I laid out for myself. I am watching for cool motion and things that look funny when you pause and look at a still frame. I don’t worry about filling the holes yet. I usually take hundreds of screenshots. I don’t have my computer in front of me but I would say it’s usually be tween 180-300 depending on what the source material is. If it’s a movie, I can obviously get much more out of it than if it’s one episode of one TV show.
Then I start filling in the structure that I set in step 2. These days, I have the parts of the song broken down in a spreadsheet and tick off selected images and animations as I place them. I rename the image and animation files according to their order. So if I’m going to use four files for the intro to a song, I’ll name the files 01 Intro, 02 Intro, 03 Intro, 04 Intro. If I don’t end up having enough to fill all the slots with interesting shots, I’ll go back to the source material to places I’d regretted not taking more from and get more screenshots and animations.
Once I have everything slotted, I listen to the song again, reviewing what I’d selected. If I’m satisfied, I drop them (one by one) into a Powerpoint file. Then I go through the song one or two more times to make sure the images work right and flows nicely. Finally I show them to Pete, I guess for “approval,” but he always cracks up at whatever I do. I don’t know whether it’s because he’s so supportive or whether it’s because he really thinks they’re that funny, but I guess that’s info I don’t really need.
All in all, I’ve gotten the process done quicker than this in a pinch, but I usually need about 8 hours for every song. In the past Pete has tried to tell me to take shortcuts when necessary but I’m rarely happy when I slap something together. I almost never go back to change things, but when I do, it’s because I rushed it in the first place.
Most of the time I’ve spent composing the visuals is blurry in my head but several specific times stand out to me. Here are my most memorable experiences putting together visuals for the EG show:
Here Comes the Urkel - Very long-time Columbus fans MIGHT remember our performing this one. It’s not at all remarkable except it’s the very first one I did where I used Photoshop to actually create an image (based of course on images I jacked during internet searches). If you’re familiar with the song, the last 20 seconds or so end with a “STEVE! STEVE! STEVE! STEVE!” chant. To visualize this I got a pic of Carl Winslow looking angry and pasted the same picture of Steve Urkel looking stupid in the background. They were all nicely lined up which captured the mania of the outro I was looking for. During the presentation the first “STEVE!” was accompanied by this image shrunk way down and gradually the pic started getting bigger with each “STEVE!” I still use this method sometimes, most recently in “Praise the Sun” when the Wicker Man shot on fire is slowly revealed.
Miami is Nice - You may or may not be shocked to learn that for the most part, I put together the visual part of the EG show 100% sober with some notable exceptions. “Miami is Nice” is probably the most notable. I don’t remember why but the night I put these together, Pete went out to a show and I stayed home, probably just to complete this task. It was the first time I’d ever done images drunk before and I for one can really see the difference (more on this later). I was drinking and gaining more momentum the drunker I got. I found the idea of the “wardrobe malfunction” indicating “grab your breasts” SO FUNNY at the time. I think it’s officially become un-funny in the last couple of years which I’m ok with but I won’t change the images because Janet’s boob needs to be in it. Alcohol really helped launch these images off the rails and kind of indelibly changed my approach to creating them as well. Like, not just to shock, but to try and include the element of a mild shock. I remember the first time we performed “Miami is Nice” at the Treebar (then Andyman’s Treehouse of course), which I think was the album release for the Stenographer. I remember like it was yesterday Tonya Jones coming up to me and telling me that “Miami is Nice” was her new favorite song. And the rest his history.
Mac Tonight - This son of a bitch took forEVER. It was a rare time when I felt I was beholden strictly to the internet for my source material, even AFTER I started using VLC for screenshots mostly. This was after I found out that it is apparently a fairly common practice to have YOUR WEDDING IN MCDONALDS. Fine. I think (hope) in part because I spent so much time on it, I started to become legitimately moved by both the song (which I think was never meant to be a legitimate love song) and looking at all of these happy people sharing fries in McDonald’s, all dressed up. They were so happy and cute! I can’t really explain it any further except that even after all this time, I still sometimes feel a little sentimental when we perform it. And I never get tired of that one either.
Peter’s Problem - This was memorable mostly because of circumstances. We were on a deadline to perform this one at a Christmas show. During the week leading up, I’d flown to DC to interview for a position with Head Start for DCPS. I recall so clearly sitting in BWI with my laptop watching Home Alone and Home Alone 2. I even remember what I was wearing after I’d changed out of my suit after the interview. I also remember that I had lunch in the airport with Pete’s aunt who was nice enough to taxi me around before and after my interview. I didn’t get the job and the guy who interviewed me was a total fucking asshole about it, even though I flew in to interview on my own dime. All’s well that ends well, I guess.
Guyliner - I did “Guyliner” during a furlough day back when I worked at the Ohio Department of Health when Governor Kasich in his wisdom gave us a bunch of forced vacation days in lieu of a pay raise (or was it minus pay? I don’t remember). That’s all I got. I really enjoyed doing this one because I got the images from the movie Splash, which I love dearly
Bill and Hillary Clinton Making Out in a Hot Tub Filled with Poop and Pee - This one is significant because it’s the first one where I made my own gifs. I’d been using found-gifs judiciously and Derek Stewart helped me make the gifs for “Michael Jordan” but I was so tired of being confined to whatever was out there and simultaneously felt like the direction I was taking for this one needed more jazz than just still photos, that I sat down and figured it all out. As it turned out, it wasn’t that hard because I started by finding YouTube videos and feeding them through an online generator. It wasn’t until Fred Yi turned me on to recording my screen using QuickTime while playing DVDs in VLC that the door really broke open. But I’ll always remember this guy as the first. I had the idea to use the James Brown Celebrity Hot Tub clip first and the rest fell into place after that. Including a bit I grabbed from a promo video for the Pocono Palace, which is another story altogether.
We Made It/Hats and Canes - If you weren’t aware, last September was a ridiculous crunch time, where we were struggling to get ready to play an entire new album live. Earlier in this piece I mentioned that it takes roughly 8 hours for me to put together one song and I don’t often cut corners. As such, although I did most of the work at home, parts of “We Made It” and “Hats and Canes” from Cancelled were done in my office at work during lunch and other odd times.
TV/Cancelled - I mentioned earlier that I never drink while making the images but if a notable exception is “Miami is Nice,” I guess “TV” and “Cancelled” is a somewhat less notable exception. Over Labor Day weekend in 2017, I felt like I was starting to get sick. The release show was scheduled for something like the Wednesday after Labor Day and I could NOT succumb to illness despite the stress and being overworked and dead exhausted. Facebook, as it always is, was quick to offer home remedies, one of which was offered by Mike Markowski and sounded slightly more fun than the others: tea with honey, lemon, and bourbon. I don’t usually drink bourbon, but burnt out and terrified of illness as I was just then, I jumped at the opportunity to live a little. I didn’t guzzle it, but two or three cups of the stuff was enough to make me quietly buzz and rendered the process FUCKING EASY. Both are the best work I did for that album and I think I’m more proud of the “Cancelled” visuals than I was for anything else I’ve ever done creatively. In life. It’s the best. It’s a shame (or maybe it’s not) that it isn’t a song we do in a regular set. On the one hand, we don’t perform it as much as we like. On the other hand, it’s a rare, beautiful treat when we do. Just like tea with honey, lemon, and bourbon.
I’m prompted to recall back when we first started when a then-frienemy (now friend) quipped, regarding my role in the project “Oh yeah. She pushes the button.” My role has functionally expanded since the early days, but it was never really just pushing the button. I both love and hate creating the images because it’s so tiring and so much work and I feel like such a slave to it, but I guess that’s how I approach just about everything I do with a purpose. Even when it was just 3-4 images per song, I agonized over how to express the music in a visual manner, looking for just the right tone and just the right complement to the music. That’s pretty much my story. Come see us July 21 at the Pinch!
I once told a lie to my family that I saw a big scary motorcycle man eating a Happy Meal in McDonald's. They offered back that he may have just ordered it to get the toy for his kid, and it fucking ruined everything.
One morning when I was in middle school, me and the other neighborhood kids were picked up by a substitute bus driver. When we got to the turnoff for my development, there was an abandoned car sitting in our lane. The bus driver refused to back up and go around the car, because it was against regulations. You could tell she was agonizing over the decision. We sat there for an hour and a half, until the owner of the car eventually returned. I was really late to school that morning, and it was one of the greatest thrills of my life.
In 2nd Grade, I wrote a short story that got me invited to a "Young Authors" convention, which I believe took place in either Cleveland or Kent, Ohio. It was a story about four hobos who defeated a giant snow monster by using a mirror to melt him with reflected sunlight. They also published the story in the school paper, complete with interpretative drawings of the snow monster. I remember it not looking like how I pictured, but I approved anyway. My teacher Mrs. Estis had me read the story to the class, and they kept laughing every time I said "hobos." There was another boy named Andy in my class who also got invited to the convention, but I'm sure his story sucked.
The convention was filled with young authors and teachers, and maybe some parents - this is kind of a fuzzy memory, because I never fully had a grasp on why exactly this was all happening. I remember two boys shouting at each other: "My story is SEVEN pages!" "My story is ELEVEN pages!" I was struck how although we were young authors, we were not conducting ourselves with author-like decorum.
What I remember most is the speaker, author William Sleator. I think part of the reason my memory of him is so vivid, is because I really didn't know what was happening or why I was there. He had recently put out his book Interstellar Pig, a science-fiction book for young adults, or young authors as the case may be. He talked about how as an author, he got screwed over financially by his publishers. "If I sell a book for ten dollars, you know how much that I get?," he asked a crowd of children. "One dollar!" He also conducted mind tricks on us, teaching us about misdirection. We either all got a free copy of his book, or we had to pay for it, I can't remember, all I know is that I didn't want it. I took it home and tried to read it, and I didn't know what the hell was going on. The cover looked interesting enough, but there were just a bunch of words inside. I'd of rather been playing an alien board game myself. One school day shortly after the convention, Andy got in front of the class for show-and-tell and began to talk about a book he'd just read called Interstellar Pig. "You gotta be fucking kidding me," I thought, "You mean that book the gave us at that stupid thing you and I went to?"
For years Interstellar Pig sat on my bookshelf at home, and for all I know it's still sitting there in what used to be my bedroom. I've thought about that whole experience from time to time, and how weird it was. Just the other day I googled the book out of curiosity. Turns out the author died in 2011. Apparently he had a problem with alcoholism. Also, he was gay. This convention took place in 1985, which were different times, and I wonder if the people who invited him knew of his homosexuality. If so, kudos to them. Long live the Young Authors.
If you grew up going to a Protestant church, chances are you went to Vacation Bible School during the summer. I attended VBS at a church in Twinsburg, Ohio, between the ages of 5-13. One summer there was this large boy with a mullet who attended, he kind of looked like the guy that played Tugboat/Typhoon in the WWF. He would make a lot of loud noises for no particular reason, and got in trouble for yelling "Son of a biscuit" over and over. There was one instance when all the kids at VBS were playing a game in the woods nearby at night, and I saw this boy turn to my friend Teddy and said "I worship Satan. I'm serious. I'm just experimenting right now, but I worship Satan."
Teddy was - well, stupid, and so he didn't really react, he just went about his business of running around and being himself. I was freaked out, because that was the kind of lingo I read in books about boys who listened to Slayer and said they "experimented" with devil worship. I was also annoyed that he thought Teddy was cool enough to tell that he worshiped Satan, but apparently I wasn't.
Mary Alice and I moved from Hawaii to Columbus, Ohio in the Summer of 2001. While she was off to Ohio State for Grad School, I was left spinning my wheels a bit. I figured I'd get some lame job, and then, whatever. I first got a job at an Auntie Anne's at the newly opened Polaris Fashion Place. Since the business itself was also new, they trained all the employees at once on how to roll pretzels (impossible), operating their huge oven (scary), and pouring drinks (more like it). Before the place opened to the public, I offered to the lady who was training us that I could handle the cash register. She laughed and said "We'll find something for you to do," because I guess I looked like a fucking idiot. They put me on the drink station for three cents an hour, while I subsequently planned my exit strategy. There was a Panera Bread in a shopping center across the way, which surely had more dignity. I went and applied after a few days at the Pretzel Wagon, and I was headed for the greener pastures of the Bacon Turkey Bravo within a week.
The first couple days there were pretty uneventful. It was a decent wage for the time, and I was happy to be out of the shopping mall. They started me off with part-time hours, and I performed some relatively simple tasks. When they made up an official schedule for me, they had me on opening shift for every day I was there. While I had put on my application that I was available to open, I didn't consider that they'd actually make me do it. The first day I opened, I woke up at about 4:30 AM, while Mary Alice grudgingly got up to drive me there in the freezing darkness. My first task was to help bake the bread and pastries. It was a lot of work, and everything I touched burned my hands. By the time we were ready to open to the public, I was completely exhausted.
Here's the thing - I am not a morning person, but it goes beyond playfully joking about it with Garfield posters (pictured below). If I get up really early and start having to do things, I feel this fatigue that causes erratic behavior in me. My back starts to tighten up, I feel really dry, and think a lot of bad thoughts. Granted this was before I drank coffee - hell, let's get to Garfield.
After that first day, I asked the person who interviewed me if I could work a different shift. She was incredulous, and told me that I was hired because I said could do the opening shift. I think I said something to her along the lines of "I didn't think I'd have to actually do it." The second day I opened, I was asked to wipe down the tables and chairs in the dining room. I guess I took the request too literally, because I took a long time and meticulously wiped every table and every chair, which probably took upwards of half an hour. After completing this task, I sat down to take a rest. A manager came out to the dining room to ask me what I was doing, and I told him I was resting. Later that day, that same manager called me outside to have a discussion. He sat me down with an assistant manager, and asked me if there was a problem. I had no idea what he was talking about. He said the assistant manager had earlier tried to show me how to use the cash register, and that I had pushed her hand away when she tried to press the item buttons. I told him that it wasn't done maliciously, and that I probably did it because it's how best I learn. The truth was that I didn't even remember that happening, I was so goddamn tired and out of my mind. I told them that there was no problem, but they started to give me weird looks from here on.
Upon the morning of day three, I was starting to lose my shit. This guy came to the register, and ordered a medium-sized milk. I told him that we didn't have medium, that we had small and large. He insisted that he wanted a medium, so I told him I would oblige his request. I took a Styrofoam cup that had parts of another cup that had torn off inside, and filled it two-thirds of the way with milk. As I began to help the next person in line, he began to complain to another employee about his milk. He said that normally he "Gets a full cup, without another cup torn off inside," and proceeded to glare at me. Filled now with insane rage, I fiercely responded, "Get off my back, okay?!" He immediately asked for a higher-up. The same manager who had facilitated meeting with the assistant manager listened to the customer's grievance, and asked me to wait in his office. After a short time, he came into the office and explained that I can't talk like that to customers. I replied angrily, saying something along the lines of "I won't allow myself to be treated like a dog!" That was it for him, and he told me I was no longer employed by Panera Bread. I accused him of "Making up his mind about firing me way before this even happened," called Mary Alice in a frenzy, and asked to be picked up.
She wasn't at all pleased with me, to put it very, very mildly. We had been scraping along financially, and this was my second job left in two weeks. She later told me that it might have been the angriest she'd ever been with me. I felt like a crumpled up piece of paper. This was years before my PSTD-diagnosis, and I recognize now that much of my behavior and around this time could be linked to that. After about an hour of shouting and hurt feelings, we decided I should try and call Panera to ask for my job back, as we felt that was the punk rock thing to do. The manager guy said something like, "No, we don't do that," and that was it.
I eventually decided to put my community college degree to use and ended up going to school at Ohio State about a year later. At one point in 2005 I took a quarter off because I felt burned out, and I went back to that same Panera to see about part-time work. Enough turnover had occurred that nobody who was there knew me from that first time. The lady who interviewed me thought I was great. She asked if I had ever applied to Panera before, and I said I had applied to this very one. "You did? What happened?" she asked. "I don't know," I shrugged. "They never called me back."
I have been fighting the urge to engage in actual gun control debates with the remaining two or three friends who are openly opposed to gun control over the last few weeks because I've found that such engagement is rarely worthwhile and usually ends up eating my entire day and making me very sad and I am not in the mood for that right now. So I chose to engage with a stranger on a friend's post about Roseanne and got pretty much the same result, so I'm not going to talk about Roseanne on other people's posts about it either but want to share my thoughts here.
When I found out about the reboot, I was immediately going to refuse to watch it because of Roseanne's well-documented support of Trump during the campaign (which I suppose is probably ongoing). I am not on Twitter (unless I want to complain about Montogomery County bus service), so I don't have the details of other ramblings of hers but learned today that she's an outspoken transphobe and was reminded today that she's a Pizzagater. All that said, after reading a handful of very positive reviews and considering that Roseanne is not a writer, just an actor (who admittedly probably has some creative control over plot points and dialog), my curiosity ended up getting the better of me last night and I was a little excited to see how it turned out. I still have cable and am not a Nielsen family (is that still a thing?) so my viewership means nothing. If I were actively supporting Roseanne by watching the first two episodes, I would not have done so.
Now that my curiosity has been satisfied, I think the only option now is to kill it with fire. It's not good. It's taken me this long to try and organize my thoughts about it.
I'll start with the good:
The A plot of the second episode had Roseanne's grandson starting school in Lanford and insisting that he should wear bright colors and a sequin skirt to school. I thought the way Darlene talked to her son about it was really genuinely nice. The tolerance Roseanne-the-character showed, despite not really understanding why the kid was doing such things was realistic and sensitive.
I think a tiny handful of the jokes made me chuckle. There were some about coming to terms with Darlene being gay (the character isn't) as a signal of tolerance were pretty funny but I don't even remember the other ones.
I was disappointed in how the political differences between Jackie and Roseanne were handled. These were the differences that most people were keyed in on. Jackie's character is like, Season 9 Jackie on steroids. She's more flighty and seems to signal all of the stereotypes associated with white feminism. ALL OF THEM. These jokes felt like they were about a year too late, which is actually more current than most of the one-liners which felt moldier than a lot of cracks from the original series (e.g., Dan thinks potpourri is food?). The Trump stuff is 100% standard fare. Roseanne justifies her vote because he said he'd shake things up and he was talking about jobs. I'm not impressed.
One of the biggest problems I had when I heard about Roseanne-the-Character being a Trump supporter was that in the original series, she'd always been fairly progressive. Staunchly anti-racist and homophobic. I don't think *that* Roseanne would be able to look past these aspects of the Trump presidency, but the show DOUBLED DOWN on the conservative bent and had the family praying before eating dinner, when in the original series, the Conners were extremely religiously ambivalent. Becky, in a side plot that barely made sense, is being paid $50k to be a surrogate mother (despite being 43). Dan wouldn't have it. Said something about how in this household "when we get pregnant we have the baby" is if it was a love child or something. To a 43 year old woman. To which Jackie almost retorted "her body her choice" which was a weird thing to invoke and really I can't even explain why because fuck all of that. It was terrible.
The acting was bad, almost across the board. It's clear most of them aren't actors anymore. Even John Goodman was pretty terrible. Again, I thought Sara Gilbert was great. She seemed engaged and to be believing the things she was saying. Everyone else was either way over-doing it, including Laurie Metcalf, or was flatly reading lines like they were just trying to get through it.
Other miscellaneous things that annoyed me:
Michael Fishman is 10 feet tall now and they shoehorned into the pilot a reference to DJ's military service and his offscreen wife who is still away in the military (Jackie of course keeps saying "thank you for your service").
We all knew that Becky II was playing "some role." She's the woman paying Becky I to be a surrogate mother for her. She's a yuppie and bought the Conners bottled water as a gift. Bottled water as a gift. A gift. Follows it up with potpourri. With potpourri. (The same potpourri Dan thinks is food)
The politics in general is muddled and surprisingly de-fanged. It seems like they're trying to say "this is real America" without *actually* pissing either or both side off. Like, they complain about the cost of medical care but don't point any specific finger, which I don't think is accurate? I guess? I'd think in the original series, they would be more direct about that kind of criticism. Roseanne responded to one of Jackie's retorts about her Trump vote by pointing out that things have gotten worse since Trump was elected and Roseanne said "not according to the real news" (or something), which got a chortle but no real challenge or engagement on that point? I don't know.
We will file this under Stop Watching Now to Preserve Enjoyment of the Original.
I’ve been a vegetarian for well over a decade now, and I haven’t eaten McDonald’s in a very long time. But I just caught a whiff of something that still reminded me of happy childhood memories of Ronald and friends. It just goes to show you that blah blah something-or-other.
The first time I ever heard about "Baby Got Back" by Sir Mix-a-Lot, I was about 13, and I woke up to a Cleveland radio DJ talking about it, approximately 6 months prior to the actual release of the single. He explained that Sir-Mix-a-Lot was planning to tour the country with a giant butt-balloon in support of his new single, which I heard him say as "Baby, I Got Back (I Like Big Butts)."
I pictured "Baby, I Got Back" as a concept of someone returning home, for example,a husband returning to his wife after a long trip. So it followed that him declaring upon arrival, "I Like Big Butts," was indicative of his realization that while he was away he underwent some type of metamorphosis, and now that he's back, he's essentially saying "Honey, I hate to break the news to you, but something happened while I was away, and now, I like big butts."
When I was in 3rd grade, I told my friend Billy throughout the year that I was an avid beer drinker. I'd regale him with tales of my exploits, telling him I had tried about every beer out there, my favorite being Stroh's. I think I chose Stroh's because I liked the look of the blue can. I'd tell him I was trying to cut down a little, but that it was hard, because I just enjoyed beer too much. I told him my least favorite beer was a brand I made up called "Laurie's Beer," I told him it tasted like shit, and I would make a sour face when describing it.
Back then I was pretty sure he believed me, but looking back I'm not so sure. The 80's were a confusing time.
One day in high school I found myself in the Principal's office for reasons I don't remember, and the Assistant Principal was chewing me out about something-or-other, and she decided to call my parents and leave a message on their answering machine.
After leaving the office, I remembered that my mom gave me some weird laminated card with codes on it that I could use to call home and play answering machine messages back remotely. I noticed to my delight that I also had the option to erase messages. That day at lunch, I used the pay phone near the cafeteria to call my house and delete the messages on the machine. There were two messages, and I decided in a panic to delete them both without even listening to them first.
I've always wondered what the other message was...
I had a dream last night that I was in a kitchen of a commissary with Doogie Howser and Vinnie Delpino, and we were preparing food in an assembly line. Vinnie had told everyone working there that he was a doctor, and we were all doing our best to cover for him.
We were taking french fries and fried chicken and dipping them in seasoning. At one point, Doogie took a lunch break and started eating the chicken. I was annoyed, because as a vegetarian, there wasn't much for me to eat. Besides, I wasn't sure that we were supposed to be eating what we were preparing. At one point Doogie announced that he had to leave for the hospital, but someone insisted to him that he was still needed in the kitchen, and motioned to a big pile of fried chicken that was yet to be seasoned. Doogie reluctantly agreed to stay. At one point we all stopped working, and were introduced to the attractive twin sisters who ran the commissary.
I had a dream last night that I was reading the liner notes of a Michelle Branch CD that doesn't exist.
There were instructions in the sleeve that explained how to use a knife to defend yourself from attackers. There was a Q & A section in the notes, and part of it read as follows:
Q: Should I defend myself from any sort of attack?
A: Yes, you should defend yourself from all attacks, even when a person is attempting to rob you for an amount as little as 10 dollars.
Q: What if Elton John is the attacker?
A: He's attacking you for 10 dollars?
I then woke up with the song "Everywhere" in my head. Love that snappy lil' tune.
The first Electric Grandmother show on June 19, 2004, essentially served as an album release party for Sin City Sex Mix, the 3rd self-packaged CD-R album we did. The tone of that release was more somber and featured less songs about TV than the first two. We got a good response from our initial performances, and I felt like the next release should loudly announce our arrival on the scene.
I had recently acquired a digital processor, and used it liberally on the album, whether it was for the synth tones, self-made percussion, or pre-programmed beats. This album would end up marking the end of an era; this would be the last "Casio-beat" album (although I actually used a Yamaha keyboard to create the sound), and the last album recorded on a 4-track. This album had a more dense sound to the previous three, because I figured out how to "bounce" tracks, a risky process that allows you to combine existing tracks on to one, thus allowing you to overwrite previous tracks with new material.
Mary Alice at the time was wary of my utilizing the digital processor so heavily, but in retrospect I think it adds to the album's charm. I also went into the recording process a little less concerned with how clear the vocals would sound, I was more interested in creating approximations that went well with the sounds and melodies (see: "Here Comes the Urkel.") Mary Alice was also wary of the obnoxious 48-second opening of that song, where I just repeat the phrase "Guns n' Roses" in a chanting sports arena-type manner. It may not have been the most aesthetically pleasing decision, but it's certainly obnoxious.
Mary Alice: One of the weird things about this album was the crossfade, which made it impossible for the tracks to stand on their own. So like, skipping Guns N Roses didn't even work because you had the end of it bleeding into "Urkel." ALSO remember that guy who contacted you about making EG his official club musician? Like he and his friends talked about 80s stuff together or something? I'm prompted to remember it because I think they had a thing on MySpace where they took the pic of the Stay Puft marshmallow man and captioned it with "Guns N Roses" x like 50.
(Note: I don't remember "that guy")
"Small Wonder (Popular by Demand)" is named so because people kept asking me to write a Small Wonder song. That one was a hit with a lot of people, and I'm pretty proud of the psychedelic it has to it. I love the processed sound of "Murphy Brown's In Your Town," but there's something about the song that never sat right with me, and I wished I'd spent a little more time with it.
Mary Alice: This song had a spot in the live set until we decided MB the show wasn't really Sitcom-Core because the show didn't have any kids in it and it wasn't goofy enough.
(Note: I don't remember making that decision, either. Also, I think MB is totally Sitcom-Core)
Before "Miami is Nice" existed, "Car Phone" was *maybe our most popular song overall. It always went over well with crowds, and it was fun to perform. I wrote the words and recorded the music for it in under an hour. "Depend on Balki" ended up getting a lot of radio play at WCSB, the radio station that helped EG immensely during this era.
*"Hangin' Out With Mr. Cooper Sucks" was possibly more popular than "Car Phone." The song "Watching the Cosby Show" has a lengthy outro that contains a sample of Richard Nixon announcing his resignation to the press. This outro was eventually used as the time of the show where we would release garbage bags full of balloons into the crowd. Also before "Miami is Nice" became the standard closing song to our set, "Bob Saget Marches On" held the distinct honor of sending everyone home with a smile (usually - we would occasionally encounter hecklers early on, especially if I didn't look entirely confident up there).
Pee Sells... But Who's Buying?, a behemoth of 32 songs clocking in at 65 minutes was to be released to the world in June of 2005. The album was mixed by me, and mastered by our friend Jason Gonzales at the now-closed Supraphonic Studios in Columbus. The title is a parody of Megadeth's "Peace Sells... But Who's Buying?" I was retroactively inspired by a memory of this tough-bully kid in my middle school who had the album title written on his jean jacket.
I do have a couple regrets about the album. For one, we didn't take the time to create individual files for each song without the album's aforementioned signature crossfade effect that we put on most tracks - it just would have been nice to have. Also, it could have potentially enabled the cry babies out there to skip the "Guns n' Roses" chant. For another, while I don't hate the sounds of the songs themselves, I think it's silly that I felt compelled to include two political songs on there. Both "Real Reds" and "Rain Down With the Thunder" are inspired by the Bush administration/Iraq War. While it's stuff that I care about, even halfway-serious political expression has never sounded right coming from me, and it especially doesn't belong in an Electric Grandmother song. This marked the last of any such attempt.
For the album cover, we went and bought an old black and white TV from a thrift store. While waiting in line to buy the TV, Mary Alice explained to a woman in line that we weren't going to actually watch things on this TV, but that "we just liked it." That has been an ongoing joke between us, as a signal that someone is offering too much information that will only confuse the listener.
That's Mary Alice's handwriting on the screen, and she carefully took the picture so as to not get too much of a reflection. This is what the original cover looked like for the CD-R, the border with band logo was later added for the INS release.
I scheduled a release show at Cafe Bourbon Street for June 11th. To open the show, I invited young local rock upstarts The Squares, Cleveland hip-hop duo Johnny La Rock & Mush Mouth, and the Ocean Ghosts, a Columbus hip-hop trio that included my friends Scotty Boombox and J Rhodes. I had been in contact with a writer at the Columbus Alive attempting to get an album review, and a few days ahead of the show, it finally came. My (now friend) Stephen Slaybaugh ripped it to pieces, famously describing the album among other things as "moronic," "sophomoric," and "the sound of one man amusing himself." (I have a photo of the newspaper clipping somewhere, but I can't locate it at the moment) I was taken aback at first, but then later decided this was all complimentary stuff.
Mary Alice: In the context of the EG philosophy, particularly the part about the "sound of one man amusing himself" spoke volumes about your ethic of making art to make you laugh first, me laugh second, and if anyone else likes it so be it.
The show itself, while reasonably well-attended, had it's good and bad moments. The Squares played first and were great, and they did a cover of the EG song "Tom's Girl" from our prior release. Johnny La Rock & Mush Mouth played their smooth sounds, and had a ton of fun joking with each other on stage. The Ocean Ghosts played and burned the fucking place down, doing an intense cover of our new song "Summer Circus." Our set was when the bad moments began. I came out on stage to start our first song, and the goddamn crummy tabletop CD player we had started skipping. I wasn't savvy enough yet to know that the power of a PA can send "shocks" to your playback source, which spells doom if you're playing a CD. It was a major disruption for the whole set, and pretty much ruined the experience for me. This was the very last time we used a CD player on stage, we went digital after that and never turned back. That night I had a nightmare that I was watching a bloody leopard roll down a hillside into a pile of haunted tarot cards. I attribute that to stress. Fortunately the next weekend we got right back out there, and used a laptop when playing at Andyman's with The Whiles and The Receiver. It erased the bad taste from our mouths.
Below is a photo of a poster board that Mary Alice made for the release show, taken shortly before we tossed it before our DC move. (It had been in my closet for years, and if you look closely, you can see that our late cat Milo peed on it. Note the delightful "Straight-Edge/Hard Core" parody, adjusted to "Sitcom-Core/TV.")
Mary Alice: We made the whole thing with a yellow theme. I got a yellow plastic table cloth for the merch and arranged the new discs in a basket with yellow easter grass. I believe we used yellow balloons as well. Hence why it was a "Pee Party."
So I think that mostly covers it. This was an important time for us, a time when we really "got out there" and reached people. Crowds began to form at our shows, people began to know our songs and sing along to them. Most of the friends we've made over the years have been because of the band. That's really special stuff for me, and I've never forgotten what an honor it's been for people to even care. We're really lucky, and thanks for giving a hell.
Mary Alice: When we think of the songs we performed in Columbus on this album, the memories are pretty strongly associated with friendship and hanging out in Columbus. You sort of say it, but when you were writing this and started talking about these songs I was like "Jeez. Alcohol and Columbus."
Below is a video shot in 2007 featuring show footage and an interview with mostly me, this is prior to us becoming a duo. This captures the tail end of this particular era, complete with bubble machines, balloons, and disco lights. I don't watch this much, because it makes me feel weird to watch myself move around, it always has.