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.