One more trip around the sun and this has been a strange one. If nothing else, the year 2020 has been one for reflection and introspection. Here are the top 10 things I discovered/endured/enjoyed during my pandemic year.
10. My Humidifier
If you have to spend countless hours stuck in one place each and every day, wouldn't you want to do it with a cool vapor blowing across your face? The Pure Enrichment Ultrasonic Cool Mist Humidifier might be as right for you as it is for me! Not only does it provide a refreshing, moisturizing air, but it also has a cool blue LED inside that casts an Atomic Blonde kind of vibe into your room. I also suffer from a chronically booger-stuffed nose and this is a useful thing to have. I do neti pots, I drink Minus Sinus tea, I pick and scrape and do whatever I can to keep a decent airflow up my schnoz. Any tool helps and this is a fun one.
(Disclaimer: I did not receive any endorsement money to give the Pure Enrichment Ultrasonic Cool Mist Humidifier such a glowing review.)
9. Writing and Re-writing Songs Over and Over Again
The last music I released as All City Affairs was the single Freddy's Glove in August of 2019. Before that was another single in February of 2018. I've been working on around 2 dozen songs over the past 3 years; twisting and kneading and scrapping and restarting with the precision of a senile baker. I really enjoy working alone and getting lost in the search for a great drum sound or the right keyboard patch. Often it leads to great results. Also often, it amounts to a lot of time spent with not much to show for it. Working alone means that you don't have an immediate sounding board to help you along in the process. Actually, my daughter Olivia is the best sounding board I have right now. I know that if she comes up to me and says "cool beat" or I catch her humming a melody that I've worked up, then I'm in the zone.
I've been playing and writing music in bands and solo since I was 15 years old. I'm 44 this year and that is a long time to be working on a craft. I've spent more time doing this than probably anything in my life. I'm taking this time, this batch of songs, to make something great. I want it to have my signature and show how much love and passion I have for making music, and being a fan of music and audio. I hope it doesn't take forever. I hope it's awesome.
8. Quitting Coffee
If you have read any of my blog, you know that I've been candid on here about my anxiety disorder. Surprisingly, it's not been that bad this year, despite the anxiety producing situation we are living in and forced to hear about non-stop. I think it's because the pandemic has limited the scope of my day-to-day concerns to my family, my health, and being true to my work and passions. It makes you wonder what the hell else there really is to worry about? (Global financial collapse? Systemic racism across the country? Climate crises? Uh huh.)
I've been a 2-3 cup coffee drinker for probably 15 straight years. I'd have two cups at home before leaving for work and then I'd have a cup and a half during the workday. It wasn't what I'd consider a lot compared to some other people I know, but it was definitely affecting my mood, my sleep, my inner gastro workings, and was making me pretty dizzy a lot of days. I didn't want to give it up, so I'd complain and find ways to blame other things for contributing to the way I was feeling. I was in love with the flavor and the ritual, but not so in love with the mounting side effects.
Quitting was a pretty long process, like a month. I kind of weaned myself off a day or two at a time, cut down to like 1/2 a cup, or drink some green tea one day instead. That kind of thing. Once I got most of it out of my system, I didn't really even enjoy the taste anymore. Don't get me wrong, I'd love to sip on a nice double espresso in a compact ceramic mug, and enjoy the cool breeze on an outdoor cafe patio. I do miss it. But I'd overdone it and ignored my what my body was telling me for a while.
Now I drink tea. Or kombucha. And listen to The Grateful Dead.
7. Learning New Stuff
It's never too late to teach an old dog new tricks, eh? What better time to learn new stuff than right now?? Right now I'm in the midst of trying to learn the C++ programming language which is used by audio and game developers for building plugins, DAWs, games, sound fx, etc. It's dense as hell and I've next to no experience in coding, but I apparently do like staring at my computer screen for 8+ hours every day.
I'm also taking a course at coursera.com called the Google IT Support Professional Certificate. It's entirely online, asynchronous, and I work on it 3 - 4 days a week. It's very dense in places and reminds me of college courses I took. I haven't challenged myself to study and read and memorize like this since 12 Monkeys was in theaters (which I just noted to myself is about an airborne virus that nearly wipes humanity off the planet. Fun!).
6. Waxwork Records
Waxwork Records is a label out of New Orleans, LA that issues, and re-issues, horror and sci-fi soundtracks in some killer original packaging and design. This summer I got a copy of The Thing soundtrack by Ennio Morricone and most recently a copy of Friday the 13th Part II by composer Harry Manfredini. For reissues they go back to the original master recordings whenever possible and do new lacquer masters for duplication. The audio results are incredible. And since these are horror soundtracks, they really give you the chills. Waxwork also sells some cool collectibles, pins, and apparel. A good place to send your money when you are thinking about supporting a niche small business. Made in America, ya'll!
5. Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross
If you have had the pleasure of watching HBO's The Watchmen or David Fincher's new film Mank, then you've had the double-pleasure of listening to scores by Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross. Going back to the music of The Social Network (which snagged this duo a bona-fide Oscar) their work has had a signature on it of a blend of NIN, John Carpenter, and Vangelis. The score for The Watchmen is most certainly in this vein and confidently supports the incredible visual storytelling of the series. The physical release of the music also came out as three individual vinyl releases, each with their own unique art and concept.
When I heard that they were tapped to do the score for Mank, I wasn't sure how their style would work in a black & white 1930s - 40s Hollywood melodrama. To my surprise they pulled off a stunner; with echoes of Bernard Hermann, Franz Waxman, and the big-band music of the era. The performance of Gary Oldman is top-notch as usual, the cinematography is authentic and engrossing, and the music is full of curiosity, whimsy, and mystery. Hey, that's three "y's!"
And oh yeah, I just found out they did the score for Disney's Soul which I watched yesterday with my wife and daughter. I feel bad for everyone else trying to get composing jobs in Hollywood right now. Hans Zimmer must be sitting in front of his synthesizer in his Versace robe, pulling little tufts of his hair out.
4. Video Games
I treated myself to a brand-new Xbox (Series S for you nerds) in the fall when I nabbed one in a furious online sales launch. I had been wanting to buy a video game system for years, but put it off as a superfluous purchase that would ultimately distract me from more "important" things that I should be doing with my time. The last time I had a brand-new console was when the original Playstation came out, which was the holiday season of 1994.
My brother Phillip and I played a ton of video games growing up. The first game system we had was when my dad surprised us with an Atari 2600 and a Pac Man cartridge. My favorite games were Missile Command, Space Invaders, and Yar's Revenge. When we were old enough to be let off the leash at the shopping mall and go to the arcade with a five-dollar bill, I plunged countless quarters into machines like Gauntlet, Super Off-Road, and the Demolition Man pinball game.
Phillip and I made the crude decision to buy the Sega Master System over the NES, because when we had the cash burning in our pockets, the NES was sold out all over the world. Had we waited two months, we could have joined the rest of the adolescent world in freaking out over Castlevania and Mike Tyson's Punch Out. Instead we were playing games like Alex Kidd in Miracle World and Bomber Raid. To be fair, they were fun games, but NO ONE was playing them except for me and my brother in the basement.
I eventually graduated to the Sega Genesis and playing games on the computer and life was good. I took the Playstation away with me to Chicago when I left home for college and enjoyed many nights kicking my friends' asses in Tekken. But that was over 20 years ago. How far had video games come in my absence from taking part in them?
Well, I am having so much fun patrolling the post-nuclear wasteland of Fallout 76, dunking over Joel Embiid in NBA Live, and watching my daughter chase after the flying house of Up in Pixar's RUSH game. I now can't understand why I deprived myself of such glorious amusement. Instead of scrolling for hours on Instagram, Twitter, or Facebook, which we can all admit is just a gussied up version of killing time, I'm reconnecting with something that I've loved my whole life. Games are better than ever these days and the folks working on them are conjuring up some pretty brilliant stories and characters for us to interact with.
Long live the Beta Male!
3. There May Be Life After Trump (L.A.T.)
Just when you thought you couldn't watch another accordion hand gesture, along came the 2020 presidential election. Maybe Joe Biden was not your soul-stirring pick for the nomination, but he provided a real opportunity to knock Agent Orange out of the White House. Election night was still a diarrhea-inducing event, but as the days followed a feeling of "dare-I-say" hope began to materialize.
The last 4 years have felt like 100, and with the pandemic on top of it, I feel like a Grandpa Joe moment is coming for me when we get free from under all of this. They say the sun comes out after the storm and we're all due for it, whether you're pro Trump or pro "Sleepy Joe Biden." America is in an ugly place and it's all our responsibility to get it back on track. Is it too corny to return to the idea of "love thy neighbor?"
2. I am Definitely a Homebody
For all of the estrangement that I have felt during lockdown, I have also felt a calmness. For the last 5 years I'd been either riding the train or taking the express bus from Rogers Park to the south loop, which took anywhere from 50 minutes to 1.5 hours each way. Some days it didn't bother me too much. Particularly taking the bus, when I could chat with my friend Joy or read or just stare out the window at Michigan Avenue and Lake Shore Drive.
But there would be those days, when you'd be pressed together like sardines in a subway car and there'd be a fire on the tracks ahead or someone who "fell" in front of a train. Hearing that got-damm automated message "...we're sorry for the inconvenience" would drive me crazy. "Oh, cool, it's not a problem, I'll just sit here in this sweaty, smelly box in the dark and not move for 30 minutes. It's all good."
I've been able to get those 2-3 hours back for my own use. I've been exercising, taking more time to eat, and paying more attention to my mental health and mood. Without the commute I'm no longer running from place to place, counting the minutes of the day, and cursing under my breath at a bus that's late. I'm happier, and I hope, nicer to everyone. Plus, I'm used to working from home, having been a freelance audio book editor for years. I can download those files onto my laptop and work from the chair, couch, or bed with my dog Brooklyn beside me dozing off. Yes, it's tedious work and a lot of focused concentration for hours at a stretch, but I'm more in charge of managing my own time.
I ended up losing my full-time job after 5 years, just a few weeks ago. I'm thankful that they were able to keep me on for the majority of lockdown. I would have been a lot more freaked out about my family's well-being had it happened in March or April. I learned so much, from so many great people, that I'll be forever grateful. On the flipside, having it happen just before Christmas and the end of my healthcare plan was pretty rough. I'm keeping an open mind about the future and looking forward to what the next year might have in store. For all I've learned in life, I do feel there's still much more to learn and be curious about.
1. Spending Every Day with My Daughter
The greatest gift since the outbreak of this pandemic is the extra time I have to spend with my daughter, Olivia. Hands down, it's been the best thing about COVID. When she was born, I was working nights mixing at Old Town School of Folk Music, Empty Bottle, and Hideout. It freed me up to be around all day long and watch her grow from a little baby to a walking toddler. It was a blessing to be able to hear her first words and watch her take her first steps.
She's 7 years old now and it feels like it did back then, when I was able to just hang around her and observe what a great person she's growing into. I'm impressed by her vocabulary and her maturity. She centers me when I need a reminder about what is most important in life. I don't know where I'd be without her and my partner Jessica who manages us both and showers us with love.
Jessica and I had our 10th wedding anniversary in lockdown. Back in October of 2010 we honeymooned in Maui, which was as close to an earthly paradise as I've ever known: sunsets by the water, the smell of fresh flowers, fish tacos and mai tais by the pool, and the groovy kahiko and hula music drifting by on the breeze. As soon as we can, we'll go out and celebrate formally, somewhere, and toast to 10 years filled with highs, lows, and everything in between. I love you my ladies, Jessica and Olivia.