Irrational Encounters With The Modern World

American

Dubious Claims To Fame – 24

I doubt I will ever be entirely certain, but it is possible that I may once have attracted the amorous attentions of the writer of a Golden Globe-winning, Gold-selling, chart-topping single. There is the distinct possibility that it was all completely innocent, of course, and that is the version of the story I hold to be true. The following is told without prejudice.

I studied at the Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama, a degree which allowed me to arrange work placements in my final year. Many of my peers elected to gain experience with companies in Scotland, most notably Scottish Opera and the Theatre Royal. In my very finite wisdom – in hindsight, making contacts in this country would have been sensible in the long run – I decided that I would set my sights further afield than the venue which was literally across the street, and began applying for internships in America. Somewhere between a dozen and twenty emails later, one organisation replied offering me a place. Lasting nine weeks over the summer, it would count as two of my five allocations, contributing to my learning while also providing me with my first trip outside Europe.

As I would be studying throughout the summer of 2005, the payoff was time off during the preceding term – time spent hoovering up every available shift in the pub where I was ordinarily employed at weekends only. I saved hard, since the gig provided accomodation and nothing else, and booked my flights. A couple of months later, I was in the USA. I quickly befriended the Assistant Technical Director, bonding on the first day while talking about music.

“I like metal, but I like it messed-up,” he said. “Like Mindless Self Indulgence.”

“You should check out Combichrist,” I said, referring to an act I had discovered and seen a month previously. I saw them for a second time in New York City, about a month after this conversation, and Graham was at the gig with me.  He was the only one wearing trainers (sneakers) and I was the only one wearing a kilt. MSI and Combi later toured together, and eventually remixed singles for each other too. On the way out of the venue I stole an event poster off the wall, which I still have. In December 2013 I saw Combichrist play live for the twenty-eighth time.

Combi NYC posterAbove: Wall treasure. The gig was over, so I did them a favour by removing it.

I found Americans to be friendly, happy to engage with the “crazy Scotsman” in their midst. The girls loved my accent, and there was at one time a photograph showing me at an opening night party, surrounded by four or five women. They were seen to be hanging on my every word, and what was never clear from the picture is that the word they were hanging on was “squirrel.”

“Say it again!” they cried, delighted as I truncated the “u” and rolled the Rs. Being a wind-up merchant of some years standing, it did not take long before I aped their pronunciation. “Say ‘squirrel’!”

“Skwerl.”

***

I worked on a number of shows as a stage carpenter, learning a lot about life and professionalism (as well as my trade) in the daytime, and out-drinking most of the crew and other interns in the evening. I have a lot of fond memories of that time, and maintain a handful of friendships with those I met. It was a place outside NYC where new plays could air to audiences without the pressure of critical scrutiny, a safe workshop environment where – while I was there – a Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright could test his latest script, starring someone who would later become a Muppets villain.

At some point, in all of this, I was introduced to the lovely Amanda McBroom. She was working on lyrics for a new musical adaptation of a film, having once penned a song – famously sung by Bette Midler – called The Rose.

We spoke a few times, on various occasions at company parties or in the production office, and she told me that she had visited Glasgow and eaten in Ashton Lane’s famous restaurant The Ubiquitous Chip. She was usually accompanied by her friend and stage manager, a pleasant Englishwoman who had served her time in the West End. Back then, I had vague notions of pursuing a career in that hallowed district – soon abandoned when I realised that I do not even like visiting London, and would find living there to be unbearable.

When the 7/7 bombings happened, I called home to check my wee cousin was okay – thankfully she was. The stage manager, having far more contacts in the vicinity than I, made frantic phonecall after frantic phonecall, visibly upset as she did so. I remember the callous – almost ridiculous – uttering of our production manager, a man with the unenviable knack of making you feel uncomfortable by merely speaking to you. He would look at you slightly longer than necessary, as if waiting or searching for a response, for some continuation of the conversation or expected answer which was not apparent. As this poor woman desperately tried to reach her friends and relations, his attempt at sympathy extended to a misguided “Now you know how we felt on 9/11.”

911 meme

***

After a series of fun adventures I returned home, receiving an email shortly afterwards from the stage manager. Amanda was working on a new project based on Shakespeare’s female characters, and I was asked if I would record myself reading the Lady Macbeth lyrics. This would serve as a basis for her to practise and recite it in a broadly-authentic accent, taking into consideration that Macbeth was not Glaswegian and that US ears would need to comprehend the language.

Theatre being an industry that often thrives on favours, especially when you are a student of the craft, I thought nothing of it. I altered the perfect English of the writing to reflect the Scottish vernacular, changing the “didn’ts” to “didnaes” and so forth. As I recall, I read it aloud into a microphone and converted the digital recording into a file small enough to email across, including with it my version of the lyrics. I was careful to only reflect the local dialect, turning things like the “ofs” to “aes”, because however much of an ego you may think I have, it does not extend to redrafting the work of someone who only missed out on an Oscar nomination because her song predated the film that made it famous.

It was during this endeavour that the question was asked of me: “Why are you doing this?”

“I was asked to.”

“Aye, but – have you not got a lassie friend that could read it. Would that not make more sense, for her to learn from another female instead of a deep-voiced guy?”

I had given it no thought. Perhaps naively, I believed I was simply fulfilling a request that had been made of me, from someone who had been warm and friendly when I met her in a foreign land. The implication that she “maybe had a wee thing” for me had passed me by until that point. I genuinely do not know. Granted, I am tall, dark-haired, was then aged twenty-three, and had spent the summer wearing a kilt instead of shorts. However, I am not big-headed enough to presume that I did anything other than make an acquaintance.

Furthermore, dealing solely in facts, it remains the only time that a multi-award-winning songwriter – responsible for a world-famous hit – has asked me for any kind of collaborative input. I was happy to oblige.

 

 

 

 


9/11 – Remember To Remember While You Are Remembering.

Happy 9/11!

I realise that that may come across as a little insensitive, and yet it almost feels like that is how we are supposed to greet this day. There have been plenty of terrorist attacks in the past century, and a significant number of them within my own lifetime. We do not remember, or commemorate, the bombing of the Arndale Centre in Manchester; the Oklahoma and Lockerbie bombings do not have their dates prominently – almost proudly – etched into the public conscience. Without wishing to sound callous – I understand that a lot of families suffered the death or injury of loved ones, and huge numbers of rescuers are condemned to long-term respiratory afflictions – what makes this incident so special?

It is hard to conceive that any other nation on earth would “remember those lost” by offering one-day discounts and other promotional deals. That sounds a lot more like a cheap cash-in than any meaningful form of remembrance, and one golf-course owner faced a backlash after advertising nine holes of golf for $9.11. Here are some other examples.

I am not debating that “9/11” was a shocking and powerful event in recent history, please do not misunderstand me. I merely find it absurd that the date has been added to the collective conciousness, unlike the dates of so many atrocities which have occurred before or since. Do you know when the Mumbai bombings took place? Can you remember which year London had its terrorist atttacks (July, yes – but which year? And what of those conducted by the IRA?)

Every year, it feels like the images of that day are voyeuristically dragged out and replayed for us. The media shouts “Americans died!” at us in case we have forgotten. The loss of life on that scale and in that or a comparable manner is tragic, no question. Yet it feels like we are not being asked to remember that people died, rather that Americans did.

I do not feel the need to be bludgeoned over the head with this footage annually, lest it has slipped my mind. Other terrorism anniversaries are available. Many of them are more dignified, not heralded like some international celebration.

I do not have any answers. I write this blog to draw attention to my observations, specifically when what I see seems unusual and worthy of comment. All that I have written above was intended as preamble, before I reproduced a stand-up comedy routine I performed on the tenth anniversary. It no longer fits here, out of context, and if you want to read it you will find it on my comedy blog. It is gallows humour, because that is the only way I know to deal with life. To replicate it here would be to undermine my point.

My point being, perhaps we would be advised to remember all victims of terrorism, regardless of nationality. As I discovered within minutes of writing this entry, I am not the only one to suggest it.


Objectively Spaced-Out On Art And Images.

I have a friend who studied the history of art, in her American home state.

While chatting online, she mentioned that she was having issues with an assignment, and I offered to help her with it. Given that I have never studied the subject in any detail, which she knew, the chances of me being able to help her – even before considering the moral and ethical questions of plagiarism and passing-off – were slim. Nevertheless, she copied and pasted the question and sent it to me.

I cannot claim to understand what is being asked, although I have also never considered it in the correct context. Instead, I wrote a response that roughly addresses all of the points raised, without actually relating it either to art or to history. For all that it is not a serious piece of writing, I do rather like it for the strange theories it posits. I say “it posits” rather than “I posit” as I do not recall putting much thought into it. I sat and just wrote, producing a stream-of-conscious response that has a kind of logic to it, despite being complete nonsense.

“Personal interaction with objects, images and spaces can be so powerful as to change the way one thinks about particular issues or topics. For your intended area of study (art history), describe an experience where instruction in that area or your personal interaction with an object, image or space affected this type of change in your thinking. What did you do to act upon your new thinking and what have you done to prepare yourself for further study in this area?”

My personal interaction with objects, images and space has taken on many guises since long before I first read this enthralling question. Some of these interactions have been more powerful than others – the time I sneezed up a lung in a site-specific work called “Roomful of Dust”, versus the time I blinked whilst haphazardly gazing at “Statue with Traffic Cone Hat” for example.

My problem is not with how I perceive and react to space, but how space interacts and copes with me. Now, presuming that there is a finite amount of space within our atmosphere, we are all of us confined within the limits of the earth and its surrounding stratosphere. The human race is expanding at a rate hitherto unprecedented, and as every new person is born, a little of the existing space is pushed outwards. So, initially, when history began, the sky was quite literally just above people’s heads. With time, as the world population has expanded, the sky has expanded continuously upward and outward until it reached its present upper limit. This was in the mid-eighties.

When the limit was reached, every new person, growing (as is a person’s wont), caused untold pressure to build up on the existing space until, when the pressure grew too much, it burst a hole in the Ozone and the surplus space escaped. So you see, the population of the world continues to grow and we are now pushing out all the remaining space. One day, possibly within our lifetimes (unless by some miracle – possibly cellphone radiation) we either, as humans, stop fornicating wantonly or become entirely impotent. Certainly, for as long as the population increases, the surer we will eventually run out of space and perish as a species.

When I first saw space, I realised how very little of it there can be in one place (I selfishly keep some in a box in my attic for emergencies.) Some people look at this space and decide to have it for themselves – we started small by finding space in Australia and America for our convicts. Now these countries have grown and populated, they need space for themselves and, short of concreting over the ocean, the moon is probably our next best option. Well, that or People Control. Some sort of enforced euthanasia may be required.

I am keeping my personal space box at a secret location, underground (a further irony – by digging space for my box of space, I have incrementally reduced further the amount of space between the ground and the sky), as I believe that in the very near future I will be able to sell it on Ebay for a huge amount. Whether I have any use for the money at the point when space becomes so valuable remains to be seen, by the three or so people left alive to see it. Looting space may be the next big craze – we can only watch television for so long before our brains melt into our socks and cats lick at the pureed remnants of wasted genius. That will be fun to watch, so the process of writing this piece has affected my thinking – I’d never thought of that before. Yes, when people become one with their sofas and gradually dissolve into a grey gloop in front of banal ‘celebrity’ based shows, that will have a profound effect on me. Though, granted, not as profound effect as it will have on those who take the time to ooze slowly back to the primeval sludge from which we all once grew.

I hope you appreciate the space this piece has taken out of the remaining years of my life, and the space it has taken up on my hard drive, as well as the space in my brain that I have allocated to formulating this discourse. Now it’s taking up space in my drinking time, so go, read, learn, digest, enjoy, and when you’ve done all that – go watch some TV (this final suggestion is my preparation for further study – sooner you watch, the sooner you melt)

Jordan,
Glasgow, 2008.


Turning Tricks, And Turns Of Phrase

There is very little that is more awkward than your boss, who is roughly ages with you, trying to communicate to a roomful of employees but becoming stuck between talking on their level, and being aware of the environment and of the expectations of his corporate masters.

While twenty of us sat around the edges of this call-centre classroom one afternoon, our speaker tried to best illustrate a particular point with a modern phrase known to us all. He failed to fully commit to its use, however, and trailed off after saying “Bros before…” – the missing final word being “Hos.” It was never clear quite how this American frat-boy mantra, which advocates prioritising guy friends over girlfriends, was relevant to the customer service emails we were being taught to compose and send.

I can, at least, understand why – at each mention – the boss began the statement and then bailed with the words “I won’t finish that sentence.” I think, and hope, that he was shying away from using the derogatory term “ho”, short for “whore” or – as it was phonetically written on the graffitied walls of my secondary school – “hooer.” Though perhaps he is just staunchly against the further Americanisation of Scottish culture.

 

During the course of the informal tutorial, several of my co-workers used the phrase too, all of them stopping short of completing it. I decided that it was time to derive some humour from it, since the word play is – at least, I thought – obvious. One of the girls quoted the saying, and by this time it was a running joke that you would only give voice to the first two words. Deadpan, I asked my question to the room at large:
“What is it about that particular garden implement that means you can’t say it??”

There was a pause, as the pun registered with almost everyone in the room, leading to laughter. The only person not laughing was the person who had last expressed the term.

“I don’t get it,” she said.

“Garden implements,” the boss explained, smiling. Her blank stare was met with further explanation. “Hoes.”

“Oh!” She exclaimed. “I thought you meant like a trowel or something.”

“Yeah,” I said, matter-of-factly inserting that in place of the omitted word. “Bros before trowels.”

We had been taken on as temporary staff. They kept her on, they let me go.

 

bros hos

 

The Two Ronnies, and some confusion over “hoes” – starts at 2m 18s.


Dubious Claims To Fame – 20

I studied at the Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama, which sounds far more prestigious than it ought to. It was a valuable experience as much for what it taught me about institutions and politics as for what I learned about the practical aspects of staging productions.

The building is located next to the Thistle Hotel, and an access road runs down the side of one and along the side of the other. Our side door, the main access point for small load-ins and deliveries, and providing access to the ever-present rubbish skip, opened onto the corner of this road. Across the street was the corner of the hotel, and an exit situated on the north corner at the east side of the building. Our door faced west, onto it. Here it is in Google Maps:

rsamd doors

There was a buzz about the place one day in 2006, due to a big talk being hosted in the hotel. I happened to be on the street at the front of the RSAMD, passing across the end of the lane that runs off to the right in this picture. I glanced down the side of the building, as it was not uncommon to see people there who I knew. Sure enough, one of the guys from the year below me was patiently sitting on the low wall outside our door. I walked down the lane and joined him.

A handful of professional photographers were standing behind the barrier, seen on the left of this picture, and there were a few other curious bystanders milling around. The rumour was strong, my friend informed me, that something interesting was about to happen.

With no more pressing engagements, I sat there for maybe five minutes, chatting to my friend and  idly waiting to see if anything out of the ordinary occurred. I didn’t have to wait long.

The hotel door suddenly opened and out came three or four men in smart black suits, closely followed by Bill Clinton and more guys in black suits.

Clinton stopped at the top of the platform, addressing the crowd from his position behind the black railing. There were maybe thirty people, if that, in his vicinity. I forget all that he said, as he imparted a few words of greeting and referred to the key topics of the luncheon at which he had just presided. He ended by saying, and I remember this vividly, “Give the power back to the people.”

There were cheers, and he raised his fist in some gesture of salute, or as a way of saying goodbye, before being promptly whisked into one of two big, black secret-service vehicles with heavily tinted windows. They both drove off without much delay.

But that, such as it was, is the time that I was part of a very small crowd in close proximity to, and spoken to by, a recent former president of the United States of America.


Refusing Delivery, Outright.

This is my favourite complaint that I have read recently, just because it is so stupid.

My favourite band have just produced (and sold out of) a limited range of seasonal T-shirts, which retailed at $20. Postage to the UK, at $12,  brought the cost to roughly £20, which is still pretty reasonable when you consider that’s at least the price you would pay at a gig these days.

Someone on the band page complained that he refused to pay that much for shipping. I just love the idea of someone going “I will buy this shirt, however I absolutely refuse to have it delivered to me!”

Here’s the relevant screenshot, edited to show the pertinent comments.

combi comment

Incidently, contrary to what was written, none of Combichrist live in the UK. The studio band is just Andy LaPlegua, who relocated to Atlanta from Norway. The live band, and management, live variously in New York, Seattle, Los Angeles and elsewhere across the USA. They do, however, play in venues in and around Camden on their annual UK tours.

Regardless of which, you need to pay to have the shirt shipped from where it is, not from where the singer might live…

Cool shirt though.

Combi Christmas

 


Dubious Claims To Fame – 18

Eighteen, eighteen, eighteen, I’m eighteen and I like it. That was Alice Cooper’s first hit, before School’s Out, and it was the song that Johnny Rotten sang along to on the jukebox when he auditioned for The Sex Pistols. Alice is my hero. My 18th claim to fame is about him again.

I met him once, on Halloween in 2010, and have seen him on the two Halloweens since. He has yet to bring back the ‘magic screen’ as he promised when I asked him about it, but I have since learnt from far more dedicated fans than I that Alice can rarely be relied on when it comes to such things – he has so many ideas for his shows and album concepts that not all come to fruition. No matter how much he might talk them up.

Having recently released a sequel to his seminal solo album “Welcome To My Nightmare”, there was a lot of excitement and speculation that he might do a themed stage show for the first time since 2000’s ‘Brutal Planet’ tour, and even more excitement at the prospect of him doing a new ‘nightmare’ show for the “Welcome 2 My Nightmare” follow-up. It didn’t really happen, and although he said in interviews that there would be three sections to the new stage show and a nightmarish middle section, it subverted expectation. Of course, subversion is what Alice has always done best.

As soon as the first show of the tour happened, a week before I saw him, someone posted a set list and spoilers on the Sick Things fan site. I think we all read it, and there was much disappointment that he had removed so many stage effects that he didn’t even get executed in this show. Add in half a dozen cover versions and only a handful of the newest songs, plus recent staples that have been in the set for years now, and for the first time ever I didn’t feel particularly enthused about seeing him. I was wrong.

Alice’s management pay close attention to the discussions on that fan forum, and the setlist evolved from show to show. By the time I saw him, in Edinburgh on Halloween, he was down to four covers (honouring his dead friends – Morrison, Lennon, Hendrix, Moon) and had added in a couple of long-unplayed classics. With less theatrics, more pyrotechnics than usual, a fantastic array of songs, and the incredible talents of the musicians he has hand-picked to form his band – what a show! Easily one of the best shows I have ever seen him do, and I’ve seen him seven or eight times now. It was also the first time, in twelve years of going to his gigs, that he finally played a track from one of the two albums I bought together as a teenager and which first got me into him – and that was a pretty special moment for me.

The claim to fame is this: Alice always throws items into the crowd – he taunts us with dollar bills threaded all the way up the rapier that he waves above our heads during “Billion Dollar Babies“, sending them fluttering into the air above us, and he dangles beaded necklaces just out of our grasp during “Dirty Diamonds.” His band throw out dozens of guitar picks and a couple of drumsticks at every show too, and my first piece of memorabilia was a Pete Friesen signature plectrum that I found on the floor of the Barrowland after my first gig. As of last Wednesday, I now have five Cooper Band plectra – one from new addition Orianthi (jesus, that girl’s solo on his live cover of Hendrix’s “Foxy Lady” – amazing!), the Pete Friesen one, a Steve Hunter one and two Tommy Henriksen ones from last Halloween, plus a dollar bill and a branded balloon that I caught and carefully deflated. The best bit, though, considering how many shows I have been to and how many times I have been down the front and still failed to catch more than one dollar bill (and no necklaces) is that I now have Alice’s cane.

He carried it onstage for his opening number, then threw it into the crowd. There was a mad dive for it, but I got one hand high and one hand low, and although I had to fend someone else off, it became mine. I threaded it up inside my belt, under the doctors coat I was wearing in lieu of  a proper costume, and it stayed there for the rest of the gig. I brought it home to Glasgow, and am very happy to have it. Here is a video of Alice waving it around during “Hello Hooray”, prior to throwing it casually away. I’d like to pretend that he deliberately chucked it to me, but at 3m 05s you can see how disdainfully he tosses it into the audience. Ha, if you look VERY closely, you can see my hand in the audience, giving the devil-horns, and then see as I lunge up with both hands to grab hold of it. 😀

The other claim to fame I have is that, owing to how far in advance I ordered my copy of the latest album, my name was printed along with several hundred others in the background of the poster that came with the limited Fan Pack edition of the album. You can see it highlighted and then enlarged below.

If you ever get the chance to see Alice live, you will not be disappointed – the greatest showman on the planet, and one of the warmest, wittiest people you could ever meet. I love him. Here’s “School’s Out” from that same gig – giant balloons, confetti, bubbles, swords, canes, top hats, a segue into Another Brick In The Wall Part 2 and back again, plenty of audience interaction, and masterful showmanship from Alice and every one of his band members – the biggest rock ‘n roll party going.


Dubious Claims To Fame – 17

I wrote a piece that I used in my stand-up sets last year, and it centred around phrases that I find overused, misused, abused, and otherwise thrown around abundantly, carelessly, and often inaccurately. One of my pet hates is the inappropriate description of things under the catch-all banner “that awkward moment.” The thrust of my argument is that, almost always, the situation or moment described is not particularly awkward, and a more appropriate adjective can be found. I would like to imagine that, on stage, I relayed that idea with a little more humour than it reads here.

While this was the bulk of my five-minute set, with examples and similar instances, I did witness a genuinely awkward moment just prior to one gig. We were in Edinburgh for the festival, and I was on the bill with my friend Ed. Ed is known for his boisterous enthusiasm and boundless energy, which he combines with a fantastic ear for music and his ever-present trombone to great comic effect. As we had arrived at the venue early, we began trying to hand fliers to passers by, in a bid to coerce people into being our audience. The vast majority of them bodyswerved us, with all the warmth you would expect from the inhabitants of Little England – God’s Frozen People – and I quickly gauged that most of them were natives of the city rather than casual tourists. We had almost no luck in handing anyone the show info, and anyone who graced us by taking a leaflet would, without exception, keep walking.

While Ed leapt around on the pavement outside the venue, varying between shouting about how great the show would be and playing recognisable tunes and themes on the trombone, I stepped forward and tried to hand a flier to a woman who was passing us. She was wearing a shawl or scarf, or possibly a hat, her face half hidden behind sunglasses, and as I offered her the brief she politely thanked me but said she had a show of her own to do. That was the point when I suddenly recognised her as the actress Kristen Schaal, from Flight Of The Conchords.

I wanted to say something cool but definite, to calmly acknowledge that I knew who she was but without fawning over her or drawing attention to her. I was immediately thwarted in this endeavour by Ed, who had turned round and whose jaw dropped when he saw her. “Oh my god!” he cried, “Kirsten Schaal! It’s Kirsten Schaal! I love you, Kirsten Schaal!” He proceeded to half follow her up the street, and half run around on the spot while singularly failing to hide his excitement. “Kirsten!” he shouted, “I love you Kirsten! Oh my god, it’s Kirsten Schaal!” Not knowing what to do with himself, he played a few more notes, and then resumed shouting.

I waited for him to come back down to earth, and asked him – deadpan – “Is her name not Kristen?”

It is. Ed’s face fell. How I laughed.

So, that was the day my friend decided to humiliate himself in public by declaring his love and admiration for an international actress whose first name he repeatedly mispronounced as he shouted it after her. As moments go, it was funnier (for me, at least) than it was awkward – it would have been a lot more awkward had she come back to correct him…

This happened just over a year ago now, and to his chagrin I don’t think I’ll let Ed forget it any time soon. It was just too funny to watch, haha!

 

 


Dubious Claims To Fame – 10

I only found out that I’m a bastard because it is written in the liner notes of the latest Caustic album.

I first heard Caustic on a Das Bunker compilation album some years ago now, which I picked up purely for an exclusive track it featured by my favourite band. That led to me buying “Booze Up And Riot” from Crunchpod –  an underground record label whose entire roster consisted of many bands/albums that I now love – and I picked up “This Is Jizzcore” on pre-order.

I found that Matt Fanale – Caustic – is a prolific blogger and sometime comedian, who posts incredibly insightful and helpful yet entertaining musings on the state of the industrial and wider music scenes; the creation of music and art; ways in which he recommends musicians find and retain fans; the hard work and sacrifice required (he holds down two day jobs and makes music around them). His intelligent and humourous blogs were great reading, even for us lay people, and I respected his DIY approach to making, producing, and releasing his music. He always came across as very down-to-earth and appreciative that he has any fanbase to speak of, and was very open and honest in his opinions, advice, and in fighting his personal demons. I quickly came to admire and respect him, and in truth I initially continued buying his albums more for that reason than for the music he was putting out on them.

Since discovering his band, I have watched Matt publicly cast out his major demon and seen the support his loyal fanbase has afforded him, and have also heard as he has evolved his sound. His next release was funded through Kickstarter, and I happily pledged him some dollars to make his lyrically personal and literally handmade new album. I helped fund the one after that, and the highly-acclaimed most recent one too. Part of the ‘reward package’ included signed CDs, and latterly included mentions in the liner notes too.

That’s what I like about Matt/Caustic – he makes so many levels of “reward” available, and so as well as signed CDs and mentions in the liner notes (the first just my name, the second Matt decided to label me a bastard – and you can probably sense that I don’t see it as an insult), I also have my name mentioned in one of his bonus tracks from the previous album. For this album, as before, he added additional items to each reward level with every thousand-dollars in pledges above his target. Due to overwhelming public support, he kept having to find new bonuses. For $25 (seven dollars of which went on international postage alone), I have a signed CD, two magnets, a patch, a band condom, and a dogtag with chain. That is astounding value for money, and that is before you even consider the fact that this is easily his best album to date, in numerous ways. There have also been exclusive remixes and mp3s, and we got to download and hear the album before the release date.

That claim to fame might be shit, since being mentioned in the liner notes/song was part of the price I paid in pre-ordering the albums. It’s nothing that anyone else couldn’t have achieved, given the same web address, a credit card, and the desire to hear new Caustic music and/or support one of the most respected (if not, by his own admission, respectable) artists in the scene just now. I’m going to add below my own personal claim to fame with Caustic.

When he was scheduled to play at the first Resistanz Festival, Matt dropped me a line on Facebook a few months in advance to ask if I knew anybody that might give him a gig in Glasgow – he wanted to add some additional shows in the UK that week, since he is here so rarely. I put him in touch with my local promoter, who I see and speak to quite often in the club he runs, and within an hour Caustic had been booked to perform their (I believe) only Scottish date. It was kept very secret, as part of the agreement with the festival, and announced that same weekend, just days before the show. I met Matt there, and he later thanked me from the stage for setting up the gig. In truth, I just put one person in touch with another and stepped back, but I’m glad it came together. It was a good gig, and his support band (and Caustic bandmates) The Gothsicles were fun.

That, then, is my Caustic claim to fame – I helped in some very small way to arrange his sole Scottish show to date.

Having seen Matt go from strength to strength, both musically and as he has candidly addressed his personal demons and fought hard to overcome them, it is heartening to see the success he is now finding. When Crunchpod went under, he self-released his next album, before signing to the relatively-huge Metropolis Records. His latest album has received a lot of critical praise, even more than the last one, and yet he remains very grounded and seems genuinely humbled by the loyalty, support, and generosity (not just financial) of his fans and admirers.

If you want to hear some industrial and dance music from one of the most interesting people in the scene just now, give Caustic a listen. He puts out a quite ridiculous amount of free music too – bonus tracks, free EPs, and occasionally even free albums from his back catalogue.

If you want to learn a little (or even a lot) about music, art, how to succeed, engaging with people and keeping their interest, or about battling addiction and winning, then check out his blogs – old and new.

Top: …And You Will Know Me By The Trail Of Vomit (2010)
Bottom Left: The Man Who Couldn’t Stop (2012)
Bottom Right: The Golden Vagina Of Fame And Profit (2011)

Above: My name in both of the last two album sleeves.

 

 


Time Is Money, And Tattoos.

Life is absurd. Statement of fact. I called my blog this because there are so many incidences that are beyond the realms of comprehension, it is easier to just embrace the fact that crazy things happen all the time, rather than try to fully understand them. Here is one such coincidence, which has flummoxed me. Some background information is required.

A few months ago, I decided on a whim to finally investigate getting my first ever tattoo. I figure now I’m 30, the folly of youth is somewhere behind me. Trevor, the drummer in my favourite band, Combichrist, is a tattoo artist, and I asked him to quote me a price to get some work done on their forthcoming UK tour. His fee of $150/hour in cash, while not particularly unreasonable when you consider his portfolio and his standing, was sufficiently off-putting for someone with only an idea and no real money. Even with a favourable exchange rate, I’d need the cash (as opposed to credit card) and have to pay commission. Then consider that I have no idea how labour-intensive a tattoo is, how quickly it can be done, or in fact very much at all about the actual procedure involved. All I know for certain is that I want my first tattoo to hold meaning, and I’m extremely relieved that at no point in my twenties did this desire for a tattoo manifest itself this strongly – otherwise I might be permanently inked with the name of a band I no longer listen to.

Caught up in the idea, I immediately set about thinking of something appropriate but simple – filled with meaning, but achievable within an hour-long session. The Combi logo seems hack, and I realise now that I don’t want to be marked with the name of a band who look set to become huge – fine for the first few years, and then you look like you jumped on the very bandwagon you helped start rolling. I decided instead, in a sudden epiphany, that my first tattoo should involve the word “Glasgow” – my home for the past eight years, and when I moved here I discovered that I was always a Glaswegian, I’d just been trapped in Hamilton for 22 years. In describing this choice of tattoo, I would say: I’m a part of it, and it’s a huge part of me. I combined some Google image searches, and quickly came up with something I liked.

My closest and most trusted friend is a girl I have known for the entirety of our adult lives, and last night in the course of sending her an email I mentioned, for the first time, this notion that had taken me some months back. It didn’t relate to the rest of our conversation, apart from me saying that I’ve just booked up to see Combi four times on this tour, and neither of us is tattooed (which surprises many), but as she is my barometer of good/shit I ran my design past her. Her response, condensed, is that I should re-think the border I have chosen, and replace it with something that holds significant meaning. “I don’t think your tattoo design is finished yet would be my concluding remark if I was to make one which I have in fact just done.”

I realised, lying in bed reading this at 4am, that she is right. This is partly why we are friends and why I run things past her. I had hastily created this design and then chose the best of five similar ones I threw together one afternoon. Sure, the actual name of this city is as significant as any one place can be in a man’s life, but the rest of it came from what was at hand at that particular time, drawn from half a dozen pages of search results. There is still two months until the tour, plenty of time to plan further the artwork I want indelibly drawn on me, and although I am happy with the result generated so far, that doesn’t necessarily mean that it is finished or doesn’t require additional work. Even though it isn’t financially viable right now, and though I did some research and came up with a few designs, one of which I like a lot, there’s still the possibility of creating something even better. All of which might be blindingly obvious to some of you, but which I was obviously blind to. That’s the thought I fell asleep to, tattoos and Glasgow and the resolution to put further thought into my design and make it truly personal.

**************************************************************************************************

Tonight, I finally got round to putting away some of the stuff that I dug out of boxes last week, stuff that has been in storage at my dad’s since I moved out of my first Glasgow flat – long-lost treasures like my craft materials, black kilt socks, and a hip flask. I put this last item in the drawer with my other good-but-scarcely-used items, among the neckties, the kilt socks and pins, the other hip flask, the cufflinks, and the watch I’ve never worn. It was a present from my youngest sister, sometime when she was still working in a jewellers, but I’d stopped wearing a watch at that point as I didn’t like having the extra weight on my wrist and used my phone to tell the time. It has sat in various drawers all of the years since, during which time the battery has gradually died. As you do when confronted with some rarely-seen item of clothing or jewellery, I took it out and put it on, noticing that it could do with having a link or two removed and contemplating whether I have the skills and the tools for the job. Idly trying to wind it, I removed the plastic display insert from the box, looking for the instructions to confirm the method of setting the time. I don’t really want to break a watch that is as pristine as a watch can be. What I found was so unexpected that I have no explanation for it, and when I phoned my sister to ask her if she can tell me more, she can’t even remember ever giving me a watch.

“Are you sure it was her gave you it?” asked another friend. I am certain – I don’t own an abundance of jewellery, and I remember precisely how I acquired that little which I have: a watch for my 21st, which I chose and which has been broken for years and no longer has the metal strap attached; this watch my sister gave me, year unknown; my grandpa’s wedding ring, the replacement for the one he lost in the Mediterranean Sea; a gold chain that was my 18th birthday present, and which hasn’t been worn in over a decade; and a pair of cufflinks which my dad gave me in anticipation of my need for them at my sister’s wedding. That’s it. And at no point do I remember secreting money in any of them.

When I lifted out the plastic insert, there was a flap in the bottom of it with thick folded paper – I presumed instructions – inside. It came as a surprise to find that it is actually $130 US dollars in ten-dollar bills. I have no recollection of hiding money in there, and I have only been to America twice – in summer 2005 and February 2006. Both times, I took Travellers Cheques and only a handful of notes. The cheques were slipped inside the covers of various books I had taken with me, stored with my passport, and generally kept in a few different locations. Some were in my suitcase, some in my wallet, some in my backpack – all sound hiding places, and ensuring that it would take extremely bad luck to leave me without anything. When I did run short of money, towards the end of my ten-day stint in NYC in 2006, I figured I had spent more than intended or had done some poor accounting. In 2009, when I had moved into and from six flats, and finally unpacked all my boxes of books, I found an uncashed Travellers Cheque inside the back cover of the novel I had been reading at the time. I certainly can’t explain this wad of notes in the watch box.

For a start, it’s a watch I have never worn, and so I can’t imagine why I would have taken it on a transatlantic journey. The plastic insert has been sliced open, unevenly, and I am not given to destroying my belongings in such a way – if this was my chosen hiding place, I’d be far more inclined to keep it aesthetically pleasing by keeping the insert intact then folding the notes flat and hiding them under it. To damage something in otherwise excellent condition, to make uneven slits in the base instead of neatly cutting along the seams, to then secrete a bundle of notes inside it instead of keeping the notes flat – none of this strikes me as my natural choice. Then there is the fact that there are thirteen notes here, and I have explained on here previously that I have a lifelong aversion to that number. To place 13 ten-dollar bills in one place, to my mind, would be tempting fate.

I actually checked the notes against the light, looking for watermarks (which I found), but sense tells me nobody would go to such lengths to hide Monopoly money. There are only two possible explanations: 1) I put this money here for safekeeping, for reasons and in circumstances now wholly eradicated from my memory, or; 2) fuck knows. The money was hidden there by person or persons unknown on its way to, or before being returned unused to, the reputable jeweller who then sold it on? That seems implausible, and yet the rational option (that I did it) is alien to me in numerous ways. I have to accept that I will never know for certain, but there is one notable upside. Specifically, $130 dollars, in cash, is almost exactly enough to pay for a tattoo…

I would say this is really weird, this casual talking of and rethinking my tattoo (which hasn’t been spoken of in months) then suddenly finding funds for it completely by chance, because it is. But life is so overwhelmingly absurd anyway that it’s just another inexplicable coincidence to be taken in stride.

And if you ever hid 130 bucks in a watch box then lost track of it, please don’t contact me.