Sean Bonner

misanthropologist
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Happy Accidents, a post about the Doughboys

I’ve been listening to a lot of Doughboys recently. Out of the blue about 2 months ago, for no reason at all one of their songs popped into my head and inspired me to go dig up the albums. This is always a dangerous prospect because when you remember liking a band that you haven’t heard in a very long time sometimes the memory is better than the real thing and when you go revisit them later in life they just don’t hold up. I’ve ruined a handful of childhood favorites by listening to them with a critical adult ear. Luckily, Doughboys held up and have been on almost constant repeat since I put the files onto my phone so I could walk around with them. Listening to these songs again has been really interesting for me beyond just rediscovering some music I used to like.

In 1991 when I was 16 I went to a show to see a band called the Doughboys who had some members from The Asexuals though I didn’t really know what they sounded like. The show I’m thinking of was at a venue called Janus Landing so I knew I could get in free via any number of means, and important consideration for 16 year old me growing up in the middle of Florida. There was a secret back alley entrance next to a sandwich shop that had a fence I could jump, if I got there early enough I could grab a piece of gear and carry it in walking right through the front door with a purpose. There was a guy named Fred who always set up a table inside selling records and I knew I could act like I was helping him carry things in too. Or in the worse case I could find Tony who was the promoter of the show and beg. Looking back now there is no way he didn’t know I was sneaking in to all his shows, but never once gave me any trouble for it and helped me out in many ways over the years. But that’s a different story.

One way or another I’d get in. And the funny thing about doing this kind of reminiscing in 2019 is that in some cases someone actually has the event on video and has posted it to YouTube. The quality is questionable, but I’m certain that one of the heads bouncing around in front of the stage in this is mine. My friends and I all looked the same so it’s hard to pinpoint, but I dead center in the front for this entire show.

That was a long lead up to the main point that at this show I completely fell in love with this band. Their crazy long dreadlocks, poppy as shit songs and overall attitude was incredibly refreshing at the time. And added bonus was that at this show they were selling a purple long sleeve T-shirt giant yellow writing on the back that read “I’M SO FUCKING HAPPY.” It was a favorite of mine for years. This tour was just after their “When Up Turns To Down” but the first record I bought of their was their then most recent album “Happy Accidents” and that’s the one I always went back to and have listened to perhaps thousands of times. If you have one of those records where you know every single word, every single note, every single tempo spacing then you know what I mean. I feel lucky to have a number of those kinds of records, but “Happy Accidents” is on of them for sure. And of course, someone has posted the entire album on YouTube and if you did nothing else for the next 48 minutes besides sit and listen to it that would be 48 minutes well spent.

Every single song on this record resonates with me for different reasons and in different ways. It brings me vivid memories of the swampy smell of the unfinished garage I lived in at the time as our housing complex condo was only 2 bedrooms and I didn’t want to share a bedroom with my mother or brother, long sticky summer days driving across the state with friends, car air conditioner broken, windows rolled down and stereo blasting, or walking through neighborhood streets in central Florida, yards alternating from perfectly manicured to hosting a collection of rusted cars on cinder blocks. The songs were catchy and often about girls and being in love but not in the sappy way that would have put me off at the time. The song “Wait And See” can be found on almost every mix tape I made for any girl over the next 5 years.  You might not think  think that a song with  lyrics like

..If I could take for granted all my faults and second chances, there’s one chance left to take, you could be my maiden and I could fight off all the dragons, but it never seems to work out that way…

would have clicked for a little hardcore straight edge kid in the middle of nowhere obsessed with grindcore and hiphop but they did in a big way. “Intravenus De Milo” “Happy Sad Day” and “Sunflower Honey” were also common mix tape ingredients, though the sample in “Sunflower Honey” that says “What does sex amount to without a sense of guilt” made including that one tricky depending on the hidden messages I was trying to sneak in there.

Their previous album “Home Again” was no less beautiful and I copied the CDs that I had onto one long playing cassette so that when driving around we could listen to both albums back to back easily. The unquestionable standout track on that was “I Won’t Write You A Letter” because with that sugary hook and lyrics like:

…Now and then I might remember, mostly I try to forget, and right now I’m in the middle wondering if it’s over yet, and I know it doesn’t matter because the road will never end, well so I won’t write you a letter I know I’ll be home again…

how could it not? I cued up the video below to that song, listen to the whole thing and wait for the baseline break down 3/4ths of the way through. Holy shit it still gets me even to this day.

Digging further back, their first album “Whatever” just didn’t grab me, I think if I’d heard it when it came out I may have had a different take on it, but by “Home Again” and “Happy Accidents”they had really found their sound which they hadn’t quite figured out on “Whatever” though it there are glimpses of it if you want to hunt for them, but I never really felt the need.

A few years later in 1993 “Crush” came out accompanied by their first music video for the first song from the record “shine” which got picked up on MTV2 which was a really big deal in those days. I remember someone getting tipped off when it was going to be played and we all went over to watch it together. This video, much better than the live Janus Landing one I posted before shows what weirdos they looked like, and really captures what they felt like in my memory.

They were Canadian too so had some added mystic to us Florida kids, in fact now that I think about it it was probably the Doughboys and The Nils who first made Canada interesting to me. Years later I’d re-release the epic “And Such Is Progress” by Grade and then eventually marry a Canadian girl, so maybe they can all thank Doughboys for initially pointing me north. When you think about it Canada and Florida are both weird places that most people have only heard about and are probably a little afraid of so we have some social outcast kinship right out of the gate.

Anyway “Crush” kept going, here’s a song called “Melt” that you can’t even pretend doesn’t rock.

Their final album “Turn Me On” took a big step forward and felt totally different to me than their earlier work. But not in the way that Jawbreaker’s “Dear You” felt totally different, where you were shocked at first, almost taken aback, but it got interesting on the second listen and the brilliance began to show by the third listen and every successive listen after that becomes clearer and clearer that it’s perhaps one of the greatest records ever recorded without ruining the trio of perfect records that had lead up to it. No, “Turn Me On” was just different, and it wasn’t my thing. It’s not a bad record in any sense, but it’s not “Happy Accidents” and that’s what it was all about for me.

Recently I learned that Doughboys singer-guitarist John Kastner moved from Montreal to Los Angeles just before I did and lived right around the corner from me for many years, though I didn’t know it at the time. I don’t know what I would have done had I known, but I’d like to think I would have walked over, knocked on his door and said thanks.

It’s funny sitting here a month shy of my 44th birthday trying to remember when I was 16. Thinking back on that kid I used to be I can’t help but think of things I would tell him that I know now, knowing full well he would never believe anything I had to say. Similarly, I wonder what he’d tell me, looking at the life I ended up making and where the paths I chose lead. I know for sure he never could have imagined half of what has gone down over the last 3 decades – but given the chance to look ahead at where he’d land I wonder what would be the thing he’d have hoped that I would have held onto. At that time I really didn’t expect to live to far into my 20’s so I think he would be both surprised and proud. I still like that kid when I think about him. Idealistic and stubborn, he definitely had some issues he needed to work through but he came out OK on the other side of I do say so myself.

Anti-Social Media

No small amount of pixels have been spent talking about social media and a stroll through the Networks or Communications categories on my own blog will  expose much navel gazing. Nabil is continuing to think about these things which I found because Warren mentioned him, while adding some of his own sage advice. I’ve been doing more thinking and less acting on those thinkings recently and I’m still not entirely sure how I feel about the current state of things. If anything I’m more aware of nuance than I used to be, that is I’ve always been quite up front that my own perspective is just that and shouldn’t be applied to or against anyone else who certainly has their own perspective as well which is equally as valid or invalid as mine. The issue now is that I’ve got more than one use case personally and so what works for my left hand is sometimes more complicated for my right.

People still talk about a blog post I made 7 years ago about why I stopped using Facebook which I still stand behind, for myself, but I also understand how that reasoning in a different context with different people doesn’t make as much sense. I used to think it was a privilege to use social media and I’m much more aware these days that in fact it’s a privilege not to. If your car breaks down in the middle of no where and after walking for miles you find a restaurant and go inside for a drink of water do you complain because they only have bottled water from the brand you dislike and no running water, do you throw the water back at them and keep walking? Or do you drink it so that you don’t die of thirst and then try to find a better option next time? I don’t know what I’m really saying there other than that I can make a weird analogy about anything.

When I lived in Los Angeles if I wanted to see friends I had 100 different places I could go to in a few minutes to do that. If I wanted to talk to people they were all awake and online. If I wanted to see familiar people but didn’t know or care who they were, I had a list of places I could go and for sure would stumble into someone I hadn’t planned on seeing that day. Living in Tokyo is different. I don’t know as many people, the people I know are asleep when I’m awake and coordinating social anything is a struggle. How that translates into online usage is that I find myself missing people that I can only connect with on social media. I went back to using Instagram before leaving LA because I wanted to use it as a portfolio for my photography because that’s where people were looking. I’ve done that, but I’ve also connected to friends new and old and been invited to participate in projects I never would have otherwise. I have conflicting and mixed feelings about this.

I walked away from Twitter for a while at the end of last year which I think was a good hard reset, but I find myself now realizing some of the value that I’m missing from it. I have private Slack teams and mailing lists, but there’s something different about the stream you get from the same people and the stream you get from the open world of the unexpected. I don’t know how I will continue to use these things, but it’s something I’m thinking about. I need to understand the balance between consuming and publishing, for myself. What is it that I want to say, and where & who do I want to say that to? And what do I want to read? I fired up an old RSS reader today too, but I have no subscriptions. I don’t know where to even find a list of my friends feeds anymore. I don’t know who to follow, who to mute, who to ignore. By all this I mean to say that for the last 19 years or so I’ve carried lists from one place to the next, with preset groups to follow and communicate with. I don’t have any of that now, and it’s like slowly wading into an ocean that I know I’ve been in before, but so long away I forget where the drop off is, so I’m being cautious.

Ten for Twenty Nineteen

Just a few things I’m thinking about as we roll into the new year…

  1. Notes and Notebooks: I have mountains of notebooks around with one or two pages filled and the rest empty. If I want to find something I wrote down I never know where to look. Recently Warren shared his approach of having one hardback pocket sized Moleskine as the master year notebook for every day notes, and individual smaller Field Notes books for individual projects. I’m going to try and mimic this to some extent. If you see me, ask me if I remembered to carry my 2019 notebook.
  2. Intermittent Fasting: I’ve had success with this in the past but 2018 got in the way in lots of ways and I forgot about it. I’m back on trying to keep all food consumption in between noon and 8pm. Coffee + MCT oil in the morning helps push through.
  3. Take The Stairs: In Tokyo elevators and escalators are everywhere, and while I walk about 10x as much as I did in Los Angeles it’s still too easy to take the easy way up. If you look around you can quickly tell the difference between the older Japanese people who have been active their whole lives and the older tourists coming from countries where people are much more sedentary and as I’m quickly approaching 45 I figure it’s a good time to remember it’s only 40 steps from the ground floor to my office, and rather than take the elevator up 2 floors every day I should just walk it.
  4. Water: Drink more of it.
  5. Waste Less: Related to the above, Tokyo is full of vending machines and it’s quick and easy to get a bottle of water anywhere anytime, the trade off is that also creates another empty plastic bottle. I’m taking one of my travel tumblers to the office remembering to carry a small one in my bag when I head out so refill those from the tap rather than buy something I’m going to throw away a few minutes later. I also have a pair of titanium travel chopsticks I’m keeping in my bag.
  6. Read More: I have a serious ebb and flow issue when it comes to books, I’ll go through months where I’m glued to several books and plow through them and then won’t look at anything for months after that. With my PhD work this year I have several books I need to be reading anyway, but I hunted down my kindle and making a rule for myself to read a bit of something before bed rather than playing iPhone games which is what I usually do. It’s a habit thing, and I just need to adjust it.
  7. Moratorium On Fuck Giving: I think overall I’m pretty good at not stressing much about how others will react to whatever it is that I do, but I also know that once I start thinking about it I can dwell. Looking back on the last 40 years or so of my life I’m much happier and prouder of the output during the times when I really didn’t even consider what reactions might be, and I can see that the times I cared more about it my creativity suffered because of it. So this is more of a note to self: Just keep going.
  8. I forgot what 8 was for.
  9. Say Yes: When my default reaction is no, that often based on fear which is often based on assumptions. I need to catch myself in that process and stop the assumptions from getting in the way of reality. I give people that advice all the time but I sometimes forget to take it myself.
  10. Say No: Lots of awesome people have lots of awesome projects and lots of awesome ideas and there’s literally no way to say yes to them all. That’s a recipe for failing and letting people down. So, similarly when my default reaction is “YES!!” I need to take a breath and step back and look at the overall situation and see if this is actually something I can do, have the time to do, and will be proud of doing after the fact. It’s it’s not, don’t do it.

What’s Your Bag

I really hate carrying anything so if I have to carry things, which I often do, I want to carry them in the most efficient and minimal way I can, and do that with some style. I used to always be hunting for “the perfect bag” thinking I could find something that would work for all occasions but I now know that simply doesn’t exist, and different problems require different solutions. Because of that, I obsess a bit about bags which is annoying for me, but perhaps beneficial for you.

2019 Bags
[L to R: Integer, Spar, Shank]

Beyond size the major issues I consider are:

  • Build quality – Is it going to fall apart after using it every day for 6 months?
  • Weather resistance – Is my stuff going to get ruined if it starts raining while I’m out?
  • Usability – Do I need to think about how to get to my stuff, or is it intuitive?
  • Lifetime guarantee  – If there is a problem, will the company stand behind their product?

So, this is what I’m using to carry things around these days, sorted from small to large:

Chrome Industries Cardiel Shank – If I need more than I can carry in my pockets, this is my go to. In the 80’s this would have been called a hipsack, a fannypack or any number of other pejoratives. While the style was questionable then the logic was sound, and in the decades sense the style has course corrected. I tend to wear this across one shoulder so I can swing it on to the front for easy access or to the back to disappear. It’s subtle, but large enough to hold my iPad Mini, field notes and/or a moleskine notebook, a Leica M body or other compact camera, a bag of coffee, some extra film or even a compressed micro-puff jacket, should I anticipate needing such a thing. This is too small for a laptop, but that’s exactly why I like it. A Chrome Industries messenger bag was my daily carry for much of the early 2000’s and their products have always been bombproof.

Mission Workshop Spar – If I need to a laptop but not much else, I reach for the Spar. This is basically a laptop sleeve with a tiny extra pocket for cables, and several ways to get into the main compartment. This is so thin it will fit unnoticed under a jacket if that is required, and the sling strap adjusts incredibly well. I moved away mostly from one-shoulder kind of bags because I find they hurt my back after carrying them all day, so I bought the add on backpack harness, but I actually find the one shoulder strap to be more comfortable.

(A brief note about Mission Workshop, the company was founded by the ex-Chrome team when they sold the company and they put everything they learned then into practice here. When I switched from messenger to backpack style bags, I bought their  Fraction rucksack and over the following decade if became the best bag I’d ever had in my life, hands down. When it eventually wore out, MW took it back and offered to replace it 1:1 with  new one, or give me that amount as credit towards something else. Very solid policy.)

Mission Workshop Integer – I actually bought the previous version of this called the Rhake the moment it was released and loved it in every possible way. My only complaint was that if I put my camera into it, I didn’t tend to take it out because there was just too many steps involved. That only matters because of the kind of photography I do, where I need my camera quickly and also want it out of the way just as quick. When they announced the Integer, which seemed like the Rhake with an additional side opening to quickly grab a camera I was all over it.

In practice the Integer is actually a bit larger than the Rhake. While the Rhake has a very slim profile, the Integer sticks out from your back a bit more which can be an issue in crowds or when trying to jam it under a plane seat, but pulling out the built in foam padding that makes up the camera compartment helps with that a bit but I do find myself wishing it was a bit flatter.

Original Rimowa Cabin – The above covers 90% of my “carrying stuff” needs, but I’d be remiss not to discuss travel as I’ve done in the past. The Integer is actually large enough to hold what I need for several days, but if I have extra gear or am going around the world for more than 5 or 6 days then I’m bringing a suitcase and there is nothing better than Rimowa. I’ve discussed this before but I used to go through $150-200 bags every year, they’d drop a wheel, have a zipper failure, or something else which added unexpected and sometimes nightmarish issues to my trip. I kept hearing about Rimowa and eventually caved in and threw down the big bucks for one and it’s the best suitcase I’ve ever had. More than a decade later it still looks and works like brand new, and I never worry about it breaking mid trip. I few years back I was gifted the aluminum version of the composite model that I had, and immediately passed the composite one down to my son who I’m certain could use it for the rest of his life without ever needing to replace it. The pricetag seems high, but with a literal lifetime lifespan, it very quickly becomes cheaper than buying a new bag every few years. For anyone with a regular travel schedule, you’d be crazy not get one. Inside I use a set of Eagle Creek packing bags to compress and keep laundry and toiletries separate, and those work just as well in any of the other bags if I use them instead.

That’s what I’m carrying when I want to carry stuff. Hope this was helpful and useful, let me know if further travel/carry/gear kind of posts are interesting for you and I’ll see what I can whip together.

On Leaving Twitter

Over the past few weeks I’ve come to the conclusion that I’m effectively done with twitter for personal use. If you know me, you know this is a big deal and I tell you it was not a decision I came to easily, nor one that I’m happy about making. I quit Facebook in 2012 because I didn’t like what the company and the site was doing but I didn’t really use much to begin with so it wasn’t that big of a deal, this however is heartbreaking, and I feel like I’m on some level admitting defeat.

As backstory for those less familiar, I joined what was then called twttr on July 14, 2006 making me one of the first 140 people to sign up for the service, which is only notable really because tweets used to be restricted to 140 characters. Twitter has been a major part of my life since then, redefining relationships and how I interact with people and reshaping communication online in ways I can’t even begin to describe. How I used twitter changed over the years [pt 1 & pt 2] and I spent a lot of time thinking and talking about how it might be used by the world at large. I got engaged over twitter (though I met my wife in person like a normal human). I’ve felt passionately about features that were added, some I loved and some I hated. At one point I changed all of my contact forms to tell people if they wanted to reach me really the best and only way was over twitter.

In 2015 then CEO Dick admitted that Twitter was terrible at dealing with the growing abuse problem and I wrote up some suggestions begging for someone to take note and fix things on this site that I loved. I took a break from Twitter for a while after that when things didn’t seem to change and then a management shake up and reorg changed some things and I hoped for the best and found my way back using it regularly.

My usage of the service has surged and plunged. When I hit 100,000 tweets I reflected on the ephemeral nature of twitter and deleted my entire history and set up a service to automatically delete all tweets once they reached 90 days old. Since enabling that, I’ve never had more than 30 tweets live which is a reflection of how my usage has dropped off. This isn’t because I got bored and went elsewhere, it’s because the site has become such a cesspool that depresses me anytime I use it. And that seems to be the overwhelming feeling others I talk to about it are having as well.

Recently, it’s become very obvious that Twitter’s management has no interest in fixing things, and perhaps they never did. Looking back now it should have been obvious, though I’ll admit I always wanted to give the benefit of the doubt because of how much the site really does mean to me. Earlier this month I announced through my mailing list that I was going to take stock of how I was using the site and refactor. I unfollowed everyone and made a few new lists to try and keep track of what I needed to keep track of, and removed the app from the front screen of my mobile devices. I didn’t use them. I felt better staying away. I’d thought I’d slowly find my way back again, but what I found was that I didn’t want to.

In an ongoing conversation with some friends we decided it really was time to just walk away. They agreed on using a hashtag to rally people around the idea, and I supported them on that but I didn’t use the hashtag myself because for me it was more personal. I wasn’t leaving because everyone else was leaving , I was leaving because that was the only thing left to do. I’ve tried, I’ve begged, I’ve hoped and nothing helps. The site I loved is gone, maybe it’s been gone for a lot longer than I want to admit. Maybe I’ve been hanging on longer than I should. It truly hurts to do it, but it’s time. So I’m done. Personally. I’m out.

There’s talk of “twitter alternatives” and last year I wrote a bit about Mastadon which is the most promising though it’s not perfect and nothing ever will be. I don’t really know if I want to just shove something else in the twitter sized hole in my chest right now. I don’t how how I’ll do the things I’ve come to rely on twitter for. How will I find relevant news or find out what my friends are doing. I’ve entirely given up on “networking” because I found it was easier to just ping people on twitter when I needed to, so I’m really cutting off some of my ability to find people. I hope I find a better way to do that. Maybe it’s linkedin. Maybe it’s an RSS reader. Maybe it’s lots of different private slack groups. A massive chunk of my adult life has revolved around this site, so I feel a little lost without it. But I feel better without it, so I know finding a new path is the way to go.

[This is also posted on Medium if you want to share it there.]

January Buchla Project: Day 24 – Portamento

I mentioned earlier on in this experiment that I’ve been guilty of ignoring the keyboard of the Buchla Music Easel primarily because I’m just not a keyboard player at all and don’t know what to do with it. I can change and Octave here or there but when it comes to playing notes that actually sound good next to each other I’m way out of my league there. Tonight I sort of stumbled into having a really long portamento (which is sort of sliding from one note into the other rather than popping) running through a lot of reverb (Strymon Blue Sky) and I ended up playing notes for a while because it was just sounding so ethereal and spooky in all the right ways. I didn’t have enough time to come up with anything that I could repeat, but I spent some time exploring it and my mind is racing at the possibilities. It was almost theremin like at parts, which was kind of exciting and haunting all at once. This month so far has really helped me get to know this instrument so much better, but at the same time (as the best things always do) it’s shown me how very little I know about it and how much deeper I can go.

January Buchla Project: Day 22 – Double Back

When I pick up my guitar and hit a note I’m pretty certain what it’s going to sound like. The G chord I play today will sound the same as the one I play next week, or next year. Sure I can fuck with the settings on pedals but that’s almost post processing. The guitar sounds the way it does. With the Buchla Music Easel that isn’t such a sure thing. The slightest variation in a slider position or variance in tempo and everything sounds different. Take the patch here as an example. I was really enjoying where part of this was heading but feeling a little stuck on another part. I wanted to try something out but it would require undoing everything here. But not wanting to lose what I had I took a photo that I assumed I could reference later and try to reconstruct it. That didn’t work out for me. The thing I wanted to try out didn’t sound right, so I pulled out this photo as reference and tried to recreate what I had earlier and but just can’t get there. Switches and knobs seem to be in order but the oscillators sons totally different. It will require more tweaking to get back to where I started, but that will have to wait until tomorrow.