Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Gems I: The Genesis

About two months ago, I bought my wife and I a new computer. We had both been in bed for a few days, simultaneously battling a hybrid of strep throat, sinus infections and brutal head and chest colds. We ate a lot of ice cream, watched every horror film we could find and hovered in an almost zombified-like existence. There wasn't much else we could do.
One of these days, I became completely stir crazy. I decided we needed new pillows. When I get sick, I distract myself by cleaning, rearranging and just doing overall interior decorating. The bed was uncomfortable, and my solution was pillows.
I got in the car and headed onto the highway to drive to a discount store. When finally arriving at the savings mecca it was, I wandered aimlessly through every aisle looking for more shit. By the time I reached the checkout, I had boxes of high protein granola, nutrition bars, light bulbs, etc....a cornucopia of products that I wasn't necessarily in need of at the moment, but it somehow soothed my crap-filled head and body for the time being.
This would have been all I had bought that day if I hadn't walked down the stairs towards the car and noticed that big yellow tag. You know the one I'm talking about. It's huge, bright, and in the boldest font possible screams "BEST BUY". So, yeah....I got sucked in. I dropped the pillows and various treats off in the trunk of our car and headed back towards the light. Today was the day to buy the computer we had been so in need of for so long.
We moved out to Seattle with a tower that was on it's last leg. That leg broke and was just dragging itself for the last few years, hopped up on OCs and vicodans. I had bought a laptop within our first few months in Seattle, but, again, I have no computer knowledge whatsoever. I didn't know how to keep it up do date, virus-free.....all the things you need to know or understand, I just couldn't. In our home, we had a dead computer tower and a dysfunctional laptop, and that was it. That would be good enough if it wasn't for the fact that my wife is a talented artist and knows how to use programs such as Photoshop and creates amazing images/designs. That would be good enough if I hadn't finally come over to the beautiful world of iPods. Those two technological problem children would have been good enough if those two scenarios didn't exist. But, they those two technological problem children weren't helping us out enough, or, at all.
I walked through the doors and was immediately bombarded with greetings and smiles. I wanted to laugh, knowing that in fifteen minutes when I finally needed some help or someone to discuss my options with, none of these people would be around. Or, if they were around, I'd be ignored. It ended up being a little of both. I wandered around the computer section for a good twenty minutes, factoring in how much I could spend. I had worked a lot of extra hours the previous months, so money was saved and this purchase was well warranted and wouldn't put me in a hole. I had my limit, which I knew if anyone finally helped me, I would tried to be talked out of.
I ended up narrowing my options down to four different models. After another fifteen minutes of not having one employee ask me if I needed help, I did what I always do in these situations, which is walk straight up to the closest employee I see and, whether he's working with someone or not, I basically look him dead in the eye and say something along the lines of, "So, after about forty five minutes here is anyone going to talk to me at all or do I have to wave a credit card in front of your faces to let you know I'm worth your time? Think about it and make something happen....I'll be standing over here next to the thing I want to spend my money on and buy right now." This is not an exaggeration. This is how I deal with these situations. It may be a dick move, but being ignored pisses me off more than almost anything in the world....especially if I feel like I'm being simultaneously both ignored AND judged by the computer nerd powers that be.
Finally, an overweight dude with a ponytail (shocking....I know) walks over and gives me the minimal help I'm really asking for. I told him what I needed the tower for and that I needed the new Adobe Photoshop. He immediately directs me towards the thousand dollar and up choices. I nix every one before he even finishes his memorized lines. I tell him my limit. He, in turn, gives me a pained look, probably much like his stomach feels after lunch break following two supersized meals. (Yes....right now, I'm being an asshole. Department store workers force me into this position. Unless you look like a wealthy trophy wife or well-off white collar worker, nine times out of ten you will be snubbed and considered not worth their precious hourly wages' time. I say this from experience and not just as a theory.)
Big Gulp takes me to the section for people of my worth, and still tries to shoot fifty dollars over the cap I explicitly gave him. I let it go, knowing he's starting to get the hint. I further dive into my situation, into what exactly this tower will be used for. Basic Photoshop. Emails. iTunes. That is literally it. I explain that I know they have something that will do this for me and for a reasonable budget. I'm not being insulting at all....I'm being firm. He finally grasped the concept and played ball with me. Five minutes later, I had the tower. I had him grab me the Photoshop program and was finally at the checkout. As he scanned all the items, I asked him about ten times if installing everything on the tower can be done by an idiot. He assured me I would be able to do everything worry free and have the tower up and ready in no time. In one of the rare times he broke from computer salesman mode, he actually made a joke and said to me, "I'm positive you'll have no problems. I wouldn't say that unless I meant it, because you look like someone that would come back here and kick my ass if I'm wrong." I laughed, assured him I'm no thug, and that if all works out, I'd probably be back just to give him a high five.

Fast forward about thirty six hours. The tower is all set up and I don't feel like as much of a techno-invalid. Every program was up and running. I even figured out how to install a virus protection program. Cloud nine? Let me introduce myself to you. I'll be staying here for a bit.
The last program, the last hurdle to jump was iTunes. The one thing I made sure of when I bought the tower was that it had an extremely large amount of memory. I wanted to finally have a place where all the music we owned would be able to fit and would be available in one area. iTunes installed, I took the next three days ripping every CD we had in the house. Every demo, every soundtrack, every digital download...all of it. The end result was almost too funny to be true. Here was my lifeblood: every song that was played, that was housed on a format that would fit in this smaller black box, was now in their new home. What made me so entertained was this: the tower had 750GB of memory. My wife and I's entire collection? 40GB. Amazing. Completely and utterly amazing.
My obsession started immediately. For the next week, time was spent categorizing, finding all the artwork, manually typing in all song names/albums/info that Apple didn't have stored in their voluminous big brother music tank. Many days I stayed awake until six or seven in the morning doing this, letting my OCD take control. As CDs were ripping, I was rearranging bookshelves, reorganizing closets....pretty much anything I could do. It was the "sharks keep moving" scenario.
It was, honestly, a great time. When it was all complete, I had a feeling of victory and achievement. Now that the work was out of the way, I could focus on what it was all for, which was to be able to listen to anything I had whenever I wanted while I walk around the neighborhood or to and from work.
I have an 8GB iPod, which has just about enough room to turn every synchronizing time into an event similar to the NBA draft. I debate on what to keep and what to remove. Sometimes it takes me an hour to just decide whether to keep one record over another.
The best part about having these options, is the rediscovery aspect. Throwing an album you haven't heard in a very long time on a playlist so that, at some point, you may just pull it up to remember. Having the ability to trigger lost musical loves is an incredible gift....there's no other word for it.
I ended up having this happen many times within the first month of doing all of this organizing.....within the last three weeks is when the rediscovery point hit it's peak. Sometimes you forget how important certain albums, certain songs, certain artists affect your life. All it takes, at least for me, to bring it all back is one random rough night turns into one amazing flashback.

Interestingly enough, I have inebriated misanthropes and weekend warriors to thank for some of this. If it wasn't for working in a bar that is frequented on Friday nights by only the most unbearable of dimwits, I may have not had the trigger pulled in my memory bank. I work where an offshoot of third rate Tex-Mex food reigns supreme until midnight. This, of course, means that at 11:59 PM, every drunken idiot remembers food tastes good and tries to squeeze their order in before the kitchen is closed. This is a weekly occurrence. Some weeks it's bearable. Other's a frustrated bastard's nightmare.
The night in question was only a bit above the most typical of busy spring/summer work days in that kitchen. It was more the odd frustration of feeling trapped in there that day that was making everything seem like such a burden. Order after order kept pouring through the click-clacking of the ticket machine, spewing more demands for quesadillas and nachos. Five minutes before midnight finally slithered it's way in, followed by a stupid amount of last minute appetizers. When you're slow for the previous twenty minutes, you tend to break things down, start to close shop so that you're not stuck cleaning and stocking back up until one in the morning. Last minute orders are the emergency brake on the road to completion.
So, as much as I could take care of, when you have the domino effect of orders at the last minute, all the prep is for not. Everything gets taken back out, bags are reopened, open faced grills will have to be rescrubbed.....all of it. This is where frustration steps in.
I dealt with it as I always just suck it up and do it. It's your job. Deal with it. For most of us, money isn't handed out.
It was just tiring that night. I wanted to be home with a book or in bed watching a movie....anywhere but still on the clock. Roughly ten minutes before one in the morning I was able to punch my number and make an exit. I was defeated. Not upset, no more was there frustration, it was just a feeling of being drained. My bad knees were throbbing, as was my head. Heavy sighs replaced regular breaths.
I walked out the front door, headphones already in my ears, ready to be serenaded on my eight minute walk home. As the walk started, I had a thought that kept repeating in my head as I scrolled through my iPod, searching for the right soundtrack for my mini-journey down 12th Ave.
"I just don't want to hear anyone scream at me right now...." was all I kept saying. I couldn't handle it. The distortion and rage that usually blared through those buds was not what I needed tonight. I wanted something to let me zone out. I kept going through the names, trying to find something that felt right. My Stax boxsets were too nice. Any somber doom or psych rock would just drain me even further. Then, out of nowhere, the highlighted selection rested on an album I forgot I had even put on there and was, unquestionably, the perfect prescription for my remaining walk.
That album, which I will greatly dive into at another time, was Craig Mack's "Project: Funk da World". Within a minute of first listen, I was brought back.

I was taken to a time that had slipped away. Never completely, mind you....there was still frequent revisits, but when I pressed play this time, the era in question unlocked something inside of me that was, and now realizing again presently, a very important part of my life.
The era in question is still debatable in time frame, depending on who you ask. Ten different people may give you ten different answers. For me, it spanned about a decade, with a few asterisks bookending each side. From the period of roughly spring 1987 until winter of 1997, there was an incredible era of music that, as groundbreaking and void of comparison as it may be through some of our eyes, is still widely undervalued and under appreciated for what it was and still is.
The era in question has a few different names, but is most commonly referred to as the golden age of hip-hop. While I may not be able to give every artist and record their just due, I can, at the very least, show them the respect they both earned and deserved.
This was before mainstream radio subscribed to bottom of the barrel, cookie cutter singles. This was before every video had at least ten strippers, before every person on screen took turns throwing stacks of one hundred dollar bills at the camera to show the money they supposedly make, before everything looked shiny, before the term "bling" was created, before beats were more important than the words played over them.
This was when artists were still broke, still angry, still had something to say. This was when low budget videos were good enough, when those videos didn't try to gloss over every day life and instead focused on the real world and not a fantasy. It was when double albums didn't exist, when a release didn't have to be seventy five minutes long with only ten minutes worth of substance.
I'm going to do my best to cover every single artist/song/album/show/film/book that influenced me and continues to do so. As soon as the floodgates opened, I found myself diving headfirst back into various outlets, trying to remember more. I watched endless hours of YO! MTV Raps on YouTube, seeing videos again for the first time since I saw them premiere. I reread some books I had on the genre, telling certain stories of certain albums. I spent about a hundred bucks on used CDs of things that got away from me over time. I've searched for films I remember. All of these things makes me remember more about that age, about my youth. All of it influenced me greatly into becoming who I am today.
To sum it all up, the following details are why this thirty something punk's first, last and most influential love in the form of self expression will always belong to the golden era of hip-hop.
Drop the beat.

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