Eddie Lee Sausage [Interview]

I was browsing around Netflix a few months ago when I found myself relentlessly tired and ineligible in creating a decent thought worth sharing with you fine readers.  This actually happens quite a bit as I am fairly prone to laziness and alcoholism.  No matter, I managed to stumble upon a documentary that struck me right from the title.  The film was entitled Shut Up Little Man.  Intriguing to say the least.  And then I read the brief description and….holy shit.  What I saw in this brief yet full of content film was absolutely breathtakingly hilarious and beautiful.  It was something like nothing I had ever known before for so many reasons.  One, it was a phenomenon that seemed so much more impressive to me since I can only vaguely remember audio cassettes and the obsession with home recording that I too once had as a child.  Two, I could only imagine the film’s main characters on display as nothing less than Hemingway and Bukowski locked in a room to learn to love.  And thirdly, it was freaking hilarious!  If none of this makes sense to you thus far, good.  Keep reading.

I know directly after viewing this wonderful film about a wonderful artistic endeavor that the now renowned Eddie Lee and Mitch had created that I had to speak to one of them.  Soon.  I needed to know more.  I begged to know more about these two and what the hell they had been doing since.  So, I managed to wrangle myself a few words with Eddie Lee Sausage to discuss the phenomenon at hand, the cult following it has received, the documentary that ensued, and how a phenomenon such as Shut Up Little Man has stood the test of cult and time.  And if you are still lost and disillusioned, you should probably hate yourself just a little bit for not knowing about this by now.  I personally feel that I wasted 27 years of life by not knowing about this amazing phenomenon sooner.  Enjoy the read, and be sure to Google yourself right towards Shut Up Little Man as a project, and to the amazing documentary.  Enjoy!

If you don’t mind, could you drop us a quick synopsis of Shut Up Little Man.

Shut Up Little Man is a collection of urban field recordings made by my roommate Mitchell and I in the late 1980s in a low-rent apartment building in the ghetto of San Francisco.  The recordings feature the real-life comical rants, hateful harangues, and drunken fistfights of Peter and Raymond – the two alcoholic homicidal roommates that lived directly next door to us.  The recordings quickly spread via the underground into a worldwide phenomenon that inspired numerous artists, playwrights, film-makers, and musicians to illustrate, incorporate, and sample the stark and darkly comic arguments of Peter and Raymond into their comics, theatrical works, films, and music.

Are you and Mitch still close?

We are close in a brotherly sort of way.  We have known one another for 35 years now, and we have been through a lot together.  As we live halfway across the continent from one another, we don’t get to see each other much, but in another way our relationship isn’t affected at all by the distance.  Every week or two we will text a line or two from Shut Up Little Man to one another.

Do you think your life would have been far different if you hadn’t moved into the “Pepto Bismo Palace” twenty years ago?  How?

I don’t think my life would have been very different at all, actually.  It has been a bizarre and magical unfolding, and SULM is just another enchanting episode along the way.

What do you consider your greatest accomplishment since SULM first came to life?

The single best thing that has happened due to SULM has been the ability to build friendships with other creative people and to collaborate on projects based on the recordings.  Artists and musicians who have inspired us — for example Dan Clowes, Kurt Cobain, Devo, and Mike Flinn — were in turn inspired by our recordings to the point where they felt compelled to create art and music based on Shut Up Little.  We have grown some really great relationships out of SULM.  This is ironic in a way, considering that these friendships grew out of the dynamic of two people who never really seemed to get along at all.

Have you recognized a growth in interest in Shut Up Little Man since the release of the critically acclaimed 2010 documentary?

The movie appears to have introduced Peter and Raymond to a broader audience.

Even in the era of YouTube, Tosh.O, and iTunes, it is still reasonable to believe that SULM would have been a viral hit.  What do you believe it is about those old tapes that intrigues people so much? 

I think the popularity of the recordings is easy to understand.  Partly, their appeal is due to the authenticity of Peter and Raymond’s dialogue.  There is a raw intensity to the recordings that is unusual and rare – they aren’t varnished or adorned or fake in any way.  And, I think this quality makes them stand out in an over-processed culture where even ‘reality entertainment’ feels scripted and phony.  Of course, at the center of their appeal is the bizarre and complex dynamic between Peter and Raymond.  The stuff that comes out of their mouths is so hilarious, provocative, disturbing, and saddening – and often all of these things at once.   It makes for memorable listening.  I have been told by many people that after listening to Shut Up Little Man they felt immediately compelled to share it with other people.  The recordings seem to be something that people don’t passively consume and then move on or forget.  Also, I think Peter and Raymond seem to operate on some kind of Jungian archetypal level, because they seem to resonate deeply with such a broad range of people.

How do you think the entire Shut Up Little Man phenomenon is viewed in the younger generation?

I have no idea how younger people view Shut Up Little Man.  I don’t think they would be impacted any different from an older person would be.  It seems evident by the volume of emails and correspondence we have received over the years that interest in Shut Up Little Man transcends gender, race, ethnicity, and age.  That gets back to the archetypal thing.

How was your experience at Sundance?

Sundance was a bit of a blur and sort of surreal, as you can imagine.  There was so much to do with the screenings and press and parties and so forth.  One of the first things that happened after I arrived was that it began to blizzard snow while at the same time the sun was shining brilliantly.  I stepped out right into this weird weather after checking into the hotel and bumped into Pam Anderson and her entourage and the trailing paparazzi.  Very surreal.

I was surprised at how well the first half of the film worked on a live audience.  I have never been in a film audience that laughed that hard, that frequently, in such a sustained way throughout the first half of the film.  As many critics have noted, the second half of the film is overwrought and morally jaundiced and outright boring – and the audience responded accordingly.  The director’s goal, as he has noted in interviews, was less about telling the truth about what happened, and to quote him more about “spinning people’s moral compass” and making them uncomfortable about why they were laughing in the first half.  He succeeded in doing that, but I thought we were working on a documentary.

Then, on the final day, we did like a 6-hour press junket in a room full of press.  We were surrounded by famous actors – Kate Beckingdsale, Demi Moore, Greg Kinnear, and Ellen Barkin all stumping for their latest films.  We had no business being in that room.  It really brought out the punk in me.  So, again, it was very surreal.  At one point Demi Moore relayed to us that her dog was named “Little Man.”

If Shut Up Little Man were to be the highlight of your career, would that be acceptable to you?

Judging what is a ‘highlight’ is way outside my realm of control.  But, if that was the judgment that comes down in the end, that would be fine.  In many ways Shut Up Little Man is the perfect synthesis of stuff I have been working on with my creative projects all my life – trying to elevate everyday life to the level of art, creating an art that doesn’t have an artistic self behind it, celebrating those pockets of weirdness that invade normality, absurdum and the human condition, that kind of stuff.

What was the last thing that made you smile?

I was filming my 22-month old daughter in the woods a couple of days ago and she bent down and moved a snail off the path with a stick.  I asked her why she was doing that, and she said: ‘so that nobody would be stepping on it.’  That made me smile.  She makes me smile every day.

For more information, and ways to free yourself form stupidity, check out the Shut Up Little Man Official Website.

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To Free or Not To Free: I Am Begging You To Listen To My Music, But Only Because You Want To…? by Michael J. Epstein [Guest Wreckers]

To free or not to free?
I’ve been having a series of conversations on Facebook (1 – 2) about various components of the value of music and, much like other aspects of life (stupid Hollywoodized rules for dating for example), we’re caught between…
1) a stereotypical “please please” listen to my music form of begging… 
…juxtaposed with…
2) “I’m being cool about it and I’ll let you buy my music and check it out because it’s what you want to do” aloofness designed to maintain value and mystique.
Truth: I want to just give away my music.*
I really do. It’s nice to make back some money selling it as it costs a lot to keep a band going, but the most important thing to me is that the most people hear it and enjoy it. So, I should just give my music away to everyone who will take it? I say, at least mostly, no. (Lots of others do too or maybe they don’t.) The reasons are complex and I am still trying to navigate them and come to a conclusive decision. I’d really love to figure out how. This post is my initial thought-dump on free distribution of music. I hope it opens up more conversations and more avenues of thought, and that it helps me find an optimal working method for my own work.
*That said, if you want any of it, just ask me and I’ll gladly send you download links…but you have to ask. I won’t offer it to you. Huh?

The Michael J. Epstein Memorial Library (photo by Kelly Davidson)

There are numerous articles about the difference between price and value. There is a famous (and probably ongoing) debate about whether people in high-risk areas for malaria are more likely to use mosquito nets that they are given for free or that they paid a small amount for (1 2 3). The situation for musicians is, however, is not much like mosquito nets. There are huge numbers of people creating music. If we look at one arbitrary metric, iTunes has more than 20 million songs available! When I write a song, I am pretty sure the world doesn’t really need it. There isn’t a supply shortage. I write my music for myself, but then at least some part of me yearns for justification by having it reach others.

I’m begging you to listen…

While I don’t know the answer for everyone, I can speak about my experience for context. I can only assume an average person operates similarly, but I have no idea. I don’t think people value music they are handed, and, even worse, they start with a baseline “this music is bad” mentality when they begin listening. Most music is bad. Tons of musicians are vying for my attention, begging for me to listen to their music, handing me CDs, e-mailing me tracks, spamming me on Facebook…and I don’t even have any real power or clout to offer them. Even if I love their music, I can’t really do much of anything to help them succeed.

When people ask me to listen to their music, I almost never do. I don’t have time and I don’t have interest. If you hand me a CD, it will take me some 15 minutes to open it, put it into my computer, rip it (and probably type the stupid track names in because most people handing me a CD haven’t bothered to put their disc into freed), and then open the files. Chances are, it’s just not going to happen. I don’t mean that as a personal slight to anyone, I just won’t do it. If you send me a download link to your music (on bandcamp or something similar) after I’ve had a conversation with you, the chances are greater. If you are on Spotify, the chances are actually very high. I’ve been storing a “music to listen to” playlist and the time/risk/cost of adding your music to that is extremely low and I won’t forget about it. Sure, that playlist contains thousands of songs at the moment, but I do seem to be making pretty regular digs into it. I listen to tons of new music, particularly local music – almost 100% because I regularly hear about or read about bands. I trust when someone tells me they like a band that they have no stake in. I check it out. Still, I have far less time to do this than I have music I’d like to check out.

Do Not Forsake Me Oh My Darling (photo by Kelly Davidson)

If you send me an unsolicited link via e-mail and we haven’t met or talked and I have no context for you, there is less than zero chance that I will listen. In fact, I will probably actively avoid listening to your music forevermore. Why? I don’t know. It sounds mean and awful, but there is some kind of social wall that I feel is being eroded when I get these messages. Unless I know you pretty well, I will probably unfriend you or block you on Facebook if you post a link on my wall to your music or event. Again, I hold some value in my private (public) space. I also cannot keep you as a friend on Facebook, but block you from posting on my wall. I don’t care if you invite me to a million events because I can block you from inviting me to events (and I just pretty much block everyone from inviting me to events as matter of making the site usable – this way, I can use the events system to actually track events). I never look at messages on Facebook, so I also don’t care if you spam me there. I will never see it.
When you do all these things (or when I do all these things), the message is: this music has no value…so much so that I not only offer it for free, but essentially put time, money, and resources into begging you to listen to it.

Does that mean you should never “beg” people to listen to your music? Well, the line blurs between begging and promoting…

Possible successful “begging” techniques for giving away music for free: 

SPIN

1. Get someone with a reputable name to give away your music for free

People perceive someone else talking about your music very differently than when you talk about it. The divide widens when it’s someone with a reputation. Recently, we gave away a new The Michael J. Epstein Memorial Library track on MAGNET. When I post that you can download our song on MAGNET (vs. our site), everyone is far more likely to perceive the song as being good (just by virtue of someone else offering it) and everyone is far more likely to share in the vicarious excitement of the song (by someone they know or follow) being touted by someone else that they’ve heard of. I am not sure that a ton of people who follow MAGNET will download the file, but I am sure that way more of my friends and followers will download it than if I just sent them to my website. Sadly, “reputable” endorsement seems to be the most powerful of movers. I’d love to say quality is the prime mover, but I don’t think it is.

TIME

Tangent: when The Motion Sick appeared in SPIN prior to ever playing a single show, we were immediately taken seriously and it became easy to book shows at venues that would never be attainable to a new band with no connections. As it turns out, being in SPIN sold fewer CDs (and downloads) than we sold on numerous good show nights throughout the years, BUT it made everyone we personally know take our band a lot more seriously. Do Not Forsake Me Oh My Darling‘s recent appearance over at TIME had a similar effect in justifying our existence to friends and family. The music doesn’t change just because SPIN or TIME writes about it, but the way people perceive it absolutely does. Most of these things won’t break you with huge new audiences, but they will strengthen your ties to your existing audience.

LIMITED-TIME OFFER!!!!

2. Offer it for a limited time

This week only, download our song. No one wants to miss out on a limited-time offer.
Caveat: The problem is, our music is always available on Bandcamp in streaming form (we don’t get paid for that) and Spotify (we do get paid for that). So, I am not sure I can ever offer a limited-time offer unless we remove that, which brings forth other problems and concerns.

Neutral Uke Hotel

3. Offer it to a select group of people who are engaged in a special way

Believe it or not, people are EXTREMELY reluctant to be on an e-mail mailing list. They are far more likely to“like” a page on Facebook or follow someone on Twitter than to sign up for their e-mail list. From my perspective, my e-mail list is the only way to reach people that is in my control and has at least moderate reliability. So, I’ve been rewarding my list subscribers by providing a free sampler of my music every month that usually includes unreleased tracks or other special items that ONLY people on the list receive. The key here is that most e-mail list subscribers view being on the list as a deeper connection than say, following a band on Facebook.
Downloading a track for free in exchange for an e-mail address also works, but is a little bit tricky. Bandcamp presently offers this option (and I use it regularly), but I am afraid that the users feel kind of like they’ve been duped when they see “free” and then ultimately have to enter their e-mail address and get added to your list!

4. Pay-what-you-want?

This is the one I’ve been struggling with the most. It actually makes the most sense logically from my perspective, but I think it acts as a pretty serious deterrent when it’s happening under scrutiny, which it is when we are collecting e-mails and other data. People don’t want to feel cheap. They don’t want the onus of deciding the value of the music placed on them.In one case that I am aware of, The Lights Out, used an unobserved merch case (with cash box lockdown) allowing people to drop money into the box and collect merch at any price they felt fair. My understanding is that this has been a very successful approach and doesn’t not make the buyer feel that they are under surveillance or being judged.UPDATE: Here’s a video tour of The Lights Out‘s merch case:

So where does that leave us?

Should we forget free?!?!?!?

I think we can’t ignore free. That is, a consumer probably should not be expected to directly pay money in exchange for your music at the instance of consumption any longer (or much longer) – see rant below. Does that mean artists make no money? Not necessarily. We need to shift paradigms. More importantly, we need to present value to consumers without cost. Of course, we’re all still trying to figure out how! We’re in an in-between space at the moment and it’s a very difficult one to crawl through…My rant on the future of consumption below, but first…
PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE check out my music! I am begging! 

Darling Pet Munkee (photo by Michael Basu)


My rant from Facebook: I think musicians have to stop pretending that music has much consumer value and stop expecting that people are going to pay historical prices for it. The giant corporate conglomerate market control and price fixing has ended. Now, music is so overwhelmingly available and has become virtually worthless as a commodity. We need to accept it. Does that suck for musicians? Yes, it does. Is it the reality? Yes, it is.

I view music purchasers as “supporters of the arts,” if you will. They are not doing it to get the commodity; they are doing it to encourage the artist to keep doing what they are doing. It’s turning more toward patronage, it’s not consumerism anymore (or it won’t be for very much longer I believe). We have a culture that does not value art very much financially. Thus, art has little monetary value. You can throw a tantrum about that, but it’s not going to change the facts. While I don’t support piracy in a general sense, I think we need to acknowledge that the value of music was faked for so long and that the modern consumers demand music for free (or pennies). Again, sucks for musicians, but it’s how it goes. No one has a right to make a living being an artist. Artists need to stop demanding that right if the market doesn’t support it. We can come up with a million reasons why our music should sell for as much (or more) than it does now, but those reasons are simply not relevant to market value. I realized that the fastest and best way I could lose less money making music was not to sell more or sell it at a higher price, but rather to stop spending money. Do my recordings sound as good as they would if I spent a lot of money on them? No. Would I sell more if I had spent more? Also no.

I think artists will ultimately benefit the most from subscription model payouts once statutory rates for streaming are set (and hopefully are somewhat reasonable). It also rewards people that make good music that gets listened to a lot and removes rewards for overmarketing terrible music. I think that the end of music selling in favor of paying per stream will ultimately save the art. Write bad songs, get no plays. Write great songs, get plays. First thing we need to do is abandon the idea that people are going to be willing to pay $10 for an album. That concept doesn’t have much life left in it. I say kill the pirates by meeting consumer demands, not passing imbecile laws. Spotify is a piracy killer. Sure, the payouts need to be worked out still, but that is where the focus of legislation should be – how can we shift to a streaming, on-demand model that can work for everyone? Artists are, of course, going to lose out in this shift, but it’s inevitable.

Space Balloons

A lot of this applies to movies, television, and other media as well. We need to figure out how to shift models instead of just trying to stop a cultural tidal wave with useless laws. These models will require a rethink of how content is produced and how much money is put into it. I think this is ultimately a winning proposition. It’s actually the real stage at which there is market equality.

Michael J. Epstein is a maniacal madman in the independent music world.  He is arguably one of the hardest working players in the indie rock world.  He is involved in several groups including his own fronted group The Michael J. Epstein Library, the ukulele based tribute group fronted by Shawn Fogel known as Neutral Uke Hotel, his duo with Sophia Cacciola Do Not Forsake Me Oh My Darling, the conversion of DNFMOMD and instrumental masterminds Axemunkee known as Darling Pet Munkee, and a trio also with Sophia Cacciola known as Space Balloons.  The list actually goes on and on as Michael is always creating and reinventing himself through so many different projects it is almost entirely impossible to keep track.  Learn more about all the eccentric and amazing things Mr. Epstein has been doing at his website where this article was taken from.

Hipster Ass Bike For Hipsters (a.ka. The Greatest Craigslist Ad Ever Made) [Guest Wreckers]

I am selling my Vista Carrera 7 road bike. Perfect for the aspiring culture creator. I have recently become a Successful Entrepreneur and I no longer have the need for such trifling possessions. I drive a gigantic cargo van that literally pisses gas onto the road to mark its territory.

Do you want to be noticed? Do you want to stand out from the crowd? Sleeve tattoo didn’t do the trick? Dubstep bounce remix didn’t go viral? Look no further than this bike. Don’t even look past it in the pictures posted below. Import it into Photoshop and delete the background. I know you know how to do it, because you’re a graphic designer.

Orange body. Green accents. Pink handlebar wrap. Some silver. Black. Dirt. Are there even any more colors? There are awesome reflective stickers on the bike, too, which makes darting out in front of automobiles on dark evenings and asserting one’s absolute and total right of way even more self-righteously awesome. Dear motorist: Did you not see the stickers. Do you think I have time to just put stickers on things. I’m trying to save the world from people like you.

Just think of all the great places you could see and be seen on this bike:

1. An Obama rally
2. A Ron Paul rally
3. Rally’s
4. Miscellaneous

The possibilities are endless.

This bike will get you laid. If you ride this bike around Audobon Park at 1 in the morning without pants on, dudes will literally knock you off of your bike to try to blow you.

This bike is a freewheel fixed gear, because you’re a fucking monster and you have one speed, and that speed is +/- 15mph.

A seat comes with the bike, but is not pictured. If you want, you can ride the bike without the seat to simulate the stick you have up your ass about which Pavement album is best, which political cause that matters to you most intermittently, or about whatever it is that you “do.”

SAFETY FEATURES

This bike is Japanese and comes with four distinct safety features:

Safety Feature #1: front brakes only. Because you’re not about to conform to anyone’s preconceived notions of how a bike should stop.

Safety Feature #2: Quick release back wheel. I took this bike to Mike the Bike Guy on Magazine to get a tune up once, and he refused to work on it because of this Safety Feature. He said it was a “Frankenstein bike.” I asked him if he didn’t agree that Frankenstein was a literary masterpiece. I thought that after losing that argument he might be a gentleman and agree to tune up the bike for free, but he remained all pissy and still refused to work on it, even for money.

The next time I went in to Mike the Bike Guy on Magazine was to get air. I was all, hey MTBG, can I get some air? He was all yes. It was clear that we both believed that air is a free resource that should not be commodified. Common ground. He pointed me toward his air machine. Everything seemed cool. When I realized that the nozzle didn’t fit my bike’s tires, I was all, hey MTBG, how does this nozzle go on? He looked at me, turned around, took two steps toward the back of the room, and let out a loud SIGH. I couldn’t blame him. I work with people too, and sometimes they ask me questions because they don’t know things and I am the paid expert on the exact things they don’t know and I am standing right next to them, and I have to humiliate them in front of others before I answer them, too. It’s all just part of the job.

Safety Feature #3: Helmet. That’s my helmet. You can ride in a painter’s cap and pretend to be smart at the same time, but you’re not fooling anyone.

Safety Feature #4: Welding fix at seat joint. When this joint came loose, the bike was deemed horribly unsafe. When I welded it back together, it became safe again, therefore: safety feature. It’s supersturdy now; I welded it to fuck and back. I painted the welding joint green because I was feeling creative and I don’t have to explain my art to anyone.

Safety Feature #5: Apparently this bike has really nice rims. I am listing this under Safety Features because I feel that less-nice rims would probably make the bike marginally less safe.

Safety Feature $6: Earthquake proof.

$180 or best offer. Cash is fine. Your parents can PayPal me directly. Or see below:

I’m totally into creative trades (this part is actually serious). Musical instruments (serious – esp synths and pedals); original art (serious); US Currency (for srsly); leisure suits (I’m 6’1”, 180, with long arms and broad shoulders. Let’s stick with dark colors – I’m kind of pale and I don’t like to look washed out); real estate/underwater mortgages (4realz dogg); antique firearms (I promise I won’t trade you the bike and then shoot you with what was previously your firearm in order to steal my bike back and sell it again, although wouldn’t that be ironic, or would it, I don’t know, we use the word incorrectly so often that I’m not sure it matters); casual sex. Show me what you got.

*[EDIT: dig on this? The author has a rap band called Sex Party: facebook.com/sexpartymusic, @FFFFFF_SexParty]*

A Cultural Analysis: Inspiration to Independent Music Culture by Melissa Trembath [Guest Wreckers]

Note from the editor:  Indeed, many of you will recognize the name Trembath as it is the same as my own.  Melissa is indeed my wife, and thus was automatically included as a guest for our second run of Guest Wreckers.  Biased much?  Of course.  But, when Melissa said she had chosen to write about Independent Music for an assigned paper on culture analysis in her English class at SFCC, and furthermore that she would be using the book I founded/edited Children of Mercy: Tales and Teachings From The World of Independent Music as an artifact to represent said culture, I was seriously in awe and extremely flattered.  It is also a very well structured and informative paper, and deserving of a spot on Trainwreck’d Society.  And she promised me a back rub and several other favors.  So sue me if I did so oblige.  If you have an issue with this, start your own blog, and complain about these matters elsewhere.  Other than that….Enjoy!

Melissa Trembath

Liz Rognes

English 101

5/11/12

Inspiration to Independent Music Culture

How does one explain the independent music culture? It means so many different things to different people. Tim Chaplin from the experimental rock band Factory Kids defined it as  “Doing things for yourself-in some cases, often by yourself, out of sheer necessity-or just because you want to”(Chaplin, 44). For Cyndi Kimmel, a former DJ for KZUU at Washington State University, independent music “is an intended focus on the independence of music from major commercial record labels and boundaries” (Kimmel, 109). The term independent means: free from authority, control, or domination, operate alone, non dependant, and capable of thinking or acting without consultation or guidance from others. With that definition I think independent music is freedom to do what an artist wants, make the music they want, without having to answer to anyone.

In the independent music culture, one artifact that represents an inspiring aspect of independent music is a book entitled Children of Mercy. It is a collection of stories and essays from people within the culture. The contributors to the book write about many different topics including the struggles of being an independent artist, what independent music means to them, independent music history, and several other topics that hold a significant meaning in the independent world. In this book the reader gets forty different perspectives that are all centered on independent music and its culture. In this paper there will be perspectives from contributors in the book, as they wrote them in Children of Mercy. They will help to explain the independent music culture and the significance of this book.

One reason Children of Mercy is a unique book is because of how it was produced. If we were to apply the standards of independent music to this book it would definitely qualify as an independent project.  It has so many aspects of the independent culture in its creation.  It was produced by a publisher working out of his garage, created and edited by a music blogger, and distributed by the founder who would drop off copies to local bookstores. Another interesting part of this book is it had a compilation album that went along with the book. In addition to submitting an essay to the book some artist donated music or created original songs for the album.

Children of Mercy: Tales and Teachings From The World of Independent Music

An additional unique quality to this book was that it was made with little money out of pocket from the creator. There was a fundraising event where people donated money to help get the project started and completed. The album was handmade and the artwork for the album as well as the book was freely created by friends of the founder. It was literally a group effort to bring this book to life. Also another unique quality to this book is that all profits are donated to the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation. The charity was chosen because a contributor to the book has a son who suffers from Cystic Fibrosis. This book has many unique qualities to it, even though it is just an ordinary object.

Children of Mercy is after all just a book, which is simply an ordinary object. It is also not the first of its kind. There have been other books like this one. An example is Peter Terzian’s Heavy Rotations which actually influenced the editor to create Children of Mercy. Terzian’s book has similar qualities to Children of Mercy but it is also very different. In Heavy Rotations music journalists write about different albums individually. This is a contrast to Children of Mercy where members of the independent music world are writing about all different aspects of life within music.

Children of Mercy stands for everything Independent. It stands for independence from the mainstream media as an important way of having art uncorrupted and free from influence. It reinforces the belief that music creation can be done easily as long as the artist has the drive and spirit to create art for and by themselves. As Matt Montgomery, a music journalist and founder of MusicGeek.org, said about an indie band winning a Grammy: “It’s yet another road sign on the long trek toward a culture of independence in music, culture, and society”(Montgomery, 79).  I believe Children of Mercy is also a road sign toward getting recognition for independent music into the world.

People outside of this culture might not understand the significance of independent music. They could see Children of Mercy as just another book about music. Some people could look at independent culture as amateurish. They might think that anyone could be an independent artist even if they do not actually have any talent. In the words of Matt Montgomery on the significance of independent music “when information, media, culture is not spoon-fed, people think. And they don’t just think a little – they think a lot, and they think constantly. If not because they have to, then because they can”(Montgomery, 80). The beauty of this culture is that there is so much available. If people do not like one artist or group that does not mean they will not like any others. There are so many different sounds, emotions, and thoughts thrust out into this culture. In Children of Mercy the contributors highlight these aspects throughout their tales and teachings from the independent world. While some people may say that it is just another book, it is actually a meaningful book full of hopes, dreams, thoughts, ideas, emotional struggles, and inspiration.

Children of Mercy Compilation Album (The Beechfields Record Label, 2011)

Children of Mercy can enlighten people about real life accounts in the independent culture, by actual people in the independent world. It offers a perspective into this culture that may have never been put out there before. This book speaks to the independent at heart. Not just people who play music or write novels but, whatever it is they want to accomplish they can. They do not need a publishing agency to accept them, or a major music label to put out their music. Do it yourself. Jess Gulbranson put it best when he wrote “No matter how bad you are at what you love to do, or how untrained, or unmotivated, YOU CAN DO IT. Just start”(Gulbranson, 71).

After exploring Children of Mercy my thoughts on independent music and the culture surrounding it has been enhanced. This book has helped me realize how much passion is put into independent music. The main reason independent music is important to me is because of the torrent of emotion that the music exudes. I love the feelings I get when I listen to independent music whether happy, sad or angry. I connect to it and that is what music is about to me: the connection. Cyndi Kimmel stated it best when she said “we comprehend music as a universal language used to express everything seen, thought, felt, and done reminding us of our shared commonalities”(Kimmel, 109). I feel as though I understand just a bit more about the independent culture after reading all the stories and teachings within Children of Mercy. When looked at a little closer people can find added meaning, more inspiration, and a different perspective then they may have had before reading Children of Mercy.

Melissa Trembath is a student with dual studentizionship at Spokane Falls Community College and Spokane Community College with studies in Diagnostic Medical Sonography.  She is also the mother of three daughters and the wife of Trainwreck’d Society’s founder/editor/head wino Ron Trembath.  She currently resides in Spokane, Washington and has been deemed to be the greatest woman on earth.

Welcome to Mobile (A True Story) by Phil The Tremolo King [Guest Wreckers]

I woke up before the alarm went off. It was hard to believe I had gotten my biological clock used to waking up at 4AM. Outside, Government Street was pitch dark and quiet as a mouse…no cars, no birds, no dogs…Mobile was a pretty sleepy town to begin with. I tried to make out shapes in my room but the only thing I could see were the red digital numbers of my alarm clock.

I turned on the lamp next to my bed. It was only a 40 watt bulb, just enough to see. I looked around the room. The bare bulb hanging from the ceiling,  outlets attached to the socket. The muddy brown wooden waynescoting, the dark green stained wallpaper. The massive rusty fridge in the corner. And my favorite: on the wall, a thriftstore painting of bright red roses on black velvet.

Time to get up and make the donuts…I put some ground coffee in my little cooking pot, poured in water from the sink and put the pot on my hot plate.  This was my way of making morning coffee. The resulting liquid was disgusting and full of grounds, but at least it had caffeine in it. I quickly brushed my teeth in the little porcelain sink, ran some hot water over my face and put on my clothes.

The day labor place , appropriately named ‘Work Load’, was only about ten blocks away. I scurried through the neon-lit empty streets, hoping I would work today. Otherwise I had gotten up at 4AM for nothing and most importantly, I wouldn’t have money for food and the twenty-five dollars a week my room cost me.  The sun was coming up as I approached the little storefront with the fake wood paneling on the walls, the drab neon lighting and the glass window counter at the end where the owner sat and looked out over us. His name was Jack; he was actually a pretty decent fellow considering the line of work he was in. To my surprise this morning he was out on the street, talking to some very haggardly looking people. They were walking towards the building in the early rays of the rising sun.  An old woman with no teeth, long stringy bleach blond hair, in jeans and sneakers, her skin grey and wrinkled like a gator. Two young men, one fat, one skinny, sporting crewcuts and wearing  t-shirts and dirty jeans. The fat one wore a baseball cap. Meaty ears like cauliflowers. Tiny watery eyes so close together he looked cross eyed. His face pasty white with red blotches. Like a pig.

Besides Jack I was the only white person in the day labor place. Nobody seemed to mind; I certainly didn’t. We all sat on the hard plastic chairs, waiting for Jack to hand out the day’s assignments as the phone started ringing. Every time Jack would glance up from his desk towards us, eager hands rose up in the air. Pick me! Pick me! Jack would point at the ones he chose, and off they went. This was just about as close to rock bottom as anyone could get. The jobs were all manual labor. None paid more than minimum wage. You were charged half an hour’s wages for transportation in a van to and from work. There were no benefits of course, and there was no job security at all. Basically, whether you worked or not on any given day was up to Jack. This was a pretty small place; no more than twenty would be workers would show up per day, about all the place could accommodate. Certainly not as big as some other day labor places I’d seen like the one in Atlanta which easily held a few hundred workers. Perhaps that was why Jack seemed not such a bad guy.

Most of the work was at Bellingrath Gardens. This was a large botanical garden complex, open to the public, in a nearby town called Bellingrath. Today was no exception. About eight of us were chosen to work.  We were each given our work slips and out we went, towards the waiting van. To our surprise, our regular driver was not behind the wheel. Instead it was the redneck from that morning with the baseball cap and the pig face.  He did not greet anyone. He just stared straight ahead with a hard, cold stare.

Usually the van was full of laughter and talk. We might have been down on our luck but that did not stop my coworkers from trying to wrestle what little joy they could from their daily existence. Today however it was ghostly quiet in the van. The new driver was like an evil spirit sending out bad vibes.

The van became a little tin box on wheels filled to the brim with tension, the passengers prisoners on a trip to nowhere.  Mike, a gentle giant of a man in his fifties, who never even cursed, sat rigidly, his finger idly brushing something off his seat. His eyes were full of sorrow. Something was going on inside that van; something gnarled and twisted, ancient, dangerous, full of fear and horror, infinitely evil. Something that brought out old animal instincts of survival passed down from generation to generation. Only I had no idea what. All I knew was that we had a new driver.

Our old driver, who was black,  would always play old time soul on the radio. The passengers would sway and tap along, sometimes singing softly. That too had changed.  Now country music was blaring from the radio. It sounded mean and harsh. A few murmured protests were uttered. The driver ignored them.

So the trip continued in tense silence. The driver drove very aggressively, making hairpin turns at high speeds and taking crazy risks. Several times Mike gasped. The driver seemed really mad; for the life of me I could not figure out why. Was he mad at us? For what? He really seemed mad at the whole world. But why take it out on us?

After an eternity we pulled up at Bellingrath Gardens.  Like sheep we piled out of the van and walked towards the supervisor’s desk where we would be told where to go. The men looked like convicts, doomed men. We were the scum of the earth. Everybody knew it and we knew it too. The driver talked and joked with the supervisor, every once in a while throwing us a dirty look. I could sense an old hatred in their souls, a hatred that went back hundreds of years.  Blind, stupid, completely irrational, and therefore all the more dangerous. These little men with their little lives held on to their hatred because it made them feel superior.

But I had learned very quickly not to make waves. My survival depended on it just as much as my coworkers. My little weekly room kept me off the street and out of a shelter. My measly paycheck kept me in groceries and cigarettes and the occasional beer. So I quickly became a sheep among sheep and did what I was told.

The only other white man on the crew was Donnie, an old alcoholic with skin like leather and a twinkle in his eyes. We were working at a small table piled high with fresh dirt, filling new flower pots with it. This early in the morning the dirt was filled with nits, tiny white dot-like insects that jumped out and bit your hands.  Nasty little bites that stung first and then itched. Everybody told me I’d get used to it, but I never did.

“Why was everybody so quiet in the van?” I asked Donnie. Donnie had taken me under his wing from day one, showing me the ropes, warning me of snakes and generally giving me advice. He was also a great story teller. He always called me ‘li’l buddy’. But this morning he too was strangely quiet.           “ Shoot, li’l buddy, I don’t know” he answered vaguely    “ you know how them guys get sometimes. Maybe they was tired, or sumtin’.”  Mike was working alongside us. But he too kept quiet.

Mike went to get a new cart with empty flower pots, and when he was out of earshot, Donnie leaned in and quietly told me “look,li’l buddy, don’tell no one I told you this, but that family’s been known for being in the Klan for years.”

I couldn’t believe my ears. “the… Klan?’-“Yeah! You know…” and with his index finger he drew in the fresh dirt…three K’s. Then he quickly erased them. He threw me a meaningful look. “Now don’t you go and tell no one I told you that!”

I was stunned. I’d heard of the KKK or ‘the Klan’ of course,  with their stupid white hoods and burning crosses, terrorizing blacks in the old South, lynching and killing with impunity, and making sure white supremacy was alive and well. But that seemed a long time ago….this was the modern age, post MLK and the civil rights movement…surely that kind of blatant racism was a thing of the past, even in Alabama? All day long I thought about it, the haggard people in the morning talking to Jack, the hostile driver, Donnie drawing three K’s in the dirt with his finger.

Quitting time came, and we all piled back into the van, tired and sweaty and with dirt under our fingernails. No matter how desperate their situation, none of my coworkers ever complained about their lot. They just accepted it, and worked hard, thankless jobs for a pittance and without any job security or benefits at all. This hard life that I shared briefly was really not that far removed from slavery.

The ride back to the day labor place was every bit as tense as the ride to the Gardens. Once again the driver’s silent angry hostility, the reckless driving, the deathly silence, and the country music blaring out of the van’s  little radio. Mike, trying to make the best of things, tapped along tentatively to the unfamiliar beat. Finally Jake, sitting in the back, crouched up against the back door since there weren’t enough seats, broke the silence. ‘Hey man…can’t you play something else on that radio?’

Without a word the driver abruptly stopped the van. He opened the door, got out and walked around the van to the back. Then he opened the back door.

‘Get out!’

Jake looked at him wide-eyed but didn’t move.

‘Get out before I throw you out!’ yelled the driver. ‘Go on, get out!! ‘

Quietly Jake got out the van and stood on the road.

‘I’ll make sure you’ll never work for Work Load again!’ spat the driver.

The driver got back in. ‘Anybody else got something to say?’ You could hear a pin drop. It was if everybody was holding their breath, waiting for the nightmare to be over, get home, out of the fucking van and away from this racist pig.

The driver started the van and roared off. I looked back over my shoulder through the window at Jake, who had begun walking. He was completely stone faced. He’d be walking at least an hour to get home.  What’s more, he was now blacklisted from even the ‘last hope’ employment of day labor.  Eviction and homelessness were surely staring him in the face.

I looked at Donnie sitting next to me looking into the distance. It seemed as if all the world’s sadness was on his shoulders.  As the van continued its ride, the heavy silence only punctured by country music, we passed a sign by the side of the road. I looked at it. It said…

‘WELCOME TO MOBILE’.

Phil The Tremolo King is a Belgian musician/artist who currently resides in New Orleans, Louisiana.  He has been playing music solo for years, and has also also been involved in a project known as Tremoflex 9000 featuring former Slacker’s member Vic Ruggiero and Brooklyn based artist Flex Underground.  His latest album, available on Norman Records, entitled 11, is a masterpiece of modern folk and all things estranged.  He has taken the DIY ethos to incredible lengths.  Phil recently completed a successful Kickstarter campaign which allowed him to travel the lower Southwest United States via the Sunset Limited.  He has completed the tour, and will be releasing a documentary about his time on the tracks soon (which you can see rough footage of HERE.  Visit philthetremoloking.com for more details.  Phil also contributed an article and track to the Children of Mercy project and appeared live with the editor Ron Trembath on New Orlean’s WTUL 91.5 and also appeared simultaneously in Sergeant Sparrow Magazine as well.  In addition to these contributions, he is also the project’s Bandcamp and Myspace manager.  Even more unique, the white shadow figure who appears on the book’s artwork (created by fellow contributor Jess Gulbransson) is actually Phil himself.  

Watership Down… The Aftermath [Film]

It seems there has been some interest in my previous review of the infamous movie Watership Down. I would like to think this is because of my uber awesome writing skills, but I’m afraid it probably only means that far more people had their childhoods ruined by this film than I originally thought. As such, I felt it was appropriate to give a follow-up on this. Maybe it will help bring us closure, and hopefully allow us to move on with our lives as normally as we can. I know it’s hard after you’ve been exposed to a melee of bleeding rabbits, but here we go.

Let me begin by saying that I grew up in a farming family. Not only did we farm, but we hunted too. I’ve seen many rabbits go the way of the buffalo in real life and I can tell you beyond any doubt that it’s nowhere near as violent or disturbing (or even as bloody) as the poor bunnies in this animated film. It is because of this that I am shocked at how striking the images in this film were, and more so than that, how deeply it effected me. How could I be so moved and so traumatized by some over-dramatized, anthropomorphized rabbits? I think the answer lies in the fact that on an instinctual level, we know the film isn’t really about bunnies. We see through the cute and fuzzy wrapping paper that the rabbits represent to the core message of the story, and the real injurious scarring comes from our ability to empathize with the characters and situations that they are presented with. Coming to terms with the hard reality of the true message the film is the hardest part to wrap your mind around. We don’t want it to be true… We hope is really is just about the bunnies… But we know it’s not. And that scares the living hell out of us. As horrible as the truth may be, it is why this movie has stood the test of time and become a classic with a cult following. We don’t remember many animated films from the 1970’s, but we sure as hell can’t forget this one.

Like many great stories, Watership Down is probably written on many different levels. You could probably take many things from it by peeling back the layers of the story like an onion, but I believe the core message of the story is about the struggle for freedom over tyranny, and more importantly, the terrible cost of that freedom.

The story begins by placing us in a setting where the rabbits live in a “warren” or a social structure that although isn’t the best, has worked for them for ages. Then they’re forced to deal with their first challenge, a coming change that will threaten their whole system of living if they don’t act upon it. The failure of their leader to act in a way that would provide for their safety and well-being is what gives them the drive to become independent and seek a place where their freedom and safety is more assured. The rest of the movie mainly revolves around the trials and hardships they face along the way.

Many brave rabbits gave the ultimate sacrifice for the opportunity to live free. Nothing was guaranteed, there was no “promise” of safety or even success. In fact all the odds were against them from the beginning. Some of the rabbits died in an almost random fashion, such as the one picked off by a hawk out of nowhere. But they were all working toward the same goal, and the cost of doing nothing was unbearable. In many ways the story could have ended at that. It could have been the equivalent of a slasher film where they’re all slowly picked off one by one until none we are left to tell the tale, and the story could have still remained true to its core. Sometimes the struggle for freedom ends badly. In the real world, there is always a chance that the things we fight for remain out of reach. As hard as this story is to swallow, at least it doesn’t leave us hanging like that.

Above all they secured a future for their children and their children’s children. The cost of that was high, and many of the rabbits never saw their dream fulfilled, but the lesson to take away from this is that the dangers and hardships never held them back from striving to achieve a better existence. Every generation faces its own trials, and this story was about one generation paying a price for the next. The same way those who came before us carved out an existence so we could thrive, and gave us an opportunity (although not a promise) of safety and security, so long as we ourselves could keep it. Just as we will do the for our next generation. So in a very real way, WE are those rabbits in that story. Our fathers and grandfathers were those rabbits, and one day our children will be those rabbits. And that’s a very scary thought. It’s an uncomfortable truth isn’t it? That you could do everything right, keep fighting the good fight, and get nothing in return but scorn from your peers, shot at by hunters, chased by dogs, and even if you evade all of them, you might still be snatched up by a random hawk out of the blue. But we keep trying anyway. We keep up the struggle because we must. Because the cost of doing nothing is too high. And why should the movie sugar coat this? They were right to not pander to our delicate sensibilities. There is only one real truth in life, and that is that none of us are going to get out of this alive! We all go to that big warren in the sky in the end. The best we can hope for is that we did something good and left the world a better place than how we found it.

Part of growing up is the realization that nothing really worth having comes without some kind of fight. We shouldn’t shrink away from that. Glory and fortune comes to those who triumph, and there can be no triumph without some kind of hardship. Some people spend their whole lives trying to come to terms with this concept. As a small example of this, have you ever heard this one? “If there is a God, how could he allow THIS to happen to his children”? Maybe you’ve asked that yourself. And just to illustrate what I’ve been saying I could answer you in this way. Imagine I placed you in the shoes of God himself. This could be in the form of asking you to be an author, and create a story of your own, about a character you created. And we’ll say that I ask you to write a story about this person in which this person grows as a human being throughout their life, and becomes a better person as a result. You would almost immediately start picturing all kinds of hardships for your character! Not because you wanted them to have a hard life, but because you wanted them to overcome and to grow and share and use that experience to help others, and end up as a better person because of it. Now that’s a rather nebulous exercise, but it’s the same concept.

So is it any wonder why this little story about bunnies has lasted as long as it did or why it gained such a following? Perhaps it was meant to ruin our childhood. Maybe people like you and me only care about that movie because it was one of the things that pushed us into the cold hard reality of this world. That little cartoon rabbit showed us the world as it really is. Strange how things can work out that way. And maybe, just maybe, one day we’ll see someone triumph over hardship and death and say with a tear in our eye “I haven’t cried this hard since all those bunnies died for our freedom”. Try to keep your head up, and try to keep moving forward toward the greater good. And above all, trust that the good things we do here in life are never really lost.

As good as that message really is when you think about it… That doesn’t mean I can bring myself to watch it again though.

Be sure to check out Ray’s original film review of Watership Down as well.

Jamie Jones [Interview]

For children of the 90’s such as myself, or R&B lovers alike, or anybody who has been able to hear for the last twenty years, you know Jamie Jones.  You know him as 1/4 the amazing multi-platinum, Grammy winning foursome known the world over as All-4-One.  All-4-One came to reach success in 1994 with their debut self-titled album that rock the nation oh so smoothly with their hit single, “I Swear” which has now been dubbed one of the greatest love songs of the 20th century, and likely to be of all time.

All-4-One was a sensation to erupt in the mid 90’s, along with the likes of Boyz II Men, Brandy, and Soul 4 Real.  For those of you too young to remember directly, this was before the explosion of the disgusting time in our history that would be the boy band, pop princess era.  So many artists, with actual talent, were almost entirely wiped off the mainstream media map because of the obsession of the youth (sadly, my very own generation) with these prepubescent creatures like NSYNC, Britney Spears, O-Town, Backstreet Boys, Christina Aguilera, etc.  But, for the true fans, they never dissolved.  And one stand out group that has continued to flourish in their own right has been All-4-One.  They’ve continued to record music and astonish millions with their live showings throughout all of Asia, Europe, and back to the states alike.  In 2009 the group released their first album in the US in quite some time entitled No Regrets.  The result was an amazing comeback that exemplified the wonderful mixture of soul and blues that made the group such a hit 15 years prior.  Proving once again, that talent will always override exposure in the world of rhythm and blues.

And Jamie Jones has been their every step of the way.  And the years since “I Swear” first hit the airwaves have been pretty damn good to him.  His voice is more than intact, it has flourished.  His talent is as overwhelmingly superior to so many others as it ever has been.  He’s putting in some solo efforts, continuing work with his amazing production team The Heavyweights, and of course, gearing up for another All-4-One album that will likely sweep us off our feet and rip out our heart strings once again.  We were fortunate enough to steal a few words from Mr. Jones himself.  Let’s see what he has shakin’.  Enjoy!

All-4-One’s amazing 2009 release, No Regrets, is a beautiful blend of new and old school R&B.  Was it a challenge to keep your old style valiant, while still hoping to appeal to a whole new audience?

First off thank you. We just tried to stay true to who we are instead of trying to chase trends or anything else.

The album’s sweetest and obvious highlighted track “My Child” sounds insanely personal.  Is it directly related to yours, or another member’s, life?

It wasn’t personal at all. I did the music and gave Delious the instrumental and he came back with that idea. My best friend was going through that at the time so I did use him as inspiration.

You spent the first half of this millenium touring extensively, and almost exclusively throughout Asia and Europe, even having an album on released in Asia.  How did those years abroad effect you as an artist today?

 Those years really grew us as singers and performers. It also taught us how to perform and relate to different types of audiences.

You’re 1994 single “I Swear” is considered by the ASCAP, and listeners alike, as one of the greatest love songs of the 20th century.  Why do you think this is?  How does a track become such an amazing song on such a beautiful, yet sometimes complicated, issue such as love?

One thing I think of all the time when I’m writing is that I’m not just writing songs, I’m writing emotions. Music has a way of attaching itself to your memories and emotions. A great song like I Swear touches people right where it counts. It also allows people to say the things they wanna say, but don’t know how to say.

How did your production team, The Heavyweights come to be?

It started back in 1997 when my partner Jason and I did a song together for my wedding.  I met our other partner Jack around 2001. All-4-One had been asked to sing on a charity song he wrote called “Love Shouldn’t Hurt”. We hooked up to write and have been partners ever since.

The Heavyweights have been known to cross boundaries into the likes of hip hop music.  Do you ever see yourself experimenting in that field as a singer turned rapper?  

I am a secret rapper, but I’ll never do it for real as a whole CD. Maybe a verse here or there.

I always have to ask…where do you keep your Grammy?

Over my fireplace in my living room.

What is in store for Jamie Jones personally, as well as All-4-One?

I’ve been working on a solo R&B project. You’ll hear it really soon. I’m also getting some new music together for the group to also record soon.   I’ll be tweeting about it so stay in touch at twitter.com/jjones26

What was the last thing that made you smile?

Your last question : >)

Discover more Jame Jones and All-4-One news at their website.