Monday, January 31, 2005

Mix Headroom

Mix 101

Just because I get all OCD about these things, doesn’t mean you should too.

Because, if I’m to stick to my belief of mixing as an art form, then who the hell am I to tell you how you should do it.

However, for those looking for some good basic rules on the making of a mix tape, grab a notepad and watch High Fidelity again.

The most important of these, in my opinion, is simple: Do not repeat artists on the same mix. The idea here is that a mix should represent a variety of your musical tastes. Also, repetition can denote laziness ("they didn’t even bother looking for something else"), or indecision ("they couldn’t decide which was the better song"). So, regardless of your intentions, it comes off as kind of tacky.

There are, of course, exceptions to every rule, and every rule is meant to be broken. The most obvious of these is if you’re making a mix of songs just from one artist. Another is if the two songs are so disparate from each other that they sound as if they’re from different bands. This last works better on tape than on CD, but the principle’s the same.

Hip-hop artists have made the repetition thing a little easier. In the first of the three mix CDs I made, I have two songs from the Black Sheep. You’ll see what I mean when I tell you that it’s really one song and an interlude (those little “humorous” vignettes that litter the bulk of rap albums). On the track listing, these vignettes are listed separately, and without the artists’ name.

Getting Started

Okay, so, you’ve got the basics. What now?

Personally, I break it down to three elements: Subject, Theme, and Format.


This one’s pretty easy. Who are you making the mix for? A group of co-workers? That barista with the glasses? Your family? No one in particular?

This is important in that it helps you decide how to steer your music.

Which takes us to…


What mood are you trying to convey to this person? Romantic? Probably better not to include anything from the Guns and Roses Use Your Illusion double album. Upbeat, goofy times? Nix on the Phillip Glass. Actually, do not use any Phillip Glass, ever.

The second to last batch of mixes I created were initially meant for one person, which I then later ended up giving to friends. But while in the experimental process, I was thinking solely of her, what I knew of her, and what I thought she’d dig.

Also, it helped me to have a title for the mixes. I already mentioned that the last batch (intended for no one in particular) is named Women v. Men. The previous batch had two names; the private one, and the public (for friends) one: Him & Hers.

It’s best, with these, as well as song selection, to keep the word "subtlety" in mind. I’ll expound some more on this later.


This last of the Basic Elements of Mixing is usually the one that’s ignored, especially in the age of CD-burning. And this is fine, I just prefer to give myself some options on this, though.

For example, I like to create mixes as if I was still dealing with cassettes tapes, so I usually plan on a Side 1 and a Side 2. (The break is delineated using seven seconds of silence taken from CDs that have secret tracks.)

On WvM, I use three different formats: Cassette, Act, and Pell Mell.

In Act, I basically use an act structure, like in a play: Act I, Act II, and Act III. Pell mell is exactly what it sounds like, just tossed the songs on there (song selection and sequencing still took a part in the process, but I didn’t delineate at all).

What I find in the cassette and act formats, is the ability to keep things condensed, ability to have multiple peaks and valleys (or crescendo and decrescendo), and the ability to start establishing a mood over and over again, in case I musically paint myself into a corner (how does one follow Yo La Tengo’s Tired Hippo?).

This is something that I feel the Pell Mell approach lacks. Take a look at this fragment of the 3rd WvM disc:

Provider -- N.E.R.D.
Inevitable -- Carolyn Mark
Tongue -- R.E.M.
My Favorite Plum -- Suzanne Vega
It's Over Now -- Dan the Automator/Kool Keith

Provider is neo-soul lark from N.E.R.D., Inevitable is Neko Case-style folk-country from Carolyn Mark (my future bride). From here, we go to the minimalistic sensuousness of R.E.M.’s Tongue, then minimalistic Tom Waits-tinged Mitchell Froom-produced weirdness from Suzanne Vega, and finishing out with the laid back hip hop beats by Dan the Automator.

In no way do any of these songs mesh, stylistically. In a way, that’s part of the fun and charm of the Pell Mell approach.

The Pell Mell approach tends to drive me batty.

Next Installment: The Vaguaries of Song Selection.

[Click here to go to the next entry in the series.--tbo]

Friday, January 28, 2005


Bronk is married to Angie.

Bronk and Angie owned a bar called the Family Affair (or "the Fam" as it was known to its habitues). The way they ran the place lived up to its name. It was a mom and pop shop. Bronk was the white hat pop, Angie was everyone's favorite dysfunctional mom. While Angie was mercurial (prompting a friend of mine, who was an ex-employee of theirs, to claim she was constantly having meth flashbacks), Bronk was the one who was laid back. Imagine if Dean Martin came the size of a football player, and you'd have a close approximation of his demeanor.

In the way they interacted, you could tell that they had lived a hell of a life individually. Combined they did enough living for your parents and your grandparents.

The regulars loved them both dearly, but Bronk was the one who'd charm you first. He had a way with the ladies, and he was a man's man, and if he told you a story, it didn't matter what was going on around you, you paid attention.

"Hey, Easy Money, how you doin' today?"


"Can I get you something to drink?"


(big smile)"Excellent choice!"

The fact that Bronk was alive at all, defied logic. Doctors had diagnosed him with a form of debilitating cancer over 12 years ago. At the time he wasn't given long to live.

He was a fighter.

Through untold number of chemo sessions, just as many different forms of alternative treatments--let's put it this way: he had a perscription for medical marijuana, this is how bad it was.

And if he had enough energy to get up, get dressed, get stoned and drive to work, he'd do it. He'd sit at the far end of the bar, playing the boobie touch, catching whatever was on the TV, or kibbitzing the card game the regulars would hold. Sometimes a combination of a couple of those.

You'd know his health was bad if Angie was working the bar.

(Angie was a former meth head. It did screw her up. But she had been clean and sober for going on 17 years by the time I'd met them. She loved life, and when she was happy, she was fucking happy. One of the warmest smiles around. She also loved to pull shit on people, loved the pranks. She was extremely protective of her "kids" (the regulars), especially the women. And if she thought a girl was skeezy, she would turn cold in a heartbeat.

I also ended up working at the Fam for a few months. Angie helped me out when I truly needed it. I love this woman. She is also the only person in the world who could yell at me and wave a meat cleaver in my face while doing so, without my killing her. )

Bronk loved to tell stories, such as the one where he is smoking his perscription in his car while driving home. The cops pull alongside as he's taking the green hit. They admonish him by wagging their finger and shaking their head. He'd nod his head, take another hit, and then drive off as the light turned green.

(You knew you were welcomed by him if he ever told you he smoked. You knew you were in select company if he told you why he needed it.)

Or the one where he's closing the bar, and he had dropped some candle wax onto his hand, got in his car, when the police pull up (something of a theme), and he holds his hands up, looking for all the world like he was jerking off and came on his hand.

My favorite stories were the ones that he'd tell when the place was slow, and you were one of three people sitting close by. These usually took place in Reno, where he and Angie had five digit lines of credit, and would sometimes come home coked to the gills and $50,000 up.

If I had to pick one story...

"So, my friend just came up from Reno, you know, and we hadn't seen him for a while. He only came to town when he had a major delivery to make. Columbian marching powder.

"He pulls out a wad of cash from his pockets, and says 'let's go out.'

"So, we go out, start drinking, we pick up a friend of Angie's, and come back to our place.

"Now, I go to bed, because I had to work the next morning, but they went on.

"Next thing I know, Larry's shaking me. 'Bronk, get up, we gotta find your wife.'


"'We gotta find your wife, man, wake up!'

"Where is she?

"'That's the thing: I don't know!'

"What do you mean you don't know?

"'Well, after you went to sleep, I brought out some coke, and we did a bunch of lines, and then I left Angie and her friend to keep going, and went to lay down. I got up about ten minutes ago to get something out of my car, and couldn't find the keys I left on the table.'

"What do you me--

"'So I started looking for your wife, couldn't find her and her friend, and then I couldn't find the coke.'

"Oh, shit...Is your car out front?


"Oh, shit.

"'You don't know the half of it.'

"And that's when he told me that what he was smuggling was hidden between the panel and the frame of his car.

"So, I got up, we got in my car, and start driving. We don't even know where to start looking. It's about four in the morning.

"Finally, about 45 minutes later, we were going down Denny, right next to the Science Center, when we see the car about five blocks ahead running a red light.

"I gun it, and we start catching up to her right around where Denny turns into Elliott and then 15th, on the way to Ballard. Well, she catches a red light and we pull up beside them and she's not looking at us. So, I honk my horn, and she looks over and decides we want to race and she guns it and runs the red. I catch up to her again, honking my horn, and she's doing a slalom between lightposts, doing about 65-70 miles an hour, and laughing the entire time.

"Well, I forget what happens, but we finally get her to stop the car just before the bridge.

(What did you do?)

"Well, they were so high, and my friend was so freaked out, Angie, her friend and I waited in my car, while my friend removed the license plate and other stuff from his car. Then he came back and we drove off.

(Was the truck still full of coke?)

"Yeah. I never found out what happened to it. That was $500,000 worth of coke we left behind. Probably went right up the cop's nose."

(General laughter.)

I was at a different bar in the same neighborhood tonight, with a couple of friends who also knew Bronk and Ang. Jim got a phone call, left to talk, and came back to tell us the news: Bronk had passed away earlier in the morning. Word was that Angie was inconsolable.

We smoked in his honor.

Thursday, January 27, 2005

Take It To The Mix

The first time the concept of a mix tape was introduced to me, it was by my uncle Jesus (insert gag about having Jesus as my uncle here). As far as I understood it, however, it was nothing like what one traditionally thinks of when you say mix tape.

What he was doing (circa 1984-’85) was stringing together sound effects (with some music, but it was mostly sound effects) and made that last over the length of a tape, both sides. Then he would write a script to go along with the tape, and he’d send that along.

This script would detail the “story” he’d concocted, which would have to coincide with missile strikes, klaxons, and descending space ships.

The intended audience was a woman with whom he’d had a long distance something or other. I can imagine the look on this woman’s face, as she listens the cheesy 70s subsonic machinery noise that symbolized a gangplank coming from a UFO, while reading something like “He climbs aboard, knowing his true love is inside.” (“…uhm, yeah…”)

He ended up marrying another woman. That is a separate story.

Twenty years later, and mix tapes (or “mix cds” for the persnickety), and the making of, have become something of a serious hobby for me. In fact, I just finished making a fresh set. I’m planning on making them available here, but there’s a huge list of people that need to get them first.

If you noted the plural-usage in the paragraph above, it’s not a typo. I’ve created a mega-mix (a box set, if you will) that spans three CDs (!), each with their own feel and flow, but still serving the larger theme (in this instance, Women vs. Men, look for a playlist soon). The last batch I made spanned two CDs. Making copies and sending these out has already cost me more than I’d like to think. I haven’t even made a dent on my list of recipients.

Someday I’ll be able to confine myself again.

Also, I need to pace myself. It’s been two years since the last batch (time being an issue with me in general, if you haven’t already noticed from the steady flow of posts here). It’d be nice to have less of a gap between sets.

I spend days toying with the lineup (something I was never able to do before the days of CD burning), doing my best to ensure variety and pace.

It’s a tricky business; which is why I hold firmly to the belief that DJs are practitioners of a higher art form. Not radio DJs, but those that travel with their own turntable set up and lug numerous boxes filled with vinyl.

Think about it: You’re at a party, large group of people mingling, and some doofus decided that Pink Floyd is a great album to listen to. Along about Us and Them, the group is dead. You think, “hey! I’m going to put in that new album by The New Pornographers, and watch these fuckers fly!” Fifteen minutes later, only the drunken stragglers remain.

Whereas, when a DJ has his/her groove going? And it’s not simply a matter of only playing songs everyone knows. That definitely comes into play, but it has to be at the right time, and used sparingly, like salt.

I have no aspersions toward high art, but I like to think I make a decent mixologist.

Next time, my thoughts on how to create a good mix.

[Click here to go to the next entry in the series--tbo]

Meese Files: El Hijo Prodigal de Boricua

looooong travelogue-y kind of thing, based on a trip to Puerto Rico taken in October of 2003.

- flying over the caribbean, I look out the window and marvel at the shades of blue, and giggle as the plane's shadow plays over beaches. feeling a little antsy about the coming weekend.

as the plane descends to the airport, get a glorious view of san juan. It is much busier than I expected it to be, traffic everwhere, and that sense of a sparkling jewelbox is very prevalent.

the plane touches down. "Hola, mujer, como estas?"

- muggy. my second cousin is picking me up. only problematic in the sense that I have no idea what he looks like, and vice versa. wait forever for my bag to come through the baggage claim area. Call the second cousin, and before I can start panicking, I hear "Jesus, man, were you the last one out?"

Two things become apparent. Firstly, and most importantly, the guy speaks english. this is good, as I had no idea how good my spanish would be. Secondly, he was also panicking about being able to recognize me, until he saw my build, which he immediately placed as belonging to his clan. Major crisis averted, and a seed is planted for a later revelation.

- The reason for this trip is simple. My grandmother, who presently lives in Denver, had decided to go back to PR to visit her family for a month. My mother escorted her out there, I'd be bringing her back. (Only later do I find out that this is for a reason. My grandmother? Drama. Queen. Not the most fun when 1)you're dealing with the stress of traveling, 2)there's a language barrier--she speaks no english, and 3)you go over 8 hours not having a cigarette.)

- The second cousin, Miguel, brings me over to my grandmother's house, where we drop off my luggage, call my mother to let her know i've arrived, and essentially ditch the place as quickly as possible, before the grandmother decides to cook us a meal. time being of the essence.

We go to a local restaurant chain, and goddamnit if it isn't the tastiest thing a Puerto Rican non-relative had cooked for me. Authentic and delicious. It is at this point that I decide that my diet will be damned over the next 72 hours. Fuck it, it's good, and it's been 21 years. (Should you go to PR, I advise the same. Also, forget about being a vegetarian.) Everything is deep fried and salty...well not everything, but you know. I had the mofongo relleno, fried plantain shell filled with this chicken type thing. delicious.

Miguel and I talk about our respective family history, and I notice that the man (who has been in NA for 17 years now) is a bit pensive. I find out that his fourth wife had just left him a few months prior. She took their daughter with her. It is this last that really bothers him. He figured that the marriage was pretty much shot when she left (she left him, not for lack of love, but because her family had never approved of the the end, the family won out), but he loves his kid, and now that they live in SF, he doesn't figure to see much of her...

- Driving through the capital, San Juan, after dinner.

We pass the capital building, and notice a stage is set up and someone is announcing something. Miguel pulls over, and we check out the scene. They were announcing this rhumba band. A rhumba band is comprised of nothing but vocals and percussion, this was a 10 piece band. It turns out that this was not just some plain ass rhumba band, this was a world-renowned rhumba band. Had they been playing in NYC, tickets would go for $35-$50, and they would sell out. They were playing for free. There were 75 people there.

We stayed.

After about 45 minutes, I become overwhelmed with sentiment. Here's the capital building, all lit up. Huge PR flags waving in the warm breeze. It's about 72 degrees at 11p. I'd been there for about four hours by this point, and the fact of my situation, listening to this amazing band playing music I hadn't been truly immersed in for over 21 years, is just too much. I tell Miguel that I was gonna stroll about.

I cross the street, to this little park, directly across from the capital building, and overlooking the ocean. So, music is still going, traffic is still going, the building is in full sight, and now the ocean...I light a cigarette (one of so many smoked that weekend) and just when I thought I couldn't be more pleased. Fireworks. off to my right. There is no reason whatsoever for fireworks to be going off that night, but there they were.

The island seems to say, "welcome back, you son of a bitch, don't let it be another 21 years."

- Much later that night, we arrive at a club, where another world renowned band is playing for very cheap.

Sir Mix-a-lot would be in pig fucking heaven in Puerto Rico. Young, old, fat, skinny, black, white, doesn't matter, an enormous majority of the women there have asses to die for. slapping asses. big juicy booties everywhere. It becomes mind boggling after a while that all these beautiful women are everywhere. And then I started checking out the guys. We are a good looking people. Equal opportunity eye candy everywhere I looked that night. And like I mentioned earlier, age played no role at this club. Young and old alike were there for the music and for the cruising and the dancing.

This last is the only area where I felt like a fish out of water. I never learned to salsa dance, let alone merengue (a style of music from the Dominican Republic), or any of the dances prevalent to my culture.

Also, rubinesque women in the states who feel insecure about their bodies could learn more than a few things from their Puerto Rican counterparts.

- And then I started to figure out why my mother took us out of that environment. At that time is was the three older boys who left PR, the two youngest girls had yet to be born. I may talk about how hot everyone is, but it's a little disconcerting to be checking out someone only to have them turn around and then realize that you're checking out some 12 year old. Also, it seems that girls learn to wear three inch heels at about 8 (probably the reason for the leg-butt fine-ness). There's something off about a society that encourages this.

There's also something off about a society where women are encouraged to stay at home to mind the homefront (cooking, children, etc.) while their husbands are encouraged to play and fuck around. I'm not saying that everyone does this, but a surprising number do, considering that catholicism is the prevalent religion there. (Miguel is not amongst those ranks, I find out.)

- Saturday, I hang out with the grandmother, then I visit my old school. Still looked the same. Trip at the memories flooding from looking at the place. On the same lot is the church where I had my first communion. I recall chasing girls at least 8 years older. Figure out that part of my brain.

That night, a very tired Miguel takes me out to the boonies for another renowned band playing for free. While impressed, we leave early so that Miguel doesn't pass out taking us back to his house. Which turns out to be the house I grew up in before we left PR. And again with the overwhelming. I sleep in the room where I witnessed my brother's poop in mouth incident. The back yard where my brother and I confused baby chicks for baby ducklings and wondered why they stopped swimming at the bottom of the bucket we'd filled up with water. The stairs where I would sneak out and sit on top of, to listen to the grown ups having their party. These same stairs were the ones my father once passed out on and concurrently fell down.

Images and memories swirls, with the realization that the old saw about how everything is smaller is true.

- Sunday. First order of business, visit my father's gravesite.

Once we found out where it is, we drive out to that section and get out.

As I'm traveling over the other gravestones, my mind is empty. It's not really shock, just a lack of expectation. But the sheer number of graves I'm passing is impressive. Finally, we arrive on the row where he is. Gonzales, Rodriguez...Amador.

Tears well. I find the fact that a hill of red ants have decided to roost just off of the marker to be entirely apropos, and while avoiding it, I damn the torpedoes and sit on the grass.

you must understand that at the time he passed away, I was too broke to come out for the funeral. The rest of my family was able to come, and the stories of that time still flow. I had no closure with the man, while everyone else at least got to see him in the hospital where he was in a coma. The rest of the family had to deal with his relatives, and to continue down that storyline would be yet another long rambly post, so I'll hold off there.

"you son of a bitch." and the tears continue. I chant three times, which does the job of both expelling the built up emotions, and centering my head. "I'll be back later." I get up and leave.

The rest of the day is spent in a mad dash across PR to visit as many relatives as time and traffic would allow. Heard many stories about how precocious I was (if we were to take the overall picture these stories portrayed, I was a fucking handful, flirting with women who were my mother's contemporaries, and being bossy to those younger than me).

And along about here, is when a couple of things hit me. One was that there are a lot of people who looked like me. My body type is common over there, so I wasn't exactly a "big" kid over there...I mean no bigger than some of the types...there were plenty of the smaller, but this whole notion that I was abnormally bigger than most kids was something that began over here. It didn't help that when I came to the states, my grasp of English was such that I thought "big" meant "fat."

Also, the women there love to flirt. Looooove. I'd be called "my love" by women I'd just met. And talk of my handsomeness was both welcome and plentiful. I finally understand why I behave the way I do when in the beginning stages of any flirtatious situation, and why I tend to panic and freak out when the cues just aren't picked up over here..."If A leads to B, which demands C, why haven't I gotten B yet?"

Visit great aunt, who runs her own food shanty in Loisa, one of the areas in PR where the slaves congregated after being freed. Am fed for the whole day in 45 minutes, as I'd be handed the next deep fried goodness I'd eat just as I finish the previous bit of deep fried goodness. I can't even begin to describe what I was eating, but ingredients included chicken, beef, crab, sea slug. The deep fried fish something or other (called bacalao) was also good. topped off with dulce de coco, this coconut candy thing which is just ridiculously good.

amidst all this, I do some souvenir shopping/collecting...

- I stand on the sand, looking at wave after wave coming into the beach. It's a hot day, I'm wearing shorts. I take off my shoes and walk towards the water. ankle deep, and it's warm...just about body temperature, or at least, it doesn't feel any colder than me. knee deep, and for the umpteenth time during that weekend, the memories of being a kid playing around in this stuff come flooding back to me. This is aided by the actual kids playing around in the surf. and I'm reminded of the time my father swung me around on a strip of bark from a palm tree, which then broke and gave me a bloody lip. I'm reminded of the warm rain that would torrent down on my head back in my old neighborhood. I'm reminded of the rolling black outs which the kids in my neighborhood would get rid of by chanting the "oogachaka" refrain from "hooked on a feeling." I'm reminded of the hurricanes we'd survive by sitting in my grandparents house listening to AM radio, eating fresh french bread with coffee cut with condensed milk, and playing word search games. and a kid splashes me. and I splash him, and he splashes me, and I start chasing him around in the surf, slipping on the loose sand beneath my feet and I fall. Immersing myself in the waters of home. I get up, laughing and think "no, it won't be twenty one years again."

Wednesday, January 26, 2005

The Cover of This Week’s EW

So, it seems like Letterman is going to spend the week in mourning, which is to be expected and I can wholeheartedly respect. To tell the truth, though, I can’t wait for him to come back, just to hear what he’ll say. (I purposefully missed Leno’s tribute, and from the sounds of it, what they did is what I’d love for Letterman to do, but probably won’t get to.)

I liked Carson, he was a nice buffer between the local news and Letterman when I was growing up. Even if his humor skewed to an earlier generation (in other words, I kinda got what was going on), there was a genuine sense of just how cool this guy was, particularly during his interviews. Even if the person he was interviewing was a freak, ol’ JC wouldn’t necessarily be either offended, put out, or wholly uncomfortable…not that it didn’t happen, but it was usually handled with an aplomb that is still missing from his heirs apparent.

(I still wonder how Johnny would’ve handled Crispin “I can kick, I’ve got muscles” Glover when he was pimping for Ruben and Ed.)

Frankly, I just wanted to get to Letterman. I’d watch Night Court or Soap reruns, get to Carson just to wait for the Thrill Cam, Marlon Brando (“bananas!”), and that ol’ snarky je ne sais quoi Dave used to have with his enterprise.

Understandably temperamental to the point of alienating guests (beyond the oft-recalled Madonna and Cher incidents during his years at NBC, a favorite memory of mine was when he essentially kicked the then big headed Gary Oldman off of the show, after Oldman made some derogatory comments about his ex: Long time Letterman crush Isabella Rosellini), Dave just wouldn’t put up with any shit, from anyone, and would not hesitate to call it on the air.

I’m sure the mullahs loved being called “executive weasels” on a continual basis. Probably what cost him his coveted job.

Despite all of that, it was obvious, at the time of his retirement, that Carson wanted to hand the job off to Letterman. The fact that the executive weasels at NBC would not honor this desire, and snubbed Letterman—despite his earning the spot and his swearing that he would tone his shtick down—is the primary reason that keeps me from watching a second of Leno’s show.

I mean, I remember Leno when he was moderately funny (before Tonight Show and his shilling for Doritos), but his unwillingness to do the honorable thing by his mentor and colleague (Jay and Dave used to be pal-ly, once upon a time) was just terminally off-putting for me. Never mind the ensuing crapification of the Tonight Show, and the “Talk Show Wars” instigated by Leno’s manager. Never mind the “intellectual property” bullshit from the aforementioned weasels.


Anyway, come back, Dave! No one else on the air is qualified to provide closure in saying goodbye to the old man.

And Mr. Carson: Thank you.

Thursday, January 20, 2005


nnnnnn. nnnnnnnnnnnn.

hey...let me hit the can. I'll be right back.