Sucked Down Memory Lane

I’ve fallen down an internet rabbit hole. This was prompted by waking from a dream a couple nights ago wherein I was in the studio of the interior designer my mom worked for in the 1960s and then wracking my brain trying to remember exactly where on Central Avenue it had been located. I can only assume that as yet another example of mid-century architecture it was leveled decades ago to make room for one of the new condo complexes that now line the Central Corridor—or more likely for the I-10 deck park tunnel. All I can remember is that it was on the west side of the street and the tall palm trees that used to line both sides of the boulevard were out front. There was also a small grass lawn separating the sidewalk from the studio itself. In case anyone is interested, it was called Kay Baden Decorators.

The last time I was there I couldn’t have been more than 10 years old.  They relocated to a small storefront in Biltmore Fashion Park shortly thereafter. The funny thing is, I can easily remember the smell of the studio more distinctly than recalling anything specifically visual in it—except that the front part of the studio/showroom was a dark labyrinth of furniture, accessories, and stuff—a lot of it completely inaccessible. In short, it was a mess. A fascinating mess for a young person to explore, but a mess nonetheless. (It wasn’t really a showroom; it was used more as a storeroom.)

While I was eventually able to file this unexpected memory and fall back to sleep, the first thing I did upon waking the next morning was to begin Googling for old pictures of North Central Avenue.

I still haven’t found anything that even remotely looks like what I remember, but it led me two two websites that have consumed me for the last couple days. The first is The Rogue Columnist, who is an amazing trove of Phoenix history, and has posted dozens of photos from the time when Phoenix was just a sleepy little desert town (or at least not the car-obsessed asphalt jungle it has become). The second is a discussion forum called How Do You Remember Phoenix? Stories from Long Time Residents. At 850+ pages, it’s going to take me quite some time to wade through it, but it’s already triggered memories of long-gone places that I didn’t even realize were gone until they were pointed out. This has emphasized how much I want to document places around town now—as mundane as some of them may be—to help future residents remember places that are just as likely to be razed in the future as Thomas Mall (just one example) was in the past.

Remembering Phoenix

After we had gotten, in disco parlance, ‘sufficiently cocktailed,’ we’d head way downtown to the trashy gay nightclubs, places with names like Bullwinkle, Hotbods Desert Dance Palace, and our favorite, Sammy’s Steak House—a sleazy toilet that served neither steak nor any other kind of meal. The gay clubs played the best music—a combination of hardcore disco (Lime, Sylvester, The Twins) and dance-punk (New Order, The B-52s, The Thompson Twins) that drove us mad with pleasure. Here, in the ‘bad part of town’ at 2 in the morning, freaking out to DJ Hubert’s obscure Eurotrash mixes, we could forget the suburban strip-mall jobs and junior-college grind that awaited us on Monday. And Tuesday. And, we feared, forever.” ~ Robrt Pela

(I knew Hubert, although not well—and didn’t particularly like him. My most vivid memory of the guy—and one of the main reasons I didn’t care to be around him—was how from his perch in the DJ booth at HisCo. Disco about six feet above the dance floor and very near the club’s entrance, he’d lean over the glass divider and yell “Uterus!” at the female patrons walking in.)

Quote of the Day

As a Phoenician, nothing makes me more depressed than endless sunny days.” ~ Jon Talton, The Rogue Columnist

While I haven’t reached that point again yet, I know it will eventually come, and I do remember many, many times before we moved to Denver feeling this way about life in Phoenix. I often remember waking up, looking outside and saying in as deadpan voice as possible, “Oh look, another cloudless sunny day.”

That being said, even when that inevitable day returns, after having spent four years in Denver, it will still be preferable to looking outside first thing in the morning and seeing that Mother Nature had dumped eight inches of snow overnight.

An Ambient Escape

While it may seem from my recent posts about rediscovering vinyl that I am obsessed with music from the 70s and 80s, that is only partly correct. As unthinkable as it might have been to my 20-year old self, one does not live by Disco alone. When considering music composed in this century, I admit a great fondness for electronica and ambient.

I discovered Loscil via Apple Radio a couple years ago, and for better or worse Scott Morgan’s music became the soundtrack of my life at—and for many a snowy commute to and from—DISH. But even with that horrible baggage, it does nothing to diminish my innate love of his music, and to this day I still use it when I need to chill—something I needed to do a lot while working at that Toxic Vat of Feculent Hellstew—or simply ease back into sleep (as I did this morning at 4 am).

If you click on any of the album covers above it will take you to the respective iTunes pages where you can sample it yourself.

Employed!

It seems the Employment Gods have finally taken pity upon me and I have landed a job.

I’m still in a state of shock—because this sprang from what I consider to have been one of my worst—if not the worst—performances in an interview since moving back to Phoenix.

But I guess I must’ve said something that appealed to them. Either that or the other candidates were so resoundingly awful I won by default, even after being unable to answer two of the interviewer’s technical questions. (Or it might be that I stressed I actually liked the particular tasks this of this job—or the fact I loved producing documentation of processes, something else that will also be called upon.)

It’s for less money than I was making ten years ago and about $11K a year less than I was making in Denver, which after taxes amounts to only about $60 more per check than I’ve been receiving from Colorado Unemployment without taxes being taken out, but considering that my Colorado UI was due to run out in about six weeks, I can live with it. It’s supposedly only a 90-day contract, but “can go longer depending on the work load and possibly even permanent if I’m a good fit.”

Fingers crossed on that, because two of the best perks about this place is that it’s only about a mile from home, and I can wear jeans every damn day.

I don’t have a firm start date yet; it’s dependent upon how quickly my background check clears.

…and Circles













…and sadness.

From the AZ Central Archives, 12 March 2010:

When Circles Records & Tapes closes its doors Saturday, a sentimental chapter in the lives of many Valley residents will also come to an end.

For 38 years, Circles has stood at Central Avenue and McKinley Street in downtown Phoenix. The neighborhood may have changed, but the store always remained devoted to pleasing people who cared about music.

“Record stores almost used to be kind of a cult thing,” said Angela Singer, who started the store in 1972 with her husband, Leonard. “People would go in and look at the album covers and read the liner notes. They would come in and just browse, which doesn’t seem to be what people want to do today.”

The world has changed since the Singers first got into the record-store business. The couple’s entry into the world of music happened in a roundabout way. Leonard owned Associated Distributors, a wholesale company that sold automobile accessories.

In the mid-1960s, that included tape decks, though few were manufacturing tapes. Leonard stepped in, signing deals with such labels as Motown and Atlantic to produce cassettes and 8-tracks.

By 1968, Associated Distributors boasted more than $2 million in annual sales. Circles opened as not only a record store, but as a way to distribute the Singers’ products.

“People were excited when we opened because there really wasn’t anything like this in Phoenix,” Leonard said. “It was something different.”

Tower Records had yet to arrive. Mass-merchandisers such as Borders and Best Buy didn’t exist. Circles, with its knowledgeable staff, deep catalog and late hours, was unusual and exciting.

“This was a music lover’s paradise,” said Rick Nuhn, who worked at the store when it opened. “At the time, this was the only place where you could pick up a lot of the records we were selling.”

The Singers staffed the store with people who knew music. It was Nuhn’s first job after graduating from Washington High School. He now lives in Los Angeles, where he hosts a syndicated radio show and works as senior director of promotion for the Concord Music Group.

“The ’70s were a different culture,” he said. “You’d go to Circles and talk to someone that you thought was cool to find out about cool music. “People can do that today through blogs and the Internet, but it’s not the same kind of connection.”

Industry leader

Circles gained local prominence and became an industry leader. In the days before Nielsen SoundScan tallied music sales, a select group of record stores would report top sellers to Billboard to form the magazine’s charts. Circles’ weekly reports tallied Phoenix’s hottest hits.

Recording artists often visited to sign their latest albums. One-hit wonders like Redbone (“Come and Get Your Love”) stopped there as did country stars like George Strait and Lyle Lovett. Angela Singer remembers a vivacious young Bette Midler meeting fans. Barry Manilow was there, as was Arthur Fiedler.

So many celebrities appeared that the Singers can’t remember them all. They used to have artists sign a door, but it was removed a long time ago – now tucked away in an upstairs storage room. It bears signatures of such acts as the Isley Brothers, Eddie Rabbitt, Michael Franks and David Gates from Bread. Bruce Springsteen’s signature also stands out.

“Oh, yes!” Angela exclaimed, her memory jogged. “He was here. He was quite pleasant, as I recall.”

Valley disc jockey Steve Goddard recalled escorting Natalie Cole to the store in 1988, when she was riding high the on the charts with “Pink Cadillac.”

“She was just delightful,” he said. “But that’s the thing with Circles: I’ve got so many memories there. Some are big ones like that, and some are just me getting excited at finding something there I couldn’t get anywhere else.”

One of Goddard’s favorite parts of the store was the “Wall of Hits,” in which every record that was on the Billboard Hot 100 occupied a spot.

“I’d go in there once a week with my list from Billboard, and I’d get every record that I was missing,” Goddard said. “It was awesome.”

All genres welcome

The building, a sprawling 36,000 square feet, is as distinctive today as when it was built in 1947 as an auto dealership. A huge front window curves around the side of the building, a reminder of days when it revealed the latest Studebakers.

Life-size posters used to fill the window; in the ’70s, one could see images of a beaming Helen Reddy or a brooding Patti Smith.

That was another thing about Circles: It didn’t matter what kind of music you liked. The store aimed to make everybody feel welcome.

“That was intentional,” said Nuhn, who once got an autograph from pianist Van Cliburn during a visit. “It wasn’t someplace that was trying to be hip. It was just about music. It didn’t matter what you liked. We would help you.”

The store stocked Latin albums in the ’70s, before they were easy to find. It carried polka music, religious tunes and became known as a haven for R&B fans. The selection of classical and jazz discs was equally extensive.

“Going to Circles was one of my favorite things to do,” said Sonia Moreno, a federal employee who shopped at the store since it opened its doors. “If you loved music, it was the place to be. You could find anything there, and if by some odd chance you couldn’t, they would order it for you.”

A digital demise

In recent years, the music industry has undergone massive changes. Tapes disappeared, and vinyl was turned into a cultish item when the compact disc took over. Now, CDs are giving way to digital downloads as chains such as Tower and Virgin have disappeared.

“We probably should have closed a long time ago,” Angela said. “It was just hard. We had employees that had been with us for years. You know people depend on you, and you don’t want to say goodbye.”

The Singers, who own the building, are hoping to sell it. The building will be vacant until it is sold.

The store remained devoted to its original goal. It sold a few music DVDs and some accessories as CD wallets, but it never strayed far from the original concept. It didn’t sell books or magazines or paraphernalia; it was always centered on music.

But as popular discs could be had cheaply at Walmart or Target, as well as online, it became harder to compete. And if you didn’t feel like getting dressed, you could download any number of songs to your computer. Circles became a dinosaur in the world of music retailers.

“Most music stores today do not sell exclusively music,” said James Donio, president of the National Association of Record Merchandisers, an industry group. “Because of the sheer dint of economic realities, they began diversifying more than a decade ago into doing other things.”

Revolver Records, just blocks from Circles, opened in downtown Phoenix last year. Co-owner TJ Jordan said the store has a different mission from Circles.

“I really love Circles because you could go in there and browse,” Jordan said. “But, if you deal with younger kids, these aren’t people that are used to going in and browsing. They have it all at their fingertips.”

That’s why Revolver emphasizes vinyl albums and used CDs and DVDs and relies heavily on social media like Facebook and Twitter. Circles didn’t focus on used products and never had a Web site.

“In reality, as great as Circles is, it’s just hard to have a record store like that in this day and age,” Jordan said. “It was more like something you’d see in the 1990s.”

The Singers seem to see the truth in that. Leonard said that once the store sells, the two plan to travel. Angela is active in the local arts scene. But he said their days in the music business are behind him.

“The business is so different than it used to be,” Leonard said.

“We sort of stumbled into this industry,” Angela added. “But, all the way through, we loved what we were doing.”

AT&T CEO Says US Encryption Policy Is Up To Congress, Not Apple

US government policies on device encryption should be decided by the public and Congress, not companies like Apple, AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson said in an interview at the World Economic Forum being held this week in Davos, Switzerland.

Well of course he did. AT&T, probably more than any other company in US history has not only bent over for government spying, but actually spread their ass cheeks and lubed up for it.

And that, my friends, is why I will never buy services from AT&T.

And good luck getting Congress to listen to anything “the public” has to say. “The public” doesn’t own them the way AT&T does, after all.

Goal

We’ve been watching this little place undergo a major renovation since shortly after we got back to Phoenix. It’s a couple blocks from our favorite coffeehouse, so we drive past it often. At one point it was gutted down to the studs (which was probably needed for a house of this vintage), but it’s now in the final stretch of being finished. I love everything about it—from the basic 40s-era design and the choice of colors to the walled front patio and the garage-turned-guesthouse in back—without even having seen the inside.

Ben and I would love to buy a place like this, or failing that at some point talk the current owners of our rental into selling us the place. I would love to do a makeover on it like the one above.

Here We Go Again


It’s official. Apple has become Microsoft.

One of the things I really appreciated about Apple’s OS is that you didn’t have to reinstall it multiple times a year because something got screwed up. Apparently with their new all-encompassing focus on iDevices, no one in Cupertino really gives a rat’s ass about OS X any more—beyond giving it a shiny new coat of paint once a year so Tim Cook & Company can waltz out on stage and tell the faithful how magical it’s become.

Since upgrading to El Capitan some time ago, I’ve been having nothing but trouble with Apple Mail—to the point where I got Apple itself involved trying to troubleshoot why syncing wasn’t working with any regularity between the cloud and my Mac.

As mysteriously as the problem started, after several weeks it just disappeared, only to be replaced with Apple Mail using ridiculous amounts of CPU cycles and sending the laptop’s fans into overdrive while sitting idle. Fed up with these ongoing issues (and in no hurry to give up my iCloud email address because my life is tied to it),  I opted back into Apple’s public beta program, hoping against all odds that maybe this issue had been addressed and corrected in the latest beta since apparently I wasn’t the only one experiencing it.

Thankfully, after updating to OS X beta 10.11.3, Mail’s CPU gorging disappeared. I was a happy camper.

Then, about a week or so ago, I woke one morning to discover that an OS update had automatically downloaded, installed, and was prompting me to restart the computer. WTF?

Somehow, the developer (not the public beta, which to my knowledge still isn’t out) version of 10.11.4 had decided it was going to install itself on my Mac. I am not in the developer program, and after installation there was no record of it installing, other than the version number changed in “About This Mac.” AND NO WAY TO UNINSTALL IT.

It didn’t seem to break anything, so I just accepted this and resolved to live with it until 10.11.4 was officially released.

Well, lately my Mac has been randomly locking up—to the point where it requires a hard power cycle. I realize that using beta software comes with risks like this, but this particular beta I never signed up for.

When 10.11.3 was officially released last week, I attempted to install it over this bastard 10.11.4. Apple was having none of that. Apparently you can’t go backward unless you wipe everything and reinstall from scratch—which is exactly what I find myself doing this morning.

Thanks, Microsoft Apple.

Quote of the Day

I believe in science. I believe in evolution. I believe in Nate Silver and Neil deGrasse Tyson and Christopher Hitchens, although I do admit he can be a kind of an asshole. I cannot get behind some supreme being who weighs in on the Tony Awards while a million people get whacked with machetes. I don’t believe a billion Indians are going to hell. I don’t think we get cancer to learn life lessons, and I don’t believe that people die young because God needs another angel. I think it’s just bullshit, and on some level, I think we all know that. I mean, don’t you? 

Look, I understand that religion makes it easier to deal with all of the random shitty things that happen to us, and I wish I could get on that ride; I’m sure I would be happier, but I just can’t. Feelings aren’t enough. I need it to be real.” ~ Piper Chapman, Orange is the New Black

All We Are Is Dust In The Wind

As I’ve gotten older, I’ve noticed that lot of weird stuff goes through my head when I’m laying awake in bed at 4 am; stuff that wouldn’t have pinged my consciousness when I was younger. This morning, while still pondering the joint loss of David Bowie and Alan Rickman, I remembered reading somewhere that within 300 years of your death—unless you’re someone notable like Bowie or Einstein or Neil Armstrong—you will have been completely forgotten since anyone who knew you directly will have long since passed on as well.

I personally put that time frame at half that—or even less. Think about your grandparents. Now think about your great grandparents. How much do you actually know about them and their lives?

I know more about my material grandparents than my paternal. Even then, that knowledge is woefully lacking, and since Mom was an only child, once my sister and I pass on, that knowledge will vanish as well. I believe my grandfather was a chemical engineer. I know he worked in a white collar capacity at a paper mill for the majority of his life, and was recognized by the company for coming up with a new way of folding napkins for use in fast-food restaurants. Beyond that, I haven’t really got a clue. Was he in the army? Did he fight in World War I? How did he and my grandmother meet? Those are some of the things I probably should’ve asked Mom about when she was alive, but they were also those things that when you’re younger you really don’t care about. I have no idea if my grandmother ever worked—or if she did, what exactly her profession had been. As far as I know, she was a homemaker for her entire life (as was pretty common for women of that generation).

Going back another generation, I have no knowledge of my great grandparents beyond what I’ve seen in old photographs. If you even ask me their names I couldn’t tell you without having to look it up somewhere. My great-grandfather (or perhaps it was his father) fled Germany because—as family legend has it—he shot a deer in the Kaiser’s forest and the penalty if he’d been caught was death.

I know even less about my paternal grandparents. I think my dad’s father was a cabinet maker and owned his own business for many years in Safford, Arizona. I have no idea if my grandmother did anything outside the home. Their parents? No clue whatsoever.

About thirty years ago I realized how woefully inadequate my knowledge of even my own parents’ lives had been, so I asked them both to write short autobiographies. Dad took to the assignment like a fish to water; Mom never did come through with her story. Dad’s revelations and secrets were enlightening and helped explain many major and minor mysteries of his life, but like so many things, his written story has gone missing and I’m left with only my own memories of what he’d transcribed.

I think this lack of proper passing-on-of-the-family-story explains both my folks’ interest in genealogy as they grew older. Curiously, at least at this point in my life I do not share that interest. Since my sister never had children, when she and I are gone it will be the end of the line for this particular branch of the family and no one will be asking who my folks—or their folks—were or what they did during their lives.

And also since I have no children, I’ve pretty much resolved myself to knowing that at some point after I’m gone—like so many people who have come before—all my photographs, art, and possessions will end up at the bottom of a landfill or as curiosities in second-hand stores, offering some rare personal glimpses into life in the late 20th and early 21st centuries.

That’s why the here and now is so important. It’s all we’ve got.

Just Because

Pointer Sisters: Fire/Happiness (12″ 45 rpm gold vinyl mix)
Brothers Johnson: Strawberry Letter 23 (12″ 45 rpm red vinyl mix)

Equalizer

Once upon a time, any audiophile worth his salt owned (or at least wanted) one of these beasts. The thought being that a graphic equalizer allowed control over the entire audio spectrum instead of just at the ends, as the more common bass and treble controls afforded. In theory it allowed you to tweak specific ranges of frequencies to achieve the desired “flat” (i.e. uncolored) response from your audio source. Alternately, you could use the equalizer to boost or reduce frequencies intentionally for effect.

It wasn’t until the early 2000s that I actually had an equalizer in my system, although not nearly as impressive as the one above. And you know, I found it to be a complete waste of money. Maybe it was my already-aging ears deceiving me, but I found nothing really needed a degree of tweaking that couldn’t be accomplished with the bass and treble controls on my receiver.

Funny, that.

Anyhow, I was thinking the other night how I wish there was some sort of equalizer for life; something that allowed you to fine tune those areas that needed a little help. Increase employment or employment satisfaction, boost income, decrease fear and anxiety.

Sadly, no such device exists, not even in the darkest recesses of eBay.

APPLE, FIX YOUR SHIT!

All I wanted to do was buy Fleetwood Mac’s Tusk and listen to it on my phone while I napped this afternoon.

But nooooooo! As is becoming more and more common, Apple was having none of it. The album was purchased and showing as downloaded on the phone, but where? It was nowhere; not under “recently added” or—god forbid—even under “Fleetwood Mac.”

This led me to say “FUCK IT,” and I got out of bed, giving up all thoughts of a nap.

On my Mac, Tusk was shown as available for download. So I downloaded it and plugged in my phone to sync.

Tusk still didn’t show up on the phone after the sync.  If that weren’t enough, for whatever fucking reason, all the album artwork on the phone disappeared as well—as has been happening with increasing regularity of late—and I’m getting really tired of it.

Because…

The only way to fix the missing artwork is to delete all the music from the phone (75GB worth) and then resync it. Do you know how long it takes to transfer 75GB over a USB connection?

Fuck, Apple…with each passing day you’re turning more and more into everything I hated about Microsoft, and it’s obvious you don’t give a shit. You’ve got more money than god and can live off the interest for the next thousand years, so why should you even?

I used to look forward to going to an Apple Store or receiving OS upgrades. Now I dread both experiences because I know at the store I’ll be met with attitude at best or insouciance at worst and OS Upgrades have become a question of “What is this going to BREAK?” (Much like it became with Windows.) Hell, I used to want to work for Apple, but no more!

Check Ignition and May God’s Love Be With You

RIP David Bowie, 1947-2016

Ground Control to Major Tom
Ground Control to Major Tom
Take your protein pills and put your helmet on
Ground Control to Major Tom (Ten, Nine, Eight, Seven, Six)
Commencing countdown, engines on (Five, Four, Three)
Check ignition and may God’s love be with you (Two, One, Liftoff)

This is Ground Control to Major Tom
You’ve really made the grade
And the papers want to know whose shirts you wear
Now it’s time to leave the capsule if you dare
“This is Major Tom to Ground Control
I’m stepping through the door
And I’m floating in a most peculiar way
And the stars look very different today
For here
Am I sitting in a tin can
Far above the world
Planet Earth is blue
And there’s nothing I can do

Though I’m past one hundred thousand miles
I’m feeling very still
And I think my spaceship knows which way to go
Tell my wife I love her very much she knows
Ground Control to Major Tom
Your circuit’s dead, there’s something wrong
Can you hear me, Major Tom?
Can you hear me, Major Tom?
Can you hear me, Major Tom?
Can you “Here am I floating round my tin can
Far above the Moon
Planet Earth is blue
And there’s nothing I can do.”