Have you seen the movie Eighth Grade? You should if you haven’t. The main character is a sweet, painfully shy, awkward eighth grade girl who keeps a vlog where she gives advice and commentary about the things relevant to her life. She then proceeds to repeatedly contradict her words with her behavior. “Being yourself, is like, not changing yourself to impress someone else,” she says, then is later shown changing herself to impress someone else. “I’m like really talkative,” she says, and is then given the award for “most quiet” at school.
I am exactly that eighth grade girl. I had plenty of pretty pieces of advice for you last week, which almost instantly proceeded to not follow. Most notable was my advice to:
“Rebel against the tyranny of the screens. Or at least, don’t make a digital screen the first or last thing you look at in a day”
Well, I spent the first 30 minutes of the day today on Instagram watching highlight clips of other people playing video games. I don’t even play video games myself, but somehow I was able to waste half an hour watching strangers on the internet play.
Hypocrisy at it’s finest. And yet I’m probably no different than most advice givers. It’s just far easier to give advice than to follow it. I’ve met enough therapists to know this is true. My current therapist is awesome but I bet she doesn’t follow her own advice all the time. I bet she gets off work and uses the same mindless coping mechanisms that we all do. And honestly, I think this is fine.
So I’m not going to attempt to give you any advice this week friend. I think you’re doing an excellent job already of being a human—weird, inconsistent, mindless, and beautiful all at the same time.
Happy New Year! Was 2020 the worst year ever? Many people seem to think so. Well then good riddance I say, and let’s bring on 2021. But here’s the thing friend, we have no idea if this trip around the sun is going to be better or worse than the last one. This year could be great, or terrible, or just kind of ok for any number of personal, local, or global reasons —just like 2020; just like every year.
Did you know that a man in Malta won 94 million dollars in the Powerball lottery last year? Let me repeat that. Someone won 94 million dollars, and they live in the ancient island paradise of Malta. I’m going to go out on a limb and say 2020 was not his worst year.
Friend, what I’m saying is that who knows if 2021 will be better or worse for you than 2020. The only thing I can say for certain is that it is going to be weirder.
And believe it or not, I actually wrote those paragraphs before the capital was stormed and overtaken by a pack of rabid conspiracy theorists. It was disgusting, scary, enraging, and supremely weird. While watching that lunatic mob infiltrate the building, I found out how deeply I actually care about the capital and the people in it, both Republican and Democrat alike. As much as I hate Mitch McConnell’s politics, tactics, voice, and face, I found out that I actually do not wish him physical harm. I envisioned him as he was in that moment: a vulnerable old man who needed help getting to safety.
Ted Cruz and Josh Hawley on the other hand… and all the other senators and house members who still voted to object to the counting of votes after the Kentucky fried mob broke in to the capital—you are cynical, lying, ugly sacks of rotting garbage. You aren’t charismatic enough to build your own following so you’re latching on to Daddy Trump’s. And your political maneuvering is so utterly transparent that it should actually offend the mountain-dew drinking, dry-wall punching, QAnon drop reading, racist, cheetah-fingered, mouth-breathing, meth-faced, violent morons that you’re trying to attract.
Anyway, to my point, in addition to being horrifying, that day was also just really weird. And I am confident that things are going to keep getting weirder. Why?
Well, because there’s a virus out there that has spread across the world. I’m not talking about Covid-19, friend—I assume you’ve heard of that one and are taking the necessary precautions. No, I’m talking about a disease that was predicted by the great prophet Jamiroquai way back in 1996. I’m talking of course about Virtual Insanity.
Virtual insanity is the deeply ingrained belief that the fabrications of our digital world are more real, good, and beautiful than the physical reality we’re all born into. And the symptom list is vast and still growing:
For one it is getting plastic surgery to resemble an Instagram filter.
For another it is eating a tide pod for Youtube views.
For another it is dressing like an ill-conceived WWE wrestler and breaking into the capital because “Q sent you.”
And there are only going to be more outlandish conspiracy theories, stranger social media trends, and more compelling digital experiences. Widely accessible VR technology is going to soon see more and more people playing, talking, traveling, learning, dating, having sex, and conducting business in a purely virtual world. And people are going to be organizing into even more ultra specific internet subcultures, and developing ideas and idioms impossible to fully comprehend from the outside looking in.
Perhaps I should get ahead of the curve and start a subreddit called r/ManhattanColorblindMusiciansWhoBlogandBelieveinAliens.
This is a community for Manhattan based colorblind musicians who blog and also believe in aliens. Please read our community guidelines.
By the way, I believe that aliens have visited earth. That’s weird! But what is weirder is that this weird belief is becoming more and more mainstream and viable. Did you know that last year the pentagon declassified three UFO videos, and that U.S. Intelligence agencies are set to release everything they know about UFOs within six months? The internet is going to eat that up and spit it back out in incredible ways.
So buckle up my boy, things are going to get weirder.
Now I don’t think that all the new weird in the world is bad, in fact sometimes strange shake-ups to the existing order can certainly do some good. However, I do admit that it can all be scary and disorienting, so if I may, let me offer five pieces of unsolicited advice about how to maintain some inner peace and normalcy in this brave new world.
Rebel against the tyranny of screens. Or at least, don’t make a digital screen the first or last thing you look at in a day. You’ll have the rest of the day to do that.
Remember that you are an animal, and not just a floating consciousness. Get physical—go for a walk, howl at the moon, exercise, jump in a lake, eat a peach.
Play one on one. Both in basketball and in conversation, enjoy the raw, real experience of relating to one single person at least once a day. Disconnect from the one-to-many social media stage, and just candidly talk to a friend.
Get in the Mix. This advice isn’t all about disconnecting. You should also try to actively engage so you can help create the virtual world in your image, rather than just being a passive passenger.
Laugh and Cry. If you’re not regularly having these two reactions to life, then maybe you aren’t paying attention, friend.
Anyway, I’m writing this as a reminder to myself just as much as anything, but I do hope this helps you. I’m looking forward to seeing all the weird stuff you do this year.
Let me say at the outset of this post that I think the Chiefs are going to win. Pat Mahomes came to me in a dream last night and the man was looking real confident. I’m not saying this because I put any actual faith in my football dream predictions, but rather because in order for that prediction to carry any weight, it means I need to get this posted before the Super Bowl starts. I’m just putting a little time-pressure on myself to go ahead and get this done and then go about my day.
I will remind you readers, however, that back in November of 2018 I successfully predicted that the Raptors would win the 2019 NBA finals. So if you are looking to trust someone’s sports betting hunch, I think you can go ahead and trust mine. I’m probably a sports-psychic after all. If this whole producer/blogger/musician racket doesn’t work out, look for me to setup an outpost on Fremont Street offering my services.
And now that I’ve hooked you, America, with my insightful and necessary sport-psychic chatter, I’d like to talk to you about Instagram filters. We’ve all seen em; we all use them. Just took a picture of that cool brownstone across the street? Want to make it look like you took that picture in the 1970s? Slap a Gingham on it. Looking for a classy, timeless black and white approach? Look no further than Inkwell. Just want it to look more better? Try Hudson!You’ve got instant, professional-grade photography at your fingertips.
Now I’m sure that any actual professional photographers or graphic designers would scoff at the previous sentence, and they would be right to. There is most certainly a world of difference between the work of a true craftsperson who takes time to dial in the exact saturation, contrast, and brightness appropriate for a particular picture, and a rube like me who just picked a good filter. By the way, I don’t even know what saturation is—I just saw it on instagram. However, when I choose a particular instagram filter that makes my picture “pop” in that perfect way, even I am seduced into momentarily thinking that I’ve done something special.
The truth is that I couldn’t be less special in this moment. I’ve done something that literally millions of people are doing every hour. But the results don’t lie, most of these filtered pictures do look pretty good. The frightening prospect to me is that in art, music, and culture we may be headed towards a ubiquitous “pretty good” rather than a wildly varying array of things awful to great.
Before you write that last sentence off as esoteric aesthetic paranoia, let me try to flesh out my dystopian worries. The fact is that we are outsourcing more and more artistic decisions to technology. Whether it is instagram or photoshop for pictures, final cut pro for video, or Logic for music, any software meant for the creation or editing of audio/visual media contains presets, layout choices, and biases that lead you towards certain creative decisions.
Sure, it might be me, a human, who is operating the software, and in theory I can be as creative as I want to be with the choices I make. But truthfully I’m often more apt to go ahead and pick a preset than take the time to dial in a sound using my ears, training, and instincts. Say I just recorded a bass line for instance, and I know that I want this bass to sound nice and punchy. Oh wow, look at that, there’s a compression+EQ preset called “nice punchy bass.” The temptation is too strong; I’m going to use that preset. Oooh, that’s nice. And punchy.
But herein lies the same problem that I experienced when I posted that picture on instagram. It feels like I’ve done something special, but I’ve simply chosen the same pretty good preset that millions of other people have access to. The same phenomenon occurs with digital instruments and sample packs. From Alchemy, to Reason, to Kontakt, to Spitfire, to Splice—we music creators have more access to more good sounds than ever before. The problem is, this is potentially leading us all towards a pretty-good homogeneity, rather than an inspiring and varied originality.
Indeed these are the mad, professorial ravings of an aesthetically paranoid man. So what is the point? What is there to do?
Well, what I did to ease my troubled mind this week was to record some cups.
If everyone is using the same presets, the same digital instruments, and the same instagram filters, I needed to do something at least a little different. I recorded a simple track with real guitar, real bass, real Wurlitzer, programmed drums, and a “pretty good” digital vibraphone instrument. Despite all the realness, it still was feeling somewhat uninspired. So I poured some water in some glasses, tuned them to some notes, and replaced that “pretty good” vibraphone sound with some pretty great cup sounds if I do say so myself.
I’m not saying I did anything artistically ground-breaking. I’m certain that someone has recorded cups before. But I may have done something personally ground-breaking. I proved to myself once again that it is more satisfying to create something real and original, than to rely on the presets and paths already taken.