Add this to the list of things I never thought I’d live long enough to witness: people selling single rolls of toilet paper on eBay, with everyone outbidding one another in an effort to snag a bit of precious bum Kleenex, driving the cost into oblivion.
Everyone’s been hoarding supplies in response to the outbreak of COVID-19. I understand it, even if I think it’s a little selfish to take more than you need, leaving nothing for the next person. I know it’s about fear, self-preservation, and trying to prepare in the event of a government-enforced lockdown or the need to self-quarantine. As for the soulless cretins who have seized the opportunity to profit off of this pandemic, buying up as much hand sanitizer and toilet paper as they can and then selling it back to the people they’ve deprived at exorbitant prices, well…leave it to a global crisis to bring out both the best and worst humanity has to offer.
In this skittish new world of self-isolation and social distancing, I find myself in a pretty strange position. I get to stand back and marvel at how much has changed while recognizing how little my own life has been impacted. My heart goes out to those who are struggling without the human contact they’re accustomed to. For me it’s been business as usual. Few people cared enough to engage with me in any meaningful way when there wasn’t any reason to keep their distance. It’s not as if my social life has taken a hit.
As far as the music is concerned, the work I was getting recording other artists had already dried up, and I’ve been looking forward to operating in solitude for the rest of my days after what I went through making the most recent album. So nothing has changed there either.
With CJAM being closed to the public until further notice, I assumed my days of charting were over. I assumed wrong. A number of DJs have found a way to go on producing new content without access to the station, and after hanging around the top ten for a few weeks I somehow find myself back at #1.
You have to understand — even with every live event being cancelled for the foreseeable future, it’s a pretty busy time for local music right now. There are a number of new albums that have just been released by people who (unlike me) are a significant part of this city’s music scene. They’re active on social media. They put a concerted effort into calling attention to their work. They’re a part of the club. I’m not. I deactivated my Facebook page a while back and never said anything there about my new album. Even if I did, no one would have cared. I’m not on Twitter or Instagram. I don’t promote what I do in any way, outside of maintaining a blog doesn’t get a whole lot of traffic.
In the grand scheme of things, I’m about as close as you can get to being invisible without turning into Kevin Bacon in Hollow Man. Throw the world’s current preoccupation with the coronavirus into the mix, and I would expect my music to be the last thing on anyone’s mind right now. So to hit #1 at a time like this might be the most surprising and meaningful chart entry of my life, all things considered. I have no idea who’s been playing me at CJAM. Thank you, whoever you may be.
I was able to get copies of the album to most of the people I wanted to share it with back when we were living in more carefree times and canned tuna wasn’t so hard to come by. I think there are only two packages I haven’t sent out yet — one for a friend in Montreal and another for a producer of adult films in California.
You think I’m kidding.
I sure picked a good time to get healthy and fortify my immune system. And I think Windsor is one of the safer cities a person could hope to live in right now. Most civilians and businesses appear to be taking the necessary protective measures, and we don’t have an orange-coloured hairpiece adding to everyone’s unease by spouting a bunch of contradictory hot air that has no basis in reality.
I don’t envy you if you live on the other side of the border. But here’s something sure to put a smile on your face: a Portland strip club has reacted to the pandemic by diversifying their business and offering a topless food delivery service.
What’s a little spooky to me is what a timely album YEAR OF THE SLEEPWALK has suddenly become. I look at some of the song titles now and see this:
Cure for the Uncommon Cold
My Inflamed Lung
Buying Time at the End of the World
When the Bottom Drops Out
Then I look at some of the lyrics. The first words in the very first song are, “What you call a trench I call a home, if home is where the hope you had eats itself alive to keep from starving.” In “Lullaby for Unborn Child” an expectant mother struggles to find language to encapsulate all the death and destruction she’s seen. “Vector” ends with a phrase that becomes a mantra: “For the first time in a long time, I’m talking to myself.” The key line in “Your Dishrag Soul” is, “So much to see, so much to back away from now.” Before that: “Don’t trust the air.”
The first verse in “The Stillness of Us” goes:
All rise in fragility,
and hope for something nourishing
our bodies can metabolize —
nutrients from the government.
We break bread with the weaker ones.
There’s a stillness in the heart
that dissipates as it gathers strength
and turns the mind against itself.
“Dark and weird” has always kind of been what I do. But that’s a whole lot of unintended symmetry right there. It’s almost disconcerting.
You might be wondering, “Whatever happened to the homemade documentary-thing that was supposed to act as a companion piece to the album?” I should have finished editing it a few weeks ago. I’ve had more than enough time to get it done. I’ve just been lazy.
If you want to know the truth, I’ve also been a little intimidated. Making a video progress report that’s twenty or thirty minutes long is one thing. This is a much more ambitious undertaking, incorporating almost twenty years worth of self-shot footage, a wide variety of public domain films, voiceover material, archival footage that was shot by others, text, music, and photographs. The final runtime is probably going to be somewhere between two and three hours.
I’ve started to chip away at it in earnest. I’ve been making good progress. But I wasn’t prepared for the trouble my video editing program has been giving me.
I’ve been running Sony Vegas Movie Studio Platinum 9.0 on an Acer laptop since 2010. Ten years ago the laptop and the program were both new. Today it’s a minor miracle the laptop still functions, and the latest iteration of Vegas is eight versions removed from what I have. Running Final Cut Pro on my Macbook would probably make me never want to touch Vegas again, but I’ve been using the program long enough to get comfortable with it. It’s always done the job for me.
The problem now is the amount of media I’m working with. Apparently Vegas can only accommodate so many items on the editing screen at a time before it says, “No mas,” and crashes. I’ve never tried to do anything this crazy before, so I wasn’t aware of that quirk. I made the decision early on to shun the usual “talking to the camera” approach for the most part, presenting the bulk of what I want to say as narration. It’s freed me up to get a lot more creative with the visual side of things. It’s also the main reason Vegas has been on the fritz. The number of clips I’m working with has gone through the roof.
There’s one thing I’ve got going for me. I was going to break everything down into segments even before Vegas went goofy on me. Given the trouble I was having, I thought I could edit each segment as a standalone piece and use MPEG Streamclip to combine them all into the larger thing they’re supposed to be without any re-encoding.
To make this work, I would need to render the videos as MP4 or MOV files. Vegas has decided to crash every time I try to do that. MPEG Streamclip won’t recognize the WMV files I usually favour. I thought I’d work around that by rendering each segment as a massive uncompressed AVI file. Then I would stitch them all together in Vegas. Every time I tried to make an AVI file, Vegas would freeze up about halfway through and never finish the rendering process.
I’m nothing if not stubborn. I managed to find a program called Steeper. It’s an outgrowth of the commandline utility ASFCut. It allows you to combine WMV files into one all-encompassing file with no additional compression.
Beef be braised. Saints be praised.
As irritating as this technical hiccup has been, it’s a blessing in disguise. Rendering the video as a single project was going to take about twelve hours. Now I’m able to separate it into smaller pieces that only take half an hour or forty-five minutes to finalize.
It’s been fun to see things start to come together. The first few segments are finished now. The early passages need a fair bit of exposition to fill in some blanks and provide some backstory. Once that’s out of the way I’ll be able to let the visual content do more of the talking for me. Then I won’t need to have as many video clips on the go at once and Vegas should unclench its bowels a little.
My goal is to have the whole thing finished by the end of next week. I’m not sure how realistic that is, but I’m going to give it my best shot. Good things are bound to happen with Elliott riding shotgun.
The plan is to tie the video in with a giant blog post that breaks down every song on the album. The rough draft is at about sixteen thousand words right now, and it’s nowhere near finished. It’ll probably end up being the longest thing I’ve ever written here. I’ve come to enjoy digging into every aspect of an album’s making instead of just trying to provide an overview.
A lot of musicians have been holding live streaming events as a way of staying connected to their fans. I don’t have the equipment or the technical know-how to do something like that. Consider this humble homemade documentary my contribution to the “keep ’em busy with art” movement. I doubt anyone will have the interest or stamina to sit through the whole thing, but hopefully those who do will find something of value in it.