Happy Non-Sectarian Winter Holiday Party

I suffer from an embarrassment of riches.

I am in decent health. I don’t worry too much about getting food or shelter. I have an amazing family and incredible friends. I live in a nice part of the country, and unlike many people, I love my job.

As part of that job, a couple of years ago I met Damian Hess, also known as MC Frontalot. In addition to being talented, he is also a very nice person and I look forward to the times when I can see him, such as when we were both in Dublin earlier this year. He started that tour back in August and hasn’t been home since. Last year I got invited to his birthday party, so this year I thought I would invite him to one of mine. To my delight, he accepted.

He spent Thanksgiving with family in California and then went to Portland (Oregon) to shoot a video for his song “Start Over”. This is from the album Question Bedtime which is a collection of songs based on fairy tales. “Start Over” is his take on “Little Red Riding Hood” and as a little present to my three readers, here’s Damian as the wolf:

In the video he plays all of the characters, but you’ll have to wait a couple of months to see the rest of them.

Anyway, once about every three years I hold a holiday party. I went to high school right when “political correctness” started, and some friends of mine decided to christen the season the “Non-Sectarian Winter Holiday” and since then I’ve adopted the term. The year 2014 has not been the easiest one for me so I wanted to do something special for my party, and it almost tore me apart keeping the secret.

Damian and I are both fans of Mike Doughty. Mike did some vocals on Front’s song “Your Friend Will”, and this year Damian raps on Mike’s track “The Champion”. Damian found a way for me to get Mike to come down to the farm and do a concert.

In my house.

With me.

In the house.

At the same time.

Awesome, huh? So I invited a bunch of the coolest people I know, fired up the cocktail bar, got Angelina to bring us awesome food, and settled in for a wonderful evening.

Now in our houses in the Southern United States we have this thing called a “formal living room”. It is usually a large room filled with expensive furniture that you almost never use. We decided that was silly so instead we have a bar in ours – complete with wooden canopy where you can store glasses. We call it the entertainment center.

With everyone properly “libated” and fed, we moved the table out of the way and Mike set up in the corner. This was the view from the kitchen:

You can see a wonderful chocolate cake from Jodi at Phoenix Bakery in the foreground with the OpenNMS favicon on the top. We also had a tres leches cake and presents for a White Elephant gift exchange.

With the dining room table out of the way, we could fit everyone comfortably in the room.

I was going to be nice and sit in the back so someone else could have a closer seat, but after the first song I said “screw it” and moved up to the very front. This is what my concert looked like:

I had made up a playlist of about 17 tracks. Now Doughty fans know he has a wide range of musical output, from just him and a guitar to electronic music. I was happy when he said he could do most of my choices, and looking back at the list there were only three he didn’t do (“Wednesday (Contra La Puerta)”, “The Huffer and the Cutter” and “Ta Douler” – that last one was a cover of a Camille tune that I wasn’t expecting him to do but figured, what the heck, I’d ask). Most artists aren’t able to do their whole catalog on demand, but it was wonderful to hear almost all of my favorites.

Did I mention it was in my house? Where I sleep?

One high point of the night was “The Champion”. Not only had it never been performed live, this was the first time Mike and Damian had actually sung it together. Maybe I was just high on the experience but think it worked extremely well.

Toward the end of the set Mike realized that it was going to be short, so he asked me for some more songs he could play. I froze. I honestly couldn’t think of a single title. I was about to say something like “uh, how about that fast one about the thing that happens with the thing” when Damian suggested “Looks” which gave my some time to calm down, and that was followed by “St. Louise is Listening”, a good track that I wasn’t all that familiar with since Mike wrote it during his Soul Coughing days. I was finally able to suggest “Unsingable Name” which closed out the set (click on the link to get a sense of the show).

I was very nervous about the whole evening. First, I get a little nervous when hosting any type of party since I want to make sure everyone has a good time. Second, I had Damian staying over and I wanted to make sure this world weary resident of Brooklyn had fun in rural Pittsboro. And finally, did I mention, Mike Doughty was performing in my house?

After the set I took Mike back to his hotel and rejoined the party. Everyone seemed to have really enjoyed it which pleased me since I knew that outside of Damian and myself no one else was that familiar with Mike’s work. We did our usual fun gift exchange (I ended up with a pair of pink women’s Everlast boxing gloves if you are interested in a trade), ate cake and basically hung out.

I wish I’d had a little more time to spend with everyone, and I did my best before it got late and people started heading home. Toward the end it was me, Cynthia, Ben and Damian sitting around the now cluttered and sticky bar, and I decided it was time to finally finish off that bottle of 33 year old Glendronach whisky that I had purchased on impulse at Heathrow about seven years ago (and then trying to explain to my accountant spouse that I didn’t understand the exchange rate). I’d managed to parcel it out at Christmas time over the years, and with about three fingers left I couldn’t think of a better way to end the evening. As Ben posted on G+:

We didn’t take many pictures of the event. I wanted to experience the moment and so my camera stayed in my pocket, and that was the case with most people. I am thankful that Barry, Ben and Cynthia took the pictures I used in this post.

I managed to get to bed for a few hours before driving Damian and Mike back to the airport for their trip home. I did get the the one picture I really wanted: me as the creamy filling in a Doughty/Damian Oreo.

If I had one piece of advice to give out, it would be to spend your money on experiences and not things. Sometimes, however, it is cool to be able to combine the two, and so I had Mike autograph my guitar.

I’m certain my fond memories of the evening will outlast it.

Review: The Peripheral by William Gibson

Note: I try to be spoiler-free but as everyone has a different tolerance for such things, spoilage may ensue.

I just finished The Peripheral by William Gibson, although I got it weeks ago. I’ve been traveling, and since I refuse to buy digital books encumbered with DRM, it is hard to take such a large book with me. I so wish the book industry would get its act together and either include a digital copy with a hardback or allow me to buy one for a small upcharge.

Enough of that. I got to see Gibson a few weeks ago and as part of the admission fee I got a copy of the book. I would have bought it anyway, but the chance to see the man himself was draw enough, not to mention “free book”.

Gibson has written three trilogies, and the first book in each always had a bit of a learning curve as you try to grasp the language. Imagine talking to someone 50 years ago about the Internet or an iPhone. Something as simple as “Hey, could you post that photo and link on Facebook” would have been totally indecipherable. He consciously chooses not to hold your hand, which in my case adds to the fun and makes his work interesting to re-read.

The story starts out at some point in a future United States. Things are not great. There is a mega-chain store called Hefty Mart where most people shop, although a lot of things are “fabbed” – fabricated using 3D printers. There aren’t a lot of options for making money outside of manufacturing drugs, and our protagonists seem to be living at close to subsistence levels.

We are introduced to Flynne, who works at one of the local fabrication shops, and her brother Burton, who is an ex-soldier. Burton, post service, doesn’t seem to have a job but he managed to land a gig helping a company called Milagro Coldiron beta test a video game. The job doesn’t entail much more than remotely controlling a drone in the game that spends its time doing surveillance on a large building, but it pays really well. One night he asks Flynne to substitute for him, and she witnesses something horrific, but writes it off as just another aspect of a weird computer game.

It turns out that it isn’t a game. The world Burton and Flynne visit is London, seventy years in the future. In that time, someone has figured out a way to communicate with the past. No one can physically travel between times, but information can be exchanged, and this is key to the plot where people in both time periods attempt to understand what Flynne witnessed.

As a reader, we get a double dose of Gibson’s prognostication abilities. First he imagines a future that could be as little at 20 years away, and then another one 70 years beyond that. The latter takes place after an event called “The Jackpot” where a lot of the world’s population die. Both worlds are richly detailed as only Gibson can do, and he has a nifty way of sidestepping the whole “go back in time and kill your grandfather” scenario that plagues time travel tales.

The technology that enables the future to talk to the past occurs in multiple instances. Each instance is called a “stub”, and the moment the first contact it made, the future of that stub changes. While all of the action in the book takes place in the stub in which Flynne and Burton live, there are references made to other stubs, sometimes put to terrible uses. But since the “future” for the stub is different than the future in which the stub was created, you neatly avoid paradox.

It also introduces an interesting time travel concept. Seventy years is not a terribly large amount of time, so some people in the future were alive at the same time as Flynne and Burton. What would you do if you had a way to talk to the past, a past in which you had lived? Would there be any wrongs you would try to correct? Any retribution to deliver?

I really liked this book. It is probably my favorite since Virtual Light, although I really liked Pattern Recognition as well. You care about the characters, and once you get over the hump of the language learning curve, the futures described sound plausible.

My only real disappointment was in the ending. The book is a little over 480 pages long, and at page 450 I’m still wondering how he is going to wrap up the plot. I think it could have used another 100-200 pages to really flesh out the back story, although this is more of a character study than an action thriller. I felt a little let down and for once in a Gibson novel it was pretty easy to figure out who the bad guys were going to be.

Despite that, it was a fun read. He claimed in his talk that this wasn’t the start of a new series, and there are aspects of the story that would make it hard to write a follow up. But if he changes his mind I wouldn’t mind revisiting this world.