Ringo 037: Ballad of a Sad Pizza
"Never there when you want me, always there when you need me." — Tony Wilson
Happy (and hopeful) new year!
After a long and mysterious absence, here I am, popping back into your inbox when you least expected it. Or perhaps you never expected it or didn't give me a second thought, full stop. I don't blame you. It's been a long seven months since I sent out one of these newsletters and my blog's eerily silent as well. The only place you could openly find me all this time was Twitter, which is simply embarrassing.
I'm rearing my dully throbbing head in your sight-line for a couple of reasons today. The first is to explain my disappearance, which I'll now get out of the way as quickly as I can.
I wrote about this on Twitter last August with an optimistic tone that, in retrospect, was perhaps jumping the gun a little. Expanding on that thread, I'll say that I was (and am) exhausted — just like many of you. As COVID-times dragged on and on and on and the vicious news cycle dragged on and on and on, the ennui gathered into mountains. There was nothing I wanted to write about. Nothing in my head, nothing inspiring, nothing exciting to document in the early morning hours. Even my journal, updated almost daily for years, went dark.
Luckily my professional life doesn't rely on writing, so I had the luxury to stop and wait. I knew that I was hardly alone in this stifled feeling. And, heeding the advice of those talented enough to write through this malaise, I knew the best strategy was to not stress out about my lack of motivation. The recommended move was actually to lean into it — do other things, find new hobbies, read lots of books, and occupy the brain with something other than the fact that the creative plumbing's sprung a bad leak.
So, that's what I did. I shifted focus to my spunky music label, 8D Industries. I learned to make tasty and fiery hot sauces (which became a gateway drug to vegan cooking). I got actively involved with marketing Caroline's growing Kitten School channel. I spent a lot more time with family as I successfully and safely moved mom to a house next door during a pandemic. And I started getting involved in freelance podcast production.
Several months ago, I was hired to edit and co-produce Andrew Loog Oldham's Sounds and Vision podcast, and the experience has been a delight. If you don't know, Andrew is the original manager and producer for The Rolling Stones — as just one of his too-many-to-list-here historical music adventures — and he's got stories for days. Check out the podcast if you're even a little curious. It's a lot of fun. I'd recommend the Elliot Easton (guitarist with The Cars) episode for a starter as it's got lots of juicy behind-the-music-industry tales.
Meanwhile, the writing bug has finally returned over the last couple of months (along with the music bug, but that's another story). As arbitrary as 'the new year' is as a signifier, it's still a useful prompt to refresh. And that's what I plan to do. On the immediate agenda: make some changes to the blog, start blogging regularly again, and then, once firmly in the saddle, relaunch the newsletter. Voilà. Easier said than done, right? But I'm excited nonetheless, and that's an accomplishment in and of itself.
I'll finish this deep gaze into my navel with a few notes about this newsletter.
First off, I'm retiring Ringo Dreams of Lawn Care. I consider Ringo its own series (in the television sense) and a moment-in-time capsule. I'll call the relaunched newsletter something else (tbd). It’ll have a different format but I’ll cover the same genre of topics.
Also, the newsletter won't be on Substack. I'm exploring a combination of Sendy and Newsletter Glue to host the newsletter on my site. This potentially sets up a roadblock of discouragement as it's complicated (oh jeez I've got to figure out what a VPS server is). But I want to learn newsletter self-hosting partly as a self-challenge and also to be able to teach others how it's done.
Finally, I want to assure you that your Ringo subscription will automatically transfer over to the new entity once I'm ready to roll. You don’t have to do anything, unless you’d like to unsubscribe which you can do at any time (including now if you'd like).
The second reason I'm intruding your inbox as perhaps you curse the post-2021 hangover that befell you: I've released a song today. 🚀
Grottoes is a long-imagined project, revealed as I finally step away from Q-Burns Abstract Message. Yes, the AUDIOTOTEMPOLE EP was always meant as a closing of the door. And Grottoes predates “Touchtones (1997),” the earliest reference on that EP. I tried and failed to start a band called Grotto in the early '90s after the dissolution of my much-beloved (by us and some others) band Tick Tick Tock. There are too many other bands called Grotto nowadays, so Grottoes it is. It looks mightier written as text that way, so win-win.
The quiet first appearance of Grottoes was a remix for Brighton's The Self-Help Group and the song "Temple OS" (a fine song in its own right, btw). That one was recorded in mid-2021, during my supposed creative lag, and is the last time I worked on something musical. I hoped this would spark other Grottoes tunes to serve as accompanying tracks for something called "Straw Belle."
"Straw Belle" isn't new. I started recording it maybe three or four years ago, and it's a song that I revisited and tweaked periodically. I settled on a final version at some point in late 2019. I feel it's one of the best things I've recorded. And I held it tight — only about four people have heard "Straw Belle" before today — under the assumption that I'd record a few more songs like it and release an EP. As you probably guessed, that never happened.
After encouragement during a catch-up phone chat with my friend Jeff (the bass player in even earlier attempts at bands), I realized that "Straw Belle" would never see the light of day if I attached it to the loose promise of 'other songs like it.' I decided it should finally come out on its own, and, as this revelation came a month ago, New Year's Day seemed like a novel release date.
For your consideration, here's "Straw Belle" by Grottoes. Artwork by Matthew Naquin. Secret assistance from The Imprisoned Wizard. Sounds like group homes, wavering spaces, pangs of crunch, tones from belief, e-bow symphonies. I hope you like it. Please tell the others if you do.
("Straw Belle" is also on the streaming machines, and you can click on this sentence to find your flavor.)
2021 recap? I'd rather not. It was fine and not fine. You know what I mean. I choose not to wallow in the hollow. But if you'd like to read some insightful impressions of the year that was, then look no further than Sasha Frere-Jones' thoughtful collection of those from his bright circle of friends. There's one, from bassist extraordinaire Melvin Gibbs, that I can't stop thinking about — it haunts me like a new year's ghost:
This, the contrast between those who have to deal with tangible loss and those who are scared of intangible loss is, for me, the defining dichotomy of this historical moment. Those who have will need to give to those who’ve suffered loss. To me, it seems that the issue of whether that giving will be regarded as a form of thievery on the part of those who’ve suffered loss, or a form of community building on the part of those who are doing the giving will determine the course of human life on this planet in the coming years.
Something else I think is important to mention is the Sounding History podcast. It's hosted by Tom Irvine and Chris Smith, two academic brainiacs who study music history in a compelling manner: through the lens of the Anthropocene. That is, how the extraction and exploitation of resources of the last 500 or so years — and the intertwined increase in unrestrained capitalism, ecological collapse, and human misery — have led to the music we listen to today. That sounds like a bummer but, while sobering, the podcast has the tone of a rollicking history lesson that mainly exists to make one aware. It's also entertaining and has sent me down a dozen rabbit holes (so far). I highly recommend this.
One rabbit hole is the idea of recorded music as energy expenditure. The last episode of the podcast delves into the history of formats, from shellac discs (made from bug juice and limestone) to vinyl (PVC waste is highly toxic) to CDs (perennial landfill denizens) to streaming (data churning server farms eat lots and lots of energy). Thinking through this has spawned a question: knowing that all material creation and energy consumption have degrees of ecological impact, what method of listening to recorded music has the most nominal cost?
My feeling (and it's just a feeling) is that downloading music and replaying it directly from one's hard drive (or smartphone, iPod, etc.) has the least energy/ecological cost vs. vinyl/CDs/streaming. I had a brief exchange with Kyle Devine, author of the book Decomposed, repeatedly mentioned as a resource in Sounding History, and his feeling is the same. The eco-cost saved may be negligible as an individual metric, but there's still a compelling argument made — along with all the other arguments — for owning your digital music rather than streaming it. If only music files were somehow more attractive to listeners, with contextual touchstones that foster sentiment and engaging interfaces that encourage community. You should read Marc Weidenbaum's keen thoughts on that subject here.
What do you think? I'd love to know. I feel like this topic — and others like it — is influencing my interests and my writing for the future. It's a relief to have something new to latch on to, and as I learn and read more, there's no doubt I'll have more to say.
OK, I'll close this surprise missive and, once again, wish you a fun and hopeful new year. Please write if you'd like — to say hello, to agree or disagree, to tell me what a VPS server is all about; all are welcome.
And I'll see you soon. Really.
btw — I'm Michael Donaldson and you can read more about who I am and what I do here.
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Missed you...a lot.
I very much look forward to your weekly newsletters and this is like a gift today. I tried to read a host of others last year but none of them grabbed me the way Ringo did. It was a tough year, and I figured like the rest of us, you retreated to a place of calm to find some inspiration after the storm.
Thanks most of all for sharing the Kitten School link. I run a cat rescue with my ex-wife and cats have turned out to be the most human of all the creatures I've encountered. We lost a good one unexpectedly this year, a runty orange boy named Bindi, who was basically held together by bailing wire, bubble gum, and twine but managed to hold on for four incredibly joy filled years until fate finally caught up with him on 11/24. The sense of his loss has been profound and I often wonder if this is this is just a microcosm of the collective loss we have all suffered through since 2020. A strong feeling of free falling with no end in sight mixed with the strong feeling of revelation - a new day and a new start are just around the corner. It can be maddeningly dissonant at times but, hey, tomorrow's another day and the best and/or worst is yet to come...or something like that. I agree with Melvin Gibbs, we need to figure out a way to reconcile this loss or we are doomed as a society.
I still collect CDs, even better now that I am picking through the remains of another dead but yet to be resurrected format just like vinyl was in the 80s and 90s. My vinyl buying habits turned out to be such a treasure trove of riches that it helped fund the starting of my current business, which is not music but has been the most successful enterprise I have ever been involved in the three and a half decades I have been a worker bee. I have sold off the last of my vinyl and don't miss it one bit. I certainly don't expect the same cultural fondness for CDs some day in the future, but I also said the same about vinyl way back when. I have only recently jumped on the MP3 train and never on the streaming train. I already can't stand the AI suggesting TV shows for me and music is even messier, it just isn't for me. I have spent the last five years ripping my collection to the hard drive. It started as a lark in 2017 to see how far I could get (I am about half way thru as of today) but after the Camp Fire in 2018 and the destruction of an entire small city in a less than an hour, that job has become a huge priority. Everyone I knew from Paradise lost everything, including giant vinyl and CD music libraries, which are impossible to transport in the face of deadly, unexpected crisis. Knowing that I can quickly grab my laptop and run for my life with the albums that have defined my life has given me great comfort as communities near me have burned down each successive summer since 2018. It's not a question of if the fire will ever come for me, it's a question of when. I don't always find it the best way to listen to music but is convenient in ways that I never thought possible, like setting itunes on random and letting it play for a month straight to see where I end up, so frictionless. I have also created many great DJ mixes based on a weird intersection of tracks that I never thought were possible when just solely focused on pulling a disc out of the library and slapping it in the player tray.
While I missed the newsletter, I have appreciate the promos. I enjoy discovering some very high quality artists via your label. I wish it didn't take me 2-3 years to listen to each release, but they are always the chewy, chocolate center of the hard candy shell called life. I look forward to listening to your new musical project, hopefully before 2025, but I try not to get to hung up about the day I finally discover a great artist or album. We're all just doing the best we can.
Thanks...and welcome back, may 2022 be the pot of gold at the end of your rainbow.
Hey There! Been reading your Ringo blog for awhile, and very lovely to hear your thoughts on the music marketing industry, artist struggles, #deletefakebook, etc... Just searched my inbox because I realized I hadn't read a Ringo in awhile, and I see you're pausing it. So just wanted to write and say I dug it. Thanks!
Also, I'm an independent artist thinking about starting my own music discovery blog as a way to separate more from social media, and mostly because I find it so hard to find good new music these days! Wondering if you had any thoughts on whether I might start something like that as a hidden page on our band's website (pros- free, maybe feels like a secret club, ?), or does it make more sense having it on a regular blog type site? Trying to use it to spread good music, friend's music, and hopefully sorta make some type of community off social media surround our band, local music community, etc... Any thoughts?
Our current band website: www.lovedean.us
Thanks again for all your contributions!