“Angels In the Oort Cloud” – a new album by Johnny Unicorn

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If you’re reading this before August 20th, please watch this video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IQT1FTmI7T0

And purchase the album here: https://johnnyunicorn.bandcamp.com/album/angels-in-the-oort-cloud

A history of “Angels In the Oort Cloud”

Recording began on a hot Summer day in 2012 at Alex Hamel’s house in Grand Rapids, MI. I arranged for Alex, Jason Campbell (on drums), and myself to spend a day recording drum tracks for four songs that never made it onto Sweet Edith Manton (due to their original lyrics not being so good), and a series of drum improvisations that I would later compile into one song. That day, at least two of us were sick (I can’t remember which two). Alex’s studio wasn’t complete yet, so we had to record in a cramped living room. It took forever to set up, because we were moving very slowly, plus we had to stop frequently to pour more orange juice. After a brief period of reminding Jason how the songs went, we recorded the songs. When we finished with the songs, we had approximately forty-five minutes left to record as much improvised material as possible. Alex and I played bass and guitar respectively as a way to direct the improvisations musically. When we were done I went back to Seattle.

“Angels” – I took the improvised drum tracks, erased the scratch bass and guitar tracks, and took what I considered to be the best parts, and arranged them in as musical a way as possible, overdubbing new guitar and bass as I did it. Lyrics were written and rewritten, sung and resung multiple times. Naomi, Eric, Max and Ashley were added to the mix, and then it became the song as you hear it. The lyrics are vaguely about a space battle between humans and a very mean god, because why not?

“Creation” – This song was originally called “Art.” When I wrote this song in 2001, the melody was the same as the guitar part, and the lyrics were terrible. I changed the melody to something a little more melodious, and fashioned the lyrics to be an epilogue of “Angels.”

“LCD” – This lyrics to this song used to be a meaningless collection of nonsequitors and awful rhymes. I reconfigured them to be about angels watching you through your computer screen. Creepy, eh? The idea of an all-knowing deity has always creeped me out a bit, hence, this song.

“Nebraska” – This song is even older (written in 1998). I reformed the melody, and changed the lyrics, but kept the title. The song was originally about a trip I went on as a teenager, during which I attended a dance and slow-danced with someone from Nebraska. I wanted to keep the chorus, but change the content of the lyrics so that it was about angels. It was a bit of a stretch, but I have no problem with it, and neither should you.

“Floaters” – Here is another repurposed song. I wrote this in 1998 also, but didn’t like the lyrics. So it’s about angels now. This time the angels are coming down to kill the protagonist, who then becomes an angel. When I was a child, I used to think my eye floaters were angels (and not because anyone told me that, I just assumed it was true). When rewriting the song, I imagined seeing floating beings off in the distance and being attacked by one of them. It’s a horrifying thought. Hopefully that translates in the song. You can find video of me playing this song with my old band before I was Johnny Unicorn and before it was rewritten.

“Inertia” – This is yet another song from 1998. The lyrics were only slightly changed, but a long instrumental section was added to the middle. I went to the local music store to rent tubular bells and marimba for this piece.

I could not have done this album without the musicians involved: Jason, Naomi, Max, Eric, and Ashley
or the sound people: Alex and Jesse
or the people I borrowed / rented instruments from: Kennelly Keys, Phideaux Xavier, Jeff Watkins, Jesse Mercury
or the people whose musical ideas found their way inevitably onto the recording: all the musicians on the recording, Michael Bouman, and Jamie Grefe
Also, thanks to Chris Barrios for adding input to the live versions of two of the songs.
if I don’t stop now, I’ll just end up thanking everyone, since everything is connected and we are all one.

I spent a lot of time not making income in order to complete this album, so if you like it, consider purchasing it now. Do it before August 20th and an image of your countenance will be indelibly printed on the inner jacket of the CD package:
https://johnnyunicorn.bandcamp.com/album/angels-in-the-oort-cloud

Add an extra $10 and I’ll sing your name!

Thanks for paying attention to me,
Johnny Unicorn

Johnny Unicorn and Jam Unit 2013 Tour part five: Budgeting

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It sure is odd to write a tour blog about an old tour while on a different tour. But it MUST be done.

Minneapolis was our next stop. The Mini-apple. It felt good to arrive in a city with a skyline and a Trader Joe’s. Last time I was in Minneapolis I had a great time with a band called the Drug Budget, so this time I made sure to set up a show with them again. This time it was at the Kitty Cat Klub. If you haven’t been there, you only need to know one thing: it has a gigantic unisex bathroom that takes up the entire bottom floor. The toilets are located in tiny stalls along the wall with doors that you can’t peak under. The sink is sort of just a bird bath in the middle of the room. There is a lot of red light. It is LOUD.

The show opened with a bunch of comedians who were funny and enjoyable for the most part. The Jam Unit played second, and we were loud as heck, but we had a good time and we got some people dancing. The Drug Budget closed the show with a knock-out set that was fully entertaining, and probably even louder than our set. The lead singer, who’s name I can never remember, really knows how to entertain a crowd. The Drug Budget plays metal and horn-infused pop music and are unlike most bands. This band goes beyond entertainment into something else entirely. Most of the crowd was partying hardcore, but I was fully entertained just standing and watching. I’m always very happy to share a stage with these people, and on top of that they’re all super nice. If you live in Minneapolis, I fully recommend going to their show. They make a Tuesday night feel like a Friday night.

The following night we played a disappointing show to a couple of people in Milwaukee. We made enough money to pay for a tenth of the drive to the venue. Afterwards, I insisted we drive the five hours back to my hometown of Holland, MI to get some hometown comfort. I’ll talk about that in the next installment.

128 Thoughts On the Big Football Game

First of all, here’s a link to my latest release, a completely free-to-download 128 song EP:

http://johnnyunicorn.bandcamp.com/album/big-game-2014-128-song-ep

You may be asking yourself why someone like me, a person dedicated to a life of non-competition, would write a set of 128 songs based on the names of a bunch of people who play a competitive sport I don’t particularly care for. I’ve been asking myself that very question throughout the 5 days I’ve been working on this project. As far as I can tell, the story began just this month, in Seattle, where I live:

1. I found out that one of my favorite Seattle songwriters, Julia Massey, released an album of short, hastily recorded pieces (http://juliamassey.bandcamp.com/album/songs-from-the-nook). I liked the concept very much (and I liked when They Might Be Giants did it on multiple albums), and I wanted to do one of my own.

2. My friend linked me to an article about a guy who makes his living writing dozens of songs a day that are all terrible but there are so many of them that he’s able to survive off the small amount of dollars per song he gets from people craving a moment of novelty. I didn’t like where he was going with what music of his I heard, but it got me thinking about ways I could have a creative outlet without getting bogged down in details. I keep a very large amount of stray ideas in my mind because I have nowhere to put them. If I could just make them public in a perhaps unfinished state, maybe someone would find some use in them, but I could rest assured knowing that there would be no risk of losing the idea, and one day I could come back to it and use it for something else. And I mean “rest assured” literally: unproduced creative work actually keeps me up at night.

3. There’s a lot of talk in Seattle about football this month, for some reason. Everyone’s looking forward to this Big Game and I didn’t understand why. My whole life, I’ve been averse to the idea of engaging in crowd participation. With sports especially it’s like some cult-switch gets turned on in a surprising number of people. It seems to me that even the most avid Phish fan would have a hard time keeping up with the average football fan in terms of dedication. I don’t know what it is. Maybe the pure agression sets off some sort of primal instinct in a lot of people. For me, the main feeling I get when I am surrounded by any group of people who are all looking in the same direction and chanting is ANXIETY. I suppose that’s MY primal instinct welling up inside of me. In the back of my mind, I’m always thinking “what if I decide I want to support the OTHER team instead? Will all these people kill me?” Obviously, I don’t literally think football fans will murder me, but maybe my body does. As a result, I have always avoided football, and every other sport. (Also, I only reluctantly go to concerts, and I avoid protests at all costs, even if I think I’m on their side). But this year, I’ve been looking at my life and trying to get rid of bad habits — in particular the habit disliking things just because I don’t understand them — and when I made a snarky comment about not liking football, my sister pointed out my hypocrisy. And when she calls me out on something I take it very seriously. It was then that I decided I should watch the game.

That doesn’t mean I have to root for the home team. Usually in a skill-based situation, I’m rooting for whoever is in the process of trying to achieve an immediate goal. When everyone does well, it makes for a better experience in my opinion.
And it doesn’t mean I have to drink beer and hoot and holler with everyone. I could engage in the experience of a football game in a way that was more comfortable for me. I can expand my horizons without going so far out of my comfort zone that I become anxious. My hope is that I’ll become interested in the sport, because it can’t hurt to add something to the list of things I like and cross something off the list of things I don’t.

So I decided to live-Tweet the event. And if you’re reading this before The Event, it happens on February 2nd, 2014 1:00pm PST (I plan to Tweet the pregame all the way to the very end of The Event).

When I mentioned outloud that I would be live-Tweeting the game, Naomi’s mother suggested jokingly that I record songs about all the players. We all had a good laugh.

The next day, I started recording 128 songs. Less than a week later, I completed them, just in time for the game.

Here’s that link again:
http://johnnyunicorn.bandcamp.com/album/big-game-2014-128-song-ep

So when you’re at the Big Game party, do yourself a favor and open up a tab with my EP and another tab with your Twitter feed. Whenever some player does something worth calling attention to, play their jingle. It is guaranteed to liven up your game celebrations. And if you aren’t a sports person, listen to the songs anyway. I’m proud of a few of those pieces of music, and you might like them too.

So join me as I join my friends and family to see what it is they do on this mysterious holiday, and let’s root for the ultimate home-team: Team Everybody!

JU Summer Tour 2013 Part Four: Remembering People’s Names in North Dakota

North Dakota, the West-midwest. From Bozeman to Bismarck is a long, tedious drive. We had to rise early in order to make it on time to our show at Rhythm Records. Fortunately the caffeine-fueled Jam Unit was up to the challenge. I cannot remember what happened on the drive. Most likely it was a lot of silent staring at the flat, featureless landscape. I may have had earplugs in (don’t worry, I could hear just fine, we live in a really loud world). After an uneventful nine hour drive, we arrived at the record store and set up in the tiny space. I was not expecting there to be very many people there, so I promised that the band would improvise a song based on the names of every person in attendance at the show. The people showed up, probably about 20 of them, and sat down and listened to us perform our music. Many of them had seen me perform as a one-person act before and seemed glad to see the addition of a live band. As promised, we performed improvised songs based on the names of every person in the audience. We went as quickly as possible, and it took approximately five minutes. It was absolutely wonderful to play rock music at a reasonable volume level to a bunch of polite sit-down listeners in a shop full of vinyl records. Thank you to Robbie for letting us do it, and please, if you’re ever in Bismarck, stop by Rhythm Records. They have coffee and their selection of vinyl is small but good quality. I always find something I want there.

That night we stayed in a campground that was full of weirdos, and we couldn’t find firewood, so Naomi just took a bunch of cut-up trees from a pile. Later that evening, I decided I cannot eat veggie dogs while wearing a mustache. Also we snuck over to the RV section to use the bathroom, although, I think we were allowed to.

Then it was off to Fargo and the Red Raven Espresso Parlor! I had played there about four times before to extremely small audiences. But they were so nice to me, I just had to keep coming back to play, and I was determined to build up a small following, even if I had to do it one person at a time. But I like it that way, because I’m fairly picky about my fans. I want to make sure each one of them is okay with being part of a large group all looking in the same direction. I want to make sure they aren’t developing cult behaviors or anything like that. I want to make sure they are there to enjoy the performance. Anyway, I was expecting a small chunk of people to show up, but it turned out that the audience that came was about five times larger than I expected. That made me happy, but also a bit nervous, because I had also promised the audience of this show that my band and I would come up with improvised songs based on each of the audience members. Well, we played the show and people enjoyed it, and I think I even saw a few people dancing. We improvised everyones names and it took a really long time, but we got through it unscathed. I was very pleased with the way it turned out because Josie, from Bismarck, was at this show and the previous show, and we remembered how to play her song from the night before. Then, because it was Ian and Max’s (our guitarist and drummer) birthday (they’re twins), I surprised them with a birthday song, which I forced them to play without having rehearsed it. That was one of my favorite moments of the tour, just because I actually remembered someone’s birthday (edit: actually, I was just told that in fact I didn’t remember, Naomi told me. but I still remembered what she told me long enough to mention it on stage, which is quite an achievement). I was feeling really good about my own memory recall by the end of the show, and when I went out to push our merchandise on people, a very nice audience member who had come in with her teenage kids introduced me to them, and this one kid quizzed me on his name and I couldn’t remember it, even though twenty minutes earlier I had written a song about it (along with 35 other people). He seemed a bit bummed out. If he had known he was going to be talking to an absent-minded person, maybe he wouldn’t have felt so bad about it. Anyway, if you’re listening, kid whose name I couldn’t remember, I hope you’re still listening and enjoying the cd (as you might expect I once again can’t remember your name, but I do know there was one kid in your group named Chase…is that right?)

That night we got treated to a first class suite in an actual hotel. Thanks Brandon!

Stay tuned for the next entry, in which I will describe the nicotine antics of The Drug Budget and one show that went horribly wrong.

Movin’ To Montana – JUJU Summer Tour 2013 Entry Number Three!

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After months of doing things other than finish writing about my Summer 2013 tour, I am determined to finish these posts. They may be quick, and I may forget some names, and there will be typographical errors. Deal with it.

Now, here is part three, in which I discuss the Jam Unit’s entire first stay in the Big Sky Country:

After waking up and having a delightful breakfast at a vegetarian place in downtown Spokane, we hit the road to get to our next show, which was to take place at the VFW in Missoula, Montana. This was an exciting show for me because my good friends from Lansing, Michigan, the Plurals, were kind enough to get us a spot on their bill that night. I love sharing shows with them, because every show they play is a party. When we arrived, the guy who put the show together, Marty, greeted us with veggie dogs and a relaxing patio cookout. The Jam Unit and the Plurals hung out for a bit, talking about the past, the future, and pre-history, then we packed a PA system in their van (somehow) and took off to the venue. We had a few moments to spare before we needed to set up, so we took a walk around the great city of Missoula. We went to an ice cream shop, but the line was so long that ice cream suddenly lost its importance for everyone. On our way back, I found a copy of the free local Missoula entertainment magazine, in which there was an article about my album, that sounded like a bad review, but at least admitted that the album was listenable. Don’t worry about me, I’m happy anytime someone actually takes the time to listen to my album and say something about it. And it was clear this reviewer had actually listened to it. When we got back to the VFW, the show began. It was a raucous night of fun with local bands Needlecraft and the Hounds bookending the show and the Plurals and JU in the middle. The crowd was great and hung out the entire time, and everyone enjoyed themselves. A successful show. Later that night we ate more veggie dogs and talked ourselves to sleep. The following day, the Jam Unit drove up a long, dusty trail to a campsite with almost nobody nearby. There, by a beautiful flowing river, we ate slept and ate sandwiches and never got bothered by a bear.

Next:

Then it was off to the wonderful city of Bozeman. Thanks to the fantastic efforts of Ron Gompertz, we got a write up in the Bozeman Daily Chronicle, and a live session on the Coffee Show with Keith Suta. We also played at Cactus records to a handful of people and on the street to the hundreds of people that were walking by during Music On Main. We met a baton twirler named Poppy, who loved our music so much I decided to use her name in a song title. This was all leading up to our final show at Wild Joe’s coffee house. A bunch of people who saw us on the street showed up to the show, and we sold a surprising number of shirts that night. It was a great evening, and a great few days of music, and we couldn’t wait to come back (which we eventually did).

Stay tuned for tales from North Dakota.

JU 2013 Tour part two: In Which Johnny Tells of How He Made It To the Show On an Empty Gas Tank

 

Another apology, with excuses: I’ve been working obsessively on my two next albums, and their corresponding album covers. I decided to rewrite the lyrics of a 17 minute long song, and I’ve spend dozens of hours agonizing over the lyrics in order to turn them from mediocre to adequate. Hopefully you’ll be pleasantly surprised when it’s finished. I’ve also been working with Autumn Electric as bassist, and we’re about to record a new album, and this time we’re trying to minimize the number of overdubs we have to do, so we’ve been rehearsing a lot. In addition to that, I’ve been working with Horace Pickett on a new album, and Phideaux on several new albums. I’m fairly busy, but I do have a lot of freetime. Unfortunately, I get very tired and headachy during that freetime. Perhaps it’s foolish to think I can come out with two more albums (one of them a double-album) in the next year and tour twice. Or maybe it’s not. I’ll be honest, I’m really just trying to get this stuff that’s been sitting on my hard drives for years out there, so I can stop worrying about it. Right now, I’m having trouble getting any of that stuff done, so here’s part two of my account of the Jam Unit Summer tour 2013:

Before leaving town for our month long tour of the Northern United States, the Jam Unit and I performed a going-away show in our homebase of Seattle. The show took place on July 11th at the Comet Tavern. We shared the stage with two of my favorite bands, Horace Pickett and Autumn Electric (I liked them so much I joined them: Horace Pickett in 2010 and Autumn Electric just the other week) as well as a touring band – from Salt Lake City of all places – called Pentagraham Crackers. Everyone played admirably, and the whole night was great fun. We debuted my new song “Tinnitus” and I think I got most of the words right. It’s hard to tell. It went by so quickly that I can’t properly reflect on it. I remembered being incredibly nervous for some reason, and sweating a lot. The current animated .gif on johnnyunicorn.com is made up of photos taken by Mike Brown at that show. You can see me sweating.

Two days later, we woke up at the crack of dawn and loaded the van with stuff and bandmembers and headed off to our first of two shows that day. Our first show of the day was to take place in the early afternoon outdoors in LaGrande, Oregon, five hours away from Seattle, for KEOL’s anniversary weekend. Due to a temporary misplacing of the envelope full of tour money, we were a little bit late getting on the road, but I had resolved to make good time, so I was sure we would arrive with plenty of time to set up. We only had a vague idea of our start time, but thanks to having internet in the van, we were able to find out that they were expecting us about an hour earlier than we could possibly get there. From that point on it was all sweat and anxiety. It was our first out of town show on the tour and it looked like we were going to drop the ball already. My own failure would lead to the humiliation of everyone in the band. Unprofessional. We only had one option, so we sent word out that we would be arriving late, and we eventually were able to get a hold of the event coordinator who told us not to worry, than everything was cool, and that the schdule was loose, and that we’d be able to play as soon as we got there. Phew! Now that that terrifying moment was over, and we were about 45 minutes from the venue, I looked down at the gas gauge and saw that it was at “empty.” At that moment we frantically searched for the nearest gas station. The next gas station on the way was in the town we were playing. There was a slightly closer gas station, but it was so far out of the way that if we had gone there we would be another hour late, and I didn’t want to make another call to the event coordinator just to tell him we’d be another hour late because I forgot to get gas. So, we decided to just go for it. As Tom Petty said, “Damn the Torpedoes.” It was a tense drive. I had nothing to compare it to at the time, but now that I’ve seen the movie Gravity, I can tell you it was very much like that one scene (you know the one). And with nothing but fumes and faith, we managed to get all the way into town without sputtering to a stop on the side of the freeway. My whole body was shaking when I finally pulled into the gas station to fill up my tank. I think I had to use the toilet that whole time, too, but I can’t remember. We performed on an outdoor stage in a parking lot in front of a modest crowd of people who were very into the show. Unfortunately, there were no clouds, and the entire audience was about 100 feet away from the stage in the shade of the buildings. But they liked our show, and they bought the albums, and nobody got hurt.

Then we had exactly four hours to get to a house show in Spokane, which was four hours away, so we shook everyone’s hands and loaded up our gear and bolted out of there like a thief in the night. I would have liked to stay, but these two shows had to happen on Saturday, and I really wanted to play both of them. The drive up to Spokane was not as bad. Starting then, we stuck to the rule that we would get gas when the tank was half empty. We arrived at Liz Rognes’ house just as Glenn Case’s solo set was ending. Then Liz Rognes played. This was the first time I’ve seen her play piano, and I was blown away. Buffalo Jones performed drumless, and allowed me to sit in on beatbox for Tom Petty’s “American Girl.” That was probably one of the weirdest moments of my musical life. Then we performed, and I think we did a great job. But if you want proof, that performance is floating around on the internet somewhere. It was webcast live. You can’t see Naomi in the video, but I assure you, she’s there providing all the bass and a lot of the chords. And then we slept, and it was the kind of sleep that starts too late and ends too early; the kind of sleep I expected we’d have every night for the next month.

That’s it for now, but stay tuned. Next time, I’ll be talking about Missoula, an ambiguous album review, and our time in the wilderness. Until then, toodeloo.

JU 2013 Tour part one: The Secret of the Unit

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Photo by Mike Brown

 

Firstly, I would like to apologize for waiting so long to begin my account of the Johnny Unicorn and His Jam Unit tour. And immediately after the apology I would like to make an excuse: booking shows, driving to them, and playing them requires so much of my emotional and physical energy that I needed to wait until two weeks after I returned home to even have the slightest motivation to begin writing about the it. So, here it is, part one of a series of perhaps dozens of posts on the Jam Unit tour, and it starts further in the past than you might have thought:

I had toured a number of times before on my own, and when I did so, I was literally on my own. I used sequences that I put together on an Ensoniq SD-1 as backing tracks, while I performed guitar, accordion, keyboard, saxophone and vocals. Since I was bound to the irrevocable rhythm of the machine, I was extremely limited in how much I could direct the flow of the songs, and since I am at best a mediocre player of any of my instruments, i was forced to play mostly my simplest songs. But, through a series of serendipitous and unexplainable events, I wound up with a small group of loyal and excellent musicians playing my music. Naomi Adele Smith (of Autumn Electric) first joined me on synthesizers, then Jesse Mercury joined on synth drums. Later, Max Steiner (also of Autumn Electric) joined on the guitar, which finally freed me up to stop ruining the songs with my hands. I decided I could never go back to the solo act again, because I loved the way the new band sounded. At the same time, I had just released my exercise album, “Sadness And Companionship.” I thought it was quite likely that the people who were digging the music I had to offer on previous tours would probably enjoy this new stuff performed by this new band. So I bought a van and enlisted the booking help of my friend Michael Trew and with much excitement we booked a tour for the Summer of 2013 with my new band (with Max’s brother Ian filling in on drums because Jesse regrettably couldn’t go). The band is called the Jam Unit. Remember that.

We dipped our toes in the water with a pre-tour out of town show in Anacortes, WA. Before this, the only thing I knew about Anacortes was that it was where you went to get on the ferry to go to the islands. I’m sure you can imagine my surprise when I stepped out of the van and was greeted by an actual city with stuff going on. One of that stuff was my band; my Jam Unit. The four of us, anxious about having to perform the longest of our tour sets on the very first night, stepped into the Brown Lantern with optimistic caution. Would they receive us with open arms and hospitality and provide us with all the necessary equipment to do a quality show, or would they hold us up against the wall by the throat and threaten us with further physical violence if we didn’t increase their alcohol sales? Fortunately, it turned out to be the former!

What I remember of the show now is mostly a blur of dark red and orange (as is my memory of almost every nightclub I’ve been in, except for the really fancy ones, which I usually remember as some shade of blue) and the nervousness of playing our very first show with this lineup. I probably don’t have to mention that there were plenty of “not-what-I-remember-from-rehearsal” moments, and for the first hour and a half, I was painfully aware of the fact that one shouldn’t wear a wizard robe to play fast music, and if one is going to wear a wizard robe, one should make sure to bring a pair of wizard shoes as well, because nothing else matches. But aside from those technical difficulties, we were received very well and we even connected with a few of the people that were there. And the management seemed pleased with how we performed our job. As a bonus, we learned about the real power of the “Jam Unit” name. It turns out that the phrase has at least one NSFW connotation, and that makes it a conversation piece, and therefore memorable. The guys that drew our attention to this fact were entirely unaware of my true intention in creating the name, which was to have a band name that had the same initials as my stage name.

With this success behind us, we proceeded to rush back to Seattle in the dark hours of the night, so we could sit in our homes, twiddling our thumbs for a week, waiting for the tour to start in earnest.

Kickstarting Sadness And Companionship

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http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1749889331/johnny-unicorn-exercise-album-and-subsequent-tour

I am finally finished recording my exercise album, “Sadness And Companionship.” It just needs to be put together and promoted, and that is why I’ve started a Kickstarter project. I’ve already sent out e-mails and made a number of posts on social media about it, but I think it’s time to make a blog post about it.

My goal for this album is fairly simple: to create a piece of music that can accompany an aerobic workout, but that relies on different musical tools than that which we’ve come to expect from workout music. In my own personal experience, I’ve had moments where I’ve been into techno music, but most of the time I want to listen to music that has lots of complicated parts and interesting concepts. But when I want to put on a piece of music that does a good job of keeping up with the increased heart-rate of an aerobic workout, that complicated music usually doesn’t work. The relentlessness of a techno song seems makes it perfect for exercising. But music with a lot of dynamics is not ideal. A Gentle Giant song might be very energetic, but out of nowhere it can suddenly switch to a harpsichord/recorder section, and throw off your workout completely.

So I took up the task of creating a progressive rock workout album. This way, at least one album would exist that could at once get my blood flowing non-stop for thirty minutes and keep my brain engaged in the way that I like. I think I succeeded in that. I also added a couple of remixes to the album, so it wouldn’t be so short. Those remixes are not really for exercise purposes, though.

Sadly, I have some negative associations with exercise. It all started in fifth grade soccer. That was when the other kids started actually being concerned about whether they would win or lose the next game. I enjoyed running around a field kicking a ball, observing a few rules of the game just to make it a little more challenging, but when these kids started getting competitive, it was an immediate turn off. so I quit. In sixth grade, I was forced to go to a swimming pool, where we had to get naked in front of everyone and then put on shorts that were way too short before being marched out to a pool where we were made to…I don’t even remember. I can’t remember the swimming part of those experiences, only the standing around in those ridiculous shorts. Actually, I remember diving. With eardrums like mine, going into water head-first is frightening. I don’t remember doing anything in high-school gym class, either. I remember kids coming up to me and pretending to throw basketballs at my head but at the last second catching them so they could make me flinch. Most of the time, they were never any worse than that to me. I remember being required to sign up for gym class one year, but not being allowed to sign up for art class (because I was already in band).

I’m not saying that these things bare the full responsibility for turning me sedentary. I’m just trying to give you a little background on me. Whenever I hear sports commentators or sports terminology (like “hustle up”), whenever I see a television screen with some green arena with a bunch of white lines all over it, or whenever I just look at a pair of sneakers, or the material that basketball shorts are made out of, I shudder a little. But I don’t want to be that way anymore. I want to overcome my fear of going outside in sneakers and shorts. This exercise album is part of that larger project to adopt a more active lifestyle. At this ripe old age, I’ve begun to realize just how fragile the human body is, and how important it is to keep it running smoothly for as long as possible. I’ve got a lot of stuff I want to do before Death finally closes its icy fingers around me.

Do you feel that way too? Maybe this is an album that you would like. Please pledge on my Kickstarter page. Remember, no amount is too large. And this is no donation. When you pay money, I will be doing work for you. I’ve already promised to do a whole lot of visual art so far. I’d like to write more songs for people. If you’ve ever wanted to have your own theme song, now’s the time to act. I have a less expensive “jingle” option, which means I’ll write a short radio jingle for you. It will be essentially a 10-15 second catchy melody with your name in it and brief lyrics about how great you are. You can put it at the beginning of your youtube videos or on the outgoing message of your voicemail system.

http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1749889331/johnny-unicorn-exercise-album-and-subsequent-tour

Anyway, thanks for reading this. I have to go stretch now.

-John

November in Three Dimensions

Instructions for viewing the photographs:

1. You know how you can make things look doubled by doing that thing with your eyes? do that until an object in the left image lines up with its counterpart in the right image.

2. You will see in 3d. Now you can focus on any image in the photo as if you were really there.

if you have trouble doing this, try starting further away. Trust me, if you do it right, it will look like decent 3d.

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Today’s rain covers the city like damp soil over a coffin. I feel claustrophobic. Evidently, I am claustrophobic; I only notice it when I’m denied an open sky. Where does all the rain come from? Surely there is a limit to the amount of water vapor that can fit in the atmosphere. Maybe the book of Genesis was right, and there truly is water above the sky. I’d like to think the water will run out soon, but something tells me this is going to last for a while. The good news is there won’t be any annoying little league games across the street.

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The comforts of home: hot soup, the sweet scent of mulled wine filling the air, the soft tones of a gently mewing cat. The laughter of friends, the embrace of my lover, the sweet sounds of Tina Turner coming from the record player: these things remind me of how lucky I am…wait a second, Tina Turner? That was supposed to be a Roy Wood record. Aw, man, I was really excited about that album. Why does this stuff always happen to me?!!

Why Radio Won’t Die

I had two shots of espresso this morning, and as a result, I had about 100 ideas all at once. One of them was that if I compromised a little bit of my physical health, it might not be a such a bad idea to make more of a habit out of caffeine (I usually only do the stuff socially). Another was that maybe it’s okay for me to blog; maybe that’s what journalism is now: millions of amateurs expressing opinions on a range of topics on a variety of weblogs, out of which only the most empathic of us can discern any kind of truth (and maybe that’s a good thing). But what I want to talk about today is the hot button issue of our time: radio.

And I’ll keep it short, because I have a short list of long things to do today.

I’ve heard people say that radio is “dying” or even that it’s “dead.” I disagree. This morning, on a car trip, I was forced into a radio-listening situation (I didn’t bring my tapes with me / yes, Micah, I used your car). At first I was lamenting the existence of the advertisements and the dj’s, and then the coffee kicked in, and I started to not have a problem with the dj’s and I started to like the advertisements (once you get past the unwieldy lyrics to the Mattress Discounters jingle, it’s pretty catchy).

When I finally settled on a station that was playing some music, I heard a song that I’d never heard before that I really enjoyed, and it had no lyrics, and the song ended, and the dj didn’t say who it was, and I’ll probably never know what that song was (or if it was indeed a song at all) or who wrote it. The feeling I got from that experience was something I hadn’t felt for over a decade, and something I didn’t realize I missed. My main complaint with radio when I was a teenager was that I didn’t get enough information about the music. I always wanted total choice in my music, and methods by which I could search for exactly what I wanted without relying on serendipity. I wanted a clear and easy system with which to manage the matching of my tastes to the art that is out there. The internet gave me that. Modern technology has made my search for art so effortless that it’s often overwhelming. What used to be an endless and agonizing pursuit for aesthetic beauty has become an endless and agonizing process of weeding out what doesn’t move me. It used to be that I would travel a tortuous road full of dead ends to find the music that I liked, and when I found it, it was like finding the hidden gold of the secret mummy. But these days I hear absolutely everything, and I have to sort through it to find what I really want to listen to (i just said the exact same thing twice in a row…pick which way you like the best and forget the other one). It used to be that when I arrived at some new music, my ears were eager and starved, but these days, when I arrive at new music, my ears are just tired. I feel bad that I don’t give artists I discover now the same treatment I would have given them if it were fifteen years ago.

So, in the hopes of improving my own experience, I’m going to make it a point to go to the radio occasionally. I don’t want to return to the past, because I like having choices. I just think that sometimes I will exercise my right to choose to not have a choice. And as long as there are a small number of people that also want to have that choice, radio will not die, it will just shrink to match the demand.

I’m sure I’m saying something that’s been said a thousand times before on other blogs. But only on my blog will you see the phrase “gold of the secret mummy.” I have been Johnny Unicorn, please remember to tip your barista.

P.S. I won’t link you to the Mattress Discounters jingle for copyright reasons, but it would be regretful if you didn’t find that song somehow and listen to it.

P.P.S. I’m not advertising for Mattress Discounters. You can count on me to be the first to promote the idea of not wasting money on mattresses. Just get a foam pad with some cloth upholstered to it, or find someone who’s getting rid of a mattress. However, I’d be inclined to change my mind if some mattress store wanted to hire me to write a jingle.