Happy 32nd Birthday to Rain Dogs, the Best Album Ever Recorded by Mortals

Happy 32nd Birthday to Rain Dogs, the Best Album Ever Recorded by Mortals

You might argue that the greatest album of all time is the Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper, or Kind of Blue by Miles Davis, or Fleetwood Mac’s Rumors. Or perhaps you’d go with Nevermind, or something even more contemporary, like Lemonade. But you’d be wrong.

It’s Rain Dogs.

Now that we’ve established this objective fact, I’d like to point out that on September 30th in the year of our Lord two-thousand-seventeen, my favorite album, Tom Waits’s Rain Dogs, turns 32.

(The same age as me.)

In celebration, I’m going to publish a rambling post about all my ~feelings~ regarding this album on this blog that no one asked for because I am complete fangirl trash. Enjoy.

*****

 

I first listened to Rain Dogs in college, which is perfect, when you think about it, because that’s right around the time one gains a true appreciation of Art, and coincidently, when one becomes a truly insufferable pretentious douche about such things.

My college radio station, always on the leading edge of technology, was finally going completely digital and liquidating its CD & vinyl collection. As a deejay at the station, I was allowed to take home whatever I wanted.

“A kid in a candy store” does not adequately describe the situation. “A self-involved hipster in the college radio station library for a vinyl free-for-all” more aptly captures the feeling.

I came across the iconic album cover on one of the shelving units that ran along the wall of the claustrophobic studio. The album itself was probably an early pressing that would be valuable if “WNEC” hadn’t been scribbled in black marker across the front in a conversation bubble coming out of the man’s mouth.

I grabbed the station’s entire artist collection, Supermarket Sweep style, and spent the next several weeks in a Tom Waits musical bender, playing Heart Attack and Vine, Franks Wild Years, Swordfishtrombones, and of course Rain Dogs on my roommate’s Best Buy turntable, and then later illegally downloading mp3s from Limewire so I could listen to it all more intimately in my room with headphones.

Right around that time I was dealing with some severe physical (and probably mental) health problems, and any kind of music that felt like an escape to another world became my sanctuary. Tom Waits definitely fits that description.

Rain Dogs has an eclectic array of songs, from cabaret, to sea shanties, to bluesy-carnival-polka…it’s all there. But flowing underneath it all are lovely, emotional tones of loneliness, melancholy, and dreaminess.

Singapore, the first track, sets up characters and imagery that could be an early Tim Burton movie.

Clap Hands sets the perfect mood for a New Hampshire fall evening, while Hang Down Your Head breaks your heart.

Downtown Train is perhaps the album’s closest thing to a radio hit. (It kind of was – Rod Stewart released a version in 1991, along with a very literal & well-coiffed video.)

The spoken-word 9th & Hennepin, which I can recite by heart, inspired a semester’s worth of my own shitty poetry.

Anywhere I Lay My Head is a great tune to howl along to while drunk.

Each song is like a dream, transporting me directly into Edward Hopper paintings of lonely characters in closed-in spaces. Some songs edge closer to the surreal, and immediately draw to mind Magritte paintings of bowler hats and floating eyes, or Remedios Varo’s peculiar allegorical paintings.

Here is Waits performing the title song with his merry band of French cartoon characters:

(Tag yourself. I’m the accordion player.)

*****

 

It also really helps that Tom Waits is a weird character in real life. One of my favorite movies from my college years was Wristcutters: A Love Story, in which he played the prophet of insignificant miracles. One scene in particular gets me every time — when his character tells an allegory about a straight tree and a crooked tree.

Waits has popped up in other movies, including Mystery Men, Bram Stoker’s Dracula, Seven Psychopaths, The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus, and The Book of Eli, always as dark, whimsical characters…so, himself, basically.

The reason I continually turn to Waits and artists like him is his insistence that being strange is good, that loneliness and melancholy are valid emotions that shouldn’t be suppressed or denied. Moreover, these things can be enjoyable and even capable of stirring great creativity.

In a culture that wants you to be direct and positive all the time, that measures success against an unattainable sense of constant happiness and endless smiling selfies, anything that encourages embracing the absurd and differentiating melancholy from sadness or failure brings us one step closer to knowing ourselves.

*****

 

I’m not quite sure what a rain dog is exactly, but Waits claims to be one on this album. I imagine those people in the Hopper paintings to be rain dogs (Waits actually has a live album called Night Hawks at the Diner, an obvious reference to the famous painting).

Perhaps they are fringe people who come out only on rainy nights, isolated no matter where they go. Like a wet stray dog, they are grungy in appearance, or just in spirit. They may be mangy, wandering outsiders, “crooked trees”, but anywhere they lay their head, they call home.

Because they’re at home with themselves.

And I just like that sentiment.

 

Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff: Shopping for roller derby wheels

 

I’ve been playing this sport for a long time. I’ve never understood the anxieties over wheel setups. People often ask me for my advice, and I always feel like anything I say needs an asterisk. Since there are no playoff tournaments this week, here are my general thoughts on wheels.

If you’re stressing about what wheel to use when, here’s the truth: it doesn’t matter. Except for outdoor versus indoor wheels, there really is no objectively right or wrong wheel. So chillax, my dude.

If you don’t want to pay $150 for a set of high-quality wheels, then don’t. Go for the $50 ones. There’s no rule saying you have to own multiple sets, either. You can still be awesome even with those worn-in hand-me-downs. You can have a killer season and never once change your wheels.

Sure, there are extreme situations when a floor can be really sticky or really slippery, but it all boils down the individual. Different positions, skill sets, and even body types play into what works best. You can spend a fortune on wheels, guaranteeing that you have all durometers and styles for all surfaces and carry them all around with you to every away game. People do that. But it’s not going to make you a better skater.

A good athlete can adapt to any situation. Slick floor? Take smaller strides and allow for longer stops. Grippy floor? Sit lower into stops and be prepared for a fast game. The condition of the floor is just another factor that can’t be controlled, just like the calls of the ref crew, the strategies of the other team, or the drunkenness of the fans. But you can adapt to these conditions.

If your fundamentals suck, they are going to suck on any surface. Rather than stressing about wheels, get really good at edgework. Get your stops as clean as possible. Train on as many different surfaces as possible. Improve your core and lower body strength. The floor is not your enemy; your lack of edgework is. Get to know the wheels that you have, and get really good at adjusting your skating style.

All that having been said, wheels do wear down. Someday you will need an upgrade. So what should you try?

Beginners (first 6 months): Literally anything. You won’t feel the difference. You’re still learning how to skate; you’re still wobbly, you have no edges to speak of, and you have limited speed. Different durometers won’t change how any of that feels. I’ve seen freshies do great things on some pretty terrible setups. (Take it from someone who started out on Cobras.)

Blockers: Lower durometers (80s range). Blockers must be able to dig in on stops and hold at low speeds. Lower durometers allow for more grip with less effort. Wider wheels will give you a little more traction.

Jammers: Harder durometers (90s range). Unlike blockers, jammers need to have agility at high speeds. Harder wheels mean more speed with less effort. Narrow wheels will also aid in agility. However, coming out of turns at high speeds may cause extra slippage, while stops are generally easier to control with more slide. Figure out which you are more concerned about. You can start with some kind of middle ground by using “pushers” (grippier wheels on the left side of each skate) or consider purchasing hybrid wheels.

 

OTHER THINGS TO KEEP IN MIND

  • -As your edgework improves, you may find a preference to harder wheels. As a default, start with lower, grippier durometers and work your way up.
  • -Heavier wheels will allow you some more stability, but will make you less agile. Lighter wheels are faster and put less stress on your feet.
  • -If you train more recreationally, say 1-2 times per week for only a few months out of the year, there’s no need to invest in high-level wheels. But if you do train more intensely, it will be worth investing in wheels that will last a long time.

Many skaters do a lot of blocking AND jamming. There is no one wheel that will work in every situation. So basically, get used to doing everything with whichever setup you choose. While there are different factors to consider that may aid in certain circumstances, remember: it’s not the wheel or the floor, it’s your skill and adaptability that make the difference.

Our Stupid Bodies, Our Selves

“The Stupid Human Body”

As humans on this physical plane of existence, we come equipped with fleshy meat suits, also known as bodies. It’s sort of a requirement, a prerequisite, that we be composed of matter to, you know, be here.

It’s an unfortunate condition, if you ask me, on account of all the limitations.

Sure, it’s cool that we are composed of the very atoms and molecules that formed during the big bang and that make up stars and all, but why are bodies so stupid?

My body is so stupid it can’t make normal red blood cells, and now I have to rely on the world’s most expensive medication just to make sure my own immune system doesn’t kill me (it will eventually).

What bothers me the most about this particularly stupid limitation is that it really gets in the way of being good at roller derby, coincidently one of the only things I care about. Oh, are you feeling tired during this jam, body? Maybe you should have thought about that before creating those cancerous stem cells, asshole.

Also, being made of matter complicates things like transportation and mortality. We have to travel between point A and point B to get anywhere, which is pretty dumb when you think about it. And these bodies age over time, experiencing wear and tear the more we use them. I mean, whose idea was this?

Also, they look really stupid most of the time. Case in point: me. 

Then there’s all the stupid questions I have to obsess over every day:

  • -What is consciousness
  • -Is it even real
  • -If it is, where is the boundary between my consciousness and the body that encases it
  • -If my body is subject to time, is my consciousness timeless
  • -How come I wake up as the same me every morning
  • -Or do I just think I’m the same me, when in fact I am a totally different me with an entirely new set of memories
  • -Etc.

There is one person I know of at least who seems totally cool with his body, and that is the guy working on the new boiler system at my office. There’s been a parade of 4-5 different dudebros banging and drilling their way through our building for the past two months, and I’m pretty sure they are all named Randy. They are friendly, hard-working guys, braving the dust and mice in the ceiling, and warning me before every loud noise, which is nice of them.

And at least they are skilled in a useful life trade, while I just stare at screens all day and become quietly enraged over commas.

But they are kind of gross. Two in particular belch loudly on a regular basis. One of them more than once has released a series of farts, nay, a volley of farts, with abandon, including one time while in mid-sentence. This would be fine if it weren’t all happening five feet from my desk.

Moreover, what is he eating? I find burping and farting as hilarious as the next person, but maybe he should see someone about this.

Either way, you’ve gotta be comfortable in your body to just casually let things rip like that. Maybe he is a truly enlightened being, and the path to enlightenment is farting whenever, wherever.

If spiritual teachers have taught us anything, it’s that the journey to nirvana, heaven, enlightenment — whatever you call it — is our most important directive in life, so maybe we should all just embrace our stupid bodies. I certainly am. *farts*

 

***

See also:

 


 

Welcome Back: Post-Tournament Introvert Hangover

Welcome Back: Post-Tournament Introvert Hangover

**Deep exhale**

I’m just going to skip over the obvious OH MY GOD WE WON D2 post, as I’m still processing all that and have already had that freakout over various social media platforms.

I’ll just say quickly that I am positively bursting with pride over my team and how well we came together during those games. I’m really glad I got to jam in three of the five games Boston played (and won), including the championship game against Paris. Of all the tournaments I’ve been to, this one was by far the most fun and memorable. I am exceptionally lucky to be on this team, and I’ll certainly miss those skaters who are retiring this year.

 

Decompressing

I’m currently in the post-tournament recovery period.

As a classic introvert, I have to decompress after being constantly surrounded by people for five days. While the team GroupMe chatter continues with gossip over who was praised in a game recap, who drank what out of the trophy, and who threw up on the plane ride home, I need some time away from the noise.

In addition to being around your teammates nonstop, most of your time during these tournaments is spent in crowded public places – airports, hotels, restaurants, and convention centers.

It’s a massive energy suck for those of us who generally avoid those situations.

As soon as I got home yesterday afternoon, I didn’t leave the house. I stayed in, caught up on Game of Thrones, and ate my way through the kitchen like a human Pac-Man.

Other ways I plan on spending the next several days:

  • – Living in an ice bath
  • – Drinking hot tea after said ice bath
  • – Reading Kurt Vonnegut
  • – Listening to The Drums’ new album
  • – Foam rolling my calf muscles to the point of liquefaction
  • – Speaking to no one

 

The Bubble

That’s not to say that a part of me doesn’t miss all the stimulation. The first 24 hours after a whirlwind championship weekend always feels like time has slowed, like your derby bubble has burst.

In the real world, most 30-somethings have lives that don’t include ref calls, plus or minus point averages, or competitive brackets. It’s hard to come back to a civilization that doesn’t really understand or care about where you’ve just left your proverbial blood, sweat, and tears.

This “bubble factor” could be why it’s so hard to take a full off-season, let alone leave the sport completely. I’ve been playing for nine years and will probably continue many more until I find something that matches up to derby. One of my biggest life fears is that nothing will ever be as fun as this, and it’s a thought that seems to creep up on me more after the season ends and I’m left with derby withdrawal.

MOVING ON, I’m really looking forward to the D1 tournaments over the next few weeks. I’ll be watching every single game, albeit consumed with jealously and envy for teams that are still safely encased in their derby bubbles.

 

Onward to D2 / Owning My Okayness

The WFTDA post-season is about to kick off this weekend in Pittsburgh with the Division 2 playoff/championship tournament. For the first time ever, Boston will be going to D2 instead of D1, and the feelings I’m feeling are the following:

  • A. Excitement
  • B. Disappointment
  • C. General ambivalence between A and B

I know, I’m being kind of a baby about the whole thing.

For starters, there’s no shame in being in D2. We all know that D2 playoffs showcase some of the best up-and-coming teams playing nail-biter games down to the last jam. Moreover, there are some great skaters in D2 that could absolutely hold their own against the best of the best.

But maybe that’s why I’m more nervous going into this tournament. We may have a much bigger shot at winning a few games and moving up, so in a way, there’s more pressure. The tournament is happening in three days, so I’ve been trying to put all that petty rankings stuff out of my head and focus on the task at hand.

That having been said, it was hard to see those rankings released after our rough weekend in San Francisco. It didn’t feel like those matchups necessarily represented what we were capable of (The Apex agrees). But a quick cure to that disappointment is watching footage of the teams we will be facing in Pittsburgh.

This is when I get excited. I’ve never had the opportunity to play most of these teams and after studying them, they are certainly not to be underestimated.

Lesson: Don’t be an elitist baby about rankings. Derby has a way of weeding those types out.

*****

I’m Okay and That’s Okay

The thing of it is, I transferred to Boston because they were (and remain) the highest ranked team in the region. Despite coming from a then-D1 team, it took me nearly two challenging years to even make alternate for the Boston Massacre. Now that I’m finally a primary jammer, we’ve slipped in rankings and are even slightly lower ranked than my previous team had been.

It is what it is. No team is immune to this. It’s certainly not going to stop us from getting back to where we were.

Sometimes Your Best Isn’t Enough (personally speaking)

Even now I get pushed off the roster sometimes. It’s part of being a jammer, competing for a limited number of roster spots. I still see myself getting surpassed by jammers who have not been playing nearly as long as I have. That’s not something that ever happened at the smaller, less competitive leagues I’ve been on.

Playing for such a challenging team has made me face the fact that hard work does not equal talent. To truly stand out or excel at anything, it takes some kind of combination of those two factors. But I’ve learned to accept that no matter how hard I work, I will never be as good as those with that natural edge.

It’s not that I think I suck. I’m just not where I thought I would be at this point, despite working my ass off.

We’re going into this tournament with a deep jammer rotation, and I’ve already been benched for the first game. So it goes.

Basically, the most you can do in roller derby, and probably life in general, is to try to be better than you were yesterday. I won’t be a star jammer on a team like this, for a city like this, but I know I’m far better than the jammer I was before I transferred.

And I’m proud of my jammer teammates. I love seeing them do amazing things at practice. I love having such a high bar. When one of us succeeds, we all do.

Anyway, see you in Pittsburgh. I may not be playing in every game, but I’ll be there.

*****

If you’d like to tune in to the games, they will be livestreamed via WFTDA.tv beginning on Friday.

 

Um, Excuse Me, Can We Talk About Norman Spinrad’s “The Iron Dream”? Part 1

I’ve recently become aware of the existence of a book called The Iron Dream by Norman Spinrad. I know what you’re thinking and no, I’m not talking about Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Iron Dream Concentrated Nighttime Recovery Supplement (“contains no iron”) (“Is worth buying just for the crazy dreams you have. Knocks me out for the night after 30 mins of taking. 10/10 would buy again.”). 

Spinrad’s book of the same title is actually satirical science fiction with multiple layers of meta – basically, if Hitler wrote a Nazi-themed sci-fi slosh that was also its own anti-fascist allegory. Its hero, Feric Jaggar, is a motorcycling, xenophobic, racially pure human living on a planet of mutants. He’s basically Hitler’s alter ego, were Hitler a mediocre sci-fi author.

 

AND CAN WE ALSO TALK ABOUT THE COVER ART?

  • -Height 80’s hair.
  • -Fist punching you in the face.
  • -“Exciting and tense”

 

  • -Sweet block font.
  • -Cool lasers.
  • -Rocket ship dick.

 

  • -Hitler doing a wheelie.
  • -Boots badass af.

 

  • -Hair blowing in the wind.
  • -Pegacorn motorcycle motif.
  • -Swastika choker.

 

I straight up don’t know what to say about this one, except that it’s a thing of nightmares.

 

What’s fun about this book is that it’s a satire on Hitler, fascism, and the sci-fi genre as a whole. I want to own every single one of these paperbacks. I don’t care how it looks having so many books with Hitler on the cover.

I found a used copy on Amazon, which I went ahead and ordered. There is a Kindle version available for $2.99, but there are multiple reviews about it being riddled with errors on nearly every page. I can tell you right now that I can’t handle that, so paperback it is. I get the sense that I am going to have some strong ~feelings~ one way or another about this book, so I’ll give it a read and follow up on it with a sequel to this post, “Um, Excuse Me, Can We Talk About Norman Spinrad’s The Iron Dream? Part 2.”

Stay tuned.

 

Puking Aardvarks and Other Weird Shit I Wrote About As a Kid

Awkward child or creative genius?

 

On my first day of third grade my class was given the simplest of homework assignments: write a story. It could be on any topic we wanted. Any topic at all, my teacher assured us. I was delighted by the possibilities. I couldn’t wait to get home and start my masterpiece.

That night, the words poured from my tiny brain and onto the wide-ruled paper with fervor. It was my first experience of a piece writing itself and my first time feeling that laser beam focus brought on by inspired writing.

The end result was an epic tome about a family whose home is invaded by a wild aardvark that trashes every room, eats all their food, and then barfs everywhere.

The end.

Not only did I write this story with zeal, but the barfing sequence spanned a whole page. I thought it was a comic triumph, a true literary accomplishment, a droll, insightful tale for the ages. I couldn’t wait to turn it in.

So you can imagine my surprise the next morning when I realized that everyone else had simply written a few paragraphs about their summer vacation. I knew this because my teacher read every story out loud to the class.

As anecdotes of beach outings and Disney World adventures were met with applause and even some Q & A, my puking aardvark extravaganza was followed only by a long, stunned silence that will forever reverberate through my soul. 

I had no friends going into third grade, and needless to say, I did not make any more that year.

I learned a few things that day. (1) I was not like everyone else, (2) there’s a sort of subtext in school and in society that everyone seems to understand but that I clearly do not, and (3) the act of writing awakens weird things in me and perhaps I should tone it down.

The spewing aardvark tale is just one of many strange short stories I wrote as a kid and later threw out from embarrassment. But today I would give anything to be able to read those stories.

Other story premises from my childhood (that I can remember):

  • -A scuba diving family of oceanographers
  • -A fish named Rufus who discovered a treasure chest and had to fight off an evil pirate named Frank (coincidently my oldest brother’s name)
  • -Various adventures of a giant named Arooga Ganooga or something
  • -A haunted house with a mirror that led to another dimension (possible rip-off of a Goosebumps book?)
  • -X-Files fanfiction, including a bananas backstory about the Cigarette Smoking Man being an alien king

All this reminiscing about the absurd things I wrote as a kid is starting to make me think that I was way cooler and more creative back then. If I could tell the eight-year-old me anything, I’d grab her by the shoulders and tell her she is smart and capable and funny and has more potential than all those other boring losers who bully her everyday. I would also tell her to please save all those amazing things she wrote so that I can post a better blog about them in the future.

Stay weird, my dudes.

Stare Into the Void With Me by Watching This Video of a French Marching Band Performing Daft Punk for Trump

I may never know precisely why, but this video recently popped up in my YouTube recommendations. It’s a French marching band performing, for some reason, Daft Punk songs for Presidents Trump and Macron, each of whom had very different reactions.

Macron appeared delighted by the performance, occasionally bobbing his head in an especially French way, face brightening as he seemed to vaguely recognize the melody of “Get Lucky”.

The guests rocked out, too.

Trump, ever stoic, watched on with an expression of deep contemplation, hairpiece flapping in the breeze like the wings of a majestic bald eagle. But methinks in his heart of hearts he hides a funkier side, obscured by that empty gaze into the middle distance.

Part of me regrets ever logging onto YouTube today. Another part of me shrugs and reminds me that this video is but a mirror reflecting back to us the reality that we as the collective unconscious have created for ourselves. So if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to read some Camus in a beret and contemplate the meaninglessness of It All.

In the meantime, I’m posting the video here as a reminder of the absurdity of reality. Have a nice day.

Welcome to kswirko.com 2.0

 

Upon finally accepting that people outside of roller derby don’t generally care about roller derby, along with some technical problems that I didn’t know how to handle, I scrapped my original website.

Back then, it was more of a landing base for potential sponsors — a way to raise money and maybe publish the occasional blog post about the sport. I searched for sponsors for over a year, but I just couldn’t generate any interest.

What was going well, however, was the blogging part. I wrote a piece on sexism in the sport that went viral within 48 hours and was even picked up by other derby websites.

So I’m starting over again, except now it will be more of a blog format, with roller derby being only one of the many topics. In essence, I just want to write. About weird things. In a fun way. Maybe make friends with other weirdos in the process.

So welcome to the new kswirko.com, aka free-beer.org (I learned how to redirect domains and yes, I paid $11 for free-beer.org).

Stay tuned for kswirko.com 3.0, in which I will blog about my foray into the cutthroat world of International Ping Pong; kswirko.com 4.0, in which I will share my experiences of being part of a clandestine human cyborg experiment; and kswirko.com 5.0, in which I will document the glory of fighting in the Martian Wars as a human/cyborg hybrid.