.journal 2000.11.19
Thoughts on writer's block, snow and Björk, Final Fantasy, stereo systems, The Rocky Horror Picture Show and gangsta rap.

Now listening to: Tricky, Pre-Millenium Tension
Now reading: Poppy Z. Brite, Wormwood
Now playing: Final Fantasy VII (Playstation)

Hi. Sorry about the mess with the photography section earlier in the week, but Interland got it straightened out for me in fairly short order. At least I can say with confidence that it wasn't my fault.

Anyway, these past few days I've begun to start adjusting to life after the situation I detailed in my last journal entry, but it's still kind of hard. The main problem I have right now is that my brain is still going about a hundred miles an hour most of the time, calculating the various "what ifs" that might have made the situation tolerable or maybe if I should have handled my departure differently. And when your mind is going like this, it doesn't make focusing on work an easy thing to do.

In The Artist's Way, Julia Cameron talks about this phenomenon a great deal. One of the tenets of her methodology are "the morning pages": three hand-written pages written every morning, without exception, about nothing in particular. There are a number of ideas behind the morning pages, but one of them is to quiet a brain like mine down, or "brain drain" as it is more commonly referred as. I guess three pages just aren't doing it for me these days; in fact, the main reason I started writing this entry is because I tried to work on my songwriting but kept daydreaming, so I'm hoping that by writing about what's on my mind here, I can get it out and make room for some focus and clarity later when I sit down to try to songwrite again.

Late last week we finally had our first accumulation of snowfall early in the morning, and these past couple of years whenever the first accumulation has started, I've gone out in the living room with my Discman and put on Björk's Gling Glo, an album of jazz covers she released back in 1990. I guess there are a couple of reasons I identify Gling Glo with snow; firstly, a lot of the songs from the first part of the album sound like they came right out of a Peanuts television special. You know, other than the fact that there are Icelandic vocals put on top of them by a goddess.

The second reason, though, goes back to Antioch. Bad Taste re-released Gling Glo on CD during my winter break from Antioch, and despite having to fork over nearly $30 for it at a neighbourhood record shop, it was worth it and then some; I'd only been into Björk for less than a year at that point, but especially with the freedoms I had at Antioch, Björk quickly became a bona fide role model for me, and I've generally abhorred the whole concept of role models all my life. So even if the album wasn't unspeakably cool (which it is, buy it now and play it when you go out looking at Christmas lights), it would have still been worth the cost. I had a part-time job as a computer lab monitor in the Mac lab on the fourth floor of South Hall the following quarter, and I'd always spend my two-hour shift playing Gling Glo and Tori Amos' More Pink: The B-Sides. (The second CD of a limited edition 2 CD set put out during the New Zealand leg of her Under the Pink tour.)

Anyway, I've gone back to playing Final Fantasy VII lately; I don't see much of a difference in the game with the Playstation 2's graphics-smoother turned on, but that's okay by me. (Piece of advise for fellow Playstation 2 owners: don't turn on fast CD access while playing Final Fantasy VII; it actually slows things down, plus it causes nasty graphic glitches.) Final Fantasy IX came out this past week, but I've yet to buy a copy. And considering I've been jumping on Final Fantasy releases dating all the way back to the release of Final Fantasy II for the Super NES over a decade ago, I'd say something is up.

I guess what happened is Final Fantasy VIII just was such a disappointment to me that it's kind of taken my heart out of the series. Final Fantasy II will always remain my favourite, but I also got into Final Fantasy VII a great deal; the only real problem I had with Final Fantasy VII was the event that occurred at the end of the first disc (I won't spoil the surprise for those of you don't know it), as I'd become accustomed to Square utilizing more subtle methods of evoking emotions in the game player, and this one was kind of jarring and, from a storyteller's perspective, too easy. Final Fantasy III was good for what it was but nothing more; at least I finished it. The furthest I've ever gotten in Final Fantasy VIII is midway through disc two, and then I just have no interest in continuing it.

There just seemed to be so much wrong with Final Fantasy VIII: I couldn't identify with the characters, the plot wasn't strong, the "draw" magic system resulted in long, boring battles, and I absolutely despise the SeeD ranking system, as it is counter-intuitive to the premise of role-playing games because it punishes exploration. I really like the architecture in the game (going around in Balamb Garden almost inspires me to want to go back to college) and some of the songs are great, but as a whole, Final Fantasy VIII is, at best, a good RPG. And when an RPG has the words "Final Fantasy" in it that's supposed to mean a minimum of "absurdly great."

I've followed Final Fantasy IX news and development loosely over the past several months, and even at that I didn't like what I heard. For example, responding to some fan complaints that monster-summoning sequences take too long when they have to keep being called, Square decided to go with a "you see it the first time, but only randomly after that" approach. But wouldn't it have been much simpler to include a little line in the options menu that let you turn summoning visuals on or off? It's little things like that, things that I think should be no-brainers, that really bother me.

I have the money for Final Fantasy IX, but quite frankly I'm not eager for a trip to Best Buy to pick it up. I'll probably put it on my Christmas list, but that'll be it. I think I have better use for my money at this point than to continue a tradition for its own sake, to fork out that much cash for something that my heart's just not in any longer.

Speaking of forking out cash, and speaking of Best Buy, the last time I was over there I started looking for a new stereo. The need for a new stereo is two-fold: firstly, a few years ago I blew $300 on a stereo receiver at Radio Shack that I've done nothing with since except hook my old CD player and my VCR up to it. Looking at speaker costs at Best Buy, I think I'd probably spend more money getting good speakers for the receiver than getting a new one, plus a new receiver would give me things I haven't had in years, like decent radio coverage and cassette tape decks. Secondly, my CD player is junking out on me; back when I got it for my sixteenth birthday (1992 - yes, I feel old, thanks for asking), it wasn't the greatest in the world, as it has consistently found skip points on CDs that no other CD player I've been in contact with has been able to find. Now it's getting worse at finding skip points, it gets jarred too easily, and the carousel isn't rotating properly.

When you combine that with the fact that I've now got DVD capabilities with my Playstation 2, and thus I'm obligated to get a boss sound system to complement my new audio playback capabilities, I'm pretty much stuck trying to find a new unit. Given space and electrical considerations in my room, I'll need to get an all-in-one, and all-in-ones with Dolby 5.1 support run $300 at the low end. Yikes. So I don't think I'll have many shopping tales to tell you these next couple of weeks.

It also doesn't help that I've needed a new VCR for years, but that's a subject for another day. So is my desire to replace my current DirecTV receiver with one that has a built-in hard disk recorder. In case you haven't gotten the hint yet, I am in need of a lot of money right now, so please, remember all those nice little red links that take you to CDNOW and Amazon.com help me finance these things. And if you don't like my recommendations, you can still use the links from my homepage to buy whatever you want, and I'll still get a percentage. Heck, do your Christmas shopping through my site if you think of it. I won't complain.

Speaking of DVDs, when Jeff came over to test my Playstation 2 DVD's capabilities, he popped in his copy of the Rocky Horror Picture Show 25th Anniversary Edition DVD, since he knew I was a big fan. (My sister played Frank in her high school's productions, so I was indoctrinated in the ways of Rocky Horror at a very young age. And my parents wonder why I turned out how I did.) We actually watched the movie all the way through, and since Jeff's been attending showings of the original down in Bowling Green he would mutter along some of the audience participation.

Now, you have to remember that I first listened to Rocky Horror audience participation when I was somewhere between six and eight (they actually released an audience participation cassette back in the day). When I was ten, one of my sister's friends actually got a copy of the Chinese videotape release for her on her birthday, so we had the ability to watch Rocky Horror at home five years before most people did. (The Chinese release also included the full version of "Super Heroes," so I even had that bit to myself for a long time as well.) I've only actually ever seen it in a theatre twice, one when I was 15 or 16 and again when I went to Antioch. But I've listened to the audience participation cassette tape so much throughout my life that I pretty much have it memorized.

Keeping in mind how long it's been since that cassette was released, I expected the audience participation bits to undergo some evolution and revision, that's only natural. But the things Jeff was saying ... they kind of got to me in a way. I realize that the whole Rocky Horror experience is supposed to be about taking things to extremes, and that's probably why I love the concept so much. But to me, Rocky Horror has always been about extreme camp. Listening to Jeff's modern-day sliver of audience participation, though, I got the feeling that now it has become more about extreme raunch, and I can't say as I like that.

I guess the best comparison I can give would be to gangsta rap. I followed rap music religiously in my pubescence, and yes, that did scar me for life. Anyway, I had the chance to witness the commercial nasence of gangsta rap, mainly in the form of NWA. Around the time Ice Cube left the group, my interest in rap music was waning (to be replaced by, of all the things in the world, a love of new age music), but since I still watched a lot of MTV I was aware of when Dr. Dre left the group, his partnership with Snoop Dogg and what resulted from that.

Don't get me wrong, I had no emotional ties to rap music, but watching what happened to gangsta rap after I stopped following it really disgusted me. Say what you will about NWA's methods, there were parts of their message that you simply had to listen to. For all the grief they took about their most infamous track, "Fuck tha Police" at least had some semblance of a list of grievances with the police; at least they were giving you a reason why they hated the police so much. When Dr. Dre and Snoop Dogg rose to fame as solo rappers, though, all of a sudden that part of the message was no longer there; it was "cops are evil and deserve to be killed, no explanation needed, now let's go back to the party." And given Dr. Dre and Snoop Dogg's commercial success, at least relative to NWA's at their peak, that bothered me.

Gangsta rap, at least the gangsta rap I followed some dozen years ago, at least had some substance to it. The actions sponsored by such music will always be subject to terse debate, but the actions used to have reasons, not necessarily reasons that justified the harshness of the proposed remedies, but still reasons. The rappers would point out their oppression, cite examples, at least try to give you the comfort of knowing why they were doing what they did. But after Dr. Dre and Snoop Dogg revolutionized the genre, all of a sudden there was no message. 90% of all gangsta rap tracks could be boiled down to a simple synopsis: "I'm a badder mother fucker than anyone else because I've killed this many people, I party this much, I drink this much alcohol, I do this many drugs, and I've slept with this many women, X% of which didn't want to have sex with me but I forced them into it anyway. And I do it all because I fucking want to, and if you got a fucking problem with that I'll bust a cap in your fucking ass."

I've always viewed myself as a First Amendment advocate, and in fact I think the whole concept of "curse words" is silly, prudish and its implementation does little else but glorify the very things it is supposed to vilify. But listening to some of the gangsta rap that was coming out in the mid 90's, I really had to wonder. I was really beginning to wonder if some people were taking things too far, if there was some sort of line I drew in the sand, and there were musicians out there beginning to cross it. I don't know if that says more about me or more about gangsta rap, but I know it says something.

Now, don't get me wrong: I'm certainly not advocating censorship of Rocky Horror audience participation. That would be just plain silly. But perhaps a little self-censorship would be nice to see. So many of the newer jokes are just thinly disguised excuses to throw out gratuitous profanity or imagery, and even if the audience participation I'm familiar with is a bit outdated, I still get a bigger laugh out of it. If you want to curse like a sailor, go to a bar or something; swearing and gross imagery is easy, true comedy is hard. I view Rocky Horror audience participation as an art form, the art of interactive comedy against the backdrop of a pre-existing work of art. And the masters of that art form used to produce a little show from their television studio in Brainerd, Minnesota, so don't go saying it's not an art form.

Jeff has offered to take me to a showing of Rocky Horror in Bowling Green. As you can guess, I have declined his offer to date. I'll be quite happy picking up the 25th Anniversary DVD and riffing at home by myself, thank you very much.

I think this is my stop. Hopefully writing will get a bit easier for me now that I've drained my brain a little more. I'll try to have some new poetry up here in the next week or so, and I'll try to keep the journal updated on a semi-regular basis. Thanks for coming, one and all, please sign up for the seanshannon.org mailing list if you haven't done so already, and I'll see you all next time.

- Sean