Have you heard? Have you heard the news? I am accepting guest post submissions to I Enjoy Music! Here are submission guidelines.
Today's guest post comes from Christopher Gadsden. I know Christopher from Twitter: that internet place where people love to joke, laugh and make friends; and also the place where he has a regular Space that simulcasts on Twitch and is, in my opinion, a rollicking audio program.
After I initially posted about my interest in having people submit their own writing to the blog, he DM'd me: "A weird music thing happened to me," he wrote, and he was interested in blogging about it. Well hell yeah, I like when weird music things happen to people.
I asked him for a bio for the blog and this is what he sent:
"Christopher Gadsden is a sentient profile picture of the South Carolina flag who resides permanently within the tubes and wires of the internet itself due to a shamanic curse. He is the host of the live Twitter Space/Twitch stream MINDFUL WELLNESS where his producer does all the real work while he yells at phantoms, where anyone is welcome to participate until they make themselves unwelcome. Christopher will also inevitably join you on your podcast at some point, unless you specifically tell him not to."
Honestly let's not waste any more time on the intro. You need to read this eerie tale of delivery app travails, over-caffeination, and corny (or maybe not so corny after all) electronic music...so keep reading....please.........
also if you're receiving this as an email, congratulations and thank you. emails will go out very occasionally and hopefully they'll be fun. if you want to subscribe to the emails, here's a button for that:
The Intrepid (Dream) Traveler
By Christopher Gadsden
So the day job wasn't cutting it, and I ran out of money. It was time to pick out a second gig, and even though I knew they were scams, I needed fast cash and I kept drifting back to browsing the various delivery apps. I would be in the car, I thought. You can listen to podcasts and music in the car, I thought, and I do enjoy some podcasts and music. I picked one where I would deliver groceries for a large chain. Simple, contactless…but this anecdote is not about the numerous mundane horrors that followed that stupid choice. It's about old people and our old music, and how the most familiar things can still surprise you, especially when you find yourself lost out there in that darkness, the place that shithead Kerouac called The Road.
As I got better at it, I kept taking bigger jobs, and more of them. More hours per day, more miles...podcasts and downbeat grooves were not cutting it. I found myself dragging a net across the old dusty corners of YouTube where they kept all the happy memories, all the syrupy trance and funky narcotic house riffs that floored the little acceleration pedal in my mind as my foot stomped the one in the car. To never sleep, to follow the road forever...until I arrived at an impasse.
I had to finish a big job. It had eaten up the clock hard, waiting for the employees at the store to pick it, to load it. "PERISHABLE," blinked the little indicator on the app. I stopped for gas even though the time indicator was now blood red. The robot that ran the app was experiencing a simulation of anxiety, and I felt a little jealousy. As I was made of fibers and juices, being so close to the edge was more than an algorithm—it was going to cause me to start making mistakes...but that hadn’t always been the case.
Twenty years ago there was a way to have that perfect calm, that solid focus, that mathematical execution whenever I needed it. All I had to do back then was pick a good mix album, preferably something I had already heard a million times before. So I scrolled the phone until I saw it sitting there. The doorway to becoming robotic, mechanical. The most formulaic, most obvious, most CHEESY trance album ever mixed: Paul Oakenfold's Tranceport. I smirked at how embarrassingly pedestrian it was, and let it rip. It was just me in the car after all. No one could make fun of me for running out of hip cutting-edge jams and turning back the dial to car commercial riffs from the 90s. And anyway, wasn't "transport" what I was trying to achieve?
The giant trainwreck of synthesizers at the beginning of Dream Traveler's "Time" is the first sound you hear on the mix, and it flooded the interior of the car with almost the same vigor with which I was chugging the last of my caffeine stash: Bang, and unfortunately one of the less popular flavors which had made its way down the chain to the discount store, owing to its tasting notes of root beer and mildew. 300 milligrams of caffeine for a buck wasn't a deal I could turn down, I thought, and as the drums kicked in I recalled that when we went to clubs and did all those REAL drugs, Red Bull wasn't even on the market. 50 mil from a Coca-Cola was as cranked as any of us had ever been before we first encountered ecstasy and bathtub speed.
I had come back to the first track of this album a couple times over the last two decades, but always backed out after the transition to the second track (Greece 2000's "Three Drives on A Vinyl", featured amusingly in the first Mortal Kombat movie of all places) because it had been so overplayed in the old days. A tingling sensation which I first mistook for the caffeine rush slithered down to the tips of my nerve endings. This song was so good, I thought, and the perfect way to open Baby's First Trance Mix. The album we all bought from a frowning record store clerk in a Pixies t-shirt who was sure their world was coming to an end in an apocalypse of cheap four kick loops. I was DEFINITELY feeling, well…SOMETHING...
I swerved through highway traffic according to the directions of the helpful navigation robot with the pleasant voice. Nostalgia gets more powerful as you age, perhaps, I told myself. That was surely the sensation that was overtaking me. Made sense at the time, and my attention was mostly on the unpredictable buffoonery of the other drivers, the obstacles of the delivery person. “Time” gave way smoothly to “Three Drives” and I didn't skip it, for old time’s sake. I wondered what the vinyl with the Mortal Kombat logo on it was selling for on eBay, wondered whose attic mine was in... And suddenly I was at the drop. I paused Tranceport and delivered the treats. I set the phone for the next delivery, and the next song. Suddenly, things were flowing along, mentally and commercially, yet I was still behind schedule.
The map robot was glitching out. She kept sputtering at me, telling me to make U-turns, and I muted her. For the first time since beginning this annoying job I looked outside the car and took note of where I actually was. A small town a few miles from the slightly larger one I was born in. Some ancient internal blockade broke loose in my musty old brain and I remembered: I remembered driving to the warehouse parties on these roads with these moldy old tunes ruining the factory speakers in my first car. I used to know my way around here, I thought, why had I forgotten?
As my own god-given internal navigation software came to life for the first time since GPS, an uncontrollable acceleration took place, one for which I am still seeking a good explanation. A little expired Bang and some nostalgia wasn't enough of one. And though I eventually landed on ‘Acid Flashback,’ if only to pick a diagnosis and move on with my life, that's probably not enough of one either. I have experienced those before, and this was... something else. This was the merry prankster's "intrepid traveller" hallucination on steroids. This was time travel, but I was not steering the ship: this was self-driving H.G. Welles.
The third track of the central mix album of my happiest years is Paul Van Dyk's "Rendezvous", which gives way after a few minutes to a lengthy transition into GusGus's mathematically perfect "Purple". This was where I always got lost in the mix as a teenager, but this time I was anything but lost. I felt like I was floating several miles above the roof of the car, I was a pulsing target on a map in my mind, and I moved the car like a piece on a game board, looking down from a synthesizer-laced stratosphere speckled with precisely shaped drum sample clouds, spiked with searing melodic lightning. Two drops, slightly behind. Three drops, breaking even. Five drops, caught up, and the antique rhythms of forgotten dancehalls, the bone-rattling bass notes and roaring synths blared away until...until it was suddenly over.
The vocals on that sixth track always had snapped me out of it in the old days—they were one of the few details on the album I didn't much care for—and I reached up to turn down the volume with a numb hand. Silence. I was back in the lot of the store, waiting for another load. I was sweating and the inside of the car smelled like a rave full of drenched revelers who had all just been stunned by the rising sun, that hated betrayer, that enemy. I got out just as the kid from the store was wheeling up the next delivery.
"Number 2214, Six dro—" he stuttered a little when he saw me. What must have I looked like? Frightening—vibrating like a dangerous animal? Or amusing—a forty-year-old man barely holding it together, barely keeping his head over the press of the rat race well enough to glimpse his promised reward? Sad, perhaps. Perhaps the kid felt sympathy for his washed-up elders, those relics with all their parties in the past and only bills to pay on the horizon. "Six drops, where do you want em?" He finished.
"Big two in the back, the other ones in the passenger seat" I said. I knew I sounded weird, looked a horror... but still. I couldn't let him off the hook. I had to know something. "You know" I said as we loaded together, "I burn through a lot of music doing this and I need some recs, man. What do you like these days? What's..." I paused, now just leaning in, now just being weird on purpose. "...what's hip these days?"
He seemed to take a moment to consider. "Well,” he said, holding the next bag of treats for the treatboys out there in stasis, seeming to forget about their all furiously slamming "refresh" on their end of the app. "I used to like EDM but now I'm more into old stuff. A lot of old stuff. My mom and pop used to like Paul Simon and I downloaded some of it and it's pretty cool." He started to say something else and then didn't, and I was so grateful to him. I was fully back in the present, in my own body, in my own circumstances. Having to remember what "EDM" was had done it. When was the term even from? Why were they using it again? Was it all just a loop?
"Cool, yeah," I said. "Thanks man." I drove off and made the last six drops of the night and went home to go to sleep, having scanned through my favorite of the Paul Simon albums to cleanse the vibes in the car like I was burning sage. I slept like a baby.
I didn't have to take any deliveries for a few days. Next time I did, I put on Tranceport again. Nothing out of the ordinary happened. It was just music. Just some old "EDM". I couldn't remember my way around without the map robot and turned her on again. I made the drops, slightly behind schedule, which caused the algorithm a normal amount of digitized anxiety. The strange magic that had revitalized me retreated back to its native dimension. The grind had resumed, I noted with some disappointment, but also an equal portion of relief.
There are very, very smart people in this world who have made it their life's work to study what music does to humans. Some focus on the physical, material nature of it, the vibrations hitting the small bones in the ear. I learned years ago from one of them that the difference in shape of our ear bones, minute inconsistencies of mere millimeters, might determine why we like one sound and dislike another. Others focus on the way music can help us access memory, the way it imprints upon the wrinkles in our wetware when we hear it at important times in our lives. But still...I can't help but feel as if something is missing from our popular explanations of what music IS for humans. We believe we have created it, that it is a form of human expression which we control, and for the most part I feel like that is close enough, MOST of the time. Other times though, once in a while...I could swear I caught music getting up to something powerful, something unfamiliar, though later on I could provide no evidence, could not define what I felt or THOUGHT I felt.
I had reached for something old, something reliable and predictable, something to drive with, and instead found myself driven, in the throes of some spectre, some ghost of my past that still haunted the forbidden pleasure centers in my brain, long shuttered and abandoned for fear of the influence they might have, that they might lead me away from survival, from productivity, from correct adulthood. Music had pulled a fast one on me, music had gotten UP TO SOMETHING I had not authorized, and I was partly disturbed, but also felt a dangerous sort of hope that perhaps things weren't always going to be predictable for the rest of my time on earth. I was okay with that. I was okay with it even if it was a little sappy, a little cheesy. Maybe someday I can find it again, maybe I can mute the map robot and remember how to navigate. Maybe one day, before I die, I'll even go dancing again. If I am so lucky, I'm going to beg the DJ to play that corny pop garbage, that bubblegum bullshit, those guilty pleasures...because you can tell yourself you're sick and tired of your favorite treats and you can even believe it for a while...but if you get lost out there, old, stressed, terminally boring, hammering REFRESH as hard as you can every day…well, maybe you told yourself wrong.
I'm going to catch it again, one day, and when I do, this time I'm going to be ready.
Thank you Mr. Gadsden!!!! Listen to MINDFUL WELLNESS. And thanks for reading I Enjoy Music. If you like it? Tell a friend about it.