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Random thoughts, settings, characters, situations, perhaps leading somewhere

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Snapsong: “La Femme D’Argent” by French Band AIR

Friday 28 March 2014 - Filed under Snapsongs

I was working in a small print shop as a prepress technician, although I was also doing design and IT work because there was no one else around to do those things. As with many small business situations, there were oddities and annoyances, especially as the basic personality traits of both The Owner and Operations Manager were exacerbated by stress, lack of oversight and the martyrdom of business ownership.

The Owner regularly cleaned and tidied my desk as an outlet for her OCD, even though I’m a person who organizes spatially through stacks and piles, and would operate under a productivity deficit until I could find out exactly where the hell she’d stashed all my important crap. When I would complain, she would curtly inform me that she was The Owner, and my desk was really hers to do with as she pleased. Great, thanks.

The Operations Manager believed he excelled as a crisis manager, and regularly manufactured crises in the pressroom in order to show off his acumen in this field. Part of the problem was the copious amounts of Busch Light he would put away as Press Lubricant; the man truly had skill in drinking and his liver had been trained to peak performance in the Wisconsin back woods. But they paid me, I was able to set up my little department with proper job ticket indexing and reasonable safeguards against data loss, and later on they worked around my schedule when I went back to college to get a design degree. It wasn’t perfect, but we lurched our way through five years of making do. Ultimately, it all ended in tears, but it was an unstable arrangement from the very beginning.

One of the major things they refused to excel at was proper vetting and hiring of employees. There was a core group of about three or four people, myself included, that would suffer their foibles and mop up the messes without too much fuss, but we had to deal with a cavalcade of questionable hires that hit at least once a quarter. Sometimes it was The Owner getting an idealistic idea of how awesome a clueless friend of hers would be at sales, or The Operations Manager hiring a friend of a friend of a friend as a bindery manager, but either way, it usually spelled trouble. When it did, we usually had to sit through a grisly post-mortem with the entire staff present, while the responsible party railed about the incompetence of the offending employee and swore that they’d not be fooled again. Which they always were.

One such situation involved a sometimes client of ours who was something of an artistic musician or a musical artist, I was never sure which. At any rate, he fell upon hard times and casually inquired as to positions available while in talking about a print job one day. The Owner decided he’d be a perfect backup for The Operations Manager, and hired him accordingly. Of course, I’d never seen any indication from my dealings with him that this client had anything approaching any kind of organizational skills, especially as concerning the proper shepherding of print jobs from estimate to press to delivery, but I really didn’t have a dog in that fight. The Owner had decided, and she was The Owner. The Operations Manager wasn’t too happy about working with a flighty artist type, but with the Ownership Card in play, there was nothing much he could do. So the client was hired, and it wasn’t too long before he was sleeping with various comely print buyers and not properly understanding the seriousness of showing up on time.

At any rate, it was Business As Usual, and the rest of us would simply work around the chaos that ensued. Fortunately for me, the New Guy recognized something of a fellow feeling in me, and we began to hang out during lunch and even after work. I suspect that, later on, he wondered why the hell I put up with the craziness that was this particular employment situation, but he didn’t realize that I was afraid of being just like him: a flighty artist with no boundaries or work ethic besides his own self-centered tendencies. It wouldn’t be for another couple of years that I would finally realize that I could be an artist and a responsible human all at once.

However, flighty artists have some uses. He turned me on to a whole lot of interesting and rewarding music, for starters. He let me borrow King Crimson’s Discipline, for one, and when I first heard it I thought, “Why didn’t anyone tell me about this?” Other albums included David Byrne’s The Catherine Wheel, the odd quadrophonic weirdness of KONG’s Mutepoetvocalizer, and the funk-thrash-craziness of Praxis’ Transmutation (Mutatis Mutandis). But the one that really hit home was AIR’s Moon Safari.

The cover of the CD was the perfect pastiche of late 70s pen-and-ink-wash illustration that hearkened to both the apocalyptic feel of the Missile Command game artwork and the high futurist renderings of O’Neill space colonies printed in National Geographic. The music was the prefect distillation of Jean-Michel Jarre into a New Millenial oeuvre that included both a streetwise hiphop beat artistry with the open feel of Outer Space endemic to the best Moog-inspired synth excursions. It was fun, it was retro, it was The Future.

And I had the weird feeling of having a musical out-of-body experience. The first track, “La Femme D’Argent”, had a hugely tasty bassline that appealed to my low-frequency artistry. The space jams and Moog noodling was also fun and directly relevant to my experiments with sequencing and multitrack recording with a keyboard. But it was the overall feel of the music that appealed to a simpler part of my identity, something I hadn’t expected to feel and hadn’t in a long time. While my forebrain was grooving on the synth solos and improvisations, my inner child was back in the late 70s, with all the comfort and uncertainty that middle childhood offers. I could feel the chill of a cold day in Toledo, with the ticking of the central heating system echoing through the house. I could also feel the heft of my Fisher-Price space shuttle toy, with the cargo bay that could open and the three sound effect buttons on the side of one wing. One would make laser sounds, one would make a rising tone like a space launch, and one would make a random bleeping like a signal from the depths of space. It was very odd, and very interesting, to be sitting in a Texas print shop in the dead of December, and remember the exact feelings and associations echoing from a December over twenty years past. The child playing in his parents’ living room and the man he had grown to be, were linked through the oddity of happenstance and the intentional mimicry of a long-lost style.

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2014-03-28  »  Edward Semblance