Pale Divine: St. Louis’ biggest band

Pale Divine: St. Louis’ biggest band

“[Pale Divine singer Michael Schaerer’s] life didn’t turn out the way fans expected, but chances are neither did theirs.” Perhaps nothing sums up Pale Divine, St. Louis’ biggest band in 1991, better than that line from the December 21, 2008 issue of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

In the early 1990s, Michael Schaerer was the frontman for Pale Divine, the biggest band in St. Louis. They played sold-out shows on Laclede’s Landing, they had a record deal with Atlantic Records, and the radio stations even played some of their stuff sometimes. And then they broke up before they could finish a second album. For years, Schearer got gigs playing cover tunes, though he’s raised his profile in recent times. His bandmate, guitarist Richard Fortus, is in Guns ‘n Roses. But maybe I’m getting ahead of myself.

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Back to the old grind again.

You are my addiction
My pleasure and my pain
You’re my infection
Disease, you burn my brain
–Pale Divine
That song was either talking about a girl or about cigarettes. I’m not sure which. But my addiction is something else. You’ll understand in a minute.

Conversation with Gatermann. “Something big came out this week,” I told him.

He took a few shots in the dark. Ridiculous things, like Windows XP.

“What are the necessities of life?” I asked.

“Women–“

“More important than women,” I said.

“More important than women!? What’s more important than the advancement of mankind?”

“You’re getting warm,” I said.

He stumbled around a really long time. He even said the settlement with Microsoft, which really got me going. Microsoft deserved to be run over by a steamroller. Very slowly. What they got wasn’t even a slap on the wrist. It was more like a warm caress. Excuse me while I gag. I dropped hints so he’d quit saying such repulsive things. It involves a computer but not an operating system. It’s not hardware, it’s software. Unfortunately, it only runs under Windows for the moment. Finally he started getting warm.

“Something to do with Railroad Tycoon?” he asked.

“Railroad Tycoon is indeed one of the necessities of life,” I pontificated. “You’re getting close.”

“More important than women and Railtycoon…”

“No, on par with Railtycoon,” I said. “And I’ll give you another hint. It’s not Baseball Mogul.”

He stumbled around some more.

“C’mon, Tom! What other games do I play?”

The answer is, of course, Civ3. I remember when I bought Civ2. The cashier was female, a year or two younger than me probably. “I love this game,” she said as she checked me out. Er, as she rang me up. I don’t know if she checked me out or not.

But because I’m a real dipstick, I didn’t propose to her on the spot. I didn’t even ask her out. Yeah I know. I coulda dated someone whose idea of a good time was a Civ bingefest.

Other stuff. If you ever put a parallel scanner on an NT4 workstation and run into all sorts of problems like bluescreens and service/driver failures at startup, check to make sure your parallel port and your sound card aren’t using the same interrupt. Better yet, get a real–I mean SCSI–scanner and use parallel ports for what they were designed. That’s printers, not Zip drives. If the interrupt’s free, the scanner will work, but you can forget about any other process getting any CPU time while you’re scanning.

I found a nice groupware app at www.phprojekt.com. It requires PHP, Apache, and MySQL. Not quite an Exchange killer but the price is sure right. And Exchange sure hurt Notes, because it’s cheaper, even though Notes is completely in another league.

And if someone complains about banner ads on your corporate intranet, check and see if Gator is installed. Then slap the hand of the dolt who installed it. (Probably the same dolt who went and bought a parallel scanner at CompUSA for 25 bucks and came in and told you to make it work.)

Napster and the decline of copyright–part 1

When Napster’s technology first appeared in 1999, I was like everyone else. I didn’t understand all of its implications. All I saw was a potential venue to find new music.

The cool thing about writing a book and running a Web site is that your questions rarely go unanswered. Just post, and answers tend to find you as people connected to works you admire find you.

Just this thing happened to me, when I mentioned finding a gem on Napster: a complete copy of Bark Along with the Young Snakes, the first commercial recording by one of my heroes, Aimee Mann. I didn’t know where else I would be able to get a copy, so Napster, I concluded, was a good thing, as long as you were willing to let your conscience be your guide. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

People seem to assume that superstars make millions of dollars. Who really gets hurt when we pirate, say, a Matthew Sweet single that’s been running through our minds for the past seven years? He was a pretty big star, so he’s set for life, right? No one really cares… No one gets hurt.

That’s a pretty clear-cut case. It’s illegal, period. Now you can probably justify it in your own mind if it’s just part of a course of action–you hear a song on the radio, or a snippet of it, so you search online to try to find out the title and artist, you find some possible suspects, then you listen to the snippets online at CDNow or another record store. If that doesn’t click, then you hop onto Napster, download the possible suspects, listen, figure it out, and then buy it. If you do that, you’ve technically still broken the law, but not really the spirit of it. You got your music and the artist got the money.

But some things aren’t as clear-cut. Out-of-print stuff, for example, isn’t. If I covet Pale Divine’s Straight to Goodbye from 1990, I face a tough challenge. The album’s been out of print for seven or eight years and never was all that common. It’s fairly easy to find in the band’s hometown of St. Louis, assuming I’m willing to pay $40 for it. But when I pay some record dealer $40 for a used copy, it’s not like the band ever sees a dime of it. As far as the band is concerned, there’s no difference between me buying it and pirating it. As far as the record label is concerned, there’s no difference either, but given the way Atlantic Records treated Pale Divine, no St. Louisan who followed the band in the late 1980s and early 1990s would feel sorry for them.

It was when I cited another obscure record, Bark Along with the Young Snakes, from 1982, as another example, that the story got complicated. Andy Breslau, the producer and owner of the copyright, found me and asked some compelling questions.

While Bark Along with the Young Snakes is hard to find, it’s not really out of print. It’s somewhat sought after, being the first commercial record that Grammy, Oscar and Emmy nominee Aimee Mann sang on. But the story is pretty different from Atlantic Records and Pale Divine. Aimee Mann recorded with Ambiguous Records, which was an effort by Andy Breslau, a bluesman then based in Boston, to capture and preserve and disseminate some of the eclectic music coming out of Boston in the late 1970s and early 1980s. We’re all familiar with classic rock mainstays Boston, and the classic rock/new wave crossovers The Cars, but much of the other music coming out of that city at the time never really made it outside of Boston. Someone needed to take this untapped resource and use it, so why not Breslau?

Breslau was playing in a band called The Blues Astronauts, and he had close ties with a number of bands playing around Boston at the time. Plus he had a desire to learn about production and recording, so all the pieces were there.

So Breslau formed Ambiguous Records, and he recorded and produced three albums: Bark Along with the Young Snakes, by Aimee Mann’s band The Young Snakes, Singing the Children Over by Kath Bloom and Loren Mazzacane, and Darkworld by Dark.

The venture lasted 18 months. Independent record distributors, Breslau found, sometimes had difficulty paying him in a timely matter. The Young Snakes were getting popular, so the logical thing to do was to press more copies. Breslau did just that, but then The Young Snakes broke up, and Aimee Mann and her then-boyfriend Michael Hausmann formed `Til Tuesday. While `Til Tuesday made it big for a while, their success did nothing about the large number of unsold Young Snakes records in Breslau’s basement. And Breslau’s own band broke up. And then?

“I discovered the joys of making records in a different way,” Breslau said. He was working on a fourth record, titled Doing the Sugar, Too by Luther “Guitar Junior” Johnson.

“Luther had played with Muddy Waters for a number of years before and had moved to Boston and was playing around town.  It was then astonishing to me that he had no recording prospects at the time,” Breslau said. He took Johnson into the studio, struck a deal with his agent and the owner of a small blues label, and had a revelation.

“The whole process ended up being much more about the music for me,” Breslau said. “At that point continuing the label seemed too financially risky and really not as satisfying as the experience I had doing Luther’s record. For me it turned on this: If I could still produce the records I wanted to and not assume all the risk, end up hassling with distributors, doing all the PR work, sending out the copies to radio and critics etc. etc. etc., I could give up the label. Working with a small label as opposed to being a small label seemed the right direction for me to go.”

“Frankly, independent pop music is a very hard business,” Breslau said. “The world you compete in has at its upper limits multi-million dollar deals, multi-national corporations and huge ambition–some of it valid, a lot of it insufferably pretentious.”

All of this meant Ambiguous Records was history and mostly forgotten.

Then the MP3 phenomenon hit. While popular songs made up the bulk of the music available online, some die-hard fans connected turntables to their PCs, sampled their old records, and turned them into MP3s. In time, these rarities–Bark Along With The Young Snakes among them–showed up online.

“At a gut level, the experience of finding work you had a hand in `Napstered’ does feel as though someone is taking something without asking whether or not you want to give it away,” Breslau said.

Part 1 in a series. Part 1 Part 2 Part 3

Abandoned intellectual property

Abandoned Intellectual Property. I read a piece on this subject at OSOpinion over the weekend, and I’ve been thinking about it ever since. There are, of course, a lot of people calling for abolition of copyright or radical changes. This is, believe it or not, one of the tamer proposals I’ve read.

I’m definitely of two minds on this one. Take my first ever publication for money, in 1991. Compute Magazine, before Bob Guccione had managed to totally ram it into the ground, opted to buy my spring break project I collaborated on with a friend. We were writing a video game for the Commodore 64 and 128 and we were getting tired of trying to draw the title screen manually with graphics commands (bad enough on the 128 which had Basic commands to do such things, but on the 64 you were talking peeks and pokes all over the place–someone really should have written this thing back in 1982!) so we wrote a program to do the work for us. You loaded the sprites, moved ’em around, hit a key, and it gave you the Basic code to re-create the screen, suitable for inclusion in your program. We never finished the game, but we got a cool $350 and international recognition (OK, so it was a dwindling audience, but how many high school kids can say they’re published authors at age 16?).

Now, the problem. General Media whittled Compute down until it was basically just another PC mag, abandoning the multiplatform support that made it so great (I read about my beloved Commie 8-bits but still got the opportunity to learn about Macs, Amigas and PCs–what could be better?), market share continued to dwindle, and eventually Guccione and GM sold out to Ziff-Davis, who fulfilled your subscription with a choice of mags (I remember I opted for PC/Computing). So the copyright went to Ziff-Davis, who never did anything with the old Compute stuff. A few years later, Ziff-Davis fell on hard times and eventually hacked itself up into multiple pieces. Who owns the old Compute stuff now? I have no idea. The copyrights are still valid and enforcable. I seriously doubt if anyone cares anymore whether you have the Nov. 1991 issue of Compute if you’re running MOB Mover on your 64/128 or emulator, but where do you go for permission?

The same goes for a lot of old software. Sure, it’s obsolete but it’s useful to someone. A 68020-based Mac would be useful to someone if they could get software for it. But unless the original owner still has his/her copies of WriteNow, Aldus SuperPaint and Aldus Persuasion (just to name a few desirable but no-longer-marketable abandoned titles) to give you, you’re out of luck. Maybe you can get lucky and find some 1995 era software to run on it, but it’ll still be a dog of a computer.

But do we have an unalienable right to abandoned intellectual property, free of charge? Sure, I want the recordings Ric Ocasek made with his bands before The Cars. A lot of people want to get their hands on that stuff, but Ocasek’s not comfortable with that work. Having published some things that I regret, I can sympathize with the guy. I like how copyright law condemns that stuff to obscurity for a time. (Hopefully it’d be obscure in the public domain too because it’s not very good, but limiting the number of copies that can exist clinches it.)

Obscurity doesn’t mean no one is exploited by stealing it. I can’t put it any better than Jerry Pournelle did.

I don’t like my inability to walk into record stores and buy Seven Red Seven’s Shelter or Pale Divine’s Straight to Goodbye or The Caulfields’ Whirligig, but I couldn’t easily buy them in 1991 when they were still in print either. But things like that aren’t impossible to obtain: That’s what eBay and Half.com are for.

For the majority of the United States’ existence, copyright law was 26 years, renewable for another 26. This seems to me a reasonable compromise. Those who produce content can still make a living, and if it’s no longer commercially viable 26 years later, it’s freely available. If it’s still viable, the author gets another 26-year-ride. And Congress could sweeten the deal by offering tax write-offs for the premature release of copyrighted material into the public domain, which would offer a neat solution to the “But by 2019, nobody would want WriteNow anymore!” problem. Reverting to this older, simpler law also solves the “work for hire” problem that exploits musicians and some authors.

All around, this scenario is certainly more desirable for a greater number of people than the present one.

From: Bruce Edwards

Dear Dave:

I am having a crazy computer problem which I am hoping you or your readers may be able to give me a clue to.  I do have this posted on my daily journal, but since I get very little traffic, I thought your readership or
yourself may be able to help.  Here’s the problem:

My wife’s computer suddenly and inexplicably became very slow when accessing web sites and usually when accessing her e-mail.  We access the internet normally through the LAN I installed at home.  This goes to a Wingate machine which is connected to the aDSL line allowing shared access to the internet.

My computer still sends and receives e-mail and accesses the web at full speed.  Alice’s computer now appears to access the web text at about the speed of a 9600 baud modem with graphics coming down even more slowly if at
all.  Also, her e-mail (Outlook Express) usually times out when going through the LAN to the Wingate machine and then out over the internet.  The LAN is working since she is making a connection out that way.

File transfer via the LAN between my PC and hers goes at full speed. Something is causing her internet access to slow to a crawl while mine is unaffected.  Also, it appears to be only part of her internet access.  I can
telnet out from her computer and connect to external servers very fast, as fast as always.  I know telnet is just simple text, but the connection to the server is very rapid too while connecting to a server via an http
browser is much much slower and then, once connected, the data flows so slow it’s crazy.

Also, dial-up and connect to the internet via AOL and then use her mail client and (external to AOL) browser works fine and is as speedy as you would expect for a 56K modem.  What gives?

I tried reinstalling windows over the existing set-up (did not do anything) and finally started over from “bare metal” as some like to say.  Reformat the C drive.  Reinstall Windows 98, reinstall all the drivers, apps, tweak the configuration, get it all working correctly.  Guess what?  Same slow speed via the aDSL LAN connection even though my computer zips out via the
same connection.  Any suggestions?

Sincerely,

Bruce W. Edwards

~~~~~~~~~~

Hi Bruce,

The best thing I can think of is your MTU setting–have you run any of those MTU optimization programs? Those can have precisely the effect you describe at times. Try setting yor MTU back to 1500 and see what that does. While I wholeheartedly recommend them for dialup connections, MTU tweaking and any sort of LAN definitely don’t mix–to the point that I almost regret even mentioning the things in Optimizing Windows.

Short of that, I’d suggest ripping out all of your networking protocols and adapters from the Network control panel and add back in TCP/IP and only the other things you absolutely need. This’ll keep Windows from getting confused and trying to use the wrong transport, and eliminate the corrupted TCP/IP possibility. These are remote, but possible. Though your reinstall should have eliminated that possibility…

If it’s neither of those things, I’d start to suspect hardware. Make sure you don’t have an interrupt conflict (rare these days, but I just saw one a couple weeks ago so I don’t rule them out). Also try swapping in a different cable or NIC in your wife’s machine. Cables of course go bad more frequently than NICs, though I’ve had horrible luck with cheap NICs. At this point I won’t buy any ethernet NIC other than a Bay Netgear, 3Com or Intel.

I hope that helps. Let me know how it goes for you.

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