Reverse Hibernation

Oh, hi. Are you still here? Man, I would have given up on me ages ago.

We’ll play catch-up in a bit. There’s some community stuff I need to blurt:

Obviously, I’m not doing the Hubrisween roundtable this year. Chad Plambeck at Microbrewed Reviews and The Fiasco Brothers still are. You’re in good hands. Links can be found at the Hubrisween Central supersoaker page.

So. I’ve been off doing this self-care thing I’ve been hearing so much about. Turns out it’s actually pretty nice, but then that old itch starts at the back of my brain, like a rat trying to dig its way out, and suddenly here I am again, staring at a blank page. I’ve been blogging off and on since the 90s, and my God, do I respect the people who manage to turn out stuff on a regular basis for years. There are points in my (admittedly spotty) career when I just have to walk away for a while. Sometimes for years. Do other stuff.

So today we will be talking – probably to a tiresome degree – about “other stuff”. Probably no movies this time around, because I just haven’t watched that many. That’s how complete a break I made from my usual (increasingly and annoyingly regimented) routine. I point you again to the links above if you require ponderings about crap cinema. I have more if you need them.

This is how we used to have to do it. You kids have no idea.

But through all this I am still aggressively me, so we’re going to address How I Spent My Summer Vacation in a sideways manner. First, in my usual oh-look-let’s-try-this-new-thing-that’s-been-around-for-years habit, I finally made use of that Spotify account I’ve had since the dang thing was in beta. I didn’t find the UI as confusing as I did in my younger days, and after some poking around I found myself in lurv. People talk about falling into YouTube rabbit holes – that’s been me with Spotify. My musical tastes tend to the omnivorous, and there are plenty of musical rabbit holes for me to fall down. Discovered many new artists, revisited some old favorites of my youth to see if they still held up. Often they do.

Which brings me to a new version of an old pursuit: The Mixtape lives, we just now call it a Spotify Playlist.

I’m sure I’m not using the Playlist function correctly. I have every bit of 2 followers – one is an old college housemate – and I think the follow function on these are so you can keep up with new additions to the lists. I have one huge playlist – we will get to that shortly – that is constantly being added and subtracted. But the ones I work hardest on I don’t make public until I am satisfied with the flow of song to song. Like I said, mixtapes. Hitting Shuffle Play on those undoes my hard (snerk) work.

Yeah, this is me in my 20s. Recognize me now?

Once again my gloriously misspent youth trespasses on my elder years. In my 20s I played around with LSD quite a bit, and I generally ran the music for such things, solo or in groups. In my amazingly sober teenage years my friends were amazed I didn’t even smoke pot because I listened to music only potheads did, but I just really liked prog rock, and was such a science-fiction nerd that I found the gestating electronic music scene intoxicating. The closest I came was reading Carlos Casteneda, which certainly primed me for my college days, and the addition of physical intoxication in all its forms.

So I started making mixtapes for acid trips. I had a fairly impressive music library in those days, but it was nothing compared to what is available on Spotify. And I found myself engaged in that old pursuit, in my self-care time. Honestly, since I have a fairly nice sound system on my work computer, I can do research while working – just one more reason my job does not suck. If something is good enough to draw my attention from what I’m doing, it gets plugged into a temporary playlist for later appraisal.

The structure for the playlists is fairly simple – at least I think so, but this is the first time I’ve ever tried to actually write it down. I may look at the result, think it the rambling of a madman worthy of becoming President and delete the whole damn thing.

First of all, the playlist is limited to an arbitrary three hours. That is too short for an actual acid trip, which in my experience runs at least 6-10 hours followed by another 6-8 hours of what I called “thinking at right angles”. The Coming Down period is hopefully accompanied by plentiful orange juice and the music of the Grateful Dead and Free, which I found perfect for that time. Traffic is also good, but “John Barleycorn Must Die” still freaks me out.

Three hours just seems like the limit for a casual, non-altered state listen. I also check the flow at night in bed, through headphones plugged into my Chromebook. I have to go to sleep sometime. My first attempt at an acid Spotify list was the aforementioned 6 hours, and that was just ungainly. Psychedelic voyagers could, I guess, just go from playlist to playlist until the sun comes up and you start getting reacquainted with the real world, if need be. Maybe after I get three of these up and running I’ll attempt an integrated version for all your wasted needs.

Alex Gray provides us with an image for #4.

My playlist structure is as follows:

  1. Let’s have fun, and get in a happy, jolly mood. We’re going on an adventure!
  2. Increasingly psychedelic-tinged music as the tide of the drug begins to flow in. One of my great loves, late 60s-early 70s music is perfect for this.
  3. Oh, hey. Something is happening. Ride with it.
  5. Wow oh wow oh wow that was amazi-HERE WE GO AGAIN HAND ME THAT KALEIDOSCOPE (repeat as necessary)
  6. Calm down those over-stimulated nerves with some slower, mellower, and dare I say it – beautiful music.

Obviously, I can go no further without posting the links, should you care to know what it sounds like in my head. Here they are, under the fairly innocuous title, “Headphones Strongly Recommended”:

After a certain point in my 20s, I had gotten everything I felt I could get from the psychedelic experience, and went my separate way. I’ve been asked if it was something I’d consider revisiting in the present day, and my response is: no, probably not. The most remarkable thing about acid, in my experience, was it gave you the ability to see everything as if you were seeing it for the first time, without preconceptions. That includes yourself, and that can turn into something remarkably ugly if you’re carrying any emotional baggage or trauma. I now have about 40 years of such baggage stored up, which I’ve no desire to face in a state where my coping mechanisms are diminished.

Now, as to why I got so into Spotify and created a huge frickin’ playlist that HAS to be put on Shuffle: City of Heroes is back. Goodbye, free time.

Painful as it is, I have to consider that normal people have no idea what I’m talking about, so here goes: City of Heroes was a Massively Multiplayer Online Role Playing Game (henceforward MMO) that went live in 2004, in a period where there seemed to be a new one released every month, all chasing the dollars being earned by the most successful MMO of all time, World of Warcraft (equally henceforward WoW). This one, though, wasn’t about orcs and other Tolkein lifts, it was about superheroes. At the time, it was the only one about superheroes. My pal David Harlan turned me on to it, and thus began a monstrous time sink for me.

I’m not a big fan of MMOs, but City did an exceptional job of functioning without what I found to be drawbacks in other games. There was no waiting around for hours for a special hoohah to spawn for lotsa elite lootz, or even to be able to continue in the game. It was impossible to kill other player characters (people, being jerks, still found ways, and steps were taken to counter them). Every mission (or “quest” if you prefer) was in an instanced space, not the overworld map, so it ran pretty smoothly on most rigs. Combat was a fairly simple matter, and could be controlled by almost any device: keyboard and mouse, joystick, programmable gamepad. All that mattered was which of your superpowers you fired off when.

And I love flying. Flying is fun.

And you get to hang out with giant octopodes. How cool is that?

A companion game was spawned, City of Villains, where, of course, you played an up-and-coming super-villain. The two games were quite popular, though never reaching the player population of World of Warcraft. And in 2012, that all came to an end when the game closed down. I’ve heard varying stories about the whys and wherefores of that shutdown, but while it made me sad, it didn’t affect me all that much at the time. My core group had gradually drifted away to other pastimes, and though it’s possible to play solo, it’s just not as much fun. Playing with strangers did not appeal to me. So I had taken my 15 bucks a month elsewhere long before sunset came to Paragon City.

There was quite a bit of nostalgia over the years. People who loved that game really loved it, and they missed it. I confess the occasional pang or sorrow that I could not simply log on and throw fireballs at demon-worshipping street gangs in the name of justice.

Then I started hearing rumors about a rogue server that was still running City. Membership was closed, and there was a possibility of regaining your old characters from Live! Getting into it was a problematic and lengthy process, until it was revealed that the source code had been released into the wild and there were suddenly several servers openly running the game, so secrecy was no longer an option. A friend who had been working to get the old crew admitted to the closed server was finally successful, and goddammit I was in Paragon City again, and falling madly in love once more.

The reclaiming of old characters wasn’t possible anymore, but I didn’t care. It was a gas playing with the guys again. Now everything is open to all players – Heroes and Villains had separate power sets and archetypes, and now those – and all the costume pieces and other stuff formerly locked behind a paywall – are available to everyone. You don’t have to hit level 50 – once the highest possible level – to unlock the Super Special Ultimate Nitro Platinum Character Types anymore. It’s also free to play, so win-win, as we say in the trade.

I had attempted to start Discord once to participate in a No Budget Nightmares event and it mystified me (occasionally life likes to rub my nose in my increasing decrepitude). I had to demystify it so we could have a (once-again free! Yay!) alternative to our old standard, TeamSpeak. Voice communication is an absolute boon to slow typists like myself, so it became essential. In an attempt to bring the top part of this post into sync with this lower part, I should point out that in the halcyon days of the latter half of the aughts, when we were all heavily into the game, Dave and I ran a station on Live365 that purported to be a Paragon City radio station, so we could all listen to the same ass-kicking music at the same time. Dave produced some fun commercials, too. I finally ran out of money to fund that, but again, here we are, ten years later, with better tools. A truly enormous playlist on Spotify (currently 1814 songs, over 115 hours worth, quite a bit carried over from the Live365 days), and a bot to run that playlist on our Discord server. So even though the game is free, I’ve still found a way to pay 15 bucks a month just to play City of Heroes.

Look, in 1980, when I was a stoned student reading Heavy Metal and listening to Hawkwind over my headphones – had you told me then that 40 years later, I would be guiding a flying laser squid through twisting blue and purple caverns, all the while zapping evil magic users while still listening to Hawkwind over headphones… well, I’d ask you what you were on, why you weren’t sharing and where could I buy some.

Squad Goals

I’ve mentioned before that one of the few things that kept me sane during these last three years of garbage government shenanigans was Marvel movies (and thank God DC finally started making entertaining ones). Being able to briefly inhabit a world where good could overcome evil in a matter of a couple of hours – hopefully as violently as possible – got me through the darkest times. I had forgotten, though, how much physical tension could be drawn away through my guidance of an online avatar to do the same thing in a shorter time frame. There are at least two enemy factions in-game that are obvious Nazi analogs (we refer to them as “Illinois Nazis”), and it’s remarkable how easy it is to gravitate toward the missions that involve taking them down. Hard.

There. I think I’ve bored you enough. Just talking about it makes me want to go online and freeze Illinois Nazis in crushing time distortion fields. Maybe we can talk about movies next time. I did watch a few.

FUTURE FREEX BURSTS IN THE DOOR. It was revealed to me this morning that the megalomaniacs downtown have scheduled not one, but two extra City meetings next week, stealing away three evenings of what remains of my life. Y’all will be waiting for a while on that next installment, I’m afraid.