Layers Of Earth

A George Zhen Narrowcast.

Finding Barney Hall Through The Static

RIP Barney Hall.

For those unfamiliar with the name, the best way I can describe Barney Hall is to say he was the Vin Scully of NASCAR. For many of us longtime fans, he was the man who brought races to life for us long before they were televised.

I was about 11 years old when I started paying serious attention to NASCAR. My obsession led me to the AM radio dial one Sunday afternoon, scrolling through the static to maybe find a broadcast of that week’s NASCAR race. A voice emerged from the static. It was Barney’s. And over the course of the following season, I was seduced into racing.
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Perfect Sound + Vision

Bowie_sv-150x150I only saw David Bowie in concert one time. Perhaps that was enough given the outrageous circumstances of that day and where I ended up.

It was 1990 and Bowie was kicking off his Sound + Vision Tour in Miami. Unlike the over-the-top overreach that was his Glass Spider tour a few years earlier, this tour was a return to roots of sorts, an opportunity for him to stretch his catalog for his new label, Rykodisc. They had put out this magnificent boxed set of Bowie classics and rarities and, as it happened, I worked at a record store at the time. We were inundated with all the promotional materials, display contests and everything surrounding the release.

For those of us working at Sound Warehouse #1006 in Lauderhill, FL, this was a big deal. We all loved Bowie. We broke open one of those Sound + Vision boxed sets and seemingly played it all the time.

The show was billed as this very artistic, Bowiesque kind of thing, but far less gaudy as Glass Spider. Édouard Lock of La La La Human Steps co-conceived and was artistic director for this tour, and it featured this gauze-like screen on which visuals could be projected on as the band played behind it. Moreover, the tour hype was that this would be the last time Bowie would play his back catalog live. Read more

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The Underdog of 199th Street

statgebandFerhat loved the trumpet. We played in Junior High band together and his passion was consuming him.

“Maynard Ferguson, man – have you ever heard him play? He is amazing!”

His excitement was infectious as he put on the record.

“Listen to those high notes – He is the best ever!”

Of course, I was just a trombone player. I really had no reference point for how high those notes were that Maynard was belting out. But I must have mentioned something to my dad, who told me that in fact, Maynard Ferguson was coming to town. Read more

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A Bird in the Monkey House


To some, this won’t be anything new. Just a rant. On media in America. How special is that?

So I flip on my news feed today to discover an exploding rocket has grabbed top position amidst stories of Ebola, elections and Hawaiian lava flow. This isn’t surprising, except for the fact that the actual incident took place two days ago. A, unmanned private rocket, under contract from NASA, carrying supplies and experiments to the International Space Station had a major malfunction during liftoff. No one was hurt.

For those of us space geeks who follow these sorts of things, we’re not taken aback by this. It happens about 5 % of the time with unmanned vehicles, give or take. News editors probably felt the same sort of relative indifference to this event initially since there was a nominal amount of coverage of the accident yesterday.

But then, the bird flew into the monkey house.

Humans are spectacularly visual. I’ve come to realize this even more so after becoming visually impaired several years ago. Just watch the news and the stupidest, most inconsequential stories will make it on the air because there is actual video of the bear in the swimming pool. Over the course of the intervening 24 hours since said rocket exploded, the video of the accident went viral.

My kid at college is texting me about it.

Friends are posting it on my wall.

“Oooo, look honey! How pretty!”

*insert chimp noises here*

Now, news editors interested in say real news may be slow to react sometimes, but marketing heads burn with John Force-like reaction time. Keeping a keen eye on those web traffic stats and logs is what pays the bills, and by time the nightly news rolls around, my father-in-law is joining the chorus of monkeys oooing and ahhhing over the unplanned fireworks show on the Virginia coastline.

If it explodes it downloads, as they say.

So now we enter the predictable cycle of keeping this thing in the news for another 24 hours, because, well… it’s a damn exploding rocket after all and monkeys click on that shit. The insufferable side effect of this is the barrage of stupid, uninformed questions from television journalists whose knowledge of aerospace begins with George Clooney and ends with Sandra Bollock.

“Is this a setback for NASA?”

“Was ending the shuttle program a mistake?”

“Could this have been an act of terrorism?” (Guess which network. I dare ya.)

“Can someone get Ebola from a bowling ball?”

Ooops. Sorry. Different story. Exploding fear, not rockets. Works in the same primal way, though.

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NEW SONG: (Morphallaxis) Stars Undersea


(Morphallaxis) Stars Undersea-George Zhen

“All the doubt that creeps in deep in the night
Is there to help us practice morphallaxis…”

Over last summer, I was tooling around with some ideas in electronic music, specifically the idea of blending the unison, group vocal sound of something like The Mouglies or even Of Monsters and Men together with what I saw as the upcoming disco reboot thanks to what was then the forthcoming Daft Punk. It was really just an experiment. But I liked it. A little Depeche Mode lick here, a little Nile Rogers there and the song was forming up.

For the lyrical theme, I took up the idea of morphallaxis. What the hell is that geekyness about, you ask? Morphallaxis is the ability of a creature to re-grow body parts, like the way a starfish can re-grow limbs. I drew up the parallel of us rebounding from the scars of childhood to become something great. You know, a geeks now rule the world kind of thing.

I liked where it was going so much that I even took up the idea of adding group vocals with a bunch of my son’s friends singing ion it. We recorded in early June, and while the tracks were fine, I discovered there is a fine line between group vocals and something sounding a little too Disneyesque. I started tweaking the vocals, but before I could get too far the Great Computer Crash of 2013 was in full swing and I lost much of the work on this song, including those takes. Well, they are buried somewhere, but by that point I had moved into performing live and forming The Mariana Trenchcoats, so the project was shelved.

Alas, here is the final version of this track, largely how I left it back in June with my original vocals on it. Maybe someday I’ll revisit it, but for now, this is what it is. Read more

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