Wednesday, January 24, 2018

Soul Of A New Machine





Peter Underdog was once a student in the Department of Computer Science at Western North East University way back in the early days of the Information Age. They taught him arcane, now mostly dead languages like Pascal and COBOL (which actually lives on in the form of millions of lines of codes written in the 50s and still running on insurance company computer hardware). The machine that the COMPSCI students logged into to practice their coding skillz was a Data General MV/8000 "Eclipse", designed and built in Westboro (or Westborough) Mass. The story of how that machine came to life was  immortalized in this book, "The Soul of A New Machine" by Tracy Kidder.





Here's a picture of that MV/8000 in all its glory.




A few years before his first login into that big piece of computing iron, Peter Underdog had written a song on an old upright piano in his parents' basement, entitled "I'm A Machine", in which the title character was more of a soulless mechanical entity than a computing device with a tortured soul.

"Soul of A New Machine"  (the song, not the book), didn't come together until decades later, melding a groove once written on an old Dell Laptop, combining a funky bass, Zappa-like xylophone, and mellotron flutes, with the old "Machine" song, rewritten from the perspective of the machine itself which now has a healthy glow thanks to AI and LEDs, and like Philip Dick's androids, counts electric sheep at bedtime.




Image result for do androids dream of electric sheep

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Cyanide Butterfly



November and December were black holes on this blog. No music, no narrative -- silence. 

So let's start 2017 with a nugget from in one era...and out the other, an obscure 2004 release by Peter Underdog that was known more for its recall due to faulty ink-jet printed labels. That label would gum up the CD player of anyone who dared spinning it; fortunately, the number of spins was small enough to keep damage claims down to a manageable figure.

Cyanide Butterfly was inspired by a creative non-fiction event that allegedly occurred when Peter Underdog was employed as a data wrangler at Large State University in a research lab. The Finitistic Dimension Conjecture business had pretty much dried up, and he needed employment to raise funds to finance his cruises to the moons of Jupiter from Io to Ganymede. Those excursions became a possibility when the collective knowledge of the developers of the failed neutron engine in Star City invaded his brain during the Winslow, AZ incident.

As Peter Underdog was wrangling data generated by microbes percolating in various growth media, the beginnings of Cyanide Butterfly, started ringing in his ears. The inspiration came by way of a suspicious sequence of events at the lab involving that deadly substance. His attorney advises him not to say much about it, but he and former colleagues survived the scare. At least the tale can be told by way of music -- let the saxophones do the talking!

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Superegomaniac 2.0 (Trumpdated)

Musical accompaniment:

In 2004, Peter Underdog released the CD in one era...and out the other which had limited distribution, poor airplay (maybe one spin on Valley Free Radio), and was finally recalled by the distributor because the cheap ink-jet printed labels were known to gum up CD players (in the unlikely event that someone dared to listen to it).

That release did contain the gem Superegomaniac, an anti-Bush rant inspired by George Bush: The Unauthorized Biography, and by the Iraq war. The lyrics were (in part)

SUPEREGOMANIAC (c) 2004 Peter Underdog

scion of hera and zeus himself
center of the universe
heir to the keys of the regal buick
blew out the fkn tranny doing donuts in reverse

it's not i'm antisocial
it's just a function of the half-life of my zoloft
my attention span's unfocal
but it's long enough to tell you that you better....

it's my way or the superhighway
and you're not gonna get your money back
it's my way or the superhighway
go have yourself a spaz attack
it's my way or the superhighway
i'm a super-ego-maniac

scion of the traitors and the warlords
they say someday i might be president
i'll be the jumpstarter of armageddon
carpetbombing innocents

my politics aren't local
they extend to the end of the galaxy
my attention span's unfocal

but it's long enough to tell you freedom's no longer free

Not exactly a little hug for the Bushie. Peter Underdog, who makes no attempts to hide the fact that he is a member of the Democrat party, says that original track from in one era... will be remixed and re-released "real soon now".

In the meantime, he has 'trumpdated' this old tune with new lyrics about you-know-who. This release is designated Superegomaniac 2.0 as it is a major update of the original. Any incremental updates will be designated with minor decimal version numbers, 2.1, 2.2, etc. 

Now is a good time to release 2.0, since this could all be old news in a couple of weeks. 




"Hey Donald, Peter Underdog wrote a song about you." Donald: "I don't know Peter Underdog. I never met Peter Underdog. Who is Peter Underdog?"

Friday, October 21, 2016

Etherean Euphorium

Musical Accompaniment:


This blog took a few days off so that the author could put finishing touches on the demo of Shot of Happiness. Now 'in the can', the tune is ready to hit the charts and make Bruce and the Hip-Replacements a household name.

Before getting down the business of explaining more about Peter Underdog's fascination with all things Ether Dome, there is an amusing story to relate about the recording process. The tune features twin synth solos, played on a Korg Kronos. These solos were recorded last, after all other tracks were done, and during the recording process, those gaps were filled by placeholders consisting of vocal renditions of the synth solos performed by our hero into an SM-58. After the first solo was 'in the can', the producer suggested a shortcut for the second one: use Ableton's 'Convert Melody to MIDI' feature to convert the vocalese solo into MIDI, then feed the resulting MIDI into the Kronos -- done and done! Unfortunately, the results were not quite 'pro quality':




The solo was played the old-fashioned way, put into the same 'can' with the other solo, and now we can get down to business.

The Ether Dome, located in BeanTown, Mass, at the current site of the Mass Production Hospital, was the site of 8,000 surgeries between 1821 and 1868. The first surgery under anesthesia was performed there on October 16, 1846. Here is an actual photograph of the procedure. Notice all the surgical masks.


OK, it's a painting. There is a monument commemorating this event in the Public Garden. The inscription "written in granite", reads:


TO COMMEMORATE
THE DISCOVERY
THAT THE INHALING OF ETHER
CAUSES INSENSIBILITY TO PAIN
FIRST PROVED TO THE WORLD
AT THE
MASS GENERAL HOSPITAL
IN BOSTON
OCTOBER A.D.MDCCCXLVI


 

Pete Mafoosky would never huff ether, even though he would spend more time than the average person in operating theaters, including the one at the former site of the Ether Dome. As an eight-year-old child, he would run around working on his impossible science experiments ("Won't work!" -- his brother Andre), and burning and blowing up shit wearing his Underdog costume that Mom had made him. This costume consisted of handmade dog ears made of felt ("real material dog ears" according to Pete), and a headband to hold said ears on head; a bright red lycra spandex long-sleeve warm-up shirt, to which had been affixed a white "U" (see this blog's favicon, for example); and, finally, a cape. Pete was afraid to wear the cape at first, thinking that it would really give him the power to fly through the sky like his hero. Not to worry though -- the cape's powers of flight had been partially neutralized so that High Flight was not possible.

Pete began to have trouble running around and getting around in general, even assisted by his limited cape power. He also had repeated bouts with pneumonia that would hospitalize him for days at a time. During one hospital stay, one resident, who was a good example of the smartness of young doctors in training, noticed notching on Pete's ribs in a chest X-ray. The resident made the correct diagnosis: Pete's aorta had a bottleneck in it called a "coarctation" which, along with the intercostal arteries downstream, had caused the notching.

It was off to the medical big leagues in BeanTown for Pete and his parents, seeking out Dr. Robert E. Gross at Mass Childrens Medical Center (MCMC). Dr Gross was the first surgeon in the USSA to repair a congenital heart defect, ligating a patent ductus arteriosus in a yoinung female patient in 1938.

When Pete and his parents arrived at MCMC for preadmission processing, they were sent to a waiting room with toys, Legos and train sets. Pete gravitated right past those to the blackboard. His young mathematical mind was fascinated by the MCMC acronym and he was already pretty agile with algebra. He wrote this series of equations on the blackboard:


mcmc = m(mc2) = mE     

After 'intake processing', Pete and his parents were led to a large room with several hospital beds occupied by other child-sized patients. With surgery scheduled for the next morning, there was pre-op testing to be done, along with visits from lab techs, doctors, nurses, and a hockey player.

The hockey player was a mountainous man named Kenn Lodge, a forward for the NHL BeanTown Ursa Majors, who skated on a line with legends Cashman and Esposito. Jerry had called the Ursa Majors media relations office to see if any players were available to visit a young kid who was 'going under the knife'. Lodge was obviously a hockey player because he entered with a hockey stick in hand, signed by the Ursa Majors, including his line-mates, along with Bucyk, Cheevers, Orr, Sanderson, and Ribchimpsky. Lodge stayed for a few minutes, talking hockey, going under the knife, etc. until his shift was over.

The next visitor was one Dr. Asif (as if!), the anesthesiologist. He came to discuss what would happen the next morning when he would come in early to send his young patient to Lala Land. He would not be using any ether, but he said that he would start with nitrous oxide. Noticing the college level chemistry book that Pete had brought with him to research new impossible projects while hospitalized, Dr. Asif decided to give Pete a little pop quiz. "Do you know the formula for nitrous oxide?"

"What is NO2?" he answered Jeopardy style. The host of Jeopardy in those days was still Art Fleming as the Alex Trebek era with the jazzed-up theme song had yet to begin.

Dr. Asif frowned. "Oh, sorry, that's the formula for nitrogen dioxide, a noxious gas. Nitrous oxide is N2O. What parting gifts do we have for him, Johnny?"

Pete was pretty conversant with chemicals having spent many a Friday afternoon at the Science Museum with his Mom staring at a periodic table display complete with actual samples of the elements in their slots. Volatile elements like sodium were in oil, dangerous ones like uranium were absent, and of course, a good old magnesium strip, like the ones Pete and Andre liked to burn in their garage, occupied its proper place. Sadly, our hero missed his shot at a "BRAND NEW CAR" by swapping a "2" and an "O".

The next morning, Dr. Asif showed up early as promised and started to administer the N2O. Dr. Gross performed his wizardry, making a repair that came with a lifetime warranty.

We now fast forward 19 years. Pete is a graduate student in mathematics at Orange University in Onondaga County, NY. He is learning his first facts about the finitistic dimension conjecture, but has also lost an enormous amount of weight, has heart palpitations, and experiences spectacular geometric visual disturbances. Since the weight loss suggests a thyroid problem of some kind, we now introduce Dr. Daavid Sweeten, the Orange Medical Center neuroendocrinologist who would diagnose Pete's TSH-secreting pituitary macroadenoma -- one of only 55 such cases known in the USSA. The diagnosis was confirmed by an MRI scan.






The treatment of choice is of course surgery, but Dr. Sweeten first wants to try treatment with a newly developed drug called octostatin, which must be refrigerated, and injected like insulin three times daily. The drug is expensive and available only at the hospital pharmacy, but has the potential to either reduce the size of the tumor to nothing, or at least reduce it to something easier for a surgeon to pluck out.

The treatment with octostatin continued through the summer with unspectacular results and surgery was definitely on the horizon. When Dr. Sweeten left for his yearly August vacation on one of the upstate NY 'finger lakes', Dr. Gerhard Frazzledwits, a neurosurgeon at OMC saw his opportunity to make a name for himself (as if his name wasn't already spectacular enough!)

He phoned our hero one morning in his grad student office at the Math Department and told him he would like to try treating Pete's tumor with a stronger dose of octostatin to the tune of 10-fold. He says that Sweeten is being too conservative, and that he is believes this bold attempt could cure the tumor without surgery. Our hero starts feeling that he is being experimented on, but thinks there might be nothing to lose, except "pooping a lot" due to side effects of the medication. Plus, he holds all the cards. "OK Frazzledwits, i'll give it a shot (haha), but you're paying for the fuckin drugs, AND i would like a $60 cash consideration every time i show up at the hospital pharmacy to pick them up." Frazzledwits wasn't crazy about this arrangement, but doubted that he could find one of the other 54 patients to play mad scientist on, so he reluctantly agreed.

Predictably, the Frazzledwits experiment failed (although the $60 thing was, and would continue to be, a success), and our hero was again off to BeanTown to meet Dr. Pierre Noire, head of neurosurgery at Mass Lying-In Hospital, a former maternity hospital, now a full service teaching hospital, that no one ever got around to renaming.

Dr. Noire, a Canadian and a pretty good hockey player in his youth (he detested Kenn Lodge and the Ursa Majors who usually beat up on his Canadiens), was a wizard with the transphenoidal surgical approach, which involved drilling through the patient's sinuses and using an endoscope and microsurgical tools to extract the tumor from just under the base of the brain.

Pete's sister Aymlyss flew in from Golden Gate, CAL, to be with the family during yet another trial by fire. Aymlyss, who was self-named (her real name was not very well known but was thought to be some kind of anagram of 'Aimless'), was on an epic ladder climb to an Executive VP chair at a Big Bank, starting from an ashram, to the bank typing pool, to administrative assistant and so on.

The anesthesiology team for this procedure was a trio of women, led by a geeky anesthesia nerdess. The three of them looked like goddesses in their aquamarine surgical gowns. Our hero went to Lala Land with a smile. As he went under, a piano played a minor chord sequence reminiscent of the theme from The Young and the Restless  and Moonlight Sonata with chords ascending ever higher as the progression continued.




A voice on a loudspeaker said "Welcome to the Etherean Euphorium. Please enter at your own risk." He looked around and saw people reclining in medical type chairs, each accompanied by some kind of infusion pump beeping away, connected by tubing to some kind of arterial line. He wasn't sure if he had wandered into some kind of high tech opium den, or an Ethical Suicide Parlor from Vonnegut's Welcome to the Monkey House. Axl Rose screamed, "Do you know where you are? You're in the Monkey House, baby! You're gonna...."

When he awoke from surgery, he told someone that today's date was Sept. 18, 1989.

Decades later, after the valve surgery at Mass Professional Hospital, our hero was looking through his online hospital records, which included separate entries for each tube, needle, hose, or pin prick carried out during his hospital stay. These entries were all dated 9/13/2016, the date of the surgery. However, there was one record at the end curiously dated 9/18/1989. (Click). It was a pathology report on tumor tissue sent to MPH for analysis by one Dr. Pierre Noire. The report stated that the tumor cells were 'very bizzare in appearance, possibly due to treatment prior to surgery'. Way to go, Dr. Frazzledwits!

--- 

Captain Midnight, sits in a dimmed cramped room in a teleport in FLA, surrounded by television monitors displaying various network feeds, test patterns, and snow. He is eating an egg salad sandwich and scanning the skies, as he performs his job, which was to uplink cable shows to communication satellites. One of the monitors displaying snow suddenly came to life with this transmission from the year 2032. It was Jeopardy with host Alex Trebek, who at 92, was still sharp as a tack, and could still call up his sacré bleu accent whenever reading answers involving French words. With flyaway white hair and a painted-on black mustache recalling the Alex of the '80s, he looked like a cross between Albert Einstein and Groucho Marx. It was the Double Jeopardy round, and Mark controlled the board.

"I'll take Anesthesia for $777, Alex."

"The site of 8,000 surgeries between 1821 and 1868, the first surgery under anesthesia was performed here on October 16, 1846."

Silence.

BZZZT. No answer.

"What is the Ether Dome?" he ruefully told his contestants, feeling sorry for this hole in their collective knowledge. "Mark you still control the board. Select."

"Anesthesia, $999"

"This mathematician/musician/spaceman is fond of writing stories and songs about anesthesia." 

DING

"Mark."

"Who is Peter Underdog?"

Saturday, October 15, 2016

Flames (Burning In My Mind)

Flames burning in my mind
You know it happens all the time
Fire inside of me I'm overcome by its intensity
Flames dance all over me now they're pulsing rhythmically
Oh no, dead or alive, i'll be there when they arrive

Flames (c) 1985 Peter Underdog
Those are the lyrics to the (minor) hit single "Flames" by the band Etaoin Shrdlu. The tune got airplay on Mass Appeal, the Sunday night local rock show hosted by "Carmelina" on WAAF-FM 107.3 the only station that really rocks! It generated a few requests for the next show, but then (no pun intended) flamed out.

The band Etaoin Shrdlu was formed in 1983 by Phil Garrett (guitar) and Pete Mafoosky (Fender Rhodes, ARP Omni, and Minimoog), and included Gregg Monsonn on drums, Jan Dagnos on bass, and Vicky Tayback on alto sax. Vicky and Jan would share lead vocals. The unpronouncable and inscrutable name of the band was probably an impediment to their single or career catching on, but it was simply a tribute to the long-time newspaper career of Pete's dad Jerry. In the early days of typesetting, 'type' meant 'lead type', as in the metal.

Linotype machines, which in the days of 'hot type' were used to produce lead type line by line (each line called a slug) had a wild-ass keyboard arrangement, designed to slow down the operator so the Rube Goldberg-esque mechanisms in the machine wouldn't get jammed when trying to keep up with a fast typist.



A linotype operator would fire up the machine by doing glissandos down the keyboard, producing the nonsense words ETAOIN (first column) SHRDLU (second), and sometimes even CMFWYP (third)

These Dr. Seuss words would sometimes unintentionally find their way into print.



To Pete Mafoosky, Etaoin Shrdlu was part of his DNA and made perfect sense to him (and his bandmates after much convincing). The rest of the world didn't get the joke, though, so eventually like in Joe's Garage, the band broke up, and it looked like, they would never play again.

Speaking of garages, a decade or so earlier, Pete and his 'Irish twin' Andre would hang around in their garage burning stuff and blowing stuff up. Their favorite activities were burning substances with warning labels that specifically said "Keep Away From Flame" like alcohol, acetone, mineral spirits and the like. They also did magnesium strips (easily obtainable at the Toy & Hobby Shop at the mall), which would burn with a spectacular white hot flame until all that was left was a wormy ash of magnesium oxide.  




They also liked those things that turned into black snakes as they burned, giving off the sickening sweet aroma of formaldehyde (which is the simplest aldehyde. Aldehydes are characterized by the functional group CHO -- see that big red juicy oxygen atom?)



They also purchased many a roll of caps which were typically not loaded into cap guns, but blasted by banging them with a hammer.

The burning activities were joint ventures, but most of the time, Pete would be building impossible science projects, with Andre lurking nearby proclaiming "It won't work" at every opportunity. Pete worked on his projects diligently, but most of the time, Andre was right -- won't work.

On a sunny Fourth of July in the town of Shakopee, some 17 miles away from the Mafoosky garage, where the bros were now burning matches and popping caps to celebrate with Uncle Sam, another pair of Irish twins was about to carry out an experiment that definitely did work, with tragic and far-reaching results.

Mickey and Jimmy Logan had built a pipe bomb out of a lead pipe, and gunpowder harvested from shotgun shells that had been found in the back of closet in the basement. They packed the gunpowder into the pipe, and topped it off with a firecracker which would be used as a blasting cap.

Jimmy was a guitar prodigy who played at talent shows and wowed audiences with his renditions of surf hits like Miserlou and Walk Don't Run. Mickey was the younger twin and wasn't musically inclined like his brother, but admired his abilities. Together, they were good at cooking up stunts like this.

They gave each other five, lit the firecracker, then turned and ran like hell behind the garage. They waited with hands over ears for their IED (as something like that would be called in Bushworld years later) to go boom. 

 They cowered for a while, until it became clear that nothing was gonna happen. "Shit. That fuckin firecracker probably went out" said Jimmy. Without warning, Jimmy jumped up and ran toward the IED. Mickey's heart nearly stopped. He screamed "JIMMY DON'T!!!" 

Before those words hit Jimmy's ears, the dang deal exploded, causing a fragment of lead from the pipe to enter his chest cavity, severing his aorta, dropping his blood pressure instantly to 0/0 and flooding his lungs with blood. Hey lay on the ground eyes open, chest bleeding, and upper lip twitching in a permanent sneer.

Mickey meanwhile had shielded his eyes, but not soon enough as a chunk of paper wrapping from one of the shotgun shells pierced his left eyeball. In addition, the shock wave from the explosion entered his left ear, obliterating his left ear drum.

He lay on the ground face down in shock, bleeding, and crying his head off to the point of nearly suffocating.

Meanwhile back in Mafooskyville, Pete and Andre's mom interrupted their incendiary fun. "What are you nummies doing now? You're gonna burn down the house!" Pete wondered if their activities weren't really that bad since they were only "nummies", not something worse. "Get inside!"

Jimmy Logan was buried, the newspapers carried stories warning kids about the dangers of fireworks, McGruff the wonder dog retooled his presentation for his upcoming fall school tour, adding a warning to kids not to play with fireworks unless you want to be another Jimmy Logan. Summer turned to fall, the Mafoosky boys returned to school at St. Ursula Academy, and the Great Eastern State Fair returned for its annual "10 Funtastic Day" run.

The "10 Funtastic Days" marketing trope was the brainchild of one Joanie Dumont, the Fair's Publicity Director. She was 40ish, petite, wore a bouffant hairdo, and swore like a stevedore. Pete and Andre's dad, Jerry, had a part-time job working for Joanie during the fair, churning out press releases and helping local and regional media types who covered the fair for newspaper, radio and TV outlets. The fair attracted fairgoers from Great Eastern States including Aquinnah, Norwottuck, and Acadia so those media types could come from fairly far away places.

Mom even got recruited into working for Joanie one day when she was hanging around the Press Office waiting for Jerry to finish mimeographing some press releases. Pete and Andre were on the way to the midway holding a fistful of ride tickets Joanie had given them to "get those goddamn children out of this office!". Joanie needed a press release written about an act the fair had booked called "Kahuna Elvis", a Hawaiian Elvis impersonator (yes, they even had those when Elvis was still alive!).  His grand finale was singing "How Great Thou Art", while twirling flaming batons stinking of kerosene, as he was surrounded by hula dancers and faux palm trees. His version of "Hunka Hunka Burning Love" was also something else.

Jerry was busy unjamming the mimeograph machine. Joanie went up to Mom and said "Go over to the artists' tent and find this Kahuna guy. Interview him, then come back and write a press release." Mom, who hadn't written anything since she ghost-wrote some of Jerry's college term papers, looked at Joanie like she had two heads. Joanie held her gaze, then barked "What the fuck are you waiting for? Christmas?" Mom got up, grabbed a steno pad, and set out to find the big Kahuna.

The big Kahuna was a charmer and told his life story, which was a little overboard for a press release. After filling a few pages of the steno pad, Mom got up to return to the Press Office, lest Joanie unleash another torrent of obscenities in her general direction. Before leaving, Mom turned to Kahuna and said, "I was wondering if you could talk to a couple of little guys about playing with fire. You 'play with fire' for a living."

Mom wrote that press release, just like those term papers, and Joanie was so happy she gave the boys two fists full of ride tickets then next time they showed up. Three years later, Joanie would die suddenly while carrying a load of laundry upstairs -- a previously undiagnosed congenitally malformed heart valve got stuck open and her lungs filled with blood, just like Jimmy Logan. She never got to dial the "9" in "911".

Before going on those rides, Mom told them, "I want you to meet someone". In walked a tall Hawaiian gentleman who held out his hand and greeted the boys. They were shitting their pants about who this guy was and what he wanted with them. He ended up giving them the standard McGruff the wonder dog speech and asked them if they wanted to end up like that Logan kid, who had made national news.

The other Logan kid, meanwhile, was at home touching the strings of his brother's sea foam green Fender Stratocaster, still raw with the loss. The strings, amazingly still in tune (locking nut!) felt good and reminded him of Jimmy. He picked up the guitar, and strummed a little bit. The strumming felt good, sounded good to his one working ear, and relaxed him a bit. Strumming the open chord a little more rhythmically now, he started to hum, and then started to sing:

"Who is Peter Underdog, Underdog, Underdog?"

Shot of Happiness

Musical accompaniment



Mickey Logan carried his brand new Takamine 6-string guitar into the "1-4-5" studio, which was actually a former bedroom, turned study, and now turned recording studio in the residence of one Peter Underdog, in the town that brought forth the Mass Aggies in the year of our Lord (not to be confused with Lord Jeffrey Amherst), 1863. Mickey had just traded in some random amps, cheap guitars and cash for his new baby.

"Sorry I'm late, I had a ton of shit to do before I could get here", he said in his Irish tenor voice. He left out the fact that the ton of shit didn't start getting done until well after his 11:30 am wakeup time. "No worries, man", said our hero. "I was just finishing a trance gate on this keyboard track". The trance gate was an attempt at making a tune they were about to record less classic rock, and more EDM, although they were both classic rockers at heart. "Speaking of trance", said Mickey, "I've got the merchandise we talked about". He handed over a mini ziploc bag decorated with pumpkins, that looked like something you might hand trick-or-treaters. Inside the bag were two neatly rolled bones, and a brand new BIC butane lighter -- a little bag full of organic chemistry!

Butane is a single chain hydrocarbon, an alkane to be exact:



And now, introducing tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC as it was probably called when McGruff the wonder dog came to your school and warned you about the evils of this stuff.




That molecule looks like it was designed by someone with some serious issues with those aromatic rings, double bonds, hydroxyl, methyls, and a little chain of butane hanging off.

After some musician talk about jazz chords, tensions, and "magic voicings", they got down to business, which was to lay down a guitar track for Bruce and the Hiwatts' latest attempt at cracking the Billboard charts, entitled "Shot of Happiness"

The song itself, which Peter Underdog was still in the process of composing, was an amped up 115 bpm dance track that would sound good on the dance floor of Divas, a skeevy dance club down the road from 1-4-5 and across the Calvin Coolidge Memorial bridge, named for the taciturn man who, on the other side of that bridge, began his epic political ladder climb that culminated with his ass in the chair behind the Oval Office desk that, a few decades later, JFK Jr. would play under.

Our hero rolled the instrumental track, in its current state, as Mickey fiddled around with some strumming patterns that might fit in among the trance-gating synths, and Pet Shop Boys bass line.

After a few attempts, with our hero calling out chord changes a la Paul McCartney in Let it Be teaching the lads Maxwell's Silver Hammer ("E minor" in that Liverpool accent) they had in hand a guitar track replete with funky strumming and interstitial blues/country flourishes. With a little compression, EQ, stereoizing, and reverb, Mickey's Takamine jumped out of the mix.




Mickey packed up the Takamine as he had to run off for a duo gig with Bruce at the Waterfront in Thorndike. 

"When you smoke it, don't forget to carburate. Get some oxygen in your lungs first or you'll cough them up ". Our hero, up to this point, had been strictly a second-hand smoker of any substances of a mind-altering nature. Second hand smoke could be mind-altering enough, for example, on the Town Common during the annual "Extravaganja" rally.

After Mickey rolled off to his gig, our hero listened to the fruit of their labor a few times, hoping to get some lyrical ideas. The track was in progress to the point that the arrangement had not been finalized and at the point of what was supposed to be a breakdown with a sequence of jazz chords, it simply broke down into a chaotic mess of sequenced synth pops.



A few lyrical attempts yielded mostly scratched-out phrases of awkwardity. Our hero left 1-4-5 and headed for the TV to watch the rest of ABC News With Spokesmodel Dakin Moire, and then a rerun of Modern Family.

Jay and Gloria were checking out a crypts in a cemetary where the corpses resided for eternity in file cabinet like spaces which were valued and sold like condos. The "residents" aka the deceased were expected to abide by the rules of the community or they would be shunned by their fellow corpi dilecti. 

Our hero turned off the TV perplexed at what fellow humans considered entertainment and now turned his attention to that Halloween candy. He had asked Mickey to score him some 'moichendise', hoping that it would help with the pain of recovery from open heart surgery, which was now centered on the sternum which was knitting itself back together. In addition, (lagniappe if you so prefer) it might facilitate getting some lyrics written. A picnic table in the backyard at dusk would be where he would lose his drug virginity.

He was way past being the 40 Year Old Pot Virgin, had many opportunities to get lit up in all those bands over the years but remained a stoic second-hand smoker. His doctor even upbraided him once for being a musician who didn't smoke weed.  

The bone was carefully and lovingly rolled with one end clearly the smoking end, and the other clearly the business end. He fired up the butane which burned blue for a second and lit the business end. Moment of truth. The red glow on the business end faded to a little wisp of that well-known aroma before going out. Shit. 

Once more with feeling. He lit a little more of the bone this time, trying to strike a balance between burning off too much goodness and having another flame-out. Success. Here we go. He took a partial breath followed by a toke. The smoke felt hot but pleasant as he held in, but that good feeling then morphed into a hacking cough. Not enough carburetion he thought.

Toke two. More air less smoke, held in, so far so good. A couple more. This is getting easier. Ok, Mickey said just try a few then stub it out, which he did with his fingers. He went back to Modern Family. Somebody wore someone else's new sweater and ripped a big hole in it, so a parental unit proceeded to go on a wild goose chase looking for an exact replacement. Funny stuff!!!! Or was it the cannabinoids beginning to work their magic. TV off, back to lyrics.

Our hero had scratched out one prototype line in his notebook, along with some chords. 

Hey you out-of-towners
You mood swing up and downers
Come and get a shot of happiness



The shot of happiness was supposed to be the song itself, given to those in need for whatever reason. The rest of the lyrics would be snowcloned from that, in the same way that X is the new Y, or X's hair makes Y's hair look like Z's hair (tip of the pin to the Zipster for that last one). Hey you X, you Y, come and get...

So how do you solve for X and Y? Brainstorm. Sticks and stoners, bitchers and moaners, down and outers, data in the clouders, freedom fighters (as in those who are opposed to freedom), lefties and righters, 420 smokers (how did he think of that one??!!), poppers and tokers. The words were flowing like old man river. We do the jazz break, then repeat the whole song at double speed in reverse and done!




After that flurry of writing and toking and and sticking and stoning, and data in the cloud (in this case, from a yellow legal pad to Google Drive), our hero thought to himself through his aromatic hydrocarbon haze:

"Who IS Peter Underdog?"

Friday, October 14, 2016

Anna Supernova

 Musical accompaniment: 


Pete Mafoosky, an itinerant mathematician from the state of Mass, was standing on a corner in Winslow, Arizona, looking for fine sights to see. He was in AZ visting UAW (University of Arizona at Winslow) on his ongoing mathematical tour, seeking out collaborators in hopes of cracking the finitistic dimension conjecture. 



These visits, which typically lasted for 2-3 weeks at a time, usually yielded interesting partial results for special cases, but never a once-and-for-all cracking of this elusive nut. The upside for this life as a mathematical wanderer was that it had secured him a somewhat stable financial existence, which was sparse, but met his fairly simple needs -- a slice of Hawaiian pizza for lunch at the campus commons, crashing on a couch in the home of his collaborator du semaine, showers in university gyms. His idea of business casual was his collection of Nirvana t-shirts and Old Navy jeans and "Mass Aggie 1863" hats, throwbacks to when the University of Mass was a land-grant agricultural college. 

There was an unwritten rule that had propagated to schools of higher mathematical larnin' nationwide that when Prof. Mafoosky was in residence, he would be allowed to show up at the Bursars Office at any given time and request $60 in cash. While this was a potentially profitable privilege, he was studious about using it sparingly, only to refresh the pizza money, or when random walking-around cash was needed.

At this particular moment, mathematics wasn't on his mind. His other passion, music, was calling. As a child of the 60's, 70's, and 80's, he couldn't visit Winslow, AZ without visiting that corner, made famous by the Eagles (w/an assist from Jackson Browne) in the song 'Take it Easy'

Well, I'm a-standin' on a corner in Winslow, Arizona
Such a fine sight to see
It's a girl, my Lord, in a flat-bed Ford
Slowin' down to take a look at me



There was a bronze man "Standin' On The Corner" in perpetuity, waiting for the flat-bed Ford to pull up.

Meanwhile, in another layer of space-time, specifically, June 16, 1963, Valentina Tereshkova passed overhead, orbiting in Vostok 6. She was on her 7th of what would be 48 orbits around the Earth. She was the first woman in space, a 'cosmonautess' if you will, but nobody in the Russian space program thought of it as a big deal. She was just another hot-shot pilot turned cosmonaut and could control the stick and rudder (and therefore, capsule) as well as, and for the most part, better than, any of the Nikolais, or Yuris, or Sergeys in Star City.

Her mission, officially, was to orbit the Earth, something Americans were still figuring out in baby steps. A couple of months earlier, US Astronaut Gordo Cooper had completed a measly 22 orbits in his spam can. Her unofficial mission, however was to observe, from space, a top secret experiment being carried out in Star City. Russian scientists had been experimenting with a system for powering rocket engines with neutrons. While neutrons are usually considered the drones of atomic particles, they can unleash great power when catylyzed by inert gas compounds, which are not technically compounds, but atoms forced together with subatomic forces created in particle colliders. Valentina had been part of the R & D team for the project and was excited about seeing the work finally come to fruition. Success would mean Russian dominance in the space race for decades to come, and outer planet exploration.

An experimental neutron engine, built to small scale, had been mounted on a launch platform in Star City. The experiment was to set the inert gas catlyst reaction, using "Black Neon", an inert gas pseudo-compound consisting of neon, xenon, and peroxide anions. The reaction could only be allowed to take place for milliseconds while data was gathered, then shut down to avoid any unexpected spiraling out of control.

After a stream of radio chatter from Earth to space and control center to launch pad, an arthritic finger shook as it came down on a green button on a control console. The reaction was underway, set to automatically shut down milliseconds after it began. 

As the electrical contacts under the button completed the circuit and started the catylization, the finger on the button vanished from existence. The button vanished. The console, and all the scientists with eyes intently on the video screens vanished, along with the video screens. The launch pad was a crater. Everything within a 2 km radius had been compressed into a black hole. The brevity of the reaction had limited the scope but this was an unmitigated disaster. 

The black hole set in motion an infinitely small but infinitely powerful shock wave that traveled on a hyperbolic arc through spacetime, passing directly through that corner in, guess where, Winslow, AZ, 2003 CE, where our hero, Pete Mafoosky, was standing.

He blinked his eyes, which were temporarily blinded by the flash of photons that passed through him, and when he opened them, he found himself freezing in nearly subzero temperatures, inside a metal can, sitting next to a lady cosmonaut. He reached up to feel his head to see if was still attached, and noticed that he was wearing dog ears made of some kind of synthetic material. His Nirvana t-shirt had been replaced by a bright red lycra spandex long sleeve warmup shirt with a bright "U" over the solar plexus. 

Anna Supernova, known seconds before as Valentina Tereshkova, still in a state of shock from the disaster she had just witnessed below on Earth, looked at her new traveling companion, and immediately felt a sense of calm (Nirvana if you like) come over her. She said to her copilot "I know you. You are Peter Underdog."

Pete Mafoosky, his breath by now fogging up the capsule, said:

"Who is Peter Underdog?"