Jake Armerding

Jake Armerding is the author of five albums of original music, along with a short-form recording as a member of his alter-ego instrumental ensemble, The Fretful Porcupine. After joining a farm CSA in 2009, he adopted the idea for his own projects, and launched Community Supported Art in late 2011. He lives in Boston.

“Music is a moral law.” –Plato

I love music because it can’t be conquered.  No one will ever get to the end of music, solve it or master it, although it can be dumbed down.

I love music because it is only occasionally black and white.  It deigns to be black and white only because it represents all colors, and black and white technically qualify as colors.  Music has no more desire to be black or white than it does chartreuse.

I love music because no one should make it because they feel required to.  I don’t mean musicians don’t have a responsibility to make it; rather, I mean anyone who isn’t making it because they love to, probably shouldn’t be.  Music is there to be made, or not, just as you please.  It is the opposite of bills, jogging, taxes, health insurance and laundry.

I love music because it’s such an easy way to get happy.

Music is good for you.  What some people do to music can be bad for you, but music itself is good and does not require moderation.  It is good for weekdays, the weekend, holidays, Sundays, cloudy days, sunny days, fast days, slow days, work or play, alone or with friends, home or traveling, relaxed or serious, weddings and funerals and Tuesdays, year-round.  And it is especially good for boredom.

I love music because it is free and unregulated, and anyone can make it.

I love music because it is never offended by incompetence.  It’s very patient with my pitiful efforts.

I love music because it’s like food:  after you’ve made it, you can enjoy it.  Also like food, music can be complex or simple and still be delicious.  It’s also better than food:  once made, it can’t be used up.

I love music because no one can spoil it.  It can be insulted and abused, adulterated and prostituted, but music is never harmed for good.  It still exists in its pure form, ready and willing for somebody more humble to visit.

I love music because it is not of this earth.  It has its own dimension.  We hear ourselves in music, but we also hear something else, something we can’t quite wrap our minds around.  It is beyond us.

I love music because it is better than I am.  It is more beautiful, cleverer, stronger, truer and more creative, and I have to respect that.

But most of all, I love how music makes no sense.  Life is terrible when it is made up only of things that make sense.  In this way, music is both an escape from real life and a glimpse of what life is really all about.  Music is impractical and pointless and absolutely vital to existence.  Perhaps the best observation of this is found in Oscar Wilde’s introduction to his novel The Picture of Dorian Gray, when he declares, “All art is quite useless.”

Music would never make the traditional list of basic human needs:  food, shelter, clothing.  But just see how long you could get along without it.

 

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There’s Nothing Finer Than a Fedders

We had a pretty big week at our house. Actually it was just one day of the week, and a small part of that day, about one second long … but that one second made the whole week. It was a Movie Moment.

A Movie Moment is when you very briefly get to star in your own movie. It’s when something occurs that is so utterly perfect or fateful or cliché or tragic, it feels scripted. You almost expect to hear “Aaannnnd … Cut!”

These moments are best when they impart some deep meaning to your life. If life just picks up where it left off, you still feel pretty important and universal — after all, you did just star in a movie — but you’re not really a changed man. You’re just very pleased with yourself.

Well, our moment had deep, profound significance for me.

Ours is the kind of household that cares — rather too much, perhaps — about recycling. To that end, we’ve discovered a marvelous online community called the Freecycle Network. It’s simple and brilliant: instead of tossing something away, one first posts it on a list service to see if someone else wants it; if she does, it’s hers. These objects can be anything, from frying pans to computers to food to dirt. It’s the world’s biggest junk pile, and like any junk pile, you find the occasional, slightly battered gold nugget. There’s also the obvious environmental benefit of passing this stuff on to new owners instead of sending it to a landfill; plus, the original owner avoids any potential effort or fees involved with disposal. Everybody wins.

My wife, an intrepid Freecyclist, recently tracked down an ancient air conditioner. We dutifully rescued it from eternal decomposition in some scrapyard, hauled it home and dragged it upstairs and put it in the window and plugged it in and it works — well, it groans to life and dims all the lights in the building and produces a small trickle of cool air. But in a wintry economic climate (and a stifling meteorological one), free A/C is not to be scoffed at.

It is a Fedders. (Yeah, I haven’t either.) Their motto is, “There’s Nothing Finer Than Fedders.” It is brown. It is ugly. It is absurdly heavy. I don’t know when it was manufactured, but when was the last time you saw a brown air conditioner, the late 1980s? If it were a car, it would be a Ford Crown Victoria station wagon, or just something big, heavy and unpredictable.

This summer, we’ve been using our air conditioner more often, just like you. For various reasons, we decided a few weeks ago to move it from the bedroom to the living room. Then, last night, we decided to move it back.

It was a dark and stormy night.

I’m not kidding; when we get that sucker back inside, it’s soaked. “Slippery when wet,” I quip, puffing and stumbling across the floor and back into the bedroom, where I deposit it, along with a few well-chosen oaths, on the windowsill. We begin edging it back out over nothingness. Soon, the Crucial Moment arrives: as the hindquarters of the unit gradually project out into space, one must lift its front bottom lip over the lip of the windowsill; having done so, one must then support the infernal weight of the unit while one’s boon companion carefully but quickly lowers (quickly, quickly, for crying out loud) the window with the object of trapping the upper lip of the A/C unit against the bottom of the window (Figure 1). Then, all being well, everyone exhales with relief and steps back to admire the dubious physics of an inch of plastic molding preventing a huge leaden beast machine from jumping to a watery oblivion.

 

Sadly, all was not well.

In the midst of the Crucial Moment I make a grievous error: having opted to counterbalance the weight of the appliance by positioning the ends of my fingers along the upper lip of the front and pulling towards myself, I now have nowhere to put them once the window descends — they are in the no-man’s-land between the lip of the A/C unit and the bottom of the window (see Figure 2). Also, everything is wet.

Somewhere between requesting a slight raise of the window and attempting to reposition my fingers along the edge, it slips. It’s like a fish — like a scaly fish, which would like nothing better than to jump through your hands and swim away from you. This air conditioner doesn’t jump so much as leap — it positively scampers out, I swear I hear a “Wheeeeee!” as it exits — and I know we’ve done it, we’ve really done it. We’ve dropped the air conditioner out the window.

This was an important moment in my life. Something big was happening. Something big was falling.

And it was at that moment, my friends, that I knew, in my secret heart of hearts, that I have always wanted to drop an air conditioner out the window.

Why? Because it’s asking for it. There was a day in history when the founding fathers of air conditioning sat around a table to decide how best to install their enormous, staggeringly heavy metal appliances in the home. And guess what they came up with? After much discussion, I’m sure, the winning solution was to mount the unit by its very edge in an open window with nearly the entire mass suspended over thin air, supported by nothing — unless one is handy with tools and takes the initiative to build a brace beneath the window and nail it to the house. (Presuming of course that one owns the house — our landlord generally gives us the thumbs-down on punching big, round holes in the siding. By the way, I know what you’re thinking, but don’t worry, my landlord’s not on this email list. I checked.) But of all the air conditioners I’ve seen hanging out of windows, I’ve seen maybe four braces. It just isn’t done.

I remember being mystified as a kid as to why these things weren’t falling out all the time; seems like all it would take is a decent bump and whoops — here’s seventy pounds of rushing metal, sponsored by gravity.

It’s just that a window air conditioner is so heavy, and is balanced so precariously, and when it falls on you, you are not bruised or maimed, but dead.

With this in mind, one would think my immediate reaction upon dropping it was abject terror. One would be right. But that was not my only reaction; I must say, there is also a certain thrill to the experience. And, if I am honest, an element of humor, too.

It could be a guy thing, but there is a deep, mysterious gratification in causing a heavy object to fall from the top of something to the bottom, where, with luck, it smashes. It’s a primitive impulse, but we must acknowledge it. Now, I enjoy it much more when I know no one will be hurt (at least permanently) by my enjoyment. But I confess the inner demon child in me will always love throwing dirt clods into the road, rocks into the river and, apparently, air conditioners into urban space — and have a hard time feeling guilty about it afterwards.

I’m happy to say that this albatross, this anvil of technology, came to rest in nothing more than wet sod. No one was hurt; no one, that is, but Fedders. I’m sorry to say that, whatever our Freecycling intentions, we have bowed to the inevitable, and shall be visiting our local superstore to purchase a new air conditioner.

Maybe there’s a brown one lurking in the back room.

 

Cheap Vertigo

Only in the modern day can one hike an Alp in the morning and be home for a late dinner in Boston. (Of course, the time change helps too.)

Greetings from Switzerland, which I had the good fortune to visit over the last week thanks to a kinship with the DC-based folk-pop ensemble Eddie From Ohio. The band, whose members often invite me along as utility instrumentalist, was the guest of honor at the U.S. Embassy Independence Day Celebration in Bern. This was my first international performance of the “Star Spangled Banner.”

So much cheese, so little time. I did my best, and have the cholesterol spike to prove it. Raclette, Gruyère, Emmental … let me count the ways.

On the plane ride home, I had a hard time adhering to my mandate not to watch bad movies. (I had already watched all the good ones.) I got through on a technicality — I watched a TV show instead. And I don’t know who does the programming for Swiss Air inflight entertainment, but she’s a creative obscurist:  the show I watched, in all its Looney-Tuned glory, was a Road Runner cartoon.

"The whole thing has a real Purgatorial bent."

How has no one ever deconstructed this show? It is a psychological wonderland. I’m going to proceed on the assumption we’re all familiar with it. (If not, you know what to do.)

It’s easier to suspend disbelief when you’re a kid, of course, and I remember being utterly fascinated by this cartoon. The premise may be the most basic imaginable:  a predator stalks his prey, but never quite succeeds, with humorous results. There’s a Skinner-box mechanism in there somewhere. But here are a few ideas to chew over: do we want the Coyote to succeed? Why?  Is he a true antagonist, or just a tragic figure at the mercy of his own hubris? The lines are pretty blurred here. The fact that we spend so much time with the Coyote, along with his chronic, inevitable failures — each of which is at least painful, if not fatal — would suggest him as a tragic figure deserving our empathy. But the simple truth is, he’s trying to do in a cute, happy bird, which is villainous behavior if ever there was.

What’s the catharsis level here? We’re not dealing with Oedipus or Lear, obviously, but is there not a greater sense of relief that the Coyote’s humiliations and deaths are only temporary than our relief that the Road Runner is never caught? Should the writers have finally “killed Superman,” that is to say, allowed the Road Runner to meet his end, so as to turn pathos on its head? Suddenly, for the first time, our sympathies would be with the indestructible, happy-go-lucky protagonist — except, by definition, they should have been with him already. (I’m going to assume the Road Runner is male, for how many girls would spend their time getting chased around a desert? Incidentally, though, one could mount a convincing sexual deconstruction of the show along the lines of pursuer/pursued.)

Speaking of desert, we really owe it to ourselves to take a look at the setting, which is rivaled in its pure ingenuity by only one other cartoon — that of course would be Calvin and Hobbes — and was the thing that kept me enraptured as a kid. Where in the world do these characters live?!? It’s a Southwest United States on steroids, with all the boring (read: flat) parts removed and only the exciting (read: sharp) rock formations allowed to remain. The number of chasms into which the Coyote can plummet is increased by a factor of twenty. And there is a road, of course, off of which the Road Runner never, ever steps, featuring hundreds of hairpin turns and absolutely no guard rails, which allows the writers to indulge in the Coyote’s complete inability to corner.

The ultimate, archetypal image — the one I never tired of seeing and the writers never tired of exploiting — was the bird’s-eye camera shot of the Coyote vanishing into a mile of sandy oblivion, his final impact always celebrated with a short “bang” and located by the ubiquitous, small puff of dust. This is the five seconds of pure genius that kept me, and I wager every kid, coming back for more. It’s cheap vertigo. Vanishing points like this don’t exist in the United States. You just can’t get that high up and look down over a sheer drop — we’ve got mountains, yeah, but these are heights in extremis. It has that perfect amount of fantastic otherworldliness that allows the kid to buy into it — is it Mars, or is it Utah?

Where does the Coyote’s endless supply of interesting, absurd products come from? Well, the ACME Company, sure, but where is this company, how do they transport their products and, most importantly, are they still around and how can I get in touch with them? I wouldn’t be shocked to learn they’d gone out of business, as most of these items — enormous dynamite rockets, dehydrated boulders — can’t have been cheap to make, yet not a single one of them works. High overhead and poor performance is the quickest way to find yourself out on the street in this economy.

One could certainly read into the Coyote’s favoring technology to accomplish his aims versus the Road Runner’s simple use of “natural gifts.” (One could also read into the Coyote’s perpetual failure when using this approach and his dogged refusal to adjust his strategy, too.)

What does the Coyote eat? We know what the Road Runner eats: birdseed from traps the Coyote sets for him. But the Coyote never catches his prey, and we have to assume this solitary road runner is the only option for a carnivore in the entire desert, as we never see another one. No wonder he is Eternalii famishiis. The whole thing has a real Purgatorial bent.

So, looking at our notes, we infer that America’s dependence on technology will ultimately result in eternal exile to a hot, barren landscape featuring everlasting frustration, pain and hunger.

And vertigo.