I have some very creative friends! Big thanks to my girl Amy Wang for making me these fantastic record dividers. Way better than the plain white dividers I currently use.
Every once in a while I come upon a song that just floors me. Something about it just uppercuts me, knocks me out, and the feeling is bliss. Unfortunately, what follows is disaster. I drop everything and rush to find out the name of the song, and once I have it… it’s disgusting. I listen to the song over, and over, and over again – ad nauseum. Sometimes 10-20 times straight for a few days, until I eventually OD. At which point, I can not stand to hear even the bassline. I’ve lost my taste for a lot of great songs because of this awful habit and I’m now very wary of it, sometimes going cold-turkey from a song just so it doesn’t lose that buzz.
This sort of thing happens every few months. Last few hits I can recall were when DJ Lucky played “Debra Lewis – What You Gonna Do?” at his Slow Jams night. I ran to the stage and jotted down the title and label, only to buy it online that very night. Another time, DJ Slopoke was rocking Churchkey for Beer with Soul and then unleashed a “Crazy” cover by Booker T that I had to get that instant. I went home and listened to it until I puked, figuratively.
Unfortunately, I wasn’t careful, and at the moment, I do not have a taste for either song.
And here’s the news: just a little over an hour ago, I started listening to what I know will be a fantastic mix by DJ Cortez that he did for Wicked Jazz Sounds. Right away this mix is a head nodder and just what I need for this long and seemingly endless workday. The mix started off right, but I haven’t gotten passed the third song – the song that propelled me to write about this ‘music = drug’ addiction: Lynn Carey and Neil Merryweather’s “Five Days on the Trail”. I’m currently on listen number 5 or 6 and I’m not sure I’m going to stop anytime soon. I know it’s going to be bad for me, and I won’t be able to listen to it in the future. But the current me wants to feel this high.
Some photos from 2009 graduation day. Miss you B.
A year has passed since I started journaling this adventure and now it is time to thoughtfully reflect. I have gained a lot, learned more, and lost an unfathomable amount. And fortunately, I have made some new friends along the say.
Project-wise, The 45 Brains has been a busy place. The goal for this past year was to learn as much as I could about music through the vehicle of the 45 rpm record. To that end, I did my best to attend as many DJ events and parties as I could; The 45 Sessions was instrumental in that vein among a few other parties. I also tried to pick as many brains as possible. I learned a lot from chatting with people like DJ Lucky, Primo, Nick Waterhouse, Skeme Richards, and the man who has become my mentor, Dick Vivian of Rooky Ricardo’s. And to flex my research muscles, I started a collaboration called #45Fridays with friend and fellow collector Reggae Delgado and I began writing 45 spotlights for Hot Peas and Butter, a true honor.
But most importantly, I bought a ton of records to learn from. Over the last year and a half, I spent about 11% of my annual income on this adventure. That is, one out of every ten dollars I earned was funneled into The 45 Brains. It’s not too bad though because sooner or later it will pay for itself, and become sustainable. Although I’m currently seeing red.
And with such a monetary investment comes a massive time commitment to match. I started The Juggernaut Database as a system to catalog and learn about the records I procure, and it has been grueling. The JD is by far the most demanding aspect of this journey and I am glad I chose an adequate name to describe it. I am no where near a completion point.
But I anticipate that folks will be keen to see that hard work pays off. These are people who took a chance on me. I especially want to thank DJ M3 (owner of Black Pancake Records) for letting me spin at his club’s grand opening in December and then again to kick off the new year. I truly appreciate the support, sponsorship, and teachings of this man. And to pay him back, I recently started a monthly party called The Payback at Monarch, a party that I have big plans for. I also want to thank DJ Lucky for inviting me to spin with him at Slow Jamz, DJ Keybumps for letting me open his event, Soul Stax, and to DJ Primo for inviting me to spin with him this friday at Oldies Night. And of course to DJ T.O.D. who gave me my debut gig at Koko’s and to all my friends (old and new!) who keep coming to see me play records, dancing, and supporting.
And undoubtedly, I have learned the most from Dick Vivian who has become a very close friend. Him and I have collaborated on a a number of projects (all of which were his ideas) under the name Get Sama Dick (also his idea). We have played records together at different events but our favorite have to be the soul parties at the Verdi Club, organized by Dusty Stax and The Bold Italic. I’ve learned a lot from Dick and I hope to continue on that route.
But as I have said, this past year has been rife with loss. Five key people have stepped out of my life. This past year is for them, and more; I will always think of you. With a wholehearted love, I dedicate myself to the memory of the times we have shared together. And I look forward to a (hopefully) fantastic new year.
Enter: Here begins…
The 45 Brains: Year Two.
This past Sunday was what would have been the 25th birthday of my brother Bobby Mozia, who passed away a few months ago. It was a special day for a lot of us who were, and still are, close to him. And in keeping with the epic lifestyle that he lived, his birthday just so happened to be the same day as “Bay to Breakers”, one of San Francisco’s massive citywide parties. I could not help but feel that everyone was celebrating something special and doing their best to enjoy life. And to make me smile even more, there also happened to be a solar eclipse on the same day. I know that Bobby would have given some fantastic speech about how the moon, the sun, and the entire city of San Francisco are celebrating his birth. He always had that kind of enthusiasm and love for the outrageous.
Well, since I finally have some downtime between projects, this seems like a good point in time to flesh out my thoughts on “Level II” of Reaching Sherlock Holmes Status. If you have not already done so, take a quick detour and read up on Level I: Knowledge.
‘When I hear you give your reasons,’ I remarked, ‘the thing always appears to me to be so ridiculously simple that I could easily do it myself, though at each successive instance of your reasoning I am baffled, until you explain your process. And yet I believe that my eyes are as good as yours.’
‘Quite so,’ he answered, lighting a cigarette, and throwing himself down into an armchair. ‘You see, but you do not observe. The distinction is clear. For example, you have frequently seen the steps which lead up from the hall to this room.’
‘Well, some hundreds of times.’
‘Then how many are there?’
‘How many! I don’t know.’
‘Quite so! You have not observed. And yet you have seen. That is just my point. Now, I know that there are seventeen steps, because I have both seen and observed.’ (Holmes teaches Watson a lesson in “A Scandal in Bohemia”)
Level II: Observation
Whenever I pick up a new endeavor (I despise the word “hobby”), I do my best to see what the professionals are doing. When you start off, these are the people you want to emulate and, in the future, outperform. In addition to accruing facts and building up a decent knowledge base (see Level I), you also have to build muscle memory by practically swimming in your craft. Like any other skill, you can’t become the best simply by reading books. You also have to train.
The traditional method, which hardly anyone does anymore, was to apprentice under a grand master. You would work hard, sweep the floors, wash the laundry, and do all the cooking; and, throughout your tenure, your teacher would fill your head with gems of knowledge and you would grow to fill his or her shoes. This is the route I have been striving towards. Each sunday I go to the record shop and get immersed. I help clean up the shop, move crates around, organize records, and help customers. And once a month I spin at Monarch Lounge where DJ M3 looks out for me by teaching me the tricks of the trade.
And all the while, I do my best to see and observe.
And as Sherlock pointed out, there is a big difference between seeing and observing. The former is passive, the latter is active and full of intent. In essence, one must see with a goal in mind. This is a little difficult to explain when it comes to learning about soul music. But, what I do is reach out to DJs and record collectors who have been in the game for a long time and connect with them. And although these people have lives of their own, it does not mean that I am necessarily limited. I suppose an example of what I mean by observation would be helpful.
Each month, I go to The 45 Sessions, a monthly all-7-inch dance party in Oakland, and I pay attention to what the DJs are actually doing. Not just paying attention to what they play, but how they play it. For example, how and when they transition from one song to another, how they handle the records, how they troubleshoot. And all the while, I note the crowd’s response and my own gut reactions. And I do this practically at all events that I go to now.
But opportunities for observation are not limited to these outings. I also listen to as many mixes as I can get my hands on, and replay them constantly while paying attention to the transitions. In essence, the whole observation philosophy can be summed up in a piece of advice that Skeme gave me at the first 45 Sessions I attended: “take notes on what to do, and what not to do”.
That’s some real Sherlock Holmes advice.
And for me, observation is not limited to the music world. For instance, due to repeated viewings of Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai, I have not been able to watch any movie since without paying explicit attention to scene transitions, the musical score, and how characters are framed on the screen. My appreciation for film (and music) has shot through the roof because of this “active seeing”. And in addition, I gain a greater appreciation for life because I constantly pay attention to details that others might take for granted or completely miss.
Stay tuned for the final level of Reaching Sherlock Holmes Status.
“I could not help laughing at the ease with which he explained his process of deduction.” (J. Watson)
We are just a few days from closing the year. In reflection, 2011 had many ups and even more downs. Moments have passed when thoughts of giving up ran through my mind, and other times when I felt inspired to conquer the world. It may have been a terrible year, but I have learned a lot through it; although I can’t shake the feeling that it may not have been worth the agony.
That was quite the unexpected and dramatic start. What I really wanted to write about was nostalgia, and in a good way.
I recently watched Midnight in Paris at my friend Pu’s house, and the movie really resonated with me. I’m always skeptical about Woody Allen films but this one was perfect. The protagonist, Gil Pender, a writer, hopes to reach a level of poetic grandeur reminiscent of what he considers to be the golden age of writing and art, America in the 1920’s. And I was right there with him. He is full of nostalgic feelings about an age that is seemingly far away. I say seemingly because the beauty and magic of the film emerges when Pender accidentally travels back in time to the very golden era he adores. And there he meets the greats: Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Dali, Picasso, Cole Porter, Man Ray, and many more.
Pender gets to meet the men he idolizes and gets a rare chance to flesh out ideas with them, a dream I have always had. And although he is drawn to remain among the greats, in the end, he settles for his own time. The moral of the story being, without spoiling the ending, that one must learn to love the present without trying to live in the past. I, however, find that difficult to achieve because hindsight is 20/20 while “nowsight” is blurry and unclear.
In the present, I wonder about the future. Not in the sense of “what will the future hold?” kind of way. It’s obvious that technological, medical, political (hopefully), and creative advancements are expected in the future, even in the near future. But my wonderment has more to do with reflection. How will the people of the future, how will we in the future, see and understand the current past?
I realize the slippery grammatical slope I’m on, and the scientist in me is screaming for more concrete, understandable examples.
e.g. The 1960’s were only half a century ago. And, having never lived through them, I view them through the lens of nostalgia. I wonder about late night chats with my heroes during their prime. To really figure out what the young Muhammad Ali’s and JB’s had to say when they were starting out. And in 50 years, the 2010’s will also be half a century ago. And I wonder what the kids of 2060 will reflect on most. Who stood out during my time? Who was a paradigm shifter?
I can point to President Obama or Steve Jobs as obvious answers. But when it comes to music, it’s difficult (for me) to guess, or anticipate.
I think most likely this era will be considered a time of rapid technological advancement. And that the young adults of the 2060’s will have nostalgic thoughts about then obsolete landlines, ethernet cables, and dvd players (technologies that are already becoming obsolete). But I wonder what music they will turn to? I want to know the thought pattern of the future kid that sets out to collect “rare” CDs and mp3s from the turn of the century. And brags about how nobody plays vintage music anymore.
In truth, I’m full of nostalgia. It stems from a deep love for good music, which pushes me away from the current trends to the classic tunes. But it is more than just music. I have a love affair with entire eras of American history: the dress codes of the early days, when people used to wear dresses and suits to the movies; the black and white low-budget films; the open space for creativity. Of course I’m referring to a more idealistic nostalgia (this is a common symptom of the disease). I mean, let’s not get it twisted… I’m glad I can vote now haha.
But the question still stands: I’m currently walking around during a time when someone, right now, is doing something so improbably amazing, that it will be considered a turning point for music 50 years from now. But who are you paradigm shifter?
Midnight in Paris is a wonderful movie and I highly recommend it, especially to the romantics in the crowd. Not to mention it has the beautiful Marion Cotillard, who is made to look even more gorgeous and… French than ever before, although I did not think it possible.
Plus she’ll be in the upcoming Batman Movie. Am I falling in love? Maybe if I was born in another time.
I wouldn’t be taking advantage of my records if I wasn’t listening to them all the time, especially at work or on the go. But I obviously can’t be expected to constantly carry a turntable and a stack of 45s around with me. That’s just silly, but there is an obvious alternative. I just need to digitize the records (easy!) and listen to them on my ipod, which seemingly solves the problem of portability and access.
But after digitizing about 150 records (~300 songs), I realized I was returning to an old pattern of play. Even though I had the records at home, transforming them into an iTunes list of song names really depleted the music of something… essential. It felt like business as usual and reminded me of how things used to be before I started The 45 Brains. But fortunately, I have taken drastic measures to avoid this “digital corruption” by starting a new project.
I call it “The Juggernaut Database”.
I’ll be straight about this, this new project is hard work and will take a long time to complete. But the beauty of it lies in the work required to complete it. In essence, the problem I was beginning to have with my digitized collection was that I was losing touch with the physical records. I was filtering all of the sensory information associated with vinyl down to a bland pill, to just another song name in a list. My interaction with the music was becoming passive, as it once was long ago. In contrast, The Juggernaut Database aims to remedy this issue by forcing me to interact with each record I care about. For instance, I recently input a batch of 30 records into The Database and it took me about 5 days of on-and-off work, that I did in the mornings between the hours of 7-9am. And the effects are immediate. Let me walk you through my 7-step program.
(1) The Batch
There are a lot of steps that need to be taken before a record enters The Database. So you’d assume it may be best to go record by record, focusing on one 45 at a time. But instead, I decided to batch a bunch of records (30 to be exact) into a “working pile”. I try to pick different artists and labels for diversity’s sake and this has a surprising added benefit. Songs in the working pile come to be associated with each other because they go through the process together, which means I handle and listen to them as a rough 2-3 hour mix instead of on a song-by-song basis. Each song now fits within the context of the batch.
(2) The Raw Scan
The most obvious thing that is missing from my digitized collection is the visual information of each record. By which I mean the colors, scratches, stickers, and designs that make each record unique. The Raw Scan is integrally important, and it takes forever to get through! But I get to feel, handle, and see both sides of each record and therefore develop a strong connection with the record.
(3) The Album Cover
Next, I open up photoshop. Each scan (for a batch of 30 records, that’s ~60 scans!) is rotated, cropped, and transformed to bring out all the beauty inherent in each record. This opens up the potential for future artistic work too.
(4) The Digitization
This part is obvious and necessary. I go from vinyl to AIFF (not mp3) because you can attach meta data and the sound quality is practically the same as a wav file. I attach my mixer to my macbook pro and record on audacity (free software, eh). I play the records straight off of the 1200s.
(5) The Transition Playlist
I put all of the newly recorded songs into a temporary playlist; this is my favorite part. Here I BPM each song, pick out a genre that makes sense to me (I have my own system that I adopted from Dick Vivian), and I repeatedly listen to the batched songs at work. I finally attach an “album cover” to each song which is basically the cleaned up scan. The ~60 songs will sit in this transition playlist, as a rough mix, for as long as I need them to. Until I feel that I know each song by heart before I move them out into…
(6) The Juggernaut Database
Here, I don’t search for songs by name, but instead pick them out by the “album art”, just like I would if my box of 45s was in front of me. Each record is also numbered and I input the information into a mega-excel file.
(7) The Purple Sleeve
Once a record gets put into The Database, it gets a new purple sleeve and a sticker with the song names and BPMs. I got the idea for this from DJ Foxx Boogie who told me that DJ Froz1 does something similar. So when I’m home I can immediately see how much work I have in front of me because only a small fraction of the collection has this color sleeve.
And that’s The Juggernaut Database; a.k.a. the way for me to re-establish my connection with vinyl. Each record now requires an inordinate amount of work and effort from me, so I no longer feel disconnected when I’m at lab and listening to my digitized playlist. The songs aren’t just abstract files on my computer but instead maintain a more meaningful existence. And searching for songs in The Database now has that “at home” feeling. Overall, I would say it takes about 30 minutes for a record, from start to finish, to enter The Database, but the time is all worth it.
Lesson? Music shouldn’t be a passive experience. Take action and engage with it!
Three weeks ago, on October 22nd, I woke up happy. I had a great time at The 45 Sessions the night before and I was excited about starting a new organization system for my record collection. But about ten minutes after waking up, I notice a text message from my best friend Nelsa: “Call me asap. Something happened”. I start praying that it was nothing serious but I rushed into the backyard anyways to make sure I got full service on the phone.
My best friend and brother, Robert Mozia, had passed away. He was 24 years old.
I’m not going to make public the anguish and devastation that comes with this kind of loss. Needless to say, I really hope no one has to go through something like that. I took two weeks off from work, music, and my other projects to spend time with my support network in Philly, to connect with and support Bobby’s family and friends in these awful moments, and to recover my senses. And I honestly have to say that it hasn’t been easy. But time heals most wounds.
Now I’m back in San Francisco, back to work, and back to music with a new found motivation and outlook on life. There’s nothing like losing your best friend at 24 years of age to really force you to see things differently. Before Bobby’s death, I forgot how fragile life could be and I expected my loved ones to be there for me into old age. But in reality, one second they could be there, and the next? Poof! That’s all it takes sometimes. So if I had to give anyone any piece of advice, it’s this: while you’re here, invest yourself in others. Show them how grateful you are that they are there for you and there with you. And push forward with a grounded respect for death.
And that’s what I’m going to do. As of October 22nd, 2011, I re-dedicate my efforts in life to Bobby’s memory. As his friend, I got to see him knock out every goal that he ever set out for himself and he has inspired me to do the same. “No excuses, just results”, he used to say. And with that, I’m back on track with my science, finishing up my responsibilities to my program, and now jumping even deeper into the 45 scene.
Take care Bobby. Thanks for everything and more. And especially for jumping in to hold me up whenever I needed it.
When I was a kid, there were two people I wanted to be: Bruce Wayne and Sherlock Holmes. I idolized these two heroes because of their planet-sized intellects, their use of science and logic to solve crime, their almost egotistical level of self-confidence, and above all, their unparalleled detective skills. I would, literally, train myself by solving hundreds of logic puzzles in order to one day become as good a detective as Sherlock and Batman. I even pursued a career in science because it gave me a chance to use my detective skills to solve biological puzzles that no one in the world has figured out yet. And even today I still read Sherlock novels and I occasionally tap into my collection of Batman comics. Not to mention I’ve expanded to the likes of Columbo, The Question, and Nero Wolfe.
So I hope you can guess that I approached my entry into the vinyl scene with that detective mentality. When I started I had nothing more with me than some vague ideas and a few preconceptions, and now I am striving to reach “Sherlock Holmes Status” (otherwise known as “The Bruce Wayne Directive”).
“Yes, I have been guilty of several monographs. They are all upon technical subjects. Here, for example, is one ‘Upon the Distinction between the Ashes of the Various Tobaccos.’ In it I enumerate a hundred and forty forms of cigar, cigarette, and pipe tobacco, with coloured plates illustrating the difference in the ash. It is a point which is continually turning up in criminal trials, and which is sometimes of supreme importance as a clue.” (Sherlock Holmes in “The Sign of Four”)
Level I: Knowledge
This is the very first step to reaching Sherlock Holmes Status. You have to accrue as much knowledge about the field as possible. I do this on a daily basis regardless of the topic. In science, I make sure to scan the vast literature for new discoveries and I’m always reading publications as they come out. For music, I read blogs and books, I follow up on DJs I respect, and I constantly use my record collection as a springboard for research. If you give me a soul artist’s name, then you can rest assured that by that night I would have searched the internet or any books I have lying around for her singles, what albums she’s dropped, who she worked with, what label she favored, and any memorable and noteworthy anecdotes in her life.
But it’s not enough to just have breadth, to reach “outwards” and accumulate tons of facts. Your knowledge base has to have depth as well; it should reach “downwards”, deep into the subject matter. It’s not enough to know that to get sound out of a record you have to put the needle down on it and have your speakers turned on. In order to reach Sherlock Holmes Status, you have to know how the needle translates those tiny bumps in the groove into sound. If you don’t know then you were like me a while back. So figure out how your record player works by doing some research, or ask me if you see me, or better yet ask someone who really knows and takes apart turntables like lego pieces (which is what I did to find out myself).
And this brings me to an important point. I know that reading books and blogs is not enough when it comes to something like music, which is, almost by definition, social. You have to talk to people. Just make sure you consult with the experts, i.e. those people who have been in the scene for far longer than you have and are holding on to gems of knowledge. Do not be afraid, but always be respectful.
And most importantly, I listen to music constantly. While I work, when I wake up, before going to sleep. I’m always humming, or singing, or whistling, or nodding my head to some song that’s stuck in my head. Aside from knowing the people and the history behind the music, you have to know the music itself. Hell, I’m jamming right now as I write this.
In essence, I have just outlined the recipe for reaching Level I, and I follow it religiously. I read blogs, books, or anything I can get my hands on (here is a student’s honor’s thesis on Lavell Kamma that I was turned onto by reading up on The FUNKY16CORNERS blog). I ask questions and I spend my weekends at the record shop chatting with Dick about music (the man is an encyclopedia). I even looked at my needles under a microscope to understand the intricate details of the design (lab perk). And even with all of that, I have not even come close to scratching the surface, and I wouldn’t say I’ve reached Level I.
But here’s the best part.
Even when I do reach Level I, I can never leave. This part of the quest is ongoing and never ending. And, as my mentor would say, I have to always keep a baseline state of “I Don’t Know” while I continue to accrue new knowledge.
Stay tuned for Level II.
“The Science of Deduction and Analysis is one which can only be acquired by long and patient study”. (Sherlock Holmes)