My Shave Den Reduction

Over the last few weeks I have been taking a long hard look at my shaving gear.  With that look came the revelation that I did not need, and in fact did not really use, a good portion of the stuff that I had acquired.  This process of evaluation was initially prompted by The Nationwide Box Tour, hosted by The Shave Den shaving forum.  The Nationwide Box Tour is an event in which a box of shaving gear is passed around to participants; each person takes some gear out, puts some gear in, and then sends it along to the next recipient.  It’s a fun way to get rid of some stuff that you no longer use and to try out some stuff that you might not have otherwise come into contact with.  It is also a good way to help evaluate what gear you really actually want.  For me the tour triggered an avalanche of reorganization and reduction.  I realized that my shave den was out of control, and it needed to be reigned in.

From that revelation came the PIFing away of an entire set up (a razor, a few creams, a soap, several packs of blades, a ceramic bowl, and a brush).  Following my PIF I also sold off ten, count ’em TEN of my least used products.  I currently have some razors up for sale and I am even considering selling off my traditional straight razors and strops.  Basically, anything that I haven’t used in a month or more found its self being asked the question, “Soooo, what is it that you would say you DO around here?”  I’ve come to the settling in stage of my traditional wet shaving life.  I’ve found the products that work really well for me and I have very little interest in anything else.  That’s not to say that I have tried everything that I want to, but the urgency of my desires has cooled significantly.  I still want to try out Cyril Salter shave creams, the entire Dreadnought line up, and a really nice Horse/Badger mixed loft brush, but that stuff can wait.  I’m happy with what I have…and what I am not happy with does not have long before it meets up with the chopping block.

When a new hobby or idea presents its self it is not unusual for folks to want to learn every aspect of that new thing.  Sometimes it becomes an addiction, something that you have to do more and more frequently in order to feel satisfied.  Sometimes it becomes a passing fad, something that interested you at first, but quickly lost its appeal over time.  Sometimes it becomes a quirky part of your life, something that you enjoy without allowing it to take up a huge chunk of your time.  I like traditional wet shaving and I enjoy what I get from it, but I have finally come to the point where it’s time to scale down my hobby from a slight addiction to a healthy interest.

It’s fun to emerse yourself in something new and exciting, but it’s important to take a breath every now and then.

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Caveat Emptor

We have all had transaction that turned out to be less than stellar.  Maybe that used bike had a weak chain that busted off on the first use, or that amazing deal that you got on a computer turned out to be for the CPU only, or that cased Schick Injector that you bought off of eBay was pure junk…in the end, whenever we buy anything we should all keep in mind that Latin wisdom: caveat emptor, or let the buyer beware.

I consider myself a pretty good buyer.  I worked in sales for years, I have dealt with shady situations, and I am fairly good at recognizing when something is not all that it appears to be.  Unfortunately, even I end up on the wrong end of a bum deal every once in a while.  Sometimes I’m too impulsive or I make a purchase contrary to what my research and instincts are telling me and I end up with the shaft.  It happens and I can either deal with it and learn from the mistake or I can whine and go on the offensive in attempt to force the seller to rectify the situation.  More often than not the latter course of action ends up costing more in the long run, so I usually try to just suck it up and move on…after all, I should have known better.

Recently I was looking for a cased injector.  I found several on the B/S/T sections of various forums, but none of them really grabbed me.  A quick eBay search netted me several results, but only a few were priced reasonably well.  One such auction caught my eye.  The razor was being sold by a professional eBay seller who quite obviously had no real knowledge of vintage razors, there were only a couple of mediocre pictures, the case looked beat up on the outside, and the razor was described as having a crack in the handle.  Every instinct told me to walk away, but I kept thinking, “Eh, I can clean that up and a little epoxy should fix the handle well enough.”  So, in spite of my better judgement, I bought it.

At his point I can already imagine some of you folks shaking your heads.  I know, it was a poor choice and I regretted it almost instantly, but the story does have a somewhat happy ending, so stick with me.

The razor arrived rather quickly and was well packed, both of which struck me as good signs.  When I opened it up the case turned out to be in worse condition than I thought, but still looked salvageable.  The razor had some gunk and a small crack on the handle, but appeared to be in otherwise excellent condition.  All in all, I was fairly happy.  Then I began to clean.

The case’s fake leather lining came loose instantly, revealing a ton of corrosion and gunk.  I scrubbed everything with soap and water, sanded off the corrosion on the metal, let it all dry, treated the fake leather and the metal with some oil, and glued it back together.  It was more work than I expected, but it came out serviceable, even if it was still somewhat ugly.  The razor was another story.

I sprayed some scrubbing bubbles on the razor and then went at it with a cotton swab, but as soon as I applied a little pressure to the razor’s head the handle literally crumbled into pieces.  I blinked a few times before gathering up all of the pieces and sitting down at the computer to figure out a solution.  I considered returning the damn thing, but it only cost me about $9 and returning it would have been a huge headache.  I looked up custom injector handles, but apparently that is a mostly untapped market (although apparently a few people have done this).  My first instinct was to glue the handle back together, coat it all in epoxy, wrap tape around it, and then put a clear coat on top…but the thing was in about fifty tiny pieces and would have been way too labor intensive to be worth the effort.  That’s when I remembered a custom dip pen handle that I had.

About a year ago my wife bought me a nice, hand turned cocobolo dip pen handle as a present and while I Iiked the way it looked, it just didn’t perform well, so it sat in my desk mostly unused.  As I sat at my desk, staring at my dip pen and trying to come up with a solution, it occurred to me that the shaft of the razor head might fit nicely into the dip pen handle’s nib hole.  So, I pulled the last of the bakelite handle off of my useless Schick, and wedged the razor head into my dip pen handle…and it actually fit pretty well.  With a plan in mind I finished cleaning up the razor head, cut off about an inch from the end of the dip pen handle, rounded off the end, and epoxied the head into the handle. I would’ve used cement or something a little more secure, but two part epoxy was all that I had on hand and it’s pretty good stuff, so it’s what I used.  The razor ended up looking pretty decent and, after setting properly, the epoxy seems to have created a pretty secure bond between the metal and wood nib hole and the metal razor head.  Now all I had to do was shave with it…which I did this morning, but that is a story for the SOTD.

In the end, I managed to find a solution for a bad situation and came out from it alright, but it could have gone in an entirely different direction if I had not had just the right tools and parts to create a solution.  I have no one to blame for making a poor purchase but myself.  It’s my own fault for forgetting: caveat emptor.

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Perceptions And Limitations

I was thinking about perceptions the other day.  Our perceptions are colored not only by our experiences, but also by our lack of experiences and by the ways that we want others to perceive us.  If you want to be seen as competent and knowledgeable, but lack experience, then you will tend to see any questioning of your abilities as an attack, whether that is true or not.  If you are not well traveled, but want to be seen as worldly and sophisticated then you will tend to see anyone who is actually well traveled as a threat.  No one starts off knowing everything, we all have to learn along the way, but most of us still want to be seen as competent and interesting folks who fulfill a vital role.  It’s Human nature to want to feel important, and there is nothing wrong with that.  What is wrong is when we are unable to recognize our limitations and to be honest about our shortcomings.  If a person can not admit when they need help or when they aren’t quite as spectacular as they would have everyone else believe then it leads to conflict.  Eventually, no matter how amazing you may be, someone else will come along who is smarter, faster, more knowledgeable, or just plain better at a particular task.  It’s inevitable.  You can either learn from the experience and grow, or become bitter and shrink.

I had all of these thoughts in my head when an incident from several years ago suddenly popped into my memory, as if to illustrate the point.

Back when I was new in the Navy, and had just graduated from Naval Hospital Corps School, I was feeling invincible and important.  I was temporarily stationed at Naval Hospital Great Lakes while I waited for a class to open up at Field Medical Service School.  I was learning something new every day, and I felt as though I possessed a vast wealth of knowledge and skills.  Unfortunately for me none of this new found knowledge or my freshly acquired skills seemed to show on the outside.  To everyone who knew me outside of my Corps School class I was still just goofy Nick.  I had been living in Kalamazoo, MI before joining the Navy and Great Lakes, IL. was a short train ride away, so I had ample opportunities to return home on leave, but every time that I made the trip I felt myself getting more and more frustrated by the way my friends would treat me.  They would see me in my dress blues and act as if I had been away forever, but as soon as I changed into normal clothing it was as if, in their eyes, I became the person that they had always known, no different than I had been before I left for boot camp.  It was frustrating and it bothered me a lot, but I eventually just let it go.  I knew who I was, and I was OK if my friends didn’t quite see my new self just yet.  I figured that I still had a lot to learn and that eventually my friends would realize that I had changed, there was no need to boast or brag about my limited accomplishments just to make myself feel more important.  Beyond those initial understandings, I also realized that when you brag too much that eventually someone will come along to knock you off of your pedestal.  Not long after having this revelation I ended up being that someone for another person, an unfortunate person who did not realize that bragging is a bad idea in mixed company.

One day, while I was home on leave, I was out with my girlfriend at the time when she managed to drag me along to one of her friend’s houses.  Many of her new friends were stuck up college girls who truly believed that they were what they studied (‘Oh, I know ALL about photography, It’s my major, so if you need a good shot you should probably ask me, because I like, KNOW photography.’).  These girls would take every opportunity to flaunt their limited knowledge and skills and to put down my girlfriend in the process.  My then girlfriend was quiet and non-confrontational, so she rarely ever stuck up for herself.  I never understood why she would hang out with these people and I hated seeing it, so I avoided her so-called friends like the plague, but occasionally it was unavoidable and I would end up dealing with annoying college girls all night long.  On this particular day we were visiting a girl who had absolutely never done anything important in her life and had never accomplished anything for herself, she paid her way through life using her daddy’s bank account and co-opted the accomplishments of others to make herself feel more important.  I hated her with every fibre of my being.  This girl was busy blah, blah, blahing away when something she said grabbed my attention.  She was jabbering on about some Navy guy that she had dated and how amazing it was to be with someone so brave and important, someone who was willing to risk his life for our freedom.  She then mentioned that he was an important Navy Mess Specialist.  I smiled at that.  Mess Specialists are important, the run the galleys, the organize the food supplies, manage the berthing, etc.  The Mess Specialists that I have known were all good guys and I liked them, but I would hardly hoist them up as brave Navy sailors, fighting the good fight.  They are important functionaries, not combat hardened soldiers.  The girl must have noticed my smile, because she paused long enough to look me over and then made her fatal mistake by saying,

“Nice peacoat, my boyfriend gave me one too, but mine is real.”

I laughed and told her that mine was real too.  She sneered and asked me where I got it.  So I smiled and said, “It was issued to me, in boot camp.  I’m a Navy Hospital Corpsman.”

The girl blanched at that and began to sputter something about his coat probably being older, and that’s why it looked a little different.  I just smiled and shook my head.  The rest of the visit was pretty awkward and I mostly sat in silence as I contemplated the example that I was just handed about why boasting over minor feats is such a bad idea.

On our way out I smiled politely and said, “Making yourself look important by putting other people down never works out, does it?”

She looked down at her feet, and shut the door on me.  I felt kind of bad about that, but she had spent the whole night subtly putting us down while she talked herself up, so I felt as if she had it coming.

A lot of things could be taken from that event, but what I chose to take away was that if you have to throw your accomplishments (or the accomplishments of your friends) in other people’s faces, then maybe you haven’t really accomplished much at all.  Being proud of your self is Human, being boastful is just stupid.

Eventually my friends realized that I wasn’t just goofy old Nick anymore and treated me with more respect, but it didn’t happen because of any skills or knowledge that I could flaunt at them.  It happened because those skills and knowledge made me into a better person, someone who didn’t need to boast or brag to gain respect or attention.  I also realized that no matter how much I learned or how many amazing things I did that I would always still be goofy.  There would always be someone out there who could run faster, jump higher, and know more than me, but no matter how great someone else may be they could never be me.  That knowledge helped me to be happy to be me, flaws and all.

Desert Island Shaves

This is the fictionalized account of my “Desert Island” week.  I stuck with one set of shaving gear for the week, as if I were stranded on a desert island, and didn’t change anything until the end of the week. The original manuscript was in the form of a short story, but I lost the notebook that it was in, so I created this little piece to take its place.  Enjoy.

Day 1

I’m stranded on a desert island thanks to a helicopter tour gone wrong, but it’s not all bad.  My Ogallala Bay Rum, Limes, and Peppercorn soap and my Body Shop Maca Root shave cream are here to remind me of civilization.

I wet my face from the shallow pot of water that I have heated over my small campfire and begin to lather up using my elegant, but robust Art of Shaving Fine Badger brush.  The slowly setting sun gleams off of its ebony handle as it effortlessly applies the superlather to my face.  I inhale the spicy, yet subtly green fragrance of my lather and am silently thankful for the little things in life.

I strop my vintage Union Cutlery 5/8 full hollow square point straight razor on a small leather travel strop while admiring its ivory scales and stainless steel bolsters.  When it’s set, I bring it to my face and marvel as it slides effortlessly down my skin.  Three passes later my face and neck are clean, smooth, and soft.  I feel better than I have all day and all it took was a shave.  I lay back and watch the sun dip bellow the horizon. And I wonder when they’ll notice that I’m still not back…

Day 2

My tarp is desalinating more water this morning and I spend some of my time trying to carefully work out a ration schedule for my dried food.  Once I figure out how to make it last a week, I begin to do my best to capture some of the crabs scattered across the beach.  I manage to get two small beasties and toss them into the slowly boiling slat water for my lunch.

As the day winds down and there are still no indications of anyone else living on my small island I settle down to perform my calming ritual by pulling out my shaving gear.  I smile as the creamy lather slides across my face and revel in the feel of quality badger hair as it caresses my skin.  Tonight I may still be stranded, but my skin will feel free.

Day 3

My spirits are starting to flag, my tarp is still doing an excellent job of desalinating water, and I have enough dried food and crab to last a while, but I was hoping to see a rescue plane by now.  I’m only an hour off shore, but it may as well be the other side of the world.  These islands are so rarely visited and so spread out that it could be weeks before I am found…if they’re even looking for me.

I do my best to put those thoughts out of my mind and begin to strop my razor in preparation for my shave.  These shaves are the only things that can quiet my mind enough to allow me to sleep.  As I guide the 5/8 blade across the leather I become mesmerized by the gleam of light off of the polished mirror like edge.  My mind calms and I relax into a smooth, three pass shave.

Day 4

I’ve explored my tiny island a bit today, but there is depressingly little to see.  A small palm, banana tree, and brush forest with a few critters here and there are the only living things besides bugs.  There are rocks everywhere and my beach could best be described as jagged rocks with patches of sand in between.  I couldn’t have picked a more unpleasant island to be stranded on if I tried.

When I close my eyes I can still see the crazy look in the helicopter pilot’s eyes as he shoved me out of the door and then took off.  Luckily for me, he was hoovering low enough for me to fall safely.  Even more lucky was the fact that I was planning on hiking some of these islands, so I just happened to have my hiking pack and some supplies with me when My pilot decided that I was an alien who had come to steal his “juices”.  I should have known not to trust him after I saw his garbage can filled with redbulls and Mexican diet pills, but he was cheap and seemed steady…until he wasn’t.

Tonight I am feeling tranquil and take my time to run my AoS Fine Badger brush across my hand before lathering up.  I smile at the soft feeling of the badger hair and enjoy the solid feel of its handle.  I pull my pot of freshly desalinated and boiled water from its cooling spot and get down to business.  My lather is as good as ever, it continues to transport my olfactory sense to another place while leaving my skin feeling new and unburdened.  I only do two passes today and then lay back to plan for the next day.  The subtle scent on my skin reminds me that there are better things waiting for me, somewhere out there across the water.

Day 5

I catch the glint of what must be a plane flying across the horizon and wait all day long for it to reappear, but it never does.  I don’t know if it was a rescue plane or just some passing jet, but it destroys my spirits and sends me into a deep depression.

I pull out my gear, but I can’t bring myself to lather up.  I take a few deep sniffs of  the Ogallala soap and let its spicy scent fill my nose before I pack it back away.

Day 6

I spend the day gathering dried palm fronds and logs for a larger signal fire.  By the time the sun is fading I have a bonfire going and I feel as if I have actually made some useful progress today.  I feel tired, but hopeful and sit down to begin my shave.

Today I focus on the green, slightly sharp scent of the Maca Root shave cream as I create my superlather and imagine myself using this same set up back in my home bathroom.  I smile as my Union Cutlery blade shines in the deep orange of the setting sun and I do three passes, which leaves my face clean and smooth.  Afterwards I feel refreshed and ready to face another night alone, but strong.

Day 7

I am rescued!  It happened somtime around midday.  A plane dipped its wing as it flew over my little island and then a few hours later a helicopter landed and whisked me away to freedom.  I was told that my pilot was found two days ago, staring blankly at Godzilla movies and babbling about throwing aliens out of his helicopter.  Someone went over his itinerary, put two and two together, and sent out rescue parties to try to find me.  I am grateful to finally be headed home.

Once I am safe in my own house again I sort through my gear.  A few rocks and shells managed to get stuck in my tarp and I smile at my unintentionally collected souvenirs.  I pull out my shaving gear and prep for one more shave.  My Ogallala and Maca Root lather fills my senses and makes me think of the setting sun.  My AoS Fine Badger brush has a lingering smoky scent from my many camp fires and feels like silk as it paints the superlather onto my skin.  My Union Cutlery straight razor gleams in the light as it gently slides across my neck, removing hair and grit.  Tomorrow I will rest, but today I will shave and will allow the memory of my ordeal to slip off of me along with my whiskers.

Upcoming Events And Ideas

The last few days have been extremely busy for me.  My birthday was on Friday (May 24th), on Saturday (May 25th) I had to clean up the house for the guests coming to my daughter’s birthday party which was on Sunday (May 26th), her actual birthday as well as Memorial Day was on Monday (May 27th), and I had to do a crazy amount of clean up on Tuesday (May 28th).  All of this has left me with almost no time to write or post.  I have a few short stories and flash fiction pieces in the works, but I need some time to get them polished up before I can post them.

As of right now I am also participating in a “Desert Island” shaving week over at The Shave Den.  This is a week in which you pick one set of products and stick with those products.  It’s an excellent way to really get to know and appreciate a particular combination of products, but it means that my Shave Of The Day posts would be pretty repetitive.  So, instead of regular SOTD post, when the week is over I will post a sort of short story/journal of life on a desert island with only my shaving gear to keep me feeling civilized and connecting me back to reality.  It’ll be a sort of long form J. Peterman catalogue for shaving gear and it should be fairly entertaining.

What all of that means is that right now there is a lot of dead air on this blog and I do not have much to fill the space with.  To help give me a little breathing room and to give you fine folks something informative and entertaining, I will be posting some product reviews.  Shave soaps, shaving creams, after shaves, preshave, etc.  I am hoping to give you folks some insight into the various products that I use as well as a way to keep you coming back until I have more robust offerings.  I hope that you’ll enjoy the reviews and that you will look forward to my upcoming posts and stories.

Scorched Earth Ban

I have been a member of many different internet forums.  Some of them are more lax than others when it comes to disagreements or rules of conduct, but all of them have had a fairly good system of checks and balances to ensure that no single member or moderator ever over stepped their bounds.  In all of my time interacting with various forums I have had many instances in which I ended up butting heads with other members or even moderators, but it was almost always in the spirit of debate and very rarely did any of these arguments or confrontations ever get out of hand.  I know when to be politic and when to be aggressive when it comes to my ideas and values.  sometimes it pays to realize that you will not change the other person’s mind or when a fight is just not worth it.  With all of my experience in dealing with online forums I had never, not even once, been banned from a forum.  I always sort of assumed that any banning that occurred was done with the utmost care and only after all other avenues of reprimand had been exhausted.  A banning is an extreme tactic that I had seen employed only a handful of times and even then only after the offender had expressed zero desire to cease whatever activity was creating the issue.  I believed in the ability of a moderator, any moderator, to set aside personal feelings and desires and to act as an enforcer of forum rules.  Unfortunately all of this changed when I was banned from an internet forum for the first, and only, time.

I had been a member of the forum Straight Razor Place for about a month when I was suddenly banned for life without explanation and without having actually broken any rules.  My banning came because I had disagreed with a moderator and backed up my disagreement with researchable and reproducable information.  I had not used inflamitory language, I had not attempted to act as a shill to market or sell goods, I had not made any threats, I had never posted anything that caused any concern prior to the post that got me banned, and I had not actually posted anything that I would ever have imagined would result in a ban.  I tried to post on the forum somewhat regularly, but really was just trying to keep up a respectable presence while I learned what I could to make my straight razor experience better.  I felt the need to give back to the community that I had been learning from, so I posted as often as I could.  I belong to two other shaving forums, so I really didn’t have a lot to say on SRP, but I made the effort.  One of the things that I noticed the forum lacked was much information on various soaps and creams, so I posted a list of various US based artisan soap makers on the forum and invited others to contribute to the list.  I included my thoughts on the products that I had used and what thoughts I could find in regards to the products that I had not used.  I had posted this same thing on the other shaving forums with good results and figured that I could really help some folks to see that there were many options when it came to these under the radar products.  All went well until a moderator posted a somewhat inflammatory statement that he found it odd that I would recommend products that I myself had not tried, that I would recommend products known to cause burns due to heavy lye content, and that I would post links to companies no longer in business.  I was annoyed by this post because the statements were false and misleading.  I responded by telling the moderator that: 1) I was not recommending anything, just posting a list.  (I even stated this fact in the original post.)  2) Only one product had ever been accused of having an improper lye content and that instance had been, by all accounts, an abberation for that company, which had been dealt with and corrected.  3) Every last company that I had posted a link to was currently in business, I had either contacted them or ordered from them all recently and if he were to check the links he would see that all of their sites were up and running.  What happened next shocked me.  I had been away from the computer for maybe five minutes when I came back to see what he had to say.  I found that my account had been terminated and I had bee banned for life with no explanation.  I received no email, no warning, and was given no chance to defend myself.  I was angry and surprised beyond belief.  My first instinct was to do everything in my power to attack and confront the moderator in question and the forum in general, but I set that idea aside and simply moved on.  After all I had not been a member for very long and I was not that active.  I figured that any complaints that I might voice would be met as my one-sided attempts to smear a “well respected” member of the forum.  I deleted the forum from my Tapatalk account and tried not to think about it too much.  I chalked it up as a learning experience.

Yesterday a friend of mine, who is also a current member of SRP, contacted me to ask what happened to my posts.  I told him that I had been banned and that they were probably archived.  He then dropped a bomb:  all of my posts, whether I had started them or not, had been deleted.  All posts that had responded, even vaguely, to anything that I had ever said were deleted.  Any mention of me or any “likes” or comments that I had ever made had been deleted.  In essence, any evidence that I had ever even been a member had been completely and utterly destroyed.  I was aghast.  I could understand archiving the posts started by a banned member and even deleting inflammatory posts, but deleting EVERYTHING that I had ever touched or that even referenced me seems pretty extreme.  I do not understand how a forum can operate with such a disregard for its own rules, nor how a single moderator can be given so much free reign that he is allowed to dub a member persona non grata for the simple act of disagreeing with him.

I know that some folks will believe that I have not presented the facts completely or that I must have done something else to merit a lifetime ban, but I tell you now that my accounting of what happened is accurate and as complete as I can make it seeing as I can not put copies of the posts up for everyone to see.  A few months ago it would seem unlikely to me that something like this could happen at a well regarded forum such as the Straight Razor Place, but it did.  I write this partly to vent my frustration and anger, and partly as a warning.  Internet forums are not bastions of democracy and good will.  They are, at best meeting places where good people can share their thoughts and feelings about certain subjects, and at worst tiny despotic kingdoms where people in power can mold and shape the narrative being told in any way that they see fit.  Since my initial banning I have found many other former members of SRP who were banned in similar fashions, with zero notice and with no explanation whatsoever.   It shocks and saddens me to know that I was ever a part of an organization that sees its members ideas and privileges as unimportant and that, instead holds its moderators and administrators up as the one and final say in all things.  I will never again be able to look upon internet forums with the same joy.  I have lost the ability to see forums simply as a place where ideas and opinions can be traded and debated freely, now it’s difficult for me to see anything other than landmines to be avoided and dictators to be appeased.

Light And Sound

It’s an old joke, but I can’t help replaying it in my mind as I blunder around the aisles looking for my seat in of an old, but still serviceable theater:

A piece of string walks into a bar.  The bartender says,
“Hey buddy, we don’t serve string in here!” 
The string goes back outside, ties himself up, frays his ends and walks back into the bar.  The bartender takes a look and says,
“Aren’t you that same piece of string that I just threw out of here?” 
The string says,
“Nope I’m a frayed knot” {afraid not/ a frayed knot}

That joke is lame, but it always makes me laugh and it’s particularly relevant tonight, because it is at least partly responsible for why I’m here.  I glance down at the rice paper and cellophane program and chuckle to myself when I read the name of the band—The ‘Fraid Knots.  The fact that these guys were cool enough to use a variation of a lame old joke as their name scores big points with me.

I manage to find my seat after annoying only the few people who happen to be unfortunate enough to be seated next to me.  Usually my inability to find my seat without disrupting life, the universe, and everything around me enrages everyone within several square miles, hell small children in Ethiopia get pissed off when I lumber around trying to find “seat A row 3” or whatever.  Maybe I am improving…or maybe it’s because on a Sunday afternoon only a few rows worth of people have shown up to see an obscure string quartet that specializes in unusual and experimental pieces of music.  Either way I count it as a win.

A musician friend of mine who was heavy into ambient and noise music introduced me to this band a few years back and they ended up becoming a regular part of my “weird music” rotation.  He had also turned me onto the band Godspeed You! Black Emperor, so I trusted his judgment.  Ever since my initial introduction to their music I had occasionally wandered onto web forums looking for nearby concert dates, but the ‘Fraid Knots always seemed to be playing where ever I was not. Having finally stumbled onto a single performance of theirs within 100 miles was sort of like finding Excalibur with a $5 price tag in a yard sale. I bought a ticket without thinking twice and began eagerly marking off days on my calendar. When the night of the performance finally arrived I was like a kid on Christmas morning, so eager to tear into my present that I barely took the time to dress myself properly.

I can feel my excitement rising as I watch light panels being put into place on stage followed by the four players taking their seats.  Blackout curtains are drawn across all of the windows and the house lights dim and then darken as the concert begins.  A soft blue glow from four of the light panels illuminates two violinists, a viola player, and a cellist—a fairly standard set up for such an unusual quartet.

The viola player and cellist begin in unison with a deep, low drone and the panel lights begin to darken and deepen in hue.  The two violinists jump in with a high pitched squeal that quickly dive bombs into a low and explosive tone.  As the violinists begin their dive the panel lights flash red and yellow and a set of strobe floor lights begin to go off, rapidly increasing in speed until suddenly all of the lights explode into a bright white flash and a rain of confetti falls down onto our heads from above.  The lights black out and the music stops; the room is so quiet that I can actually hear the hum of electricity as it flows out from the amps and power cables.  A yellow light slowly comes to life, glowing around the form of the cellist as she begins a sad sounding solo—the PA system begins to broadcast an interview with a young Bosniak who had survived the ethnic cleansing of his home town by Serb paramilitary units.  The violins, now highlighted in red, begin a pizzicato back up to the cello.  The young Bosniak’s voice becomes more anxious and pained as the viola player, now highlighted in blue, rushes in loud and angry sounding.  I can feel the emotion of the moment as I listen to the music and watch the light show.
The night continues on in a weird medley of odd noise pieces and emotional experimental pieces all of which paint vivid pictures of the human condition.  Despair and loss, glory and happiness, and all of the emotions and ideas from one extreme to the other are illuminated on stage by lights and sound.  There are recorded tracks of different noises, fake explosions, and lights of all descriptions and wave lengths all over the stage.  It is a feast for the eyes and the ears.
At the end of the show the players take a bow to enthusiastic applause and file off stage one by one.

As I make my way outside I listen to the comments blurted out by the rest of my fellow audience members.  They discuss the political statements that they imagine have been made.  They talk up the moral plays and the ideas that they saw.  They praise the avant guard artistic experimentation of the quartet and collectively pat themselves on the back for being so open to a new and unusual experience.  Personally, I wonder if they even noticed that there was a show going on.  I was too caught up in the entertainment of the concert—the oohs and ahhs of a musical fireworks show, to worry about what emotion the color purple represented.  I witnessed a traditional string quartet playing and presenting very nontraditional music and hopefully sending its audience back out into the world changed.  The band performed some amazingly impressive musical and visual art and worked hard to present an entertaining and thought provoking spectacle, but the vast majority of their audience seem to use the show as nothing more than a way to impress each other with their ability to deconstruct the whole experience using obscure references and pretentious double speak.  I feel a wave of disappointment sliding over me until I hear a young couple enthusiastically discussing the concert.

“That was so awesome, why haven’t we heard of these guys before?”
“I dunno, but that whole thing was fucking cool.  Kinda sad though.”
“Yeah, I never really thought about Bosnia all that much before, I guess it was pretty bad over there.”

And on they go.  I eaves drop on them for a while as they talk up the high points, quietly relive the emotional themes and ideas, and generally give me hope for the possibility of intelligent life on our planet.  I smile and take a deep breath before heading back home, a little better off than I was before and forever altered by some beautifully orchestrated light and sound.