I Have A Weird Hobby

Having Obsessive Compulsive Disorder my whole life has led to some strange interests and fascinations. For one thing, I’m one of the few fantasy role-playing game enthusiasts who actively loves level grinding for hours on end. It’s a great way to relax, let out stress, and concentrate on listening to audiobooks, podcasts or music, while doing the same monotonous task for hours and growing my characters.

Over the years my collection of music has grown from a few CDs to a massive iTunes library of 50+ GB of music. Much of it is legitimately purchased, and much of it has been torrented, although I do make an effort to still support the artists I like, and buy physical copies of albums I love.

Since I have so much music, one of my favorite activities, apart from keeping it all meticulously organized (and it is: my library is organized alphabetically by artist, then chronologically by release date, and I have several B-Sides collections for artists like Tori Amos, organized by era, and I try to always have high quality album artwork, as well as properly formatted song and album titles), is making playlists. My enjoyment of making playlists has led to a strange new hobby: creating fake Greatest Hits albums.

There are some incredible musicians whose catalogue is not exactly newcomer-friendly. Case in point: Tori Amos. When I discovered Tori, she had at the time released 11 studio albums, along with various collections and EPs, and I had no idea where to begin. I started with her own greatest hits collection Tales of a Librarian, but it turned out to be a pretty terrible collection for a newcomer, and then got her box set A Piano: The Collection, but that was 86 tracks long so it wasn’t exactly easy to digest. I ended up just going through albums as I chose, mixing in new Tori with old Tori, but there’s never been a Tori collection that I feel really encapsulates her entire career and gives newcomers a good place to start.

Kate Bush is an even more difficult situation, because she has only one small greatest hits collection, and it’s from halfway through her career, with only a few of her best songs on it, plus the audio quality is pretty bad because it’s never been properly remastered. Her box set This Woman’s Work contains almost all of her albums, plus B-Sides, but that’s not a very place to begin either.

So, I’ve had a lot of fun organizing playlists to create fake Greatest Hits albums for artists I like. Sometimes I keep them in playlists, and sometimes, like recently, I actually create disc-length mixes and give them their own album in my library. I’ve had so much fun creating these that I decided to share them with you, and hey, if you’re a newcomer to these artists, you can feel free to use these as a place to begin!

As it happens, I kept them all within standard CD length, so they should all be mixes you could burn to a physical CD if you like.

The Essential Tori Amos

I based this collection on “the essential” album series. You’ve probably seen them in Wal-Mart or other stores before: they always have a black and white cover, with white and red font, and usually contain two discs, spanning an artists entire career, in chronological order. If you’re unfamiliar, take a look at The Essential Heart, The Essential Sarah McLachlan, the Essential Sade, or something like that, and you’ll see what I’m talking about. I actually really love this image of Tori, it’s from The Beekeeper era tour book, and it was used as the album art for A Piano The Collection’s bonus DVD, but I think it works perfectly for something like this. I also looked up the actual font used on the cover of “the essential” series and used it on this photo, so I think it actually came out looking pretty official. The selections span Tori’s entire career, mostly important singles or landmark songs, although there wasn’t room to include any B-Sides because of the limitations on length, but I think that for a 2 disc collection of an artist who’s released 15+ albums, I did a pretty good job. Track listing is below.

Disc 1

1 Precious Things
2 Crucify (Unedited Single Version)
3 Silent All These Years
4 Winter
5 Pretty Good Year
6 God
7 Past The Mission
8 Cornflake Girl
9 Talula (The Tornado Mix)
10 Hey Jupiter (The Dakota Version)
11 Mr. Zebra
12 Caught A Lite Sneeze
13 Spark
14 Raspberry Swirl
15 Jackie’s Strength
16 Playboy Mommy
17 Bliss
18 Concertina
19 1000 Oceans

Disc 2

1 A Sorta Fairytale
2 Taxi Ride
3 Gold Dust
4 Angels
5 Snow Cherries From France
6 Sleeps With Butterflies
7 Sweet The Sting
8 Marys Of The Sea
9 Big Wheel
10 Bouncing Off Clouds
11 Welcome To England
12 Maybe California
13 Star of Wonder
14 Pink and Glitter
15 Carry
16 Flavor
17 Programmable Soda
18 Trouble’s Lament
19 Invisible Boy

 

American Doll Posse EP’s

Tori’s ninth album American Doll Posse is told from the point of view of five personas, representing different elements of the divine feminine, and utilizing goddesses from the Greek pantheon. The album is great but suffers from being a little too long, simply because of the album’s variety. Tori herself commented on it “Either I was making five seperate albums, or I was speaking with different voices.” So these fives voices are all jammed together as tightly as the one hour and twenty minutes a CD will allow, meaning that the album is more than a little cluttered. Although I think it still came out fine, the final album is 23 tracks long, which is pretty staggering. There are also three bonus tracks available on different versions of the album. I thought it might be fun to separate the songs into 5 individual extended plays based on the Posse personas. Even though I like the album the way it is, I can imagine the excitement fans would have felt as she released the five EP’s in sequence, each one about five tracks long, with fans devouring the songs, comparing the EP’s, discussing the themes present in them, and wondering what would come next. I created my five Doll EP’s just as a fun little project, and then actually made some album art for them too. By the way, Tori’s EP begins with an Isabel song, which I chose to do because I think it’s a good opener, and Isabel already has another “interlude song.” Clyde is the only one who didn’t get a brief opening song.

 

Tori (EP)

1 Yo George
2 Big Wheel
3 Digital Ghost
4 Father’s Son
5 Code Red
6 Posse Bonus

Clyde (EP)

1 Bouncing Off Clouds
2 Girl Disappearing
3 Roosterspur Bridge
4 Beauty of Speed
5 Miracle

Pip (EP)

1 Velvet Revolution
2 Body and Soul
3 Fat Slut
4 Teenage Hustling
5 Smokey Joe

Isabel (EP)

1 Devils and Gods
2 Mr. Bad Man
3 Drive All Night
4 Almost Rosey
5 Dark Side of the Sun

Santa (EP)

1 Programmable Soda
2 You Can Bring Your Dog
3 Secret Spell
4 My Posse Can Do
5 Dragon

The Essential Kate Bush

You really can’t be a fan of Tori Amos without hearing Kate Bush’s name bandied about. There is an unfortunate tendency in music reporting to compare EVERY female singer-songwriter (particularly the quirky eccentric ones) to Kate Bush, and to a lesser extent, Tori Amos herself. The way in which I first heard of Tori Amos was through reviews of Evanescence’s albums comparing Amy Lee to Tori Amos (the only real connection between them is that they’re women who play piano and sing, sometimes about dark and gritty subject matter). Then, when I got into Tori, I couldn’t read an interview or review of her music without hearing about Kate Bush. As it happens, despite this weird tendency in music journalism to compare every woman to the same two women who came before them (as though there can be only one weird alternate female singer-songwriter), as opposed to men who do NOT all find themselves being compared to David Bowie or Prince, it is for the best that I learned about these two women, as their music is not something that should be missed.

Kate Bush’s catalogue, like Tori’s, doesn’t offer a lot of easy entry for newcomers. You can ask around and you’ll probably hear that the best place to begin is Hounds of Love, as it’s sort of the midpoint of her career, combining the quirky weirdness of her first three albums with the pop sensibility and melodic hooks of the next three. I decided to try and put together a two-disc Essential Kate Bush, and I’m pretty proud of it. A lot of things had to be left out (I struggled over how and whether to include Un Biser D’enfant, Army Dreamers, and Hounds of Love), and the latter half of her career is difficult to represent because most of her newer work is very lengthy. As a consequence, disc 2 is a lot shorter and spans less material, but overall I’m pretty happy with how it came out, even though I had to leave out a couple of her duets and most of her soundtrack songs (I included Lyra though, because it’s never been included on any of her official collections, due to coming out after the release of her box set.

Disc 1

1 Moving
2 Wuthering Heights
3 Them Heavy People
4 The Man With The Child In His Eyes
5 Hammer Horror
6 Wow
7 Symphony In Blue
8 Breathing
9 Babooshka
10 Army Dreamers
11 December Will Be Magic Again
12 Sat In Your Lap
13 The Dreaming
14 There Goes A Tenner
15 Suspended In Gaffa
16 Ne T’enfuis Pas
17 Night of the Swallow
18 Running Up That Hill (A Deal With God)
19 Cloudbusting
20 Hounds Of Love

Disc 2

1 Wuthering Heights (New Vocal)
2 Experiment IV
3 Be Kind To My Mistakes
4 The Sensual World
5 This Woman’s Work
6 Deeper Understanding
7 Love And Anger
8 Rubberband Girl
9 The Red Shoes
10 Eat The Music
11 And So Is Love
12 King of the Mountain
13 Aerial
14 Lyra
15 Flower of the Mountain
16 Wild Man
17 And Dream Of Sheep

That’s all for now! I’ve got a lot of exciting stuff I’m planning to write and post about soon, so I hope to have more to tell you all soon about life, projects, and what I’m up to. Happy listening!

Patron Blog #1: Creation

(The following is cross-posted from Patreon. If you don’t know what Patreon is, basically it’s like an interactive Kickstarter, except that instead of funding one big project, you pledge a certain amount per creation, as much as you’d like to give, to support artists who are creating anything you can imagine. I’m trying this out as a way of gaining feedback and motivation to write my novel, and hopefully get a taste of what it’s like to actually make money for my art. I’m not trying to make a living on Patreon – not yet at least – but this is a great starting place for me. If you like what I write, or you like my music, or you just want to support me creating something in any way, you can become a patron and get access to a lot of neat stuff.)

patreon blog

I’ve always created stories.

As a child, the way I had fun was to wander around outside, on my own, using my imagination to create big adventures. My first inspiration was and continues to be video games, and I still remember when I was seven years old, running around the back yard with a stick in my hand that could be used either as a sword or a gun, whenever I needed it, and creating stories about my favorite video game characters.

The first game to ignite my imagination was Final Fantasy VII. I loved this game in a deep and profound way that can’t honestly be described. The music, the scenery, the vivid story hooked my attention and my imagination and never let go. I used to draw the characters on paper, then cut the pieces of paper out and use them as toys and have them battle. I would go outside and grab a stick, and sing the battle music and I executed turn-based combat all by myself, playing both the player character and the opponent, in what I’m sure was a hilarious sight to behold.

As I grew older I continued to play this way, and it’s the way I got out my creative energy. I never wrote down the stories that I made up, which started out as fanfiction, long before I knew that fanfiction existed, and even long before I knew that there were OTHER people who also loved Final Fantasy, Sonic the Hedgehog, Zelda and Mega Man the way I did. When I played with my toys, I created platformer video game style levels for them to hop around and pitted them against enemies in video game fashion. When I was thirteen, my method of play didn’t change, in fact it evolved. Now the stories I made up were a little more complex. There were villains with motivations, there were relationships between characters, and I even started to come up with stories that, even though they were heavily influenced by video games and television, were still my own.

At fifteen I continued to play this way by myself, only it was much more conspicuous to be seen waving a stick around and talking to yourself, especially with the emotion of someone acting a character on stage, so what I began to do was just go on long walks, and see the scenario in my mind, and speak the characters’ dialogue under my breath. When I was seventeen and started to enjoy listening to music, I would create dramatic music videos that often involved fight scenes between characters in the games I loved, or even my own characters.

I’m twenty six now, and I still come up with my stories this way. If I have an open space where no one can see me and a stick, I will indeed pick it up, use it as a sword, and engage in my own RPG style combat against imaginary enemies, create characters and soliloquize from the perspective of villains or protagonists. I also take copious notes and write a lot of scenes out of order, with the result being that many of those scenes no longer make sense in the stories the way they are now.

The first time I sat down to write one of my stories I was twelve. Well actually, technically the earliest story I can remember writing was a Sonic the Hedgehog fanfiction when I was in second grade. My mother still has the paper. I also wrote one in third grade about James Bond, in the style of the Nintendo 64 game Goldeneye. But the first earnest attempt to write an actual book, a real cohesive story, was when I was twelve. It was a fantasy story, intended to be an epic in the style of Final Fantasy. The concept was that the story took place in a world which had once been devastated by a great flood akin to those in various religious mythologies (indeed, the first thing I sat down and wrote was a prologue that occurred during the Christian Biblical flood), and a certain demon who could take the form of a great leviathan had survived the flood, and was now out to kill a young man whose destiny it was to vanquish him.

Not the most novel idea, but I still say that it wasn’t bad for a twelve year old. I didn’t get very far with the story, but it stayed in my mind and continued to evolve. I created more characters as time went by, added subplots. The main character’s brother was killed in the opening scene, but when I started listening to My Chemical Romance’s Black Parade, I decided that he had faked his death to protect his brother. When I started listening to Queen, I added a scenario in which the main character was thrown into prison in a gladiatorial coliseum, and created a character named Dexter to help him out of the situation, and funnily enough Dexter actually survived and is now a character in the novel I’m writing. When I became interested in choral music I created a mournful scene in which Dexter lamented the death of his lover (no longer a part of Dexter’s character in the new novel, by the way).

All of this played out in my head, very little was written down. And this is the way my stories have always been. Pages and pages of dialogue are improvised by me and most of the time I never write any of it down. It’s still the way I’m most comfortable writing, although now I’ve learned to either record myself speaking, or take notes as I’m talking.

Every idea spirals into a series of ideas, and eventually they start connecting to one another, and then there’s an entire story, complete with subplots and character arcs and relationships… but it’s all in my head. I speak the characters lines when I’m in the shower, when I fall into depression and I feel lonely I play a scene in my mind of two of my characters cuddling and falling asleep. These stories are a part of me, and they go with me wherever I go. These characters exist. And I want other people to see them.

Music is probably an important part of everyone’s life, in one way or another. But the funny thing is, I actually hated music (that is, pop/rock music, anything you might hear on the radio or on a CD) until I was a teenager. My mother actually commented to me how weird it was that I didn’t like music, and I did ultimately start getting CD’s (the first one was In The Zone by Britney Spears, the second war The Very Best of Cher), but I hadn’t developed any kind of passion for music yet. But over time I realized: I DID have a passion for music and I always had, it’s just that it was all video game music. Sonic the Hedgehog, Final Fantasy, The Legend of Zelda, and theme songs to television shows, I LOVED that music.

I started learning to play piano when I was sixteen, because I wanted to learn how to play a song I really liked (it was Axel F from Beverly Hills Cop, as remixed by Crazy Frog). My chorus teacher taught me to play the song and I instantly wanted to learn to play others. The second thing I learned were the opening chords to Roxanne by The Police (simply because that was the nearest songbook on hand in the chorus room), and then of course one day I realized that Final Fantasy songs could be played on piano, so I brought him the sheet music to one of my favorites, the Final Fantasy VII battle theme, and watched him play it. I was amazed. I was really, truly hearing the music, in real life, coming out of a real instrument.

From that point there was no turning back. Video game music was why I learned to play piano, and as I grew up and discovered Tori Amos, Amanda Palmer, Imogen Heap, Amy Lee and other artists who use the piano to communicate their music, I learned to play their songs, and I learn more about how to play every time I play one of their songs.

And that’s the thing. I’ve always thought that I couldn’t be a writer or a musician because most of my ideas aren’t entirely original, they’re borrowed. I borrow my story ideas from Final Fantasy and Breath of Fire and Anne Rice’s Vampire Chronicles, I borrow my musical structure from Evanescence and Tori Amos. I’ve always thought to myself, “Well yeah I like to play music and write, but no one would pay for it, I can’t actually be a real artist, because everyone will see right through it to the sources from which I pulled.”

But I didn’t realize that everyone pulls from everyone else. No ideas are entirely new, and in fact most of the best stories are retelling of mythological stories and campfire adventures, with characters who are archetypes. Some of the best musical pieces in history are variations on themes from earlier times. Good artists create using borrowed ideas as well as their own ideas, and what comes out is something unique that no one else can create in exactly the same way as that artist created it.

Everyone’s voice is unique. Their vocal ability, the playing of their instrument, and the way they write their poetry and their stories, it’s unique to them. Neil Gaiman says, “Tell your story in the way that only you can tell it.” Every artist fights against directly copying their inspirations, and it’s terrifying to see something you’ve created and know that a part of it’s skeleton is borrowed from another artist. The bones holding together my stories come from more places than just my own imagination, and the chord used to keep my songs going don’t come from my mind alone.

But that’s okay.

What’s important is that the creation happens. What’s important is the warm, beaming pride I feel when I look at the screen and see the words that came from me. Their origins may have come from other places, the ideas and the concepts might have been borrowed, but those ideas were churned through my mind and I created something that only I can create. Sometimes it’s better than other times. That’s okay. Kesha says “You have to give yourself permission to suck.” And it’s true. No one becomes a great writer by starting out writing something brilliant, and no one becomes a great musician by composing their master work on day one. But the important thing is to KEEP CREATING.

So that’s why I’m here. I’m here to create. I’m here to write the novel that’s been growing and living inside of me. I’m here to write the songs that I sing to myself, and to recite the lyrics that I hurriedly copy down on sheets of papers, sticky notes, and the notepad of whatever device I’m holding.

I want to share it with you, and I want to know that you hear me. I want to hear your ideas about what I’m creating, I want to know what you think.

Everyone is going to die. Most of us are afraid of that. I certainly am. But it helps me to know that I can create something that will be here after I’m gone, a record of my thoughts. A story that talks about the things that are important to me. Characters who address the things I’m afraid of, the things I long for, the things I wish were true, and the things I hope will become true.

There is much work to be done. There are more details to go into and more specifics to explain. But this is where it begins.

The simple explanation is: I’m writing a fantasy novel. I write poetry, I write fiction, I want to write a nonfiction book about my experience with religion and maybe even an autobiographical book of stories from my life. I play piano. I sing. I write songs.

This is the first step.

If I keep going, I might be a real artist one day. Someone who wakes up in the morning and does what they love.

That is my dream. That is my wish, and my goal.

Thank you for being here with me. Thank you for helping me. Thank you for listening.

Let’s get started.