Thursday, July 30, 2009

New Metroschifter record finally out

The new record by the Metroschifter, featuring a blood-spattered cover image of our beloved Stockholm, is finally available!

As you may know from previous stories on this website, Carbonistas has eight new songs that were recorded at the beginning of this year, just before I left Louisville.

The paper-and-plastic version (compact disc) is available from our special friends at the Noise Pollution label. In Louisville you can pick one up at ear X-tacy or, wherever you live, you can ask for it at your favorite record store.

If you buy Carbonistas or any of its songs from iTunes the tracks are formatted so you can use them as ringtones on your iPhone.

If you notice in this screenshot from my iPhone, there are no reviews for it yet, so click this link to give it 5 stars or write a review!

This week we also received the first tentative dates for our tour of Europe that is coming up in November and December. The three-week schedule looks amazing.

The usual suspects of Germany, Belgium, the Czech Republic and Austria are included, but a few surprises are in there including some shows in France and Spain. At the risk of sounding like a Three Dog Night (or Elvis Presley) song, I've Never Been to Spain. Can't wait!

This tour should be especially fun because the "real" members of Metroschifter will be with me. On some tours in the past, either Pat McClimans and Chris "Hört" Reinstatler (or both) have been unable to go. As a result, the touring band has had a succession of alternate members.

I have enjoyed every tour and I really love seeing how the songs take on a different flavor when different people play them, but since Hört and Pat are my best friends, there's nothing quite like being able to travel and play music with them every night.

Pat and Hört have already begun practicing in Louisville. I'll meet them in Frankfurt, Germany, in November where we'll practice for a few days before the first show. It looks like the first show will be in Frankfurt on November 25th.

We have a tentative song list together which we've been ironing out via e-mail. This time we're learning a lot of our recorded material so we can mix up the set list and each night's show will be a little different.

Typically, after a tour is over, there is a mad scramble to return all the equipment and the van, make sure we've paid all our bills, and get everybody to the airport in time. This time, we're planning to just hang out for three days, which is something we've never done before - sort of like a little European vacation with friends. I'm as excited about that as I am about the tour itself.

Should be pretty, pretty, pretty, pretty good.

Monday, July 27, 2009

This is weird. It's dark at night.

Recently when I've been out late, I've noticed something strange. The sky has been getting really dark at night, for several hours at a time.

This hasn't happened for a few months and I can only presume that Mother Nature has brought the phenomenon back as a way of saying "go to sleep." And while it might be news to a couple of my American friends who recently visited, perhaps it's also a hint that the eternal party must sometimes come to an end.

My longtime friend Curtis and my new friend Juan hit Sweden hard for seven days, and they did it from a direction I had never seen Sweden from before.

Originally from Indiana and Ohio, respectively, they both live in Los Angeles now, as I did for about a year around 2003. Like an entourage of aging Midwestern rockers (the three of us are members of 90's indie rock groups Chamberlain, Brainiac and Metroschifter) we took to the streets of Stockholm last week.

As you must know by now, Stockholm is an expensive place to go out and have a few drinks in, but no part of it is more pricey than the area around Stureplan.

The restaurants, bars and clubs at Stureplan are packed with "fancy" people and many locations have door prices that start around 100 kronor ($13-ish). It's not like there are live bands inside these clubs or they are showing feature films or that they even have roller coasters inside. It's just thirteen or twenty bucks to walk in the door. In fact, they get a little disturbed at the door if you ask, "150 kronor? For what? What happens in there?"

Inside, there's usually people dancing, somebody playing an endless feed of end-on-end songs that sound alike, and a line to buy drinks for the price of a good meal. Many places have an outside area as well, populated with people who are talking, have gone out to get some air and smokers. So much for the fresh air.

You'd think the crazy door price is designed to weed out the riffraff, but there is also a frontline of vãktarna (security guards) who do that. These dudes will either just wave you through or find some excuse not to. Your shoes, how much fun you seem to be having, whether or not you have girls with you, how old you are - all of these elements seem to be factors in the decision. Often, it seems the delay is designed to keep a consistent population in the line out front in order to advertise that it is such a great place. There's a line? It must be amazing in there!

The first night I went out with Curtis and Juan, we paid 100 kronor each to get inside a place that looked very nice from the outside. Well, actually Curtis paid for all three of us - thanks, man! We chose this place after a couple others we visited had closed. This one was an all-night club.

When we got inside there was hardly anybody in there, and with exposed drywall and unfinished edges on the walls, the place looked like it was still under construction. It wasn't long before the place was swamped with people. It reminded me a bit of Louisville in that respect. It seemed like we were early by showing up at 1:00 in the morning.

Because of the continuous daylight, it's very easy to lose track of time in the Swedish summer. This night's rager lasted all night. Rather than taking an expensive cab, an unofficial "black cab" or the 45-minute night bus home, we decided to just keep the party going until the trains started running again around 5:00 in the morning. Welcome to Stockholm.

Curtis and Juan's approach to Sweden is a study in contrasts to mine. I take things very quietly and I meet new people essentially only through friends. If I can, I try to hide that I'm American (or foreign at all) and I keep a low profile. I think - no, I know - I still have a lot of Bush-era embarrassment about being American and I try as much as possible to not contribute to the loud and ugly stereotype.

When I do talk with people, I keep my English simple and clear. I honestly never take it for granted that everyone here speaks English and I never presume someone does.

In contrast, Curtis and Juan are very outgoing and will talk to anyone. They constantly meet strangers and do it unapologetically in casual English. Swedes love speaking English and I totally ignore this all the time.

In the back of my head I have this feeling that I can be in a shell for some period of months until I am fluent in Swedish. One day I'll just turn it on, open up and start talking. I realize this is an impractical and unrealistic expectation. Becoming comfortable in a language can really only materialize through practice.

I try to dedicate as much time as possible to studying, repeating and using as much Swedish as I am able to, but I always feel like I'm not doing enough, I'm not good enough at it, I'm embarrassing myself, I'm not smart enough or dedicated enough. There just aren't enough hours in the day.

The idea that I'm living within a shell was never more evident than when Curtis and Juan were here. In fact, when I was around these guys from America I felt like I never shut up. "Blah blah blah blah yap yap yap." Words and stories were just gushing out of me. It was like I had been holding back the whole time I've been here. I've been painfully quiet, to not disturb anyone, and I constantly temper my vocabulary.

I love comedy and laughing, and even though Swedes are intimately familar with American comedy, there are vast subtleties about living in America that I miss sometimes. These are things that can only come from decades of context. Almost all comedy is based on context, references and repetition. There is always some new "thing" that everyone is saying in America. It's probably happening here, too, I'm just not picking up on them yet. Funny colloquialisms are wildly entertaining to me.

(For instance, and this is a small example, if someone is farting while walking through a crowd of people, that's called a "crop duster," but it's just not funny if you're not familiar with the original meaning of the term "crop duster." It's these types of little things that I miss. I mean, I miss the comedy, not the dusting of crops.)

Throughout the week Curtis and Juan were in Stockholm, I met more strangers than in all my previous months here. By "strangers" I mean people who were not already friends of my friends. Talking to new people... hmm, interesting approach.

While I've heard time and time again that Swedish people are incredibly shy and it is up to me to take the first steps, this is something I had trouble with in the 365-day-Casual Friday city called Louisville.

I don't have a conclusion to this story, but I suppose the point is that it was nice to see friendly, outgoing people in action. It was fun to meet new people and I wish I didn't think about everything so much and that I had more hours in the day to really study Swedish. However, my desire to have longer days is coming just as darkness is returning to the nighttime. Amazing, really, that I've been living in a place with practically 24 hours of daylight and I still want more.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Thirty and forty years ago

Maybe you've heard something about this: A few decades ago, America could do anything. Liberate Europe from the Nazis? Done. Defeat the Japanese at the same time? Done. Rebuild half the world after the war? Done. Lift a rocket off of the Earth with people in it and land them somewhere else? Done.

John Kennedy, who famously dedicated America to the cause of going to the Moon, observed, "The world is very different now. For man holds in his mortal hands the power to abolish all forms of human poverty and all forms of human life."

Maybe it all started going to their heads. Maybe they felt all things were possible. The war his administration started in southeast Asia is probably a big part of what eventually began to unravel all the trust and goodwill that made such grand accomplishments possible.

Regardless, there's no dispute about America's crowning moment. It's this day forty years ago when, after countless centuries of people looking to the heavens at a glowing white sphere in the sky every night, the United States sent some people to go check it out in person.

For everything the United States is known for, this one thing is more powerful than anything else. For the entire history of human life, the entire history of the world, thousands of generations of people were tied to the ground by gravity. The Americans were the ones who left the planet and landed somewhere else.

They stood somewhere nobody had ever stood before, and from the dusty surface of the Moon, they saw everything in a way it had never been seen before.

From that perspective they could gaze back on the Earth as a tiny blue marble, floating in the darkness of space. Three men, alone, could see in a single glance, the entire globe. The place where everything had ever happened was hanging right there. Suddenly the huge, hard Earth seemed so fragile.

From the invention of the wheel and cave drawings, to the Pyramids, to the Roman Empire, to the bubonic plague, to Shakespeare, to the horseless carriage, to electricity, to the Kaiser - they could hold a gloved thumb up in front of their view and hide all of it.

People who were alive then - of which I am not one - all remember where they were at that moment. It's similar to how Americans feel about the asassination of Kennedy and the attacks in September 2001. The difference, of course, is that landing people on the Moon was a good thing. Rather than being a spectacle of what people could destroy, it showed what people could create and accomplish. Machines and science, dedication and resources, and the best and brightest made it possible.

All this, which still seems amazing to people who were born after it happened, was done with what we would consider to be primitive tools. The computers NASA used in 1969 to land this craft on the Moon and return it safely to Earth had only 74KB of on-board memory had no storage space. By comparison, the computer I carry around in a shoulder bag has 2 gigabytes of memory. There's more than twenty-eight thousand times more power in this laptop I could walk into a store and buy off the shelf.

Apollo 11's computers were employing processors with a clock speed of barely over 2 megahertz. Compare that to the 667 megahertz I carry in my pocket in the form of an iPhone, and my MacBook Pro which has a processor speed 1074 times greater. Flying to the Moon and landing? There's an app for that.

Program commands for Apollo's guidance computer were entered on a calculator-style keypad as series of two-digit numbers and took the form of program, verb, noun. The programs they were running, and even those now used on the Space Shuttle, contain simple code in contrast to the operating systems on our home computers.

The Shuttles have five redundant computers all cycling simultaneously. If one acts up, the other ones can vote it out of the loop. It assumes that the majority of machines which did not produce the error are operating correctly. On nearly 150 missions, there has never been an instance when all five computers failed.

Whereas much of the Space Shuttle's guidance (aside from the airplane-style glided landing) is out of the astronauts' hands, Apollo-era travelers had to be trained in these cerebral programming tasks along with their physical preparation and everything else. The staff at Mission Control in Houston was just a crack-beep away if something came up, and things did come up.

When the ship finally reached the Moon, four days after leaving Florida, not only did the guidance computer begin spitting mysterious error codes at them, but the area they had planned to land in was littered with huge boulders.

With Houston's consent, the astronauts overrode the computers and Neil Armstrong's skills as an Air Force test pilot were put into use. Armstrong took control of the Eagle and manually maneuvered it to a safe landing spot, setting it down on the surface with only 20 seconds of fuel remaining. It was dangerously close to being a very different kind of historic day.

When I was nine years old, my family went on a vacation to Florida. We arrived at the Kennedy Space Center on a hot July day in 1979 amid a crowd of other tourists.

There were hundreds of people there, in fact, and a buzz in the air. It seemed like Cape Canaveral must be one of the most popular tourist spots in Florida.

We walked into the center fully unaware that the day my parents picked was the tenth anniversary of the first lunar landing. It was quite an unexpected surprise to stumble into.

Inside the Welcome Center, we were greeted with a huge banner and and even larger, banquet-table-sized cake.

A ceremony was underway, commemorating the anniversary, and for a nine-year-old boy who was fascinated by space exploration, the "kid in a candy shop" metaphor is really inadequate. I was surrounded by the candy laboratory, factory, warehouse, and testing cafeteria. And, yes, I did get to eat a piece of the cake! Space cake, if you will.

One of the first things we recorded when my family got a VCR was a PBS documentary about the space program. I really don't have an estimate for how many times I watched it in our Middletown, Kentucky, basement. I do remember being able recite it along with the narrator. I think if I saw it again today I may still be able to follow along with it.

At that age, I didn't know anything about Sweden or any other place else that wasn't America.

It doesn't take much to capture the imagination of such a kid, though. Being able to fly is cool. Flying into space? Mind-blowing.

I guess I didn't realize until much later how lucky I was. Some countries don't have telephones or fully-paved roads. America has space ships. I really can't think of anything cooler than this. Most kids... shit, most people don't ever get the opportunity to see a space craft except on television or in pictures.

This is a photo of me and my brother and sister, 30 years ago today, standing in front of a fucking space ship. This is not imaginary or science fiction or futuristic. In fact, it was ten years after an American walked on the moon and a few years before many of my friends were born.

These photos are all from Kennedy Space Center on July 20, 1979, the tenth anniversary of the lunar landing. The Space Shuttle seen on the launch pad, I believe is Columbia. This is about two years before the first Shuttle launch in April of 1981. It looks a little different than the Shuttles do today because on the first few Shuttle launches the external tank was painted white. NASA later discovered this wasn't necessary and leaving the tank bare (the familiar rust-orange color) freed up 600 pounds of extra weight that could be used for additional cargo.

We returned to Kennedy a few years later to actually see the sixth Shuttle launch in person. I could write about that all day. If you can imagine how amazing just to think about people leaving the Earth, it is beyond description to see it happening. There is nothing like like it.

Camped out on a narrow Florida highway with thousands of other people, miles away from a small figure on the horizon, with a hundred car radios broadcasting the countdown in unison through the humid morning air... the sky lights up, the Earth shakes, the air is filled with an incredible roar.

After a minute, among dropped jaws, cheers and applause, a white trail hangs in the sky, showing the way to space.

So, wait, what? I'm supposed to be writing about Sweden? Sorry.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Excuse me, do you speak American?

One of the challenging things about learning to speak Swedish - and there are a few - is the process of becoming familiar with the sequence that words should appear in sentences.

Many years ago, someone told me, "Swedish is just German words with English grammar." Ehh, well, guess what. It turns out that's not really true. If it were, I would be zipping through the language with greater ease and Germans would be a lot less funny to Swedes and Americans.

What is true is that the sequence of words makes a big difference in, I presume, most any language.

The clip you see here is from an article I was reading in yesterday's New York Times. It is from a serious article about addiction, but I couldn't help but to laugh when I read this sentence that, because of the order of words, seems to imply that people who have recently gotten married are in need of a twelve-step rehabilitation program. That's also not entirely true, though it's possibly more true in some cases than the statement that Swedish is German words with English grammar.

In other language news, I'm happy to report something which has been inevitable for decades has finally happened.

The language I grew up speaking is now finally called American. Screw you, King George!

I saw the proof this week in a Stockholm book store. Right there on the shelf between the French and German pocket word books, in all its glory, "American."

Of course, this renaming of the language is not news to most people in middle America who have been calling it American since they dropped out of high school to get married. Nonetheless, it's about damn time.

Closer inspection of the book reveals it is actually "American English in terms of spelling, pronunciation and vocabulary." It includes some hilarious genuinely American terms such as "y'all" and a section that instructs you how to tell an American about Sweden. I would think the first thing you should tell them is that Sweden and Switzerland are two different places. Maybe next you might mention something about the Muppets.

Later during the week, I had a discussion about the name of the English language - sorry, the American language - with a guy from England. You can guess how he felt about calling the language American. He compared it to how people from South America feel about people from the United States being called "Americans."

He was upset because an ATM he visited had an American flag instead of the Union Jack as one of the language options.

I told this old chap that Americans had contributed more to widespread use of the language through our films, television, music, and schizophrenic foreign policy than the British had. I mean, the British had their days of conquest, but America's empire (however crumbling) is still around. Really, more people speak English in India than in England. Even though that's because of England's overseas adventures, it still helps the case that regardless of the language's origin, it has grown up and moved on. English is so over England.

I shared something else with this bloke that I heard years ago, "Only two good things ever came out of England: The Beatles and America." To which he replied, "Well, I don't know about one of those." What, really? I thought everybody liked the Beatles.

In your face, you bloody lads! Fancy a biscuit then? USA! USA! USA!

Monday, July 13, 2009

Stockholm from Mariaberget

These two images stitched together offer a lovely view of Stockholm from a hilltop park at a recent grillfest. Click for enlargement.

I'm all for minimalist Swedish design, but come on. Can you guess where the most popular room is in this building? With one tiny window and two giant fireplaces, this must have been built in the winter.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Fourth of July in Täby

The photo above may seem like a regular Independence Day barbeque, but take hold of your seats, dear readers: this shocking image was snapped at a 4th of July cookout in Täby, Sweden.

And, I hope you're sitting down, because I must tell you, I believe only two of the nine people in the picture are Americans. The rest are all dirty fucking socialists! I know, right? Looks just like Cold War-era Poland, doesn't it?

Täby is a town about 20 minutes to the north of Stockholm. I had never heard anything about the place except that they make chewing gum there. Almost any time you buy gum in Sweden, if you look at the fine print on the package, it was made in Täby.

Imagine my surprise and curiosity when my friend Jenny invited me to a 4th of July party in none other than Täby itself. Turns out that Täby is not so enigmatic after all and there really is more than just a chewing gum factory there.

Jenny is Swedish but she was lucky enough to live in another fascinating, mysterious, luxurious land for many years. It's a place you might know of and it goes by the name of Ohio.

Most Swedes speak perfect English, but Jenny speaks American. You would never know she's not from Ohio, or Oregon, or anywhere else in the United States that boasts a non-regional dialect.

I was intrigued when she forwarded the invitation to me, not just because of the opportunity it presented to possibly catch a glimpse of a genuine, real-life chewing gum factory, but also because the invitation indicated the party would include grilling out and other "American-style fun like Jello shots."

Yes, France gave us enlightenment, Russia gave us the periodic table of elements, and America gave us Jello shots.

The Swedes are easier to spot in this photo than in the poolside display above. If you're holding a Jello shot and looking at it skeptically (as if thinking "I'm supposed to eat this?") you're probably Swedish.

Demonstrated here is the more appropriate, American response to the delicacy, although it stops just short of capturing the echo of a sorority-girl "Whooooohooooo!" chorus. That sound is inevitable when such party supplies are produced.

The crew at the cookout was an international mix of people. Naturally, there were people from from Sweden, but Germany was represented as were California, Pennsylvania, North Carolina, and well, some dashingly handsome bloke from Louisville (America's 16th or 27th or 31st largest city).

Most of the attendees were from some sort of mix of places. Although I had only met a couple of them briefly before, everyone was so friendly. It was the type of group where you left in the evening feeling like you had known these people for a long time.

In addition to the front porch of this standard-issue Swedish family home being dolled up with strings of American flags, a veritable buffet of American gourmet specialties was on hand for the event. It's weird that "buffet" is a French word but "all you can eat"... well, we know where that comes from.

It always seems like the things people consider to be "typically American" are either filled with corn syrup, are terrible for your body, or are hilarious in some other way.

I believe Rice Krispie treats meet all of those requirements.

Oh, I suppose I should say that in addition to American food being funny and/or fattening, all of these things are also totally fucking delicious. Again, no wonder Americans are so fat - the food is amazing!

Chocolate chip cookies (made by Jenny) and potato chips (made in a factory).

In the background you can see American flag cups and Coca-Cola. Of course, there were hot dogs, hamburgers, corn on the cob, and other prerequisite grill fare. A couple treehuggers even had veggie burgers (bo-o-o-ring!)... oh wait, I'm vegetarian.

Perhaps in honor of Old Glory, but for whatever reason, I decided the time had come to splurge and I finally partook in some bourbon and cola. It was a real treat.

It had been six months since I had bought a bottle of bourbon - not that I was counting nor that I had been teetotaling. Honestly, I've been drinking plenty of other things, but all in all, I've been trying to live a fairly frugal lifestyle here. Kentucky bourbon isn't quite as affordable or readily available in Stockholm as it is in, say, Kentucky.

In Louisville, with such low prices and the bars being open until 4:00 in the morning, the city is basically daring you to not become an alcoholic. Sweden unfortunately makes it easy to skip quality in favor of price and availability if you want to have a drink with friends. Depending on my mood and the time of day, I can see the benefits of both systems.

Bulleit is my favorite bourbon and holy shit was it amazing when we met again. The Coca-Cola was also great. In Sweden, Coke is made with real sugar instead of high fructose corn syrup. That really makes a difference in the taste and the way you feel after you drink it.

I was happy to share my Kentucky stash with the other partygoers. An important part of being from Kentucky is being an ambassador for bourbon and all things Kentucky. People will ask what's the difference between bourbon and whiskey, and you must be able to tell them.

On the topic of drinking, the evening ended with some American drinking games - beer pong and flip-cup - which, I'm sorry to say, had to be explained to me. I didn't really go to college, so I never received proper instruction in these timeless competitions of skill and team-building.

Apparently, Old Timey Tower's not so bad at beer pong, but this is just one more thing I didn't think I would discover in Sweden. It may or may not be the last thing I suspected would be revealed to me here.

Speaking of America's contributions to culture, are those cargo shorts?

Traveling back home from Täby (north of Stockholm) to Haninge (south of the city) takes a little while, especially after midnight. It also requires a combination of exchanges bewteen buses and trains.

When we got out of the bus at Mörby to switch to the Tunnelbana, to our surprise, the bus began moving toward us. We both quickly jumped out of the way and fell to the curb. I think we were more shocked and startled than hurt. It could have been bad, but I escaped with only a sore hip. Getting hit by a bus would not be my preferred method for learning about the Swedish healthcare system.

The only real victims of the incident were some chocolate chip cookies that got broken in the scuffle. I mean, is it a crime to put some cookies in your pocket for the ride home? Or to take some in your jacket for your roommates? If that's a crime, my friends, well, this defendant is guilty as charged. No further questions, counselor.

Thursday, July 09, 2009


My new favorite part of Stockholm is a neighborhood known as Kristineberg.

Last week, I hung out in parks there a couple days in a row to enjoy the weather and scenery while buckling down for some studying of the Swedish language. During the summer break from school, I've decided to start back from the beginning of the book and go through as much of it as possible.

At one point while I was working there in the park, I glanced up and thought that my surroundings were too nice to be real. It almost looked like a painting. I would probably be there today if it wasn't raining.

Here's another spot where I spent some time studying.

Wednesday, July 08, 2009

Still more pictures of the sky

Unbelievable, I know. No one would ever expect to see a picture of the Swedish sky on this web site. Nonetheless, here are still more pictures of the sky.

4 July, 12:49 am

4 July, 11:57 pm

5 July, 11:36 pm

5 July, 11:36 pm

7 July, 7:15 pm

7 July, 7:58 pm

7 July, 7:58 pm

7 July, 7:58 pm

7 July, 7:58 pm

Saturday, July 04, 2009

More pictures of the sky

May 31, 12:31 am

May 24, 6:48 pm (two photos stitched together)

June 3, 9:56 pm

June 3, 9:56 pm

June 16, 12:59 am

June 25, 12:41 am

June 28, 6:32 pm: Some people see Jesus in the sky, I just see some hippie wearing glasses.

June 28, 10:27 pm

June 28, 10:30 pm

June 28, 10:30 pm
To comment without registering just choose Anonymous, then include your name in the message if you like.