Gareth Branwyn

Gareth Branwyn has been dog-paddling the waters of sidestream culture, as a participant and chronicler, for his entire adult life. He's been involved in the commune movement, the DIY and zine scenes, cyberpunk, steampunk, punk-punk, and has written for bOING bOING (print), Mondo 2000, Wired, Esquire, Details, and numerous other magazines and dailies. He is the editor-in-chief of MAKE magazine's blog, and is currently editing a collection of his work: "Borg Like Me & Other Tales of Art, Eros, and Embedded Systems."

Maker's Notebook Hacks

Ed Note: Boingboing's current guest blogger Gareth Branwyn writes on technology, pop and fringe culture. He is currently a Contributing Editor at Maker Media. Recent projects have included co-creating The Maker's Notebook and editing The Best of MAKE and The Best of Instructables collections.


I think I have one of the coolest jobs in the world. I get to work for Maker Media, helping to create magazines, books, web media, and events that I truly care about, that excite and inspire me. I just got back from the MAKE offices in Sebastopol, CA, where I was helping to put Volume 17 to bed. It's the "Lost Knowledge" issue, pressurized with plenty of steampunky goodness. It'll hit newsstands on March 10th. Last year, I got to lead the team that created The Maker's Notebook. Every engineer, artist, designer, crafter, or other creative type I know has ideas on what would make the ideal blank notebook. We took a lot of this input and tried to incorporate it into our design. One of the things we wanted to do with The Maker's Notebook was design in hackability. We wanted the book to beg to be customized, extended, repurposed. The cover was designed to look like a cross between a blueprint and an empty storyboard. We created special stickers with which to customize it. We're thrilled by all of the useful, creative, and crazy things users have done with their books. We gave some notebooks to teacher Steve Davee's 4th grade math class to see what they'd do with them. Above is student Aiden's LED cover mod video. Steve has done some crazy-cool hacks of his own, including a binary indexing system, which you can see here. Below are a few other mod projects. More can be found on the Maker's Notebook webpage.
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This is an impostor! Kent Barnes Maker-ized his pocket Moleskine by covering it with a paper bookcover he made of the Maker's Notebook. I did one of those jowly cartoon triple-takes when I saw this image on Flickr.
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Matt Mechtley's, of Flashbang Studios, notebook, modded at the workshop at last year's Maker Faire Bay Area.
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Val Hutchins made a cloth tool caddy that attaches to the cover of her notebook.
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MAKE Online Editor Marc de Vinck made a snap enclosure for his book.

J & B, Still on the Rox

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Ed Note: Boingboing's current guest blogger Gareth Branwyn writes on technology, pop and fringe culture. He is currently a Contributing Editor at Maker Media. Recent projects have included co-creating The Maker's Notebook and editing The Best of MAKE and The Best of Instructables collections.


Back in the early '90s, at print bOING bOING, we all took a shine to a Bloomington, IN cable-access TV show called "J & B on the Rox," or just "Rox" (in Wired, Mark called Rox "the best TV show in America"). It was pre-Vlog, proto-YouTube, Wayne's World meets Michael Moore's TV Nation (on prodigious amounts of herb and alcohol). These guys were good. They made it look effortless. And they never took themselves, or their show, too seriously. Now, through the reconnective magic of Facebook, I've found my Bartender J again! Turns out, he and B are back to putting out periodic episodes and releasing some cutting-floor specials, like the video seen below. The most recent episode, Fifteen Months of Katrina, is a moving look at B and (wife and Rox regular) Xy returning to their home after the hurricane and trying to make sense in the aftermath. J & B also have a new podcast, called J & B's Nightcap.

Tripping Through Video Vaults

Ed Note: Boingboing's current guest blogger Gareth Branwyn writes on technology, pop and fringe culture. He is currently a Contributing Editor at Maker Media. Recent projects have included co-creating The Maker's Notebook and editing The Best of MAKE and The Best of Instructables collections.


My friend, DC-area video artist Rob Parrish, posts a weekly video on his site Next to Heaven. Each week, he goes onto Archive.org, sniffs out new raw material, dreams up an idea for a found art video, edits, audio-records, and then on Wednesday, releases a new piece. Some of the resulting videos feel immediate, small, off-the-cuff, others strike much deeper, more resonant chords, and are truly impressive in their impact, given the production timeline. I'm always impressed with Rob's clever use of the found footage. And I love his perverse sense of humor. Given the retro source material, there's a haunting quality to many of these videos, a pervasive sense of loss, faded memories, tragic childhoods, dreams unfulfilled, and dirty secrets unrevealed -- all usually leavened with humor and a healthy helping of the absurd. Above is Episode 41, about a junkie who replaces his love of smack with drug education films narrated by Paul Newman. Other favorites of mine include the special episode The Tapes of My Father, about a son who discovers that his late Public Access TV producer dad recorded his innermost thoughts over found video footage from the PATV archives, and Episode 49, which has a man reminiscing about his macho childhood of sports and trouble-making while the video shows a young boy timidly putting on his mother's make-up.

Seek Ye the Hilaritas!

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Ed Note: Boingboing's current guest blogger Gareth Branwyn writes on technology, pop and fringe culture. He is currently a Contributing Editor at Maker Media. Recent projects have included co-creating The Maker's Notebook and editing The Best of MAKE and The Best of Instructables collections.


I've written about hilaritas elsewhere, but I thought I'd bring it up here for the benefit of Boing Boing readers who may not be familiar with the concept. I was introduced to the term via the work of Robert Anton Wilson. The more common hilarity springs from the same root. Hilaritas was a Roman goddess of rejoicing and good humor. She appeared on Roman coins from from the time of Hadrian until the late 3rd century AD. Hilaritas was a Roman public virtue, something that people were supposed to strive to exhibit and inspire others with. Wilson was keen on this word as he thought it perfectly expressed a rare quality of being that revealed a special kind of person. He defined hilaritas as “profoundly good natured” and made clear that, for him, it was more than just being happy or having a good sense of humor. I've also seen it defined as “being of pleasant spirits.” There's a kind of cosmic it-factor involved. People possessed of hilaritas are people you're drawn to because they have something indefinable that you want, a kind of playful knowing about the world. They seem to be having just a bit more fun on the slip'n slide flow of the Tao than the rest of us. Santa Claus has hilaritas. Bugs Bunny. Hotei. Mark Frauenfelder. And, of course, our dearly-departed Bob Wilson (Eris playfully unrest his soul) embodied this quality. My life has been a quest to surround myself with as much hilaritas as possible. It's ultimately hard to define, but (as they say) like pornography, you know it when you see it.

Linda Hesh's "Bench Project"

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Ed Note: Boingboing's current guest blogger Gareth Branwyn writes on technology, pop and fringe culture. He is currently a Contributing Editor at Maker Media. Recent projects have included co-creating The Maker's Notebook and editing The Best of MAKE and The Best of Instructables collections.


DC-area artist Linda Hesh does a lot of situational art that uses common products and familiar locales to address race, gender, sex, political polarization, and other typically prickly issues. She does this with a great deal of style, wit, and wry humor. Her "White Liberal Products" series is a line of Cafe Press mugs, t-shirts, tote bags, and baby onesies that sport the slogans: "I Like Black People," "I Like Brown People," "I Like Yellow People." Her "Desolation Doorknob" series are paper doorknob hangers with quizzical statements like "I didn't ask for this," "I don't know what to do," and "I tried to forget." She leaves the hangers on residential and commercial doors around town. You can also buy them (along with the White Liberal Products) and join in the culture jam yourself. Linda's most recent project was the For and Against Benches. These were two 6' steel benches, one green that said "FOR," one red that said "AGAINST." She set them up in locations around DC last fall, leading up to the election. Passers-by could sit on the bench of their choosing, then write down the thing they were for or against. As you can imagine, a lot of dominant cultural and political issues were on people's minds, like poverty, hunger, the Iraq war, freedom of speech, and world peace. But there were smaller, and some sillier concerns too, like chocolate, big screen TVs, and camelback crickets (that last one was a "For," BTW). Linda says that most people gave serious thought to what they wrote down and took the gesture seriously. In the end, she got 1000 written opinions and 309 photos of people posing on the benches. You can see an online gallery of the photos and the statements at Linda's website here.
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Attention "Paper-based Romantics"

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[Image from the blog Strikethru] Ed Note: Boingboing's current guest blogger Gareth Branwyn writes on technology, pop and fringe culture. He is currently a Contributing Editor at Maker Media. Recent projects have included co-creating The Maker's Notebook and editing The Best of MAKE and The Best of Instructables collections.


I launched a new weekly column on the Make: Blog today, called Lost Knowledge (also the theme of our next issue, BTW). We're going "in search of the technology of the future in the forgotten ideas of the past (and those slightly off the beaten track)." The first column on the blog is about collecting, refurbing, and using manual typewriters. In the comments, a reader posted a link to this wonderful blog, called Strikethru. Their mission:
This blog heartily approves of typewriters, fountain pens, junk cameras, retrotech, Rhodia, Myndology, Apica, and Moleskine notebooks, woodcase pencils, ephemera, Polaroid, rubber stamps, and fellow paper-based romantics who like the sound of a typewriter bell at the end of a sentence.
Ding! I wrote the URL in my Maker's Notebook, using my Varsity disposable fountain pen.

My Wallet Just Got Raptured

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Ed Note: Boingboing's current guest blogger Gareth Branwyn writes on technology, pop and fringe culture. He is currently a Contributing Editor at Maker Media. Recent projects have included co-creating The Maker's Notebook and editing The Best of MAKE and The Best of Instructables collections.


Music critic Daniel Stephen Johnson called Braithwaite Wallets "deliciously pretentious," and that pretty much sums them up. I mean, my new, now beloved, Braithwaite is called "Raptured," for Christ's sake! But if you're at all like me, you'll enthusiastically fork over your cash while cringing at their "Wallet Registry," some of the breathless prose on the site, and just generally getting this worked up over wallets. I've had my... er... heavenly Raptured for a few weeks now and I'm over the moon about it. It's actually a coat wallet, almost 7" long. I would rather have had a back pocket-style billfold, but I fell in love with the Raptured's steampunky design, with its laser-etched Art Deco-y flourishes and gold oriental brocade lining. I frequently carried my billfold wallet in my front pants pocket anyway, so I'm doing that exclusively now with this wallet. The Raptured is reasonably flat, so it doesn't create an unsightly bulge in your pants. There are seven, staggered, slots for your credit and ID cards, a place for bills, and one for receipts, etc. The full-grain, vegetable-tanned leather has a really nice old-world look and feel. It's really a beautiful, well-made piece that I'm sure I'll have for a long time. At first, the price of $127 seemed rather steep, but when you think about it, a wallet is one the few accessories a man carries, and you carry it all times. My last wallet was a Pierre Cardin I paid $40 over a decade ago. So $127 for something this handsome, this well designed, and well made -- that I'll likely carry for another ten years -- doesn't seem like that much. And that's the most expensive wallet Braithwaite makes. The other wallets run from $97 - $113. The other model I almost got was the Orpheus (below). It's an actual billfold style and made for guitar players, with a 3-slot guitar pick holder on the outside. They also make a wallet/Moleskine zipper case for $133. I've got my eye on that baby, too. "Deliciously pretentious" and a danger to your existing wallet in more ways than one.
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Seanie Blue's Night Light

Ed Note: Boingboing's current guest blogger Gareth Branwyn writes on technology, pop and fringe culture. He is currently a Contributing Editor at Maker Media. Recent projects have included co-creating The Maker's Notebook and editing The Best of MAKE and The Best of Instructables collections.


My friend, photographer and filmmaker, Seanie Blue traveled north, to Iceland, to blow his mind on the aurora borealis, in hopes that its incomprehensibility might help him forget a love gone south. He captured the most amazing photos and now those photos and interview footage of him talking about the experience have been edited into a Photography Channel (yeah, me neither) documentary. Here's a two-minute teaser. I'm psyched. Can't wait to see the whole thing. Way to go, Seanie!

DIY 33 1/3 Books

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Ed Note: Boingboing's current guest blogger Gareth Branwyn writes on technology, pop and fringe culture. He is currently a Contributing Editor at Maker Media. Recent projects have included co-creating The Maker's Notebook and editing The Best of MAKE and The Best of Instructables collections.


Following up on my post about the 33 1/3 book series, I forgot to mention a discovery I made recently. Using Wikipedia, you can have a sort of low-rent, roll-your-own 33 1/3 experience, at least with a lot of popular recordings. For many albums on Wikipedia, there's not only an entry for the album itself, but one for each (or many) of the tracks on the album. As an experiment, I chose “The Beatles” (aka “The White Album”) and Brian Eno's “Before and After Science.” There's a lengthy entry on The White Album, along with a fairly detailed entry for each track. For “Before and After Science,” there's only a single, brief entry. So, at least for The White Album, I was able to use my method of listening to each track, reading the Wikipedia entry, then listening to the track again. Of course, with Wikipedia, it's hit and miss on the quality and accuracy of the entries, and a lot of the track entries don't delve very deeply into the details of the compositions themselves; they're more anecdotal. On The White Album test, I did discover some interesting stuff, including: Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da Arguably one of the worst Beatles songs, Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da was Paul's idea of a reggae tune. John Lennon hated the song, calling it "Paul's granny shit." He left the studio as they struggled with different tempos and styles (not in the Wikipedia entry, but is the rumor that it was Ringo who couldn't understand nor establish a decent reggae beat) only to return a few hours later declaring that he was good and truly fucked up, sitting down at the piano, and banging out the piano intro you hear on the record. Helter Skelter “Helter Skelter “ was written after McCartney read an article in Guitar Player magazine where Pete Townsend said "I Can See for Miles," was the “loudest, rawest, dirtiest” song The Who had ever recorded. “Helter Skelter” was The Beatles' attempt at the same. The Continuing Story of Bungalow Bill “This song mocks the actions of a young American named Richard A. Cooke III, known as Rik who was visiting his mother, Nancy Cooke de Herrera, at the ashram of Maharishi Mahesh Yogi in Rishikesh at the same time that the Beatles were staying with the Maharishi. According to his mother, both she and her son maintained friendly relations with all of the Beatles except for Lennon, who by Cooke de Herrera's account was "a genius" but distant and contemptuous of the wealthy American Cooke de Herrera and her clean-cut, college-attending son. According to Nancy's life account, Beyond Gurus, the genesis of the song occurred when she, Rik, and several others, including native guides, set out upon elephants to hunt for a tiger (allegedly presented by their Indian guide as a traditional act). The pack of elephants was attacked by a tiger, which was shot by Rik. Rik was initially proud of his quick reaction and posed for a photograph with his prize. However, Rik's reaction to the slaying was mixed, as he has not hunted since. Nancy claims that all present recognized the necessity of Rik's action, but that John Lennon's reaction was scornful and sarcastic, asking Rik: "But wouldn't you call that slightly life-destructive?" The song was written by Lennon as mocking what he saw as Rik's bravado and unenlightened attitude. “Lennon later told his version of the story in a Playboy interview, stating that: "[Bungalow Bill] was written about a guy in Maharishi's meditation camp who took a short break to go shoot a few poor tigers, and then came back to commune with God. There used to be a character called Jungle Jim, and I combined him with Buffalo Bill. It's sort of a teenage social-comment song and a bit of a joke." Mia Farrow, who was also at the ashram during the period supports Lennon's story in her autobiography; she writes, "Then a self-important, middle-aged American woman arrived, moving a mountain of luggage into the brand-new private bungalow next to Maharishi's along with her son, a bland young man named Bill. People fled this newcomer, and no one was sorry when she left the ashram after a short time to go tiger hunting, unaware that their presence had inspired a new Beatles' song - 'Bungalow Bill.'” Dear Prudence “The song is about actress Mia Farrow's sister, Prudence, who was present when the Beatles visited Maharishi Mahesh Yogi in India. Prudence, focused on meditation, stayed in her room for the majority of their stay. Lennon, who was worried that she was depressed, wrote this song for her, inviting her to "come out to play". While the Beatles left the course, Prudence, Mike Love of the Beach Boys, and others, stayed and became Transcendental Meditation (or TM) teachers. Prudence now teaches elementary school along with her husband, and they both still practice TM and advanced versions of it.”

Oblique Tweets

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Ed Note: Boingboing's current guest blogger Gareth Branwyn writes on technology, pop and fringe culture. He is currently a Contributing Editor at Maker Media. Recent projects have included co-creating The Maker's Notebook and editing The Best of MAKE and The Best of Instructables collections.


I've been a fan of Brian Eno and Peter Schmidt's Oblique Strategies cards ever since they showed up in the mid-70s. I've had a computerized version of the deck on every one of my machines since the Hypercard version was released. So, I wasn't surprised when I recently searched and discovered that there's now a Twitter version too, called Oblique_Chirps (twitter.com/Oblique_Chirps). It feeds you a card an hour. I wish there was a way you could select the feed rate. One an hour is too frequent for me and it waters down the impact. And I'm not sure I want to be auto-fed the cards anyway, as opposed to choosing them as desired. I like Far Out Labs' iPhone version (available in the Apps Store). It allows you to select from all five editions of the deck and the card-drawing experience feels closest to the analog deck than any of the electronic versions I've used. Unfortunately, they snoozed on some of the capabilities. The cards get picked in the same sequence (i.e. two people choosing cards at the same time will get the same card). It also would've been fun if you could shuffle your deck by shaking your phone. Hopefully, they'll make improvements in future editions. Here, let's pick a card and and see what is says: Go outside. Shut the door. Okay. See ya!

Playing my Widower Card

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Ed Note: Boingboing's current guest blogger Gareth Branwyn writes on technology, pop and fringe culture. He is currently a Contributing Editor at Maker Media. Recent projects have included co-creating The Maker's Notebook and editing The Best of MAKE and The Best of Instructables collections.


A dear friend of mine, who blogs under the name Supa Dupa Fresh, and I share a grim truth -- we've both lost our spouses. One of the other things we have in common is an off-beat sense of humor. These two forces collide on her Fresh Widow blog, and especially, with her Fresh Widow (and Widower) Cards. She explains:
One night in my support group, S. said casually that he’d “left work early… I just pulled a widower card.” I thought about how often I’d done this in the months since LH died, but more about how I could make good use of some little advantage. All the handicaps I was living with… single (really, double) parenting, how impossible it was to go grocery shopping with a toddler, and how no one could see that anything was wrong. The side of me that is tempted to shoplift (but only cashmere or chocolate) was aroused. I was always comfortable as an underachiever, but could I have some legitimate “cover” after surviving catastrophe? Something versatile? Something I could use every day? And so the concept was born: Not as useful as a “get out of jail free” card, more powerful than a hall pass… it’s… it’s… The Widow Card!
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Surfrider's "Catch of the Day"

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Ed Note: Boingboing's current guest blogger Gareth Branwyn writes on technology, pop and fringe culture. He is currently a Contributing Editor at Maker Media. Recent projects have included co-creating The Maker's Notebook and editing The Best of MAKE and The Best of Instructables collections.


Annie from Provisions Learning Project writes:
In their continuing efforts to battle the ever growing mounds of garbage polluting our oceans and coastlines, Surfrider Foundation joined forces with Saatchi & Saatchi LA to sponsor the aptly titled Catch of the Day guerrilla ad campaign. Trash was collected from beaches across the US, then sorted, packaged like seafood, and strategically placed around local farmers’ markets. Directly targeting seafood consumers, this creative campaign draws attention to the gross debris littering our oceans and highlights how this pollution affects the consumer directly through the food they eat. Even if you’re not partial to seafood, its hard to miss the message!
It's eco-guilt meets the Barbie Liberation Organization! [Full Disclosure: I am on the Board of Directors of Provisions Learning Project]
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Down the Rabbit Hole with the World's Smallest Postal Service

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Ed Note: Boingboing's current guest blogger Gareth Branwyn writes on technology, pop and fringe culture. He is currently a Contributing Editor at Maker Media. Recent projects have included co-creating The Maker's Notebook and editing The Best of MAKE and The Best of Instructables collections.


I'm a firm believer in clinging to as much childlike wonder as possible. I love it when people take it upon themselves to inject a little magic and whimsy into the human herd. A few examples, one from my past that's stayed with me, one a recent discovery. Years ago, I was living in a group house. A woman came to visit, an artist and crafter who specialized in miniatures and dioramas. Her work, which she shared with us via a slideshow, was breathtaking – these pristine little dioramas, frozen scenes from some alternative kidverse of talking-animal storybook characters and various human strangelings, all going about their daily Lilliputian lives inside her little black boxes. She stayed for a few more days, and after she left, life on the commune moved on. We had a tree in our front yard which was itself something out of storybook, a big ol' gnarly tree with a humongous rotted knothole on one side. One day, I was doing some work in the yard, likely grumbling over the heat and the generalized ick of a Virginian late-summer afternoon. As I passed the tree, something caught my eye, something in the knothole. I peered in, and for a triple-take moment, all of the wistful fantasies of childhood overtook my adult reality. There, inside the dank hole, was a tiny overstuffed chair sitting on a braided rug, and next to it stood a floor lamp. Tiny pictures hung on even tinier nails on the inside walls of the knothole. A family portrait. Reclining in the chair, watching the TV inside the hole, sat a little rabbit-man. I think he had on overalls. And he may have been drinking something. A can of carrot juice? Honestly, I don't remember the details, and I'm sure time and memory have exaggerated them. But I honestly remember the impact. It was a simple reality hack with extraordinary impact, a rare moment when magic existed in the world. It worked me on so many levels – the fact that she never said anything to us about it, the amount of thought and work she'd put into it (all in secret), my chance discovery of it days after she'd gone, and that brief, delicious blurring of the mundane and the fantastic – a gift given only to those who happened upon it.
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This is all a very long-winded way of introducing my most recent encounter with someone doing the work of the fairy. Lea Redmond calls it the World's Smallest Postal Service. She writes little tiny letters on little tiny stationary and seals them with wax inside a little tiny stamped and canceled envelope. The letter is then placed by an official World's Smallest Postal Service employee (er... Lea) inside a little tiny blue post box.
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Then our ham-handed land of the giants reality takes over and the little magic letter is prepared for real-world mailing. It is put into a slide mount-like viewing envelope and then inside of a larger glassine envelope with a magnifying glass thoughtfully included so that the recipient can actually read it. You can order the letters online or you can check the calendar to see where the World's Smallest Postal Service will be setting up shop in the Bay Area. Online, you fill out a form with what you want your letter to say (up to 12 lines!) and where you want it sent. Each letter cost a measly $8. I bought a bunch of them for family and friends over the holidays and everyone seemed genuinely enchanted by the whole enterprise. Be sure to check out the rest of Lea's site. There's more clever whimsy to be had: matchbox theater, recipe dice, conceptual knitting patterns, earrings with flower seeds in 'em, and lots more awesomeness, If you ask me, we need a lot more surprise knothole dioramas and little tiny wax-sealed letters in this-here junkyard world. Are ya with me, people?

Mr E's beautiful blues


Ed Note: Boingboing's current guest blogger Gareth Branwyn writes on technology, pop and fringe culture. He is currently a Contributing Editor at Maker Media. Recent projects have included co-creating The Maker's Notebook and editing The Best of MAKE and The Best of Instructables collections.


I may be one of the few people who came to the Eels through Hugh Everett III, father of principle Eel, Mark Oliver Everett, aka "E." Mark's father is the originator of the many-worlds interpretation of quantum physics. The many-worlds interpretation figures heavily in the work of Robert Anton Wilson, and so it was one of my Discordian brethren (Hail, Eris!) who said: "Hey, did you know that Hugh Everett has a son in some alt.rock band called Eels?" As soon as I heard 'em, I was gill-hooked, but good. 2005's "Blinking Lights and Other Revelations" was certainly a revelation to me -- a two-CD set of 34 songs without a stinker in the bunch. E has said it's about "God and all the questions related to the subject of God. It's also about hanging on to my remaining shreds of sanity and the blue sky that comes the day after a terrible storm, and it's a love letter to life itself, in all its beautiful, horrible glory." For me, it also served as something of the soundtrack to the loss of my wife. I still can't listen to "The Stars Shine in the Sky Tonight" without completely losing my shit. Mr E knows from loss. His father, who barely interacted with him as a child, died when Mark was 19. His schizophrenic sister committed suicide in 1996, and two years later, his mother died of cancer. So much of E's music seems to encode all of this loss, along with a deep, dysfunctional social disconnect, and a visceral sense of confusion over who he is and what he should make out of all that's happened to him. But like all artists who resonate, Mark Everett seems to have an alchemical ability to transmute all of this sordid business into transcendent bits of sound poetry, music that, even when it's sad, the melodies, the musicality, the poetics, and all of its "beautiful, horrible glory" are so strong, it lifts up, rather than drags you down (at least, in this case, it does for me). Last year, the BBC released a wonderful documentary called "Parallel Worlds, Parallel Lives," which followed Mark Everett as he retraced the steps of his father, trying to learn more about the dad he never really knew and the physics theories he could never really understand. All in all, it's a rather quiet piece (not bad or boring, just quiet and small), but there are some truly potent moments, like when he hears his father's voice on tape for the first time, or when he finally figures out (basically) what the many-worlds interpretation really means, and when he hears himself on tape, in the background as a child, playing the drums and then bragging about how great he is. The scene where he describes finding, at 19, his dead father on the bed is one of the most heartrending things I've ever seen. That one scene explains at least half of the hit you get whenever partaking of an Eels' song. The entire BBC documentary used to be on YouTube, in four parts. Alas, it's been taken down. While links last, you can see it in two parts, on Veoh, here and here.

Nightly meditations on 33 1/3

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Ed Note: Boingboing's current guest blogger Gareth Branwyn writes on technology, pop and fringe culture. He is currently a Contributing Editor at Maker Media. Recent projects have included co-creating The Maker's Notebook and editing The Best of MAKE and The Best of Instructables collections. Back in the mid-80s, I used to have a little ritual I'd perform every year. I'd select a biography, autobiography, or session/musical history about The Beatles and I'd read it while listening to a housemates' pristine vinyl copy of the The Beatles Collection (from end-to-end) on a kick-ass stereo. I so loved and looked forward to each yearly immersion. Fast-forward to 2005 and a posting by David here that Boing Boing pal Erik Davis had authored a book on Led Zeppelin's fourth album, part of a series of books on iconic records, called the 33 1/3 Series. I ordered Erik's book and have been collecting the series ever since. I can't tell you how much I enjoy them and how much deeper they've taken me into the music I love so much. Each book is somewhat unique, there's no set formula, although they all focus on a single album and most tend to have a chapter or two to set up the album, a chapter for each track on the album, and then a follow-up chapter or two. The books are each about 130-140 pages, so they're a quick read -- unless you want to ritualize the experience like I do. For each title, after I buy it, I download the album onto my iPod. Every night, before bed, I listen to one of the tracks, read the chapter on that track, then I listen to the track again. It's really an amazing way of penetrating deeper into the music. Usually after I'm finished with a particular book/album, I'll obsess over that artist for awhile, tracking down and listening to their entire oeuvre, wishing there was a 33 1/3 book for each record. I just recently finished the 33 1/3 for Captain Beefheart's Trout Mask Replica and then went off and listened to any of his records I could find. I think I understand his work (both his music and his painting) now in a way I never would have without having gone on this journey, little pocket tome in-hand. My next excursion is going to be Joy Division's Unknown Pleasures.
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Forthcoming titles I'm jazzed about are Kate Bush's The Dreaming and Brian Eno's Another Green World (although it's been perpetually forthcoming -- rarely a good sign). I got so psyched after reading Erik's book, I even proposed one of my own, for Eno's Before and After Science, but the timing ended up not being right for me (especially given the labor-of-love-sized advance). One caveat about these books – the quality is very hit and miss. There seems to be a lot of latitude for the authors to step out (the whole enterprise is very passion-driven) and follow where their muse takes them. Some end up in a better place than others. But even when a title draws up short, I've still enjoyed the ride, and the books are so brief, it's not like I've invested a lot of time or money. David Barker, editor of the series, maintains a blog about 33-1/3, which you can find here.