More Bowie bits you shouldn’t miss

From the RS tribute issue:

  • Trent Reznor’s comments include Bowie helping him get sober: “I knew. I knew you’d do that. I knew you’d come out of that.“. You should absolutely click through to the 1994 tour performance wherein he and Bowie do “Hurt” together. (How the fuck did I miss that tour?)

  • Longtime Bowie bassist Gail Ann Dorsey — who also became his “Under Pressure” duet partner — was more or less plucked from near-obscurity to tour with him; her memories of him are here. On this one, don’t miss the video of “Under Pressure.”

This time, I’m gonna make it to Austin

(tl;dr? Here’s the link. Thanks.)

Here comes the 2016 MS150 Pitch!

Here we go again! It’s time for Chet to ride to Austin — well, almost; it’s in 90 days or so (4/16-17). And that means it’s time for me to hassle you about fundraising again. Many of you have been extremely generous for this cause in the prior three years, and I hope that you’ll feel similarly generous this year.

What the hell are you on about, Heathen?

The MS150 is one of the largest — if not THE largest — charity rides in the country. Come April, something more than 15,000 riders will take off from Houston in a two-day marathon ride to Austin, some 165 miles away. I’ll cover 100 miles on day one, spend the night in La Grange, and then either 65 or 75 on day two, depending on which route I choose.

And when I say big, I mean big: last year, there were 13,000 riders, and we raised over $20 million. Yeah, it’s like that.

Wait. You’re doing this again?

Yep. Here’s why:

I’m sure you all recall that late 2014 and early 2015 kinda sucked here at the Farmer household. I had a bad crash last November, resulting in the dramatic-looking x-ray above, followed by a long period of healing and rehab. I was confined to a walker from November 20 until late February; I used a cane for months after that. And, obviously, I missed the 150 last year.

(Well, let’s be clear: with your help, I actually DID do the most important part of the 150: fundraising. We — all of you plus me — took first place in fundraising on the Karbach Brewing team, and that’s something we should all be proud of. But I didn’t get to ride.)

You’ll be really slow this time, right?

After spending all that time off the bike, I took my first short ride in late March. I was slow and tentative, and had no endurance, and that sucked out loud. I joke that I lost 40 pounds riding bikes and drinking beer, and that’s the truth, but part of that was riding hard and often. I went from a 250 pound guy who could barely get to 18 miles an hour to a 210 pound guy who cruised with the hot rod pack at 28 or 30 down Washington Avenue. Coming back and being slow was hard.

But I did it anyway, and I kept doing it, and by July I was finally able to notch 100 miles a week again, and I’ve never looked back. (Well, except to check for traffic.) All told, I rode nearly 2800 miles in 2015, which I think isn’t too bad for a guy who spent the first quarter unable to walk. I didn’t do it by myself, obviously — I had lots of help and encouragement, and a huge part of that was from my teammates at Karbach.

Now, in January of 2016, I’m a stronger rider now than I was last November. I’m excited about that. After sitting out last year, making it to Austin this time around will be especially meaningful to me.

That’s cool and all, but it’s not the point. This is the point.

I’ve written to you before about MS, and about how it can sneak up on its victims in pernicious and devastating ways, but to be completely honest I don’t think I really appreciated what that could be like until I spent some time with my mobility compromised. My experience wasn’t a perfect analog — I had great care in one of the best medical centers in the world; there was never any real doubt that I’d make a full recovery barring serious complications — but understanding that intellectually is a long way from internalizing it, especially when you can’t do the things you love, or climb the stairs in your house, or help your spouse with the housework, or even walk.

I got better. (Better, stronger, faster…) My life today is more or less just as it was before the accident. I’m lucky. Some MS patients see remission, but some don’t — and even those in remission live with the knowledge that their personal demon could re-emerge and re-imprison them at almost any time.

I said I did this to drink beer and lose weight, and I think in the first couple years that was more true than not. The fundraising part of the event was a minor part. After all, I didn’t know anyone with MS, and had no real understanding of what it could be like. The 150 is just a thing lots of Houston riders do.

Then, in 2013, friends asked me to ride for their sister, or friend, or cousin, or coworker. That makes it more real in a big hurry, but not as real as spending a few months on a walker.

The ride is secondary. I’ll put in the miles anyway, because I love riding, because it’s good for me, and most of all because I know what it’s like not to be able to. The MS150 is about MS, about raising money for MS research, and about helping those people affected by it. Chet riding to Austin is a sideshow; what we do here, with the link above and below, is the main event — and it’s the part I need you for.

Be on my team.

Please give. If you’re able, please increase your gift from last year. We are all of us very, very fortunate — maybe none of as as much as I.

The direct donation link is

Also, in the past, folks have given me names of those close to them who suffer from MS; I write them on my race bib, and find them particularly inspiring after 50 or 60 miles. If you’d like to add a name to the list, just let me know. I’d be proud to.

Why we still need health care reform

Joe Biden’s son Beau died last year from a brain tumor. He was, at one point, concerned that cognitive damage would force him to resign his office, which would have made him unemployed and uninsured. It is no secret at this point that the Vice President and the President are close friends, and their relationship included frank discussions of Beau’s health, and the challenges that might arise, and how they might meet them, including the idea that they’d sell their house to pay for Beau’s care. (Remember, Biden is probably the poorest man to ever be Vice President.)

President Obama would have none of it, and told Biden he’d pay for it if need be.

So, two things.

First, it’s great that the Vice President has a rich and powerful friend who could have helped his family.

Second, how incredibly fucked up is it that even someone in Beau Biden’s position would have needed this kind of help just to get care?

Single payer. Now.

(h/t: sp0ka.)

This is probably obvious, but it bears pointing out: He planned it.

Bowie’s exit — the release of his album only days before his death, the video of “Lazarus,” the timing of it all — is in no way an accident, and was absolutely planned. His producer confirms it.

A commenter on Metafilter calls it a “nothing-but-net exit,” which to me just about sums it up.

You should never doubt that he was, in addition to so much else, an unstoppable conceptual bastard.

“Look up here / I’m in Heaven”

David Bowie has died. He had turned 69 on Friday.

Chris Onstad wrote this when Michael Jackson died. It’s as on point today as it was then:

“He was your Elvis, and when your Elvis dies, so does the private lie that someday you will be young once again, and feel at capricious intervals the weightlessness of a joy that is unchecked by the injuries of experience and failure.

“Welcome to the only game in town.”

It hardly needs to be said, but in the pantheon of musical influence in the last half century, Bowie has few peers. For me, it’s probably the hardest musical loss since Lou Reed. It might get loud in the office today. I suggest you go and do likewise.

Here’s a start, from 1978. “Heroes” has always been a favorite of mine, even though for the last 13 it reminds me of a wake (Steve Barnett’s, 13 years ago this month). That seems appropriate today.

Hey Chief Heathen! Talk to me about streaming music vs. purchased music!

Over on Facebook, I ran into this article that tries to make the case for buying physical media, but fails utterly because the author doesn’t understand the difference between purchased digital music and streamed digital music. It seems to me that this is probably a broad problem, so let me try to clear it up for you.

The Argument

In the linked article, the author says CD or vinyl beats “digital music” on four fronts. He or she asserts that:

  • It better supports the band, because streaming services pay so little;
  • You get security of ownership — the music will always be playable, and you don’t have to keep paying for it;
  • CD/vinyl gets you better quality than digital; and
  • Collecting is fun.

The author’s main problem is that the piece conflates the notion of purchasing digital music with the idea of paying for a streaming service. In fact, almost the whole piece is really about buying music in any form vs. paying for a service, but the author doesn’t appear to understand that he’s missed something big. I get that people misunderstand this stuff, though, so let me try to fill in the gaps.

Purchasing vs. Streaming and the Issue of Artist Compensation

If you BUY music from a digital source, like iTunes (but not Apple Music) or Amazon, you own those files, and the band gets paid. They have no copy protection on them, and you can copy them to as many devices as you like, make backups, burn CDs, or even give copies to other people — which would be wrong, but it is possible. (N.B. that movies and TV purchased from iTunes definitely DO have DRM on them; these comments apply only to music. Exercise caution when buying video from iTunes, and do the mental math considering it more a rental than a purchase.)

There’s no real advantage to physical media when it comes to actual music ownership. There might be a small advantage to the artist if you buy direct from them at a local show or wherever, where I assume they get a bigger cut, but that’s a corner case.

It IS absolutely true that, with streaming services like Spotify, you have to keep paying to keep listening. But if you buy the music and download it, you don’t; it’s always yours. It’s also true that streaming services traditionally pay artists very, very little compared to any kind of purchase, which is a good reason to avoid them and buy your music.

But what about quality?

The quality argument has similar problems. Downloaded digital files — at least from iTunes — are at such a high sampling rate, and in such good formats, that it’s extraordinarily unlikely that anyone could tell them from CD source in a blind test. (In fact, it’s never even been done with 256Kbps Mp3, and the AAC files from Apple are better than that.) There’s no audio upside, even theoretically, for physical media — and this is before you factor in the fact that most people don’t use equipment that would expose the difference between even lower-bitrate sampling and CD source. You won’t hear it in your car, or on crappy default headphones, or on a tiny Bluetooth speaker.

Again, though, the author’s ding definitely DOES apply to streaming music, because the quality is only as good as your connection, and will be degraded if there’s insufficient bandwidth (like a YouTube video, but with audio). This is definitely a reason to avoid streaming services (and I do, for the most part), but it’s not a reason to avoid downloaded digital music.

The Collector Angle

Collecting is the only area here where I can maybe see the appeal of physical media, but speaking as a guy with a 30 year collection, let me add that at some point, adding additional physical items to store that you don’t need to have to hear the music becomes unattractive. I love that music I buy from iTunes doesn’t come with something I have to put on a shelf or in a cabinet. (I mean, have you SEEN my living room?)

Is there a reason to buy physical media in 2016?

Yes. Sadly, though, the article misses the reason I do sometimes still do it: because I like to support my local record store. Even sadder, the reason it’s not in the article is almost certainly because so few people still live in a place that even has the option. There’s no joy in browsing the CDs at Wal-Mart or Best Buy.

So why would anyone use a streaming service?

Services like Apple Music or Spotify or Rhapsody or whatever have all the drawbacks listed above (no ownership, less compensation to the artists, poorer quality), but they do provide something people value: enormous libraries of music. Apple Music boasts like 37 million tracks, which is way more than I have in my library, and I’m a crazy person. Paying a fee gets you access to those tracks, but at a pretty significant tradeoff.

In the past, I maintained a Spotify subscription for pre-purchase sampling and earworm-remediation purposes, but I’ve discontinued that. I wasn’t using it for anything I couldn’t accomplish with, say, a YouTube search, and I didn’t feel good about supporting a service that is allowed to compensate artists so poorly.

Mileage may vary on this, but at the end of the day, I’d rather have my music be MY music. On that, at least, the author and I agree.

Dept. of Unlikely Name Collisions, Jazz Subdivision

Several years ago — and most likely via NPR — I became aware of a jazz bassist named Avishai Cohen.

This morning, a really nice video of him and his band playing was in my feeds; you can watch it here, and I suggest you do (ideally with headphones).

As I listened, I tried to go to Wikipedia for a background refresher on Cohen, and found something somewhat surprising.

I already thought it unusual that Cohen is an Israeli-born jazz musician; maybe it’s because I’m a middle-aged white man, but I don’t think of Israelis as being terribly well represented in jazz. So imagine my surprise when my Wikipedia search brought me this:

Avishai cohen

Yup. In addition to the Israeli-born jazz bassist Avishai Cohen (b. 1970,, there’s also an Israeli-born jazz trumpeter named Avishai Cohen (b. 1978,, and they appear unrelated.

Neat. Maybe what the jazz world needs now is a collaboration?