18 August, 2013

My Prison Possessions

Everything I own has to fit inside a metal footlocker that sits along one wall of my small two-man cell, so stuff is kept to a minimum. But what stuff does this refer to, exactly? Aside from an inordinate amount of paperwork, impeccably organized in folders and a huge accordion file, and without the assorted hygeine items and foodstuffs from the Crossroads canteen I keep on hand, the list that follows encompasses everything that Byron C. Case has to his name. May your voyeuristic curiosities be sated at last.

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This is my Old Faithful — the machine on which I've written everything for the past six years, from blog posts to book manuscripts. It's my life support system. That said, I'd prefer a laptop in my cell (even an Apple product, at this point).

The aging TV that sits on the shelf in my cell is missing a button, shows reds as magentas on one area of the screen, and, on the average day, gets an hour and a half of use. The canteen sells flat screen TVs now, but The Walking Dead, The Americans, American Horror Story, and an occasional movie don't justify the exorbitant upgrade cost.  

The canteen stopped selling boomboxes in 2004. Mine was one of the last few. Its analog tuner isn't great, but the external antenna means I get good enough reception within my concrete-and-steel box to listen to the two radio stations that, for a few hours a week, play music I like.

Oh, the Precioussssss! We loves the Precious, yes we does. We needs its singing in our headses, to get away from the nasty sounds. We hates the sounds. CDs makes us happy, makes us happy, makes us happy. Musics makes us forget the walls and the evil sounds.

Historically I've hated how best-of compilations are put together. Crackle, by Bauhaus, is an exception, featuring the heartbeat-quickening drums of "In The Flat Field", the morose bat-cave hit "Bela Lugosi's Dead", and the twinkling, uplifting "Spirit". This album is the perfect cure for days when ennui starts creeping on: a "Kick in the Eye" usually does the trick.

This is beautiful, melancholy lo-fi rock from one of the best bands to debut in the '90s. 2 is the Black Heart Procession's second album, and makes the ideal soundtrack to solo wintertime walks around the snowy prison yard.

I like to put this album of Black Tape for a Blue Girl's atmospheric synths, swooning strings, and dramatic vocals on whenever I need to transport myself elsewhere, far away from my harsh confines.

One of my friends, a fellow Depeche Mode fan, has a hard time understanding why I like the grunge- and gospel-kissed Songs of Faith and Devotion as much as the synth-pop pioneers' prior hit album (the dark masterpiece Violator). I guess it's the exultant vocals and full sonic palette that have made this record so personally relevant, all these years.

Captivating vocals by Dave Gahan, strong songwriting by Martin Gore, and a studio crammed with vintage synths and drum machines make Depeche Mode's 2009 release, Sounds of the Universe, an invigorating, inspiring listen.

On these cabaret punks' first single, Amanda Palmer sings, "This bridge was written / to make you feel smitten / with my sad picture of girl getting bitter". And it worked. I've been in love with the quirky music of the Dresden Dolls ever since this 2003 debut album.

No, Virginia... is easily the best collection of outtakes I've heard by any band or artist. True to form, this final (?) album from the duo of Amanda Palmer and Brian Viglione (together, the Dresden Dolls) alternately tugs and tears listeners' heart strings: "Night Reconnaisance" is a song about stealing lawn ornaments; a double amputee finds love online, in "Ultima Espiranza"; and the smoldering "Boston" pins down the terrible, temporary transcendence of romantic love.

From the liner notes that accompany The Best of Joy Division: "because we all live in dream worlds // because we remember when we were young // because the helpless dead tend to be visited by the sentimental, and not necessarily profitless, exertions of the living".

I remember nicking Pretty Hate Machine from my father's massive music collection when I was twelve, then skulking off to listen to it in my room, heavy curtains drawn. Even back then, I recognized the dark dance-floor magic at work on Trent Reznor's first Nine Inch Nails recording.

I wasn't even two years old when Telekon  — the last good Gary Numan album until the '90s — came out. Still, its themes of alienation and emotional confusion, set to Numan's synthesizer-driven arrangements, became the soundtrack to my young adult life. The single "We Are Glass" gives me chills every time I hear it.

With production by a small army of big names in synth-pop, EBM, and industrial music, Gary Numan's two-disc Hybrid Sessions features newly recorded favorites, both recent and vintage, by the godfather of electronic music. These fresh variations of "Cars", "Down in the Park", and "Are 'Friends' Electric?" make me wish I could take a compact sports-tuned import out for a midday zoom. For me, this is feel-good music.

Amanda Palmer's first solo album, recorded after the Dresden Dolls were mothballed. Ben Folds produced, and among the guest artists to appear are St. Vincent and former Dead Kennedys guitarist, East Bay Ray. It's piano rock to make Elton John blush, Billy Joel flee in terror, and Regina Spektor break into tears.

Once upon a time, in the magical land of Brooklyn, a young cellist formed a band with two other fetching cello-players. They called this band Rasputina. The music they played together was very loud indeed, and it was often full of snark and obscure historial references to make the townspeople smirk and titter into their cuffs and nosegays. And so did the traveling minstrels bring much joy to the land, and, in particular, to one pale lad locked deep in a dungeon in a distant kingdom....

The first Siouxsie & the Banshees album I ever owned was the ornate, poppy Superstition, but the deeper I delved into their post-punk back catalog, the more I found to like. When the jagged sound of Juju was being set down at Surrey Sound, in England, I was just two years old, but the recording's smart, irreverent, drum-heavy tracks (such as "Into the Light" and "Arabian Nights") make that chronological tidbit meaningless.

Peepshow marked what I consider the band's full embrace of the dark pop sound that brought Siouxsie & the Banshees their almost-mainstream status, here in the US. The album's big single, "Peek-a-Boo", still gets radio play today, but the track I'm most enamored with here is "Ornaments of Gold".

Various Failures. The title alone makes it easy for me to overlook my usual dislike of compilation albums. This two-disc set includes almost all of my favorite Swans songs from the 1988-1992 period, including "The Other Side of the World", "Love Will Save You", "Blind", and "Please Remember Me". Melancholy? Sure, sometimes. Misanthropic? Almost comically so. Masterful? Without a doubt.

If I were only allowed to listen to one album for the rest of my life, it would be Replicas. The lonely-android rock that typified Gary Numan's early songwriting was never better than it was on songs like "Me! I Disconnect from You" and "We Have a Technical". And the futuristic angst of "Down in the Park" will probably haunt modern synth-pop acts for decades still to come.

I discovered the neo-goth dance music of Nika Roza Danilova (who records as Zola Jesus) through a magazine review, which led me to her delectable 2010 Valusia EP. She immediately leapt to the top of my list of  noteworthy recent artists after I listened to the retro-tinged "Hikikomori" and the simple lamentations of piano and her soulful voice on "Skin", both from this debut LP, Conatus.

I prefer my New Oxford American Dictionary because of its Oxford pedigree and because it's not fusty, like American Heritage, or seemingly dumbed down, like Merriam Webster. This third edition gets referenced many times a day, in my writing hours, and almost never leaves me without a sold answer to my queries.

For when that perfect word eludes me. A thesaurus will just as easily lead a writer astray as point her to a worthy synonym, but the organization of this particular Roget's by category, rather than by alphabetical word listings, comes in handy when I want to find, say, a list of phobias by subject (fear of worms = vermiphobia), or of the events in a triathlon (100-meter dash, high jump, shot put). 

A fan. Because otherwise summers would mean slow-roasting in my allegedly climate-controlled cell. Why is the housing clear? Presumably so prisoners with more furtive intentions than I do can't stash contraband inside.

I really do wish my Casio wristwatch had an alarm, but it's better than nothing. You're probably asking yourself, "Why does someone in prison need to know what time it is?" If you have to ask, you'll never know.

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Byron does not have Internet access. Pariahblog.com posts are sent from his cell by way of a secure service especially for prisoners' use. We do read him your comments, however, and he enjoys hearing your thoughts very much.