Skivbörsen 2020 12 02 800pxAbsolute zero is the lowest limit of the temperature scale, −273.15° on the Celsius scale −459.67° on the Fahrenheit scale. At absolute zero, all motion comes to a standstill. This pretty much sums up the impact of covid-19. One of the early victims of the pandemic was Atlas Records, read more here (opens in a new window). A month ago, I took a walk along S:t Eriksgatan in Stockholm, the former hub for second hand record stores in Northern Europe. I walked past one of the few remaining (?) and also best store, Skivbörsen, located at S:t Eriksgatan 71. The store has been closed since March 2020 due to covid-19. It's a wonderful establishment for cds and vinyls. Skivbörsen gives the concept of chaos a new and deeper meaning. However, the supply is unmatched and prices are very moderate. A hand-written note on the entrance door. Closed until further notice. The modest shop lighting is still on. I took the photo through the storefront. A lot of vinyls on the counter in their protective sleeves. It seems like the owner was handling them and then suddenly decided to evacuate. I came to think of the Chernobyl disaster, the nuclear accident on 26 April 1986 near the city of Pripyat in Ukraine. Pripyat was not evacuated until the day after, approximately 36 hours after the initial blast. The evacuation of 47 000 inhabitants, in 1 200 buses and 200 trucks, took only a few hours. Initially it was decided to evacuate the population for three days; later this was made permanent. Nowadays, you can go there on guided tours. The phenomenon is called disaster tourism. It has been defined as the practice of visiting locations at which an environmental disaster, either natural or man-made, has occurred. It's a ghost town. Cracked concrete buildings, abandoned apartments, peeling wallpaper, moldy daycares and the never opened Ferris wheel located in the Pripyat amusement park. The Azure swimming pool and Avanhard stadium are two other notable tourist attractions. Urban explorers find decay of uninhabited space profoundly beautiful. I don't think Stockholm will decay, but maybe change. I can already detect small changes in the streetscape: clearance sales, bankruptcies and vacant business premises. For many years we have been visiting second hand record stores. Not so much anymore. Is this delight over now?  

 

the darkest hour is just before the dawn quote kvadrat"The darkest hour is just before the dawn". The English theologian and historian Thomas Fuller is attributed to this saying (from A Pisgah-Sight Of Palestine And The Confines Thereof, 1650). It means that things often seem at their worst just before they get better. It's a positive and uplifting message, but the darkest hour is when the sun is farthest below the horizon. This is clearly not just before the dawn. But, let us put the astronomy aside for a moment and focus on the message. The new decade began with great expectations. Well, covid-19 has put a dampener on things. Death is the worst of all. Getting very sick comes second. Other negative aspects comes third. The economic, social and psychological consequences are impenetrable. People have lost their jobs or their income. Some people have been hit harder than others, predominantly in the so called culture sector. The times are hard in this sector even when the economy is booming. Music production and live events came to a grinding halt. It's sad and depressing. Very few albums were released in the gothic country genre this year: "Trouble of this World" by Uncle Sinner, "The Child Who Does Not Feel the Comfort of the Village will Burn it Down to Feel its Warmth" by T.K. Bollinger. You can read the reviews in the blog section. Lonesome Wyatt And The Holy Spooks released two albums, "Agonizing Love" (released in 2019, but the cd version was released in 2020) and "Dream Curse". They were both good releases, although the latter is the slightly better one. In terms of quality, 2020 was a passable year considering the circumstances. But this is not possible to establish with certainty. There are probably too few observations in the dataset.  

What about next year? For many years, I've been very pessimistic and petulant about the future and often declared that the best years for the genre have come and gone. But, maybe now is the time to reconsider. I've had the same three wishes for five years in a row. The first wish: a new gothic country album from Christian Williams. The last album was released over ten years ago. A new album is on the way in 2021! This was a surprise, to say the least. Wonderful news. The second wish: a new album from The Victor Mourning. This wish will come true, hopefully in 2021. The third wish: to acquire at least one of the hard-to-find four missing albums (read more here) and to get all albums from the defunct label Devil's Ruin Records. The first part of the wish failed. But, I managed to get a hold of a physical copy of "Bangtown" by Big John Bates. The complete Devil's Ruin Records catalogue is (maybe) within reach. I wish for the same three things in 2021. It's now or never. It seems like next year is when all wishes (or most of them) will come true. What about new releases in 2021? Wovenhand's ninth album "Silver Sash" was scheduled to be released in 2020, but has been postponed to February 2021. Antic Clay is planning to raise funds to release an album called "Broom of Fire". It was originally scheduled to be released in 2017 as a 10 year anniversary of the release of "Hilarious Death Blues" (HDB), which is a milestone in the dark americana (or if you prefer gothic americana) genre. Artists and bands are queuing up in 2021. We need to make up lost ground here. Sons of Perdition, Slackeye Slim, Oldboy (of the Fens), Uncle Sinner, Mr Plow and T.K. Bollinger are all working on new albums. Maybe Those Poor Bastards will be added the list. If everything falls into place then next year is going to be a fabulous year. Maybe, the darkest hour is just before the dawn, after all.  

brunna 6 kvadratThe famous German-speaking Bohemian novelist and short-story writer Franz Kafka wrote this in his diary: "People label themselves with all sorts of adjectives. I can only pronounce myself as 'nauseatingly miserable beyond repair'." I can't compete with the saddest of sad bastards, but a long time ago I felt unrepairable. Now and then I think about that period. Maybe, it's a piece in the puzzle of how I became the Ambassador. How did I became miserable almost beyond repair? I have always considered myself as happy-go-lucky. The catalyst was love. Or more correctly, unrequited love. My highschool sweetheart broke up with me. This served me right. I don't know how she put up with me so long since I constantly stressed tested the relationship. I really had it coming, but when it finally came I was just devasted. Devastation can lead to humiliation. There are units of measure for handling situations maturely. On a scale from 1 to 5, where 1 means bottomless humilation and 5 means dignified stoic calm, I scored approximately 1.2 points. No end of embarrassment. This break-up came when I had no direction in my life. If I had any direction, maybe I would have handled the situation better. Of course, this is meaningless counterfactual thinking. I had just completed mandatory military service with the standard credentials 10-7-7 (behaviour, suitability for the position and knowledge and skills). I have always aimed at mediocrity. Military service was supposed to give me structure and discipline. It didn't take. Rejection could lead to drastic decisions, for example joining the French Foreign Legion for an indissolubly contract of five years (yes, better sorry than safe). However, I was unable to make any decisions and besides, I took German instead of French in school. There's always an excuse. I didn't have a clue of what I wanted to do with my life. I didn't have any money (more than a small discharge pay from the Armed forces), no job or a place to live. This constituted the setting for my miserable story.  


Tresson ref BrfRastensgatan4 beforeThe five stages of dealing with loss and grief are denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. I was in the denial phase. It was just a bad dream. But, there was not much point in denying that I had to get a job. If not for the money, then to get my mind on something else than my self-induced misery. Mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa. My father told me if I wanted a job he could pull some strings. The string-pulling resulted in an interview for a position as process operator in the pharmaceutical industry. I had no formal training for the job, but considerable practical experience from assembling and dismantling. I pulled myself together for the interview. It was conducted by the kind and reticent manager of the plant. The interview was over in no time. I got the job. I suppose, not because of my personal charm, but due to the fact that the manager knew and respected my father. I was also offered a short-term lease through the employer. It was a tiny overnight flat for travelling mechanics. I was miserable, but a job and a temporary lease made me feel more comfortable (coming from a low level). The flat was a dump with considerable renovation needs. I wasn't alone. There were lot of silverfishes in the bathroom and in the kitchenette. I didn't care. The flat had a good location in a suburb north of Stockholm. You could go to the city in less than 10 minutes with the commuter train or by the metro. In those days the suburb was populated by poly drug users, odd existences and old people with small pensions. Anyway, the suburb had its charm. In recent years the suburb has been (hostile) taken over by hipsters. It's Swedens smallest, most densely populated and fastest growing municipality. I didn't see that coming in the beginning of the 1980s. Of course, my stay there didn't last long. After a couple of months I was asked to move out. Apparently, the real mechanics were coming. I didn't see that coming either. I had I blocked out the word "temporary". I tried to play dead. It didn't help. They insisted. I had to find another place and I didn't have much time. I thought this is as bad as it can be. I was wrong. It went from bad to worse.        

brunna 7 frameI had no idea where to go. A co-worker told me that I probably could get a flat if I moved northwardly. To be more precise, 35 km (22 miles) northwest from the dump. One advantage, according to my co-worker, was that it was close to the workplace. A few co-workers lived there. I didn't have any other options so I called the housing company and I got a lease the same day. In fact, they had many vacant objects to choose from. I chose to ignore the huge warning sign. How bad could it be? It turned out to be very bad. It was a depressing place. There was absolutely nothing wrong with the flat, 64 sqm (690 square feet) clean and newly renovated. It was three times as big as the dump. The flat was located in an impersonal residential area built in 1973. It was placed on a field. You can only wonder why? The local politicians must have suffered from megalomania when they tried to convert a small locality (6 666 inhabitants in 1980) in the middle of nowhere to something bigger. Build and economic growth will come seems to have been the adopted strategy. However, the future never came. It attracted people with few options and with no or little income, like myself. Social problems existed already in the 1980s, but were manageable. Today it's a vulnerable area, a term applied by police in Sweden to areas with high crime rates and social exclusion. Stockholm was far away, not only in terms of physical distance. There was a small town mentality. In those days it was hard just to get to Stockholm (bus ride and connecting commuter train). The commuter train didn't run after midnight. The night bus took ages, which discouraged you from going to Stockholm. The locality lacked identity and character. In short: a hellhole. I really hated the place. There was a small center with a supermarket and a pharmacy, but no liquor store (state monopoly in Sweden), although the customer base clearly existed (a lot of hard-drinking Finns). The proximity to the workplace wasn't any advantage. This only meant that you could eat, sleep and die conveniently close to your home. This wasn't a good environment for any repairments.  
        

Brunna 2 1000pxThe workplace was the cutting edge in the beginning of the 1980s. Built from scratch in an industrial area placed in the middle of nowhere. The staff was relocated from the already existing plant in Stockholm. The hygiene standards were high. You were obliged to wear a hairnet and to change your clothes and shoes when entering another zone. The control room had a futuristic starship bridge design and was placed in the center of the plant. From here you monitored the two processes contained in a closed system. The plant produced raw products for intraveneous nutrion solutions. The were two processes: extracting oil from soja beans with hexane and extracting phospholipids from egg yolk powder with ethanol. The two processes required large quantities of hexane and ethanol, which were recycled. Of course, I was never let near the recycling. The risk was imminent that I would have blown the whole plant to kingdom come. The security protocol was rigorous. Hexane leakage is extremely dangerous. The control panel lit up like a Christmas tree. We wore protective masks and used non-sparking tools and started to fix the problem. We were gathered on the starship bridge for most of the time. My main tasks were monitoring the phospholipids process, studying charts and writing notes over levels, pressure, flows and temperature. Sometimes a button on the control panel would indicate a problem. Then you had to do something about it. You opened the heavy process manual and started to locate the problem, for example a particular valve. Some valves malfunctioned more than others. Next step was to find it physically among hundreds of valves. In most cases, if you gave the valve a good kick with your steel cap shoes it would open with a squeak. The sensor would indicate that the valve was open and, hopefully, the button on the control board had stopped flashing. Finally, you would write a maintenance report that it needed lubrication. On the last shift before the weekend - when there was no production - the steel containers and equipment were meticulously cleaned, floors were scrubbed with lye, formaldehyde was prepared to circulate in the closed system and formol in stainless steel cups were placed in floor drains to prevent bacterial growth. It was a toxic work environment. However, our employer maintained a ambitious health and safety culture. We were obliged to undergo lung x-ray on a regular basis. The young and pretty nurse told me to undress. The x-rays were taken. Afterwards, she told me that next time I didn't need to be completely naked for the x-rays. Taking off my clothes on the upper body would be sufficient. No end of embarrassment.              

rolling3shiftWe were divided in three different teams working a rolling three-shift schedule. The morning shift (7:00 AM-3:00 PM), afternoon shift (3:00 PM-11.00 PM) and night shift (11.00 PM-7.00 AM) and then back to morning shift again. Working three-shift schedule isn't good for your health. On the contrary, constantly changing your eating and sleeping patterns leads to adverse effects on the circadian system and to physical disorders. This is how it worked. The morning shift was close to a regular job. The night shift passed in slow-motion. Not much to do, mostly monitoring, and mistreating your body i.e. eating meals and drinking coffee in the middle of the night just to stay awake. Sometimes the coffee wasn't enough to keep you awake. Then you walked around in the production halls and through scary culverts. This was perfectly in line with my miserable mindset. Your beeper would eventually call you back to the control room to attend something. My experienced co-workers told me: whatever you do, don't go to sleep after the last night in the night shift. It will ruin your weekend. Stay awake and switch back to the coming day shift. I didn't care. The weekend was ruined anyway. In fact, I felt better when I was working than when I was home. The worst shift was the afternoon shift. It started 3.00 PM and ended 11.00 PM. Then it took some time get home and to fall asleep. Often you would fall asleep around 1.30 AM. When you woke up there was no point of doing anything. It was only a couple of hours left before you had to go back to work again. My co-workers were, in general, trained process operators. They were not passionate about the job. It was a steady job and better paid than a non-shift job. The shifts were led by teamleaders. They were good leaders who knew both about people and technical stuff. A co-worker told me: if you work hard you could become a teamleader in a couple of years. This future prospect didn't inspire me. For me, it was a dead end of a career path. The workplace was male-dominated. Most co-workers were a few years older than me. Not many had family or kids. At weekends they gathered and visited the worst kind of joints and raised hell. I joined them a couple of times, but it only made me feel more miserable. The jargon was raw and, often but not always, heartfelt. Only three women worked three-shift (randomly deployed one per shift). It stopped the worst attitudes and behaviour. I wasn't alone in my misery. A finnish co-worker had reluctantly left his homeland to find work. He was unhappy most part of the year. Summer vacation finally came. His wife was waiting for him at the factory gates with the engine running. No time to waste. He returned to the workplace in the last minute before our shift began again. He sat down and sighed heavily, lit one of many cigarrettes, stared blankly before him and began the long countdown for his return to the Land of the Thousand Lakes. Being miserable is a 24/7 job and working three-shift started to wear me out. This wasn't a good job for any repairments. 
   

toxic hazardSome people want to cheer you up and say: "There are plenty more fish in the sea". I don't know how this is going to help. You’re not interested in fish in general. You’re interested in one fish. The one that got away. Some say misery loves company. That's not true. Misery doesn't love anyone or anything. I was on a long slippery slope. It didn't take long to go from top physical shape in military service to flabby overweight. And it didn't take long to go from being a social person to being an introvert recluse. Who said no thank you to everyone and everything when some activity was suggested. I just wanted to be alone in my misery. Some say if you can't be with the one you love, love the one you're with. It may work as a song lyric, but not in real life. In fact, it's a terrible bad advice. Different input values in a relationship will never balance. It will end in tears. You might think that being miserable makes you responsive and full of empathy for others. Oh, no. That's not how it works. Instead, you will become self-centred and inconsiderate or even cruel for that matter. Especially to someone who, for some inexplicable reason, cares about you. I was quite toxic and should be made to wear a warning sign. In another blog entry I wrote about success theology and the infamous Landmark Education, read more here (opens in a new window). In one of their many expensive courses the participants were instructed to contact people who they have treated badly, done wrong or offended and ask for forgiveness. The success rate (be forgiven) was far from 100 percent. With Shakespeare's words, "what's done cannot be undone". Some things are better left as they are. Some say, you've made your bed, now lie in it. There was no shortage of laying in bed. I lay in bed, either staring blankly at the ceiling or reading depressing books by Nobel prize winner Pär Lagerkvist or listening to Bob Dylan's song Sara over and over again. "Don't ever leave me, don't ever go". No end of embarrassment. This isn't very constructive when you know deep down inside that you have to make a major change in your life.

ettbrevbetydersåmycketThe Swedish Postal Service got attention with their advertising campaign "A letter means so much". For me this slogan got a real meaning. I got a letter from the admission unit. I had applied for university studies. Not beacuse I had any plans in that direction. I just wanted to know how competitive my grades were. Much to my surprise, I was admitted. This had not been possible if not my high-school sweetheart had helped me to understand mathematics. I made a big mistake in junior high school. I took general course (basic) instead of specific course (advanced) in mathematics. The tired, cynic and illusionless math teacher had low expectations and told us: you will all get low-skilled jobs and it's important that you learn about percent, i.e. your wage increase in percent. However, most of the time we played bingo in an attempt to make math more fun. I was completely unprepared for the more advanced math in upper secondary school. I had never solved an equation before. My grade in mathematics was the lowest possible in the grading system. I needed help. My smart high-school sweetheart explained the mysteries of quadratic equation, derivative, integral and other problems to me. During my senior year in upper secondary school I managed - all thanks to her - to raise my grade corrensponding to a C. I have always aimed at mediocrity. This particular grade opened up higher education for me. And for this I'm forever grateful to her. There and then when the admission letter came, I made a life-changing decision. I should accept to the courses/programmes I applied for. After almost one and a half year the misery was over. I terminated my lease. I left the depressing place with the intention of never coming back. Nearly 40 years later I returned to take pictures for this blog entry. A commuter train station opened in 2001. Now it only takes 30 minutes to go to Stockholm. The train arrived one minute before schedule at 10.13 AM. I had brought my bike with me. 40 years is a really long time. I had problems finding the residential area. It took some time to find it, locate the flat and take the pictures. There is nothing for you here, only death. I sat up on my bike and started to pedal. Time was 10.27 AM. I had been there for 14 minutes, including the time I was lost. Must be some kind of record. I fantasized that the locality would try to hold me back and stop me from leaving, just like in a horror novel by Stephen King. It didn't. No horror occurred. It was a warm and beautiful summer day in August. Surrounded by fields and meadows I headed south on the paved bicycle path. I thought of what might have happened if I had stayed on that path. One thing is certain, I wouldn't be working at the same place. The plant was closed down after a couple of years. It had become cheaper to import the raw products than to manufacture them. On that long bicyle ride home I thought about things that bent and shaped me. Was that day, when the admission letter came, a defining moment or would a change have come anyway? There are two competing schools: predetermination or sliding doors. The first school says: life is more or less a straight line and your ups and downs in life are just variations above and below that line. The latter school says: life is a chance meeting, one door closes and another one opens, which trajects you in a complete new direction. I don't know. What do you think? 


AmazonSEThe Wolf is coming! Rumour has it that Amazon will launch a Swedish retail site. The Big Bad Wolf huffed and puffed for many years, but never came. Maybe Amazon forgot about our little country in the north? This year the buzz began to grow in intensity. Swedish market analysts almost wet themselves in eagerness and admiration. They spoke devoutly about Amazon in military terms: shock-and-awe tactic, a combination of brute force and surgical precision to wipe out all competition. On October 28, 2020 Amazon finally launched the Swedish site. The launch became a disaster and Amazon became a laughing stock. The errors were numerous. For example, translations were either incomprehensible or weird. Some disastrous automatic translations resulted in vulgar four-letter words for male and female genital organs. It didn't stop there. Amazon used the Argentine flag instead of Swedish one to represent country (select your preferred region/country website). How hard can it be to get the flag right? A flood of mockery began. Amazon tried to downplay the mistakes and stated: "We want to thank everyone for highlighting these issues and helping us make the changes and improve Amazon.se". However, the mockery overlooked more important issues: the poor supply and high and inconsistent pricing. I had high hopes for the Swedish retail site. I thought it would open the door to the world of cds, especially the US market. It didn't. Maybe Amazon can get their shit together. If not, the Swedish websites CDON and Ginza can go back to sleep again. 



no album art no coverI have been waiting for a new Sons of Perdition album for some time now. In fact, desperately waiting. Patience is a virtue. Their last (and first four-piece) album "Gathered Blood" was released four years ago. The band has since then grown into a five-pece band with Eli Rose as the latest member. The band members are scattered around the globe. This makes music creation different and more difficult. Covid-19 hasn't helped either, I guess. A year ago the bandleader and driving force Zebulon Whatley declared: "We’re hard at work on a weird new album. It will be released when it’s done. I don’t know what it‘s called yet." The sentence "It will be released when it’s done" got stuck. Why? Because Zebulon Whatley is a linguistic illusionist. In other cases, the simple sentence would be obvious for one and all. Not in this case. You have to uncover, look for ambiguities, double, triple or multiple meanings and be observant of any misleading threads. This is a difficult task, even for an exegete like myself. Obviously, the new album will not be released before it's done. But, it could also be interpreted as exactly when, not after it's done. Maybe I'm overanalyzing this. There's no information available about the new album. Very frustrating. I don't know if there's a working title or a tentative album cover (hence the generic image) or anything about the music style. Sons of Perdition took their music in a slightly new direction on "Gathered Blood", more dreamy, evocative and experimental compared with the previous albums. Not to mention the hissing, shrieking and cracking sounds and noise. Still a coherent and very dark album. I don't know what to expect. Uncertainty and speculations are wearing me out. And, it doesn't make the waiting any easier. 


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