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Category: Featured (page 1 of 3)

Panorama of Hötorget

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Panorama photo of a Saturday afternoon in January from the steps of the Stockholm Concert House at Hötorget. Click it for an enlarged view.

 

 

K Composite cover shoot

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Photographer Emily Dahl itick capturing my former co-workers Niclas Blixt Madison and Fredrik Vindelälv who interview each other in the upcoming 25th issue of K Composite.

American Celebration

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With a bit of a spring in my step, I disembarked from the aircraft at Los Angeles International Airport.

As far as luggage goes, I traveled lightly, carrying only the essentials. I’d say the most important of these would be my favorite cardigan sweater, but I also carried with me – in the figurative sense – my hopes and positive expectations for the future.

Los Angeles is known as a mecca for excessive lifestyles and its many celebrities contribute to this reputation. For that reason, I had some concerns over whether or not I’d be able to adapt myself to the local culture.

I hailed a taxi outside the airport and while we were driving it struck me. “I am actually here!”

Having seen so much of the city in the movies and on television, I have to admit it was surreal to be a first-time visitor.

It became even more exciting when I looked out the passenger side window and saw the world-renown Hollywood sign sitting atop the hills.

I became overwhelmed with the sights. For a small-town girl like me, seeing everyone dressed in fancy clothes, it appeared that everyone I saw could indeed have been a celebrity.

The culture shock was suddenly too much and my stomach began folding over with anxiety.

I suddenly felt a longing for home and second-guessed the whole trip. The weight of my decision was weighing heavily upon me.

Amidst these uneasy feelings, the driver serendipitously turned on the radio. Relief swept over me as I heard the radio playing a song by one of my favorite artists, Jay-Z.

I found myself instantly dancing in the taxi! As I was waving my hands around in celebration with the music, the nervous anxiety I had simply vanished into the air.

I was moving my head as if to say “yes!” and shaking my hips. It was a positive experience after all. A true American celebration.

Later that evening, I took another taxi to a night club.

When I stepped out of the car, I noticed that the people there were looking at me with curiosity. I presume they were wondering why I was wearing cowboy boots. That was certainly a dead giveaway that I wasn’t one of the locals!

The club experience would have been much easier had I been surrounded by my best friends – we have a great group of girls back home – but this time I was on my own. I was deep in music and unfamiliar people who were markedly different than what I had grown accustomed to in Nashville.

For instance, in contrast to the variety of footwear one would see at that the parties I usually go to, most of the ladies this night were wearing high-heeled shoes. Apparently, no one had taken the time to inform me that this is a locally popular style before I headed out for the evening.

Again, I felt that sinking feeling in my stomach, coupled with a yearning for home.

However, just as before, music came to my rescue. The person picking out the records unpredictably played one of my most-loved tracks by Britney Spears. My hands, head and hips once more moved to the music.

When the song was over, I considered leaving for a third time – just taking a plane home and ending the entire journey for good.

But just as it has happened so many times before, music intervened and my spirits were lifted to the point where I decided to stick it out.

My hands, my head, my hips – they all become one with the music in an American celebration.

My “First Time”

In July, I was featured in The Courier-Journal, the daily newspaper in Louisville, Kentucky. For their “First Time” segment, the paper asks notable Louisvillians to reflect back on an important moment in their life when something (non-sexual!) happened for the first time. Here’s what I wrote:

View the original at courier-journal.com

Louisville native Scott Ritcher publishes K Composite Magazine, has run for mayor of Louisville and the Kentucky Senate, and now lives in Sweden.

Here he shares the moment when his career as a designer and publisher essentially began.

In 1988, in a Kinko’s copy shop on South First Street near the University of Louisville, lit by fluorescent tubes and decorated with all the charm of an abandoned conference room, I used a Macintosh computer for the first time.

Nestled in a tiny cubicle with worn carpet underneath it was a 13-inch-tall beige box bearing a rainbow Apple logo and the name Macintosh SE.

The machine had a 3.5-inch floppy disk slot on the front and a 9-inch black and white screen with a resolution of 512 by 342 pixels. Those pixels were so big and so few that the machine’s entire screen could now be fully displayed 16 times on your iPhone 5, or nearly 24 times on the MacBook I’m using to type this today.

I was at Kinko’s working on the liner notes for an upcoming cassette album by the Louisville skate-punk band Spot which would be released on Slamdek, my record label.

In those days, there were no scanners, color printers or design software to speak of; however, earlier that year, a brand-new device called the Apple LaserWriter had been released. The Mac and LaserWriter brought publishing power literally to your desk.

Before that happened, I visited a printing shop for any typesetting I needed. I’d type out the text on a typewriter and hand that sheet of paper over to a man who would enter it into a Linotype machine to make it look pretty, charging me by the word. Even that was a world away from the scratch-on letters that preceded it.

By renting time on a Mac at Kinko’s for $6 an hour, I could cut out the middleman and begin experimenting with typography myself. The power this gave me was seriously exciting.

On this early Mac I was still only playing with the dozen or so fonts available on the machine — most often sticking with Helvetica or Geneva — and typing out everything on a blank page in MacWrite. I’d print out those pages of text on the LaserWriter and cut them up. The actual “design” part was still quite analog and the tools were X-ACTO knives and glue sticks. You know, cutting and pasting.

When I think back on my first time with the Mac, it seems like I knew at the time that it was an important moment. Typography and design are what I do now. Without them and without the Mac, I surely wouldn’t be making magazines in one of the world’s design capitals and living (what I consider to be) the dream.

Sorry

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Kentucky’s Bourbon Royalty Visits Sweden

I recently had the opportunity to meet a true Kentucky legend right here in Stockholm.

Though he’s not a celebrity in these parts, everyone where I’m from knows the name Fred Noe. Better still, most people know the name of his great-grandfather, Jim Beam.

As the seventh-generation distiller of the family-run Jim Beam distillery in Clermont, Kentucky, Fred Noe is both a living piece of Kentucky history and the foremost face of his family’s company, founded in 1795.

Summoned to the Castle

The evening was a special opportunity for members of the Stockholm press to mingle with Mr. Noe. The small gathering of about 15 people included journalists from food and drink magazines, restaurant trade papers, as well as a couple people like myself who are enthusiasts of both writing and drinking.

“I’ll have the… um, I guess I’ll have a Jim Beam.”

The mingle was held in Stockholm’s Vasastan neighborhood, right around the corner from where I work at Bonnier Magazines. It was hosted by Beam Brands and their Scandinavian distribution partner Edrington.

I walked a few blocks to Edrington’s offices, then took the elevator up to their beautiful top-floor space, where each attendee was individually greeted at the door and introduced to Fred Noe. This was a real thrill for a Kentucky boy in Sweden.

Everyone chatted for a while, in English of course. Mr. Noe said his Swedish wasn’t very good. I have a feeling he hasn’t learned much more than “skål” (cheers).

I asked him if he was a fan of Louisville’s basketball team or Kentucky’s. He’s a Kentucky fan. I excitedly said, “right on!” Then I quickly confessed that I would have said “right on” no matter which answer he gave. I don’t really care too much either way. (This meeting, by the way, was before Louisville won the national championship a couple weeks later.)

Warm-Up

The room we gathered in is a lounge, outfitted with a large, natural wood dining table, a view over Vasastan’s rooftops, and a minimalistic bar stocked with an unrestrained collection of Beam Brands’ products.

After a short greeting, we all gathered around the table for a light meal of Kentucky-style food. Miniature barbecued hamburgers were on hand as well as a delicious corn-mash soup. This small meal warmed us up for the main event.

Fred Noe, whose full name is Frederick Booker Noe III, walked us through a bourbon tasting of seven different Beam varieties.

It began with the most uncomplicated type and proceeded toward the more complex. So at the beginning we had a taste of Jim Beam’s white dog – white dog is the bare, raw, un-aged liquor that comes straight off the still – and ended with the taste that has been most tampered with, Jim Beam Honey.

White Dog

White dog is a strong, clear alcohol that has never been in a barrel. Most distilleries don’t sell their white dog, nor do they allow the public to taste it. But with the growing interest in bourbon over the past few years, it has become more common for distilleries to take some off the still and share it, mostly as a novelty or for guests in their visitors’ centers.

Another Kentucky distiller, Buffalo Trace, comes to mind as one which has bottled their white dog and brought it to market.

Most people would find this beverage undrinkable. White dog is undilluted and doesn’t have the warm, woody flavor that bourbon has after spending years inside charred oak barrels.

Buffalo Trace’s white dog is just what you would expect: it’s an incredibly potent 125-proof (62.5% alcohol) monster that is both sweet and hairraising.

Dynasty

You’d think that a guy as steeped in bourbon culture, who was born into it and has spent a lifetime enjoying it, would be at least a bit immune to its pleasures.

Hmmm. Smells like bourbon.

This is not so with Fred Noe. He seems to enjoy bourbon as much today as anyone who isn’t a part of a seven-generation bourbon dynasty.

In addition to walking us through the varieties of bourbon that were presented for us, he spent a little time discussing the evolution of the family. Mr. Noe himself started working in the lowest ranks at the distillery decades ago, working his way through virtually every job on site in order to learn every detail of the process.

Fred’s son, having just graduated from college, is now working on the loading dock, helping to bring deliveries of ingredients into the warehouse.

Getting used to it

There were a couple things I liked about Fred Noe that left an impression on me during the evening.

First, as the standard-bearer of one of America’s most legendary alcohol-producing families, I had expected him to be the type of guy who would have a high tolerance for alcohol.

To the contrary, Fred had been out with some bartenders and PR people the night before and started our event by saying that he had a really bad hangover.

In the same way Swedes don’t get used to the winter cold, bourbon distillers like Fred apparently haven’t gotten used to the intoxicating effects of their own products.

There’s ol’ Fred sporting a mustache on the side of the bottle.

“It’s your bourbon”

The second thing I liked was that Fred is not a bourbon snob, as one might expect. He didn’t advocate drinking it straight or neat or undilluted. In fact, he spoke to the versatility of bourbon as a straight drink and as a component of other drinks.

“That’s the thing about bourbon,” he said, “mix it up any way you want to. It’s your bourbon, drink it how you like.”

I liked this a lot. Some people are purists and advocate for always enjoying bourbon straight or on the rocks.

Personally, I’m as big a fan of straight bourbon as I am of mint juleps, bourbon sours and pretty much any other way it can be mixed. Most often, for me, it’s a bourbon and Coke.

It was good to hear from a bourbon professional that he didn’t look down on any of the varieties of ways that anyone drinks the drink.

One of my favorite bourbons is Knob Creek which is only available in Sweden by special order. Jim Beam Honey was also on hand, which was introduced first in Europe.

The Devil’s Cut

One of the high points of the bourbon tasting was the opportunity to try several varieties which aren’t available in Sweden. A 90-proof, rich, woody one called Devil’s Cut was one of these.

Devil’s Cut is a unique bourbon made from a “proprietary process that actually pulls the rich whiskey trapped inside the barrels’ wood after they’re emptied,” they say. “We hold this barrel-treated extract until it develops the proper balance of bourbon notes, and bottle at 90 proof.”

After the bourbon tasting, I had the opportunity to chat a little more with Mr. Noe, which was a riot.

He loves talking about his friend Kid Rock who is sponsored by Beam. Apparently, Mr. Rock was responsible for giving Devil’s Cut its name.

Fred made my night by personally giving me a neat glass of Knob Creek’s Single-Barrel Reserve which is still unavailable in Sweden.

This bourbon has been out for a couple years in the US and has been one I’ve really been looking forward to trying.

It was spectacular. And potent.

Laid out on Knob Creek

While I was enjoying it, Helena reminded me that my band Metroschifter released a song a few years ago called “Knob Creek” that mentions bourbon. Fred asked me to made a note of this so he could check it out on iTunes when he got back to the hotel. Yep, Fred Noe has an iPad.

If there are bourbon celebrities, Fred Noe is definitely one of the big stars. So it was a big thrill to meet him – here in Stockholm no less – and to have the opportunity to get a firsthand presentation of some of Kentucky’s famous flavors.

 

Historic Stockholm Imagery

I have recently become addicted to a website called Stockholms Källan.

The site is an amazing treasure trove of historical images of Stockholm. You can search by names or locations to find old photos and documents relating to whatever you’re interested in.

This image is from a 1960’s short film called “Ditt Stockholm” (“Your Stockholm”). It is a melodramatic public service film made to discourage people from littering and vandalizing in the city.

I found it wildly entertaining, not just because of the old timey views of the city and the people, but from the perspective of Swedish filmmaking and its characteristic qualities of sparse timing and minimalism.

Here’s the film. Enjoy!
http://stockholmskallan.se/Soksida/Post/?nid=20681

Crash Course in Cocktails with Drambuie

While putting the finishing touches on the new “Quick Guide” video for K Composite’s iPad magazine tonight, I took a break to fix some dinner.

Not now, honey. Daddy’s playing bartender.

Usually around this time, if I want to have a drink with dinner, I’ll have a beer or a bourbon and Coke. However, tonight I found that my supplies of both had been depleted. This was obviously the work of some phantom drunk who lives in my apartment.

Luckily, I’m moving to a new place in two weeks, so I won’t have to worry about him haunting me anymore. That is, unless he follows me wherever I live, which has unfortunately been the case for the past couple months, I mean years, I mean decades.

Instead of my usual go-to beverages, I decided to play bartender and whip up a proper gentleman’s cocktail. (You know, in case a gentleman happens to stop by.)

To accomplish this, I reached for a bottle of Drambuie’s latest creation, Drambuie 15. I had picked up this bottle and some other Drambuie supplies recently at a press event here in Stockholm.

Drambuie enthusiast Jenni-Lee with one of Stockholm’s foremost connoisseurs of unusual beverages

As an elite member of the Stockholm media specializing in food and drinks – I’m the publisher of a magazine that has almost nothing to do with either – I was joined by about twenty of my alleged colleagues while a Scottish bloke name Bruce from Drambuie walked us through some quick and dirty recipes. All of them were delicious.

Drambuie is – according to my most reliable anonymous source (Wikipedia) – “a sweet, golden colored 40% ABV (80-proof) liqueur made from malt whiskey, honey, herbs, and spices.”

It’s basically a very mixable beverage that is really easy to drink and results in cocktails that don’t taste too much like alcohol. Perfect for high school kids.

If you’re familiar with the product, you might not recognize it these days. They recently redesigned the packaging.

If the goal was to take a memorable and unique bottle you remember from hotel bars and grandparents’ house and make it look more boring, generic and to blend in with everything on the shelf, they hit a home run.

The newer blend, Drambuie 15, is a stronger, more whiskey-ish version which was described by Bruce the Scotsman as “more masculine.”

The three cocktails we mixed were essentially Drambuie versions of famous drinks that you wouldn’t ordinarily think of as being something in which you’d use a Scottish whiskey-based liqueur as a main element.

These drinks were variations on the cosmopolitan, the margarita and (gasp!) the mint julep. As a native of Louisville, home of the Kentucky Derby which made the mint julep famous, you better believe I voiced my strong objections to this.

Surprisingly, all three drinks were pretty damn good and they made short work of destroying my faculties. Yes, even the Drambuie mint julep, sacrilegious as it may be, was in fact, sacrilicious. Truth be told, they called it a Honey Apple Julep.

Ready to drink!

None of the drinks were purported to be replacements for the classics upon which they were based, however, all of them were excellent changes of pace and could be fun substitutions for the same tired old drinks. That’s kind of what I was thinking tonight as my bourbon supply was empty.

With that in mind – and the foggy memories of having way too much fun at Snickarbacken 7 where the event was held – I grabbed the Drambuie 15, a lemon, some honey, an egg, a bottle of ginger beer and a carton of orange juice. What you see here is the result, my own version of their recipe, the Extraordinary Fizz.

I’m not a fan of grapefruit, that’s why I went for the orange juice instead. As mentioned, I also used the “more masculine” Drambuie 15 instead of the normal stuff.

Below you’ll find the recipe for the Extraordinary Fizz and the Apple Mint Julep.

Have fun. But don’t let me catch you with Drambuie on Derby Day.

Emma, Bruce and a bunch of writers/drinkers

Emma, Bruce and a bunch of writers/drinkers

Drambuie Extraordinary Fizz

Here’s what you’ll need to make one cocktail:
50ml Drambuie (I used Drambuie 15 instead)
20ml Honey
30ml Lemon juice (about half a squeezed lemon)
20ml Grapefruit Juice (I used orange juice instead)
1 Egg White
Ginger beer

Emma, Bruce and a bunch of writers and drinkersIce (I believe this is the same as frozen water)
A shaker

Here’s how to make it:
Pour the juices, honey and egg white into the shaker.
Fill it up with as much ice as it can fit.
Shake the crap out of it and pour into a tall Collins glass or tumbler.
Top with ginger beer.
Drink it up.

Helena and Jenni-Lee

Honey Apple Julep

Here’s what you’ll need to make one cocktail:
40ml Drambuie
50ml juice
10 ml honey
12 mint leaves
Ice
A shaker

Throw everything in the shaker, shake it up, then pour it in a glass and drink it.

Quick and dirty recipe for classic Swedish Glögg

My favorite pre-made glögg of the moment is this organic bag-in-box from Ripa. It’s based on Italian red wine and is seen here atop a box of cardamom cookies. It’s easy enough to make your own warm, nose-tickling glögg.

Glögg is a popular and cozy heated mixture of spices, seasonings, red wine and vodka. It’s a Scandinavian staple during the winter holidays.

If you go to a mingle or party at someone’s house in Sweden any time in December, it’s inevitable that glögg will be on hand and people will be giddy.

For example, a few nights ago, my friend Julia and I were hanging out, laughing, listening to music and drinking some fantastic organic glögg. One thing led to another and we posted this photo on Instagram with the caption “Happy engagement day, y’all! We’re celebrating with some glögg.”

And what do you know, after sleeping on her sofa I woke up the next morning to find about a million “Congratulations” and “Oh my God” comments. It seems we would have a really big wedding, except that we’re not getting married (any time soon!) Blame it on the glögg.

We’ve actually posted pictures like this before, but perhaps the smiles and rings made it look authentic. Honestly, I love this photo! I think Julia is getting an honorary Oscar for her performance here.

If you’re not in Sweden where you can just grab a bottle of glögg at every corner – or the stronger version at the state-run liquor store – there’s a recipe to make your own just below our engagement photo. This recipe includes another Swedish holiday staple ingredient: cardamom. If you took away their cardamom and saffron, I think the Swedes might go into withdrawal convulsions. After three years in Stockholm, I’m hooked on both.

The recipe is not set in stone. Most people don’t measure, they just wing it by taste. If I’m making it from scratch instead of pouring it out of a bottle, I usually just put the red wine on the stove and start adding things until it smells and tastes right.  This recipe is a good starting point to get you in the ballpark, then you can fine-tune it to your taste.

Happy holidays!

Quick and dirty recipe for classic Swedish Glögg

Ingredients
25 fl oz red wine (1.5 liters)
2 cinnamon sticks
8 pieces clove
12 cardamom seeds
5 teaspoons granulated sugar
5 fl oz vodka (1.5 dl)
almonds
raisins

Preparation
Place a few raisins and/or blanched almonds (3 to 5 each) in your mugs or serving glasses and set aside. I prefer to skip the raisins and just go with the bare almonds.

Heat the wine and spices gently in a saucepan, stir the sugar until dissolved, then add vodka.

Simmer until the glögg is almost boiling, then pour it into your prepared cups or glasses. Grab a blanket and head for the sofa!

Optional: For a more hearty taste, heat the spiced and sweetened wine the day before serving to steep the flavor in, but hold the vodka out until you’re ready to serve. Then reheat the wine before serving while adding the vodka.

iPhone Background Image

As a Saturday afternoon Photoshop project, I made a custom background image for my new iPhone 5.

In the spots which aren’t filled with app icons I positioned old school yearbook photos of some of the famous people who have made my life more enjoyable. Interesting group, I know.

There are download links below if you’d like to use it on your own iPhone.

Top row: Stephen Colbert, Ross Perot, Evel Knievel

Second: Kate Moss, Alexa Chung, Larry David (!), Kurt Cobain

Middle: Lindsay Lohan, Claire Danes, Steve Martin, Steve Jobs

Fourth: Johnny Cash, Bobby Kennedy, Barack Obama, Emma Stone

Last: Elvis Presley, Jerry Lee Lewis, David Letterman, Grace Kelly

I really wanted to include Annika Norlin, but I just couldn’t find a childhood photo of her online. Apparently school yearbooks aren’t a widespread phenomenon in Sweden like they are in the US.

Download Links
Feel free to download it and use it on your own iPhone. Here are the links to the the full resolution versions for iPhone 5 and for all other iPhones. If you’re reading this on your iPhone, just tap one of the links to see the image, then hold your finger on it until the option pops up to save it to your library.

Here’s how it looks in action:

Pancakes and pea soup? Must be Thursday!

A week ago, it was Thanksgiving in America. Here in Sweden it was just another Thursday.

But every Thursday in Sweden brings with it a tradition many times older than Thanksgiving. It’s even many times older than the United States. Thursday in Sweden means one thing: pancakes and pea soup.

Swedish pancakes are very thin, unlike American pancakes. They are more doughy than crêpes but thin enough to be folded. They’re served with whipped cream and fruit preserves; typically strawberry, raspberry, blueberry or cloudberry.

The pea soup that accompanies them is not necessarily green. It is sometimes made with yellow peas. The pea soup in Sweden almost always has pork or ham in it, so a lot of people like to season it with mustard. Because I’m vegetarian, I skip over the pea soup on Thursdays and go straight to a double serving of pancakes.

The tradition of eating pancakes and pea soup on Thursdays goes back hundreds of years to when Sweden was more heavily populated with Catholics. I’m talking like more than 500 years ago.

Back when the Catholics were running the show and they were fasting on Fridays, the day before required a big, hearty meal. A large serving of meaty pea soup topped with a heavy dessert of sweet pancakes and even sweeter toppings was just the trick to fill up those Swedish bellies for the long haul through to Saturday morning.

After the country’s modern borders with Denmark were drawn and the Protestant Reformation took hold, the Catholic religion was largely pushed outside the borders. Today, most religions would find Sweden to be a really hard place to find followers. However, the tradition of pancakes and pea soup has survived.

Most restaurants in Stockholm have pancakes and pea soup on the lunch menu every Thursday. This meal is also still served to members of the Swedish military each week. (What? Sweden has a military?) Yes, and the country also has a king. In fact, the official name of the country is “Kingdom of Sweden.” (Sure it is.)

This dietary tradition has even claimed a notable victim. In 1577, the 43-year-old King Erik XIV, a Lutheran (gasp!) died after eating a bowl of pea soup tainted with arsenic.

Personally, I haven’t tasted any poison in my Thursday meals, but I did just now get a kick out of using the word “tainted.” Sheesh, I’d want to die, too, if someone did that to my soup. Ew.

My co-worker Fredrik is seen photographing his Swedish pancakes while sporting a traditional Scandinavian fisherman’s sweater (popularized by Pippi Longstocking, so it is sometimes called by her name “Pippi-sweater”)

Gran Turismo Live

(images can be enlarged)

Gran Turismo Live

In April of 2009, I wrote an article for Snuggling about how excited I was to see Nina Persson’s band A Camp play in Stockholm that spring. In that article, I said:

Growing up in Kentucky made it virtually impossible to see a Swedish band like the Cardigans. They just aren’t one of those bands that plays 50-date tours in the United States, so Louisville was never on the short list of American cities they visited. To the best of my knowledge, Chicago is the closest they ever came to my hometown, which is about five hours away.

I remember back in 1999, after touring in Europe, I spent some time in Sweden and stayed with my friend Julia in Stockholm. At that time, the Cardigans were in America when I was in Sweden and they were going to be playing in Sweden shortly after I returned to America. A near miss, sadly, because that was around the time of their amazing Gran Turismo album.

The album

To say that I liked the Gran Turismo album would surely be an understatement.

Fully unexpectedly, in the fall of 1998, I happened to get a promotional copy of the album. I hoped it would be good, in the same way you hope anything new will be good. I did not expect that it would be anything like what it was. It changed music for me.

I never imagined that a band like the Cardigans would do that to me. Their previous work, while delicious, had been catchy, sugar-sweet and sometimes even blatantly displayed its influences.

Though inviting, Gran Turismo was stark, sparse and dark in comparison.

Like so many of the records that I now look back and recognize as important, the first time I heard Gran Turismo, it didn’t even sound like music. It didn’t make sense to me. “What is this? What are they doing?”

It was one of those records that I had to listen to over and over to figure out what I was listening to.

That reaction flowed from the music all the way down through the album packaging. I had never seen a CD cover so glossy before. It looked like it was soaked in varnish. The photos were lush but also dark and sparse. Truthfully, most of the booklet was just white space with the tiniest little text. Glossy white space.

Over the years, as a designer and a songwriter, I have stolen as many ideas from that album graphically as I have musically.

The space between the sounds

The most captivating thing about the album, is that there is absolutely no reverb on the record at all.

When drummer Bengt Lageberg hits the snare, there’s no studio echo or resonance. As soon as the drum is hit, the sound is over. The same thing is true of all the other instruments, a quality that is the complete opposite of the way we are accustomed to hearing music on professionally-recorded albums.

The sounds aren’t warm and fuzzy. The band doesn’t sound huge. The highlights and body aren’t artificially excited or compressed. The space between the noises is empty.

Sound engineer Tore Johansson described it in an interview, “It’s a very cold and defined recording, no natural reverb or audio curtains. There’s not a sound element on that disc which wasn’t deliberately put there.”

Hultsfred

Earlier this year, I learned that not only would the Cardigans be playing a rare live concert during the summer, but that they would be performing the Gran Turismo album in its entirety. Of course, I had to be there.

The event happened at the Hultsfred Music Festival in June. Hultsfred is a small Swedish town about four hours south of Stockholm. Nearly every summer for more than twenty years the sleepy town has been invaded by noise and debauchery.

The Hultsfred Festival apparently used to be a much bigger deal than it is today. Everyone I know who grew up in Sweden has some adventure story about the festival from years ago.

The first festival was in 1986 and since then bands like Oasis, The Cure, The Jesus and Mary Chain, The Ramones, Iggy Pop, Joe Strummer, Van Morrison, Buzzcocks, Motörhead, Slayer, Ministry, Blur, Björk, Weezer, Morrissey, et cetera, have played there.

In addition to the Cardigans, this year’s festival featured The Cure, Justice, Stone Roses, Eagles of Death Metal, James Blake, Garbage, Noel Gallagher, The XX, M83, and a bunch of other garbage. And Garbage.

Too old for this shit

Since I’m an adult, I decided that I would opt out of the usual music festival amenities – such as setting up a tent and riding there with sweaty teenagers who have no awareness of the sound of their own headphones.

Instead, I bought a ticket to ride first class with Swedish Railways (SJ). This is truly a comfy ride. Just like on an airplane, you can pick your seat in advance. The seats are big with plenty of leg room and the cabin is quiet with free wi-fi. Oh, and did I mention my three-course vegetarian meal?

Upon arriving in Hultsfred and walking through a crowd of commoners who rode in the back of the train (suckers!), I took a bus to my hotel. That’s right, no camping for me. Sleeping outside is for homeless people. I stocked the hotel room with booze and snacks.

I made sure to invite my friend Emma from Malmö who loves music and loves to travel. She met me at the festival with her friend and the three of us shared the hotel room, destroyed the booze and essentially had a great time over the weekend un-healthy-izing ourselves.

The concert

By the time the Cardigans took the stage on the second day of the festival, I was ready to shit my pants. I was bouncing off the walls.

There’s really not much for me to say about the show itself. It was absolutely perfect. I don’t have a single complaint.

I’ll remember it for the rest of my life.

Maybe we should just look at the pictures.

Today’s Big Story in Sweden: US Election

Here’s a sampling of what’s on the national news websites in Sweden tonight, as voting is underway in the United States.

From Dagens Nyheter (“The Daily News”)

Headline: Obama or Romney? – now the question is decided

“Polling is in high gear, campaign workers are sprinting and the presidential candidates are making lightning-fast visits to as many states as possible … it’s Election Day. Some people say Obama will safely remain, while many others say that the outcome is quite uncertain. DN.se has continuous reporting.”

 

From Svenska Dagbladet a.k.a. SvD (“Swedish Daily Paper”)

Headline: Follow SvD’s election coverage – all day

“The score between the candidates, the final sprint and unexpected happenings – Svenska Dagbladet’s reporters report all day.”

On the righthand side there is a box where you can “ask a question” of one of the reporters they have covering the election in Washington, Chicago and here in Stockholm.

The latest report says that voters are now at the polls in Arlington, Virginia. It mentions that Arlington neighbors Washington, DC, and is home to Arlington National Cemetery where many soldiers are buried, “the brothers John F. and Robert Kennedy and boxer Joe Louis.”

 

From Dagens Nyheter

Headline: How the US election is determined

“How many Electoral votes each state has.”

I really enjoy this graphical representation of the Electoral Map. The geography of the country doesn’t matter as much to Swedes, so it is graphically less important than the number of Electoral votes.

You can probably figure out the rest… “Safe win for Obama” is solid blue, “Leaning toward Obama” is shaded blue, et cetera. In grey are the “scale master states,” that is, the states that can tip the scale in either direction.

 

From SVT (Swedish Television, state-run public television network)

Headline: Right now: Romney has landed in Ohio

“SVT.se is reporting minute by minute: Voting is underway in the US. Mitt Romney and vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan are continuing their campaign.”

The smaller headlines under the photos at the bottom are, left to right:

Follow the election on SVT! (Reporter Claes Elfsberg is pictured; “Ask the experts about the election!”)

“The Boss is important” (Bruce Springsteen is pictured with Obama; “Economists say vote for Obama”)

How the election is decided (“The important states; All swing states; If the election ends undecided…?”)

TV: The world on the election (SVT’s correspondents are reporting opinions from around the world; “Obama perfume in Kenya”) Yep, that what it says!

K Composite Halloween

K Composite Halloween party at Debaser Slussen in Stockholm.

If you’re on a computer, you can click images to enlarge, then use the N and P keys to see the Next and Previous images.

Details in a Singer’s Voice

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Last night I bought some nice headphones and for the first time in years, I really felt what the sound of music can do to my insides. (That’s a medical term for a person’s guts and butterfly box.)

Late in 2000, I began shedding my belongings to live in different cities. Along with my belongings went my stereo equipment and speakers. Records soon followed.

When I arrived the following year in Providence, Rhode Island, for a two-year stint, I had a period of trouble finding work. One by one, the used CD store around the corner became the inheritor of my collection.

A Reasonable Approximation

At the time, I had a bubbly, translucent iMac on my desk, so I dumped all my music into it before selling the discs.

As a result, much of the old music I still today have today has been with me in the digital form of bits on hard drives and iPods since then.

All those songs were scanned in at 128 Kbps more than ten years ago. My music collection has been a virtual one.

Sometime in the mid-2000s, back in Louisville, my last pair of nice headphones met their demise when my friend Sarah fell on them. I forgave her, but aparrently I didn’t forget the accident. I didn’t replace them.

So for the past six or seven years, when I haven’t been in a recording studio, I have been listening to music through small speakers and super-portable pocket earphones of the iPod in-ear type.

Recently, after borrowing a few listens on my boss’ AKG headphones, I realized something significant had been missing from everything I had listened to for who-knows how long. I resolved to remedy the situation.

The Hunt

I visited a few stores in Stockholm to test drive a variety of headphones. If you can imagine what super-minimalist Scandinavian furniture stores look like, well, Swedish pro audio boutiques look even more like sets from futuristic movies. They’re clean, white, polished spaces with crisp lighting and little in the way of unnecessary details.

Monday night I finally broke down and went home with some headphones in a bag.

They’re not the world’s most expensive headphones but they weren’t cheap. I spent 1700 kronor on them, about $260.

Most of the stuff in these stores is labeled with price tags that cause hiccups.

Coming to Life

Upon arriving home, I plugged the new headphones into my iPhone just to give them a quick “line check” (that’s music business talk for a quick test to ensure the equipment is working, as opposed to a “sound check” which actually evaluates the quality. Stick around me, you might learn something).

The line check floored me.

A random song was selected by the “shuffle songs” feature on my iPhone, and the Phil Ochs song it picked, recorded more than forty years ago, never sounded so fantastic to me.

I ended up sting in front of my computer for a while trying to listen to something of everything I love, and everything I had loved in the past.

As the songs passed through me in unbelievable clarity, I began to feel alive. The inside of my chest felt like I was 17.

They say you don’t know what you’ve got until it’s gone. But if what you’ve got is slowly taken away over a period of years and replaced by a decreasingly accurate version, well, then you don’t really know what you had until you find it again.

Whether it has been Phil Ochs, Nina Persson, Elvis Presley or Jerry Lee Lewis, I haven’t really been hearing the true voices of my favorite artists for years. I feel like I’ve only been hearing a general, rounded average of what these great voices sound like. Now I’m actually hearing the grain and the detail again.

Guldknappen 2012

“Just hurry up and spell our names wrong. There’s free drinks back there.”

Here I am with my partner in crime, Emily Dahl, on the gold carpet at Guldknappen (“the golden button”) fashion awards.

Guldknappen is the “most prestigious prize in Swedish fashion” and is given annually to a Swedish fashion label that is recognized for moving the art forward. A designer or fashion label can only win once, so it’s someone new every year. This was the 31st annual.

Emily is a photo journalist who makes images that are dreamy and artful, and which have colors that feel like a sleepy hug. She has done a lot of photography for K Composite during the past year, including these photos of Julia Lind, Moa Junström and Caroline Hainer.

The magazine which hosts Guldknappen each year is Damernas Värld (Womens’ World), published by Bonnier where I am an art director.

“Au Revoir, Pee-wee”

In the mid-1990’s, Jason Noble and I were sharing a house at 1207 East Broadway in Louisville. The whole time we lived there, some type of sewage backup – or something – was causing a painfully putrid odor to emanate from inside the mid-century steel cabinets under the kitchen sink.

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THE BLUE HOUSE ON THE RIGHT

The house is just a few blocks from where Broadway begins in the Highlands. On summer days it was cooled by a monstrous, hideous, 100+ pound, industrial-strength air conditioner we received as a gift from Hilary Newton’s family. At night, when the windows were opened, the fresh air that came in was accompanied by the sounds of Dem Reggae Bon, or whatever band was on the patio stage at Phoenix Hill Tavern, “conveniently” located about 30 yards from the back door.

This little, blue, shotgun rental house quickly became a factory for creative projects, the side effect of which was laughing until we couldn’t stand up. But by the time we moved in, Jason had already had me in stitches for five or six years.

SNUG

Jason and I had been in each other’s orbits in the late ’80s, but it wasn’t until early 1990 that we began to actually become friends.

When we started hanging out, he recalled later, “my only claim to fame was a few ’zines, the fact I had once vomited on a typewriter, and a 90-minute rap opus called Snug – thankfully unavailable to all music lovers.”

Snug was the first cassette tape that he and his fellow teenaged, white, suburban rappers produced under the name King G and the J Krew. As a side business for my record label, Slamdek, I ran a cassette duplication service. When the J Krew employed me to make their tapes, it was my first real exposure to working with Jason on a regular basis. It was trial by fire.

I had never really met people like him and Jeff Mueller before. Honestly, they were kind of difficult to tell apart in the early days of knowing them.

Jason and Jeff were the type of kids who adults would describe as “bouncing off the walls.” The proper number of cups of coffee versus the number of times one should bathe seemed to be reversed for them.

The way they joked with each other was so quick that you couldn’t tell if it just wasn’t funny or if you simply weren’t fast enough to get what they were talking about. It took quite a while before my stock thoughts of “what the…?” turned into an embrace of their madness.

Soon enough, Jason was off to art school in Baltimore and my doses of him began arriving in the form of hilarious and elaborately illustrated letters.

It was a comparatively slow, analog world we were living in then. Obviously it was before the future turned communication, art and music into drag-and-drop bits. Telephones were connected to the walls with wires, a mix tape took hours to assemble, and you had to wisely choose your long distance company because calling outside your city was expensive.

It was certainly long before I could type this on a train in Stockholm, Sweden, on a cassette-sized computer that can instantly play every song Jason and I ever recorded, which is also a telephone that’s connected to countless libraries of information, videos, news and commentary on any subject imaginable. At once it seems like a lifetime ago, yet as warm as last week.

110% LOUD

Around the time Jason was coming back from college, my sister Greta shared an apartment in Deer Park with Robin Wallace. They had been high school classmates and had recently graduated into making music together in the bands Your Face and, later, Sister Shannon.

Greta and Robin were dating Joey Mudd and Jason Noble respectively. We were all friends in the same small circles. Joey was an alumnus of Cerebellum and soon a part of Crain. Jason was still bouncing off the walls.

It was on one night in this small apartment, packed with too many people, too much enthusiasm and too much caffeine that Joey berated Jason for being “about 110% loud.” This is a quote I’ll never forget when I think of Jason.

Nothing in Jason’s life ever seemed to be done with an ordinary, reasonable level of energy. Jason Noble was always at full tilt in the direction of whatever it was he was doing.

When he drew something he used way too much ink. When he laughed at a picture of a monkey dressed up as a person – like the vintage calendar of them he had hanging on the kitchen wall – he visited every ridiculous detail in the photo. When he basked in the water glass scene from Jurassic Park, his enthusiasm betrayed the fact that he could see the big picture of the entire symphony of choreography that was taking place on screen. When he finally bought a house, it was a “compound.”

Most people know Jason for his music and it was also pushed to 110%.

When he had ideas for an important song, it would become an eleven-minute episodic journey. Most songs annoy or bore me within the first minute, but Jason and his collaborators could build the kind of song that, even if you had heard it a hundred times and you were late for work, you would still sit in your car out in the parking lot to hear it until the end. (Unless, of course, you were working at ear X-tacy – as Jason and I both did for several years – in that case you could put the record on in the store.)

Louisville musicians are infamous for their loud/quiet dynamics and the precision with which they switched between the two volumes. Jason’s bands explored this relentlessly, developing it with an organic personality that humanized it from its mechanical beginnings.

Whether bombastically with Rodan, elegantly with the Rachel’s or subtly with Per Mission – when he was loud you’d wonder how one person could make so much noise and when he was quiet you’d have to strain to hear him. Regardless, Jason’s bands always made the kind of music that you wanted to hug.

HOUSE HUNTING

By the mid-’90s, when the two of us were looking for a house together, we had actually lived together before. In a house on Bardstown Road, shared with friends and lovers, we were just shouting distance from Zetti’s and the cheese loaf they regularly sold to dirty punk rockers.

However, the new new place we were seeking would grow to be our own 24-hour canvas.

I was excited about the prospect of living with someone who understood that creativity doesn’t follow regular business hours and that working on the same few details of a project for a week is not an absurd way to live. In fact, it’s the only way to live.

Before we found the blue house on Broadway, we looked at a number of other locations. I remember looking at an apartment one cool morning in Old Louisville. When leaving and shaking hands with the real estate agent, Jason said to him, “Okay, then. I just gotta run this by my parole officer and we’ll be in touch.” Exactly what the old guy wanted to hear.

Finding a freestanding house instead of an apartment was also important because it would offer a higher limit on the noise level.

The blue house turned out to be just what we were looking for. The other rental properties we looked at didn’t have the same rustic charm (“shitty disrepair”) of the Broadway house. That was important because it was inevitable that we’d make a mess.

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AVIARY

Within weeks of moving in, our new nest was already stretched in a web of sound cables, amplifiers, Tascam multi-track recorders, guitars, beige Macintosh computers, Zip drives and scanners with SCSI interfaces, paper samples, Pantone books, tape, staples, notebooks and Sharpies. Name a mid-’90s tool for the production of music, Super 8 film editing or graphic design and you could probably trip over it in our house.

Seemingly overnight, the first album by Jason’s new band The Shipping News, Save Everything, was being recorded in that house, as was the Generation Rx album by my band, The Metroschifter.

The Broadway house was where Jason painstakingly perfected the ink and paper combinations for the Rachel’s magical album The Sea and the Bells. Revision after revision. That’s when he introduced me to Deepdene, his go-to typeface at the time. I still think of him every time I set words into it.

Jason began work on the first Per Mission record there, while I was interviewing people for K Composite Magazine and a short film about field hockey. A second house, two doors down at 1203, eventually became the home of Initial Records, a workshop in its own right where countless other projects were launched, including a split CD by both of our bands, Metroschifter and Shipping News, and their unique aluminum covers engraved with the band names by Chris Reinstatler. Our little blue house even played a cameo role in a 1999 episode of This American Life.

AND KNITTING AND KNITTING AND KNITTING

I feel like a great deal of the energy and creativity that was born and cultivated in those four rooms was fueled from an unlikely source (no, not the full tank of unleaded that I dispensed into my girlfriend Julie’s diesel Rabbit and then had to siphon out with Jason’s help).

If Jason and I had been sent a bill for each time we viewed or quoted a movie in the house, our tab for Pee-wee’s Big Adventure would have been through the roof. All our house guests were aware that there was no basement at the Alamo, that every night was a night “just like tonight… ten years ago,” and that every movie was “Great so far! Action-packed!

Did we have any dreams? “Yeah, I’m all alone, rolling a big donut, and this snake wearing a vest…”

That movie infected our lives, our thought processes and humor.

One day while using the restroom in our house, I burst into laughter when I unexpectedly saw some of Jason’s artwork on the toilet paper package.

The package had a typical illustration of an “adorable” baby giggling atop clouds of soft, cottony toilet tissue. Jason had scrawled in Sharpie next to the baby’s face, “I’m so happy I could just shit!”

STINK CAPSULE

The whole time all of this fun stuff was happening in the house, that same nasty smell was coming out of the cabinets under the kitchen sink. So after multiple attempts over a number of months to locate the source and to disinfect and deodorize this perpetual spring of stank, Jason and I ultimately determined that the best solution was containment.

Equipped with plastic packing tape, we set forth to hermetically seal the steel cabinets in an attempt to prevent any further unpleasant wafting. Our operation was successful and the scented monster was subdued.

We always feared that we had only applied a temporary solution to a permanent problem and, in fact, perhaps the cabinets could explode at some point. It was always possible that the stench could seep through again. Jason was a huge fan of Dr. Ian Malcolm (Jeff Goldblum’s character in Jurassic Park), so we never forgot his words, “Nature finds a way.”

Perhaps, by the day of this writing, the seal on the cabinets has been cracked. Perhaps the cabinets have even been removed completely. If either of those days has come to pass, a new homeowner or contractor has found more than just an unbearable odor inside. They found a time capsule. A very smelly time capsule.

Before sealing that reek away for someone else, Jason and I wrote a note to the next person who would breathe in its sweet goodness. We scrawled something to the effect of: sorry you had to find this, but this is what we did, and why, and the date, and our signatures. Further, we posed for a Polaroid of the operation which we also sealed inside the steel box for a later day.

LETTERS HOME

Unfortunately, the last time I saw Jason was more than a year ago. I was in Louisville visiting from Sweden where I moved in 2009. We met for coffee in the sunshine of the patio at the Heine Brothers’ on Bardstown Road at Eastern Parkway. It was a crisp, bright, breezy day.

I remember him looking stronger than when I had seen him before. I remember thinking that if it were me in his place, my attitude and demeanor wouldn’t be anywhere near as positive and warm as his. But I imagine that part of Jason is what connected him to the character of Dr. Ian Malcolm, who observed in protest, “Life will not be contained. Life breaks free, expands to new territories and crashes through barriers. Painfully, maybe even dangerously, but, well… There it is.”

When you live far away from Louisville, it’s easy to believe that everything in Kentucky will be the same when you come back. It’s easy to think at least that everything will be okay.

The friends you’ve always had will always be there and the important people who make you who you are won’t disappear. You always leave everyone when you leave thinking “you will be safe.” When something dreadful does happen, you truly realize how much you’ve been missing.

Jason helped shape my ideals and my personality. In sadness, when I am tempted to think a part of me is now gone, I’m reminded of how much of myself I owe to my time with him. As long as I am here, his contributions to me will not be gone and my memories of him will be as embraceable as his music is in my ears right now.

Of course, Jason taught me about functional things that I use every day – printer’s plates, electronic pre-press, and techniques for massaging notes and silences into special little places.

But what crushes me the most are the things he showed me just by being himself. Sincerity, humility, generosity, and whatever the opposite of personal ambition is. These are things I really needed to learn. These are things you can learn only by seeing them exhibited by someone you admire and trust.

If you are as talented and recognized as Jason, it could be so easy to believe that you deserve the good fortune and opportunity that comes with that. You could expect it, take it for granted, or use it as a source of pride or validation. I never saw any hint that he entertained any of those things.

He was always excited about the opportunities and accomplishments his bands and projects were able to achieve, and he was gracious, but he seemed disinterested or even amused by recognition. He seemed like he wanted to just keep making music and share as much of that experience as possible with friends.

What’s the point in making wonderful things if you’re not sharing the experience with people you love? What’s the point in doing something serious and intense if you don’t have a common laughter in your heart with your collaborators? What’s the point in doing anything if you don’t push it as far as you possibly can to make it as wonderful and complete, as meaningful and memorable as it can possibly be?

Message in a bottle

Best email ever.

Helena and I sent a message-in-a-bottle from the Gotland ferry on July 30, 2012. Two weeks later, I received this email:

Hello. We found your message-in-a-bottle today on a little island off of Huvudskär. (Stockholm’s archipelago)! The kids had gone out to look for messages in bottles… Crazy.

Regards
Lisen, Peder, Carsten and Hjalmar

The bottle covered a distance of more than 100 miles (160 km) from one place that was in the middle of nowhere to arrive on a tiny island (that is also kind of in the middle of nowhere) to be found by some children who had gone out searching, with the intention of finding a message-in-a-bottle.

What’s even crazier is that the day after I posted this photo, my boss came to me flabbergasted, because he knows the family who found it.

Mecca

The Ingmar Bergman Center on the island of Fårö is about as far away as you can get from being a conveniently located tourist attraction, but it was worth the trip.

Helena and I rented a car in Visby where we were staying and made the drive up to Fårö which is only accessible from Gotland by boat or ferry.

The museum is small and intimate. They have a heartwarming collection of items from Bergman films, some person effects and many truly spectacular photos from film shoots on the island.

The light in Norway is a pie

I didn’t understand this note on the elevator. I thought it said “the light in Norway is a pie” but it actually says “the light in the box is broken.” Apparently “korgen” is an old way to say “elevator” and “paj” which literally means “pie” is slang for “broken.” Rough day.

Kodak v. Duckface

An epidemic has consumed our young. Now it is set to ruin photography as a whole.

I’m speaking, of course, about girls making kissy faces and acting like models in every self-taken photo they post on the Internet. The plague has become known simply as Duckface.

Perhaps this pose was cute when Audrey Hepburn did it, but it just doesn’t have the same effect if you are holding the camera yourself, standing next to your toilet and wearing your ex-boyfriend’s high school hoodie.

Exhibit 1: Duckface

 

What ever happened to smiling?

Some may see the death of smiling in photos as a by-product of popular culture, but I think this plague has much deeper roots.

When I was growing up in the 1970s and ’80s, it was practically unheard of to take a picture of yourself.

Not only was it expensive, but for most people who didn’t have their own darkroom, you’d have to wait several days to see the printed proof of how stupid you look.

On top of that, you couldn’t take just one picture and look at it. Believe it or not, kids, but photographs came in groups of 12 or 24 or 36, what was referred to as a “roll” of film.

Fotomat drive-thru featuring one-day service. Frackin’ finally!

After shooting a dozen or more photos, you’d then drive to the Fotomat or SupeRx drugstore, drop off your film, and come back a few days later to collect your package of photos.

Inevitably, there would be fewer prints than the number of pictures you expected because something went wrong.

After all the waiting, that highly-anticipated photo you snapped on your school trip to King’s Island of your classmate who you had a crush on, well, it just didn’t turn out. A lot of things didn’t turn out right in those days.

If a photo you really hoped for wasn’t in the envelope, you may even resort to looking through the tiny brown and orange negatives that came with your prints to see what happened or to order a reprint.

The process of needing to pay someone to develop and print your photos also meant that some strangers somewhere would inevitably see every photo you made. Film photography lacked an entirely different kind of privacy than digital photography. Someone else always saw your pictures before you did.


Instant gratification

An advertisement for the Swedish comedy sketch show “Partaj” makes fun of “online beauty” and the duckface.

Certainly nobody would ever waste the kind of time and money it took to make frivolously large stacks of photographs unless they were as rich as J.R. Ewing or as indulgent as Mackenzie Phillips. But most ragers with that kind of party scratch (these are slang terms) would go the Polaroid route like Richard Pryor and Andy Warhol.

Polaroid was the instant gratification of its day and that luxury came with a premium price tag.

For generations, for the vast millions on Earth, the simple truth was that if you owned a picture of yourself it was because you had been in a room with someone else who had a camera. And that photo was taken at least several days ago.

Basically, photos were taken by friends, relatives and photographers.

These days, that’s not the case.

 

Today, any thuggin’ jackass or too-skinny 15-year-old suburban girl wearing too much makeup can play dress up and smooch to the camera for thousands of followers like she’s Anna Nicole Smith.

Don’t do that. Not cute.

The main difference, of course, is that if you were Anna Nicole Smith, you would be surrounded by photographers instead of holding the smudged lens on your Nokia Windows phone up to your bathroom mirror.

Thanks to digital photography taking pictures has essentially become free… and limitless.

As a result, during the past fifteen years, the total number of photographs created each day on Earth has multiplied millions of times over.

And the MySpace pose – an arm’s-length self portrait – spread like a disease on photography, even before the duckface entered the frame.

 

Kodak founder George Eastman. All business. No smile. No duckface.

From paper to pixels

Because the Eastman Kodak company is now in bankruptcy protection, you might think the company is a victim of digital photography.

In fact, the once-dominant giant in the field of photography brought this on themselves.

Through a series of both good and bad decisions and an inability to handle increasingly aggressive competition in the fields they created, Kodak has gotten the short end of several successive sticks.

I’d like to show some compassion to Kodak, given their dire straits, however I feel I have no choice but to personally blame them for the perpetuation of the duckface.

 

An early Kodak ad in “The Cosmopolitan.” So easy, even a boy or girl could use it, provided they are in school. Too difficult for dropout losers.

A “roll” of film

George Eastman, the founder of Kodak, patented the roll film camera in 1888.

Prior to that, film was produced on large plates treated with chemicals. Making a photograph required time to set up the camera, position the plate, prepare some chemicals, blah blah blah. It could take an hour if everything went smoothly.

Eastman’s genius was that he figured out a way to make photo film dry and flexible. This way it could be rolled up. It not only made the film portable, but it also made it possible to take more than one photo quickly once you got the camera set up.

His company was a hit and twelve years later, he brought photography to the masses.

 

Take your own pictures

In 1900, Eastman Kodak introduced the Brownie, the world’s first mass-produced, portable camera.

That thing was gangbusters. The company expanded quickly as the Brownie did for photography what high-fructose corn syrup did for XXL sweatpants.

Kodak was huge, an unstoppable force in photography, and the company didn’t show signs of losing their edge for nearly 80 years.

Polaroid inventor Edwin Land: “One day service? Ha! Check it out, bitches! Here’s a picture I took a minute ago.”

In 1976, Kodak’s dominance comprised of 90% of US of film sales and 85% of camera sales. That’s a position any company would dream of. Essentially untouchable.

And they were vigilant to protect their stronghold when Polaroid started gaining a small market share in the seventies. Kodak was already two steps ahead.

In 1975, the company assigned a project to one of their young engineers, a 25-year-old recent graduate named Steven Sasson.

 

Steven Sasson is a name everyone should know. Just three years after he began work on the project, he and Kodak were issued a patent for the digital camera. It was a futuristic, game-changing device.

Steven Sasson with his invention, the digital camera. It became even more portable later on, believe it or not.

When Apple brought one of the first consumer digital cameras to the market in 1994 – the QuickTake – it was Kodak who was manufacturing the hardware for them.

So how is it possible that Kodak has filed for bankruptcy? The company that gave film photography to ordinary people and decades later invented film’s successor – a successor now so ubiquitous that nearly every telephone you see these days is equipped with a Kodak-derived camera – they have somehow dropped some of the world’s most valuable balls.

 

Shockingly, despite Kodak’s forward-looking innovation in the seventies, the company all but abandoned digital photography in the nineties. Way to go, gang.

Fearing that the inexpensive nature of digital photos would steal business away from their incredibly profitable film processing business, they doubled down on film.

Schematic from Kodak’s US patent for the digital camera, 26 December 1978. Personally, I would have put the sync generator in front of the parallel to serial, but who am I to criticize another man’s work?

Basically, they feared that if they marketed cameras that could take an infinite number of photos, it would adversely impact the money they were making by charging people for pictures one at a time.

It turns out that they were absolutely right about digital’s impact on film.

 

It sucks to be right

The irony of course, was that by the time they realized they were right, they had so drastically reduced their digital investment that they were no longer in a position to take advantage of the exploding market they had pioneered. All the profits had moved from the film manufacturing and processing sides of the business to the camera and electronics makers.

A SupeRx drugstore in 1967 (image from Pleasant Family Shopping)

Kodak’s main competitor in film sales, Fujifilm, had brilliantly played both sides of the game. Through aggressive pricing on the film side, Fuji’s marketshare had been eating into Kodak’s since the company began marketing their film at disruptive prices in the United States.

The Economist reported earlier this year that Fujifilm “saw omens of digital doom as early as the 1980s. [Fuji] developed a three-pronged strategy: to squeeze as much money out of the film business as possible, to prepare for the switch to digital and to develop new business lines.”

Kodak failed to diversify fast enough, put their investments into things that didn’t work out, and the company was cast into a downward spiral as digital photography grew and the use of film declined.

As we now know, today’s reality is that most of the people in the western world have some form of a digital camera in their pocket right now. Many of them will use those Internet-connected devices to post images online several times today. Each one of those pictures – duckfaced or otherwise – represents money that Kodak isn’t making.

There really should be truckloads of money being dumped at Kodak’s headquarters in Rochester, New York, every day. Instead, unfortunately, those trucks may soon be hauling off the furniture.

The catchphrase hashtag that’s sweeping the kingdom!

If you’ve ever caught yourself saying things like “Oh behave!”, “¡Ay carumba!”, “Don’t have a cow, man!”, “Sit on it!”, “Git R Done”, or “Up your nose with a rubber hose” – then sit up and listen, because I’ve got just the thing for you!

It’s not every day that you get to launch a new catchphrase, but I have now fully dedicated myself (in the past five minutes) to making that quest one of the new missions of this website.

Remember this day: The first day you heard the phrase “Grattis på fredag!

It basically means “Congratulations because it’s Friday.” This is my own personal variation of the common phrase “grattis på födelsedagen” which is the Swedish equivalent of “Happy birthday.”

Somehow everyone I work with began saying “gratis på… everything” but the Friday greeting was far and away the most popular.

Although I’m posting this on a Wednesday, there is another Friday coming up. I think it’s the day after tomorrow. Let’s get ready for this.

Here’s the to-do list for right now:

1. Go to this link and click the black “rösta” button.

Rösta means “vote.” By clicking it you are voting for my entry in the Favorite Quotes contest on the website of Vecko Revyn, Sweden’s biggest magazine for teen and twentysomething girls.

2. Tag your weekend-related or Friday-related posts on Twitter and Instagram using the hashtag #grattispåfredag.

3. Suggest other ways of spreading this virus in the comments below, on my Twitter @scottritcher, or just go do it!

Soon, maybe the screenshot below, showing absolutely zero instances of the #grattispåfredag hashtag, will become ancient history.

Have fun. And grattis på fredag!

Refused in 3D

At the beginning of April, the legendary Swedish band Refused played a free reunion show at Stockholm’s Debaser Medis club.

I was on hand to relive my younger years and to save the event for you in 3D.

If you need some 3D glasses, you can now get them directly from K Composite for only two bucks (13 kronor)!

Stockholm Retromässan in 3D

Today I visited the Stockholm Retromässan (“Retro Fair”) and took along the 3D camera.

The event had several large rooms of modern antiques from the 20th Century, including lots of Scandinavian furniture and housewares. It was held at München Bryggeriet which is an old brewery that has been renovated into a convention hall.

More info about the fair can be found at the Retromässan home page.

If you need some 3D glasses, you can now get them directly from K Composite for only two bucks (13 kronor)!

Get your 3D glasses

Here you can order some anaglyph 3D glasses with red/blue lenses, suitable for viewing three-dimension content on Snuggling With the Enemy and in K Composite Magazine.

The glasses are made with genuine Chinese quality and feature light cardboard frames. They ship in packages of two pairs for just $2.00 US, plus cheap delivery to your address anywhere in the world.


 

Killer Socks

For the past few months, I’ve been wearing socks that don’t match each day. I prefer one wide-striped sock – usually on my right foot but not always – and one solid.

When the weather gets cold enough each winter, I recommit myself to one simple oath: “I refuse to be cold.”

The transition to walking around completely insulated against the elements consists of a base layer of long underwear, upon which I simply add more of the same clothes I wear every day. Double shirts, double socks, et cetera.

This morning as I put my socks on, I made my traditional winter transition to wearing two pairs of socks.

I had to make a choice. Would both pairs not match, even the two that aren’t seen? Would a secret match exist within the four individual socks? That is, one of the hidden socks would be a match to one of the visible socks?

While I ultimately decided that all four socks should be unique among the set, a larger realization occurred.

This is a sock-making machine.

For the first time in my life it occurred to me that socks are probably not manufactured in pairs. There is probably a big machine somewhere that spits out 20,000 socks an hour, the loose products of which are then paired up by a machine that packages them, or by an 8-year-old kid with one of those plastic guns that stabs a white I-shaped tab between the two, uniting two socks, at least until they are removed from the purchaser’s feet for the first time.

Socks are born alone and die alone. The pairing of two so-called “matching” socks is merely an illusion that has been so masterfully perpetuated that I never realized it was not the natural order until I was an adult man. Today.

I have to add a caveat. This new insight into the sock world has not been confirmed or denied by any professionals with knowledge of sock manufacturing processes.

If there is a reader in the audience who can, in fact, confirm that socks are actually made two at a time, as pairs, please let me know.

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The Killer showing off his new socks.

The single sock theory neither sours nor sweetens my love affair with new socks. It only provides new insight into something that is likely different from the way I always presumed it to be.

Nor do I imagine it matters much to Jerry Lee Lewis, a man who has the means to live the dream, it has been said, to wear a band new pair of socks every day. Oh that I could live like that.

Sometimes it’s good when history repeats

Earlier this week, I saw a New York Times article about California which was accompanied by a photo of Governor Jerry Brown. Wow. I totally forgot Jerry Brown was the governor of California. Again.

I lived in California for a while, and though I never lived there when he was governor before, I always liked Jerry Brown.

I liked him a lot when he was running for president in 1992. I thought if Ross Perot couldn’t pull it off, I’d be happy with Jerry Brown.

At that time, I was absolutely no fan of a man from Arkansas named Bill Clinton. I thought he was, well, I don’t remember really what I thought about Clinton, but I just thought there were other candidates who I liked. Clinton should have been an “also ran” in my opinion.

Things didn’t work out the way I had hoped. Brown eventually dropped out of the race, not becoming the nominee.

Jerry Brown and Bill Clinton in 1992

Perot, after leading in the polls– unprecedented for an independent in nearly a century – amazingly dropped out of the race after alleged “dirty tricks” by Republicans threatened to disrupt his daughter’s wedding.

Perot eventually re-entered the race several weeks before the election, but by then it was too late.

The grassroots energy of his campaign was gone, the local offices had been shut down, supporters had scattered or realigned with other candidates, and the straightforward, steady-handed Perot was now shadowed by a cloud of unpredictability.

I voted for him anyway.

This was the first election that I had become emotionally invested in, traveling to see Perot speak, doing the yard sign and bumper sticker thing, following the news, watching polling numbers, and helping distribute campaign materials.


Years before the election, my roommate and I saw Perot being interviewed on the Donahue show. He had impressed us both to the point where we agreed that he should be president, though no such topic was discussed, as I remember. We just felt he was a no-bullshit guy who said what he thought and got things done.

By the time November 1992 rolled around, the opposing candidates tried to dissuade voters from going for Perot and “splitting the vote” by arguing that voting for the independent was akin to “throwing your vote away.”

Perot urged voters to go to the polls, take a moment to reflect about who they thought was best qualified to manage the massive problems of the federal government, then, as he said, “vote your conscience.”

I liked that idea a lot, so I held out hope for a surprise upset and a Perot presidency.

In the end, Perot’s take at the voting booth brought in 19% of the electorate. George HW Bush pulled in 37.5% and Bill Clinton won the presidency with 43%.I was despondent.

It’s strange for me to think about that, because now I totally love Bill Clinton.

It took a long time for me to truly warm up to Bill Clinton. It was well into his second term, a good five or more years after he was first elected.

It wasn’t any particular event that changed my mind about Clinton, but in retrospect, it seems like it just took me a while to realize that a lot of what he was trying to do were things I supported and things that were for the good of the country.

No Clinton story is complete without reference to a scandal or two, but it was perhaps those public indictments of his character and personal life that caused me to feel more sympathetic toward him.

Over time, it certain became clearer to me that the opposition to President Clinton had little to do with his policies. It was all personal.

I’m thinking about all this because the United States has a president at the moment whose every good effort seems to be marginalized and discounted for personal reasons.

Even after his “pass this jobs bill” speech in September, in which President Obama offered his support for a laundry list of historically Republican projects and ideas to get people back to work, the blockade of opposition went up even higher.

The Republicans simply cannot allow Obama to succeed in any way, lest he be credited with saving the country from a second depression. Instead, they’re willing and prepared to welcome economic catastrophes, if only so he will get the blame.

While millions remain unemployed, uninsured, or even homeless, they’re looking only toward the next election.

My hope is that the same transformation which happened in me as someone unenthusiastic about President Clinton could be happening in millions of Americans who have been heretofore unenthusiastic about President Obama.

The results of the local and state elections earlier this month certainly seem to suggest some support for the idea that Americans are beginning to tire of the Republicans, whose most common policy objective over the past three years has been that of simply saying “no.”

Regular people are the new celebrities

Early this past summer, I posted an article here about the magazine I publish of interviews with my friends.

The story detailed how I was bringing K Composite Magazine into a new world by beginning to publish it to the iPad.

I asked you and your fellow Snuggling readers to get involved by applying to be interviewed, and many of you stepped forward to be subjected to the third degree.

Now, the new issue of K Composite is available as a free download for your iPad and you can see for yourself what I’ve been working on all summer.

And it’s off to a big start, too. In its first week in the App Store, K Composite was the #6 app in Sweden in the Lifestyle category which includes magazines and such. Pretty exciting.

My goal is to put out a new issue on the iPad every other month. The second iPad issue, which is actually issue #15, should be out in December.

For those of you who don’t have iPads, some of the interviews will soon be available on the magazine’s website at www.kcomposite.com and in the companion iPhone app K Mate which is also free.

If you’d like to get involved by interviewing one of your friends, helping with the photography or web aspects, or even by being interviewed yourself, stop by this link and let me know: www.kcomposite.com/participate

Music by my bands

Available in iTunes:


Best Actress - When I Wake Up I Play This Song
Best Actress
When I Wake Up
I Play This Song



Carbonistas
from Metroschifter



Whatever’s Wrong With
Me Is Here To Stay

21-song retrospective
of Metroschifter

 

Heaven’s Gate and the Church of Sweden

20110829-081557.jpgDespite the “no advertising please” sign that is posted on nearly every door and mailbox in Sweden — including mine — it seems like it’s still okay for the Church of Sweden (Svenska kyrkan) and a number of schools to put their pamphlets through my door.

The picture on the front of this magazine from the church (which shows the shoes of some people kneeling while wearing churchy clothes) immediately reminded me of the Heaven’s Gate cult.

Heaven’s Gate was a California mass suicide in which all the “victims” got saved from the cleansing of the Earth by being beamed up to space.

You see, a lot of people don’t realize this, but the planet Earth was wiped clean in March 1997. The Heaven’s Gate people, thirty-nine of them, laced up their matching Nike Dunk Pro SB sneakers, got in bed, and escaped just in time. You call it mass suicide, I call it a quick getaway to sweet freedom in the sky. We’re quibbling over semantics here.

Either way, Nike couldn’t thank their lucky stars enough for all the free promotion that came out of the event by way of news photos. Just do it, already.

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A spaceship, which was following the Hale-Bopp comet (pretty foolproof disguise, actually) collected their souls and whisked them away. Finally, dudes, let’s GTFO.

The method of escape was a delicious pudding, laced with phenobarbital and a vodka chaser. Kool Aid was already taken, so the Gate had to do their own thang.

Once on board the ship, it was quite important that each member took $5.75 along with them. I’m not sure if this was for snacks or what, but this is true, each corpse at the scene in San Diego was found with a five dollar bill and three quarters in their pocket.

Update: Those people are now living in a kickass paradise somewhere a few light years past Orion. Unfortunately, Nike has no distribution in that area, but I hear five bucks goes a long way.

The Church of Sweden is a Lutheran denomination that has nothing to do with Heaven’s Gate – to my knowledge – except that their magazine cover sure looks a lot like some crime scene photos.

It was the country of Sweden’s official church until 2000. Pretty late to lighten up on that one, but Sweden can’t win ’em all.

Money from general taxes still fund the church, though Swedes can opt out when filing their taxes if they don’t wish to support it.

Most people don’t opt out for the simple reason that paying taxes in Sweden is as simple as answering yes or no. When your tax forms come in the mail, all the numbers are already filled in. All you need to do is confirm that the total is correct, which you can do online, by phone, SMS or even the tax agency’s iPhone app. If you want to opt out of giving the church some money, this creates extra steps in the process and – good news for the church – most people just don’t bother.

I didn’t bother opting out either. It took me seven minutes to do my taxes in Sweden this year. My American taxes, however, usually take all afternoon and I still don’t know if I’m doing it right.

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The church’s leadership is elected in general elections exactly as the Swedish Parliament. You just have to be a member of the church, a resident of Sweden and over 16 in order to vote.

Their website says that “up to seven million people” are members of the church. Up to? Okay, so it could be five people or it could be 6.99 million. We’re not sure, but it’s definitely no more than seven million.

(Coincidentally, I just bought a washing machine today and I paid up to seven million dollars for it. Well, up to 44 million kronor. Sounds like a lot, but delivery was included.)

Given that the population of the entire country is 9.4 million, it seems that figure of 7 million may have been, well, pulled out of the heavens.

A 2005 study commissioned by the European Union found only 23% of Swedes willing to report that they “believe there is a God.”

Another 23% indicated that they “do not believe there is any sort of spirit, God, or life force.” These are the godless atheist socialists you hear about when Republicans in Congress talk about how health care destroys society.

The majority, 53%, said they believe there is “some sort of spirit or life force,” which doesn’t exactly sound like someone who is a dedicated member of a church. I’m no historian, but I’m pretty sure Martin Luther didn’t subject himself to abuse from the Catholics and the Holy Roman Empire because he thought there was probably “some sort of spirit or life force” out there.

I’m also not sure how the Church of Sweden is counting their membership, but it doesn’t seem very accurate.

If everyone in Sweden who believes in any god is a member of the Church of Sweden, that puts the membership number only around 2.1 million people, according the EU’s statistics.

Sure, 2.1 million is, in fact, a number that is “up to seven million,” so I guess they’re right on that account.

Oh well. The good news is that the church is responsible for all the cemeteries in the country and — even if you don’t believe in anything — they’ll pay for your funeral.

That’s right. The Church of Sweden provides free funeral services for every Swedish resident. The family left behind pays only the undertaker’s fees.

All in all, it seems like a really nice little send-off for all these damn atheists on their way to Hell. But since the Church of Sweden also performs gay marriages, the clergy will probably be on the next boat right behind ’em. Bon voyage suckaaaaahhhhhhs!!!!!