Category Archives: Errata

Green Tambourine

(I recently found this amongst a few files I recovered from an old hard drive. It was published in August of 2003 on my old website. I’ve edited it for spelling, accuracy, and clarity)
I’ve listened to Green Tambourine at least a few hundred times, if not more, and I don’t know why I love this song so much. Maybe it’s the sitar riff at the beginning of the song. Everything is second-rate in this song, from the simple three chords to the lame tambourine itself, but I’m compelled to listen to it. It resides in every playlist of mine and when I hear it on the radio, I’m unable to change the station. I’m trapped by its kooky power.
The song itself doesn’t make any sense. Look at the first couple of lines:
Drop your silver in my tambourine
help a poor man build a pretty dream
give me pennies, I’ll take anything

There’s nothing obviously amiss here. This damn dirty hippie is poor and looking to make some dough to fuel his reefer madness. Most people use a guitar case or a cup to collect loose pocket change and crumpled dollar bills, but this guy’s so poor he can’t afford such luxuries. All he has is his little tambourine. I feel sorry for Mr. Tambourine Man, who is most likely the subject of The Byrds’ song of the same name, but more on that later. I want you to look at the very next line in the song:
Now listen as I play my Green Tambourine
I know I’m a little soft in the head, but how the hell can you play the tambourine? It’s got money in it. If you start banging on that thing, all those hard-earned pennies are going to fly out all over the place. You can bet your unwashed ass that all of your pretty dreams will disappear as street urchins battle each other for the scattered copper loot. I’m starting to feel not-so-sorry for Mr. Tambourine Man, who’s evidently thrown away thousands for want of a fully functional short term memory. But perhaps that’s his plan.
Maybe, just maybe, Tambourine Man serves as a central collection point for tourists’ money, which he then distributes to his unfortunate neighbors in the most equitable manner possible: by randomly scattering it about as he plays the tambourine. Could that be his pretty dream, to bring money and happiness to orphans and winos who otherwise would go hungry because they lack the talent with which to earn money? Is Tambourine Man the result of a complex evolutionary process that has produced a mutant hobo with a talent that confers a natural advantage over others of his kind? If so, Tambourine Man’s charitable efforts toward his unfortunate kinsmen are worthy of praise and respect.
But this brings up another question: Who the hell wants to listen to someone play a friggin’ tambourine, much less pay for the privilege? The lyrics contain a valuable clue:
Watch the jingle-jangle start to shine
reflections of the music that is mine
When you toss a coin, you’ll hear it sing
Now listen as I play my Green Tambourine

This is no ordinary tambourine. A standard tambourine is just a simple wooden hoop with some irritating cymbals and a drumhead. A normal person’s response to this instrumental kluge is to either get out of earshot in the quickest manner possible, or beat the tambourine player for assaulting the tympanic membranes of the citizenry.
So how is it that Tambourine Man escapes certain death when he heads out to the street corner to play? The answer is obvious. He plays a magic tambourine, as evidenced by its conspicuous green color. As he beats upon its surface, the jingle-jangling of the mini-cymbals mesmerizes the audience into a stupor and opens them up to the hypnotic suggestion of the music that is his. The audience, in thrall of the tambourine, is compelled to throw money into the tambourine once the song is complete. As a reward, the tambourine itself “sings” to them. What devilish tune this hellspawn instrument whispers in their ears is unknown as the lyrics are unclear on this point. But it can be inferred that the tambourine’s song prevents them from questioning the insane act of giving someone money for playing the infernal instrument.
The tambourine’s magical properties help to answer another puzzle of the song’s lyrics:
Drop a dime before I walk away
Any song you want I’ll gladly play
Money feeds my music machine

It is here that the song takes a disturbing turn. Not only does Tambourine Man feel confident enough to actually threaten walking away (which would be a welcome action), he’s so sure of the tambourine’s hypnotic power that he can actually convince people that he is capable of playing songs. Now we all know that a tambourine is incapable of playing a song. It cannot reproduce notes. One can only smack it in a sort of rhythm approximating a song’s beat, and even then the reproduction is so vague that you kind of have to take the musician’s word for it. Is that Walk Like an Egyptian or Love in an Elevator? Who knows? The zombified audience is too busy reaching into their pockets to feed his music machine.
It’s the description of the tambourine as a music machine that highlights a potentially disturbing dimension to the song. You can take its meaning at face value: the tambourine has some sort of mechanism facilitating the hypnotic trance, perhaps by broadcasting high-pitched radio waves. The testing and R&D phase of the device must’ve been interesting. Did initial audiences soil themselves or form angry mobs focused on rooting-out Communists from the film industry?
Such idle speculation of a mysterious internal device within the tambourine itself is, of course, ludicrous. This self-described poor man could not afford the components and sophisticated equipment necessary to fashion such a hypnotic device, which leads us to the only conclusion possible: the tambourine is the vessel of a malevolent entity.
This conclusion is terrifying in its implications, for it suggests that Tambourine Man is not, as we guessed, a gifted street bum, but the victim of supernatural forces beyond his understanding and control. Perhaps he raided a gypsy camp and stole the accursed tambourine with the intention of pawning it, but was instead enslaved by its demonic power before he could rid himself of it. Unable to resist the Green Tambourine, the man plays it in public, feeding the demon’s insatiable need for pocket change. Its need for money is likely the result of a cosmic bargain that led to the demon’s imprisonment within the tambourine itself. The spirit must collect within the maw of the instrument a certain amount of money before it can be set free; or worse, exchange places with whatever poor soul happened to take possession of the tambourine.
The Tambourine Man must’ve quickly ascertained the true nature of the instrument and fought to keep the monster locked within its cage by immediately dispersing the money after the collection. One can only imagine the terrible existence of Tambourine Man, locked in a contest of wills with an imp of enormous psychic power. One can also imagine the frustration of the tambourinic djinn, who sees his hour of freedom come tantalizingly close, only to have his hopes scattered along with the money amongst the four winds.
We should therefore not only pity the Tambourine Man, but also take strength from his example, for he demonstrates that even the lowliest of us has the power to stymie the efforts of the Dark Side. If you doubt the djinn’s power, you need look no further than The Byrds’ Mr. Tambourine Man. The hypnotic power of the demon was so powerful and lasting that a group of musicians felt compelled to craft a song about the Tambourine Man and then perform it for years without question or hesitation. Even though their song was a result of demonic influence, it does allow us to view firsthand the power of the tambourine from the point of view of the audience, in contrast to the Tambourine Man’s own lament and coded warning to stay away at any cost.
Indeed, there may never have been a Mr. Tambourine Man had the Lemon Pipers not released Green Tambourine. The djinn knew that Green Tambourine had the potential to keep him enslaved for eternity, so it was necessary to sing that special “song” for The Byrds to record, bringing people from all over the globe to listen and toss money into the tambourine, thus hastening his liberation.
Did the demon’s efforts pay off? No more mention is made of Tambourine Man after The Lemon Pipers released their record. We can confidently assume that the genie was freed after a particularly large group of Japanese tourists heard the Tambourine Man play and tossed hundreds of thousands of Yen into the tambourine. In what might be the ultimate example of cosmic irony, the supernatural mechanism in place may not have accounted for international exchange rates and so took the monetary value of the Yen at face value and set the genie free for only thirteen dollars and a few cents.
So what became of the Tambourine Man after the malevolent spirit was liberated and founded Microsoft? Hopefully, he was freed of torment as well and completed his task of pawning the now spiritually benign instrument for some much need reefer money. Such a scenario may help us sleep peacefully at night, but the truth may be far more sinister. We must assume that somewhere in this world a possessed Green Tambourine, imbued with the spirit of an angry and tormented soul, quietly awaits its next unsuspecting victim.

Expired

I’ve been going through Wired’s first issue on the iPad and it barely resembles the safe, neutered magazine that bears its name today. I didn’t buy the first issue, but I did read most every issue up until around 1997 or so. I had always been a fan of the cyberpunk genre and a huge technology enthusiast, so Wired was a magazine tailor-made for someone like me. It was a garish mix of absurd pretentiousness and genuine art. I liked it in spite of itself and enjoyed it without irony.
The thing that kept me coming back, besides wondering what heights of self-importance it would reach in the next issue, was its focus on people, ideas, and culture rather than a dry recitation of some beige box’s specs. It seemed plugged-in to the Silicon Valley scene, plus Interesting People wrote for it, so it felt like a magazine that was actually commenting on the digital revolution instead of obsessing over the actual devices that were making the revolution possible. It was the only technology mag to ask, “What does this all mean, anyway?”
It was the first place I’d seen the word “colophon.”
Going through the first issue made me somewhat sad, but not really from any sense of nostalgia. It was a painful reminder of how much the magazine has changed from a weird, dangerous, avant-garde magazine from the future to basically PC Magazine with a goatee and cargo shorts. This was a magazine whose cover, in addition to a rogues’ gallery of provocative thinkers and technologists, once featured the Apple logo encircled with a crown of thorns over the word “Pray” to mark the return of Steve Jobs to Apple. It was a fairly controversial cover to people who had never heard of the magazine, much less actually read it, but it was keeping with the magazine’s attitude.
Now, the magazine has a cover with a “Geek Dad.” Seriously. They might as well just fold it into Men’s Health or something.
I stopped reading Wired regularly in the late-’90s, as the web finally became interesting and informative in its own right (rather than people talking about how interesting and informative it was going to be). Combined with newsgroups and IRC, Wired instantly seemed old-fashioned and quaint. The digital world it heralded had finally arrived. The hackers, crackers, phreaks, and other Genuinely Smart People were moving things along at a furious clip, far faster than anything as mundane as a monthly magazine could hope to keep pace with.
Wired had its own website, Hotwired, but it never really caught fire with me. Once you’ve tasted digital ambrosia yourself in far more interesting places on the ‘net, you can’t really take a comparatively safe and mainstream website seriously–especially one tied to a supposedly forward-looking, underground magazine. The arrogant seriousness of the magazine didn’t really mesh well with the culture of the ‘net in those days, which was far too experimental, self-aware, and sarcastic for a magazine that took itself way too seriously.
Wired was supposed to be about the future, but it turned out the future was ASCII dicks and spam.
Wired was very much a product of its time. It’s deeply embedded in ’90s cyber-culture and the world it foresaw has largely come to pass. In a sane world, the magazine would have shutdown with dignity at the turn of the millennium; alas, anything that turns a profit, even it has long outlived its mission, shambles along like a shadow of its former self, forgetting who it was or what it was doing here in the first place. So it goes with Wired.
At any rate, revisiting the first issue was an interesting look into the future, courtesy of the past, when we knew what was going to happen before it actually did.
Except for Comments sections. No one saw that train wreck coming.

My Problem With Zombies

The number one problem with zombies, as far as I’ve seen them depicted, is that they’re a short term threat. I’m not talking about the type of zombies in 28 Days Later, where people just get a virus and become dicks, I’m talking about genuine, shambling, ambulatory corpses seeking BRAAAIINS (or zombie cattle seeking GRAAAIIINS).
I’m not saying they wouldn’t be an existential threat–far from it. A zombie apocalypse would not be a pleasant experience, but it would eventually end, with survival favoring those in certain climates and locales.
First off, if the zombies are rotting corpses, then simple human decomposition would ensure the  zombie throng would quickly burn out in about 18 months. They simply wouldn’t be able to walk after a certain period of time, as their muscle tissue and tendons deteriorated to the point that they simply stopped moving.
So, if you find yourself in a sparsely-populated area when the zombie balloon goes up, you just need to hold out for about 18 months and you’re pretty much good to go. But it gets better! If you’re in a tropical or humid location, the zombies will decompose at a far faster rate. You might only need to hold out for only a year if you’re in the Southeast US.
But if you’re in more northern climes, you’re not in that bad a situation, either. If the zombie throng starts shuffling in earnest in the spring or summer, you’re in for some tough times, but once winter hits, freezing temperatures will slow or completely stop the undead, allowing you to gather head shots at will.
So, best case scenario, you’ve gotta hold out for only 6 brief months–a hockey season. Worst case, you need only endure 18 months, with the zombie contingent steadily reducing in number with each passing week, before dropping off exponentially after about 13-14 months. That’s why the zombie apocalypse is the least terrifying end-of-the-world scenario. If a big asteroid hits the earth, we’re all fucked, with any survivors leading a life of extreme starvation and savagery as they slowly die off. A supervolcano eruption leaves us with a similar scenario. Global thermonuclear war dispenses with the whole, drawn-out death of a species and just knocks us all out fairly quickly.
In light of actual, real-world apocalyptic options, the zombie plague is actually the preferable one. It offers a real good chance for survival of the species and a chance to quickly recover. Unless, of course, the impetus for the zombie plague is a biological agent that infects everyone (like in The Walking Dead), expressing itself not only when bitten and infected by a zombie, but also upon death (even a non-zombie-inflicted death). In that case, game over humanity. Just try to infect as many animals as possible, because zombie grizzlies would be really cool to see.