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Bob McElroy

It’s been 10 years since the day I met and recorded Bob McElroy.

Who the Hell is Bob McElroy?

Bob McElroy was a musician I met while living in at the Santa Fe International Youth Hostel in 1999. He was in town from Monroe, Louisiana to meet with Gary Johnson, then-governor of New Mexico, on the topic of marijuana decriminalization legislation. To this meeting he dressed in an all-white suit with a bolo tie, which at 78 years old, scruffy beard and head of white hair, made him look too much like Colonel Sanders for comfort. Later that night, I found him in the common room singing folk songs to an audience of touring Japanese girls. I asked if I could record him and he was happy to oblige. I immediately ran to Radio Shack, purchased a cheap boundary microphone that I could connect to my MiniDisc recorder, grabbed a six pack of Lone Star talls at the pharmacy, ran back to the hostel and sat Bob down outside the hostel kitchen where he played and I recorded until quiet hour.

bob-mcelroy

Not everything he said was the truth, but enough was.

Bob was an extremely interesting person. A former member of a biker gang and psychedelic enthusiast. With his skepticism of organized religious ideals and anti-establishment attitude he’s exactly the type of person you’d expect to meet while living my life. As he puts it while talking about being “locked up for crazy,” “[Mad houses are] all about separating out people who are constitutionally opposed to following the rules other people have set down.” Or when I ask him to play the song where “the bad guy gets away at the end” he retorts, “the cop’s the bad guy.” He had a special way of looking at things that resonated with me. I didn’t want to be him, or even spend a lot of time with him. That evening, extended for ten years by recording technology, was all I needed. Bob died in 2002.

It’s my pleasure to share the entire evening’s recordings with you.

Rentcheck Films

My friend Matt Sutter has initiated an all-new new movie-making project. It’s a lot like the 48-hour ones that I’m notorious for participating in. Each month we have to create a film based on requirement from the other participants. I’m told there are four teams competing– Sutter’s team in Philadelphia, Rob Weychert’s team in Boston, a team of dudes from New Jersey and my own team, Redstar KGB. It’s called Rentcheck because it’s due at the end of the month.

We’ve just completed our first Rentcheck Film

Since we’re in the midst of Holiday Madness, Sutter threw us a softball and instructed us to simply introduce our team. We had a month to do this, but we were already in production on another project, Mortar, and so we gave our Rentcheck film a good 40 minutes of our time. In case you’re wondering, no, this isn’t acting. This is exactly what happens when we get together to discuss making a film.

The Pitch Session

“Power is Truth”

-Raekwon, 1999

Almost ten years ago I became certified in audio engineering and took the first job I could find. I was hired quickly and easily at a place in Bethesda, Maryland called Potomac Talking Books. The company recorded narrated books and magazines for the Library of Congress. I enjoyed written materials and loved anything to do with tape  and sound so the job was a great placement for me. My duties were to sit outside the recording booth (a metal pod that was just large enough to hold a voice actor and a book), monitor their narration and read along a copy of the material, listening for mistakes. When mistakes were made, I’d rewind the reel-to-reel recorder in front of me to the sentence before the mistake, and punch in (hit record at a precise moment). A light would go on when the recording began and the narrator would expertly begin reading with matched tone again. I became an expert at rewindstopplayrecording. It was automatic. Instinctual. I took great pride in this ability.

But I’m not good at reading and listening

After the recording was complete, the stack of (sometimes a dozen or more) reels were sent into the QC department where they were pored over by a team of glassed-nosed übernerds for pronunciation, background noise, poor punch-ins, and mistakes that were overlooked.

I overlooked a lot of mistakes.

As good as I was at instinctually working the tape machine I was really bad at this job. QC would make a list of the mistakes that had to be corrected in re-recording sessions and the actors would make the corrections at the beginning of their next scheduled session. The actors hated re-recordings because they didn’t get paid the same as the initial recordings ($50 per 88 minute side). The actors started hating me, their broken failsafe. A month later I left the job and started working behind a desk at an insurance company.

I told you that to tell you this

While working there I met an actor named Mark Ashby who was an absolute narration prodigy. He would do an 88 minute side in 90 minutes. In essence, he’d sit down in the studio and make more than anyone else in the place. He was fantastic and efficient. As a result he was asked to read a lot of different materials. Including material that was wholly inappropriate for his voice. Like Ebony magazine featuring an interview with rapper Raekwon.

I heard about this recording and, during my lunch break and without permission, went into the tape library, grabbed the tape, spooled it up and bussed it out to my Minidisc recorder. I stole government property between mouthfuls of Boston Market. I was never caught and I think the statute of limitations has expired so, without further ado, please enjoy one of the gems of my iTunes Library: Mark Ashby reads Raekwon.

Used To Did

In the early Fall of 2008, my partner in all things film, my go-to-shoot-this, main man, Chris Harring was asked to record a J Roddy Walson and The Business show at The Ottobar in Baltimore. He obliged and decided that we should take the footage and roll it into a quirky music video for one of the group’s songs as a promotional piece for our work.

The plan was to record the live show, edit a cut of one song and project it onto canvas screens set up on a stage. Chris asked for nothing from me but advice as to how best to pull that off. I suggested that instead of using the existing footage from the show that we invite the band to a studio and shoot them on green screen. Then instead of video recording a light projection (which would be difficult to do correctly) we do a post-production composite of the screens on a stage with the green screen footage.

Fixing it in post

Chris scheduled the shoot and booked the studio, I borrowed an HD camera and we shot the band, stage and screen. We also shot the screens in public places around Baltimore, supporting the idea that the band is Baltimore-based. The band was told that the video would be available in a few weeks.

A couple weeks into my post production, watching playbacks of my composite I found the concept didn’t support the song. The driving force of the music was completely juxtaposed by the stillness of the image of canvas screens sitting on the stage. This video was going to be painfully boring to watch for four minutes and ten seconds. I stopped working on the video for six months.

Stop! Animate!

test2This past July I borrowed my friend Ben’s Sony Handycam to work on a small personal project. While I had it in my possession I tried out some techniques that I was curious about. Namely how to do a faux stop animation of paper elements on a desk. In my tests I reached for some placeholder footage from the J Roddy folder.

I decided that this could actually be an interesting method of presenting the band while they performed their song. I presented the idea to Chris who basically told me that the band had apparently completely forgotten about our promise and to just do whatever I wanted.

Below is the completed project. I’m happy with it for the most part and wish that I could look at it objectively. Enjoy.

I Love My Family So Much, It Sucks

I just got home from the shock trauma unit, having spent the afternoon there. My brother was admitted last night after getting into a car accident involving a windy road, rain, a car, and a tree.

He’s in quite a state: laying there with a collapsed lung, tired, in pain, and getting a lot of tests done. But he’s okay. By okay, I mean alive, talking, and stable.

My whole day has been spent alternating between thinking he’s okay and thinking that he’s not. And I find myself frustrated with the whole arrangement of things.

A month ago, my brother was dropped from my parents’ insurance plan. Now he gets into an accident that involves a helicopter, multiple days in the hospital, multiple tests. He has no job right now.

This is not okay.

But he’s alive. Thank goodness. And he’s relatively whole, and will likely come home soon. The guy is a trooper, and tries to be pleasant to everyone and probably should have kicked us out a while ago today. He was tired when I saw him, and that was before anyone else got there. Damn it if he shouldn’t have just blown up at us without regards to propriety, and sent us home. This kind of stress shouldn’t get trussed up to save others. This sucks.

And now I find myself doing the same thing. I feel so at ends right now. I need a place to vent, and I never update this bloody site. But really. I mean, come on. It feels foolish to think that what I write here matters. I cannot write too much in order to protect my private life from my work; I cannot write anything worth reading if it’s not personal. When I delve into feelings, I find myself just bitching. When I try to be witty, it all falls flat. This is nonsense.

And as I write this entry, with the hope that it is honest to my feelings, I find myself tucking all of these things up and getting ready to go back to work tomorrow, to support my godsister tomorrow at her high school play, to have a play date with my cousin for both of our sakes, to go to a family event on Sunday. After all that’s done, I find I am trying to figure out how Ian and I can contribute to whatever costs my brother will incur from this hospital “adventure”, even though I already am flirting with burnout and am dealing with a severely compromised budget as it is.

No matter how much I wish for my brother to feel better and to take care of himself, I really find this entire situation to be ridiculous. After all,  I cannot figure out a reasonable way to do it for myself.

Poustinik

Ian and the crew had their annual Guy Weekend extravaganza at my place last weekend.  As I certainly couldn’t stay at the apartment, I decided it was high time for me to take my grandmother’s advice and participate in a poustinia–a personal religious retreat.

You’re welcome to read more about poustinia at the Madonna House website, but suffice it to say, it generally involves holing up in a room with nothing but you, some basic furnishings, a book on poustinia, and a bible. You eat bread and water/tea for the day and spend the rest of your time in contemplation.

Alright, alright! I know that most people would not think of this type of arrangement as all that fun. However, as a person who wanted to grow up and become a hermit, (albeit, I also wanted to be a contortionist, a ballerina, and a paleontologist), I like the idea of being open to solitude and simplicity. And with the clangor of numerous obligations in our lives today, I think most people can appreciate that a day without noise would not be a bad thing. What? Sit at a window and enjoy the breeze, you say? How can I refuse?

I feel like I could spend a great deal of time justifying this type of practice, whether it be to people who are uncomfortable with Catholicism, Christianity, or with just doing nothing. I don’t think it’d really get me anywhere though.

I really just wanted to write this entry because I enjoyed the time alone in God’s presence immensely. I also have found that coming home from that day has shown the time well-spent. I feel much happier, more present and appreciative with others, well rested, on better grounds with my spiritual life, and far less burnt out than I did before I went.  Though I still find it hard to stop listening to all of these various demands in my life, I am finding the time to have some quiet somewhere in my day. Whether it’s time spent listening to what my body is telling me, what my God is telling me, or what I am trying to say, that quiet time is paying off.

We really have lost touch with the joy of keeping things simple (says the girl who is writing a blog entry).

Fast Fun with Fast Food

When we were on our way back from West Virginia, we invented a little game to help the miles go by quicker. Poke fun at the disgusting fast food establishments that grease up the sides of the highways. Here’s a list that we’ll keep updated. Some we think of as originals, some have been passed down through the ages.

Burger King: Booger King
Pizza Hut: Pizza Slut
Subway: Shlub Way
Taco Bell: Taco Hell
Wendy’s: Windy’s
Hardee’s: Fartee’s
Chik Fila: Sick Fila
Sbarro’s: Sbarfo’s
Roy Rogers: ‘Roid Rogers
Boston Market: Grosston Market
T.G.I.Fridays: U.T.I.Fridays

Does God Make Junk?

My entire life people have told me I am different. I’m special. I’m creative. I will be somebody.

While it’s always made me feel proud and optimistic, I think it’s given me every excuse to rest on my laurels and wait for it all to happen. When I was a teenager I wrote songs and people seemed to be in awe of this simple gift of expression. Imagining myself with a record deal, standing on a stage before thousands of adoring fans, money falling out of the sky I let myself slide into my mid-twenties (seemingly the terminus of rockstardom). Around that time my skills started to wane. I never got as good at guitar as my peers, my ability to create catchy melodies dried up, family and work responsibilities replaced the free time I needed to get baked and jam with myself. But moreover, my previous accomplishments seemed to trump what I was currently producing which led to trepidation regarding every note I played. “I’m not as good as I used to be” would be my paralyzing mantra. The thousands of adoring fans became a billion possible critics of the crap I wiped onto tape.

About six years ago I parlayed the skills I developed editing audio into editing video. This was my calling all-of-the-sudden– Visual Storytelling. I got really into movies, sucking up as many as I could and trying to apply the techniques I gleaned to making my own. I was alright at shooting, after all, I did spend two semesters in high school photography. But where I thought I really excelled was in storyboarding and telling the story through the edit. The former was such a wonderful adventure because I was able to use my imagination– free from a camera and crew to compose the visual story, the latter because it was a more pragmatic and concrete method of painting the stages in an imaginary event. Movie-making stardom was only a few years away, I was sure.

Climbing the ladder

Naturally, I found a way to do what I liked doing and make money. Sticking to what I knew was my calling and eventually becoming extremely well-know for it was the way to go. No more sitting around waiting for David Geffin to get my demo tape from a friend of a friend. I was taking my destiny in my own hands. My cheap, little online movies landed me cheap, little job after cheap, little job. The work was simple, yet heartbreakingly embarrassing. Tribute slide-shows for bat mitzvahs, corporate pieces for manufacturers of TiO2 and something known as ‘ERP’ (the client never filled me in on what the hell that is) haven’t gotten me very far to-date.

Still feeling like I should be part of an incredible team making incredible work, I’m frustrated by the fact that nearly everyone I work with has less talent, vision and responsibility to the end-product than I do. Everyday is a challenge, and not the kind of challenge you’d face with self-dignity and the desire to overcome. It’s the kind of challenge where people who work in cubes all day tell you how to work your skill. The kind of challenge where non-designers force you to make design decisions you know are wrong, where the computer-illiterate use you as a mouse and keyboard– executing their bastard whim upon the project. Working with bottom-feeders for so long has convinced me that that’s how I will be someone. This is how I shine. My abilities are so far and above the people who surround me that I practically am a rock star.

This isn’t about feeling like I should be something and complaining that I’m not, it’s about how I’m going to manage to get through the rest of my life. I don’t want to work. I barely manage to drag myself into the office everyday only to polish more turds. If I’m going to make it to 70 or 80, I’m really going to have to hit it big in the lottery or a workman’s comp claim because my talent and my stick-to-it-ness certainly aren’t going to carry me into retirement. Maybe that’s why I smoke cigarettes. Maybe it’s better to get life out of the way than to suffer through it for the typical life-span.

Disaster Resistant

How many cannibals could your body feed?How long could you survive in the vacuum of space?

Moving On

On March 1st, it became official that Ian and I had moved to a new place. Though I won’t talk about our new address, out of deference to my personal privacy (yay working in the human services field!), I will talk about our new place.

Not a lot of people got to see our most recent apartment arrangement, but until this month we had lived in a one bedroom (more like studio) apartment in a rowhome. Our bedroom and living room and office all merged into the same floorspace, leaving very little privacy and no room for more than two or three guests. It was a cozy clubhouse, without a doubt. However, as Ian and I have settled into our jobs and into life as a couple (we used to live with roommates), we were feeling like it was time to expand.

We were able to get a lovely apartment in a good neighborhood, with a living room, dining room, two bedrooms, and a study. We’ve got it arranged right now to where it’s more like two offices and one bedroom, but that’s more our style these days. I was able to get my cool old table from my parents’ attic to bring in for my craft and project table, and Ian was able to move his desk off of the dining table onto an actual desk. It’s really been a whirlwind move, motivated almost by a whim. Ian had mentioned an interest in starting to record again, and this was a prime opportunity for me to scratch that mild nomadic itch I have. Since college, I have not stayed at a place longer than two years. I would even say no longer than a year and a half. That makes this my sixth move in about seven years. Let’s do another experiment and see how long I can plant roots in this home!


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