The Prog Life - July 3, 2005: Adventures In Near Unemployment
by Clayton Walnum

Yes, it's been a long time since my name has appeared in a byline on I've got a good excuse, though. You see, I'm currently starring in a major motion picture called Kingdom Of Heaven, in which I play a knight during the crusades. I get to have all sorts of cool sword fights, as well as cuddle with damsels in distress. No wait! That's Orlando Bloom.

Me, until very recently, I barely had a job.

For the last 15 years or so, I've been a free-lance writer. Not to toot my own horn, but over that time, I've authored or co-authored around 60 books. Of course, they were all boring books about computers, but books they were, nevertheless. The trouble is, with so many computer jobs moving overseas (a process that experts call "jobs moving overseas"), the market for computer books has fallen dramatically over the last few years. I went from writing four or five books a year (no kidding) to spending most of my time watching Spongebob Squarepants, eating Oreos by the box, and downloading porn. Unfortunately, none of these activities pay very well.

When the porn sites started bouncing my credit card, it was obvious that I was going to have to get a "real" job. I started the job-search process reluctantly and with little ambition, sending out a resume here and there, always believing that the free-lance jobs would eventually come my way again -- or failing that, that my new part-time gig as a gigolo would pan out. Unfortunately, middle-aged men with pot bellies can have a difficult time finding clients. I did get one call, but when I found out that my "john" was literally a John, I decided to close the business.

As the bills began to stack up, I became more desperate and accelerated my job-search, by which I mean I stopped lying about sending out resumes and actually did it. My search led me all across these United States, from Connecticut to California to our new state of Canada, but because of the aforementioned job outsourcing, nary a job was there to find. I'm pretty sure that most personnel departments used my resumes as comedic relief, chortling over them, while exclaiming things like:

"This guy actually thinks there are jobs!"

"What does he think we would do with a gigolo?"

"What kind of a name is Walnum, anyway?"

I even had an interview with Microsoft, a company exactly 3,165 miles from my front door. Unfortunately, they expected me to know something about the topic they wanted someone to write about. The interview went like this:

Microsoft: So, what do you know about Active Directory?

Me: Um?Did you know that I've written nearly 60 books?

Microsoft: Yes, but can you tell me about the Internet client/server relationship?

Me: 60 books, Dude!

Microsoft: Okay, but can you write about Windows security issues?

Me: Er?60! Just count ?em!

Microsoft: Enough with the books. Can you write about Active Server Pages?

Me: Yes.

Microsoft: What topics would you write about?

Me: Stuff about Active Server Pages.

No, I didn't get the job, but I did learn a valuable lesson: If you interview with Microsoft while eating handfuls of gummy worms, terms like Active Server Pages come out like "Agdib Derva Pashis."

To make a long story even longer, after two years or so, I finally landed a job -- ironically only about five miles from my front door, which, if I've done my math correctly, is way closer than Microsoft. I'm now a technical writer for a wonderful company named CNC Software, who make the #1 CAD/CAM software in the world, an immense chunk of code called Mastercam. All you machinists out there will know that name. Yep, you will.

Since starting work at CNC Software, I discovered that I had grown massively sick of the free-lance life and should have stopped it long ago. The cost of health insurance exceeding $16,000 a year should have been the first hint. The stress of trying to find work in a nonfiction book market that signs Britney Spears to multimillion contracts while leaving professional writers to starve should have been the second hint. My standing in front of Dunkin Donuts in hot pants and a feather boa and asking passersby if they wanted to party should have been the final hint. (Thanks to the gummy worms, my solicitation actually sounded more like "Wand do parrie?")

But what's really important is that I did get the hint, I did finally get a job, and I did get $10 for my feather boa on eBay. Even more importantly, I'm taking a class called "The Fine Art of Speaking with a Mouthful of Gummy Worms." But that's another story.

Okay, none of the previous scribbling was about progressive music, so to get back on track, it's now time for...

Clay's CDs in Rotation

Satellite - Evening Games

Satellite - Evening GamesPolish group Satellite's second album, Evening Games, is very much a Genesis-inspired affair. Even the cover art is reminiscent of early Genesis albums like Nursery Cryme and Foxtrot. Guitarist Sarhan Artur Kubeisi often (though not always) sounds strikingly like fretmeister Steve Hackett, and keyboardist Krzysiek Palczewski channels -- you guessed it -- Tony Banks. Moreover, the song arrangements and melodies are right out of the mid-career Genesis playbook (for example, Selling England By The Pound and Trick Of The Tail). Vocalist Robert Amirian tries very hard to capture Peter Gabriel's tones and inflections, but is a more laid-back singer. Still, although saturated in Genesis's legacy, this is an album guaranteed please most symphonic-prog lovers, with long, complex tracks and interesting arrangements and production. My score: 4/5

Porcupine Tree - Deadwing

Porcupine Tree - DeadwingIt's no surprise that prog groups like Dream Theater and Porcupine Tree have landed major-label record deals. Dream Theater manages to combine 70's symphonic prog with today's heavy metal, creating a broad audience for their works. Porcupine Tree takes a similar path, combining their Pink Floyd influence with today's pop metal, while throwing in extraordinary melodiousness. On the new album, Deadwing, the PT formula yields an irresistible set of powerhouse songs that will appeal to both pop metal fans, as well as diehard proggers. The second track, "Shallow," for example, wouldn't be out of place on a Collective Soul album, while longer tracks, like the opening "Deadwing," are a progger's delight. This just may be PT's best album yet. And that's saying something. My Score: 5/5

Carl Palmer - Working Live, Volumes 1 & 2

Carl Palmer Band - Working Live, Volume 1 Carl Palmer Band - Working Live, Volume 2Carl Palmer of ELP fame has put together a group that performs mostly classic ELP fare. The astonishing thing about the band is that no keyboard player graces the stage. Instead, guitarist Shaun Baxter performs all of Keith Emerson's parts on guitar. Yes, you heard right. On guitar. In most cases, the result is a whole lot better than you might at first expect, putting a new spin on some terrific old songs like "The Barbarian," "Toccata," "Hoedown," "Trilogy," and "Tarkus." All things considered, I think I like the second set better than the first, but both albums go way beyond the novelty items you might anticipate with a guitar-based ELP. Wild! My score: 3.5/5

Sleepytime Gorilla Museum - Of Natural History

Sleepytime Gorilla Museum blew me away a couple of years ago at NEARFest, and now they're back with another great album. For those uninitiated, expect wild prog excursions. Expect avant garde. Expect noise. In short, expect extremely adventurous music. Specifically, imagine a hard-core act like Deftones mixed with an "out there" band like Thinking Plague, and you'll be in the right neighborhood. But while you're in the neighborhood, watch your back, because this is a dangerous place. Definitely not for the weak hearted. Words of advice: it's a good idea not to listen to this stuff right before bed - unless, that is, you enjoy nightmares. This is the soundtrack for hell. My rating: 3.5/5

Steve Howe - Spectrum

Steve Howe - SpectrumI haven't much been a fan of Yes guitarist Steve Howe's solo work, which is weird, since Yes is one of my all-time favorite bands. The new album, Spectrum, however is -- for me, anyway -- another whole ball of notes. Here, Howe presents a set of short, well-written and produced rock and jazz instrumentals (okay, and a little country) that sound like a cohesive album, rather than a collection of demos and leftovers, which has often been my impression of some other Howe works. What caught my eye at first was Tony Levin (King Crimson) on bass. Being a big Levin fan, I had to hear this disk. I was pleasantly surprised -- so much so, in fact, that I plan on giving other Howe albums another chance. Maybe my ears were screwed on backwards when I first heard them. Or maybe this is an unusually cool Howe album. In either case, it's a good listen, although not very Yes-ish (not a criticism, just a fact). My score: 4/5

Until next time, send me your proggy thoughts via email at Most importantly, keep on proggin?!

Porcupine Tree
Carl Palmer
Sleepytime Gorilla Museum
Steve Howe

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Published on: 2005-07-03 (6638 reads)

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