Just noticed it’s Buckethead’s birthday today, May 13th.
Just for fun, I did the math, and roughly speaking, I’ve been a fan of his for about half his life, give or take a few months: he was 23 when I discovered his music, and it’s been about 23 years since then. Weird. Time flies, and all that.
For a long time, if you were to ask me my top ten bands, Skinny Puppy would have been one of them. I mean, they’re still in the top ten, but their last few releases haven’t grabbed me in quite the same way as the ones from the first half of their career. (A lot of that is down to me, by the way, not them. Bands change; Too Dark Park was very different from its predecessor, and same with its followup, The Process, so I’m not stressed that their post-reunion albums haven’t grabbed me in the same way. We’re all different people than we were before.)
So, let’s skip back to the early/mid 90s, probably the summer of… 94? I moved from <irony>the booming metropolis</irony> of Terre Haute, Indiana, back home to rural southern Indiana, outside Chrisney (which has a wiki page, so at least it’s better known than I, though I have more twitter followers than its population). I did, however, find a summer job at a relatively local factory. This factory, situated in or nearby Spencer County (I can’t remember now, decades later), produced targets for bow hunters.
The targets were of two varieties. One was simpler, classic in its form: a foam circle with a marked center, not terribly dissimilar to the logo of the box store rival to Wal-Mart. I started, on my first day, constructing these. Starting with a long strip of six-inch-wide, half-inch-thick foam, I merely rolled it up, with a torch very slightly melting the foam as it rolled. This provided a natural adhesive, not to mention another source of heat in the July air. After the target’s width was right, the torch was applied to the front face of the circle, and a flat piece of foam (about a half inch thick) was stuck to the melted face, then trimmed to the circle. Et voila! A target.
Now repeat x 100000000000000000000
This was the only job I had a this factory that involved going outside (to get more foam, if I remember correctly). I should have treasured it.
I was soon moved to the back room facility, to help produce the second type of target: a foam 3D rough likeness of a deer, with two aluminum poles coming out the feet to shove into the ground. Said ground-shoving would mean you had a sorta deer, though much smaller, ready to be arrowed.
These were a more complex affair. Basically, this was a fill-the-mold-with-liquid-foam affair, though there was additional prep. I was at the front of the line, coating the inside of the two halves of the mold with a spray lubricant. After this, we applied brown paint to the inside of the mold. The halves of the fiberglass mold were then clamped together (with aluminum posts coming out the legs) and sent down the line. Another person filled the mold with foam and sent it through an oven, not dissimilar to what one might see subs go through now at Penn Station. At the end of the line, the molds were opened, and the target removed. If we had (a) lubricated sufficiently, and (b) painted thoroughly, the target would come out ready to go.
Alas, though, this wasn’t always the case.
The lubricant was clear, meaning we couldn’t really see whether we’d covered the inside of the mold completely unless we’d been paying very close attention. If not: the paint would stick to the fiberglass mold, and rip off when the mold halves were separated. Bummer: target goes in the trash, and time had been wasted. Similarly, the paint was close in hue to the inside of the mold. If we weren’t paying the closest attention to the painting process, the target would emerge with bare, unfixable foam sections. Another target for the trash heap.
This meant a not insignificant attention to detail was required. Was the lubricant spread evenly? Was the paint thoroughly applied? Combine this with the face that the fiberglass molds were constantly shedding tiny, itchy fibers (if you’ve hung insulation, you know what I mean), meant that this job was the PITS.
I arrived way early each morning (a real DRAG), and so by the time I clocked out each day (yes, the pure elation of *clocking out* is not lost on me) I was ready to GO. I hopped in my car (specifically, I think, a parent-donated Chevy Suburban or Dodge Caravan) and got the FUCK out of there, blaring the stereo on the way out.
What’s this got to do with Skinny Puppy? Guess what I was playing in the cassette deck on my way out.
At that time I’d only recently discovered SP, so I’d only been a fan a year or so. I knew Bites and Remission to be separate releases, but when I’d taped them from my friend Wil, he had the American release, where they’d been put together on one cd. I wore this goddamn tape out! I mean, I later bought both discs, but for better or worse, I know them as a pair.
That factory was miserable, mentally and physically. I spent every day, all day, with people who largely seemed like shady characters. Many were convicted criminals, including the foreman, who’d served time for manslaughter. Those who weren’t yet convicted were still on trial. It was a bit of a concerning situation to find myself in. Every day at that factory, every day I worked there, I was just working to the time I could leave. Leaving meant getting in the car, and that meant hearing Bites and Remission. Every day.
That goddamn tape fixed SO MUCH grueling drudgery.
To this day (including now, as I write this), this music brings me back to then. Not in a negative way, though: I’m far enough removed from all of that now that the negative has receded. I mean, I’m not even sure how much I’ve shared of this time in my life to my current friends.
That being said, though, this record (or two records) were SO FUCKING IMPORTANT to my general well-being back then that I cannot even imagine where I’d be, or what I’d have done without it.
“Saved My Life”, as in the title? Maybe not. Even so, it’s right up there in importance.