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Cool German words - Zugzwang

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Zugzwang (move compulsion) is a chess term. It is the tactic of taking advantage of the fact that you cannot skip your turn in chess, you are forced to move into a bad position, leading to your defeat. It usually occurs in endgames, which I'm terrible in. Here is the most famous example:

Black is forced to move from the promotion square, to the white square on 7th row, allowing the white king to move to 7th row and protect to the promotion square and then go on to promote the pawn and win.

It was promoted from a technical chess term to a term used in the real world. Zugzwang might mean if you force someone to act, when it is in their best interest not to act.

Picture of the week - Trees and me

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Socialized Health Care

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I got my second vaccination this week! Like thousands of others I was asked to come to Laugardalshöll, the only indoor arena in Iceland. Last time I was here was for a Sigur Rós concert.

The vaccinations are surprisingly well organised. Actually, I generally think I have been unfair on Icelanders on their ability to organise things. The management of the crowds at the eruption (creating parking spaces, hiking paths and keeping everyone safe and informed) has been exceptional.
The vaccination organisation could have been set to music. The rows of chairs emptying and filling like clockwork, nurses moving synchronized from row to row. It took about half an hour for 400 people to be vaccinated, during one day the amount of people vaccinated were thousands.

All of this was organised by the state run health care centres, with the nurses being the unsung heroes, as usual. The Icelandic state as repeatedly screwed the nurses in collective agreement negotiations, last one was last year, in the middle of the epidemic. No matter who is in government, each is happy to use the government's to restrict the nurses right to strike to force them into compromises. I hope that maybe in the next negotiations everyone remembers how much the nurses stepped up during the epidemic and comes out with them in solidarity.

The smoke rising from the mountains behind me? That is the volcano.

Picture of the week - Girl at pool

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All the things I miss: family, sun and woods

I spent the last month listening to every REM studio album in chronological order - Chronic Town and where are they now?

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Chronic Town was recorded to have something to give to live venues when REM where trying to book shows. They had already recorded there first single Radio Free Europe a year earlier, had toured all around the South, dropped out of school and were very much committed to be doing this full time, even if it meant living out of a van for most of the year.

Wolves, Lower
This song is delightfully post - punk. Like Gardening at night, it is already perfectly showcasing the typical REM style. Buck's arpeggiated guitar drives the song. Mills's bass is mixed in the foreground and melodic as always. After writing about the post-Berry years, it is so nice to hear his drums again, but not only the drums. In the pre-chorus (another very REM thing) you can clearly hear his voice making this song immediately my favourite from the EP.

Gardening at Night
I wrote about it before, this is the version where Stipe sings in a strange falsetto, reminding me that I prefer any live version.

Carnival of Sorts (Boxcars)
It actually starts with a carnival organ riff. And it gets a star for having the album title (Chronic Town) in the lyrics.

As a European I write this song title with "." not ",". Stipe's vocal performance is a bit more aggressive here, which works well with the more acoustic leaning sound. I am reminded of Talk about the Passion from Murmur.

And we are at the end. I love the bass in this, it is REALLY mixed into the front here. They were a student party band at the beginning and the songs had to be songs you can dance to and this one really shows this. Even though I went to university 20 years later, I can see myself dancing to this in some squat bar in Amsterdam to this.


Where are they now?

Bill Berry
I just realized that he was my age when he retired and now I'm really jealous. He still lives on the farm he moved to when he retired. Every now and then he joins some friends playing music, but nothing serious. He usually declines interviews, so there is not much to find about his post REM life. He gave a rare interview for last years episode of Song Exploder about Losing my Religion, making it an immediate must see. His band before REM (Love Tractor) just re-released their first album and he helped remix it. I did not listen to any post REM music from any of the members, but this would be the first I'd check out.

Peter Buck
I'm so glad, I decided not to check out any of their post REM music now, because Peter Buck has been super busy. I think he released more music after REM than with them. He even started singing on his records. Fed up with the music business, he released it all on small indie labels without any promotion. He also seems to be producing literally any and every indie band that crosses his way. Having seemed quite miserable during the last years of REM, it seems that he decided to just do what he wants and nothing else. Like Bill Berry he seldom gives REM related interviews and has done no promotion for any of the anniversary re-releases, but was on Song Exploder last year.

Mike Mills
I was surprised that he had not released a solo album. He wrote and performed a "concerto" (mix of classical and rock music according to Wikipedia, I guess something very much not like Muse, unfortunately) with one of his high school friends who is a famous violinist. How many musically super talented people did this high school have in the same grade? Otherwise he seems to pursue music more like a hobby, he is in the Baseball Project, where he and his friends write songs about their shared interest baseball and is the only member to perform some of the old REM songs at random events. He and Stipe are also doing all the promotion for the anniversary releases. He still lives in Athens and my secret hope is, that during the last year he and Bill Berry (basically neighbors) got together and recorded some Beach Boys inspired songs.

Micheal Stipe
For a long time after REM had split Stipe had removed himself from music altogether and focused on his visual art. When they met in university, he had been registered as a visual arts student, with music only being a hobby. He had also overseen all the album artwork and band merchandise during all of REM. It is kind of cool, when looking at the band as a project, how the members divided tasks according to interest / strength. He now has released three photography books. True to my laziness, I have not looked at any of his photography work. He returned to music in 2017, first as guest performer and last year released his first solo single. He also seems to frequently write op eds in the Guardian, which I have not read either.

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