Karate: The bed is in the ocean

Throughout their seven-year career, Boston based post-rockers Karate shifted gradually from a controlled, minimal punkrock sound to a more instrumentally focused style with an increasingly prominent place for Geoff Farina's jazzy guitar playing. Arguably, they were at their very best just in between. While their debut "Karate" (1995) suffered somewhat from the fact that Farina's beautifully quiet-yet-loud vocal style wasn't completely developed yet (he cracked a few false notes here and there), their latest effort "Unsolved" (2001) was a bit too crammed with jazzy guitar leads to live up to their early minimalist appeal.

Of the two records released in between, "In place of real insight" (1997) and "The bed is in the ocean"(1999), the latter struck a perfect balance between the bare-essence ethics of punkrock and the soothing, beautiful sound of an intimate jazz combo. It was jazzrock without the egos. It was punk with brains and a heart and it was half an hour of beautiful, captivating songs without a single boring moment. What is most impressive about this record is the remarkably intense way in which it sheds new light on musically well documented emotions like anger, loss and everyday struggle. In a refreshingly sincere and understated way Farina, Goddard and McCarthy completely circumvent all cliches and pitfalls that come with the territory.

All recordings were made in Farina's living room, giving it a very relaxed and intimate feel. The record has a very sparse but carefully constructed sound with equal parts of rock, punk and jazz, but far more minimal than each of those. The recording is a mere registration: there are no effects, no productional tricks, just a warm, clear guitar sound with a mild tube overdrive, a punchy bass guitar with a round tone and a small, well recorded and well played drum kit.



  1. There are ghosts
  2. The same stars
  3. Diazapam
  4. The last wars
  5. Bass sounds
  6. Up nights
  7. Fatal strategies
  8. Outside is the drama
  9. Not to call the police

Southern Records (1997)

I have a child, a girlchild, who is somewhat highly strung. (I hear my own mother's voice in the background, saying, wryly, like her mother.

Granted, I think Tess has been through a lot of life experience that most nine-year-olds probably can't lay claim to, both positive and negative.

I was 16 the first time I ever rode in an airplane; Tess was nine. as in nine days old. Like pease porridge hot. She was still a tootsie roll, wrapped in a blanket, when we all took a little Cessna on a short hop from Port Townsend, Washington, to Roche Harbor on San Juan Island.

Tess has all the advantages and disadvantages of a modern American child, born to older parents. She has a ridiculous amount of stuff, being the only grandchild of a large doting Chinese American family. She doesn't have to suffer a lot of frustration - she often has more than enough people around to solve most difficulties for her. But I have to say most, not all.

Tess has also been through more life-changing events than many adults I know. She lost her maternal grandmother to ovarian cancer before she was two. She doesn't remember Helen. She lost one of her favorite aunties, my darling sister-out-law, when she was six. To ovarian cancer. That, she was old enough to remember.

Most recently, she lost her other grandmother. To leukemia. You are starting to see the pattern, here, I think. And has suffered through seeing her mother experience treatment for breast cancer.

Don't forget that everyone Tess had ever seen "get" cancer, had croaked. Remember, she has, for most of her life, been an only child of a single parent - I'm it, as far as she's concerned. There was a long time when "family" meant she and I. Team grundoon.

She is close to her birth dad, emotionally, but he lives several states away. She also is very close, now, to her stepfather, but initially, we were all making it up as we went along. Kevin leapt into the fray. We all got through it as best we could, but they forged a relationship during a state of emergency.

Additionally, over the course of my cancer treatment, in addition to the new stepfather, we moved, changed schools, dealt with immigration, etc. etc. ad nauseum. This is a ridiculously high level of disruption, and stress for anyone, much less a seven year old kid.

And the most amazing thing was to see how resilient she was. She surfed stressland like an old hand. No problems in school, tight with a number of close friends, no real visible signs of stress -except one.

Sleep. Or lack thereof.

There was a period of about three months where she almost never slept through the night. She would come in, often sobbing, at any hour, unable to go back to sleep by herself.

It took us several months to parse the problem. She presented it as nightmares - monsters, fires, bad people coming to kill her - she was scared of something awful happening, and this morphed over time. But after much discussion, we realized that she was coming in the check on me - the inverted equivalent of a parent worrying about SIDS. She was making sure I was still breathing.

During Sue's treatment for ovarian cancer, no one in Bob's extended family ever discussed that Sue might not get well. Bob's family is very prone to putting the best face on things, and in many cases I have no objection to this.

But look at if from a six year old's point of view. She saw her aunt on a Sunday in November, and Sue was still in treatment, getting chemotherapy. Bob spoke to me on Monday, the following day about Sue going into hospice care, and this was the first time anyone on his side of the family admitted that Sue was not going to get better. I didn't manage to explain any of this to Tess.

Susan died three days later, on Thursday, still in the hospital. Tessie's experience? People with cancer can be just fine on Sunday, (from her perspective) and then be dead by Friday.

No wonder the poor lamb was coming in to check on me.

Since then, we have talked a GREAT deal about cancer, and death, and what it would mean if I got cancer again. Aaaand, she still has trouble falling asleep at night.

I took a page from junkpile's book, and she and I have jointly designed a garden, that is the safe place she can go to in her imagination when she starts to think scary thoughts. It has a round house in the center. It has a tree house. It has an elephant with a palanquin that she "designed" for me, and horses, monkeys, actually quite a large menagerie.

And her bed is in the ocean.

I've attempted to teach her any number of relaxation techniques - but falling asleep has that wierd zen effortless effort quality, where you have to focus your thoughts enough to avoid the scary stuff, but no so much that you can't fall asleep. By far the most successful one has been to get her to breathe with the waves.

I tell her to breathe in slowly, and then as she breathes out, to make the shhhhh sound that waves make when they back down the sand. The sound helps, imaging a rocking boat helps, focusing on her breathing helps.

And the bed is in the ocean.

For karma_debt - filling a nodeshell challenge.

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