Wednesday, January 30, 2008

The Record Crate: Viva la Palo Viejo

I left the show to catch long-running musica Latina band Palo Viejo at the Spanish Moon and found more of what I was looking for. Angelina de los Rosarios López is an effortless front woman, captivating the audience with her charm and vocal dexterity as the band poured through a set of what can best be described as effervescent Latin-new wave-ska. With their Spanish lyrics, I cannot attest to whether their lyrics are any deeper than Lindell's, but there was more warmth, more joy, more connection to the audience than any other pop act I've seen in town. They were a total pleasure to see. Read More...

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Outsideleft: The Velvet Jackhammer of Einstürzende Neubauten

Einstürzende Neubauten
Alles Wieder Offen

For many people like me, looking for their own weird way out, German industrial pioneers Einstürzende Neubauten were a godsend. Hardcore was too adrenaline-infused for me – it felt like these kids were just a gusher of platitudes. Now, as a gentrified variant of my former self, I get it now – in youth we are in a constant state of being completely spent, but then it just wore me out. Plus I wanted weird. I wanted sonic poetry ever since I dropped needle on a Harry Partch album from the library – those bizarre hobo stories over weird ancient Greek scales on instruments made out of retuned organs and glass bowls.

Somewhere along the way, I bought a compilation If You Can’t Please Yourself, You Can’t Please Your Soul that had washed up in the Record bar at the Mall, largely because of the inclusion of he salaciously named band Scraping Foetus Off The Wheel. The seeds of Coil, The The, Psychic TV, Marc Almond were all planted I the eager soil of my brain by that record, but the track that really set me on my heels was “Wardrobe” by the unpronounceable Einstürzende Neubauten. Banging away on bedsprings and growling in German, Neubauten sounded like the apocalyptic de-evolution of man trapped on tape by some future gas-masked Alan Lomax. Perfect sound for the fractured mind of youth, all those sparks and hammers and base human grunts tumbling out of the speakers like parts discarded by some alien rummaging through a wrecked car, looking for meat. Read more...

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Penis Tanks and Haunted Trees

Here are a couple flickr sets from the good life: (click on the picks for the whole sets)

The 2008 Krewe De Vieux parade in the French Quarter

More spellbinding, anthropomorphic, haunted trees from Cat Island

Friday, January 25, 2008

A New Project

I traded some old distortion pedals I never used to a musician in town for a box of parts that add up to most of a guitar. I started harvesting parts off my old Sqiuer strat to make up the missing components, resulting in my ownership of two non-operational guitars instead of one operational one, but it's fun anyway. Maya has been helping me turn the screws and run the strings through the holes and whatnot, and I think I'm going to let her decorate it when we are all done. I will most likely have the finest, glitter-encrusted, paint-pen decorated, mutant Kingdom Hearts-themed fake Telecaster ever!

He to pick it up from him at work, which I thought was in this weird triangular building with a stark white 6-floor atrium carved out of the middle, fountains, and these completely uncomfortable yet groovy chairs in the lobby.

I used to work in an office in this building for this software company. It was one of those jobs where I worked ridiculous hours for a couple months at a stretch. When I approached the front door, I remembered pacing outside of it one night at 3am, smoking four cigarettes in succession, about to cry. There is a cool little bridge over a creek that runs next to it, and I would sit over there on my lunch break and play guitar and watch snakes and turtles go by. Once I saw a small alligator in there. I did this painting of it back when I was going through my folk-art phase.

I learned to play mandolin under the parasol of this large willow tree behind the building. It was precious, precious times.

I waited for a long time for him to come down and saw the one remaining guy that used to work at that office with me. My firing from there was a blessing, in that the place was quickly vacated after me, but I was getting a sinking feeling just sitting in the lobby, like all of my self-doubt was swirling in a conic vortex, emanating from up on the 5th floor. I called the musician again and ascertained that I was indeed in the wrong building (in every sense of the word) and left my psychic globule of self-loathing on a fake Danish Modern egg chair to throb away without me.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Outsideleft: Drive-By Truckers - Poetry Flies on Chicken Wings and Rides a Mechanical Bull

Drive-By Truckers
Brighter Than Creation’s Dark

(New West)

If there is one thing people can pin down about my mercurial music tastes, it is that Drive-By Truckers are my favorite band. Other interests come and go, I take a temporary shine to some fine new thing, but my real love is true and deep. On the surface they speak to my sometimes-forced Southernness, examining that which causes a body to occasionally muse about and empathize with they who jump things in pickups. In the middle layer, they just plain rock out, unafraid to be that genius bar band every band secretly wants to be. Nobody will inspire air guitar out of me more than DBT. But when you cut through the skin of it and get to the meat of the matter, it’s because their songs are full of losers and drug addicts and blue-collar saps that can’t pay the bills and people who ain’t in love anymore all colliding in the throbbing nexus of rock ‘n’ roll. Listening to their songs, dense as Faulkner, staggering around with a beer and a hard-on, is like looking at a Jackson Pollock painting, or the stars, or moss on a grave – the deeper you look, the more you see. Their latest record, Brighter Than Creation's Dark is a fine example. Read More...

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

The Record Crate: So You Wanna Be a Rock 'n' Roll Star

One of the complaints I've had about music here is that there is no consistent venue for singer-songwriters to try out their wares. Shows at the Red Dragon are great events with phenomenal artists, but I've wanted a place where you can drop in and listen to new artists honing their craft; the coffeeshop scene in the 1960s in Greenwich Village is what I'm picturing. Omnipresent folk and children's musician Dorothy LeBlanc has made the first step toward attaining this with a successful run of Sunday singer-songwriter nights at Brew-ha-ha on Jefferson from 6 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. The songwriters I saw this past Sunday ranged from plaintive Elliot Smith-style tunes to some improbably romantic banjo music. Nearly all the slots for February are booked up, but contact Dorothy at if you are looking to step up to the mic.

The next step in this process is to find a band that can take your songs to the broader horizons, and The Casuals are a great model for that. Singer-songwriter Anna Byars is one of the great, undersung talents in town, pitting her guitar with Kristen Foster's ukulele to create a sweet environment in which to get snared in their intricate melodies and lyrics. I like a good racket now and then, but an acoustic setting allows the songwriting to shine, and The Casuals make the most of it.

But there is always a next step, and there has been traditionally no instruction manual on how to traverse the road ahead for a struggling musician. That is why veteran punk session player and producer Martin Atkins (Public Image Ltd., Ministry, Killing Joke, Pigface) wrote his book, Tour: Smart: And Break the Band, chock-full of sage advice from someone who has seen it all. Atkins will present two seminars in town this weekend, Friday at 7 p.m. at the Spanish Moon and 1 p.m. Sunday at Insomkneeacks next to the Old Broadmoor Theatre. If you are an aspiring musician, this is indispensable advice. Link

Monday, January 21, 2008

100 Words on a Very Mysterious Blue Plastic Suitcase

On the way back into town on the elevated portion of South I-110, near the Mohican Street exit, I saw a billboard depicting a blue plastic suitcase that said “$10,000 Reward if recovered – no questions asked.” What could be in that suitcase that would cause you to get a billboard made? The billboard rental alone is a couple grand. Would you put up a billboard to retrieve something illegal? I love the idea that there is a blue suitcase sitting somewhere in wilds of North Baton Rouge, containing something worth a lot more than $10,000 to some very nervous people.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Library Haul - Black Cover Edition

Albert Ayler
Live at Greenwich Village: The Complete Impulse Sessions

Sometimes I think Albert Ayler was one of the last people to really understand what jazz was really about, not simply a refinement of its own tradition, but a vehicle in which one can take the whole of popular music on a trip that it is ill-equipped itself to undertake. Also, I love the old spartan Impulse album covers. I once half seriously considered getting a tattoo of their "i!" logo, which would now be the most pretentious tattoo a music critic could have.

Al Di Meola, John McLaughlin and Paco de Lucia
Friday Night in San Francisco Live

God, this album is about as gorgeous and sensuous as a guitar nrrd's delight can be. These three titans create torrents and swells of jazz and rock and samba and everything, culminating in a strange but delightful interlude of the "Pink Panther Theme" at one point. The person that turned me on to this record is currently being a big idiot and this record might serve to soften some of the anger I have toward him, because all situations are complicated and it serves me well not to judge so harshly.

Einstürzende Neubauten
Strategien Geoen Architekturen

I am forever shocked at what kinds of sonic weirdness turn up at the library. I am getting ready to review the new EN album, where they have all but discarded their industrial racket strategies in favor of Leonard Cohen-esque moody AOR, so I wanted to listen to the old stuff - back when they used shopping carts and air compressors as their instruments to find the threads (or perhaps lengths of razor wire) that stretch from them then to then now. I once agreed to hire someone based partially on the fact that he threw them out as one of his favorite bands, when in retrospect, I should have viewed this as a warning sign.


I looked at the stack of CD's in my hand and noticed they all had black covers, so I looked for an anti-chromatic counterpart to complete my usual quartet, and there was Gene Simmons practically biting my face. I have never personally owned a KISS record, and surely have not purposely listened to one in over two decades (nothing against KISS, mind you, but I move on from things) but am editing an old story about watching the HBO KISS Alive II concert at my babysitter's apartment, spazzing the hell out over dripping blood and breathing fire while said babysitter had the preacher over to talk about baptizing her kids, so this is conceptually the perfect fourth in this set. In the post-KISS tradition of extreme metal bands donning similar kabuki makeup and giving themselves demon names, I find it rather charming that all old Stanley Harvey Eisen just dropped his surname and went by the slightly more sinister "Paul" with but an innocuous star in, and on, his eye.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Sweet Tooth January 2008 is out and about

The launch party was a big success and a testament to the good time that can be had here even when its cold and raining. Thanks for everyone that came and to those that contributed to this venture. It looks smart, is smart and is (or will be soon) available at all the usual free paper locations in town. Get it and let us know what you think at

Friday, January 18, 2008

Outsideleft:The Magnetic Fields and The Disturbance in the Force

The Magnetic Fields


I’ve been thinking a lot lately about The Times (not the paper, but the era, the Now) and what do we have to show for them? What does anybody ever have to show for them? Did screaming teenagers at the airport swooning over the Beatles think this is a defining moment of culture? If they did, were they right? I am of the opinion that the best era for music, for art, for everything is Now, because it is the only time that has potential. Everything else is at best freshly dead, and mostly existing only in faded and distorted memory. Tomorrow perpetually fails to exist until it’s too late and all we have is now. I wish I was a younger man with a dour Goth girl to lay all this on.

But railing against the waves of nostalgia is as pointless as Emperor Xerxes bullwhipping the ocean for sinking his ships. The times are pyramids, sonic piles of the dead, mathematically exact even with eons of weathering with us at the point at the top. You’d think there would be something with more grandeur perched atop the triangle of labor and death, but no, it’s just us.

I’ve in the past looked to Stephen Merritt of Magnetic Fields in times like these where cynicism and optimism cross swords. 69 Love Songs is a Vorlagenarbeit of these vectors, a summit of pop conceptualism. He took the titular limit 69 as a bracket and wrote love song after love song to fill that number with likely a 69% success rate. His follow up to that, 2004’s I – fourteen songs all starting with the letter i, tracked in alphabetical order, all played on handheld instruments – had some great songs on it, but the conceptual rigor of it felt a little forced, evidenced by the fact that the stand out track “I Don’t Believe You” was rearranged and fleshed out in superior form on the single. Still though, it’s a good effort, and at least somebody is thinking about what they are doing. Read More....

Thursday, January 17, 2008

An Abecedary on Writing a New Book

Always I am planning to start a new
Book, fresh with an idea hatched in the shower or in the
Car – as long as it’s a place where nothing can be
Done about it right that very second.
Each one of these ideas is
Flawed in some structural basis, but conversely each contains a
Grain of the larger truth that is slowly being
Hatched over a secession of eggs.
If I keep all these hatchling incubated
Just alive enough to not completely
Kill the impetus that conceived them, I can eventually
Lash them together or at least parts of them together like Frankenstein’s
Monster, leaping to life in a
Necessary hodgepodge of the old ideas’
Quick though, because the mortar that binds the parts can
Run like
Through your fingers, which are cupping handfuls of useless sand instead of typing.
Under all this is the need for
Validating what I “do”, when the bulk of what I do is
Waste a lot of time talking about it (like now), and
X-ing through the cracks forming in the mortar. The
Yen to finally get past this step and move forward is the
Zenith of the writing process.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

The Record Crate: Country is the New Awesome

I've heard this sentiment leaking out from some of the hipper circuits, that country will replace disco once again as the underlying patois of The Good Stuff, and I saw some fine examples of it this weekend. Flatbed Honeymoon is two-for-two on resplendent performances of lonesome love songs at Chelsea's, but The Dock Ellis band, a crack country unit for St. Louis, had the four or five of us still hanging around, rolling with laughter. Seriously, it was the funniest show I've seen ever. Then later in the week, veteran country outlaw Billy Joe Shaver upped the ante by being one of the weirdest. He augmented his Big Sur-size catalog of classics with interpretive dance (at one point he spent a song flapping his arms like an eagle), sermons and a smile. It was amazing, pushing aside the reverence that can mar a legend's performance, and just getting down to business. Consummate entertainment; I welcome our new country overlords.

The Manship Theatre has an impressive lineup this week, ranging from a showcase of world-class guitar legends, the sacred strings glory of The Lee Boys and klezmer from A Jumpin' Night at the Garden of Eden, finishing up with a showcase of rock through the ages from the Baton Rouge Music Studios. The Manship is such an intimate venue with startlingly great acoustics, and it is great to see it being utilized to stage music befitting it rather than floorshow spectacles. I have no personal grudges against belly dancers and acrobats and the fans thereof, but nothing in my opinion is better than hearing consummate musicians play in a great hall, and we have one of those in the Manship. Read More...

Sweet Tooth Launch Party this Friday

Sweet New Wave of the Future Dance Party
1/18/2008 8 pm- 2 am
The debut party for Sweet Tooth (art criticism publication of Culture Candy), “The Sweet New Wave of the Future Dance Party” will be held at Hound Dogs, 668 Main Street, January 18, 2008.

Tickets are five-dollars and guarantee the holder happy hour prices all night long.

Attendees are encouraged to dress for the year 2028, when Culture Candy rules the world. The music is new wave, new new wave and middle-aged indie.The dress is tin-foil and spandex, plastic wrap and metallic knee-boots.

The joint is intimate, but full of good people. You'll be there! I'll be there!

****All proceeds go toward Culture Candy, helping fund the many way-cool art projects it promotes and supports.***.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Proposed Moratoria for 2008

  • Complaining about customer service - It makes you look spoiled and horrible and only inspires people serving you to spit in your food. People serving you do not, in fact, love you. They actually hate you, so the only way that you, the one holding the power, can mediate this is by getting over yourself and rolling with it. Customer service mentalities are the downfall of our civilization, so help us all out by rising above it.
  • The word douche - when used as a derogatory descriptor of a person. Douches are perfectly normal things, devoid of negative connotations unto themselves. By design, they are supposed to make a situation "better," though the actual necessity of them is a matter of personal choice and poses larger sexual-political implications. The term douchebag is acceptable in that it has a certain gravitas when uttered sparingly. But if you find yourself dubbing people douchebag often enough that is necessitates abbreviation to douche then perhaps the problem lies in the dubber and not the dubbee.
  • ! - The past year was very very exciting, I know, but when everything is exclaimed, nothing sticks out. It is just all loud. Blog headlines rarely call for that level of excitement. This extends doubly to bands - you no longer should use excessive punctuation in your band name, but song titles are exempt. This includes the band !!! who I am willing to sacrifice altogether for this cause. I say make 2008 the year of italics, they are so much sexier, all cocked back like that instead of the sudden erection of an exclamation point.
  • Forced personal blogging - Please do not ask anyone to post every day or four times a day or anything on a personal blog. John Cage once said about his compositional techniques: I have nothing to say, and I am saying it and that is poetry, and I think this edict applies to blogs, but that joyous nothingness takes on a sinister tone when there is a gun pointed to its head. And then having guilt about not blogging - that is horrible.
  • Sizeism - Quit hating fat people. Or at least quit voicing it. You can go ahead and fill up on as much hate as you little heart can carry, just keep it there.
  • eVite - I actually like the idea of eVite except that you cannot simply ignore an eVitation. It turns your possible social existence into actionable items that will pop up and re-occur over and over until you commit one way or another. I don;t want to go to every party in the world, but I also don't want to be put in the position of actively refusing every invitation. I feel bad when I have to say no, like I should offer some pithy explanation as to why I can't be there, or like I am grabbing someone by both shoulders and coldly saying NO to their innocent plea. It makes everybody the asshole, useful preliminary headcounts be damned. I say make enough salsa for everyone and see if there is a "no second notice" option when you send it.

Monday, January 14, 2008

The Road by Cormac McCarthy

Alex V. Cook's review
rating: Gr_red_star_activeGr_red_star_activeGr_red_star_activeGr_red_star_activeGr_orange_star_unactive
I always imagined my dad was the most adept person at spoiling a cross-country roadtrip, but now I'm picturing Cormac McCarthy's research trip for The Road, cascading through the mountains to the coast, stopping the RV at every bucolic vista and babbling brook and imagining them all as unspeakably dead and entombed in ash and horror. Soggy, corrosive death everywhere.

This book really is as good as they say it is. It is possibly Hemmingway good. Maybe. Probably about as close as anyone will get. It makes you do all the things that a horrific story will make you do: it makes you look at your pantry with worry, it makes you think about voting, it makes you fix things around the house, it makes you hug your babies close, it will hopefully make you at least tear up. He is up there with Knut Hamsun and Jack London in writing about starvation, but his devout belief in ethics and grace under pressure is the real coup.

Time, language, character, love, conflict, circumstance are stripped bare as the landscape and the cabinets of all those abandoned houses, and the plot is not the most surprising thing in the world, but the book is a little corny, painfully flinty, impossibly cruel (though it could have been crueler, I mean, they get off easy compared to some in the book) and consistently perfect, with absolutely nothing left over.

xposted at goodreads

Time, language, character, love, conflict, circumstance are stripped bare as the landscape and the cabinets of all those abandoned houses, and the plot is not the most surprising thing in the world (bordering on parable), and the book is a little corny, painfully flinty, impossibly cruel (though it could have been crueler, I mean, they get off easy compared to some in the book) and consistently perfect, with absolutely nothing left over. Link

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Outsideleft: And You Don't Stop...But Where To Go? - Sole and Lupe Fiasco

I for one am thankful for hip-hop even though I would not call myself a huge fan. I’m thankful that it somehow managed to make some imaginative yet commercially viable music, that it talks frankly about violence and sex and is a voice of the disenfranchised and serves, like every disenfranchised voice, as a model for cool for a bunch of hopelessly uncool white kids. Plenty of folks see it as the harbinger of cultural collapse; I say it’s made everything better – it’s even made its opponents work that much harder. Read more...

Friday, January 11, 2008

Plastic People of the Universe!

This story about Tom Stoppard's new play Rock 'n' Roll, about the band, brought a lot of memories back in a flood.

Plastic People of the Universe was (and possibly is) a rock band that formed in 1968 in Czechoslovakia under the dark cloud of the Communist regime, and is credited as being the underground soundtrack of the Velvet Revolution - their albums were pressed and distributed clandestinely and gigs held in secret. I've only heard two of their records: Muž bez uší is live lo-fi garage masterpiece, borne of the dark seeds of, well, The Seeds, Dylan and brooding Eastern European poetry and the turbulent times in which it recorded. It is in many ways a party record, and without understanding a lick of the language, you can feel the desperation of the young seeing their future crushed under tank treads and jackboots, but it is till about the burning sensation of rock 'n' roll. When you get to the speech "Magor UmravnugePublikum Ve Silenci" the album turns dissonant and darker, with violins and screeches haunting the streets, flutes and bells tolling out the dim future before them and Mothers of Invention-grade rock white dwarf implosions.

Their proper album Egon Bondy's Happy Hearts Club Banned, continues this mood with more clarity. The sound is if The Dirty Three was augmented by a junior acolyte of Albert Ayler on sax and Einsturzende Neubauten's Blixa Bargeld on vocals. If none of that means anything to you, its a lonely fiddle, a lonely guitar, and fiery sax and dissident poet Egon Bondy trying to inspire some truth and revolution. The quality of it betrays the undoubtable shoestring budget on which it was recorded, but the spirit of it rings right through all that.

Vaclav Havel the poet and playwright that later became the
last president of Czechoslavakia and the first of the new Czeck repullic in the early 90's, was a lyricist and champion for The Plastic People, and his writing of the Charter 77 manifesto inspired by the imprisonment of the band led to his own incarceration, which only fueled his revolutionary fire. His most famous play Largo Desolato is a tense absurd depiction of a writer facing what he must write even if it means he might die in prison for it.

Around the time that he became the rock 'n' roll president of the Czechs with Bono and Lou Reed and the world's hopeful toasting his victory, LSU put on a production of Largo Desolato in a starting display of cultural currency, and my girlfriend was set to star in the play. The summer semester before is the one I refer to with acknowledges preciousness as "my Artaud summer," which was spent in an un-air-conditioned dorm room sweating and losing my mind. I was doing a semester-long paper on the mad French playwright, and in pretentious undergrad fashion, was feeling it to a ridiculous degree.

I remember freaking the fuck out on my girlfriend over some perceived slight on my part where I took off running. In typical convenient fashion, it was right before some big weekend where we were going somewhere and some friends of hers were going to be staying in my dorm, so the pressures of the universe compelled me to freak out. I remember running in a panic, and then looking up as a cloud stood still for a second, then moved in right on the moon, stood another second and then moved away.

This had terrible signifigance for my fevered ego. It was like getting a wink from God, telling me to pull my shit together - that I had a fine-ass girlfriend who would have sex with me all the time in that terrible little room and was afforded the liberties to freak the fuck out. I staggered over to her dorm where she patiently awaited my eventual re-emergence and the weekend got on its way.

My paper, at least in mine and my teacher's mind was a rousing success - a detailed vivisection of the easy symbolism his 3-page play "The Spurt of Blood." I was cocky enough to submit it to Andre Codrescui's Exquisite Corpse (Andre was/and still is a poetry teacher at LSU, and like with everybody in Baton Rouge, I had an in) and he was wise enough to pass on it without comment. It opened with a quote form Bauhaus' melodramatic "Antonin Artaud" and had the phrase - Antonin Artaud was a gone, gone crazy motherfucker in its opening paragraph. My fragile spirit could not have handled the truth that this was drivel and I was a completely transparent and obvious clown. In my mind then (and frequently now) I was electric with poetry! Zap! My girlfriend was taking Andre's poetry seminar that summer, where they would meet as his apartment which was decorated, in her description, as a matress surrounded by French pornography. She was the star undergrad poet at the time, the dean's daughter, and I was her boyfriend, and we spent nearly every fevered sweating moment together. It was glorious.

When the sunlight of the fall semester rose, and we were no longer isolated souls in the heat but were instead surrounded by actual people all the time, she grew tired of being a lunatic's paramour. Her mom was a psychiatrist, and apparently had wisely informed her that her
boyfriend as described was an imbalanced anchor to her future achievements and she was better off pursuing her own pursuits. In other words, things were not has they had been just weeks before.

She tried out for Largo Desolato and got a medium sized part at the writer's flighty lover, and spent every waking hour in practice. I was forced to forage out in the wilderness and find new friends and eventually a new girlfirend who shared my taste in records and was thankfully devoid of the pervious girlfriend's ardent hippie happiness. Her favorite band was The Doors, for fuck's sake, and the new girlfriend had Joy Division posters on her wall. The new girlfriend smoked and was my speed. The transition took a couple weeks, which was like years in hormonal college time. Our true breakup came after running into her in the Union, and I confessed in what I thought was gentlemanly candor that this is not what I wanted, and for the first time in our relationship, she was the one that broke down in tears. Not out of losing me, but in shear exasperation, of the pressures of being in a play and being the star poet and being fucking nineteen and he comes me, adding to that with my declaration. Somehow, we managed to not see each other, even in passing, for the rest of the semester, until the night of her play.

I had to see this play since, in my mind, it cost me my girlfriend, and she was pretty good in it. Not great though - maybe it was the part that she was supposed to be stilted and flighty. It was a weird feeling - I was expecting her to be transcendent in it considering her participation in it had been such a trial for me, but the whole event was a letdown. I was a vegetarian back then, and the best thing about being a vegetarian was how easy it was to do something defiant and wrong, so I slumped down to the ATM off campus with the Joy Division tape my new girlfriend made for me in my busted walkman and extracted $10 to get a hamburger at the Wendy's next door, a celebratory feast of something significant and pathetic at once, a dull tableau in honor of the machinations of life. I turned and there she was, with a gaggle of lanky imbeciles from the play, for the first time in months. She had not noticed it was me in line.

Oh hey! Hey. I just saw the play. Oh! I didn't know you were there! What did you think? and I think I had the boorish gall to say The play was great, letting a little venom drip in my emphasis. I glanced right off her; she was in her moment though and off to celebrate the good life, and I was headed for a Double with Cheese and a walk in the dark back to my girlfriend's apartment. I mentioned it was cool that Vaclav Havel had just been elected president of Czechoslovakia and she looked stunned. "Really? Like just recently?" "Um yeah, like in the past week. Nobody mentioned it?" "No we've been so immersed in rehearsals! Wow, that is so cool."

Really? These people were so self-absorbed that they were completely unaware that the man whose words they were living for weeks at a stretch was making headlines? Even I knew that. Artaud was barking from his grave, waving in the air the one shoe he was found clutching when he died, telling me I followed the right horse that summer. My hatred of theater people has persisted ever since. The Czech's shouted "We have clean hands!" at the police in the streets of Prague in 1989, holding flowers against their vanquishers' guns and while my liberation was infinitely less significant and far easier won, I left here with a terse hug and congrats and marched triumphant to the hamburger awaiting me at the hall of heroes next door.

More info on The Plastic People of the universe at the ever perfect Perfect Sound Forever, and at their official web page.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

How Soon is Now

This piece has been garnering rejection letters from some of the finest literary publications in the land, and since a thread about The Smiths: The Songs That Saved Your Life came up on one of my usual Internet haunts, I thought I'd post it here.

When I first heard “How Soon is Now?” in 1986, I caught maybe my first glimpse of Art’s ability to capture the way adolescence’s torrent absconds with your life. My hormonal years were in off-track suburban Louisiana, so the few of us looking for sensation outside of Lynyrd Skynyrd and Miller Genuine Draft caught everything secondhand and six months late. My friends and I all attended a loose teen youth group thing at the Methodist Church, which mostly involved us lounging around the gym and parking lot of the church, trying to get some off of the Methodist girls. Ours was a Catholic town, so we already had some outsider chic. It’s me and you against the Pope, baby. We had heard of The Smiths through intercepted channels from nearby hipper New Orleans, but the message had yet to be transmitted directly to our outpost until one day, my friend Scott procured a dub of Meat is Murder.

As I sat in his mom’s Toyota, Johnny Marr’s pedal-board Buddha machine blaring out the tape deck, I have to admit I was a little disappointed. I’d heard that these Smiths were the kind of band one could base your life around, and it sounded fey and whiny to me. I didn’t want to be one of the thugs parading around my high school in a Bon Jovi half-shirt, but I was not going to hitch my wagon to “whiny;” I had enough trouble as it was. I was about to write it off , then those opening ten seconds of “How Soon is Now?” came on, and I felt the hole open up beneath me.

It’s like when Persephone, the teenage wastrel daughter of the Greek harvest goddess Demeter, was one day screwing around collecting wildflowers, when in a rumble and eruption of earth, Hades, the king of the hell bearing his name, stormed out of the ground and stole her away as his bride. She’s the classic ultimate teenage casualty. She is an innocent question waiting for a horrible answer. We however, were carefully listening for a knock from that door beneath us. Morrissey, who is often mislabeled the great rock poet of sweaty awkward teen love, offers some rather sophomoric lines in “How Soon Is Now”, but lines that have all the exposed heart of a tear-soaked diary page or a sticky Hustler shoved under the mattress.

I am the son and the heir
Of a shyness that is criminally vulgar

The gods charged in guns ablaze to rescue Persephone but it was revealed that she ate a few pomegranate seeds found in the underworld and these were things she could never give back. The gods ruled that she must remain his bride for a season per year, and during that time is when winter blankets the earth with death, since as any teenager with a soiled reputation can testify, once you participate in wickedness, you can never go back. I’m sure Persephone thought “Hey! I don’t even like pomegranate seeds” but it was too late. The white canvas of her purity was forever smudged, and the surge for her protection subsided like the pressure behind a dam when the plug is pulled. We wanted to bear that smudge is the worst possible way.

I am the son and heir
Of nothing in particular

At that Methodist youth group, we were predominately awkward virgins, stumbling around the gym looking for a dark corner, both logistically and metaphorically, and secretly glad the place was well lit enough for there to not be one. We weren’t quite cool enough for drugs. We weren’t cool enough for anything. This lousy Methodist church group was about it. That ROAR though, it triggered something in us, something we had to leave the path and seek from the dark.

You shut your mouth
How can you say
I go about things the wrong way?

We had abandoned the Methodists and their tepid teen talks and lock-in’s for paths of exploration. Back among the warehouses and oilfield detritus in the faded industrial part of town (its industrial bleakness was about as Manchester as you could get in south Louisiana); there was a gigantic empty oil tank. A ladder spiraled up the outside of this rusty thing leading up to the rim, like a narrow pass snaking up a mountain. One we reached the top, we beheld the event horizon – a gaping black hole, stinking with standing water and rust. It was the impenetrable void that, all of a sudden, had become available to us, aching for us.

I am human and I need to be loved
Just like everyone else does

We were still trying on our new manhood, our wet wings not yet able to get us off the ground and surely not able to save us after such a fall. I wasn’t a particularly dramatic, death-seeking type, but I knew right then I wanted to throw myself in there. It was the allure of the abyss, the desire to have your last scream stream out like a banner behind you, like the tail of a comet on its way back out into space, like the wailing roar from Johnny Marr’s guitar. It would be a totally fucking Smiths way to go out, one that would be whispered in dull lisps in suburban bedrooms for generations, under James Dean posters stolen from the mall. Maybe they’d play “How Soon Is Now?” at the prom in tribute. While I was up on that catwalk, rolling a hypothetical teen suicide plot around on my tongue to see how it tasted, a voice from across the deserted street shocked me awake. “Hey! Y’all come on in here!”

There is a club if you’d like to go
You could meet somebody who really loves you

Thankfully, it wasn’t a cop. I had an enormous, consuming fear of being arrested. I had been picked up for shoplifting two years before and before releasing me to my devastated mother, the cops told me that if I ever was picked up for anything else, I was going to jail, and, my mind fed with television’s version of the law, believed them. It was instead a big-haired woman in a tank top and LSU boxer shorts and earth shoes (this was the fashion in the hinterlands circa 1986), standing in the doorway of an old warehouse bearing the name The ____Company; whatever had once occupied the ____ had long rusted off. “Y’all come on down here if you want.” We went.

What we had stumbled onto was a gay disco that operated just off the grid. Having been called “faggot” non-stop throughout my academic and social career up to that point, I felt at least a taxonomical connection to these people. There were a few gay people at our high school in varying degrees of openness, but our little cadre of mock new wavers passed for gay in the pedestrian definition – trench coats, pins on our jacket, not into sports. Inevitably, my friend Duke would get publicly dubbed a fag wherever we went, and in short order, get decked for it. As we entered, my friend Scott and I glanced at each other and asked “Is that New Order?” as “Blue Monday” throbbed along with the makeshift lightshow over the empty dance floor. It was like finding evidence of a Starbucks on the moon – a welcome site in unfamiliar territory. We had assumed ourselves to be the only people in the area with knowledge of New Order and were shocked to discover we were but a small part of a much larger machine that did.

We tried our best to not appear too creeped out by the place. I saw a couple of the guys that hung out at the donut shop I worked at the previous summer. The bartender sold us drinks, the DJ played songs we wanted to hear, and we felt dangerous and sophisticated For the most part, the patrons there were nice and left us alone, much more congenial that the usual crowds we encountered that beat us up for being theoretical faggots, not to mention that this crowd was miles cooler. The homosexuals were definitely a step up from the Methodists.

We went back a number of times, thinking our presence there was hardcore and dangerous on our part, and a mere amusement to the others. It wasn’t until one night that one of my donut shop guys was buying my friend Jamey drinks over and over. We had asked for “How Soon is Now?” and the DJ had it and we all hit the floor to perform some made up bat cave ritual dance to the song. It was glorious. “Dude! This guy keeps getting me drinks!” Jamey said with incredulous glee, draining one screwdriver after another. I thought that the novelty of us being there was two-way, and the bubble of criminally vulgar shyness was pierced when Donut Guy came up to Jamey after the fourth drink and said “OK, so are we gonna go back there and fuck or what?”

So you go and you stand on your own
And you leave on your own
And you go home and you cry and you want to die

That roar again! Neither Archimedes nor Sir Isaac Newton had ever possessed quite the look of instant realization on their faces that registered in Jamey’s right then, and he bolted out the door. It took us a second to realize what had happened and we fell in shortly after him. I glanced around for one last look, rightfully deducing that we would not be coming back here when I caught the eye of one of my classmates in a booth near the wall, sitting on an older man’s lap. It was quick eternal eye contact, like you get when two trains pass and you see someone vividly for an instant on the opposite train. In the car, Jamey vacillated wildly between hilarity and panic, but I was stuck on that kid’s face. I didn’t tell the rest of the them about it, because 1) I didn’t actually know that kid’s name and 2) correctly predicted a new temporary homophobia was about to occupy our group. One we got past the parking lot, we drove home in silence.

When you say it’s going to happen now
But what exactly do you mean

So why was Persephone out by herself in the fields? As the product of the dodgy incest of Zeus and his sister Demeter, she had no set seat in Olympus. All the gods wanted a piece of this young maiden so Demeter hid her away to be watched over by nymphs in the wild away from the raging cocks of heaven. And nymphs are not exactly renowned for dedication to duty. Being middle-class suburban kids, we were kept from danger in our nice neat subdivisions with fake aristocratic botanical names and all it did was make us seek out whatever abyss we cold find. How we managed to escape drugs is undoubtedly a testament to our lack of cool.

See, I’ve already waited too long
And all my hope is gone

As far as I know, none of us ever ventured back to the club. I drove by there on a long weekend home from college and found it empty, with the giant oil drum sitting collapsed and crumpled next to it, that spiral treacherous catwalk now a twisted spine poking out of a carcass of rust. That kid had come up to me at school at lunch about a week after I’d seen him at the club with an awkward “How’s it going.” And the conversation went as far as that. I think we both knew how things were going. His path, as I pictured it, was too dangerous for me, mine was too cautious for him and we left it at that. All these paths converge and the yellow bricks turn to cracks in the concrete for everyone and we are walking down well established paths that a million others just like us have walked and will walk again behind us, all paths that lead us to the nothing we are due to inherit. We all hear that same rumble under our feet, that same roar when some realization is forced upon us. We are sons and heirs of nothing in particular, needing to be loved, just like everyone else does.

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

The Record Crate: BIlly Joe Shaver is the Real Deal

Nobody fits the description "outlaw country" more than Billy Joe Shaver. He got his taste for country from accompanying his mama to work at a nightclub. He lost two fingers in a lumber mill accident, but taught himself to play guitar anyway. He went on to become an in-demand Nashville songwriter, songs performed by Kris Kristofferson and Elvis -- hell, Waylon Jennings' 1973 thesis on the outlaw country singer Honky Tonk Heroes is mostly comprised of Shaver's songs -- yet name recognition has eluded the 68-year-old from Corsicana, Texas, throughout most of his career. He gained recognition in alt-country circles in the late 1990s performing with his son Eddy as the duo simple called Shaver, but Eddy's tragic overdose in 2000 and Billy Joe's onstage heart attack in 2001 cut all that short. But he dusted off his boots and got back in the saddle with 2002's Freedom Child and hasn't stopped since. In April 2007, he shot a man in self-defense outside a nightclub in Lorena, Texas, and made it to an in-store performance in Austin the next night. Billy Joe Shaver is the real deal. He brings his timeworn songs and stage charm to Chelsea's on Saturday, Jan. 12.

Read more....

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

God is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything by Christopher Hitchens

Alex V. Cook's review
I got farther through this book than I thought I would. Christopher Hitchens is preaching to the atheist choir in this terribly clever and well written book. Over the past decade my tepid-at-best belief in a higher power has descended into sneering at those who hold such beliefs and it is good to have Hitches on your side. He does a great job demonstrating how dangerous religion is and delivers numerous tales of Socratic victories over those who want to see him fall, but there was only so much I could read before feeling an overwhelming sense of all right already.

If you are struggling in the attempt of shedding your faith, or need some sharp-tongued backup, or if you are one of those religious folks that does nothing but debate religion with people who don't believe in it, then you'll get a kick out of this. Otherwise, it is well-heeled bootprints on heavily trodden ground.

xposted at goodreads

Outsideleft: Ariel Pink, Walk With Me

The new dawn of 2008 abruptly yanked away the covers leaving me shivering in the chill of car trouble, the IRS, going back to work – all the dead vermin the stray cat of a new year leaves on your doorstep, just to say I love you. My mechanic is a mile’s walk from the house, so I carefully saw my jalopy carefully there and decided that this was fate’s way of enforcing my weak resolution to get out and get some exercise in 2008. Fortunately, I have Ariel Pink at my side. Read More...

Saturday, January 5, 2008

A Circle is a Balloon and a Compass Both: Stories about Human Love by Ben Greenman

Alex V. Cook's review
This book is not as dry nor as funny as his Superbad, but then nothing short of David Sedaris is. It is a suite of stories about love in its neatly compartmentalized forms (both love and the stories themselves, actually) and while some are touching and others a little alienating, they all resonate in a peculiar way, like an alien observer trying to explain love as it observes it. The characters in these stories don;t even quite understand their own loves, nor those of the people with which they are engaging in it. Tenderness but with nearly all the sweetness titrated out of it. Here he finds strains of love left in the loveless and in that way is a very contemporary type of romance, but don't go expecting chocolates or anything.

xposted at Goodreads

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

100 words on Alex Chilton's Voice on Big Star's Third/Sister Lovers

I don’t get moved by vocalists much, I usually find they get in the way of the Great Roar, but Alex Chilton in the context of Big Star is a glaring exception. His seraphic, perfect falsetto flits in some place between a flute and loon on a foggy lake, and the fragile, turgid way he curls narcotic longing amidst all that stretched out, destroyed guitar on “Kangaroo” or that cover of “Femme Fatale” is the sharpest razor there is, slicing away everything so that the heart can sit there beating itself to death in the hot light of hormonal love.