Sunday, November 24, 2013

All I want to do is write songs


Somebody at the Louisiana Book Festival said to me, "You haven't been blogging." which, I mean, I'm flattered my absence went noticed. 

My official answer is that I am still working on Gas Station Boudin and Other Delights, a my forthcoming book about south Louisiana hole-in-the-wall restaurants. I am working on it, I swear. Thinking is working. That, and teaching takes up a lot of time. 

Truthfully, I've been writing songs. All I want to do is write songs, so here they are. Maybe I'll start issuing each as its own blog post, or maybe not. I have been a song machine, cracking out specimens of varying quality but each ablaze with heart and love.

Here they are, all YouTube links of me playing them at home or early mornings at the office when my voice is still sleepy-deep, in reverse chronological order starting backwards from yesterday. Like this.

"I Am Here (With Your Aspect Ratio)"

Trigger warning: some are at a creepy cameraman-in-the-crawlspace angle, in case you have crawlspace issues. Others are simple desk shots, like I am invading your personal space with guitar in hand. So I'm blogging, OK? Enjoy!

I Am Here (With Your Aspect Ratio) - A Guided By Voices-ish love song with scientific terms
The Wind Carries Me - This was a moody riff with which I was playing and to which moody lyrics were added. I kinda dig the 4AD vibe to it. What was that band? Breathless? It had the guy that sings the This Mortal Coil cover of my favorite Pearls Before Swine song in it. You know which one I mean. 
Rudolph's Lament - My band, The Rakers, is playing an office Christmas party next month so I wrote a couple of Christmas songs.
The Office Christmas Party - This is an amalgam of office Christmas parties past rolled up for the one in the near future.
Bachelor's Christmas - A boozy, Tom Waitsy number that could use a piano and some porkpie hats.I'm really into this tune.
Valley of Death - Wrote this one on the way home from seeing Peter Case's folksinger set a couple of weeks ago. I got it out and put it aside, but its becoming one of my favorites. I sing it now where I go up on "death" and it sounds kinda cool, if I say so myself.
Wipeout City - Needed a rock song. Almost a true story except there were no mountains around and I didn't really almost drive my brother's car off one and in fact, he said I could use his car while he was at drill so I didn't even steal it. And he didn't move back in with us. And was nice. Otherwise, true story.
The Devil, Jesus and John the Baptist Walk Into a Bar - Also possibly a true story. My Aunt Dodie said she likes it even though it is blasphemous.
Crack in the Sidewalk - I wrote this one floating out in the dark, warm gulf water out at Grand Isle, along with a prophetic one I wrote about crows and another I can't remember. This is a sweet one, kinda like Big Star's "Thirteen" but not as sweet or good, because nothing is.
Like a Ringer - This one has been bouncing around in my head for ages. I want it faster than I play it in the video, so I need the band to help me work it up. It might be deemed the "funnest" of my songs.
Love In Between - A simple one the band really seems to like playing. I like it too, mind you, but I like saying "the band really seems to like playing" it.
Mirrored Sunglasses - Written in response to RIP Lou Reed. We are working this toward a sleazy "Emotional Rescue" kind of vibe.
Jesus and Losers - I wrote this one for my bandmate Jamye to sing, in case you were wondering about the "all the men I love" business. Cuz I love everybody.
Sparrow in my Skull - I wrote this one to play at a speaking engagement for a group of psychologists, or rather, it coincided with the engagement. I practiced it a bunch and had it down tight and pretty and then kinda bombed it at the event. I set sail in some wrong key and could not steer myself back into port. They were very kind and let me stay for dinner anyway.
Margaret and Dee Dee - I'm working my way up to doing a singer-songwriter set so I needed some story songs. The tune is straight up "Sister Ray" and "Roadrunner" and a lot of things, but I really like the lyrics on this one.
Harry Potter and the Iron Maiden Girl - Ditto. I was listening to a lot of Belle & Sebastian that day and this is as close as I can get to Stuart Murcoch without "twee-ing" out.
No Stars - This exquisite bummer is maybe my favorite one I've written. We've talked about going full Mazzy Star shoegaze on it, disco ball flickering lights like a prom of the damned. It will be glorious and you will slow dance and cop a feel off the one person in the world that understands you.
Dark, Dark, Dark - Good ol' throbby rocker. I got a '68 Ampeg Reverberocket that sounds like the Arcangel Duane Eddy's trumpet and this was maybe the first one I wrote with full set-the-controls-on-the-heart-of-the-sun tremolo. and, for whatever reason, I recorded it on nylon guitar here.
Why Do You Want My Love? - Another one that Jamye sings. Universally agreed that this is the best one of mine we do with the band.
(I'm in Love With a) Terrible Girl - I really like this one. I like it even better with the parenthetical in the title.
I Save Cigarette Butts - A Daniel Johnston song I turned into a bit of a blues. Love, love, love this song and I sing it with obsessive gusto.
A Man Without Love - OK, I take it back about "Dark"...this is the one I wrote the day I got that amp. I need to relearn the moody licks in there,
Say My Name - We pepped this one up a little and it has served well as our set opener on our coupla gigs.
When The Night - This came out of me trying to learn this fantastic Joe Strummer song and deciding I should just write my own song.  I wrote some songs before this one, but this was the one where I told myself, "Put that on YouTube" and have since to my every musical notion.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Crass action

Image from the page for Urban Outfitters'
Vintage Men's Punk Leather Jacket.
I forgot how good the band Crass is. Inspired by this Vice article in which Crass member Penny Rimbaud fails to get outraged over Urban Outfitters and the like usurping the classic anarchist punk band's brand:
As far as I’m concerned, if the wealthy want to spend $400 on a rather naff leather jacket and go to book launches and gallery shows and all the things that those literati and glitterati do, then that’s great because it means that we’re getting the name floated around in areas where it’s very difficult for us to penetrate. I actually quite like it when people like Angelina Jolie and David Beckham wear Crass T-shirts.
I am excited with the idea of doing a branding lecture (I do those kind of things now) using the least corporate entity possible. Crass.

I needed to get Crass with my afternoon.

Crass, The Feeding of the 5000 (The Second Sitting) (1978)

Their first album is a rat-a-tat poisoned pea-shooter attack from people who believed in punk's promise, the message vented from the likes of the Sex Pistols who were formed originally to promote a clothing store.

I understand Urban Outfitters is heinous to the design community from which they steal, the very same community for which I am training young mass communicators. Yet, my daughter and I like to go to the Urban Outfitters here in town. We have been going there from the span when she was too young to understand any of the off-color humor there to an age where it is likely ringing her bell. I like to imagine myself in those cool shirts and no-sole shoes, understanding that it would be a larger attack on design should I try to pull that look off.

Crass, Yes Sir, I Will (1983)

Their sixth and final (ish) broadcast, Yes Sir, I Will, is a nail bomb by comparison to the first. Righteous punk shouts rub shoulder with a straight-up piano ballad only to careen into a rage volcano opening that spans over 20-minutes. Yes Sir is like being plugged directly into the mains. You start to hear patterns after prolonged exposure to its static.

I feel that way in the mesh of human expression and data-strip-mining that is social media, a net I voluntarily ensnare myself far too often. How much of the net is me; how much me, the net? The surrealist author Flann O'Brien had a bit in his 1940/1966 novel The Third Policeman where the people of a certain village had been riding their bicycles so long that they traded particles with them and the riders and bikes started to take on each others' characteristics.

I think about this book also in how so many people I know have their personas wrapped up in the fact that they ride bicycles as a form of social protest - against sedentariness, against Big Oil, against pollution, against cities, traffic, legislation, rules, The Man, what have you. I'm down - bikes are cool - though I also think dogs are cool and am acutely aware that when you are following either a dog or a bicyclist, you are looking straight at their butthole.

But I digress. Maybe digression is the only way through static, when there is no path.

Crass, Penis Envy (1981)

Penis Envy, their rage-Dada, new wave assault is so sharp you can shave with it. "Bata Motel," an unrelenting sneer at the rape culture singer Libertine probably accurately predicted we'd be still talking about in 2013, is only the first shot across your bough in Penis Envy.

From here
It is difficult to get my students outraged for their world of mediated static is, to them, not outrageous. I mean, it took a jaunt through Vice's casually journalistic laddishness to bring up the likes of Crass. I bet it was one someone skater/editor's dad's mixtape. I bet if Penny Rimbaud has a Google alert set up, this article is blowing up her his inbox. No, Miley Cyrus, the topic of at least half of my lectures this semester, bless her syllabus-making, achy-breaky heart, is almost more than their hearts can bear. She might be humming along with the static of their mediated lives and that melody creeps them out a little. The transition of Hanna Montana to blow-up doll hits too close to actual adolescence for comfort.

Or maybe it's the tongue thing.

She kinda looks like Marmaduke when she does it.

But, man, Penis Envy is great. It is the Great Static - a million messages being transmitted at once, like a packet transfer from a dying satellite orbiting a long since-doomed planet. In the delirious outburst that is "What the Fuck," Libertine issues forth, among other things:

So singular your motives, yet impossible to define,
How finely lined my destiny in the cobwebs of your crime.


What now? Now in your control, birth and death,
Dry the bodies, incandescent in the heat.

all as the opera lady sings and all descends into static. It's good to get Crass. It makes you think about things.

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

mist opportunity


I don't know whether it is encouraging or discouraging from a personal brand perspective that my blog gets more hits when I don't post anything for three weeks.


It was extraordinarily misty the other morning and I remembered I carry around a camera all the time for things like this, so I engaged with my environment in a visually communicative way. Just like I tell students to do. It can make you feel like part of the world when you notice what it is doing.


It can also be a lonely pursuit.


But, if you are persistent, the world will reveal its power and wonder and all that.


Or, it will just lay back in its rounded splendor and say, "Hey!" Hey!

Saturday, September 7, 2013

It's as if we had a contract to enjoy life

Screen Shot 2013-09-07 at 3.24.16 PM
A still from Fassbinder's The Marriage of Maria Braun, part 1 of his BRD Trilogy. I'm gonna watch all three.

Foreign films are meme machines, both in the traditional sense (a meme is a unit of understanding)  and contemporary (picture on the Internet with a caption superimposed.)

Here is the scene that really encapsulated the intricate beauty and blunt cruelty of this movie.

Everything is spelled out by Maria. From the opening scene where she and her husband pin down the justice of the peace to sign the marriage papers as the city hall is being blown to bits. Her transition to a post-war woman of power is played out in stilted offices and trotting through physical and emotional rubble, all with maximum composure. The camera work is achingly lovely. Maria is the woman who everyone thinks is masking her emotions behind ambition when, in fact, she is the only one in contact with the white hot wire of her life. Everyone else is in her orbit; she is the star. And when it is done, it is done.

I suspect Fassbinder's own life was a bit like that. Look at him!

Before a mix of sleeping pills and cocaine took him out at 37, he took the wheel of the supertanker of despair that was German cinema and steered it into perverse waters. I forgot how much I like his movies.

It's funny that the train scene is the still used on the YouTube video, the single moment where the weave of the movie comes a little unraveled, largely because of the soldier's terrible accent. Don't let that stop you. Watch the whole thing and feel the love!

Screen Shot 2013-09-07 at 3.08.11 PM

They sure do, Maria! They sure do.

The Marriage of Maria Braun (1979)

Friday, September 6, 2013

one way to write a song

Alex V. Cook, "Terrible Girl"

At the laundromat, there is a sweet girl working there who seems to have a good grasp on her deal. She tells dumbfounded, strapping college boys how to wash their clothes, keeps the place up, and otherwise whittles away her shift listening to her music pumped over the PA from her laptop. The thing is on shuffle but its the same route of 1990s identity music. Duncan Sheik's "Barely Breathing" is there.

Duncan Sheik, "Barely Breathing"

A live version of that cursed Rusted Root song is there.

Rusted Root, "Send Me On My Way"

I would like to hold. his. head. and strangle that guy with his penny whistle by the time it's done. But then, this one popped up.

Bon Iver, "Skinny Love"

Like everybody, I loved Bon Iver when I first heard it. The "my my my"'s launched an armada of beardo style-pirates, running their best pick up lines through a sieve of Hall and Oates on ice. People started listening to Hall and Oates again even, to which I shake my head. I thought about Big Star's "I'm in Love With a Girl."

Big Star, "I'm in Love With a Girl"

Now that is a love song. I thought about telling her about it, but nothing is creepier than an old music nerd at the laundromat trying to get you to listen to Big Star. Plus, as a college professor, I am ina  sea of sweet girls who either are actually politely sweet or treat me with an understandable indifference. I don't need to creep out girls.

Contrast this to a table of girls I saw at a restaurant outside Oxford, MS, they all decked out in party dresses, taking photos of each other and cackling and making duck faces at each other's phones. It was like watching a "Best of Shark Week" special. I thought - unfairly, I know - these are terrible girls.

But ol' Bon Iver was stuck in my head and I brought an ol' guitar to keep up in the office so I could play at lunch and decided to learn "Skinny Love".

Am              C
Come on skinny love just last the year
Am             C
Pour a little salt we were never here
        Am          C
My, my, my, my, my, my, my, my

I couldn't make the chords work to sound like the song plus these lyrics are terrible. No wonder Emma left him. He might just be terrible. The story I gathered is that she broke up with him and he retreated to a cabin in the snow with a four-track and made the break-up record named for her, which now sounds like the work of terrible people, all around. I thought about a Big Star parody: I'm in love with a terrible girl...

Then, I thought about a recent social encounter where someone (not me, even) was being terrible and thought terrible, terrible and then stopped. Somebody loves that terrible person. Or, rather, that person being momentarily terrible. Every terrible person is loved by someone and, at some point, we have all loved a terrible person and been that terrible person being loved.

So I wrote a love song to the theoretical terrible girl we all are and have been and will love and will be loved as.  That's one way to write a song. Here it is again, in case you don't feel like scrolling and you want to revisit in this complicated light. You'd think my playing or the song itself would be better now having read all that, but nope. Just as terrible as before.

Alex V. Cook, "Terrible Girl"

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Books being read



William Gay, The Long Home. My yard has this really thick thatch of grass to it, so much so that when I go to dig a hole, I have to put the fullness of my weight on the shovel to break through the dense outer woven complexity to get to the dirt I need, or rather, to the emptiness of dirt that I need. There are points I feel the same way with The Long Home, that his sentences are such intricate wonders that there is little point trying to cut through them, but then I keep digging and the dirt underneath is black and loamy and infinitely fertile. I would like to walk William Gay up to Faulkner and say, "See?" but they are both dead, so what can you do? Dig up the whole yard, I guess.

Joe Bonomo, This Is Where My Obsession with Infinity Began.  Joe and I are friends in he modern media sense in that we like he same things and each others' on pushbutton networks. I've interviewed him and reviewed his books on Jerry Lee Lewis  and AC?DC. Now, I am picking through his book of quick, illuminative essays on the self and the not-self and origins and ends. Each one is a sharp little acupuncture needle that touches a part of your consciousness in a way that charges it, relaxes it, does something to it.

David Foster Wallace, Infinite Jest. I'm reading it on my phone. I mentioned this in a profile they did on me in in the paper and a friend commented that reading Infinite Jest on your phone is the dumbest idea he'd ever heard and he's likely right. I finished neither Anna Karenina nor Ulysses on this same phone, why should I expect to finish this one.?There was some weird sale where it was $1 for Kindle so I have it ostensibly forever. You know he wrote a book actually about infinity, right? It is of readable length and, for a book about higher math, weirdly sad.  It hit me the way Nirvana's In Utero does, everything sounded a but like a suicide note. Anyway, it is a nice bout of futility to be on IJ's page 27 of 1027 that lulls me right on to sleep when the light is out and a glowing book is a fellow of most excellent fancy. 1

On deck:

Harry Crews, A Feast of Snakes. I checked it out from the library for a bro of mine and then never caught up with said bro, leaving it hissing in my backpack like the snakes in the book, and then he got his own copy, so I'll read it again. We'll have our own little bro book club and shut up, it's a totally normal thing for bros to do.

1. See what I did there?

Sunday, August 25, 2013

The Music of 8/19/2013 - 8/25/2013

Here is the week in its semester-preperatin' glory. I will be thinking of Belle & Sebastian's coy musings as freshman stumble through the halls on the wobbly hooves of baby deer, Wagner's grand machinations as they migrate into vast halls and Murder By Death mostly because I am really into them lately.

Sunday, August 18, 2013

The Music of 8/5/2013 - 8/11/2013 and The Music of 8/12/2013 - 8/18/2013

View the story "The Music of 8/5/2013 - 8/11/2013" on Storify

View the story "The Music of 8/12/2013 - 8/18/2013" on Storify
I forgot to post last week's. I wondered why everyone was giving me that weird look. You adoring fans should clamor more.

I think this Daniel Johnston cover is my favorite thing I've done. I even do it better now. It is BETTER THAN FAVORITE!

"I Save Cigarette Butts"

Also I wrote a new song that certain discerning ears are liking.

"A Man Without Love"

From the angles, both of these videos look like they were shot by someone passed out on the floor, incapacitated, unable to escape me playing songs for them.

This, though, is the greatest video of the week. I want to play in a band with a little person tambourine player.

Marc & the Mambas, "Sleaze (Take It! Shake It!)"

Marc Almond likely had an incapacitated victim listener on retainer.

Oh, and this. Nothing beats this.

Honey Lt. (produced by Lee Hazelwood, "Louie Louie"

Also, Tess Brunet of/formerly known as Au Ras Au Ras

Au Ras Au Ras, "I'm a Liar"

has a record store called Lagniappe Records in her house just down the street from me.

Posting all this is about as close as I am to being that cool.