Wednesday, June 28, 2006

beta kills pigs, cops, vegan loaves

The legendary hardcore band, Millions of Dead Cops! No, really! At a vegan potluck!

There have been two occasions where I almost moved to Portland, Oregon; I may move here yet. It helps that every time I visit the Pacific Northwest, the weather is beatific, almost staggering in its clarity, the sky an impossible blue. This go-round, it really is staggering, as global warming makes the place resemble Texas. Today, it nears 100. Tomorrow it will touch 102. The highway sizzles, windows rolled down to let the hot asphalt winds whip across us as we ride. It evokes the classic Texas roadtrips that we used to take.

Upon arrival in Portland, we decide to visit some old Texas friends. Unable to realize their dreams of manning a deli in New York City, they now run a vegan bodega in SE Portland. Food Fight, scarcely two years on, has grown into a nexus for varying scenes, causes, and it looks like they have created a strong base for themselves, which thrills me to no end. A grocery store that stages reading and rallies while also stocking every sort of mystery non-meat you can imagine.

A recent cause involves raising funds to pay for the ever-mounting legal fees for the Shac 7, who stand to face an endless federal trial as 'terrorists.' I won't go into too much detail here, especially when you can read more about their plight here, but it realizes the horror visions of Kafka (must admit that reading W.G. Sebald's Vertigo has been putting me into a K-hole recently). For those that think that terrorists only exist beyond the borders and wear turbans, the Christian Fascists would like you to reconsider and remain silent, which only helps them crucify harmless citizens who merely posit ideas on the web. Soooo...back to the music, then.

On this day, there's a huge freak scene happening at Food Fight. We make our way through a bizarre throng of anarchists and ladies with faded facial tatts, and only inside do I realize that we are in the midst of a hot and sweaty vegan potluck. Anarchists are in muumuus and there's even a reunion show of hallowed hardcore punk band, Millions of Dead Cops!

Being a music writer, I've grown jaded with exclusive shows, but this is something else entirely. One Dave is a recovering speedfreak, while the other Dave is a recovering carb addict, baking his own brand, Dave's Killer Bread.

They may also be Bread fans, as this is an acoustic reunion show. I spy a pair of bongos, but don't see them get babbalooed. Instead, they offer whispery, quickly strummed versions of their back catalog and maybe the worst version of "Happy Birthday" ever attempted. Unplugged highlights include "Corporate Death Burger" and "Kill All the Cops." The latter is so catchy that the kids sing it in the car over and over again. It sounds better than both Mr. T Experience and Raffi, while also carrying an important message for all kids to learn.

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

baet simpson

My host Marshall in Eugene, Oregon informs me that it's actually Springfield I am in, and that neighboring Springfield, Oregon is actually Shelbyville. The town square does indeed bear a vague resemblance. Look to the odd pioneer statues of one Eugene Skinner, to the preserved homestead of the man that stands near the Willamette River. By the muddy banks, I fully unravel and feel the vacation kicking in; hours pass just watching the patterns that leaves make in the wind, dappling sunlight and shade across my chest as I sprawl in the soft grasses and read or else stare into the sunny sky. The grass is different in Oregon. (Uh, not that kind.) In Texas, the landscape accosts you like cops do; stickers and burrs gouge, there are sharp crenations of weeds. The blades themselves make you itch. And where there aren't mosquito swarms doing fly-bys, there is always the threat of being brutalized and burned by fire ants. Plopped down in the grass here, all feels benevolent. And I don't even need to pull out a hackey sack or digeridoo.

Staying with Marshall is mind-boggling in a way; he played such a crucial role in my development and appreciation of music when I was sixteen years old that it's hard to believe that were still in touch a decade hence. Were it not for him and his band, El Santo (who will always be my favorite group next to Nirvana), I might've never made the connection that music is actually made by people, and not these distant, untouchable entities.

Guess that is punk rock's most profound lesson. As a child growing up, you usually interact with popular music on a completely alienated, wholly untenable level: here are these peculiarly-dressed people that you will never have a chance to meet. This is what you think rebellion looks and sounds like. But it is a lie outright. You know no one that even looks like them in either your extended family or at your school, despite what the Goths and heshers may appropriate as their 'style.' These strangers make a highly-stylized music that the major label record company then sells you at the mall. I grew up listening to Poison, to G'n'R, to Beastie Boys, but no one in my realm of existence bore even a remote resemblance to these figures.

There's an early piece I wrote for Pitchfork about a lost mixtape that may hint at yet barely makes explicit just how important Marshall (and his immense record collection) was for me. Interacting with him as an aspiring guitarist and music fiend was paramount for making music a part of my everyday existence. There is a flame of gnosis to be attained or to lose to the annihilations of time, and I can think of no other person’s tastes and wide approach to listening that influenced me more in this regard.

So it's strange to be here on vacation, the iPod tucked away, with zero interest in proactively listening to music with Marshall and his family. Sure, I've been digging, thrilled to find this Eddie Kendricks record I’ve spent three years searching for as well as Goblin's OOP soundtrack for Suspiria, but I'm in no hurry to audition them now. Instead, random records plucked at recent yard sales get put on during our days together as we do chores, dress the kids, get ready for bike rides. There’s some fine bluegrass picking record called White Lightnin', a synth-heavy Tony Allen record from '84, some unpronounceable African record with a triangle player, some Mexican kiddie-pop, a schizophrenic Nitty Gritty Dirt Band record before they realized how much they loved Merle Travis, an incredible French accordion-jazz record with an R. Crumb cover, and some Thin Lizzy (okay that's my pick). The kids only want to hear one record though: Mr. T Experience. Listening to Milk Milk Lemonade and this record with a Lite Brite on the cover, seeing how neat-o the red vinyl looks as it spins, it never occurred to me that Lookout!s true record-buying contingency was in reality kindergarteners (hence the longevity of Green Day?). Now I realize this shit's way more fun than Raffi.

Eugene's other claim to notoriety is being the location for Animal House. Of course, said house has been torn down, to where only some dorm rooms remain. The best joke of the whole town though is the location of the Planned Parenthood offices: it's on the corner of 17 & High.

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

reality betas

In a way, I'm glad that the jewelry store isn't open when I rush over there as if to complete all my chores before my flight. My watch battery remains unfixed, my inability to either manage or be on-time has a really great excuse now, even as I try to catch a plane. What it means though is that I can no longer gauge how long we sit on the runway, how long the flight takes, much less how long my enormous layover in Denver is. Too tired to do the math when I finally arrive in Seattle, let's just presume it's been a long fucking day and by not affixing a number to it, perhaps my jetlag won't take hold.

(As life can't help but creep into the work, I realize two upcoming pieces make mention of "time," how these dissimilar artists both disavow and deny it, their music contesting such tides. A lyrical genius says (not sings, mind you): "Time will take care of itself, so just leave time alone.")

Upon landing, I somehow find my way to a Seattle restaurant that does not serve espresso at 11pm, but the sushi is killer, even if they gild the lily a little. Even though I write in up to seven cities, I've really only ever spent time in one of them. Cranking out pieces in a little green room, linking to such articles online, receiving printed checks in the mail, these places just seem like distant clips from Shangri-La or something. Now Seattle is a reality.

Being at a rock show in a new town makes me feel slightly anthropological as I look around at the new settings, the new kids and what their outfits are here. In the daylight, the town seems to really dig shows. Scores of fliers abound, everyone from Prince Paul to Buck 65 to Black Angels to Jose Gonzalez (and holy shit! there's also a flier for Love Battery) flapping along walls and lampposts. Stacks of the Stranger and Seattle Weekly are in nearly every shop doorway. Getting on the bus, I see people reading the weeklies. Perhaps because there is so much more competition for eyes as in New York, where you can also choose between New York, New Yorker, TONY, and (for the sickos out there) NY Press.

For the first time ever, I actually step inside the offices of one of my employers, the Stranger. Dig through the archives to see my words in newsprint; it has that same sort of rush as when I head to the street corner on Tuesday night to find my words in the newest Voice, despite the ink not being fresh any longer.

I'm not here so much for business, but for vacation. I spend the morning taking care of my interview so as to enjoy the sensations of being in a new city. The sky is milky with clouds to where every corner and building front stands out vividly in the skyline. Yes, Seattle is a bustling metropolis, but I notice more space between the noises now, to where once the bus rumbles past, nothing really takes its place. It's an increase of silence, a calm so hard to parse back home. Call it an unclenching on my part, even as I down as much espresso as I can at every opportunity. The only thing that occurs more often today than such sipping is overhearing references to Reality Bites and Singles.

Thursday, June 15, 2006

beta from the canyon

"The Circle Game": A feature on Numero Group's Ladies from the Canyon compilation in LA Weekly

Espers - II

The Black Angels - Passover

And, should you wish to read the piece I wrote about Jackie Mittoo bumping reggae at a mall in Toronto, you can peep the Rick Ross ish of The Fader or else the rag as a podcast.

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

beta power

In a recent New Yorker article, Samuel Hynes recalls a line Ezra Pound says to him when they happen upon each other in a park: "It's difficult hanging on to the truth while admitting error." It stings especially so as a critic, where your opined words must remain sharp and 'right,' rigid and affixed on a page that floats about in an influx world, where perception necessarily must give and be pliant, ever-changing. I wasn't the only one underwhelmed by Cat Power's The Greatest, finding it to be too shorn of its edges. Where were the jags, the bared edges, the emotional upheavals and artistic crises that flow about her so readily, her destabilized persona suddenly a part of her presentation?

You'd have to be crazy to go see her live though, or at least a sucker for disappointment. If you know anything about her proclivity to melt and disintegrate before her fawning audience, to flub every song, to drop lines, to forget chord changes, to painfully abort the same song ten times in a row, she is already a legend. Snickers no doubt followed the sudden announcement earlier this year that she had cancelled all of her tour dates with the Memphis band due to "health issues." And even with the tour re-scheduled (which was good news for me, as my piece finally ran out in Seattle), I can't help but cop to sniggering in the audience as well. Her reputation preceding her and all that, I still couldn't turn down free tickets to her show at Town Hall.

My friend and I stood outside the doors as the band started up, downing our mixed drinks in the lobby quickly and wondering aloud why we couldn't hear Cat Power at all as the band continued to blare and throb. Only some three songs in did Chan pad across the stage barefoot to sing about how she once wanted to be "the greatest." Resigned to mortality, she flexed, showing off sculpted arms as bodily example, as living proof. That said, her voice was thin and watery compared to the belts of her backing singers, taking some three songs before the sound guy reached some sort of compromise, finally highlighting the fuzz and smoke inherent in her throat while turning down the piquant power of the ladies near the back curtain.

By that time of sonic balance, I was hooked, intoxicated by the pulse of the twelve-piece band and their deft though loose grip, all musical forms understood as they moved with her, accentuating her awkward hip shakes with a more bold and knowing shimmy and slink, which in turn emboldened her, comforted her. The group comprised everyone from pedal steel player Doug Easley and Teenie Hodges to three strings and two horns, two singers. What sounded so polished to the point of listlessness on record brightened under the stage lights. The opulence was undeniable live, and as Chan piped out midway through, she was alive as well. "Sober! Happy!" she intoned, making hand gestures and hopping about like a bunny. Or a teen girl infatuated with "Some Girls" and chicken-walking like Mick before her make-up mirror. She also continually made gestures as to a queef (not sure what to make of that).

When the band finally dissolved and disappeared during "Where is My Love?" (its heartbreaking plaint bittersweet live), Cat Power tiptoed back out in a tight white dress to melt Sandy Denny's "Who Know Where the Time Goes" into a spot-on impression of (who else) Nina Simone's own 1959 Town Hall concert (a poster announces daughter Simone's own impression is forthcoming) with "Wild is the Wind." Perhaps to prove her pianistic powers are crescent, she lets ring into the void between each note her own take on "Dreams" with Elvis's melancholic "Blue Moon" perfectly interloped, the ghost of dead American astronauts alive and a-glow inside her. She even undercuts her own prowess with an off-the-cuff version of "Hit the Road, Jack" that fizzles. The only song of the past is the last, "I Don't Blame You." So she does understand just how she makes us both doubt and believe, making us grapple with such truths and errors with her every breath.

Sunday, June 11, 2006

beta meshes

In Les Blank's documentary on the torturous struggle between man and nature as captured in Herzog's filming of Fitzcaraldo, Herzog reduces the film's essence to a cast-off comment that the natives recognize in the man a kindred spirit, a white man that grasps that it's the everyday life that's the illusion; the realm of dreams is the only true world. (Or, if you're a rock critic, it's like Frank Kogan's assertion that "Elvis never stopped being a truck driver with dreams; the point is he dressed himself in the dreams, not the overalls.")
I've been spending time with this girl that I almost didn't realize I cared about. And then, as if waking up one day, it is the only reality. We awaken one morning to admit we've been in each other's dreams. Perhaps her greatest act is that she's even indulged me some basketball TV back at her house. I turn it on just in time to miss one of the last Spurs games of the season, catching only a post-game commentary from a player who I'm loathe to even mention: Kobe Bryant. He reiterates some wisdom that the inventor of the Triangle Offense, Tex Winter, once passed along to him:

"The game hinges on a trifle."

It's not big baskets, rebounds, blocked shots, defensive stops, but rather simple things like deflections, miscues, slipping, bad passes that alter the complexion of a game played between adults irreversibly. As we watch Ernie Johnson, Charles Barkley, Kobe, and Kenny "The Jet" Smith interact, she mentions that the announcers don't like Kenny. She can just tell by their body language. I myself would've never noticed it.
Having had one of those curious moments upon spotting a copy of Maya Deren's Meshes of an Afternoon at her house, to where I cannot recall possession or place for a confused instant, I return to it when I'm back at home. I forgot how much Deren's work inspires and terrifies me to this day, new realities and dimensions unfolding in nearly every frame. My mind cannot understand how she created these films in the forties. How does she replicate the logic of dreams in such a natural manner? Up into the seventies, filmmakers (mostly male) had trouble adequately portraying a fracturing conscience, multiple perspectives, the myriad of lives possible within one body, the dissolution of linear time altogether.

Perhaps it's like that passage of Anais Nin's A Spy in the House of Love that I referenced here, wherein absorbing the reflected light of the moon, a woman becomes open to the infinite possibilities of lovers, of commingled identitites, of multiple dimensions, all a-writhe inside her:
She became certain of myriad lives within herself. Her sense of time altered. She felt acutely and with grief, the shortness of life's physical span...but Sabina, activated by the moon-rays, felt germinating in her the power to extend time in the ramifications of a myriad lives and loves, to expand the journey to infinity.
In Deren's hands, such a dream effect appears effortless: real events recapitulate and mutate, the subconscious pulling at such small matters until they are distended, profound. What seems to be normal and everyday is suddenly plunged into the reality of disorienting, enigmatic, unanswerable dreams. (Forgot to mention that Nin herself appears in Deren's "Ritual in Transfigured Time.")

Quotidian objects toggle between identities: keys are knives, are books, are mirrors. The knife is for cutting a loaf of bread, is for murder, is for the reflection of light, is for the death of self in suicide, is but a dagger of the mind. The inner-eye of Deren continually arranges, deranges, and makes explicit such dreams, its wheels within wheels.
Researching more of Meshes, there is some contention that it may be more the work of first husband, filmmaker Alexander Hammid. And yet his documentary past (and the placcid cat birth caught on his film "The Private Life of a Cat") suggests otherwise. As the rhythms of dreams (and the movement of dancers) become more and more Deren's focus and domain in her other works, the overall feel of the film finally feels as hers, despite Stan Brakhage's assertions to the contrary.
It's agonizing watching the Spurs lose, even though I seem to be winning once the TV is off and we're entwined. Just a game, she reminds me. I want to watch the Maya Deren films with her and there's a recent edition of Divine Horsemen that neither one of us has seen, my mind wonders at watching it with her. I flash to her face watching the screen, then my own eyes...but there are more pressing matters to attend to in the present.

On the subway, I catch a glimpse of a girl through glass, a girl that I tried to date right when I first met my friend. At the time, their outward similarities were curiously parallel, and yet as this girl walks into the distance, to the vanishing point (no, there's no black cloak, no mirror face), I realize that in another reality, this would be the girl I watched basketball with instead, that I opened my heart to. My world just took a slightly different bounce. The gestures between two people stack up in one instance, withdraw in another. To think it all started with just an instant of her hand alighting on my chest. How that touch has amplified beyond such an innocuous beginning, how it bounces still, the reality always uncertain.

Monday, June 05, 2006

heep see

My friend and I were truly desperate, trying to find something of value on the satellites come Saturday late night. Infomercials, heavy metal's most metallic moments with the bat blood drained from them, surely a documentary on the Clash was what we needed to feel re-invigorated. Yet the documentary on the band produced for the Documentary Channel makes the band about as boring and pasty as they could possibly be, totally PBS'd, as Frank Kogan might call it.

Okay, so when I was coming up, I kept the Rolling Stone 100 Best Albums of the 80s issue beside me at all times, trying to make my 15-year-old punk self choke down The Indestructible Beat of Soweto and Shoot Out the Lights like healthy heaping helpings of broccoli and spinach. Yet despite the hamburger 'n fries at Number One, I never gobbled down and enjoyed London Calling as much as I was told I would. (If anything, the only Clash record I find to be a guilty pleasure is Combat Rock. To this day, "Straight to Hell" gives me chills, while I randomly find myself screaming out loud, "Hey fellas, Lauren Bacall!" Still not sure what that's supposed to mean, but...)

This doc would make anyone hate the Clash though, and it only exacerbates the ridiculous notion of how important it is for white men to grip guitars and "change the world" via playing loud rock in a divebar; is there a more inane sort of legend in music? From the 'scratchy and raw' fonts to the live footage that makes them really indistinguishable from The Who to Def Leppard to Jacob's Mouse to The Arctic Monkeys to (insert angry white UK band here) or... to an outsider, it would prove impossible to explain "the revolution." Not to mention the Clash's attempts at regurgitating their love of reggae so that it clangs out as ham-fisted. Joe Strummer croaks about the brass balls it took for them to do "Police and Thieves"; lord only knows that their youthful metabolism and inability to relax (much less tighten up) make their version border on the intolerable.

It's a shame really, because the story could be important. Just that going into the details of going into the studio on such and such date and playing on a plywood stage is decidedly not. Playing gigs is not what's crucial; it's the culture and community that nurtures such fever dreams and realms of possibilities for a moment that is of interest and importance. What makes ordinary people get up on stage and explode in front of both friends and strangers? (Not sure that it has the answer, but Lipstick Traces does ponder what makes a man start fires.) Bollocks to the story of how the Clash got their drummer; it's the footage of legions of untold folks lost to time mingling and meandering about in torn clothes and jagged black eye-liner that holds our eyes this night. The story of punks interacting with Jamaican culture could be a documentary unto itself; the only titillating bit of the whole program is when the blokes talk about the graphics and iconography of these old Joe Gibbs, Mikey Dread, and Big Youth records.

We switch instead to one of those Time-Life half-hour ads, hoping to find a couple of polyester clips of Harry Chapin, Little River Band, or Billy Paul. Instead, it's the sound of soul, and while watching a clip of Otis Redding, my friend suddenly shrieks: "HOLY SHIT! Did you just see that?" Since she's got the DVR in effect, we rewind back to the footage of Otis Redding going at it with the Bar-Keys behind him. Bent forward, belting in that way of his So. That. Every. Word. Sounds. Capitalized., she pauses it so that we can see it: more than halfway down his thigh, Otis's giant manhood distends his shiny seersucker suit. We laugh uncontrollably, knowing that we'll never hear soul classics like "I've Been Loving You Two Foot Long" and "That's How Strong My Love Muscle Is" in quite the same way again.

Friday, June 02, 2006

beta on the links

Imaginational Anthem in a post-Fahey world

Matmos, Uusitalo, and Matthew Herbert
(oof, the edit decimated both the first and last graph)

Six Organs of Admittance
(at the bottom)