Wednesday, December 15, 2004

My Cloud Looks Like an Eagle

Many of my contemporaries in the music sub-industry are where they are, they claim, because of Punk Rock.

At first punk rock was, to me, a big joke. I can remember Walter Cronkite or someone introducing a news segment on the Sex Pistols' Southern tour in 1977 and being fascinated; it was a fascination borne though of watching someone get beat up in public, or watching a toddler throw a tantrum at Shakey's. Funny, maybe. Pathetic. A bit creepy, like that time I watched a cop beat up a black guy in the parking lot of the Food Fair on Broad Street, and remembered later the sound of his head hitting the asphalt, and the sad way his sunglasses skittered across the pavement, the way he wore a pantyhose on his head. I remembered the humiliation of Watergate: I remembered watching news reports of Vietnam. Coming as it did on the tail end of those upsetting precedents, this idea that PUNK ROCK IS KILLING YOUR CHILDREN AND RUINING SOCIETY (pan to a knot of chunky leather-girls in Siouxsie makeup in front of McLaren's SEX shop in Soho, black lips sucking on cigarettes, middle fingers flipping up as if by reflex, smug smiles on pasty faces) took on a darker cast in my pre-teen imagination: this is where we're going, I thought. This is the post-apocalypse.

I had nothing to rebel against. We lived in the city, not in a square suburb. My parents, a lawyer and flower designer, happily gave me all their old rock records, the Beatles, Ike and Tina ("hot and sweaty, moaning and groaning"), Janis Joplin, plus a vast collection of killer 45s from the 50s: Gene Vincent, Fats Domino, Elvis, Jerry Lee Lewis, the Platters, Johnny Cash, Little Richard. They bought me KISS records for my birthday. They *wanted* me to listen to rock music. Scattered between birthdays and Christmases from first to fourth grade, they, piece by piece, cobbled together a drumset, which is still in their attic in Richmond (none of the drums are the same color; from one year to the next the colors for the cheap Rogers copies got discontinued; the hi-hat stand they got me for one birthday remained sans cymbals until the following Christmas, and spent the 5 month interim with pie plates in lieu of cymbals)...What did I care about Patti Smith snarling and too skinny and so uptight? I didn't know what anger was. I was a free kid in the Fan District. I could walk to Sandor's Bookstore on Grace St. across from Bohannon's head and record shop and next door to what was then the Lee Art Theater ("Art" being Deep Throat, etc.) where I was an avid stand-and-reader of music magazines (contrast this with my friend Will's claim that he did not know what Lou Reed looked liked until high school, well after he'd memorized every nuance of a handfull of LR's records, taped by friends, I suppose; meanwhile, on the pages of various music mags, I'd watched Lou move from junkie tough to queen to chubby but only heard two songs: Walk on the Wild Side and Sweet Jane ). Here at Sandor's among the junkies and freaks, I gleaned from the pages of CREEM or ROCK SCENE , a pretty good idea of where rock and roll was heading.

I recollect now that the very night, while watching the news about the Sex Pistols ruining the South at my friend and bandmate David's house, was the first night I'd tried sausage pizza. David and his brother were hard rockers. I was, too. We talked about chops and bar-chord solos and Bonzo and Mooney and Bruford and who was better, Plant or Daltrey; I had a full-size poster of the cover of Thin Lizzy's LIVE AND DANGEROUS on my bedroom wall and spent hours copying the cover of WEEKEND WARRIORS in magic marker. My hard-rocker mates and I were an embattled crew: the new acolytes of Disco and Punk, these new fashionista cultures that seemed more about clothes and attitude, wanted to make the very music that we loved appear foolish: Rush, KISS, Led Zep, Stones, Who.

It was our duty to protect the rock: we claimed to hate Disco, to hate Punk.

Of course most of punk by that point in the late 70s/early 80s was infantile theater; acting out like brats, gobbing, Nazi fetishism. It was pretty easy to hate if you didn't get the joke, which we didn't. The more politicized or personalized harDCore and West Coast scenes hadn't transformed Punk Rock into the great solipsistic system it eventually became, and which we all ended up benefiting from in our roundabout ways. Anyway, none of us, not me, not David, not his big brother, realized that night in the late 70s that in fact the Sex Pistols were a great rock band. It wasn't until I heard London Calling that I considered that I'd been misled by the media and in fact that's all that Punk Rock was, even though Joey and Johnny Ramone had been claiming such for months on the very pages of the magazines I worshiped: old rock and roll, closer in spirit to the 45s my parents had given me than much of the music I was protecting so valiantly.

* * *

Sticky Brain has been invaluable of late: it's open all the time. Last week I spent a few days typing in passages from 6 years worth of journals into it and now have an easily accessible and searchable list of everything from 'stock male description' to the high school html code that allows me to make links on this page to various conversations ('arm' and 'mountain start') to an easily updatable list of record wants to a quick access list of phone numbers...the free version's running now; will gladly pony of the 40 bucks for the license.

Thursday, December 09, 2004

Right in the Roundtables!

As anyone who read my second posting knows, I've not yet been asked to sip from the bejewelled goblet of the cabal of the Knights of the Global Interweb; nay, they've not invited me to experience the forbidden delights that full bro/sis-ship in what appears, to the curious outsider, to be a fascinating but bizarro world where bywords like productivity can be interpreted dually as 1) figuring out better ways to prepare, create and then organize completed tasks, or 2) good ways to convince yourself that you're actually preparing/creating/organizing tasks while in reality delaying that actual process of getting down to the business of, in my case, putting words to paper or screen: that is, confusing PREP with WORK. All that furious creative energy sometimes dissipates in the charged air above and around the participants, it seems to me; buzzed hyper-talk, dilated pupils as pixels, increased throughput resulting in reduced output...

That said, there's no question that a part of my soul is warmed by digi-embers and no question that I'm more into means than ends; and at the end of things the daily tasks of writing are made more fun by the various monkey-toys this primate has to bang against one another---der, der, der, grunt, grunt, grunt---and I'm always pretty reactionary when I get emailed links like this one. There's something chicken littleish about the tone of these articles, this refusal to acknowledge that one isn't having their soul sucked away by the spells of the Global Interweb's evil wizard through owning a computer or a cell phone. And, in any case, one can always decide to, oh, I dunno, turn their phone/ringer off? Create a super-secret email address? Take a walk to the local purveyor of newsprint every so often and buy a paper? Such attitudes share a similar reeky acrid scent-note with censorship: As soon as one considers that they have lost the ability to turn the channel or NOT read Catherine Millet or turn their phones off or write in a notebook then I'd say they're cooked. As Andrew Lytle always told me, Never put the evil in the object.

I reckon you could say I'm semi-connected: I haven't used my PDA in over two years--once I realized that two additional primates in a house simultaneously increased great ideas/subjects while reducing both time and energy-flow in which to actually write, I bought a Handspring as a mini-cheap laptop for writing, excited about the collapsible keyboard and on-the-go synching capabilities to MSoft Word --but realized quickly it was useless. Since all my important phone numbers are stored in my cell phone, and since I know the addresses of all if not most of the people to whom I might want to drop a postcard by heart (or written down in a handy notebook), when the battery compartment of the PDA broke I, rather than busting out the duct tape, put the thing on a junk table where it has remained. A wi-fi'd Powerbook makes its way around our house, a desktop sits in a shared office, a baby's handfull of email addresses (work, home, groups) are scattered between us, as are cell phones; finally, our home phone is still hard-wired: still, without even thinking too hard about it, I could list here to a man/woman EXACTLY who called/emailed me yesterday. No, I'm not Kim Peek, just cautious. Or paranoid. I've had the same cell number for almost four years and have given it to someone I didn't know (a paint salesman) exactly once. It's a matter of simple compartmentalization: only give out yer home phone: create a Hotmail or Yahoo address for strangers or business acquaintances or fans. Delete, delete, delete.

I laugh out loud when people claim Comus and Spriguns as practicants of utter debased pagan musico-ritual. If you don't have any corpses or precipi close by, try practicing some musical CHOD (believe it or not, the o's supposed to be umlauted) while listening to Guillotine or Forest by Circle.

I've never noticed how large our tiny neighbor's feet are.

Tuesday, December 07, 2004

Heart Drops from the Great Space

"Returning to his village after many years, Mila discovers the decayed corpse of his mother, no more than a mound of dirt and rags in her fallen hut; shaken by grief and horror, he remembers the instruction of his guru, the Lama Marpu, to embrace all that he most fears or finds repugnant, the better to realize that everything in the Universe, being inseperably related, is therefore holy. And so he makes a headrest of the sad remains of the erstwhile White Garland of the Nyang and lies upon them for 7 days, in a deep, clear state of Samhadi. This Tantric discipline to overcome ideas of "horror," often performed while sitting on a corpse or in the graveyard in the dark of night, is known as CHOD. SInce trusting life must finally mean making peace with death, I perform some mild CHOD of my own, forcing myself to look over the precipice whenever I can manage it." Peter Matthiessen, The Snow Leopard

Today M- and I ate lunch next to a couple of matrons with mannish blue haircuts. One was wearing a red sweater with the single initial G embroidered on the front of it; her handbag next to her mached the sweater and had, also embroidered in navy thread, Gaymerry Farms. Each of them was eating the same thing: a single clot of tunafish with cheddar cheese melted overtop. They were horse brokers and spoke during lunch of trading brown horses. Outside it was raining. M- got a hot dog, which was long and cut in half; I got an old school burger. We split a plate of fries. During lunch M- asked me to call him Santa Claus only. We were the youngest people in there by 25 years. I noted that the breadless tuna melt was a popular dish; all the older women there had the same haircut, head-shaped and rounded not unlike an afro but, of course, of the same sky-shade of blue. None of the older men walked without a limp; one man had a clump of white hair on his chin, a former beatnik I supposed. An hour later we were jumping in puddles in the parking lot and I said something to M-. He held up his hand and said, "I'm Santa Claus."


Is the band dead?

You know what I'm talking about: The "band" as you and I, sentimental nostalgists that we are, have known it since our transistor and plastic record player-youth.

No, no, no, you say. You're a drummer. Most drummers rue the day they ever picked up sticks. Hiding there at the back of the stage, spontaneously combusting and all that. Getting fat and driving cars into pools, you know. Drummers always quit bands first.

I pretend not to hear you. Isn't the maybe too old or too tired concept of "band as aura", I argue, that notion that a band is what it is *not* because of the songwriting or singer alone, but of the machine-beast created by a handfull of musicians pushing/pulling against one another, onstage and off, if not dead then dying?

Perhaps, you sigh. Then add: No doubt it will all bounce back the way it went: probably bands will be cool again sometime in the future. Look at the Strokes. And the, uhhh, those folk guys who dress up like rabbits and whatnot from theWicker Man. There are still some bands that have actually been playing with one another for more than 7 months, I'm sure there are, somewhere. Not everybody's got a rotating cast...Y'all for example. You and Ned and Willy and Aram and also Jason have played together for, what, almost a decade? And Ned and Aram for a few years before that? And Willy and Ned since middle school?

But for now, I spit back, we're mired in the ego-nauseum of the auteur, staring at us from promo shots with baleful dog eyes, back to the post-diluvian darkness of the arranger/visionary/god alone in his garrett with an array of computer magicks, hiring and firing sidemen like maids, striving not to rock but to be mentioned in the same breath as genius, from Bowie/Dylan/Young/Wilson to Banhart, McCombs, Stevens, White, Beam: the (in)dispensable sidemen long forgotten in these days of unilateral credit-taking for the group music making.

Maybe these young folking troubadours jollying about gallivantishly, or, else-wise, morose and drunk on gloom ("I've suffered for my art," said Neil Innes on ME this a.m., "now it's your turn.") are more bottom line-oriented than they might otherwise let on. Perhaps they know that, from an economic standpoint, getting "the band" up and running is hard on their collective hemp purses. Perhaps they'd nod and wink and tell us that change was demanded not by art or the muses but by the force(s) that have always shaped industry: money and ego. First, it's cheaper to take a couple of dudes or gals on the road with a mandoline and a hack full'o'carrot shakers and a goddam banjo, aint it? Not worryin about amps and drums and wires and the wheels to tote it all. Folk is cheap and hot. Easier to make money, sure, on your own, from that limited self-release: no royalties to pay out, no bassists to bitch about shrift or arranging fees: just record it "on your own" and release it "on your own" and kick back and watch the dollars roll in...It's easier for music writers and industry people to reduce the efforts and cooperations of a band into a single, easily marketable name, particularly if the "(single name) with a revolving cast of musicians" concept is popular, which, as any cursory read through your Pitchforks and Fluxblogs will prove, is true. Finally, it's easier not having to listen to drummers whinge about being 37 years old and not being able to feel their arms after sleeping on a floor that *looked* soft but ended up feeling like sleeping on a paper towel spread on the street. Look at Bruce! Look at Francis Albert!

Maybe the knell should not cause us pain or sadness. Maybe the idea of a band is inherently juvenile, perpetuallly stinking of acrid acne creams and kaolin-slick lp covers and run through with the wormy insecurities of homocentric teens. Probably we should all pay attention to Bruce and Frank.

The Band is dead! Long Live the Band!

Thursday, December 02, 2004

working harder to make work easier

I'm new to the hack world; until recently I, like many semi-literate computer users, thought a "hack" was a nard version of the cartoon burglar: you know, instead of sporting a formless black hat, wraparound mask with eyeholes cut, a black sack and maybe a sap breaking into the side window of a brick colonial, a hack(er) was a pasty white dude, usually Dutch or midwestern, with greasy sometimes curly hair, burgling bomb codes from the State Department via pilfered super secret dial-up connections just because he could. Now, since becoming a devoted visitor to my old acquaintance Merlin's site, I seem to at least have the joggling asses of the mac-hack-literate pack in my own sites; that is, they're still way ahead, still dangling that pvc baton behind them waiting for me to at least come within, say, a mile of their outstretched hands...but I'm getting there, ever so slowly. A hack, I've come to learn--duh--is at it's most basic an IDEA with an aura about it of constructivity; at it's core a hack is also a bordering-on-the-gimmicky-(but-aren't-all-concepts-related-to-computers-thus) creative long-cut: working harder now to make work easier later. Sort of like the computer-nard version of the modification of the contractor's pickup I saw this morning en route to dropping off the fellows at school: the ten foot long thick piece of pvc mounted in the back of the truck with the big screw-cap on the end, used to store something long and, one assumes, something that must be kept relatively dry and which one might not want rolling around in the bed of their truck. Not terribly difficult to imagine a conversation surrounding that one: "Honey, why are you going to Home Depot yet again to buy a bunch of pipe and a rack for your truck and a giant wrench to unscrew the cap just so you can store a bunch of long things that you could just as easily, oh, I dunno, put in the back of the pickup truck you bought so you could put long things in it?" "Oh for the love of joycecaroloates, dear, I'm working at something NOW in order to increase the possibility of organization later." In any case, Merlin's got boatloads'o'links to free/beta versions of scads of varied programs cobbled together by vision'ry lads'n'lasses from all over the world, and Merlin hisself has enough charm and sass to convince you through his silky and snake-charmery words that you have to have them all NOW. And of course once you've downloaded all of them you will recognize how brilliant they are, recognizing also (if you never have before, like me I suppose) why the economic umbrella of the computer world will never fold up: that is, an industry made sustainable by an obsessively creative and forward-looking group of people. But also wondering when in the Absalom Absalom! you'll be able to play around with them long enough to figure the farking things out.

All of these hacks could be a distraction from the real business of: work/writing. I'm absolutely sure that I'm in a majority when I say that I've had the following moment more than once, and within the past few days: looking around at all my ridiculous wires and gear and machinery and tippy-tapping away at perfectly balanced and ergo'd keys while email friends pop in and my squid-phone startles me from it's pocket-home, meanwhile the countdown 'til picking up the two juniors --from school has begun; but instead of finishing that short story I've promised to myself to send out TODAY I'm futzing around with Quicksilver, still confused as crap mostly by it and unable to make it do what I want, so instead of finishing the story I'm googling Quicksilver and eyeing the clock and trying to figure out how to type in a web address without having to use the touchpad, figuring out how to activate Safari...then wondering why I'm typing in a web address instead of finishing the story...And then I see, out of the corner of my eye, a notebook and a pen. So simple. So transportable. So functional. So boring?

No. Back to the hacks, and after, to work: I've got notebooks going back to the 80s, all of them with snippets of stories, songs, ideas, etc. Am currently in the process of using a couple of the programs mentioned on Merlin's site to organize chunks of workthat have not seen light in years in usable comp-form. So, if nothing gol'dang else, these programs, and the ideas fueling them, have made looking back through old notebooks a functional and goal-oriented task, rather than a disappointed backwards-trip through the sulphurous mists of nostalgia.

Wednesday, December 01, 2004

unfortunate hare cut

I think I can get another day out of these pants. There's what feels like dried ice cream above the pocket; pecan pie perhaps. Been thinking lately about a meal I once ate in Bamako: fresh rabbit saddles on polenta, the stiff kind. Our hosts had imported a few cases of delicious wine from France. They weren't Malians; they were from Vermont and still owned a house there even though they'd lived in Africa for the better part of a decade. While C- was there one night someone stole a hundred dollar bill out of her wallet, which was lying on a dresser in the guest bedroom. A guardian was accused of the theft and fired. But objects continued to disappear from their villa. A year later it was discovered that their beloved maid, in their employ for years and years and who had raised their children, had been stealing from them throughout.

I'm waiting to piss off a bike messenger. Those kids get and have gotten a lot of crit in my time, some of it deserved, most of it not--the track bike snobs have not yet been able to answer my question, to wit: why ride a bike with no brakes, a bike that is brakeless because it was meant to be bird-bone light for the tilted gleaming racetracks of old europe, today, in Baltimore or San Fran?--anyway I can't use backpacks anymore (my arms fall asleep) and have summarily come down with a messenger pack and we'll see who has 'tude and who will let me pass.