Monday, May 25, 2015


My friend Zulema died of cancer last night while a major thunderstorm brought flash floods, a tornado, and a mini-tornado (like a tornado, but cuter) to our adopted city of Austin, Texas, sending her off in style. She was only 39, she was awesome, and it sucks. My heart's aching for her, her boyfriend Darin, her family, and her many, many friends, but I'm also enjoying the celebration of her life that's been happening in and on various social media outlets (the same outlets that are too often filled to capacity with negativity, hostility, humblebrags, pointless political arguments, and cliched platitudes) and the love and community connecting every one of us who knew her. (I apologize for the hippyness of that statement, but I also don't apologize because I totally mean it.) I love seeing photos from the parts of her life that didn't intersect with mine, and I'm in awe of how much goodness she put into the world. I hope it's not just temporary, but I feel like this love and community is making me a less hard, less resentful, less closed-off person. I need to remember to keep those feelings around and appreciate the love and friendship I have right now. I take too much of it for granted and retreat into the private world in my head too often.
Enough about me and my problems, here are a few things I love (fuck the past tense) about Zulema and my way too brief time on this planet with her.
She had one of the great first-name/last-name combinations.
She loved Captain Beefheart AND Hall & Oates. Yeah!
She was sweet and kind, but also interesting and hilarious. Too often, that Venn diagram looks like two separate circles with a foot of space in between.
She was never one of those "hey, look at me" people. She was modest, humble, relaxed, comfortable with herself. No big ego stuff, no drama. She was always so present, so receptive to everyone around her. She never had to win over the room. She just said funny stuff quietly, naturally, in the course of conversation. As someone who's publicly made an ass out of himself on too many occasions, I always admired that about her.
She was incapable of taking a bad photograph. I only look passable in maybe one out of thirty photographs. She looked great in every one, even when she was sick.
She said one of the five or six funniest things I ever heard. Two summers ago, a group of us pooled our money and rented a beach house in Port Aransas, a small resort town on the Texas coast of the Gulf of Mexico. We spent that long weekend swimming in the Gulf, cooking and eating big delicious meals, drinking lots of beer and wine, and hanging out in the swimming pool and hot tub across the street at night. On one of those nights, after returning to the house, a few of us were sitting on the balcony, enjoying the breeze, and we got into this long, booze-fueled conversation about what would happen if our beach vacation turned into a Hotel California-style scenario in which we could enter but never leave. What happens if you were trapped in a beach town forever? We weighed the pros and cons in detail, and Zulema said one of the drawbacks to permanent beach life was that the beach town prostitutes were "too sandy." That's one of the most hilarious things I've ever heard, and it makes me laugh every time I think about it. I can't do that joke justice because so much of it depended on her word choice, her delivery, and her facial expressions, but if you don't think that's funny, even in my truncated, fuzzy memory version, you should be catapulted into a swamp.
She was just someone you felt good around. She made you feel better. She was so damn likable.
She got sick shortly after that Port Aransas trip, and I didn't see her for a while. My last conversation with her was four months ago at the grocery store. I was putting some kind of produce item into my cart, and someone tapped me on the shoulder and said, "You need to put that back." I turned around, and it was her. She looked great, healthy and happy. She'd beaten it for now, but only a week after our conversation, she'd find out that the cancer was back and that it had spread. That last conversation was a fun one. We talked about our shared love of Bob Odenkirk and the way he yelled "Goddammit" on "Mr. Show," and we talked about cat buttholes. My uncle married a Jewish woman (this seems like a weird digression, but wait for it) and converted to Judaism. He became way more obsessed with being Jewish than his Jewish-by-birth wife. I am the same way, but with cats. I was a dog lover from the jump, but since my wife and I got two cats three years ago, I am the cat-lovingest son of a bitch in town. Zulema was a cat lover, too, and we talked about our pets. She told me a story about an old cat of hers who unwittingly ate some hot chile peppers, which led to some joking about the eventual passing of those chile peppers and about cat buttholes in general. I'm so glad I ran into her that day. There's something ridiculous and completely endearing about cat buttholes being the subject of our final conversation.
I wasn't one of her closest friends, and I only got to hang out with her for a handful of years, but I thoroughly enjoyed her company, and I was lucky to know her. I miss her already.

Monday, January 05, 2015

My favorite music of 2014, or geezers > youngsters/my year playing music

I usually write about my favorite films of the year on my movie blog, but I've never tried to do a favorite music of the year post because I thought it would be too much work to figure out. This year, I realized that the Date Added button in my iTunes and a few music and indie-label web sites would make that process easy.
This year really hammered home what a 37-year-old American man and Robert Pollard fan I am, but come on, people. The cliche that most artists only do work worth listening to early in their careers is fashionable bullshit. The stereotype was once true when the Baby Boomers (those monstrously self-absorbed assholes who think the '60s were the only decade that ever happened (so self-absorbed they make the millennials look like St. Francis) who fucked up, and continue to fuck up, everything) made great music in the late '60s and early '70s and then proceeded to suck lazily for the next 40 years (insert many notable exceptions here), but it's not really true anymore (and wasn't true of the old jazz and blues guys who influenced them). The people of later generations learned from their mistakes. Also, those Boomer rock gods and goddesses became multimillionaires and even billionaires, and rich people can't make art once they learn they're rich. Money and superfame are worse than drug addiction at extinguishing the creative spark, in my armchair not-fact-checked opinion.
I am continually creatively juiced up by new music made by people my age and older, on both the international and local levels, and underwhelmed by a lot of the music made by the post-tween set (again, insert the many notable exceptions here). At the Fun Fun Fun Fest I attend every year in Austin, the old folks regularly play mindblowing sets while the hyped attractive youngsters flail and pose and play songs that sound like Don Henley making love to Hall & Oates in a convenience store bathroom (which actually sounds pretty fantastic on paper, come to think of it). I like not relating to the youth of today, and I don't feel bad about that. I am getting older and I would like to glean the wisdom from the artists hitting that patch of road ahead of me instead of chasing the eternal youth mirage. All that being said, damn does that precocious lil' guy Ty Segall float my boat. Good job, young man.

Here are some 2014 records I enjoyed a great deal in 2014, in the order I added them to my computer (don't kick me in the taint, btw, I bought most of them first on vinyl or CD b/c artists should be paid for their work (except for the jerks who get paid way too much)):

Stephen Malkmus & The Jicks - Wig Out at Jagbags
Bohren & Der Club of Gore - Piano Nights
Guided By Voices - Motivational Jumpsuit and Cool Planet (Cool Planet is better but Motivational Jumpsuit has my favorite GBV song of the whole reunion: "Alex and the Omegas")
Beck - Morning Phase 
Damaged Bug - Hubba Bubba
The Men - Tomorrow's Hits
Doug Gillard - Parade On
Sweet Apple - The Golden Age of Glitter
Vertical Scratchers - Daughter of Everything
King Buzzo - This Machine Kills Artists
Neil Young -  A Letter Home
J Mascis - Tied to a Star
The New Pornographers - Brill Bruisers
Ty Segall - Manipulator and $INGLE$ 2
Le Butcherettes - Cry Is for the Flies (minus the two minutes of Henry Rollins poetry that precedes one song)
Shellac - Dude Incredible
Circus Devils - Escape
Mark Lanegan Band - Phantom Radio
Melvins - Hold It In
Moonsicles - Creeper
Thurston Moore - The Best Day
Guano Padano - Americana
Eyehategod - Eyehategod
Sleaford Mods - Chubbed Up +
D'Angelo - Black Messiah

2014 albums with some great moments that I enjoyed to a lesser extent overall than the above
The Unsemble - The Unsemble
The Afghan Whigs - Do to the Beast
Mac DeMarco - Salad Days
Thee Oh Sees - Drop
Death Grips - Niggas on the Moon
Twilight - III: Beneath Trident's Tomb
John Frusciante - Enclosure
Teenage Guitar - More Lies from the Gooseberry Bush
Split Single - Fragmented World
Tweedy - Sukierae
Neil Young - Storytone (the solo disc is good, the orchestral disc is pretty cheesy)
tetema - Geocidal

Older albums and box sets reissued in 2014 and 2014 compilations of old stuff put together for the first time in 2014 that I had a lot of time for (2014 edition) (2014) (it's two-thirds Numero Group) (2014)
Josefus - Dead Man
Al Green - Let's Stay Together
Unwound - Rat Conspiracy and No Energy
Various - Warfaring Strangers: Darkscorch Canticles
Sandy Denny & The Strawbs - All Our Own Work
Various - Music of the Mountain Provinces
Ned Doheny - Separate Oceans
The Brothers & Sisters - Dylan's Gospel
Nikki Sudden -all the solo and Jacobites reissues and Kiss You Kidnapped Charabanc with Rowland S. Howard
Bulbous Creation - You Won't Remember Dying
Led Zeppelin - III
Various - Eccentric Soul: Capitol City Soul and Eccentric Soul: The Way Out Label
Sensational Saints - You Won't Believe It
Solaris - The Waves of the Evernow
Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young - CSNY 1974
The Montgomery Express - The Montgomery Movement
Various - Local Customs: Cavern Sound
Various - Country Funk Vol. 2: 1967-1974
Various - Night Walker: The Jack Nitzsche Story, Vol. 3
Bedhead - 1992-1998
Jordan de la Sierra - Gymnosphere: Song of the Rose

Local business:
My band The Early Stages released our first hard-copy meat-space vinyl single in 2014, which you can still purchase and/or stream (see the post just below this one to find out how). We proved to be slightly less unpopular in the rest of the world than we are locally as no local stations played any of the three songs at any point in the entire year, not even at 3 a.m. Our local cachet, never that high to begin with, continues to plummet. (Humblebrags ahead.) However, Jon Solomon of Comedy Minus One Records played us on his show on New Jersey radio station WPRB, and Maximum Rocknroll played us on their online radio show. We were also reviewed favorably in Maximum Rocknroll and Wire magazine. That Wire review, which, if I may braggadociously point out, is an international publication, netted us one whole sale. Who says analog is dead, right? Stop backing away from me.

Austin bands we played shows with this year who played sets I particularly enjoyed:
James Arthur's Manhunt
The John Wesley Coleman Band
The John Pauls
New China
Rabbit Fist
Woozy Helmet
Foot Patrol

Our local brushes with fame and semi-fame: We played with a Rush cover band (Central Texas' premier Rush cover band, I've been told), Angelo Moore from Fishbone, Lesley Rankine from Silverfish, Pigface, and Ruby and her brother who is Public Image Ltd's current bassist and who has also played with Elvis Costello and Spice Girls (to an audience of 12 people), and got a nice compliment from Babes in Toyland's drummer (who was one of the 12 people in the audience). Gerard Cosloy walked out of two of our shows clearly bored. Prince sat in with us and played "When Doves Cry" and "Uptown." (I made one of these up, but it's not easy to spot. If you think you've found the untrue anecdote, write it down on a postcard depicting a tropical beach scene and send it to Can-Smashing Robot Lie-Spotting Contest 2014/15, 666 Fake Address, Blair, NE, 69854. If you guessed the lie correctly, you will receive a crate of organic California prunes and my power of attorney.)

Happy new year, you princes of Maine, you kings of New England. Don't fill up on bread, and keep it street legal. 

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Promotional content

Please forgive this self-promotional post, but I play in a band called The Early Stages, and we put out a 7-inch recently. Copies are still available, and you can buy one at this link. If you don't want to buy it, you can also stream it for zero dollars at the same link. Ted Nugent sucks.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

A song for every year of my life #28: 2004

I haven't done one of these for almost a year. I usually unintentionally abandon every series I start on this blog, but here it is, back from the grave. I want to post more frequently here, even though the nonspecific journal-style blogs seem to be dying (I'm a sucker for any medium or piece of the culture that's slowly dying), and this old series came to mind today. I'm almost always thinking about music anyway, and music is the only healthy thing that makes me feel better when I have convinced myself I'm a piece of shit loser. I'm going through a bit of a phase (13 years and counting is still a phase, right?) where I feel like an unsuccessful, perpetually broke, missed-my-calling, unable-to-communicate-verbally-with-humans, sad, angry, bitter, jealous failure, but music stops those thoughts and is better than my other means of coping (alcohol, television, food, repressed rage). Movies and books are also amazing things, but I have to be in an okay place to really engage with them. Music is some kind of voodoo-salve, cosmic gloom squeegee that can turn the room purple if you play it loud enough and give it your full attention. It's the only thing that works unconditionally in a world that is mostly complete and utter bullshit. (Well, my wife and my cats are pretty great, too, but I take the good things in my life for granted because I have problems.)
How cruel that 2004 is my next stop. Looking at the big list of records released in 2004, I don't see much I care about. I'm sure there are tons of local, below-the-radar 2004 records waiting to melt my face off, but the ones I've heard don't have the juice, except for a big pile of records by people I've already written about in this series (I'm trying to do just one song per artist) and a smattering of others. One of those others is the only musical hero of mine who follows me on Instagram, Doug Gillard. Gillard has played guitar for a metric fuckload of quality bands including Guided By Voices (who broke up again today, goddamn it), Cobra Verde, My Dad Is Dead, Death of Samantha, Gem, Bill Fox, Nada Surf, and Lifeguards. The guy is a guitar wizard who is really good at playing hot guitar sounds on the guitar for guitar aficionados, but never at the expense of a song. He's also a damn fine songwriter, with three damn fine solo albums and a damn fine solo EP. Here is the song "(But) I See Something" from his 2004 album Salamander. This song has a lot to recommend it. It's subtle, pretty, and catchy, with a girl group/early Pretenders/indie pop/classic rock swirl of sounds joining together into a nice little whole, and I dig the old-school parenthetical in the title. I'm a man who enjoys parentheticals.

Alternate choice: Melvins/Lustmord - "The Bloated Pope"
I love the Melvins. They're still a vital band putting out great records and trying new things three decades into their career. They're like the metal Yo La Tengo. This song is from their unfairly neglected collaboration with electronic noise terrorist Lustmord, Pigs of the Roman Empire, that is better than most 2004 records, especially the boring ones by Arcade Fire, Eminem, Kanye West, U2, Green Day, Sufjan Stevens, et cetera and so on that were getting all the attention from the critics that year. I like this song because it kicks ass and sounds good, and also because Lustmord got his start by going to high-profile shows and just getting on stage before the opening band and performing until someone figured out he wasn't on the bill and kicked him off the stage, and finally because I was raised Catholic and forced to go to church as a kid even though I never bought into that organized religion malarkey so you can probably guess the song title warms my heart. Ted Nugent sucks.

Thursday, September 04, 2014

Tragicomedy is meltdown plus time

Politics are stupid. I'm not mad at anybody anymore. We're all doing what we can with what we've got and none of us are ever going to understand each other and that's got to be okay.

Tuesday, September 02, 2014

Blog Post

Please enjoy this completely unrelated photo of President Taft before you read this blog post, compliments of the creative team behind Mr. Krauter, the half-robot, half-hologram, all-hunk who was programmed to write this crap. 
Wowzers. Haven't updated this thing in a while. Need to put all the shit in my life that's out of whack back in whack, blow the dust off the neglected parts and give them some sweet, sweet attention, and stop wasting time like I did on Sunday arguing about politics with my relatives on Facebook. Is there anything worse than arguing on Facebook? I don't even give a shit about politics. I only give a shit about art and sandwiches. I lose respect for myself every time I get ensnared in that bullshit. I used to get ensnared in it a lot, because my relatives write and forward a lot of crazy shit and I stay up late and enjoy the occasional drink and the combination of all that stuff became deadly. Now I either hide the posts or ignore them, and I feel a lot better about myself. But, Sunday, man. They were dogpiling on my mom like bullies and making a lot of generalizations about a large, disparate demographic, and that pisses me off. I jumped in, things got heated, and crazy, crazy things were typed by almost all. It's impossible to write an eloquent sentence in the Facebook argument. Everyone ends up looking like the world's biggest jackass. No one came out of that online battle royale looking like a champion. I can be a real loser sometimes. I'm pretty disgusted with myself for wasting my time on it. Still don't get what happened to my relatives. They went through the neocon meatgrinder and came out the other side in a shiny Limbaugh/Hannity/O'Reilly sausage casing. Facebook-forwarding footsoldiers in the dissemination-of-bullshit army. Best to just keep on keeping three or four states in between us and remember the past is dead. We had some good times in the pre-Facebook days, before the pod people bodysnatched them. We're not any good for each other in the present.
The idea of family is something that troubles me. I used to think I had a handle on what it meant, but now I feel like I was in a balloon that popped. Every member of my immediate family lives in a different city or town in four different states, I can't relate to my uncles and cousins anymore, all the cool old folks died, my parents split up and made some very bad post-divorce relationship decisions I don't support, and I have my own life here with my wife and wacky cats and rock band and unfulfilling day job and mild depression and impending middle age and list of regrets. My life is statistically half over, and I haven't figured out a damn thing about how I can be useful to myself or others. And that's the weird place I'm at tonight.

Postscript: I posted this last night, felt weird about posting it, and then deleted it, then felt weird about deleting it, so here it is again, with some changes. Nobody even reads this shit anyway, so why censor myself?

Thursday, April 03, 2014

Sitcom Catchphrase Quiz Party

I was walking down the street behind a sitcom writer a fortnight ago, and a document fell out of his pocket. I picked it up and kept it forever. This document was a quiz for prospective writing staff hires testing their catchphrase chops. I now present this document to you:

You will be presented with several hilarious and comical situations. Underneath the situations are four catchphrases that can be said by one of the totally outrageous main characters. Pick which one is the best. If you get them all right, we may interview you for a position on one of our madcap situation comedies like "The Slappies," "The Theory of Relativity," or "Single Robot Dad." Good luck, and as we say in show business, break a leg!!

1. The boss is coming over for dinner in three minutes and you are all out of Chianti! What catchphrase best sums up the situation?

A. You've GOTTA be kiddin' me!
B. It's not even Monday!
C. I must have slapped a baby in my past life!
D. This world we live in would seem cold, empty, and cruel if it wasn't so pointless!

2. You've accidentally arranged dates with two sexy ladies on the same night ... at the same restaurant! What catchphrase best sums up the situation?

A. Holy guacamole! (bites knuckle)
B. I can't believe I did it again! Goodnight, America!
C. Who do I think I am? Mick Jagger? (shrugs shoulders and grins toward camera)
D. My continuing objectification of women reveals a deep flaw in my character!

3. You walk into your swinging single neighbor's duplex and see an unsavory sexual act (tastefully presented offscreen). What catchphrase best sums up the situation?

A. That DEFINITELY ain't kosher!
B. Give me a time machine, somebody! I need to erase the last two minutes of my life!
C. Now that's the OPPOSITE of Viagra!
D. I will scoop out my eyeballs with a spoon and dance upon them until they are as flat as the terra firma on which we stand to ensure a revolting sight such as this will never again impress itself upon my soul!

4. Due to an administrative mishap, 200 extra pizzas have been delivered to the pizza party boy band benefit concert sock hop! What catchphrase best sums up the situation?

A. I said I could eat a lot of pizza, but THIS is riDICulous!!
B. I need a Caribbean vacation!
C. Cut me some slack!
D. There are starving children in this world who will never taste even one bite of pizza in their short, miserable lives, while here at Beach Party High, the streets are paved with hundreds of surplus pizza pies!

5. You and your loose cannon best friend, Jock Blingo, are handcuffed together for an entire weekend when he loses the key! What catchphrase best sums up the situation?

A. You've done it again, Blingo!
B. And it was such a pleasant morning!
C. I am not laughing out loud THIS time!
D. Our friendship is thin, superficial, and no longer of use to me!