Saturday, December 18, 2010

R.I.P. Captain Beefheart

Don Van Vliet 1941-2010
A squid eating dough in a polyethylene bag is fast and bulbous, got me?

Monday, December 13, 2010

Rehearsals for Retirement 2: Depression Boogaloo

Hey, everybody. I know you've all been frozen into inaction, awaiting my next installment about my ongoing battle with depression, because there is nothing more exciting than hearing the complaints of sad people. It really draws you in, makes you want to get close. Hey, you're hypothetically saying right now, I want to hang out with that guy who mopes around and sleeps a lot. I bet he really knows how to party.
Yeah, you know the drill. A lot of you have the same problems. It's a little embarrassing. There's something egocentric and self-absorbed and just plain dull about being sad for no good reason. It's also embarrassing that my sometimes manageable, sometimes debilitating problems with self-inflicted doom and gloom have sort of coincided with a friend and former coworker's diagnosis of cancer, which she has handled with humor, positivity, and grace. You can read about it on her blog if you like:
This is someone with a real reason to be depressed, I sometimes think, and she's kicking A's and taking N's (fake teen slang I made up for kicking ass and taking names) and beating the thing in a very pragmatic and focused way while I can't get my shit together because I've never liked any of my adult jobs and I've been dealt a few recent shitty life cards that everyone gets and half of everyone gets, respectively (deaths in the family, divorced parents).
That's one way to think about it. But there's another way, too. I have legitimate psychological and physical reasons for feeling bad. I'm sad, angry, and full of anxiety for a lot of different reasons, and some of you are, too. I've mostly shied away from getting into the nuts and bolts of my personal life on this blog (maybe this isn't as true as I think it is, maybe this blog is nothing but my personal interior life), but a lot of things have been hitting me at the right time, and I'm going to talk about this shit. My friend is doing a lot of people a lot of good by writing honestly about her day-to-day struggles with cancer. She's giving people hope (I mean this in a non-cliched way), letting people who are going through the same things as her know they're not alone (also mean this in a non-cliched way), and getting into the everyday, nuts-and-bolts, pragmatic minutiae about what it's really like to deal with it everyday. I think it's a great thing, and I like reading about it. So, I'm going to try to do the same thing about my depression.
I have very contradictory personal qualities that sometimes make me feel like I'm two separate people. I don't mean this in a split-personality way. I'm not Sybil, or Dean Martin/Nutty Professor, or Jeckyll/Hyde. You're not talking to Dr. Mystery one day and Dr. Solution another day. I just mean that I am extremely shy and reserved and also a loudmouth party animal. I am scared of girls and a lover of the company of women. I hate people and I love people. I find family both a pillar of strength and a ridiculous concept that makes little practical or emotional sense. I love music and see music as a repetitive trap. I love movies and see movies as an expensive decadent distraction. I love literature and see literature as an exhausted dog chasing its own tail until it dies and then some crazed scientist shocks it back into life, at which point it repeats the tail-chase. I love friends and see friends as enablers of bad habits and/or buzzkill police cops. I don't even know if this paragraph is making any fucking sense anymore. I am a modest person who is embarrassed by materialism and self-promotion and an attention-craving egomaniac who would roll around on a bed full of thousand dollar bills and then bellyflop into my living room hot tub while having the most expensive food item in the world delivered to my penthouse suite in fantasy town if that option were available. I am full of empathy, love, and kindness and also full of anger and violence, most of it self-directed. I am intelligent and I am an intellectual fraud who uses pithy one-liners to camouflage my ignorance about anything that could ever benefit any actual living person. I am a good friend and a bad friend. I am a good man and a mediocre man. I feel like two homunculi are punching each other in the dicks over and over again in my chest cavity. Neither one of those little bastards is ever going to punch hard enough to win.
My personal life is mostly a success. If I were a religious wingnut asshole, I would say that I am blessed to have the wife and friends and siblings I have. Instead, I'll just say I am grateful and truly lucky to have these people in my life. I rarely get bored. I have a lot of interests that I am balls-to-the-wall, TNT, highway-to-hell, back-in-black, whole-lotta-rosie, high-voltage excited as shit about. I play drums. I write. People have been complimentary about the way I do both of these things. Not a lot of people, but the right kind of handful of people. I'm trying to be a better person.
My professional life is a goddamn trainwreck. For an adult man with a solid credit history, two college degrees, no criminal record, and no children, I am somehow to money what the football is to Charlie Brown's foot. I am nearing my mid-thirties, and I have a few hundred dollars, no house, no pets, no real job, and no fucking idea what to do next. I am miserably unhappy at every practical, 9-to-5 job I try, and I can't even seem to find those jobs lately. Friends my age are buying houses, buying cats and dogs, and going on wonderful international trips while I curl into a fetal position, listen to Motorhead, watch "King of the Hill" reruns, and sleep. I don't want kids, I don't want an expensive car, I don't want an office job, but I do want a nice, cozy home of my own and I want to get out of the fucking continent just once in my motherfucking goddamn shitty little life and I want, no, fuck "want," I NEED a job that I like. Mediocre people say dumb shit when I express my job woes. I need to stress here that none of these people are my friends. Some of them are family. They say, "You know, no job is perfect. Life is full of ups and downs. Put all your platitudes in a row and look on the bromide side of life. No job is going to solve all your problems. Be happy with what you have." They're under the impression that I've said my life goal is to find a perfect job that will solve all my problems. Listen motherfuckers, I may be crazier than shit, but I'm a fucking realist. I want a good job that will solve my bad job/zero jobs problem. That's it. That's all I ask.
But that's not all I ask, because I'm a human being, and we're all crazy. I also want my relatives to stop dying, I want my parents to remarry and move back into the house I grew up in, I want to write the best book in the world, I want a great director to make a movie of that book, I want every drummer in the world to grovel at my feet, I want every woman in the world to ask me out so I can reject them all and say hey ladies I already have a wife in your face better luck next time this is what you get for rejecting me in high school, and I want to never, ever be sad or angry again. Also, I want scientists to discover that bacon cheeseburgers actually lower cholesterol. And I want every person who's ever mocked me, been rude to me, ignored me, insulted me, etc. to catch fire right now. And I want some nachos.
Also, I don't want any of these things. Not even the nachos.
As always, I am about 380 miles from what I intended to write about, which is a straightforward discussion of what it's like to be depressed, my first-ever experiences with seeing a psychiatrist, the panic attack I had yesterday (uncharacteristic of me and only the second one I've ever experienced) and its part in one of the weirdest days I've had in recent memory, and how "The Sopranos," Achewood, Twitter, and Marc Maron's WTF podcast are helping me live. Thanks in advance for reading this insane, self-indulgent drivel. The next installment will be much better. I hope.

Sunday, December 05, 2010

Holy shit, this actually happened

A former drinking buddy of mine when I was a senior in high school and on breaks from college just punched his estranged wife in the face in public, hid out from the police in Montana, tried to sneak back to town, was spotted by the cops, led them on a high-speed chase at 102 mph, broke one of the rear wheels off the car after hitting a curb and kept going at 102 mph anyway, eventually spun out on a dirt road, and got out of the car and waved a gun at the police before being talked down and arrested.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Peter Christopherson R.I.P.

Also, R.I.P. Leslie Nielsen.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Rehearsals for retirement

I'm having a rough time. It's not a closely guarded secret. I'm sure you can tell just by glancing at my face. Unhappiness is leaking out of me. Here's my last five years, professionally: Unemployed. Underemployed. Back in school. Unemployed. Underemployed. Attempting to return to school again. Here's my last five years, family version: Aunt dead. Grandmother dead. Great-uncle dead. Other great-aunt and uncle in nursing home. Other grandmother dead. Grandfather dead. Other distant relatives and family friend dead. Can't get over my parents' divorce. Angry about it all the time. Thinking about family makes me want to start fires with my mind. Philip Larkin knew the score:
"They fuck you up, your mum and dad.
They may not mean to, but they do.
They fill you with the faults they had
And add some extra, just for you.

But they were fucked up in their turn
By fools in old-style hats and coats,
Who half the time were soppy-stern
And half at one another's throats.

Man hands on misery to man.
It deepens like a coastal shelf.
Get out as early as you can,
And don't have any kids yourself."

I think I'll get that poem tattooed on my face. It couldn't make me any less employable. I'm box office poison.

Here's the story of my last two months, but I have to begin by going back three years. I went back to school then to be a high school English teacher. I wanted summers and holidays off to write and play music and stay up late and drink lots of beer and read and watch movies and go to rock shows and travel. I wanted a job with autonomy and impact and variety and necessity. I didn't know that both the state and federal government had turned public education into a giant, slobbering, idiotic clusterfuck of standardized tests, standardized test preparation, lockstep lesson plans, nochildleftbehindisms, and increasingly bureaucratic requirements. I'd heard people bemoan the extent of standardized preparation, but I thought they were exaggerating. They weren't. I didn't know that a sophomore English teacher at a particular school would be teaching the same book and the same activities on the same day as every other sophomore English teacher in that school, for example. Additionally, a well meaning but insidious Oprahfication was invading from within. Close reading, intensive writing, and group discussion is being tossed aside in favor of silly shit like poster making, dioramas, drawing, making a Facebook page for a character, etc., because some kids don't like to read and write and their "multiple literacies" need to be respected and encouraged. People look at me like I'm a Neanderthal Archie Bunker Sean Hannity when I express my concerns about the latter style of teaching, but I'm seeing kids in most of the schools I work in that can't even read at a sixth grade level. Between the "run schools like a business"/testing/test preparation/accountability bullshit from conservatives and the group hug/everyone is equal/no child should fail/if reading is hard, we should stop teaching so much of it/hippie nonsense bullshit from the dumb faction of liberals, kids are getting screwed. This screwjob is making them dumber, and dumber kids are more immature, and immature kids act like disrespectful cretins. In the early 1990s, which is not a long time ago, I went to high school. We took one standardized test at the end of the year. We read, we wrote, we practiced grammar, we talked, we discussed, we debated. We read. We wrote. My classmates and I can read and write well enough to function in everyday society. My English teachers had the freedom to pick their own books, write their own lesson plans, and create their own assignments. They could collaborate and share with other teachers if they wished, but they weren't forced to teach the same exact package as every other teacher in their discipline. Those days seem to be gone forever. This is not what I signed up for, and I don't want to do it. I no longer have any interest in pursuing this career, which is okay because there aren't any fucking jobs in the place I live anyway. That place is called everywhere on earth right now, 2010, but it's also called Austin, Texas, if you want to get specific.
Since last January, I have been substitute teaching at nearly every high school in the city. I don't why it took me so long to realize that this is an impossible way to live. The psychic damage of having to win over a fresh supply of teenage strangers every single day is possibly killing me. Some of these students are kind, sweet, funny, curious, likable, interesting, thoughtful, and intelligent. The others are hostile, cruel, indifferent, stupid, hateful, dull, angry, entitled, rude, violent, confrontational, lazy, and dishonest. Every day, I hear and see lies, demands, threats, mockery, racism, homophobia, staggering ignorance, apathy. I have to babysit a room full of emotional cripples with a pile of irrelevant busywork. I have to be an authority figure in a system that doesn't work, but I'm also a peon because I'm the daily hired help. I don't make the lessons. I don't see the kids every day. I'm a stranger. I can't build day-to-day relationships. I have no real way to impose order and discipline other than calling the office to remove a disruptive student. I have a lot of interesting conversations with kids. I hear a lot of funny things. I have a good rapport with the kids who aren't jerks, and I've been able to win over some tough classes and defuse some tense situations. But each day is always my first day, and too often I'm treated like a subhuman, like I'm something on the bottom of their shoe, like I work for them. I can't believe some of the things I see. Where do these kids think they are? I've seen a girl thrust her pelvis up and down while she was sprawled across the back of her desk, loudly describing the oral sex she'd received from her boyfriend the night before. When I told her she needed to return to her seat and change the subject of her monologue for something more appropriate, she looked at me like I was asking the most unreasonable question she'd ever heard. "Why?" she said, her lip curling up into a sneer. "It ain't your fucking business." I've seen a boy get a phone call from his mother in the middle of class and tell her in detail about the beating he was going to give to another kid at the school. He then laughed and shouted across the room to his friend that his mother told him to "whoop that little pussy ass bitch." I heard another student tell the class his mother died the previous day, but he wasn't sad because she was "a bitch who left his dad" and he hoped to one day "piss on her grave." One more? A student calmly and happily told the class about how he and his mother stole money and drugs from her ex-boyfriend while he was lying on the ground unconscious after an unsuccessful attempt at committing suicide by drinking Clorox. The schools where I make most of my money are a non-stop parade of misery, a 3D billboard advertising the dehumanizing effects of poverty and marginalization. Most of these kids will stare at their desks for the entire 90 minutes instead of doing any of their work. They leave without permission, they swear and yell and talk about their sex lives and their drug use and who they're going to fight.
I lost my temper last Friday morning while teaching a particularly awful group of kids. They refused to acknowledge my presence. They didn't look at me or stop talking when I gave directions, they were shooting dice and betting on it with real wads of cash, they were coming and going like they were at a strip mall, they were mocking me and calling me names. I called them assholes, told them they would be working at McDonald's if they were lucky, and that other kids their age knew how to act like human beings. That finally shut them up for a few minutes. I had no chance of making that room work after that, though. I lost my temper. When you visibly lose your temper in front of them, they have the upper hand forever. After their shocked silence ended, they realized they'd beaten me and went back to shooting dice. One kid yelled "Fuck this shit," and walked out. I hear you, kid. There are two schools I love, schools where I almost always have a good experience, where even the challenging days are just reacting to normal teenage bullshit. But most of my jobs are just babysitting, busy work, and misery and degradation.
The moment after I called a roomful of kids "assholes," I didn't feel embarrassed or shaky or excited or worried or any other emotion you'd expect. I just felt devoid of anything. This is my life now. I don't feel like I have any control over it, and I don't even feel like I'm participating in it. Here it is. It's this thing, this abstract thing, and I'm just standing over here to the side watching it. A few weeks ago, I started feeling aches in my joints, my back. I'd get home, do some work on grad school applications, sit in a chair or on the couch, and fall asleep. I'd wake up and it would be 5 a.m. I just kept falling asleep in odd places for odd pockets of time. I seem to be past that now. I don't know where this reunion with sadness is heading. It's a weird one. The other ones made more sense. I'm thinking about seeing a therapist for the first time. I'm not really comfortable with the idea, but I'm trying to give my wife a break by not keeping a running director's commentary of The Troubles of Me on continuous loop. I'm in a weird state of acceptance about the way I feel, like it might be permanent so I'll just step aside and let it do its thing while I sleepwalk alongside it. Maybe I'm fetishizing my own misery, keeping it going. If I could just live in that sweet spot between Friday morning and Sunday afternoon. I can keep the past and the future away on those days. I meant to tie this in with rock and roll and The Sopranos. I guess I'll have to write another post tomorrow. Maybe as sloppy and all over the place as this one. I'm afraid to go to bed. It's that job-hating thing. When I have a job I hate, which has been the case for most of my job-having life, I get stuck in this impossible situation at night. I stay up too late because I know that if I go to bed and fall asleep, I'll soon wake up and have to go to do something I don't want to do. If I just stay up a little longer, I can keep it away a little longer. But it's just stupid and crazy because I don't get enough sleep and I still have to go do that thing that's killing my soul, only this time I'm doing that thing with no energy and I'm tired and it's even worse because I'm so goddamn sleepy. Then I look at the clock and it's later and later and I turn into a deer in the headlights and I freeze and the car hits me anyway or it swerves and runs off the road and hits a tree, and the car bursts into flames, and it's not even a car, it's a mini-van, and there's a whole family in there, a mother and father and two little boys and two little girls and a couple of puppies and three kittens and a few hamsters and a bunny and an orphan hitchhiker they picked up on the road whose dream was to one day see California and the van explodes and the mother and father and kids and orphan and puppies and kitties hamsters and the bunny burn to a crisp in the mini-van inferno and all because I didn't go to bed at midnight like a sensible goddamn human being. I'm going to bed. To be continued.

Friday, November 05, 2010

Overheard at work

I heard these things from students in a "gifted and talented" English class:

"I got Alex to pour water on himself to prove to me he wasn't a robot."

"I'm going to draw a cat on my assignment to add some pizazz."

"Q: How was it after I left?
A: Pretty gay. Not boring gay, just full of homoerotic tension."

Monday, October 25, 2010

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Monday, October 18, 2010

Always bad news

One of my mother's two sweet dogs was bitten by a rattlesnake this past weekend and may not pull through. Everyone in my family has been relentlessly shat upon by life for the last five years, and I'm so goddamn tired of it. Death, divorce, illness, unemployment, depression, no place left in the world for us and our non-marketable skills in the dying days of capitalism, and the other stuff that's always there and annoying. At least leave our fucking pets alone. Maybe we'll catch a break and my mom's dog will start producing some red blood cells by tomorrow. If one more shitty thing happens, I'm going to just get in my car and go on a multi-state crime spree. We bought new tires and got an oil change on Friday, so now would be the time to do it. This world can be such a toilet. I don't know why, but when bad things happen to dogs, it makes me much sadder than when these same things happen to people.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Public Service Announcement

Disclaimer: The following statement does not apply to all people I know with children, but it does apply to too many people I'm Facebook friends with who have children. Having said all that, it's now time to pick a fight with some breeders! Yippy-ki-yi-yay! (Sounds of six-shooters firing into the air and spurred boots dancing on gravel.)

Many friends, acquaintances, and relatives with newborns and toddlers like to post links on Facebook to smug little articles with titles like, "Dear Friends, This Is Why I Don't Have Any Free Time Anymore," or "Why I Can't Hang Out Anymore," or "Former Friends, Live Your Empty Bacchanalian Selfish Lives of Self-Pleasure While I Perform Selfless Acts of Child-Rearing" or "Hey, Selfish Monster! Look at All the Time I Spend on Others," or "I'm Having a Profound Experience You Know Nothing About that Takes Up All My Time While You Get Drunk on Lone Star and Attend Das Racist Shows, You Empty Cretins." Granted, the last three are just subtext. The first two titles are a bit more accurate. At any rate, here's my public service announcement about these condescending linked articles:
Yeah. We knew you were going to have a lot less free time when you had kids. We understand that. What we didn't know was that you would turn into smug dicks with a martyr complex. You're not doing anything unusual or praiseworthy. Our parents just had some kids and got on with raising them without all the self-satisfaction and the isolation. Oh yeah, and my life is not a hollow, empty shell. I can do what I want, when I want. So there.
Okay, so this message some of you are sending may be unintentional, but it's there, and it's annoying. Let's all just do what we do, and hang out together more often. Kids are cute and funny when they're not crying or whining or shitting themselves, and us childless freaks won't break them or hurt them. You got your thang. I got my thang. None of those thangs are that goddamn special. The end.

Saturday, October 02, 2010

Soul Power

I've already written a post about how fantastic the Chicago-based Numero Group reissue label is, so I'll spare you the fanboy pants-wetting. However, I would like to say a little something about a song by the Majestic Arrows called "I'll Never Cry For Another Boy." Two versions of this song show up on the second Eccentric Soul compilation, called Eccentric Soul: The Bandit Label. The first is the finished, zazzed-out, Philly soul-style studio version, which is pretty good. The second is a rough demo version, which is one of the most beautiful goddamn things that's ever issued forth from a human person's facial cavity. It's a song that will stop you from moving for its entire duration, if you can get off Facebook long enough to pay some fucking attention. Unfortunately, Numero Group is a bit snooty about YouTube posts of their songs, and they're quick to take them down, which is my only beef with these fine people, so I can't post one of the best things I've ever heard. I can post this minute-long clip of two little girls partially covering the demo version, which should make you feel pretty good if you aren't a giant dickhead. One girl has an incredible voice for a little girl or for anybody who's born a bona fide human. The other little girl is still too little to have any kind of singing voice but is pretty adorable and knows when to stay out of the way of the other girl's big moments. So far, this clip only has 187 views, while Seth Green pretending to be the "leave Britney alone" guy has almost 4 million views. What the fuck is up with that? You people are morons. Here's a little bit of magic in our non-magical times:

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Rest In Peace, Grandpa Joe

The last of my grandparents passed away peacefully in his sleep in a western Nebraska nursing home early last evening while I was at the sold-out Pavement show here in Austin. It was an exceedingly strange day. My wife spent three hours on lockdown at her work near the University of Texas campus because a ski-masked 19-year-old math major took an AK-47 to campus, fired several rounds into the air and the ground, and then shot himself in the stairwell of the sixth floor of the Perry-Castaneda Library. I was fortunately unaware of the situation until it was over because I was substitute teaching a Chinese class for some of the worst students I'd ever encountered. Security had to come in and pat down each student and look through each bag because an iPod and charger were stolen during the class. The classroom teacher left me with only enough work to fill fifteen minutes of three 100-minute classes, so I had a horrible combination of out-of-control kids with nothing to do. I had to guard the window so they wouldn't jump out. Fortunately, they liked me better than the other substitutes and school officials who occasionally came in to help me out. They bore the brunt of the abuse. I was very pleased by the Pavement concert, though I was again denied a live take on "Half a Canyon," my favorite Pavement song. (In their defense, the song would be a bitch to pull off.) It was disorienting to see a huge, sold-out show for a band I saw in tiny clubs during their pre-reunion existence, but they deserve it. I came home from the show to discover that my maternal grandfather had died. His death is a big marker of change in our family's history. The old generation is gone. My parents and aunts and uncles are slowly taking its place, while my siblings and cousins and I move slowly toward middle age. My cousins have been procreating like mad, so the youth are well represented, and a handful are turning into adolescents. This is the way things work. It's not a tragedy, but it is sad to see time move past and people go away for good.
I spent the majority of my elementary school Saturday afternoons watching professional wrestling and old movies with my grandfather. I was much closer to his wife, my grandmother, who died two years ago, but Grandpa Joe was a warm guy who loved his grandkids and had a hard time reconciling his personal failings and mistakes and sometimes strained relationships with his children with the guy he was later. He drove across most of the country and parts of Mexico and Canada as a truck driver, and a map of the continent hanging up in the hallway of his trailer was thick with pushpins indicating places he'd worked. When my sister moved to Wisconsin a few years ago, he mentioned driving a shipment of frozen rabbits to a rural Wisconsin mink farm. By the time he'd arrive, some of the rabbits had thawed, and the stench was apparently ungodly. Once the rabbits had been deposited, he picked up cases of Schlitz to deliver to Nebraska liquor stores. My last substantial memory of my grandfather is watching Mr. Smith Goes to Washington with him and my wife two Christmases ago. It was the first Christmas without my grandmother, and I had a hard time sitting on that couch knowing that she wasn't in that physical space anymore and wouldn't be again.
My grandfather's death yesterday was the period on a sentence that began on New Year's Eve, 1995, when my paternal grandfather died. I have some tools now to cope with and understand my parents' eventual deaths, and my own, but I can wait a while, a long while, for these other sentences to start.

Coincidentally, the song that will open and close my grandfather's funeral (which, as usual, I won't be able to attend for financial/educational reasons), has been posted on YouTube by a user named "papajoesvideos."

Thursday, September 23, 2010

An apology to tacos

I was feeling pretty rotten last week, and I said some things I didn't mean. My wife urged me to retract one of my statements. Three days ago, a good friend emailed me and demanded this same retraction. I owe it to them, I owe it to myself, and I owe it to you to make it right. Mostly, I owe it to tacos. That's right. I was in such a pit of despair that I actually said "fuck tacos." This was clearly a mistake. I spoke in haste. I spoke incorrectly. I've never been disappointed by a taco. Even a shitty taco satisfies on a base level. One time, some friends had us over for fried chicken. We got too excited and started frying everything. We fried a day-old, half-eaten breakfast taco, and it was delicious. Just look at that photo up there. Don't you want to just stick your face in your computer screen and eat the hell out of that taco plate? Of course you do. Tacos, please accept my sincere apologies. You have what it takes to make everything a little bit of alright. I love you.

On an unrelated note, my sister-in-law designed a fascinator that was worn on television by Kat Von D. If she hadn't married my brother, I'd never have known what a fascinator is, but I'm glad I now have that knowledge. This is pretty exciting news. Read about it here.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010


Sorry about all the self-pity. I guess I might delete that post sometime, but I'm going to leave it up for now.


Things are really getting bad again, like they were when I was 18 and 19 and so sad and lonely that I couldn't bring myself to do anything except sit on the bed and stare at the wall. The problem this time is my professional life and the frightening scarcity of jobs and my disappearing finances and my own waning enthusiasm for everything. I'm tired of sucking. I'm tired of substitute teaching. I'm tired of teenagers. I'm tired of filling out applications for jobs that will never happen. I think I'm just about burned out on everything. I want to move away. Far away. I'm tired and done. Fuck teachers and teaching. Fuck secondary education. Fuck colleges and universities. Fuck George W. Bush. Fuck Barack Obama. Fuck music. Fuck movies. Fuck books. Fuck the outdoors. Fuck tacos. Fuck you. And fuck me, too.
I don't know. I think this city might secretly be evil. I wonder if I would have been even a tiny bit successful if I'd lived somewhere else.

Wednesday, September 01, 2010

R.I.P. Roundup 2

I'm late on all these people, who have all been dead for at least a month. I'm a lazy blogger.

I already mentioned Kinks bassist Pete Quaife's death, but I embedded a song, "Australia," from the first Kinks album after he quit the band. Oof. Here's a song he actually played on:

R.I.P. steel guitarist/multi-instrumentalist Ben Keith. He played on Patsy Cline's "I Fall to Pieces" and many other fine recordings. His most faithful employer was Neil Young, who worked with him off and on for almost 40 years. He died of a heart attack at Young's house.

R.I.P Phelps "Catfish" Collins, the lesser-known older brother of Bootsy. He was in James Brown's band at a particularly shit-hot time in the Godfather of Soul's career. He was also in Parliament, Funkadelic, and Bootsy's Rubber Band and played with Deee-Lite.

R.I.P. cartoonist John Callahan.

Friday, August 27, 2010


...any lie will receive almost instant corroboration and almost instant collaboration if the maintenance of it results in the public enjoyment of someone else's pain, someone else's humiliation.

words by Dennis Potter, from his BBC miniseries The Singing Detective, directed by Jon Amiel

Thursday, August 12, 2010


What's the difference between a toilet seat and a drummer?
A toilet seat only has to deal with one asshole at a time.

Ba-dum bum ching!

Friday, July 30, 2010

Highlights from the Wrestlemania 13 play-by-play

You don't know anything about music. You think Fleetwood Mac is the newest burger at McDonald's.

That speech was so boring, Christopher Reeve just got up and walked out.

Quit chewing gum on TV, you idiot.

They filmed that movie Gorillas in the Mist in Chyna's shower.

I'm lowering my tie to half-mast for that joke you just told.

When you slammed that door on my head, you slammed the door on our friendship.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

More Pekar

Here's Harvey Pekar's last appearance on David Letterman's show, shortly after Letterman moved to CBS. I feel like a part of my sense of humor and enjoyment of absurdity was forged at least minutely by Letterman's show. I've always been a night owl, even when I was tiny, and I saw a lot of influential weirdos for the first time on Letterman's show on nights when I didn't have to be at school the next day. Letterman was pretty adventurous in his choice of guests, at least until he retreated entirely into show biz tropes and let Conan O'Brien and the corporatization of every genuine emotion steal his thunder. However, as much as I enjoyed Letterman's show and his sense of absurdity, I have to admit that he's a true failure of a human being. Watch his paranoid, self-centered, insecure smug condescension leak out of him when he's forced to cede control to anyone who has anything besides Hollywood bullshit to say. He's more than happy to puncture Hollywood bullshit when he's the one in charge, but when he's forced to acknowledge his own complicity by a guest too clever to bully, he turns into a schoolyard jerk. Harvey Pekar was someone who was honest about his own numerous faults, a real human being to admire, a chronicler of human beings. So much of popular culture is about dehumanization, especially every single Hollywood movie (with maybe 12 exceptions)from the last 15 years, which all look like they were directed by the same dim-witted asshole (Christopher Nolan?), and every social interaction is turning into numb desensitization. Some people remind us that we're actually people, and not a bunch of fucking mouth breathers. Harvey Pekar was one of them, and it's too bad he's dead, even though we're all going where he's gone and it's no real tragedy for an old man to die. R.I.P. Harvey Pekar. (This post brought to you by alcohol and maudlin self-pity.)

UPDATE: Letterman always referred to Pekar's comics as "little." Pekar wrote once that Letterman was dumbfounded Pekar had to have a day job. He thought it was an act. He thought that anyone who published something from a major press was a working professional in that field. That says a lot about Letterman's limitations and show-biz blinders. Watch how Pekar grabs his comic away from Letterman after his intro. He's taking back ownership of his work. The show would never have given him that copy back. They probably thought it was some kind of industry freebie, but that prop was a working guy's living.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

R.I.P. Andy Hummel

Dear Grim Reaper, please stop killing awesome Southerners.

Monday, July 12, 2010

More blog content

Like I mentioned earlier today, I was out of town for a while. Here are a few things that happened.

Someone stole two outdoor chairs from us the morning we left.

I used a bathroom in northern Oklahoma that was the dirtiest I'd ever seen. There were substantial amounts of human feces in the sink. That's right. Poop that came out of a living human man's butthole was placed in the hand-washing receptacle. If you are that human man and you are reading this post, I want to hear your reasons and anything else you want to share about your overall philosophy of life as it is lived by you, the guy who puts shit in the public sink.

On my way back to the in-laws from Taco John's, a Midwest Mexican fast food chain, an old man hit the back of my car with his car at a red light. Fortunately, it caused no damage. The old man looked confused. The only thing he said was, "My goddamn foot slipped off the pedal." Mexican fast food chains in the Midwest often feature Mexifries on their menus. Mexifries are basically tater tots rubbed in vaguely Mexican spices. You then dip them in cheese sauce or salsa. Sometimes, they are flatter and rounder than your average tater tot, sometimes they aren't. After living in the Southwest for 10 years, I tend to have a much lower opinion of Midwest-style Mexican food than I used to, but Mexifries are the real deal, and I miss them greatly. Get with it, Texas. Join the Mexifry revolution. They are a worthy garbage food, and should be available in all 50 states, even Florida.

The following graffiti was written on the wall in a gas station bathroom in southern Kansas:
"New World Order
Prankster Apocalypse
Topple this Megalopolis
A new level of consciousness"

I think I've been mildly depressed every day of my life since I was about 9. Anybody know a fun way to slowly commit suicide? I'm looking to die around the age of 82, so I hope that gives you some framework for brainstorming ways for me to do this thing. Your margin of error can be two years in either direction.

Blog Content

I just scanned the headlines on Yahoo news, and apparently Brad Pitt just shaved his beard. Can you fucking believe that? Who knew? I mean, wow. Where were you when you first heard that, right? Mark it down. Your grand-nephews are going to be asking about that shit. He shaved it, man. He just went for it, and shaved it, and we're never going to be the same. Ever. Fucking ever, man. This is the dawning of a new day.

R.I.P. Roundup

I was away for a while attending a couple of weddings. Now I'm back. Several fine people died while I was gone and in the past week when I've been back home but too brain-fried to understand how to do any basic things, like talk to people or type.
R.I.P. Harvey Pekar. He was found dead early this morning. His American Splendor comic, jazz articles, and Letterman appearances made a huge impact on me when I was in junior high, and I've kept up with his work ever since. I discovered him about the same time The Simpsons first showed up on TV, when I bought a stack of American Splendors at Halley's Comics while visiting my uncle in Colorado. An important year for cultural influences. Paul Giamatti is no Harvey Pekar, but the movie's pretty good, too.

R.I.P. Garry Shider, singer/guitarist with Parliament/Funkadelic, famed for wearing only a diaper while performing live.

R.I.P. Kinks bassist Pete Quaife.

R.I.P. Rammellzee, graffiti pioneer, visual artist, mask-maker, planet-eater, Vocoder lover, and rapper.

R.I.P. Sugar Minott, reggae and dancehall legend.

Wednesday, June 09, 2010

Whoo! Whoot! Whoop!

Man, cutting my Internet usage down to 30-40 minutes a day has really made me a lot happier. I'm getting a lot of reading, writing, walking, drumming, cooking, music-listening, and TV judge-show watching done. Screw you, Internet. You're good, but you're not that good. Tomorrow, I'm going to eat some pig intestines at an Asian market and hopefully put a sizable dent in the first draft of a story I'm halfway through instead of making myself depressed by reading user comments underneath news stories and blog posts. If you want a sample of what I'm missing out on, it goes something like this: "Typical fruitcake libral niger fagot Jew dyke. Go back to communist Africa, you Mexican." If you want samples of stuff that aren't like that but still a giant waste of effort, read the comments at the Onion A/V Club. Life is not precious, but there are some ways I spend my lifetime that are just really fucking stupid.

By the way, if you look up "waste of time" on Google image search, the first image is Nancy Sinatra in lingerie looking at herself in the mirror. It's 1960s-era Nancy, too. I hardly call that a waste of time.

Monday, May 31, 2010

Game over, man

I'm not feeling very inspired by this blog lately. I just complain too much. I need to retool it. What does it need? Surprise pregnancy? Troubled nephew moving in to turn his life around? Less profanity? More profanity? Robot butlers? This place is a snooze-athon lately. Fuck blogs. Fuck the Internet. I need to spend more time away from the computer.

Thursday, May 06, 2010

Art for the people, by the people

I was the substitute for an art class a few days ago. The assignment was to draw hands. One student turned in his assignment, then left class thirty minutes early without permission. I looked at his work. He drew a hand. It was flipping the bird, and each finger had a gold ring. Written across the middle finger was the word "Fukk." It probably deserves an A. He's going to get in a lot of trouble for leaving early.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Craft Night: The Liveblog Extravaganza

Hey, everybody. My friends are having a Craft Night tonight, but I suck at crafts and generally have a bad attitude about creating crafts, so I'm liveblogging the festivities instead. Stay tuned for exciting, erotic, thrilling, dangerous, and sexy craft updates as they happen! Whoop!

10:10 p.m: As a secret underground government pedagogue, I must avoid any information that will reveal my secret identity, so I'm requesting that all crafters supply aliases for this evening's update. Here are the participants:
Dr. Mystery as Dr. Mystery
Hoochie McGhee
Brandy Snifter
Skullcrusher or Buttmuncher
Three people are still deciding. Undecided #3 or Trixtina just said that it sounds like a group of drag queens.
Here's what everyone is making:
Krotpong - Making a figure out of resin and hardener
Hoochie - doodling
Chuckie - Making gas
Earworm - sketching a master plan for her backyard garden
Undecided #1 aka Really Boring aka Really Exciting - conversation
Wifey - coloring
Angora - still-lifing it
Skullcrusher - beer testing and tobacco sampling
Brandy Snifter - spinning some lies
Grey Blue aka Undecided #2 - Drawing Angora's still life
Trixtina and Jargon - making Bloppets, America's next great toy sensation. "Bloppets! Fuck yeah!"

10:29 p.m. It's really awkward interviewing your friends. Glad that part's over. Now, we're discussing post-volcano scenarios and the deliciousness of child flesh.

10:46 p.m. Old Blush has arrived. She has no craft, but may get involved in Grey Blue's plans to create a conceptual art piece before the night is over. We're talking about glasses because Old Blush has new glasses.

10:53 p.m. Bret Michaels update. He is awake and in good spirits according to the New York Post, which also describes him as the "singer with the omnipresent bandana."

10:58 p.m. Krotpong's figure is looking pretty awesome. I'm talking about crafts, everybody, not his taut, glistening body. Come on. You perverted creeps. I'm going to the bathroom for the first time since I arrived. Probably the first of many. Once I get two beers in, the urine gets plentiful. That's right, I said it. The crowd has reminded me to be mindful of my breathing. It's important to breathe correctly while blogging. Important non-sequiturs: "It really sucks to become aware of your tongue when you're at the dentist." "Stop getting a hard-on for your dentist." "A cock, and a vagina." Maybe this is a group of drag queens.

11:22 p.m. Really Exciting tells the story of unintentionally traumatizing his 7-year-old niece by taking her to How To Train Your Dragon. The 3-D flipped her out. Another argument against 3-D. It makes 7-year-old girls sad, and gives reasonable humans headaches. It reminds me of the trauma my young sister and brother felt when the family went to an Eric Clapton laser-light show while on vacation in the late 1980s. God, that would traumatize me now. Krotpong tells us how he entertained his Transformers-loving nephews by creating his own Transformer character, Gravy-tron. More little kid ephemara: My cousin took his three-year-old son to Chuck E. Cheese and on the way home, the kid said, "Thanks for taking me to Yucky Cheese, Dad." Somebody called Lars Von Trier a misogynist. If I hear that again, I will put on my boxing gloves and punch any woman who says that. The battle is on! Crafts! Fuck yeah!

11:33 p.m. I misspelled "ephemera." God dammit! Fuck! Bullshit! Damn! Shucks!

12:15 a.m. Haven't update for a while. Talking movies in the kitchen. Always realizing that I'm the only one who has my particular taste. Why is that always surprising? It shouldn't be. Wow. Is this reading like superficial, indulgent bullshit? It shouldn't. Because Skullcrusher, Trixtina, Angora, and the rest of the crew are making crafts, motherfucker. Whoo! I started using exclamation points as a joke several years ago, and it has become a habit. Fuck!

12:23 a.m. Hoochie and I are discussing exclamation points. We both want to decrease their usage in our online writing. From now on, no more exclamation points. 4 Real&*_^%$$#@+

12:31 a.m. Wifey is going to put some photos up soon, or tomorrow, or later tonight. Which one will it be? Guess now and win nothing, jerks. Keep reading^#%%%%

1:26 a.m. I'm a shitty liveblogger. And a bad drunk-typer. If you knew how many times I just hit the backspace, you'd be chortling, my imaginary friend. We're outside now, talking about aging. I forgot that I was three years older than I thought I was. Joke's on me. My drink order? I just forgot. I think two beer and two waters. I'll gie it a go. If you get the wrong stuff, nuts to you, sucker.

1:37 a.m. I've reached that point in the night where I suddenly realize I'll be dead one day and where everything is hilarious. 23 minutes earlier than usual. Good job, Craft Night.

2:34 a.m. I better wrap this up. We've been outside, discussing everything. The man-hugs were awkward, then not awkward. Ladies love man-hugs. The beer is gone. The crafts were crafty. Goodnight, everyone. Go fuck yourself.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

I love the Numero Group!

Wow. I haven't posted anything here for a while. To rectify that situation, and in honor of Record Store Day (hello to all current and former independent record store employees, the most fun and shittiest paid job I've ever had, the only job I've had in which I cleaned toilets and met the drummer from Slayer on the same day), I want to write a post I've been meaning to write for more than a year. This is a guide to all the releases from my favorite reissue label in the world, the Chicago-based Numero Group. I read an article about this label when they had about five releases out. It sounded totally up my alley, so I purchased all five, was blown away, and have since purchased everything they've released in the six years since. I haven't been disappointed yet. I've mentioned this label to a handful of fellow music nerds, and they were unfamiliar with it. I decided to write a post to help spread the gospel. That was over a year ago, but I like to procrastinate. This post is mainly an unsolicited advertisement, so if that's not your thing, leave this page now and go look at some porno or a back issue of Reader's Digest (I recommend or "Bravo for Life's Little Ironies").
Numero Group's mission is to release unfairly neglected, forgotten regional music that, for a variety of reasons, never caught on with the world at large. Most of their releases have been compilations, but they've also released a handful of single-artist records. Most of their stuff is available on CD and vinyl, and one release is even available on cassette. It might be the only new cassette printed in the last several years. In the last year, they've branched out into multimedia with a book of photography and a DVD of short films. Apropos of it being Record Store Day, the physical copies are way more satisfying than the downloads. The packaging is always gorgeous and the liner notes are full of great stories and information. Anyway, here's a little description of each release. I'm going to start with the series and move on to the one-offs.

Eccentric Soul
: This series spotlights regional soul labels from the mid-1960s to the early 1980s and is up to 11 volumes. Nearly every permutation of soul is represented here, with plenty of songs holding their own comfortably alongside anything from Motown, Stax, Philly soul, or the heyday of funk. Only poor business decisions, provincialism, bad luck, death, lack of money, and/or disillusionment with the music business kept these songs from reaching a wider audience. These releases are also of historical importance. Who knew that places like Columbus, Ohio and Phoenix, Arizona had thriving soul music scenes in the 1970s? Here's a little breakdown:
#1: The Capsoul Label - Columbus, Ohio (my favorite out of a ridiculously strong bunch)
#2: The Bandit Label - Chicago (the boss of this label made Phil Spector look sane, but he managed to record a shitload of great stuff)
#3: The Deep City Label - Miami
#4: The Big Mack Label - Detroit
#5: Mighty Mike Lenaburg - Phoenix (Lenaburg was a soul freak who produced and released most of the local Arizona soul groups)
#6: Twinight's Lunar Rotation - Chicago
#7: The Prix Label - Columbus, Ohio
#8: The Outskirts of Deep City - Miami
#9: The Tragar & Note Labels - Atlanta
#10: The Young Disciples - East St. Louis, Illinois (The product of an after-school music program led by a high school coach, teacher, and former touring musician aimed at stopping inner-city kids from joining gangs, dropping out of school, doing drugs, and getting into crime somehow produced a shitload of unjustly neglected soul classics.)
#11: Smart's Palace - Wichita, Kansas (named after the nightclub that was the soul headquarters of Wichita)

Cult Cargo: There are two volumes of this series so far, which focuses on American-influenced world music. The first, Belize City Boil Up, covers soul, funk, and rock from Belize, and the second, Grand Bahama Goombay, does the same for the Bahamas. A special treat on the latter disc is Sylvia Hall's anti-teen sex classic, "Don't Touch That Thing," featuring the inspirational lyric: "Don't touch that thing/Your mama gonna know/How she gonna know?/Your belly gonna show."

Wayfaring Strangers: This series covers underground folk music.
#1: Ladies from the Canyon - 1970s female folk and folk-rock singers influenced by Joni Mitchell
#2: Guitar Soli - instrumental acoustic music in the John Fahey/Davy Graham/Sandy Bull school of jazz/rock/raga/psych/folk
#3: Lonesome Heroes - the male counterpart to the first volume, which features a song from a former NHL hockey player's sole LP

Good God!: This is a collection of kick-ass gospel funk that makes a heathen like me praise the Lord. There are two volumes so far, A Gospel Funk Hymnal and Born Again Funk.

Now for the one-offs:

Antena - Camino Del Sol
: A welcome reissue of a long out-of-print early 1980s album. Antena is a French group that combines post-punk/early indie-pop and bossa nova. I hate to make these x + y comparisons, but this really does sound like a combination of Young Marble Giants and Tom Ze.

Yellow Pills: Prefill: A rare power-pop compilation co-curated by the guy who assembled the Yellow Pills comps. This is the only Numero Group release that is out of print because one band wouldn't sign the contract for repressing it, but used copies are easy to come by for now. I'm not the biggest power-pop fan in the world, but I love it at its best, and I love at least half of this record.

Fern Jones - The Glory Road: Jones is a country-gospel singer with a voice reminiscent of Patsy Cline's. Imagine Cline singing about Jesus instead of heartbreak and you're close to the sound of this record, but Jones has her own thing going.

Catherine Howe - What A Beautiful Place: This album was recorded but never released by her then-label, CBS. Howe was a BBC actress and singer/songwriter, and her music is a very British, melancholy hybrid of jazz, folk, and orchestral pop. She would sound really good next to Nick Drake on a mix-tape.

Home Schooled: The ABCs of Kid Soul: A compilation of soul groups comprised of, or featuring, children and adolescents trying to hit it big in the wake of the Jackson 5's success. This comp is so awesome. It's not cutesy-poo at all. These kids have some serious chops, and the songs are pretty emotionally affecting should-have-been classics.

Don't Stop: Recording Tap: This is a collection of disco and old-school rap from the ill-fated Tap label, based in New York City. The label owner was a part-time character actor and businessman who was not so good at promoting his acts, but this stuff is nevertheless pretty great.

Soul Messages from Dimona: This comp has the wildest story of any of Numero Group's releases. A group of African-American Chicago musicians inspired by separatist black power movements and Judaism start their own offshoot of the Jewish faith and move to a kibbutz in Israel where they make an indescribable music combining soul, jazz, and extremely freaky psychedelic rock. Life still blows my mind sometimes.

The Final Solution - Brotherman: Original Soundtrack: The unfortunately named Chicago soul group, The Final Solution (they were unaware of the Nazi connotations of their name at the time, thanks to the shitty inner-city public school educations they received), were hired to score a blaxploitation film called Brotherman. They finished a rough draft of the soundtrack, but the film was never made, so the music just sat in the can for years, until Numero Group unearthed it. It's great stuff, with some wildly original guitar playing. The guitarist played the horn parts on his guitar, to be filled in later with the real horns, but that never happened, so his crazy-ass guitar stylings kick this up a notch from your run-of-the-mill blaxploitation music.

Titan: It's All Pop!: Titan was a studio in Kansas City, Missouri that recorded nearly every Midwestern power-pop band in the 1970s and early 1980s. This compilation picks the best stuff, and features great, lost bands from Missouri, Kansas, Nebraska, and Illinois, including Lincoln, NE's Boys.

24-Carat Black - Gone: The Promises of Yesterday: 24-Carat Black was a jazz-influenced soul group on the Stax label. Their first album sold poorly, so Stax failed to release their second album. Unfortunately, the masters were improperly preserved, and about half of the music deteriorated. Numero Group were able to restore six of the songs, and the quality of this unique album makes me wish they'd been able to restore the rest of it. Like everything else they've released, it's good stuff.

Local Customs: Downriver Revival: A collection of gospel, soul, and garage rock recorded by electrician, steel guitarist, and gospel singer Felton Williams in the home studio in his basement in Ecorse, Michigan, a Detroit suburb. This release also contains a DVD with a half-hour documentary about Williams and a digital file containing hours and hours of music recorded by Williams. To beat a dead horse, it is very good stuff. This will eventually be a series focusing on regional music made in amateur home studios. The second volume, focusing on Beaumont, Texas boogie rock, will be out later this year.

Pisces - A Lovely Sight: This is a satisfying little home-recorded psych-rock album that sounds like a garage version of Sgt. Pepper's-era Beatles and Jefferson Airplane, made by a couple of guys in Rockford, Illinois, occasionally joined by runaway drifter and charismatic singer Linda Bruner. Fun fact: One of the guys in this band grew up next door to the parents of Cheap Trick guitarist Rick Nielsen.

Light: On the South Side: This is a beautiful book of photographs of blues clubs in Chicago in the 1970s by Michael Abramson. Instead of photographing the bands, he shot the crowds, and it's a compelling historical document of a black subculture in South Chicago in the 1970s. The book is accompanied by a double vinyl collection of unheralded blues artists who played the clubs documented in the photos. This isn't generic, shitty blues, either. It's blues influenced by and containing elements of the soul, funk, disco, and rock of the era.

Celestial Navigations: The Short Films of Al Jarnow: Numero's first non-music release is a DVD of short films by and a documentary about Al Jarnow. Jarnow alternated between experimental films for his own benefit and educational films for Sesame Street and 3-2-1 Contact. If you grew up in this country in the 1970s and 1980s, you've seen Jarnow's films as a child. His work is about geometry, science, space, time, movement, nature, architecture, and language.

Numero also has a couple of side labels, Asterisk and Numerophon.
Asterisk's releases so far:
Johnny Lunchbreak - Appetizer/Soup's On: A weird mix of Velvet Underground proto-punk and cheesy cock-rock. Of course, I like it.
The Four Mints - Gently Down Your Stream: Temptations-esque classic soul.
Propinquity - s/t: Fairport Convention-style folk-rock from Colorado.
Boscoe - s/t: Weird, political, jazz/funk/soul.
Wee - You Can Fly On My Aeroplane: '70s mellow, falsetto-ed, hippie-soul that would sound good played after Shuggie Otis.
Caroline Peyton - Mock Up and Intuition: The first record is in the Tim Buckley/Bill Fay/Tim Hardin netherworld, while Intuition is mostly Linda Ronstadt-style soft rock with a couple of disco songs.

Numerophon is a vinyl-only label with one release so far, Niela Miller's Songs of Leaving. She's an acoustic, traditional folkie, who is the original composer of the song that later became "Hey, Joe." She wasn't credited for it until this record came out, though. Her original is called "Baby, Don't Go To Town." Her then-boyfriend stole it and re-worked it as "Hey, Joe" in the electric rock arrangement we all know. Hendrix had the hit with it, but it's been covered by tons of other people, many of whom claimed credit for writing it. Miller's original is on this record. Their second release, a solo covers album by Pisces' Linda Bruner, comes out this month.

And that's about it, though they have a ton of soul, disco, and hip-hop 45s, too, but I've had enough diarrhea of the keyboard for one night. I just have mad enthusiasm for this label, as the white kids of today who appropriate the slang of the black kids of yesterday say. Numero Group, I love you!

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Word verification of the kings

I just left a comment on a blog, and my word verification was "Exploded Dickier."

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Synergy, baby

Hey, let's move away from this onslaught of deaths of talented writers, musicians, producers, songwriters, filmmakers, and actors that the last couple of years has seemed to provide in unending succession, most of these people too young, shall we?
Instead, here is a ridiculous coincidence that happened to me yesterday.
It was a beautiful day. I didn't have to work. The weather was perfect. I met my wife and a friend visiting from Louisville for lunch (jambalaya, fried chicken, and potato salad - oh shit hot damn hell yes) and a visit to the latest exhibit at the Harry Ransom Center at the University of Texas, "Making Movies." I got to see a lot of great stuff in this exhibit, including Robert De Niro's costumes from Taxi Driver and Casino, Tim Burton's storyboards for Beetlejuice, notes from Ernest Lehman to Alfred Hitchcock about North by Northwest (including my favorite from a list of "wild ideas" for action setpieces, unfortunately never used in the final script, "M. Mantle -- exploding baseball"), a smart-ass note from Robert Altman to a censor board requesting overdubbing of swear words for television distribution of O.C. & Stiggs, a list of banned words from the Production Code of the 1930s (including "nerts"), a ton of stuff from Gone with the Wind, a ton of stuff from Martin Scorsese's films, Paul Schrader's scripts, rough drafts of a book on directing by David Mamet, vintage posters, a note from Francis Ford Coppola to Kenneth Branagh with the story of Coppola's falling-out with Roman Polanski, and some beautiful photographs of movie theaters in Austin, Dallas, San Antonio, and New Orleans at the beginning of the last century.
After lunch, I returned home and decided to take a long walk in the neighborhood with my iPod and some earbuds. I walked around for almost two hours, and at the very end of my walk, something very bizarre happened. No significance to it, really. Just a weird coincidence. I was waiting for a car to pass so I could cross the street. The car had the right of way and no stop sign, but the driver hemmed and hawed. She slowed way down, presumably to let me cross, but she was still going too fast for me to bolt across the street. She finally came to a stop and motioned for me to go ahead. This is a giant pet peeve of mine. If she would have just driven her normal rate of speed through the intersection, she and I would have both crossed the intersection much quicker, but by waving me across, she gets to look all thoughtful and pedestrian-friendly when really she is just wasting both of our fucking times. Anyway, I looked back at her car and said "Jesus!" in frustration. At the exact same time I expressed my blasphemous frustration, the singer of the song playing on my iPod sang the word "Jesus," and a fraction of a second later, I saw the bumper sticker of the woman's car, which read "JESUS is the answer." Three Jesuses at once! What are the odds? Besides the weirdness of the triple J, I find it hilarious that all three Jesuses were expressing three different things:
My Jesus - Irritation and displeasure
iPod Jesus - Simulated erotic ecstasy
Car Jesus - Literal expression of religious faith (or, at least, the public appearance of same)

Damn, March 17, 2010. You were a good day. I didn't even have to use my AK. Of course, Alex Chilton died yesterday, but I didn't find that out until the evening.

Jesus H. Christ, Esq.

Dr. Mystery (below), ate jambalaya, didn't have to use his AK, bummed about Alex Chilton

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Alex Chilton R.I.P.

This blog is unfortunately turning into the Awesome Dead Southerners Lounge.

Monday, March 08, 2010

Mark Linkous RIP

Another great Southerner felled by this big, stupid world. He shot himself in the heart at the age of 47, but he wrote a lot of great songs before he decided he needed to do that. He also wrote one of my favorite lyrics, "I woke up in a horse's stomach one foggy morning/His eyes were crazy and he smashed into the cemetery gates/All I want is to be a happy man."

Tuesday, March 02, 2010

Barry Hannah R.I.P.

Until yesterday, when he died of a heart attack at 67, Barry Hannah was my favorite living writer. Now, he's just another one of my all-time favorites. He beat cancer and alcohol and struggled with heart problems, but this isn't Oprah and everyone has to deal with this shit, or shit like it. He was a Christian like my grandmother was a Christian, which is to say a real and complex and quietly personal one, not a spewing evangelical or a self-centered bore constantly banging on about his/her "relationship with Christ." He wrote specifically about the South and generally about everyone in a style that was unlike anyone. He broke rules of grammar and sentence structure in ways that never attracted attention to themselves and served to fit his style and move his characters where they needed to go. He didn't give a damn about plot, instead relying on feeling, character, and the careful construction of words on a page. Hannah's work gives me the same feeling I get when I listen to Neil Young's 1970s albums. Two people at their best, a little rough and raw, creating their own language, ignoring the dictates of fashion and the market, coming up with something both sorrowful and hilarious. I find every sentence of every published Hannah work completely fucking thrilling, and I'm sad to see him go. Is it too late to trade him for Neal Pollack or Dave Eggers or Chuck Klosterman or Terry Gross or the entire Onion A/V Club, vengeful God?
Hannah has a posthumous short story collection coming out later this year, according to some reports, an unfinished novel according to others, and a finished novella according to still other sources.

The first six paragraphs from a 2008 article about Hannah in Garden & Gun magazine:

One afternoon in July, the author Barry Hannah took to the small roads south of Oxford, Mississippi, where he lives, to visit the grave of friend and fellow writer Larry Brown. Hannah hadn’t been out this way in some months. He missed an important turn at a place called the Yocona River Inn and had to stop at a country store to ask directions.

“Excuse me,” Hannah said to the woman behind the counter. “Can you tell me which way is the Yocona Inn? We’re trying to find our friend Larry Brown’s place.”

The woman returned a vacant look.

“Larry Brown—he was a very fine writer,” Hannah pressed on. “He lived right around here. Do you read his books?”

The clerk did a weird abased shrug but didn’t answer. Hannah paid for his Coke and cigarettes and departed, vexed.

“It’s just unbelievable to me, the lack of pride and curiosity,” he said, pulling his Jeep Cherokee onto the blacktop. “If the people out here should be reading anybody, it ought to be Larry Brown. This is what he wrote about—these people, life out on these roads, and in these little stores. I guess they’re busy with their televisions. Man, it just nauseates me. It’s sick and dumb.”

Larry Brown and Barry Hannah
They're both dead and it sucks

Here's a link to a pdf of one of Hannah's stories, "Testimony of Pilot."
(UPDATE: There are a lot of bizarre typos in the pdf, probably from some kind of electronic transcription process, but I think enough of the story is salvaged to get a taste of his style.)

Monday, February 15, 2010

Let's break some records! Yeah! Alright!

You may have seen this news story on Saturday about a man named Jeff Ondash. He broke the record for giving out the most hugs in a 24-hour period. (He also holds the record for the most hugs given in a single hour.) Ondash gave out 7,777 hugs last week in front of the Paris hotel-casino in Las Vegas. He gave out these hugs as his "costumed alter ego," Teddy McHuggin. Ondash/McHuggin has inspired me. I want to set the world record for saying "fuck you" the most in a 24-hour period under the aegis of my costumed alter ego, Jimmy McFuckyou. I want to do this in front of the Paris hotel-casino, and then I want a free buffet from this casino after I smash the fuck-you record. I'm so intent on breaking this record that I'll say "fuck you" to anybody: small children, the elderly, the disabled, sufferers of low self-esteem, dogs, birds, inanimate objects, planes flying overhead. They've all got some fuck yous coming. Get ready to get fucked, America. This record is going to get smashed. Fuck you! Fuck yeah!

(above: A stupid little baby, right after being told "fuck you" by a man in a costume. Was it Jimmy McFuckyou, smashing another world record? You bet your diapered ass it was! Fuck you! Fuck yeah!)

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Tales of Small-Town Life: The Legend of Porky's

In the early 1980s, before any of my playground chums and I had access to VHS and before any video rental places opened anywhere near us (or anywhere near almost anybody, for that matter), before any of us had seen an R-rated movie, before we'd seen a naked woman on celluloid or the pages of a magazine (except for the Penthouse magazine that some sixth-graders brought to school and briefly waved in front of us before hiding it underneath one of their jackets), one teenage sex comedy became the pinnacle of rural playground mythology. In 1982, when I was in kindergarten, Porky's came to a theater near you. In 1983, when I was in first grade, the movie became a hot topic of playground conjecture, speculation, tall tale, legend, myth, anticipation, and obsession. My group of friends and I were working-class kids with twentysomething parents, so none of us had HBO, and even if we'd had the channel, none of our parents would have been willing to let a six-year-old watch a teen sex romp. That didn't stop the legend from growing ever larger. Most likely, the unavailability of this film in our young lives helped fuel its mythical reputation.
One friendly acquaintance of mine, Phillip, spread the Porky's gospel like a fire-and-brimstone evangelical. He was still in kindergarten, but my first-grade chums and I took him seriously, for a number of reasons. His parents were divorced, and, though many of us would eventually share in this unfortunate circumstance, he was the first one, which gave him an exotic, streetwise sheen we silently but strongly admired. His oldest brother was in high school. Teenagers were golden gods to us then. I especially worshiped his older brother because he was a long-haired metal and punk fan who I would later talk music with when I was a middle school kid and he was in his twenties on breaks from college. I was a little scared of metal and punk when I was in first grade, being mostly a new wave, Michael Jackson, and John Cafferty & The Beaver Brown Band fan at the time, but, again, the exotic allure of the dark unknown world of the teenage hesher simultaneously attracted and frightened me. But I digress. Back to Phillip. Most importantly, he had a confirmed bachelor uncle who lived in an apartment in downtown Denver, and he and his brothers often visited this uncle on weekends. Oh, the tales they told. Oh, the boobs seen on pay cable. Oh, the sips of beer his uncle let them sneak. This kid had the goods on the side of life we might someday, somehow, tomorrow, tomorrow, somewhere over the rainbow, brush up against as adults, young adults, teenagers, or god help us, tweens.
Many weekday mornings, in that sweet twenty minutes before the first bell rang, we lined up alongside the red brick wall of the elementary school and listened to Phillip's tales of Porky's. In those weeks before the weather grew bitterly cold and the snow piled up, when it was too cold to play basketball, kickball, king of the mountain, or merry-go-round of death but tolerable enough to stand around and talk with our hands in our pockets, our breath not yet visible in the air, we listened as Phillip gave us the latest installment of Porky's info. He often mentioned that Porky's was in regular rotation on HBO at his uncle's house, but he had yet to catch a magical glimpse. He did know one thing. The version shown on HBO was not the version shown in theaters. No, the version on HBO was many times filthier. In fact, it was the XXX version. We had not yet acquired the knowledge that would let us call bullshit on that one. Instead, we exhaled deeply, widened our eyes, and agreed that that XXX version must be really something.
In the coming weeks, Phillip told us he'd sneaked a few peeks at the television screen while his uncle watched Porky's. He told us of the many scenes of unsimulated sex he'd witnessed before his uncle caught him peeking from behind the couch. He said that a man had even licked a woman's genitalia. This was the most outrageous thing we'd ever heard. He licked it? Really? This was truly a man who would do anything. This was a man, to quote a redneck Benedict Arnold of the future, "with a spine of tempered steel." Phillip promised to catch more of the film in future visits and report back.
He did report back, again and again. By now, we should have been suspicious. It would seem that his uncle's television contained nothing but a permanent Porky's loop. But we were hooked. What next? He watched half of it, he said. He mentioned scenes that we would eventually learn were actually in the film, but he filled them with many unsimulated exaggerations, including more genital-licking, nipple-tweaking, penis-stroking, and full-on boning. He exaggerated the shower scene to include a 20-minute orgy, and claimed the penis-in-the-hole-in-the-wall gag was actually shown in uncensored detail.
The day finally came when Phillip saw the whole XXX Porky's shebang. In a stroke of genius, he pretended to fall asleep on his uncle's living room floor. This ruse finally provided the chance to see the film in its entirety. His uncle thought he was asleep, and he watched the whole movie. This time, he saw such incredible scenes as a man who put his penis in a hot dog bun, a woman who covered her breasts with a banana split, and the most legendary scene of all, which caused the most playground hubbub I've heard before or since. He claimed that Porky's final scene featured a man with eight penises receiving oral sex from eight different women. He called this man "octopus-dick." In second grade, it became "octopus cock." By third grade, we referred to the man as "octo-cock." This was so unbelievable that we believed every word. We had to see this movie. We. Had. To. See. This. Movie.
That third grade year, video rentals were widely available. While perusing the video wall at a local convenience store, I spotted it. Porky's! On VHS! For rental! In our little town! The dirtiest movie ever made! Still, none of us could figure out a way to rent that video. We were little kids. What were we going to do? But, we had to see it! There must be a way. There wasn't.
Later that year, the Porky's myth ended with a whimper, not a (gang)bang. Here all week, people. The legend had trickled all the way up to the older kids, but it entered a period of stasis. With none of us able to actually see the movie and with no way to top the Octo-Cock, we moved on to other topics of discussion, such as professional wrestling and how long you could be submerged underwater without suffering brain damage. One day, while standing along the wall talking to Phillip, we watched a sixth-grader walk up to us. Here is the conversation that ensued, to the best of my recollection.
Sixth-grade: Hey, Phillip. I finally watched Porky's and almost none of that stuff you said was in it. There was no Octopus Dick. There weren't any blowjobs. There was some boobs and some bush in the shower part, and some chick showed her butt, but that was it. You're so full of it.
Phillip: I was talking about Porky's II, not Porky's.
Sixth-grade: Yeah, right.
The sixth-grader walked away. We went back to talking about being submerged underwater.

There is no such thing as Santa Claus and there is no such thing as Octo-Cock.

I didn't see Porky's until 2007.