Sunday, December 18, 2011
Tuesday, December 06, 2011
Hey everybody, it's The Breeders' "Invisible Man."
Alternate choice: "My Curse." One of the most male of bands, The Afghan Whigs, give a woman, Marcy Mays from Scrawl, the floor for five minutes on one of their most male of albums (Gentlemen), and it's probably the greatest five minutes of her career as well as a definite highlight from one of my favorite records of the 1990s.
Tuesday, November 29, 2011
I haven't posted in a while so here are some James Baldwin quotes because he was a much better writer than I'll ever be
I started reading James Baldwin's collection of essays, Notes of a Native Son, yesterday, and I'm finding much to admire. I'm only 45 pages in, but here are a handful of quotes that appeal to my sensibility.
"... Sentimentality, the ostentatious parading of excessive and spurious emotion, is the mark of dishonesty, the inability to feel; the wet eyes of the sentimentalist betray his aversion to experience, his fear of life, his arid heart; and it is always, therefore, the signal of secret and violent inhumanity, the mask of cruelty. ..."
"...the avowed aim of the American protest novel is to bring greater freedom to the oppressed. [Writers of protest novels] are forgiven, on the strength of these good intentions, whatever violence they do to language, whatever excessive demands they make of credibility. It is, indeed, considered the sign of a frivolity so intense as to approach decadence to suggest that these books are both badly written and wildly improbable. One is told to put first things first, the good of society coming before niceties of style or characterization. Even if this were incontestable -- for what exactly is the 'good' of society? -- it argues an insuperable confusion, since literature and sociology are not one and the same; it is impossible to discuss them as if they were. Our passion for categorization, life neatly fitted into pegs, has led to an unforeseen, paradoxical distress; confusion, a breakdown of meaning. Those categories which were meant to define and control the world for us have boomeranged us into chaos; in which limbo we whirl, clutching the straws of our definitions. ..."
"It is only in his music, which Americans are able to admire because a protective sentimentality limits their understanding of it, that the Negro in America has been able to tell his story. ..."
"... Americans, unhappily, have the most remarkable ability to alchemize all bitter truths into an innocuous but piquant confection and to transform their moral contradictions, or public discussion of such contradictions, into a proud decoration, such as are given for heroism on the field of battle. ..."
"... Leaving aside the considerable question of what relationship precisely the artist bears to the revolutionary, the reality of man as a social being is not his only reality and that artist is strangled who is forced to deal with human beings solely in social terms; and who has, moreover, as [Richard] Wright had, the necessity thrust on him of being the representative of some thirteen million people. It is a false responsibility (since writers are not congressmen) and impossible, by its nature, of fulfillment. The unlucky shepherd soon finds that, so far from being able to feed the hungry sheep, he has lost the wherewithal for his own nourishment: having not been allowed -- so fearful was his burden, so present his audience! -- to recreate his own experience. ..."
Monday, November 07, 2011
Alternate Choice: Faith No More - "Caffeine"
I don't really understand why Faith No More is such an object of sneering derision for most people I know. I think their music has aged better than a lot of other stuff from the 1989-1996 era, and I also think they were a boundlessly creative band that wrote really good songs and played those songs really well. Too many people lump them in with either the horrible funk-metal or even more horrible nu-metal thing based on their one novelty hit, but these people are categorizing the band inaccurately based on their own limited knowledge and experience of their work. The essence of their sound, to me, was a singular and unexpected combination of the best parts of heavy metal, prog rock, mainstream pop, and late-night cable access TV, and an openness to try anything. This was a band, in the true sense of that term, made up of disparate, contradictory individuals with different musical tastes and interests who somehow managed to collaborate effectively. As Andy Rooney said, moments before passing away: "Faith No More are way better than most of that other shit. I could never say shit on television."
Friday, October 28, 2011
Alternate choice: Since I can't find anything from Mindfunk, here's a funk-metal classic from Vic Chesnutt, "Lucinda Williams," instead. If that previous sentence is bullshit, the following one isn't. This man's songs are so beautiful they're painful.
Saturday, October 22, 2011
Thanks for not fucking off. It's been a rough time. Even if you can't get me a job, keep reading my indulgent spew if you're the kind of masochist or connoisseur of sloppy writing or supportive humanitarian that can't help but tolerate my verbal diarrhea (known in West Virginia as "word squirts").
On that note, I've been volunteering this week as a driver for a film festival. It's been a good thing for me. I've earned enough volunteer hours to get a free pass to the festival, and I took advantage of that today by attending some Nicholas Ray-related business. I might get into that later, but I just wanted to relay a few things I heard today on the bus and the downtown streets while I was heading to my shift and/or leaving a film screening.
Guy on cell phone: "If she's not turning tricks already, she will be by tonight." (hangs up phone, then immediately calls someone else) "Hey, this is Rhonda's friend, Glenn, the guy with all the Adderall."
Guy on bus, to other guy: "Me and my old lady are having some problems. When I went to jail, the only instruction I had for my wife was to take care of my car, and she sold it."
Other guy: "Why'd you go to jail?"
Guy: "I took too much Xanax and drove a new car into a mailbox."
Other guy: "Oh yeah?"
Guy: "Yeah, man. I'm usually cool with Xanax but I got some basement Xanax and I was in my attic, fighting off aliens with a baseball bat."
These two guys later had a conversation about how they would gladly cheat on their wives if offered sex by "hot chicks."
I'm starting to feel a little better about myself.
Sunday, October 16, 2011
"Unemployment is dragging me down. I'm exploding with stress and I feel about as hopeless as I've ever felt. If you read this blog, enjoy it, and are in some kind of position to offer me any kind of employment, please do it. Send me a message, and help my ass out. If you can't help me out, fuck off."
What I will write instead:
Thursday, October 13, 2011
Unless I hear otherwise tomorrow, I have most likely failed to wow yet another group of interviewers and will continue to be unemployed for the foreseeable future. I can keep on staring into the gaping maw of uncertainty indefinitely. Stare into that gaping maw! Stare into it! It's really gaping. I've never seen a maw so agape. Thanks, pointless unending wars, every American politician, corporate CEOs, and big banks for bleeding this country dry for the benefit of a baker's handful of bloated, greedy pigs and keeping me and thousands of other Americans like me out of work so you fuckers can buy some more ceremonial yachts where you pray to your god, the Invisible Hand. At least some day we will all be dead. Thank Christ, Superman, Mom, and U2 drummer Larry Mullen, Jr., for that.
At least it's not as goddamn unbearable and parched and on fire outside as it has been for months and months, am I right, fellow Texans? I took a two-hour walk in the neighborhood today because it was beautiful out and my wife emailed me and asked me to get some beer. Normally, I don't cotton to unexpected errands, but she had me at "beer." As I was walking to the convenience store through the neighborhood, I felt a strange sensation. I think it's called "wonder." I've grown used to feeling only angry desperation or that absence of feeling I believe is known as "dead-inside" in certain billiards halls and salmon farms these past few years, so I was momentarily confused. I eventually got hip to what the day was throwing down. The circle of life picked one of the streets in my neighborhood to put on an exhibition. A dead squirrel in the middle of the road had attracted four large turkey vultures, one on the street getting deep into some squirrel eye socket and three in the adjacent trees. I generally only see vultures eating dead stuff in our neighborhood early in the morning and they tend to get lost as soon as they see people or cars, but this was a bright, sunny afternoon with automobiles and people passing by every fifteen or twenty seconds. I stopped and watched their Dark Crystal-looking asses for a long while. A drifter with a rolled-up sleeping bag on his back stood across the street watching them, too. He looked at me and started gesturing, so I took off my headphones and walked over to him. He began to mouth words silently and mimic the vulture eating some expired roadmeat. I nodded and smiled. He kept doing it. I was wondering how long this was going to continue and how to extricate myself politely when a pickup pulled up. The driver began taking photos of the vultures. Then the pickup pulled up even further until they were right beside us. Two older, rough-looking, drunk-smelling men were in the pickup. The homeless man I'd been having the weird non-conversation with started mouthing soundless words and mimicking the vulture again, this time to the passenger in the pickup. To my mild amazement, the old man started doing the same thing back. Then the men began talking in sign language. Apparently, they knew each other and were deaf and dumb. To paraphrase my dad, they were some rough-looking characters, so I resumed my walk to the convenience store, a shiver running through me as I passed the large vulture chewing on some squirrel. I didn't want my eyes pecked out once they realized I was unemployed.
At the convenience store, I bought a six-pack of tallboys and a lottery ticket. I won 2 bucks, exchanged it for another ticket, won 2 bucks again, exchanged it for another ticket, and lost everything. Then I walked to a different convenience store and bought a Gatorade. On my way there, I nearly stepped in a wholly intact, freshly dead raccoon. I wanted to text the vultures, but none of us had our cellphones. They were crowding around a snack when a feast was two blocks away, theirs for the taking, and the poor carcass-eating bastards had no idea. A non-smushed dead raccoon must be worth at least eight partial squirrels.
There is no moral to this story, but if you're the type who likes high school English-style reductive symbolism, the dead squirrel and the three lottery tickets represent the American worker and the Gatorade represents the futility of human endeavor.
Wednesday, October 05, 2011
Sunday, October 02, 2011
Home on break from college a handful of days before or after Christmas one late-grunge evening, my mother reading on the couch, I placed my CD (remember those?) copy of Beggars Banquet in my parents' booming stereo system, pressed play, and leaned back on the couch as the percussive intro of "Sympathy for the Devil" recognizably filled the available airspace and hairspace. (That tasty stereo now sits unplayed in storage next to the garage in the home my father shares with a woman who is not my mother in the only open space not occupied by 17 hairless cats or a handful of small dogs, though a caged Malaysian serama mini-chicken is the stereo's roommate, for reasons only a divine creator could understand. My step"mother" likes to accumulate small, hairless, and/or plentiful animals, though she doesn't seem to enjoy them much once she has them.) My dad, coming home from work a few seconds later, entered the room, greeted my mother and me, listened for a few minutes, then asked me, "Who's this?"
"The Rolling Stones," I replied casually, mentally appending a silent "duh" or "no duh," possibly even reaching back six or seven years to junior high's "doy" or "no doy" or the dreaded "uhhh-DOYYY!!"
Maybe he wasn't paying much attention, I thought, but his next question was the real gobsmacker:
"Is this their new album?"
I was struck dumb. This song, bouncing off the walls of his home a few short years after the new jack swing-murphy brown-schindler's list era, originally bounced off the walls of every American and British teenager's home in late 1968, when my father was a junior in high school. A classic rock staple, a massive worldwide hit, a cultural flashpoint, a big rock song by a big rock band, the second most famous rock band in the world then and now, in a time when rock hadn't yet fragmented into a bajillion little pieces and subgenres and scenes and dogmas and traditions and specializations, and my dad couldn't place it. He was impervious and oblivious to its omnipresence (said Don King). The old man and I clearly had different ideas about religion, rock and roll being mine, none of my business being his.
My sister was privy to a recent conversation between my father and his wife about something I no longer remember, but the kicker is my father's defiant response: "None of my kids have ever, ever smoked marijuana in their entire lives!" The naive trust in this response is almost sweet, and my dad's own cultural illiteracy, high and low, fear of the unknown, even an unknown as benign as a joint on a friend's couch in 1970, and his general obliviousness to anything not happening in the same room as him, gives you some idea where he's coming from. In beatnik terms, my old man is a square, an apple, a clyde. He stays close to the pad, and he won't pick up on the action you're laying down. Becker was his favorite TV show, The Bucket List and Rambo high in his cinematic pantheon, Larry the Cable Guy his top comedian. He admired Steve McQueen until he found out from an A&E True Hollywood Story that McQueen loved pot. "Man, that guy was my hee-roe," he told me dejectedly over the phone. His favorite musical group is ZZ Top. Not for their sound. For their giant beards, sunglasses, and souped-up classic cars.
It's really no surprise, then, that my father had no idea I was a teenage midnight toker. He couldn't interpret the signs. My best friend had long hair and drove a van with tinted windows. I didn't play sports. Girls didn't like me. My room's contents included a drum set, a waterbed, metal magazines, posters of junkie rock stars, unread Carlos Castaneda books, well-read copies of Naked Lunch and a history of LSD and Bukowski and Vonnegut and Ginsberg and Tom Robbins and Jim Carroll, a stolen emergency traffic light (still blinking for a few months), and a boatload of cassettes and CDs, including the White Album, Sabbath, Hendrix, Nirvana, Soundgarden, Mudhoney, Clash, Sex Pistols, and various other classic rock, metal, punk, indie, and mainstream alternative stuff. (Bonus anecdote: One summer afternoon, I rode my bike from my friend's basement to my backyard with reams of weed-stench rising from me like cartoon stinklines and eyes like dirty fishtanks, and I ran smack into my dad. I had a conversation with him I gigglingly recognized even then as stunningly incoherent. He never caught on.) I was a lonely, sad, pissed off, and curious teenager. What did he think I was doing? Playing Uno? 2011 postscript: I can't even remember the last time I smoked pot, and I played Uno two weeks ago.
Three years ago, he forgot my birthday. The next year, he wished me a happy birthday a month too early. He called me once and wished me a happy Mother's Day. It was Mother's Day, but I can think of at least three things wrong with this gesture. If you held a gun to my father's head and asked him to name ten things about my life, he wouldn't be able to do it.
I bring these anecdotes/criticisms/observations up not to belittle or embarrass my father, but to point out that this guy, despite his obliviousness, cultural illiteracy, ignorance, and distanced half-ass parenting has one huge leg up on me and on most of us rubes in the iPhone/iPad/iPhuck era. He never once, not once, started a Facebook page. My dad's a genius in this regard. Yes, I know he can't type, doesn't even have an email account, hasn't read anything longer than a classified ad since he was in high school, and I have my doubts he read any English assignment even then, and he most likely didn't open a Facebook account out of pure lazy indifference, but intent is irrelevant here. His move was right. His inaction was the best action. Oh, how I regret my entrance into the unhallowed halls of Zuckerbergiana. Facebook, Facebook, Mind-Erase Book. Yowzah, I know too many things about friends and relatives and friendly acquaintances I didn't want to know, never wanted to know, regret knowing now. I feel dumber and sadder every time I visit the place (no-place). "Then why don't you quit going there, you big dummy? Why don't you just cancel your account, you big palookah?" You're right to ask these questions, and I'm as stupid as anyone. These things are indisputable. But, I'm hooked. I'm caught up in this ridiculous age of constant babble-chatter and e-sucking and i-fucking and simu-living and irrele-pooting. I have three blogs, a Facebook page, a Twitter account, two email accounts, and some ghostly floating Friendster pages. (The cyber-wind still robo-whispers the name Adult Condor.) In my own tiny way, I'm a selfish egomaniac who needs to be heard by my single digits of fans and needs some reparations for my high school loserdom and invisibility. I need people to tell me I'm funny and interesting. I also like to stay in touch with some fantastic people I probably won't ever see in meatspace ever again, and I need that Facebook account to keep the connection alive.
Here are some tiny examples of what I hate in the Facebook, Facebook, This Is No Place-book.
Irrelevance in Real Time: "Eating lobster poolside at Fancypantsateria. Here's a photo of this delicious food." 17 Likes! 4 Comments! Comment 1: "That looks delish, guys. Have fun!"
You have an audience, Facebookers. Many of us are looking for jobs. Even if we weren't, even if I was CEO of World's Largest Moneypile and Blowjob Factory, Inc, even if my life was creamy, dreamy perfection, I still would not give a fuck about what you had for lunch. Stop taking pictures of your damn food and eat it. Eat it! It's getting cold!
Cut and Pasters: "Some of you won't have the guts to repost this, but many people you know and love are afflicted with Shaky Dangler Syndrome and a fear of petting zoos. Cut and paste this message and copy it to your status or you are a terrible friend who doesn't care about me." 128 Likes! 72 friends have shared this!
Deranged politics and stupidity: I had the misfortune of growing up with and occasionally being related by blood or marriage to a lot of perfectly enjoyable people with bizarre ultra-right-wing views. The combination of Sept. 11 and the recession and hysterical Fox News drumbeating have turned them from moderates to paranoid freakshow lunatics. I don't want to have the paranoid, stupid, ignorant, emotional, thoughtless parts of them thrust in my face every day. I like these people, believe it or not. (Believe it.) I don't like these parts of them.
My cousin's wife, from one of those cut-and-paste jobs: "Only Jesus Christ and the American serviceman have ever offered to lay down their lives for you." And on and on, every fucking day.
Ugly reactionary posturing and loudmouthism: A recent tragedy near my hometown saw a man kidnap and murder a young girl. This family's grief has turned into a lot of loud, stupid soapboxing. From a former coworker with American flags all over his page: "I say we skip the trial and just shoot the SOB right now." 80 Billion Likes! Yeah, because a cornerstone of the American ideology you want everyone to know you constantly ejaculate over is executing people without a trial, you dumb shit! "I say we cut the bastard's balls off with a rusty knife. Hell, I'll volunteer right now." 90 Likes! (including my uncle's wife, who should know better). Look at this genius. This guy hates the murder of a small child! He hates it more than you other wimps! He's taking a stand! He hates child murder so, so much! What a giant of the scene! What a man! What a hero! What a refreshing, unusual, controversial stand on such a divisive issue!
What a dumb fuck. Even child murderers think child murder is wrong. Put some of that energy into reading a book or buying a Malaysian mini-chicken. Why are you encouraging this stupidity, uncle's wife? You're an educator. Embarrassing.
Am I kidding myself? Is this the same old stupid on new technology, or are things getting worse? On at least ten occasions in the last two years, I have looked up from a table at a bar downtown when the conversation stopped only to see every other person's face balls-deep (Mel Brooks' Faceballs) in their iPhones, and I don't even go out that much anymore since I've been out of work. It's dark comedy and tragedy at once. Remember seeking things out? Remember the thrill of the chase? Remember being somewhere and actually being there? Remember being present? Now you don't have to take the effort or even bother to shape your personality at all. No more happy accidents or bitter disappointments. Everything is bite-size content, all equivalent, all meaningless. We click like on Life instead of living it. Says a guy with three blogs, a Facebook page, a Twitter account, two email addresses, and a deep ass-groove in the chair in front of my computer.
You can't escape mediocrity offline, either. Middlebrow middleminds are the middlemen at every institution on Earth. I've spent many lunch hours in teachers' lounges in the past few years and whoo boy. The main topics of conversation: Dr. House, Glee, Lean Cuisine frozen dinners, weight loss and gain, shit-talking about the teachers who weren't in the room, Oscar winners, which movie stars are purty. These are the educators of our youth. These are the people who believe they have a firm grasp on culture. You know what these people laugh at, pooh-pooh, sneer condescendingly at? High culture and low culture. The former is the province of the poseur and the snob, the latter the dirty rabble beneath, they tell each other over their beloved Lean Cuisine. They just don't want to do the real work. The pleasure of getting your hands and brain dirty in the real upper reaches of human achievement or in the beautiful, thriving sleaze of the gutter. They don't know, can't know, will never understand that The Texas Chainsaw Massacre or Supervixens or Vigilante or Swinging Cheerleaders has more vitality and invention and urgency and sweet, sweet life than any 100 English Patients or King's Speeches or Slumdog Millionaires or Beautiful Minds or Paul Haggis Crashes or any other visually dead, respectable flatterer of the middle mind. Any good, really good, professional wrestling villain since the 1950s can show you more about life than any high school English syllabus. The sweet, beautiful purity of a pro wrestling villain, a guy who can make an entire building full of people hate his guts, that's art. That's low culture at its best.
Lincoln, Nebraska. 1997. I'm in the crowd for Eddie Guerrero vs. Ric Flair. Guerrero grabs the mic and confidently announces with some of the best manufactured contempt I've ever seen, "It's a real disappointment that I have to wrestle tonight in Lincoln, Nebraska, home of the worst college football team in the world." At the time, as most of you know, Nebraska had one of the best college football teams in the world. Guerrero whipped that crowd into an orgiastic frenzy of hate with one sentence. Most of those suckers knew the show was a choreographed spectacle of preplanned show business, but one sentence and they all forgot. They lost their damn minds. They pelted the ring with full beers, empty beers, cups, programs, food, candy, spit wads, gum. The ring, in just thirty seconds, was covered in shit. They had to stop the match and clear the ring out. It was one of the most beautiful things I've ever seen.
Guerrero later died in a hotel room from a life of steroids, speed, booze, road food, lack of sleep, and a job that required him to take hard falls on his back, knees, elbows, and face. These guys are better Christ figures than most literature and film examples you want to throw my way. They live it. They die for our sins, our lazy, fat-assed need for spectacle and entertainment. They're forced to die for our sins by their god, Vince McMahon. I grew up in the middle of a golden age of professional wrestling, a time of quality regional promotions and healthy competition. A time of polytheism. Now, we're back to the corporate status quo of Vince McMahon's monotheistic monopoly, but these guys are still out there, destroying themselves for you. When's the last time Dame Judi Dench put her life on the line to make you lose your damn mind and throw your full beer at a fictional representation of evil? That's art, baby. That's better than any app on your iPhone.
Disclaimer: Everything in this post is ridiculous and not ridiculous.
Wednesday, September 28, 2011
Blixa Bargeld and I shared an awful haircut in 1990. He was probably having a better time, though. Paddling around with Nick Cave and singing songs about weeping is higher on my list of possible fun times than listening to a redneck math teacher tell me I looked like a woman and would probably do poorly in his class because I was a shitty athlete. Teachers could still say these things out loud in 1990. It didn't hurt my self-esteem because just look at that guy with his crew-cut and dim, poorly ventilated classroom. Just look at him.
Alternate choice: Motherfuckin' "Painkiller" by Judas Fuckin' Priest, because why the fuck not?
Sunday, September 25, 2011
I stumbled onto a trailer for a book (they do those now?) by a doctor dying of cancer. He passed away a few days ago. The book is about his gradual peaceful acceptance of his terminal illness and how he learned to live with it instead of fight with it. It became another part of his life, rather than something from the outside destroying it. This trailer made me feel ashamed of my lack of enthusiasm for my own life. I'm here now. It's not all going to be a good time, but I need to love it more. I need to be a little more present. This is basic stuff, and I'm an idiot to have to keep relearning it all the time, but this fog just comes in and surrounds my brain and I have to work to get rid of it.
You know what's good, though? Music.
"In the mind of Ronald Reagan/Wheels they turn and gears they grind/Buildings collapse in slow motion/And trains collide/Everything is fine/Everything is fine."
Alternate choice: John Zorn w/ Naked City - "I Want To Live"
Saturday, September 24, 2011
I have a strong personal belief that critics need to understand the history and canonical works of the medium they choose to write about, which is unfortunately unfashionable with a certain breed of loud, twentysomething critics who are surprisingly getting work from a lot of mainstream and prominent alternative publications terrified about the future of print media and scrambling for relevance in all the wrong places. I like long, thoughtful pieces from critics with a lot of knowledge. I guess I'm a dinosaur. If Vargas-Cooper, Karina Longworth, and Nathan Rabin are the future, I'm happy being a dinosaur. Also, hire a fucking copy editor, GQ.
Here are some highlights (lowlights?) from Vargas-Cooper's column if you have better things to do than read the whole thing (and everyone clearly does have better things to do):
"Let the film school prigs, art house snobs, and the better half of film critics publishing today slavishly catalogue the classics and engage in numbing debates over who did it first and who did it better. Whether reverence for movies from a bygone era is rooted in merit, nostalgia, or neurosis about film being an inferior medium to literature, movies keep pace with social mores of a time and deserve to be free of the tastes and prejudices of people who grew up without Quentin Tarantino."
"Let's be untethered from history, ignore the tug of the familiar, and resolve that any movie made before, say, 1986 has received its due respect and move on."
"History does not inform the value of a film; you need never see a stylized Godard flick or Cary Grant comedy to understand the enthralling power of Fargo or Independence Day."
"This column will survey the new movie canon. The rules of the game (Ha! That's the name of a classic movie I have never seen. Eat it ,1939!)" Boy, I bet 1939 is really stewing over that zinger. She really stuck it to 1939 good. Yeah, she really did say that "any move made before ... 1986" has received its due respect and should no longer be discussed. I can think of at least 500 pre-1986 movies off the top of my head that haven't received their due respect. Finding these films has been one of my life's greatest joys. Isn't the Internet saturated with more writing about post-1986 films anyway? I think you'll find that The Dark Knight has already received its due respect and then some, while Raoul Walsh's The Man I Love (1947) or Wim Wenders' The State of Things (1982), to pick just two random examples that came to me quickly, haven't been written about enough or even released on DVD in this country. When Joe Strummer sang, "No Elvis, Beatles, or the Rolling Stones in 1977," he was making his case for the present and the future in a way that Vargas-Cooper may think she's doing now. They're similar positions, I guess. The difference is, Strummer knew his history, was a hell of a lot more eloquent, had more at stake, and knew he was being a bit of a liar. (He loved those three artists.) Strummer spent the rest of his musical career incorporating the rich history of the past into the present and the future. Vargas-Cooper brags about her lack of knowledge of film history like it's some kind of intellectual badge of honor. That's a stupid thing to do. Why close yourself off from any part of the past or the present? Why be proud of narrowing your interests? Why gloat about it? I've already given her more of my time than she deserves. Articles like these don't matter much. The proliferation of articles like these, though, matters a lot in the long run. If our culture decides the present is the only thing worth investing in, the past becomes economically unattractive and some of it disappears from availability. Everything is not available on the Internet, despite a sometimes overwhelming belief in this myth. I don't expect most people to care about esoteric 1940s films. We have different hobbies and interests. I don't care much about furniture or baseball. Some people live for those things, though, and I don't want their passions and histories to disappear.
Tuesday, September 13, 2011
Alternate choice: Womack & Womack - "Teardrops"
Sorry to those of you sobbing because I didn't choose The Beach Boys' "Kokomo" or something from Y Kant Tori Read. The culling is brutal around here. Some of you may find this song cheesy. It does have a slight Velveeta quality to it, but I don't care. I like it. It was a rare late 1980s R&B song that didn't suffer from massive overproduction and soulless gloss. I like the unarguably cheesy video, too. 1980s videos made the studio look like a great place to be. Everyone was having a good time, nodding their heads and twiddling various knobs and dancing around. We should all be twiddling knobs instead of working for the man. Knob twiddle!
Friday, September 09, 2011
Me: No. I don't usually watch stuff like that, and I don't have cable.
My dad: We watched about 20 minutes of it, but I don't care for that kind of music.
My dad: I never did like that rap... (long pause) ... or hip-hop is I guess what they call it now.
My dad: Some of those guys are real wild-looking characters.
Tuesday, September 06, 2011
I did listen to the shit out of one great record in 1987, Guns N' Roses' Appetite for Destruction. "It's So Easy" is a weird song. It doesn't sound like anybody else's stuff, though you can hear the influences, none of which should belong together this cohesively. I don't feel like getting into a debate, internal or otherwise, about the lack of political correctness in the lyrics, because I really don't give a fuck about that shit in art, except when I do. Some of the lines make me wince, but I'm a form and structure guy, not a subject matter guy, and I think it's better to creatively spew your inner dirtbag instead of suppressing it. I just want people to be honest in their work. A lot of hip hop artists are just as sexist but get more of a free pass from cultural critics because of white liberal guilt. It's a lot less complicated for Pitchfork writers, etc., to criticize Axl Rose. I'm off the subject, though. This record is so finely produced compared to the expensive wall of shit, cavernous yet empty sound prevalent in 1987. It's a big rock record, but it's stripped down. The drums sound like drums. The guitars sound like guitars. It hasn't dated like so many records from this time period have dated. These guys had their own thing going. They weren't Poison. I'm still on board. I just don't get tired of this record.
Alternate choice: Butthole Surfers - "Sweat Loaf"
I wish my father would have had this talk with me. I regret too many things I haven't done. For example, I was at the park one day, and I thought maybe I should SATAN SATAN SATAN!
Wednesday, August 24, 2011
Slayer's "Angel of Death" wasn't the only great song of 1986, despite my lukewarm feelings toward this particular year. "Pink Frost" by the Chills is worth anyone's time. So is this pajama jammy jam by one of my favorite bands in music history, Sonic Youth. "Expressway to Yr Skull" aka "Madonna, Sean, and Me." Ask your great-grandparents about that alternate song title, youth of today.
Alternate choice: The Go-Betweens - "Twin Layers of Lightning"
This is some beautiful, mysterious stuff. An underrated band with two wonderful songwriters who played off each other's strengths and minimized each other's weaknesses.
Monday, August 15, 2011
1985. Cultural changes happen gradually, but I like to think of 1985 as the year a lot of records started sounding shitty. I mean the production value, I don't mean the quality of the music, though plenty of bad music came out in 1985. The sound of most records recorded in the 1920s through the mid-1980s are pleasing to my ears. I'm not an audiophile that can tell you about microphones and speakers and turntables, but I do know what I like. These records, with some exceptions, serve the musicians and songs, have a dynamic range, have spaces between the notes, convey the time period without sounding dated, and have mood, atmosphere, and the indescribable essence that Neil Young calls "the spook." 1985 seemed to mark a turning point. Technology was used just because it existed, even if it damaged the work. The snare drum got too loud and echoey. The music got compressed with that early digital thinness. Albums were mixed too quiet in the early CD days and are now mixed too loud. The dynamic range is missing. The sound is too busy. Space between notes is lost. Atmosphere and mood are gone, replaced by simulations of atmosphere and mood. It's not all bad. There are still records that have come out every year since 1985 that sound great. A lot of indie records aren't overproduced, and a lot of hip-hop and electronic records use the technology in smart ways that fit the sound. Also, to be fair, a lot of mainstream pop and classic rock records in the 1970s were too clean and bloodless and overproduced and over-arranged. But some of the voodoo disappeared in 1985 and never came back. Where did it go? Did Don Henley steal it and lock it in a vault?
The Replacements - "Left of the Dial"
God, I love this band. I grew up in the Midwest, and The Replacements capture some indescribable invisible Midwest ozone aura. Separate from the hardcore scenes on either coast, ignored, landlocked, "flyover-state" (gag), raised on classic rock, turned onto punk rock, never had to abandon classic rock, just folded punk rock into the aesthetic, bored, drunk, bleary-eyed poets, hangover geniuses, juvenile delinquents, four reincarnations of Hank Williams covering the New York Dolls, embarrassed by how great their ballads were, here comes a regular. I'll be a regular at the Replacements discography until I'm dead. These guys are my Beatles and Monkees in one band. I don't even have a favorite record of theirs. Just throw their first six on repeat, over and over.
Alternate choice - The Mekons - "Chivalry"
"I was out late the other night/Fear and whiskey kept me going" is one of my favorite opening lines to a song. The rest of it's pretty damn great, too.
Sunday, August 07, 2011
Minutemen - "Viet Nam"
Nostalgia is bad, right? Let me reminisce. You have to learn to live with your contradictions. That's what makes everybody interesting and irritating. Minutemen are a band close to my heart. Self-taught, outsider dorks, not part of any scene but influential on many, personal, funny, inventive, timeless, minimal, bullshit-free, politically savvy without being preachy or humorless, real working-class humans. I love these guys. They're small-h heroes. There are no big-H heroes, no matter what TV tells us. This album came out in 1984. I first heard it in 1994. It's my second-favorite rock album, next to The Stooges' Fun House. I heard that one for the first time in 1996. I'm supposed to care about this week, why?
Alternate choice: Husker Du -"Pink Turns to Blue"
Another song from a double album on SST in 1984, produced by Spot. This is the prettiest song about heroin death since Bert Jansch's "Needle of Death." Every current indie band needs to listen to Double Nickels on the Dime and Zen Arcade and feel hot, blistering shame. You can be ambitious without being a twat. You can be funny without being a prick. You can use your goddamn snare drum once in a while. You still won't be this good, precious.
Sunday, July 31, 2011
The Fall - "Smile"
About five or six years ago, I saw The Fall play a show. Mark E. Smith's foot was in a cast, and he sat in a chair for the show's duration. He looked like he didn't want to be there, his contempt for everyone in the room (including his bandmates) was palpable, and the band played for less than 45 minutes. It was still one of the best shows I've ever seen. This song makes a lot of other songs sound stupid and tiny.
Alternate choice: The Style Council - "Long Hot Summer"
Not a lot of people think The Style Council were as good as (or better than) Paul Weller's previous band, The Jam, but I do and so does Robert Wyatt, so there. I also think this video is hilarious in its homophobe-baiting and simultaneous parody/embodiment of what would come to be known as the "1980s."
Friday, July 29, 2011
Grandmaster Flash & The Furious Five - "Scorpio"
Webster's Dictionary defines robofunkonomics (n.) as the "one true religion." Show no shame. Shake it, baby. Scorpio.
Alternate choice: Michael Jackson - "Billie Jean"
Though the non-robotic material that comprised the rest of Michael Jackson's body shuffled off this mortal coil two summers ago, this song will live forever.
Tuesday, July 26, 2011
Elvis Costello & The Attractions - "Watch Your Step"
Elvis Costello's backing band The Attractions existed for almost twenty years, though to call them a backing band is an insult. Besides having one of the five greatest rhythm sections in the history of popular music (my hyperbole here is only mild), The Attractions were probably just as responsible for Mr. Costello's success as the songs he wrote for them to play. Just listen to the difference between the Attractions-backed "Watching the Detectives" on the U.S. version of Costello's first album, My Aim Is True, and the other songs on the record, recorded with Clover. It's a great record, and Clover was a competent, skilled, and subtle backing group, but "Watching the Detectives" has that indescribable voodoo chemistry that can't be learned or forced. By the time of 1981's Trust, they'd been killing it for almost four years.
Alternate choice: Siouxsie & The Banshees - "Monitor"
This song melts my face off. They never bettered it.
Sunday, July 24, 2011
1980: Captain Beefheart & The Magic Band - "Run Paint Run Run" from the album Doc at the Radar Station
Painter, poet, bandleader, songwriter, singer, musician, charlatan, genius, lightning rod, short man with big ideas, Don Van Vliet, Captain Beefheart.
A song title from each Beefheart album:
She's Too Much For My Mirror
Lick My Decals Off, Baby
25th Century Quaker
My Head Is My Only House Unless It Rains
There Ain't No Santa Claus On The Evenin' Stage
Party Of Special Things To Do
Upon The My-O-My
Tropical Hot Dog Night
Making Love To A Vampire With A Monkey On My Knee
Hey Garland, I Dig Your Tweed Coat
Two paintings, "Whalebone Farmhouse" and "Crepe and Black Lamps" (both 1986):
Alternate choice: X - "The Unheard Music"
One of my missions in life is to hear all the unheard music.
Wednesday, July 20, 2011
Wire's "The 15th" in two versions. The first, the studio version from the album 154, is gentler, almost pretty, but its angular metallic riff sits at a distance from the listener. You have to follow it. It won't follow you. Every time I hear it, I visualize a mesh screen covering the sound, creating a grid in which each square is a long, straight tunnel. I don't know how to describe where the tunnel leads.
The live version from a German television program is more aggressive and direct. The grid is gone, the tempo slower. Their control and confidence is almost frightening in its simplicity and ease. It's the kind of ease that comes after much work. They play with purpose and without antecedents. Chuck Berry, The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, The Velvet Underground, even other punk and postpunk bands. They don't have anything to do with this song. Nor does any band that followed.
What I can't understand is how both of these versions sound so close to each other while sounding nothing like each other at all. The basic elements that give me so much pleasure are the same in each, but the places they take me aren't even on the same map.
Alternate choice: Neil Young & Crazy Horse - "Sedan Delivery"
We know that welfare mothers make better lovers, but is it better to burn out or fade away? Is there a third option? This song is spooky. The verses trip over themselves in a punk rock hurry to get to that narcotic drift of a chorus. Then, the guitar lays you down and tucks you in too far from home in an achy, melancholic daze. Like "The 15th," you'll be digging these tunnels the rest of your life without seeing daylight.
Tuesday, July 19, 2011
Uncle Funky's Daughter
The Institute of Eyelash Arts and Sciences
Rock and Roll It
The Funeral Museum
Leapin' Leotards and Uncle Funky's Daughter can be found in the same strip mall. A second location of Uncle Funky's Daughter is also in that strip mall.
On an unrelated note, please listen to Frank Sinatra's spoken introduction to the following song. Leapin' leotards, it's something else.
Monday, July 18, 2011
In 1978, I'm still a year away from my first memories. I'm a baby, turning into a toddler, a word I've never liked. Toddler. Say it out loud. It makes an unpleasant sound. What was it like to be a baby? I'll never know. I might as well have been a robot, for all I can remember. These are the robots. Kraftwerk's "The Model." I do remember the 1980s prejudice against synthesizers by the rednecks in my hometown. Guitars were for real men, synths were for gay European pussies. Both are electric machines that make sounds pleasing to my ears. I only know a few gay Europeans, but they are good men. Those rednecks in my hometown are silly little people. I am not a robot, but I play one at work.
Also released in 1978:
Nick Lowe "I Love the Sound of Breaking Glass"
Johnny Thunders "You Can't Put Your Arms Around a Memory"
Neil Young "Goin' Back"
Alternate choice: Van Halen - "Atomic Punk"
Atomic punk, but not punk rock. The rednecks and I can agree on a few things. Classic Coke is better than New Coke. Gary Cherone = Crystal Pepsi? Try to imagine the Tea Party Jimmy Buffett, Sammy Hagar, singing this song. Nothing lasts forever, even cold November rain. 5150 taught me that. David Lee Roth: "The only people who put water in Jack Daniels is The Clash, baby." "The only reason rock critics like Elvis Costello is because they look like him." Rock the Casbah, Dave. I'm not angry anymore.
Those of you who know me personally and are friends with me on Facebook know that I've been participating in the daily song challenges going around that site like an infectious but benign disease. I need structure and daily tasks to keep me occupied during the obnoxious, terrifying limbo that is the job search, and these song challenges fit part of that bill. Now that I've finished the challenges, I need something else to do. I turned 34 last week, and this non-milestone birthday sparked an idea for my own personal, expanded version of the Facebook meme. I'm going to pick one song a year for every year I've been alive on this planet and write about it on the blog. Past lives and my time on other planets will be ignored for now. The songs I pick will not necessarily be my favorite songs of those particular years or a fitting representation of prevailing trends of the time period or even songs I listened to that year. These are just songs I love that happened to be released while I was alive.
I was born in a particularly vibrant musical year. 1977 was a great year for punk rock, pop, disco, hard rock, and what would become post-punk and new wave. Lumbering dinosaurs were getting their asses kicked by a new breed of artists that continue to influence my life in all kinds of positive ways. I didn't know any of this at the time. I was just a sleeping, eating, shitting, suckling, squirming, involuntarily moving fat little baby. I wouldn't discover this music that means so much to me until I was in high school, with the exception of the new wavers and ex-punks with mainstream radio hits in the 1980s. 1977 was the year for debut albums by The Sex Pistols, Wire, Elvis Costello, Talking Heads, etc. I'm going to bypass those guys, though, and pick some wealthy, coke-addled, enormously popular classic rockers. Classic rock is the music I grew up with, the music I heard first. Fleetwood Mac's Rumours came out in 1977. "Dreams" is a song that stops me cold every time I hear it. If it's playing and I'm talking to you, my mind will wander over to the song and I will no longer be able to hear what you're telling me. Several months ago, two friends of mine played in a Fleetwood Mac cover band that came together for one night only, performed Rumours, and then broke up. They were so good I almost cried. After the show, I ate several donuts. It was a good night.
Alternate Choice: Richard Hell and The Voidoids - "Liars Beware"
This particular performance is from a 1980 film, but its studio incarnation appeared on a 1977 album. Robert Quine is dead now, but his guitar playing isn't, which is the opposite situation of most guitarists.
Saturday, July 02, 2011
"Baby, you cry too much/I'm tired of the sound/You're such a baby" -- The Afghan Whigs, "Uptown Again"
To signify a shift in subject matter from how depressed I am and how much the world sucks, here is my progress report for the week. I'm still lousy at staying up too late and sleeping in too much, but I've been exercising more, eating less garbage late at night, and drinking less. All these things have me feeling a lot better after just a week. I feel a change coming on. For the first time in my life, I'm tired of certain behaviors I've engaged in for years. I don't enjoy getting drunk anymore. I don't enjoy stuffing my face with garbage at night. I used to love these things until last month, but I stopped getting a buzz from the path to gastronomic and alcoholic excess. I'm bored with myself when I do these things.
Fortunately, I'm still as committed to musical excess as I've ever been, so when two friends sent me two emails each urging me to see R. Stevie Moore, I decided to do a little investigating into the man. I'd read about him and heard a few songs on WFMU, but I was pretty unfamiliar with his work. I knew he was an eccentric guy who had recorded hundreds of albums in his bedroom and distributed and sold them on his own, but that was about it. I listened to several of his songs on YouTube after my friends' emails and knew I had to see the show. I'm a sucker for obstinate and eclectic bedroom geniuses, Neil Young and Prince being perhaps the most famous and successful examples. Robert Pollard, Dan Bejar, Gary Wilson, Captain Beefheart, Daniel Johnston, Roky Erickson, Syd Barrett, Brian Wilson, Todd Rundgren, Judee Sill, Roy Harper, Tim Buckley, Alex Chilton. I'm lumping a lot of disparate talents together, but I think you can see some sort of vague aesthetic forming there. R. Stevie Moore fits this bill. Defiantly independent, Moore has self-released 400+ records of staggering variety, including early Zappa and Beefheart-esque avant-rock, Beach Boys sunshine falsetto pop, dreamy indie rock, Beatles covers, riff-based garage rock, psych, metal, country ballads, disco, and new wave.
Moore has never toured before, but a Kickstarter benefit gave him the financial freedom to tour the U.S. and Europe and record a new album. On the tour, he's backed by Brooklyn indie rock band Tropical Ooze. Though half the band's sartorial choices can only be described as sweaty 1970s head-injured pedophile dressed by drunken pirate gypsy blind mothers aka the last decade of indie-hipster sartorial puke, their musical skills are thankfully much sharper. They opened the show by themselves and were a likable blend of garage/psych/noise/pop with some serious freakout guitar chops. Sweetening the night for me, the next two acts on the bill were another obstinate bedroom genius, Jad Fair (formerly of Half Japanese) accompanied by a full band, and Pong, a band featuring a former coworker and all-around good guy and another friendly acquaintance of mine. I'd seen Jad Fair play a few songs by himself before a Yo La Tengo show, so the opportunity to see him play a full set with his band was welcome. I don't know how to write well about music, so I can only say his set was a magical, beautiful thing. Pong also delivered the fun. I used to see them play a lot when I worked with the aforementioned good guy, but a few years had passed since I last saw them. Some of them had more hair, others had less hair. One of them grew a giant beard. I really enjoyed myself. Finally, R. Stevie Moore played. Things started out a little shaky. The first four songs were good, but the mix was muddy and the band's chemistry was off. The performance was awkward. "Great," I started thinking to myself. "My friends see the amazing shows and I get the off night. That's the patented Dr. Mystery luck, baby." The band soon exited the stage and Moore played two songs by himself. Again, the mix was weird and the songs didn't quite come together. Then, the band came back and everything clicked. The following seven or eight or ten songs became one of the best live experiences of recent or ancient memory. Holy shit, what a show.
But I'm not here to write a mediocre concert review. I want to talk about something I saw there. The usual mix of indie hipsters, record geeks, reclusive weirdos, punks, and freakazoids (an obese guy with a V shaved in the back of his head who kept talking to his wrist, a middle-aged guy with a Captain Hook beard and women's shoes a few sizes too small, which had caused the heels to blow out, etc., a Mexican teenager with the underage XX on his hands who kept making out with a woman old enough to be his grandmother and bragging about his fighting skills, etc.), the crowd also contained a father and his young son and daughter. I kept my eye on them throughout the show. The father was, clearly, a cool dad (lowercase), not a Cool Dad. He had somehow managed to infect his children, caught in an era in which something that happened yesterday afternoon is already old and lame, with Jad Fair mania. He was thin, maybe 5'7", short hair, khaki shorts, nice leather shoes, button-up shirt that was neither rock and roll nor un-rock and roll. I'm guessing the daughter was 12 and the son 10. The boy was taller than his sister, but he had a mouthful of metal and stuck close to dad's side while she kept a few paces back and looked like she was just settling in to the nightmare of puberty. The boy had a naive, dreamy expression and kept gazing wonderingly at the drums and guitars and a pretty woman in a mini-skirt toward the front of the stage. The girl's face had lost the dreamy kid look. She had an openness in her face that junior high hadn't destroyed yet, and she probably still had another year before she'd be too embarrassed to go to a rock show with her dad and little brother, but you could see a little cynicism creeping into her eyes. She'd probably begun to realize that most adults were full of shit, that most of them were still stupid children, and she'd probably had a boy say something mean to her by this point in her life. When Jad Fair started to play, father, son, and daughter all grinned wide and nodded their heads and tapped their feet. It was cute and sweet, and it made me happy and sad. Jad Fair announced that the next song was about "different colors of dresses." The girl grinned wide, giggled, and smiled at her dad and brother. She started tapping out the drum beat on the wall. If I were a 12-year-old boy, I'd have a big crush on her. She's the kind of girl who would've crushed my heart a couple years later by telling me she just wanted to be friends, but we still would've traded mixtapes and probably smoked weed together for the first time in 11th grade. The brother and sister both have smart eyes and are probably readers. They're not rocking out for dad's benefit,either. These kids are genuinely psyched to be at the show. As the night wears on, the kids start to get tired but they don't want to show it. The boy continues to nod his head and tap his feet, but his heart isn't in it anymore. It's tough being a 10-year-old rock lover. You want to stay up late, but your body wants to go to bed at midnight. Dad's oblivious, which made me like him even more. Sometimes, you have to purposely ignore your children's pain to keep them from becoming narcissists. The girl rests her head on the wall. As she grows more tired, she scoots closer and closer to her dad and brother. She looks back at the crowd a few times and her face registers a complex disappointment in her own fatigue (so un-rock and roll) and in her dad for keeping them out so late. As R. Stevie Moore begins playing, Dad, still grinning widely, takes his kids to the bar for a beer and a couple of ice waters. The girl's face is grumpy now, reverting back to the child from the teenager. Some future significant other is going to see that face when the honeymoon period is over. I lose sight of them after that. After a good night's sleep, those kids are going to ignore the latter half of the show and remember the first half in the fond, partially revisionist dream-haze of the music obsessive. They got the fever. These kids are hooked.
P.S. Speaking of the fever, check this shit out. I just had multiple rockgasms. If that sentence turned you on and/or disgusted you, you're welcome.
Monday, June 27, 2011
Well, yeah, I'm depressed again. That's always fun for everybody. I'm in the worst physical shape of my life, too, so that's great. The tremendous amount of work I put into getting a second degree and looking for a job and degrading myself as a substitute teacher while I looked for work and the application process to nine grad schools when the economy collapsed? That all turned to shit. I did all that work for nothing. Nothing. And it took all my mojo. I've lost my mojo. My enthusiasm is tapped out. I'm in a band. I like the people in the band and I like the songs they write, but I'm having a hard time getting any pleasure out of playing the drums right now. I'm having a hard time getting any pleasure out of this blog or Twitter. I'm having a hard time getting any pleasure out of anything. I get drunk too often, sit on my ass too much, eat too much late-night garbage food. I get too much sleep three or four days a week and not enough sleep the other days. I'm turning my body into a sack of crap. I get out of bed and it feels like I haven't slept and my knees ache and my feet ache and my head hurts and I'm pissed off.
Here's the plan. The job search is going nowhere, so it can go fuck itself to nowhere. I need to get my health back. I'm going to start sleeping right. I'm going to get up early and get some exercise. I'm going to stop getting drunk. I'm going to stop eating garbage food and eating late at night. I'm going to take my ass off the Internet and read more books. I'm going to unplug myself from the current culture that I despise. I'm going to get my shit together. I'm tired of living like a jerkoff.
One exception to this plan: Two of my friends have an annual Fourth of July party. It is my favorite party of the year. The food is fantastic, the company is great, and the fun is about as fun as fun gets. I had to miss this party the last two summers to attend out-of-town weddings. This year, I am getting drunk as a lord, and I'm going to stuff my face like the world's fattest epicurean. But that's the exception. I want to feel better, and I've got to make some lifestyle changes to make this shit happen. Let's see if I can make it work.
Please excuse this self-indulgent drivel. I post this drivel publicly because I tend to stick to my plans when I make them public on this blog. I put this disclaimer at the end of the post instead of the beginning because fuck you that's why.
Wednesday, June 22, 2011
"We all gotta leave here sometime, and hopefully, it'll be at ninety-five, in our sleep, with a couple of big-booty old ladies feeding us grapes and ice cream." -- Bigg Robb, Roger Troutman's talk box tech
I'm beginning to think my own demise will occur much sooner, possibly next week, slumped over the computer, a mediocre heart implosion smacking me down in the middle of my filling out another pointless job application, surrounded by empty fruit snack wrappers, a half-finished glass of bourbon, three slices of white cheddar, and my own withering, rotting, decomposing self-belief. I'm a minor, mediocre, American failure. I haven't done anything, professionally, and will never do anything, professionally. No one will ever give me another opportunity to prove I can do anything other than take up space until this whole boring, mediocre system collapses and we start eating each other's boring, stupid flesh. Fuck you, and good night.
Friday, May 27, 2011
Tuesday, May 24, 2011
Wednesday, May 18, 2011
I just learned from the Facebooks that a friend of mine was accosted and nearly attacked at a bookstore by a nutcase who was angry at him for turning too slowly into the parking lot. The man was yelling that my friend's slow turn into the lot endangered his child's life. Not really sure how that would endanger anyone, but this guy had no problem leaving the child unattended in a hot car in the middle of a city while he tried to punch my friend in the back of the head for no reason.
A similar bizarre incident happened to me Sunday night while I walked to the Alamo Drafthouse theater's downtown location to see a screening of one of my favorite movies, John Cassavetes' The Killing of a Chinese Bookie. I was alone, walking down the street, minding my own business. I noticed a man walking five or six feet in front of me. His clothes fit him poorly, he walked in what can only be described as an aggressively apelike manner, and his skin had that particular red-dirt hue found only on young men who do physical outdoor farm work or hop trains and live on the streets. I made a mental note to keep my distance, but he began to turn around between every fourth or fifth step and glare directly at me with an unsettling mixture of hatred and pleasure. I readied myself. Best case scenario: he was going to ask me for money. Oh shit. I don't have any money. Maybe he wanted to give some insane spiel or manifesto. Most likely, he wants to start a fight for no reason. He started walking slower and slower. I passed him on the right. As I pass him, he turns to me and says, "What's your fucking problem?" I say, "I'm just walking," and keep going. Out of the corner of my eye, I see him take a swing at me. I turn back around, and his fist is about 6 inches from my head. A terrible swing, but a swing nevertheless. Then he takes two more airpunches in the direction of my head, but they're both too far away to connect. This guy is super nuts. He's trying to hit me, but also clearly trying not to hit me. What's his deal? Then he starts shouting at me and following me slowly for two blocks, calling me motherfucker, faggot, bitch, pussy, etc. I still don't know what set this guy off or what I would have done if his punches had connected or he had jumped me from behind. I was a foot taller than him, but he was pretty muscular and pretty insane, which is a scary combination.
Last week, a piece of shit punched a woman in the face and stole her purse in front of a bar my friends like to frequent. They caught him a few days ago, thanks to a sharp-eyed bouncer from a different bar.
Austin, what's with you this week? Get it together.
Sunday, May 08, 2011
To make things even more perverse, I have no problem with written opinions about art that conflict with mine. I love reading film, music, and literary criticism, and I don't feel angry or upset about negative reviews of work I love unless the writing, logic, or argument sucks. I also have some pretty strong opinions of my own about almost everything, which I frequently spout off here, often with a lack of decorum and grace. The angry rant and the exasperated tirade are part of what I do on this blog.
What's my deal? I wish I knew. Part of it is a heightened sensitivity that's a byproduct of coming out of a months-long depression. As anyone who reads this blog knows, my last five years have been fucking terrible. Part of it is context. I don't know those critics personally. They aren't friends of mine. It can't possibly be about me. Also, a written argument or opinion requires solitude and thought and actual reasons why the opinion is held. When you're sitting around with friends drinking a beer, you usually don't get beyond "That was shit!" or "That was great!" It's not the time and place for a critical discourse about aesthetics. That is not fun weekend material. Still, I sometimes feel like I'm on the receiving end of "that thing you like sucks" way more than any of my other friends, though that's most likely the ultra-sensitivity talking. I tend to think other people merely tolerate me so they can hang out with my wife, who is much better about not being a neurotic, depressive, rage-filled over-indulger than I am. I wasn't always so insecure, but life has really kicked me up the ass lately.
This weekend, I had two experiences of being on the receiving end of lonely opinion land, but one of them wasn't so bad and may have helped me get over this bullshit. In that case, some friends were bagging on a band I happen to love. I could feel my neurosis kicking in, and I made a conscious effort to relax and continue to have fun. After making a few comments back that were meant jokingly but also with some kernels of anger still threatening to come loose and make everything awkward for everybody, I calmed myself down, made fun of myself, mentioned my neurosis, and had a good time. Nobody meant me any ill will. Crisis averted. Weekend enjoyed. Maybe I can make this thing go away for good.
Then came Sunday, and I'm back to that Tom Noonan quote. Here it is again: "I don't think you go to a play to forget, or to a movie to be distracted. I think life generally is a distraction and that going to a movie is a way to get back, not go away." I went to Kelly Reichardt's new movie, Meek's Cutoff. I loved it. It's probably my favorite new movie I've seen this year. I connected so strongly with this movie, and I felt myself plugging back into life as I watched it. It's a movie of landscapes and faces and formal rigor and beauty and simplicity and ideas and history and emotion and structure. So many of my favorite movies give me back my life for a few hours. They strip away the bullshit distractions that get in the way of living and give me back my thoughts and feelings. They slow me down, make me notice details. They're my form of meditation. Meek's Cutoff might be one of those lasting movies for me. I need to see it a few more times, but it might be a contender. When it ended, I looked forward to sitting in the theater for a few seconds, enjoying that silent internal sigh of pleasure at seeing something great before going back out into daylight and traffic and an increasingly pointless job search and more fucking bullshit that never stops. Instead, two-thirds of the audience immediately and loudly started voicing their disapproval of the film. I was so rattled and shocked by this response. I can't even begin to describe how awful it made me feel. I've only seen an audience as vocal two other times, and they were both much happier experiences. After a packed opening weekend screening of Boogie Nights back in 1997, the crowd was so excited and so into the movie you could physically feel it. People were loud and happy when it ended. At a screening of the remake of The Wicker Man, I and the rest of the crowd devolved into hysterical laughter at the film's final twenty minutes of unintentional comedy. Maybe we ruined it for somebody who loved it, but it really seemed like everyone in the theater was spontaneously enjoying the mind-boggling terribleness. Besides, it was an involuntary response. I could not make myself stop laughing at Nicolas Cage in a bear costume punching women in the face and yelling about bees.
The response to Meek's Cutoff was uglier and ruder, and I don't know why. Maybe the problem was a Mother's Day crowd of mostly middle-aged and elderly people who thought they were going to see a straightforward genre western. Other than their ages, though, I can only make assumptions. I don't know why they decided to buy their tickets. All I know is that these people were distracted. They wanted to go away from their lives, not get them back. They wanted a fleeting diversion, and they wanted to discard it and get on with the next diversion. How do I know this? They loudly told me and everyone else in the room. A non-spoiler alert: The movie follows a group of settlers along the Oregon Trail in 1845 who have split off from the main trail to follow a short cut suggested by a guide. They are now lost and suspicious of the guide's motives. They need to find water. The movie ends without telling us whether the settlers found water or not, but this fact is irrelevant given what the film is trying to do visually and narratively. This lack of neat, tidy closure caused the audience more consternation and anger than if the movie had been 90 minutes of a closeup on someone's face yelling about different brands of cola. Immediately, people loudly complained. "Did they find the water?" "Why didn't they tell us if they found the water?" "They must have found the water. There was a tree." "Why would they end it without telling us about the water?" Not a single person mentioned the Indian (Rod Rondeaux) and Emily Tetherow (Michelle Williams), two characters far more important to the meaning of the final scene than the plot mechanics of a search for drinking water. At the same time as these loud, dumb, and grindingly unimaginative questions filled the room, some audience members started laughing derisively. Some boos followed. Then some smug jerk decided to speak for all of us and said, loud enough so everyone could hear, "I wonder if we can all go up to the counter and get a refund?" You can go ask, fuckhead, but please speak for yourself. Another man followed up with this gem: "Well, it was a movie. That's all I can say about it." Then more dismissive laughter. Then I lost it. I started talking to myself, swearing and angrily calling people idiots, still in my normal speaking voice. No one heard me except the people directly behind me. I was flooded with anger. I was angry at them, I was angry at myself, I was angry about not being able to find a job, I was angry at how dumb this country can be, I was angry at my beer gut, angry at my depression, angry at how mediocre life is most of the time. I went on a loud, profanity-filled tirade from the theater to the car and most of the way home about how oppressive crowds are and how most Americans are fat and stupid and how much I hated everyone and everything and why do people have to ruin things and why do people have no empathy and consideration and fuck this and fuck that and everything sucks and will always suck, making my wife mad because she'd loved the movie as much as me and I was ruining her time to quietly think about it and ease back into the daylight. I was being a loud jerk because other loud jerks had ruined my moment.
I calmed down, got myself together. I need to just let it go, but I don't understand this need for distraction. There was so much, SO MUCH, in that movie besides whether or not these characters found water, but that seemed to be the only thing those people in the theater cared about. They wanted a distraction. They wanted a manufactured situation that could be introduced, then solved, so they could forget it and move on to the next distraction. I go to movies, music, and books so I can get rid of these distractions and get away from the manufactured bullshit of jobs and bureaucracies and money and stuff and status and numbness and deadness and mediocrity and narcissism and people like them. They want to sit in air conditioning and see a princess get kidnapped so a princess can be rescued 90 minutes later and then they forget all about it and they drive back home and watch Dr. House solve another fucking medical mystery and then they go to their jobs and they look at applications and they send me an email saying thanks for applying but no thanks and then they die and a few people cry and then those people die and everyone that knew them is gone so nobody gives a shit about them anymore, and the same thing happens to me and to you and to everyone we know, but sometimes we hear a good song or eat a good meal or read a good book or see a good movie or scratch a dog's ear or rub a cat's head or swim or go somewhere we haven't gone or kiss somebody and the distractions stop and that moment is great and it's fleeting but those things can happen again and they will happen again and sometimes even those assholes in that theater have a moment like that and they might even help you if you were stranded on the side of the road and they're probably not so bad when they're not being annoying in movie theaters and I have a great wife and it's late and there are no distractions right now and it's okay.
Saturday, April 23, 2011
My alarm clock was beeping and I couldn’t make my hands do what they needed to do to turn it off. I’d been turning off alarm clocks for years. I was great at turning off alarm clocks, could do it asleep and in the dark. If there were a championship belt for turning off alarm clocks, I’d have cinched it around my beautiful waist on at least three separate occasions, but until that moment I’d never tried to silence the beeping, blinking machine while warm streaks of amber and fire-brick poured out of the top of my head and colored the white walls. I was in this predicament because I had ingested a small square of blotter paper of the type often purchased from that class of people my father refers to as “characters.” It’s very hard to leave their apartments. Some of them have exotic pets and they know a guy who can get you an albino lizard. No one ever takes them up on this offer. The contents of their refrigerators make very little sense. I’m thinking of one in particular that contained only an eight-ounce carton of chocolate milk, a porno magazine, two beers, and a bag of Cool Ranch Doritos. Don’t misunderstand me. My vices are mostly legal. I’m a drinker and an obsessive music lover and I smoke four or five cigarettes a year. I own so many books I’ll be dead before I’m halfway through the pile of unread ones. Sometimes, though, when my rut gets so deep I can’t see over it, I take a weekend trip to Hoffman’s lab. It’s just spring cleaning. A brain colonic. The biennial purge. I’m not a regular in downtown alleys or pawn shops. I’m a citizen. I work and vote and never carry much more than a little walking around money. I almost always know how to turn off my alarm clock.
My whole body was crackling and buzzing that morning, and the pillow wasn’t even warm when I tilted my head toward the hooting alarm. I hadn’t slept. A bald friend gave me the drugs at a terrible party. I was only there to drink a few beers, but the conversation was so bad it made the beer taste wrong. People talked about floor tile and law school and gas mileage. I was ready to make any poor decision that precipitated an exit. My bald friend – his name was Jason – gave me the stuff, gave it to me and two other bored acquaintances. We dropped the tabs, left the party before we were rubbery and traveling the spaceways, and drove out to the country. We turned off the highway and parked the car on the side of a dirt road near a wooden fence. Three cows stood in place on the other side, staring at nothing. We got out of the car, leaned against the fence, and looked at the cows while our internal chemistry changed. It was cold outside, but we didn’t notice because the cows looked so stupid and alien and strange and we were on drugs and wearing coats and gloves. The otherness of a cow’s face up close is something to see. There’s no lesson in it. It’s just unusual, looking at a cow’s face that closely in the dark. We share nothing with a cow. Don’t let PETA fool you. A cow is a cow, and we’re us.
I made it home by early morning. I don’t really know how. I was seeing colors and lights and thinking about the human connection to the reptilian essence. Somebody drove the lighted mothership, and we all got home without killing anyone or accidentally getting on a cruise ship or going to jail. I started thinking about my teeth until there weren’t any other thoughts. I ran my tongue over each individual tooth and felt the urge to brush. My teeth felt gritty and old and strange. I didn’t even take off my coat. I took off my gloves, but not my coat. I thought of that space under the refrigerator that never gets cleaned unless you move, and I felt my teeth occupying a similar space in my head. I wanted to brush the everlasting shit out of them, and I did. It was amazing, like coming up for air after the older kids at the pool hold your head underwater. My gums vibrated with pleasure. After several minutes of breathing through my nose, I spit out a gob of toothpaste, and it crawled around the sink in little jerks like a few frames of stop-motion animation. I decided to follow the gob if it somehow made it onto dry land, but the moving ball of fluoride and spit just kept circling the inside of the sink. I left it alone and opened the closet in my bedroom. I threw my coat on the floor because I didn’t think I could deal with a clothes hanger. Every tooth received individual attention, but a clothes hanger was another story. Too overwhelming. I might miss one sleeve and the whole thing, coat and hanger, would fall to the ground. How many times would I have to repeat the physical movements before I correctly placed the coat on the hanger and the hanger on the rack? It would take only two or three failed attempts to bring on the fear, invite the existential dread, turn everything the wrong way. The nightmare loop that sometimes plagues the lysergic traveler. You start thinking that way and you’re stuck there forever, dropping the coat and the hanger on the floor eternally. So much depends on a coat hanger. Yes, the coat must be tossed nonchalantly to the floor. Hang it up tomorrow. That is the right decision. I brought my eyes up from the floor and saw something that made no sense. Who was that woman in a bikini standing in my closet? She looked like Pam Grier in one of her ‘70s movies, with her perfectly symmetrical Afro and dark, creamy skin. Coffy, maybe, or Foxy Brown. She stood perfectly still, and responded to none of my questions, possibly because they were all variations on the same question, which was, “Who are you and what are you doing in my closet?” It was hardly bikini season. How could she maintain her composure in this weather? I mean, she was indoors, but it was a little cool in the house for swimwear. I looked hard at the woman until my eyes reconnected with my brain and realized, with some disappointment, that Pam was just an old beach towel draped across a suit jacket. People who say truth is stranger than fiction have it all wrong. The truth is imagination’s stern parent, the one who says “time for bed” and “you’ve had enough for one day” and “don’t waste the batteries in that flashlight” and “I’m counting to three.” Truth is never strange enough, not even that cow’s face. I sighed as I got into bed and that’s when the alarm started beeping.
I had to pull the alarm clock until the plug came out of the socket because my fingers were under the impression they were in the fifth row at a 1970 Grateful Dead concert in Oahu, third encore. I couldn’t perform any tasks requiring prestidigital precision. I could only slap and pummel and yank. I needed to call in sick, but how could I hit the buttons on the phone when I couldn’t even turn the alarm off? They were so tiny, those phone buttons, and my hands were idiot slabs, a couple of china shops after the bull went home. I was still a low-level throbbing space cadet. I needed to be straight for a couple of minutes so I could call my boss at the record store and make something up. I picked up the phone with my left hand and stared at the buttons. I couldn’t make sense of the thing. When did phones get so complicated? What did I usually do? I leaned in close and stared at the letters and numbers. Then I flipped it shut and continued to stare at it in wonder and consternation. That’s when it vibrated in my hand. I dropped it in creepy-crawly, all-consuming terror and pulled the pillow over my head. My god, it was like an angry little snake. I collected myself enough to remove the pillow, pick up the little beast, and answer it. My boss’s voice greeted me from the other side. Can you believe that luck? Sometimes you catch a break. I tried to say hello, but a random assortment of grunts and alveolar trills came out instead. My boss reacted as if I’d clearly enunciated an articulate greeting.
“Hello, Jim,” he said. “I was just looking at the shift schedule and noticed you were on the clock today. Can you come in a little early and help us unpack and shelve some more of these new releases? Now that the black ice is gone, we finally got the shipment. Three days late, every time we have bad weather. I’m getting sick of this. A ton of shit came out this week, too, God knows why. Not that anyone’s gonna buy it, but you never know. Maybe a busload of people who’ve never heard of the Internet are making their way here as we speak, clamoring for mediocre indie rock.”
I made a few more noises before my words returned. I tried to sound sick, which was pretty easy since I’d been awake for 24 hours and living in a pharmacological nightmare wonderland where Tex Avery was in charge of the laws of physics.
“Hey, Will, I was just about to call you.” That part was true. “I hate to do this to you, but I feel really sick. I’ve been throwing up half the night. I won’t be able to make it in today.”
“Don’t worry about it,” Will said. He was a reasonable man, and was therefore easy to lie to. “Get some rest, drink some fluids. We’ll get by today. Bob’s coming in at nine, and Shawna wants some extra hours, so I bet I can get her to fill your shift. We’ll get this shit on the shelves one way or the other. Take her easy, buddy. Get well.”
“I’ll do that, Will,” I said and hung up. I turned the phone off and crawled back into bed. Visiting hours in my brain were mercifully drawing to a close. I slept until it was almost dark, woke up tired but no longer hallucinating, and ate some cereal that consisted of some kind of flake with some kind of powdery, blueberry-flavored stuff stuck to the flake. I turned my phone back on and checked the messages. I didn’t have any, but the phone rang a few minutes later. It was Scott. He was a close, personal friend of the bald guy who gave me the drugs, but he’d spent that evening reading and was ready to go out.
“Jim,” Scott said. “What’s going on? I’m bored. Lee’s here, too. He’s also bored.”
“Morning, gentlemen,” I said.
“Uh, Jim,” Scott said. “It’s almost 10 p.m.”
“Last night just kept going,” I said. “But I’m refreshed, well-rested, enriched with vitamins and minerals courtesy of a fine bowl of cereal I finished right before you called. I’m up for hanging out tonight. What can we do?”
“Hold on.” I heard Scott and Lee conferring in the background, and then Scott came back on the line. “We could go downtown. Have a couple drinks. If it’s boring, we’ll pick up some beer and go to Lee’s house.”
“Okay,” I said. Though Scott and I had been friends for years, I only knew Lee as an acquaintance. He and Scott had gone to high school together. I liked what little I knew about Lee, but he was a nervous guy with a habit of darting his eyes back and forth when he was listening. He always seemed to be expecting a surprise attack from behind.
Scott and Lee picked me up ten minutes later in the van Scott borrowed from his stepfather after his Kia broke down. We drove to The Green Lizard first, a hangout for college kids and twentysomethings who lacked visible cultural stereotypes. The drinks were cheap and strong, but the jukebox played manufactured pop and earnest singer-songwriters at conversation-destroying decibels. We looked at each other awkwardly, had a round of whiskey and Cokes, and left for Pine Top. The music was better but the drinks weren’t cheap, and the bar was thick with people and a couple of German shepherds belonging to the owner who kept sticking their noses in everyone’s crotches. We wandered out to the patio, but the air was bitingly cold, so we went back inside, slowly sipping our overpriced whiskeys and looking at girls, wet dog noses occasionally probing into our personal areas. We had nothing much to say to each other. Lee’s eyes were darting back and forth like he was watching a tennis match his mortgage was riding on.
“Fuck this,” Lee said. “Let’s just get some beer and go back to my house.”
Scott and I put up no resistance. Lee had purchased a moderately expensive house the previous year with a small inherited windfall from a childless dead uncle. It was an odd purchase. The house was enormous and in a distant, suburban part of the city. His neighbors were almost-rich elderly lawn care zealots and middle-aged couples. Some of them jogged with electronic apparatuses stuck all over them. Lee seemed to have no opinion, pro or con, about his neighborhood, his house, and the decision to buy it. It was just another thing in his line of sight, just something he did. He had no attachment to the place. This was all second-hand information from Scott, however. I’d never been to Lee’s house before. I really didn’t know the guy. We kept staring at each other stupidly, so I decided to force some conversation between Scott and me.
“Your youngest brother just finished school, right?” I asked Scott.
“No,” Scott said. “He’s been done for a couple of years.”
“Wow,” I said. “Time really moves. Sociology, right?”
“Yeah,” Scott said. “You got that part right.”
“So, what’s he doing?”
“Nothing. He worked an office job for a year, then quit and moved back in with my folks. He plays video games, sleeps, reads blogs, smokes weed.”
“Maybe he’ll grow out of it soon. Or maybe he won’t. You know, I have an uncle who quit his job in Arizona and drove to his parents’ house and never left. Never got another job. His car’s still where he parked it, weeds growing over it, flat tires.”
“What job did he quit?
“Car sales. He did it for thirteen years, and then one day, he just pulls up at their house and never leaves.”
“What does he do all day?”
“Helps his folks in and out of chairs. Reads the paper. Watches TV. Sleeps in.”
“Huh,” Scott said, creating his own version of the Arizona uncle in his head. “Not bad.”
“Not bad is right,” I said. “I’ll never be able to play that card, though, if it all turns to shit.”
“Divorced parents. They remarried. It screwed everything up. The home base is gone. The headquarters imploded. Selfish pigs. Don’t have kids if you can’t stay together.”
Scott looks at me and I don’t know what he’s thinking. He goes back to his brother.
“Your uncle from Arizona and my brother. I know what you’re saying but you can’t compare that, man. Your uncle. That was burnout. This is pre-burnout. People want to be infants forever now. “
“Maybe he’s depressed.”
“He’s 23. What does he know about how bad it’s going to get?”
Lee entered the room and threw each of us a cold can of beer. I didn’t notice him slink away while Scott and I talked. We were still wearing our coats and gloves. Lee’s roommates moved out the previous month, one getting married and the other moving to Portland, and Lee saved utility money by refusing to turn on the heat. I could see my breath. I always ran a little cold, but Lee’s house was frigid.
“You want a tour,” he asks us. We nod. The room we’re sitting in, the living room, is comfortable and inviting, temperature aside. Lee has two easy chairs, a sturdy couch, a nice wooden coffee table, a television, an old lamp with a red shade on a wooden end table, a rug, and a stack of paperbacks and magazines on both the coffee and end tables. An old baby grand piano sits along the wall on the opposite side of the TV. Its wood frame is scuffed, but it’s still a beautiful instrument. Next to the living room is a huge kitchen. Lots of shelves and counter space, and two ovens. “One of them doesn’t work,” Lee says, anticipating our question.
A hallway leads from the kitchen to the bathrooms and bedrooms. Shelves are built into the walls along the hallway and are sparsely stocked with canned goods and two fishing poles. A small bed fills an empty space below the shelves on the right side. It’s an odd place for a bed. “My dad sleeps there when he visits,” Lee says.
Three large bedrooms and two bathrooms comprise the rest of the house. One bedroom is empty, a second contains the remnants of an old weight bench, and a large book collection, mostly fiction, is scattered across the floor of the third. Scott and I start thumbing through the pile. It’s all good stuff. Don DeLillo, Wright Morris, Eudora Welty, Alice Munro, Stanley Elkin.
“You have good taste,” I say to Lee.
He shrugs and says, “I need some bookshelves. I sold mine.”
He looks at us while we rummage through his collection. I can’t tell if he’s embarrassed at the state of his library or anxious to go back in the living room, but he’s noticeably uncomfortable. Scott and I, unrepentant book whores, don’t care and keep looking through the pile.
“You hungry?” Lee asks.
We nod and say that, yes, now that we think about it, we could go for some food.
“I’ve got some frozen pizzas,” Lee says. “I’ll put a couple of them in the oven. The working oven. It’ll warm things up a little.”
“Sure,” Scott says. “Sounds great. Can I borrow this Wright Morris book?”
“Yeah,” Lee says. “Borrow anything you want.”
He heads to the kitchen and I look at Scott. “Why’d he sell his bookshelves?” I ask.
“He’s trying to save money. His mortgage and his property tax are expensive as hell, now that he’s not getting rent from his roommates. They cut back on his hours at the print shop, too. He used to get a lot of overtime. This was his bedroom. He also sold his bed and his stereo. He sleeps on the couch in the living room.”
“Looks like he doesn’t even use this part of the house anymore.”
“No, he doesn’t. Saving on the utilities. I think he’ll probably sell it if he doesn’t get new roommates soon.”
“Why did he even buy it?”
“I don’t know. We’re too young to be homeowners. We should probably go back out there. I need another beer anyway.”
Lee is standing next to the working stove, waiting for it to heat up. On the counter, two frozen pepperoni pizzas wait on two pizza pans. Scott and I grab another beer and toss a third to Lee. Scott drifts over to the piano, and I head over to the couch and pull an old issue of Mojo with Joe Strummer on the cover from Lee’s coffee table. Scott starts playing scales. I’ve never heard Scott play the piano before, though we’ve talked about his music degree a few times.
“It needs tuned,” Lee says.
“It’s fine,” Scott says back. “It could use a little tune-up, but it still sounds pretty good.”
Scott starts playing something by Bach. I didn’t pick it up by ear. I had to ask him what he was playing after he finished. I don’t know anything about classical music, though I like to listen to the classical station in the car when I’m driving alone at night. I’m a rock and jazz guy myself. Even through my ignorant ears, Scott’s playing sounds beautiful. I quit reading the magazine and just stare at the pages, listening to his hands on the keys. Occasionally, a note sounds wonky or unintentionally dissonant on the slightly out-of-tune piano, but Scott plays through it. He’s calm, relaxed. So am I. Lee seems content standing by the oven, sipping beer. We don’t talk to each other, but it’s not awkward like in the noisy bar. Here, we’re stretching out our own little pieces of time.
“Pizzas are done,” Lee says.
Scott quits playing the Bach piece and puts his gloves back on. I haven’t taken mine off.
“You have any napkins?” I ask Lee.
“Use your gloves,” he says, grinning. I grin back and wipe the sauce from my face with the back of my gloved right hand. We stand in Lee’s kitchen with the two ovens and eat both pizzas without saying a word. We chug our beers after the pizzas are gone and smile. We’re freezing and happy.
“Let’s go outside,” Scott says. “It’s about the same temperature anyway.”
We go. Lee hands us each another beer and takes a pack of cigarettes out of his coat pocket. He puts one in his mouth and lights it. He doesn’t offer one to me or Scott, but we only smoke four or five times a year so no one is offended. We stand around, not saying much, watching cars go past in the dark. Lee’s neighbors from across the street, a middle-aged couple that are a little too handsome, pull into their driveway. We pay little attention to them until we hear the sound of breaking glass. A bottle has been thrown to the ground, on purpose, by the husband.
“Goddamn it!” he yells. “What the fuck is your problem?”
“Whoa,” I say. Lee raises his eyebrows and glances at me and Scott. We lean back against the wall and settle in for the show.
“You’re acting like an idiot,” she yells back. “Why did you break that bottle?”
“You know why,” he continues yelling. “I can’t believe you. I can’t fucking believe you!”
The yelling draws Lee’s next-door neighbor out of his home. He’s balding, with a grouchy face and the physique of an ex-ball player. He looks at us like we’re somehow responsible for this disturbance.
“What the hell’s going on over there?”
“I don’t know,” Lee says quietly. “An argument, I guess.”
“How long you guys been lollygagging out here, watching it?”
I began to dislike Lee’s neighbor. I drank my beer and scowled at him, not responding.
“We just came out here,” Lee says.
“Well,” the neighbor says, continuing to stink-eye us, “one thing’s for sure. If he lays hands on that woman, I’m going to go over there and straighten things out. One thing I can’t stand is a man who puts his hands on a woman.”
He says this like he’s separating the kind of man he is from the kind of men we are, like Scott, Lee, and I are in favor of the Ike Turner school of problem solving, or too apathetic to get involved if we see it happen. Who is this guy? What’s his game? The only thing that’s been physically battered so far is the bottle Mr. Husband threw on the ground. I decide I don’t like this man, and that I am going to give him a hint about my feelings. I try to shy away from unnecessary conflict, but it was a nice night of impromptu Bach performances and silent pizza-eating and this loudmouth was destroying the mood.
“So, you’re against a man roughing up a woman?” I ask.
Neighbor looks at me and grins. Even his smile is full of disdain.
“What, and you’re not?” he asks. “It takes a real coward to hit a woman. A guy like that can’t handle a real fight.”
“I admire your stance,” I say. Scott and Lee look at me like I just dropped down from the sky. “It takes real guts to lay it out there like that. That’s a controversial stand, my man. You’re going against the grain when you deliver such an uncompromising and rare opinion. You deserve our admiration. You’re a true American, and a true hero.”
“Excuse me?” the neighbor says, and walks over to me. He puts his face close enough to my face that I can see little imperfections in the skin on his nose. He has forgotten all about the threatened, imperiled woman across the street. I am his current fascination.
“I just wanted to tell you what a hero you are,” I say. “No one has ever come out against spousal abuse before. The time was now for somebody to step up, and you did it. You should be proud of yourself. Not only did you say you were against it, but you loudly said you were against it twice. I admire that.”
I found myself on the cold ground, blood running out of my nose. The world was sideways. The neighbor leaned his face down toward mine.
“That’s what you get for being a smart-ass, you little prick,” he said, and walked back into his house. I stared at the trail of blood coming from my nose, and the shoes of Scott and Lee. Their faces leaned down toward me. Scott handed me a tissue. I pressed it to my nose. It stuck, and I left it there.
“Are you okay?” Scott asked me.
“Yeah,” I said. “I think so. I’ll just lay here a second, catch my breath.”
“Why did you do that?” Lee said. His eyes were pinging back and forth like mad. “I have to live next door to that guy.”
“I don’t know,” I said.
I rolled over onto my left side, away from Lee, facing the street. The couple was still shouting and arguing. They hadn’t even looked this way. I watched them, and I kept watching them. I watched them until I could block out the sounds they made and see them as the shapes of dancers moving across the lawn and the driveway. I put my glove in my mouth and sucked on the dried pizza sauce stuck there. I was cold. I hadn’t slept in two days, and an old man had just punched me in the nose. I pulled the blood-soaked tissue off my face and felt my nose with my gloveless hand. The blood was dry.
“It’s okay,” Lee said. “The guy’s a jerk. He just wanted to punch somebody. He thought he was going to hit that guy who’s fighting with his wife, but you started mouthing off and he didn’t even have to cross the street. See, he’s back inside now, and I bet he’s not even interested in that little domestic squabble anymore.”
“I should have just kept my mouth shut,” I said, still on my side and facing away from Lee. “I’m tired.”
“You should get off the ground,” Lee said. “You can sleep on the spare bed in the hallway if you want.”
“Okay,” I said, still on the ground. I closed my eyes and waited for decisions to be made for me.
“You can crash on the couch, Scott, if you want,” Lee says.
“Where will you sleep?” Scott asks Lee.
“I don’t know, the chair maybe?”
“No, man. It’s your house. I’m not going to take your couch away from you. Just give me a pillow. I’ll sleep in the van.”
I roll the word “yeah” around in my head, imagine it written on a piece of notebook paper and then animated and orange in color, moving across a television screen, as Scott and Lee pick me up by the shoulders and drag me inside the house. I sleep, under a fishing pole and a can of tomato soup, in a hallway connecting the furnished and empty halves of a large, cold house belonging to a man I know a little in a neighborhood I don’t know at all.