Thursday, July 29, 2010

"415 101" Snippet

Apropos of a lot, here's a snippet from my forthcoming novel 415 101.

My dad told me that I was one of those people that no one actually liked; rather, I was just the kinda person you tolerated.

You could say that's a shitty thing for a parent to tell their child, especially if they don't try to apply a balm later, which my father most certainly did not. Thing is, my pop ain't lie a day in his life. Sure, back when he knocked back booze at a champion level he'd conceal the bottles in cabinets and toilets so my mom wouldn't sniff 'em out, but she eventually would, and she'd confront him, and he'd...fess up unflinchingly.

He never lied. He hated a prevaricating son of a bitch. I can hear him say it now, his gruff voice soundin' like Karl from Sling Blade doing a fair impersonation of Foghorn Leghorn echoing in my head.

And he wasn't lying to me. I really am not very likable at all. Lovable? That's off the table. That's off the floor too, actually, that's seeped under the carpet, under the tiles, into and through the dirt below, snaking shamefully to the center of the Earth where no one can expose it to light again.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Obligatory True Blood Post

Oh shit, who's Sookie gonna end up with? Are you Team Eric? Team Bill? Team Alcide?

Fuck that.

New team.

Team Pam.

Time to dyke this shit up, Alan Ball.

Thank you.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Beautiful Jukebox: The Music of Sonic Youth (Selection 15--More Casper Than Brown Lady, Really)

MAY 2000

On July 4, 1999, thieves made off with the van housing all of Sonic Youth's gear. One minute it's in the Ramada Inn parking lot, the next it's being pushed through congested California roads to meet its destiny.

SY soldiered on, playing their scheduled gig at the This Ain't No Picnic festival thanks to the generosity of the other bands on the bill, who likely did not have to be asked twice. A lesser band, comprised of lesser people, may have quit. The guitars you spent years collecting and modifying to specifications that 0.7% of anyone in the history of the instrument would ever conjure, the effects, the drums...all gone. Forcing Thurston Moore for the first time in his life to play a goddamn Les Paul.

While I believe--I mean, yeah, let's get this outta the way--that NYC Ghosts & Flowers is the band's worst album, I do not blame it's inferior quality on the gear theft. I don't "blame" anything. Great artists aren't always great. 1942. Beatles For Sale. Floaters. Ya know? Everyone, given time, will slip. Maybe even fall.

The Yootz recruited master musician/producer/remixer/prepared-sound craftsman Jim O'Rourke for some guidance and extra squiggle. He would soon take on a much greater role.

"Free City Rhymes"--For being the nadir of their discography, it sure has a stunning start. The chiming notes are apportations materializing over a screeching, vibrating swamp. Thurston wastes no time: "Ghosts passing time." More lines of casual spectral travel follow.

A harbinger of things to come, though, is the seven and half minute run time. Not the length, but the padding. The noise at the end seems there for its own sake. Before this song, that was one accusation I didn't feel you could rightfully hurl at them.

"Renegade Princess"--Thurston, Kim and Lee on vocals should be a treat on par with a fat plate of Mississippi Mud Cake. But this album isn't called MS Ghosts and Flowers now is it?

Minute and a half of tedious wordage passes before they wake Steve up. Once he is free to be his other alter ego, Stevey Shell the Unflinching King of Bap!, "Renegade Princess" actually gets interesting! It gains menace ("They're gonna fight for your blood tonight") and Thurston's subdued snarl sounds better here than it has in years.

Rafael Toral contributes galactic guitfiddle as the song nears its conclusion. Would've really helped at the beginning too.

"Nevermind (What Was It Anyway?)"--Tense and sultry, with sonics wisely tamped throughout. Nowhere is this more evident than the infamous "Boys go to Jupiter/Get more stupider/Girls go to Mars/Become rock stars" section, where it seems like the fellas could really blast windows out if they wanted to, but they're just not.

And about those lines...my God, every argument for the alleged uselessness of Kim Gordon in Sonic Youth seems to begin and end with reference to those lyrics. Which she borrowed from her young daughter. Kim Gordon did not, repeat did not come up with that couplet on her own. It's a pretty basic playground chant throughout history, people, or at least the history of playgrounds. It ain't all genius outta the mouths of babes, okay, Tina Fey's daughter is the extreme exception.

Variations include:

Boys go to Jupiter, get more stupider
Girls go to Mars, and drive red cars

Boys go to Jupiter, get more stupider
Girls go to Mars, eat candy bars

It's fucking hilarious that after references to Basquiat and being naked she just throws that in there. Every review I read decrying the puerile terror I just love the part that much more.

"Small Flowers Crack Concrete"--This here? This is some sloppy Thurston. A turgid, urgent turd masquerading as beatific poetry.

NYC street scene
The ripped shirt, a bloody mattress
Lying on top of a Puerto Rican pirate
The clairvoyant homosexual pretzel vendor
Plugitin bloitout
Cheap dirt carpet marijuana

Basically.

"What did you bring me?
Not a goddamn thing, yeah
And what did you leave me?
Another tombstone dream, yeah"

"Oh salacious mansion." "Salacious" is one of the greatest words ever. It sounds like you're licking barbecue sauce off of an especially exquisite body part. And this is what he does to it?

"Panic net." Okay, that one actually sounds good. Quality band moniker, too, if anyone is so inclined. But I cannot make it through this song. Nothing memorable I actually want to remember happens during it.

"Bleed for nothing, nada."

I'm surprised he didn't go on, "Squat, bubkes, zilch. Mister Dobalina, Mister Bob Dobalina."

"Side2Side"--Jim O and William Winant help out on this art piece that features Kim stoically reciting commonplace words whilst rolling up pot in pans. Mind-fucking live, trust me.

"StreamXSonik Subway"--A quirky quark, imaginatively constructed. There is quite a bit to enjoy here: the main guit part could inspire Doozers to erect cave-smashing towers; Thurston's A, A, A, B, C, C, C, B scheme, wherein he spins up some colored and coded wordplay; his snug-not-smug delivery, featuring the personality that "Small Flowers Crack Concrete" lacked. Jim swooshes in with wacked-out schiz so it all sounds like the fire that will inevitably flare up when you fail to clean the lint filter in the dryer.

"NYC Ghosts & Flowers"--Allright, enough. We aren't fucking around anymore. Put that goddamn magazine down and throw your dispassion to the wind. This is the epic tale of dragons and fire in a centuries-long battle for domination, except the dragons are poets and they're breathing out drugs and it runs eight minutes. For the second straight LP, LR takes the gold, crafting an engrossing tribute to the artists that the entire album sought to honor in the first place. His readings are meaningful, like every line that escapes past his lips sets off white-hot flashes throughout his limbic system. Contrast this with Thurston's detached, superficially descriptive stanzas on "Small Flowers Crack Concrete." (Both songs, interestingly, reference mass arrests.)

"I last saw you alive/Inclined to thrive."

Always puts me in mind of small rooms that are almost totally dark, save for some natural light peeking in from the outside world, occupied by people born with a perception so profound it renders the standard routine of human survival useless. So they're just in their space, waiting for a friend to tell them a story that they can spit back out to a world that will, at best, grasp a third of the significance.

The climax is nothing less--or more--than the dirt filling in a hole, stealing away the light, sucking away the breath, and stilling the heartbeat, preparing the soul for transmigration.

On the "old" sonicyouth.com forum, this track won the honor of Greatest SY Song Ever. I miss that fuckin' board sometimes. So disorganized and glitchy.

"Lightnin'"--Kim on trumpet? Thurston mating a bike horn with his guitar? This should be--should be--a must-hear, a never-skip, a brain-frazzler, a toe-curler, a teeth-loosener.

It ain't. It's good. It's there. Live they would go the shit off on it, and when possible, soul-scatters like Mats Gustaffson and William Winant would aid and abet the Sonic cause, propelling the basic idea into the stratosphere. As a hint, a promise, it really had no place on an album, much less the last track. This ball don't bounce. It squiggles and squeaks, and I'm sure some alien canine's head began to vibrate, but it just makes me wanna throw in a bootleg from 2000.



I don't give letter or number grades to these albums, because doing so prejudices the readers perception of the review before they start word one. If I did go by either system, though, I sure as sloppy pig shit wouldn't give NYC Ghosts & Flowers a "0.0."

Sadly, Pitchfork's review is inextricably linked with the album even ten years later. The utter gall, the sheer audacity of this Bread the Crescent Rolls, this hack with no saw. A zero means nothing, empty, devoid of anything redeeming. And that, sonic friends, is ludicrous. "Free City Rhymes" and the title track on their own assure nothing less than a 5 of 10 (again, if I was so inclined). The album's most grievous sin is not being poor, but being average. The most scathing indictment in the whole P-fork review is of the author's own taste. If you purport to have enjoyed the music of SY in the past, yet fail to glean the beauty of either song I just mentioned...but you know something? I guess someone could say the same thing about me and this review? How could I just adore A Thousand Leaves but be so unimpressed by this record? It's a ponder.

This is not the only thing wrong with the review. It is the bane of the music journalist to constantly reference the universal "we" and "our." I? Use "I." I would never presume; presumption of collective opinion indicates insecurity in your opinion. That ad populum stuff is for the lazyboned. I stand by my writing till the cows eat the moon cheese.

You may very well adore this album. You may find "Small Flowers Crack Concrete" mesmerizing and artistic, a grand example of Thurston Moore's inextinguishable punk spirit. You may feel that Sonic Youth utterly lost the plot after this album and have yet to retrieve it. You aren't "right" nor are you "wrong." You, like me, just "are." Some folk can't handle purgatory. They're the ones who vomit out self-serving articles full of snark, pointless pseudo-analysis, and flat-out prevarications and libel.

It's all gracious, y'all. Living the Sonic life means: step up, bare yourself and only yourself, and don't fucking lie. Three steps that once taken mark out the path to a bliss you can walk in and out of at will.

I didn't give up on Sonic Youth even after being sorely let down by NYC Ghosts & Flowers; because even their failures contained more hints at success deferred than the triumphs of most other bands. Because not everyone is always beautiful when appearing naked. Because they don't lie.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Cardinal

I guess the introductory paragraph is where I joke about how amazing it is that this post doesn't concern Sonic Youth.

Ha.

What most of my readers don't know--'cause they haven't asked, and I ain't told--is that this blog is pretty much where I put my decompression pieces, those bits of writing I scribble at when my heavy duties get to be too much. By "heavy duties," I mean my novels and poetry. (Yeah, I actually create my own universes, in addition to commenting on those crafted by other more skilled artisans.)

Anyway, I wrote this last Friday and it's about time I got it up.


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Man...I spent almost all my half hour waiting for the train tryin' to elucidate on paper why a cardinal flying across my field of vision while I was walking to the station stole my senses for a second but all I could muster was a series of viciously unreadable run-on sentences, ala this one.

Yeesh.

My mom loves cardinals. 'Round here you don't see 'em much. But she's KY bnb, and that's the state bird. I grew to love them too, mainly 'cause they're redbirds, and thus more striking than the plain ol' robins and crows that tend to alight onto western Maryland.

My mother has a birdbath in her backyard, one she can see standing at the kitchen sink. Robins were the most frequent visitors. Some other unspectacular types. Not many cardinals. Or blue jays, for that matter.

Not long after my father died, nearly three years ago, a cardinal came by. Every day for two weeks, a frequency unprecedented to my mom's eyes.

Not long after my father died, my oldest sister, who like our mother has a substantial collection of sundries featuring the redbird, noticed cardinals flitting around her garden for several weeks. Again, seeing just one or two a week was pretty special. But two or three in a day?

When I decided to move to Frederick last month, Mom drove me out to view a potential apartment. Top half of a house, no utilities due, near a historic, gorgeous, vibrant downtown. I was so taken by the possibility of escaping Hagerstown at long last that my apprehension accelerated and I began to voice a thousand reasons why it wouldn't work out.

Mom was steering us down Alternate Route 40, just like every weekday since I'd started work in Frederick. I had worked myself into a lather, speechless from rage at imagined setbacks, tears streaming down my splotchy face.

A cardinal flew across the car. Close enough to make out the gray on its breast. In the two months Mom had been taking me to and from work, we never saw no goddamn cardinals.

Mom said it was a sign. I have always believed in spirits and spiritual guidance of both a positive and negative nature, way before my father passed. So I must admit it shocked me out of my sorrow. A bit.

I got the apartment.

I lost my job.

My first week in Frederick, I was a wreck no one was slowing down to gawk at. I loved my new place; great location, great neighbors. But; no income, no phone. Family helped of course, but loans from your kin is just receiving welfare from a government that loves you very much.

I walked every day, keeping my metabolism boosted, building leg muscle, soaking up the sun in a very non-Sheryl Crow manner, and wondered if I'd ever get the chance to fully enjoy all the shops and restaurants I strolled by and gazed into. Everything looked appealing. Except my future.

It was only a week after settling in when my feet turned me down the end of my block towards Laboring Sons Alley. My mind was no doubt suffused with some self-doubting/loathing/immolating bullshit when a cardinal flew out in front of me. First one I'd seen since moving, and I spent fucking hours outside, using exercise as an anti-psychotic medication.

Today I'm heading to DC for job training. I'm type crazed--training in the capital, job split between Frederick and Gaithersburg. Lotsa travel. Lotsa room for error.

Walking to the MARC station this morning, I passed by Laboring Sons Alley. It was a bit after 6, and my urge to vomit billowy waves had just passed. I tried to replace all the worst-case scenarios doing an HB stomp in my gourd with best-case (or rather, "likely") ones.

A cardinal flew out right in front of me, and settled on a phone pole across the street. Second one I've seen since moving here.

Coincidence my big ass.

I don't know how it's gonna work out, my life. But it will.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Beautiful Jukebox: The Music of Sonic Youth (Selection 14--Collecting the Ravelling)

APRIL 1998

A Thousand Leaves saw light three years after Washing Machine, a gap previously unmatched in Sonic Youth's recorded history. Every second of the record shows the band as far away from the sound of Goo and Dirty as possible, the prevailing aesthetic sentiment one of squawk-boxes prodded and pounded, of simple words fit into abstract sentences, of every excess bit of fabric dropped on the studio picked up, collected and re-threaded to create some marvelous new garb. The first album they recorded at their new Echo Canyon just happened to be their best ever.

The cover is a piece by Marnie Webster called "Hamster Girl." Sometimes I stare at in hopes it will make some kind of sense, but in the end it makes no kind of nothing. The hand makes me think of the "Time Warp Tickers" game in the legendarily garbation Action 52 collection, and why are they touching the goddamn hamster and why is there a hamster, was it going to try and crawl up in that poor little girl in the background?

The tri-guit deployed yet again, showing the effects of effects. Seriously, they are phased the fuck out all over this album, and I couldn't be happier. It's like a Caraviggio painting, cloaked in shadows with beams of light perfectly elucidating key moments and figures of the work.

You ready to see me bloviate even further? I know I love this album, but I'm not sure about you.

What are you doing? Looking at my blog. And what do you see? The words of a woman in rapt adoration of recorded sound. I see--someone who shares this passion. So let's adore.

"Contre Le Sexisme"--What incantatory force drives Kim Gordon to enter into a non-lysergic wonderland, "Eat Me" shirt stretched over her chest, dead bent on exploring and exclaiming while ducking the pebbles the rabble hurl at her in their ignorance?

"A calm wind will stir me too," she assures the peculiar, unfriendly creatures who surround her. Searching for allies, she waves at the sound. The sound waves back.

Streeeeeeetch. Kim plays her vox like she and the fellas tend to play their electrified banjos. Yet many who marvel at the latter take umbrage with the former (and atop it all, neglect to acknowledge Kim's role, making it all about Lee and Thurston, like Kim isn't deadly when she straps on six).

"A thousand leaves for your disguise" is not only the first of several lyrical refs to the album title, but reminds me of Margaret Cho's last resort plan to get laid: "I'm just gonna have to cover with leaves, and hope somebody falls in."

"Sunday"--A tribute to torpidity that sucks all the helium out of the one-eyed prude balloon and recites lyrics that can potentially strike the listener as personal while remaining ambiguous enough to make said listener wonder what it is they're relating to.

Sunday--lazy, languorous, beasts with ambiguous features lurking in crooks and cracks. Thurston's Sundays sound hopeful, wistful, and in love. When I was young, Sundays meant the last day before school started again. When I got older, Sundays meant the last day before work started again. Extended unemployment brought the joy back, but one thing about being a wage slave? The "wage" part. Thurston Moore is a real lucky fucker.

The delicate intro, relentlessly familiar riff, which eats itself after some time in the deep fryer--"Sunday" is like the rest of the album, immaculately structured to reward repeated listenings.

"Female Mechanic Now on Duty"--One of the greatest song titles in their history, for sure. Kim took her lyrical inspiration from Meredith Brooks' insipid smash "Bitch" ("I'm a bitch, I'm a mother, I'm a child, one-hit wonder"). You'd think Kim would straight smash on a triflin' ho, twist gnarled wire into a Barbie head, but her words are actually underwhelmingly inscrutable.

None of that matters; the guitar work is carving itself into the side of a mountain. It's the kind of skronking raunch that either turns you off or turns you on--you don't shrug when faced with Sonic Youth at the height of their powers. "Female Mechanic" is a pedal clinic, but far from sterile. The careening wails give way to falling leaves 'round about 300 seconds in, and I can just see Snoopy blowing them over to a waiting orange and brown pile.

(The second half of the song was taken directly from the band's performance on Sessions at West 57th, one of their most breathtaking television appearances.)

"Wildflower Soul"--"I don't want to be cynical. That's one artistic temperament that I don't feel has any real place in music"--Thurston Moore, Rolling Stone, 1994

I don't know that I agree with that opinion, mainly because I don't see why any temperament shouldn't cross all art forms, but I appreciate what he's saying. It means "Wildflower Soul," a breathtakingly cohesive appreciation of blissful, carefree youth that also celebrates the inevitable growth. From the first molten notes to the gentle breeze that churns into a full-blown wind storm freeing seeds from their puff, it's more epic poem than song.

Kairotic Youth.

"Hoarfrost"--The only song from A Thousand Leaves I've seen live more than once. (My ideal SY setlist? The entirety of this album, with "Silver Rocket" and "Starpower" as the encore. You're not in the mood? Well you get in the mood!)

Inspired by a hike on the white Canadian hills that Lee took with Leah Singer, and shit, you can walk gingerly around inside this song. Second best song about snow ever, just behind "Skating" by the Vince Guaraldi Trio and a league ahead of "Snodland" by Soft Machine. So much happening, but it converges in the middle of an imperfect circle.

In the winter, when the streets are buried underneath inches of flakes, Patrick helps his pops plow paths clear. One year "Hoarfrost" popped up on his mp3 player as he toiled. When I was able to speak with him the day after, weary myself from shoveling, the first words out of his mouth were wrapped up with wonder--not over the hills of snow, but over looking at said hills while listening to "Hoarfrost."

"It was perfect. That song is what snowfall looks like, what winter feels like."

Lee's voice is fragile ice, as key a component to the vibe as the sounds he walks alongside. "We'll know where when we get there."

(Now is the perfect time to pull out the parentheses and point out yet again how amazing and bang-on Steve Shelley is behind the kit. Just death from above. I don't know how dude can keep from jumpin' back and kissing himself most days.)

"French Tickler"--A french tickler is a condom featuring pleasurable protrusions. I've never had any experience with a prophylactic of such a sort, but I did once have sex to this album. Wasn't great. Kept getting frustrated that the act was distracting me from listening to the songs.

Kim is alternately sultry and raw, crackling with exposed lusts. You can be forgiven any involuntary paroxysms incurred while listening.

"I feel combustible," she sings, and it's not just her. "Forever fabulistic, blowup, pleasuristic." You know you're doggy paddling in some ecstatic waters when you start making up words.

The guitfiddles and boss bongos hit your palette like a tasty pastry during the mellowed-out verses, and your gut like a cassowary's kick when Kim throttles her throat, in the throes of recess bliss.

"Nothing excellent can be done without leisure"--Andre Gide

"Nothing essential happens in the absence of noise"--Jacques Attali

"French Tickler" takes those two quotations to heart and soul.

"Hits of Sunshine (For Allen Ginsberg)"--Art is palliative at its best; when it clicks, it can reduce the pain of this terminal condition known as life, but never can it reverse the cycle of suffering or stop it altogether. It just aims to improve the quality of life.

That'll do.

Given it's eleven minute runtime, you could reasonably expect "Hits of Sunshine" after a couple verses to slide slow into a pit of savagery. Funny thing though--it never does. There's something very classical-sounding about the watercolor tones they achieve here, segueing from one intelligently played section to the next. It sprawls. It stains.

"Karen Koltrane"--I'm at an emotional crest the whole album long; that's why it made such an indelible impression to begin with, why I respond so instantly and powerfully to the pulses contained thereon. The romance reminiscence that is "Karen Koltrane" may be the most stirring moment of the whole album, even more so than "Hoarfrost," and no shock I suppose that both songs are helmed by Lee Ranaldo, the most earnest of SY's vocalists. His delivery of the first two lines here absolutely seize the heart.

Lost love, lost mind. The ring modulator as metal detector/map of the world's heart. Thurston's supporting voice on the "Will she stay forever?" section is spectacular. It curdles around Lee's straining queries and cuddles up next to the sparse sounds that lose any answers to the ether.

Could have done without the infrequent little frog farts, though.

"The Ineffable Me"--Kim catches shit for goof-squad lyrics that she didn't actually write ("A cum junkie's job/Makes my dick throb" is clearly Thurston scribble). Fuck the Kim hate.

A pattern on A Thousand Leaves is how Thurston and Lee sing their plaintive meditations on the inexorable progress of life with a studied gentleness while Kim eats dirt and spits it back out as flame. (So much for the pacifying effects of motherhood.)

Do fools realize the extent of Kim's influence on the band they aver would be that much better without her in it? It's real simple--real simple-- to say 'Well, Thurston started the band and she was already his girlfriend and had no musical experience, she's just along for the ride', but if you study the history, Kim's art background pretty much drove the band's direction for years. Thurston and Lee--each far more accomplished than Kim musically--would often run ideas by her in the studio, and defer to her judgment. Lee and Thurston wanting to record an album where piano replaced guitar as the primary instrument? Guess who shot that half-ass idea down with a .600 Nitro Express Magnum?

"Listen to her bass parts, her guitar parts. Anyone could play what Kim plays."

Yeah, but could just anyone think of the parts she plays? Uh huh.

"Snare, Girl"--Tempting to listen to this sweet (yet somehow spooky) lullaby teeming with nubile imagery and mark it as another example of papahood unleashing Thurston's inner hippie. However, the man himself insists the lyrics date back to his high school poet years.

One man's treacly is another woman's gorgeous. I have to remember to take a ball of yarn with me when I listen to this song, so I can find my way back out of the maze when it's over.

"Heather Angel"--Heather Angel was an actual actress (I even walked by and snapped a pic of her star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame) but Kim plays her own role here, assumes her own persona, speaking in swaths of possibility, offering no ideas, only feelings. The music's unfettered ascension, the EVOL-esque martial percussion, makes for a most sanguine conclusion. An entire galaxy formed, in just under 75 minutes. (Where's your hammer, brother?) Fucking exquisite.


In M.O.P.'s legendary "Downtown Swinga," Li'l Fame expresses his desire to be buried with a tape of Paid in Full. Desire is nice, but it helps to put paper in front of your lips. See, I've already made out a legal last will and testament, and in it I stipulate that I am to be buried with my vinyl copy of A Thousand Leaves (along with a particular Snoopy doll). It is not only the greatest album Sonic Youth has ever made, it is the greatest album anyone has ever made. I feel like I only did 56% justice with this written review. But that I could do it justice at all, that I could elucidate with some competence the ways this wreck-hard has spun my brain around, and I mean that shit is still a-twirl, to where it won't stop till everything else does...I'm glad I could at least do that.