Friday, December 31, 2010

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Error reviews (1999)

FROM THE ARCHIVES, Dec. 10 - Here are some reviews from my Error fanzine, issue 103, written in a period when I had a lot of time on my hands. The writing in this issue got pretty weird, placing this blog entry squarely in the 'filler' category.

+++++++++++++

Franklin “Roy Is Dead” 7
Not understandable. I saw this band five years ago in the Maryland panhandle, and the band’s guitarist ended their set abruptly by flinging his instrument into a bank of metal folding chairs and bawling. It boded badly for the future. Now it is indeed the future and there is indeed a tidal surge of such rigmarole. The music here is so slender it simply fails to register on the ears, and listening to it made me free associate past conversations, the bass progression in the old CNN theme song, the taste of ranch dressing on iceberg lettuce, the fact that my late grandmother briefly lived across the street from actor Brian Denehy…

Merzbow “Hybrid Noisebloom” CD
9 Shocks Of Terror “Earth, Wind and the Sheik Throwing Fire” 7”
9SOT is some anonymous Ohio thrash with mostly hostile second person lyrics. Does anonymous Ohio thrash fulfill a social function? Packaging features a photo of the band playing in someone's living room - full frontal drapes and lamp - which kind of weakens their punch. Likewise, on Merzbow's sluggish “Hybrid…”CD, there’s a photo of the man himself just sitting there, twisting knobs, also completely ruining the mental imagery. Are these failures of imagination or attempts at demystification? Phrased another way - if you walk into a restaurant with a "help wanted" sign and ask to fill out a "crapplication" are you making a statement or just being a wise ass?

Harry Pussy tour LP
Hellnation "At War With Emo" 5"
Make-Up "In Mass Mind" LP
Stereolab "Miss Modular" 7"
Listened to the first side of the Harry Pussy LP while eating dinner (Mrs. T.'s potato perrogis, iced coffee, fruit salad) in the next room. When I finished my meal and put the dishes away, I flipped the record over and listened to the second side as far away from the turntable as my building's layout would permit, noting that the album sounded qualitatively different 3 rooms away. That seemed to go well, so I then left the Stereolab 7" on at a decent volume while I took a shower. Again, no problems. Two days later my apartment was a mess so I played the Hellnation 5" at a restricted volume while vacuuming. Later that night I left to have dinner with some friends, so I played side A of the Make Up album with the volume completely off and when I returned much later that night everything seemed to be in order.

V/A "Southeast Hardcore, fuck yeah!!" 7"
Had a hard time telling any of the southwest hardcore bands apart from one another and I have a sneaking suspicion that they all physically resemble each other as well. Why not a Baja California hardcore comp or an Aleutian Island hardcore comp? What if you forced the peoples of different lands to form hardcore bands??? Like; 'no band, no food'? These are the kind of things I think about when I'm on line at the bank. Actually I'm on line at the bank right now, as I write this. Oops, looks like it's my turn!

Monday, December 27, 2010

Misleadingly Awesome Trailers

REGRETS DEPT., Dec 27 - A lot of my pals are still in mourning over the profound awfulness of Tron: Legacy. Those first two trailers really were something great. This got me thinking about other trailers that far outshone the products they advertised. I came up with four:



VICE SQUAD (1982)

How amazing would this movie have been if it actually, literally was just a two-hour drum solo over nonstop fights and car chases?




VIDEODROME (1983)

Everyone loves Videodrome. I know, I get it, it's great, whatever. But I'd have enjoyed this film far more if Nam June Paik had directed it and it was just a whole lot of this.



THE AMERICAN ASTRONAUT (2001)

This obscure space Western was shot for less than $2 million, although it looks much cheaper. It's not a bad film. But it's certainly nowhere near as gorgeously brilliant as its own trailer. Sit back and soak in that palpable expectation. Then imagine that you will never be able to see the movie this trailer advertises because they don't make movies that awesome anymore. Now you know how I feel.



INLAND EMPIRE (2006)

This one doesn't fit with the others, in that David Lynch gave everyone fair warning that he was working on a non-sequential, non-consequential baloney fest of yawny proportions (although he failed to mention he'd be so flamboyantly wiping his bottom with Jeremy Irons, Harry Dean Stanton, and/or the profession of movie directing). Regardless, Lynch should've won a special Oscar for this trailer. Somehow, he compressed all the dread from Eraserhead and Blue Velvet into one exquisite and terrifying minute. And what is the thing at 0:30??????

Friday, December 24, 2010

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Guest editor: Neil Burke

BALONEY TIME, Dec. 22 - I'm still going to be busy through the holiday, so guest blogger Neil Burke takes the wheel today. Enjoy. Thanks, Neil.

Thank you Sam for throwing me in here this week. I'd like to start by apologizing to you for jousting your stereo speakers while we were listening to AC/DC Back in Black (or was it Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap?) all those years ago. However, I will say that you set things in motion when you pulled the record from the turntable and smashed it on the floor. What was I to do? I can't accept full responsibility, but nonetheless, I'm sorry about that.

Maybe we should blame the other guy that was in the room with us...(?)
Now, some standout moments from the last decade:





The pile of garbage on my desk continues to grow.
Welcoming 2011.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Tron on Vicodin

INFIRMARY, Dec. 18 - A deep, dull ache got me a Monday root canal appointment. A bottle of Vicodin got me to Monday. After a quick consult with my RN mother in-law, (don't drive, remember my antibiotics, beware constipation) I was good to go for the weekend. Friday night I sat around and listened to old MP3s. I'd never really had an opportunity to listen to music on drugs. It's fun! Saturday it was time to tackle Tron. Notes;

- I've been looking forward to this movie for so long I don't care about it anymore. Counting the viral stuff, marketing for Tron: Legacy went on longer than Obama's presidential campaign. Way back in March, jokes comparing speeding Priuses with wayward light cycles already seemed dated.

- The first Tron was a gorgeous mistake on Disney's part, a labor-intensive salute to old-fashioned rotoscope and backlit animation that no rival studio could afford to repeat. The new Tron cost four and a half times as much and looks like a fancy ad for glass cleaner.

- Q: How many drugs are needed to make it fun to go to the movies? A: Too many. The guy next to me narrated everything ("Oh shit!", "Daaamn!", "Ho shit! I want one of those bikes!"), and the mother of a colicky baby cursed out the audience as security showed her to the door. All of this easily cut through the armor of good-time rainbow narcotics fun I thought I'd encased myself in.


- Jeff Bridges shows up as both his old and young self. So does Bruce Boxleitner, also from the original Tron. They do it with computers. It was sad that their 1982 costar Cindy Morgan wasn't invited back. At 61, Bridges still gets the kind of great roles (3 this month) most actresses can't land after 40. Once CGI face-replacement technology is perfected - soon - chauvinist ageism will no longer be a plausible option for male studio heads. If Disney didn't want the 56-year-old Morgan, they still could have hired back the 28-year-old Morgan.

- Although the technology isn't perfect yet. The fake young Bridges mostly looked fake ("an animated death mask" says the NY Times). It was even creepier in the few shots where it did work. The political implications of foolproof face faking are staggering. So far, the only public figure to acknowledge this pending reality is former Malaysian PM Mahathir Mohamad, who said, of the United States, "If they can make Avatar, they can make anything." Although Mahathir is a wackadoo anti-Semite (his quote referred to Americans faking 9/11), he pretty much called it on this one.

- I kept getting sucked in and out of the experience. The 3D was flattened by huge stains on the screen; my chatty neighbor kept pulling me out of the dialogue; the lousy dialogue kept distracting me from the special effects; the distant but insistent pain in my tooth kept tugging me back to reality. After an hour of this, I wasn't having much fun. It occurred to me that I could enjoy myself more by hanging out in the lobby, so I did this. The angry mom was there, with her two colicky, angry children. She reminded me of everything I hate about movies, malls, people, rudeness, and overpopulation, so I popped another pain pill and then everything was fine. Two thumbs up for Tron.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Friday sketchpad

There's been too much writing on this blog lately.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

New: Huffington Post piece

THE ZONE OF UNEASE, Dec 15 - My first piece for The Huffington Post just went online. This one's an experiment. I can put together an essay like this pretty quickly, but I'm not sure I enjoy doing so. For one thing, reading through the ocean of WikiLeaks-related stories (meaning, secondary to the actual data released by WikiLeaks) of just the last week was kind of depressing. And sifting through all the misogynist vitriol against Julian Assange's rape accusers left me feeling psychically slimed.

Also, where does it end? The goal of any opinion piece is to provoke more opinion. This doesn't always seem like a good thing. Naomi Wolf's ghastly attack on both accusers - the impetus for my piece - was, after all, just an opinion piece itself. Everyone's got something to say. It's a scary rabbit hole to stumble down. When I called my dad (a journalist for two decades) to get his perspective, he laughed and said, "it's the wild west now." Except I think the west was a bit more courteous.

I'm aware that - in the several-dozen strong community that follows my work - I have a reputation for incivility from my fanzine and band days. In hindsight, I'm glad I got most of the rudeness out of my system before the internet showed up. I've taken great pains, in the last ten years, to purge these tendencies from my writing. For the most part, I've been successful. Life is too short for writers to be impolite. I'm trying.

That said, if you are an anonymous hacker who attacks alleged rape victims online, you are the worst kind of dickless asshat, and my Christmas wish for you is bee stings and UTIs and personal failure. Amen.

Monday, December 13, 2010

New: two stories & a review

OVERKILL DEPT., Dec. 13 - This is one of those rare days when I have three new pieces online. There's my 6,000 word short story "Quant", and the slightly less plausible 1,021 word "The Welcher". Both are in the new Fiction issue of Vice. And at Bookforum, there's an 800 word review of Destroy All Movies!!!, the film guide to 20th century punks I've been relentlessly plugging like I had stock in Fantagraphics or something. If I could just keep up this level of productivity every day, I'd be in good shape. Or an exhausted bag of an old man. One of those.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Review: "Times Square" (1980)

HOLLYWOOD, Nov. 20 - Of all the films I had to slog through for last year's "Survival Of The Streets" essay, only 1980's Times Square eluded viewing. Netflix hemmed and hawed and never got around to sending it. Online stores weren't cooperative (Amazon starts used copies at $90). So when the Destroy All Movies promotional book & viewing tour swung through town I jumped at the chance to see this lost bit of Bad NY history in a proper theater setting. Before the show, director Allan Moyle said a few words, including that this would be the first time he'd ever seen his own film. Ever. The project had been taken over by its producers, and he'd never had the heart to sit through it. None of us knew exactly what to expect.

Times Square's Times Square snares two teenage girls - rich kid Pamela Pearl (Trini Alvarado) and street waif Nicky Marotta (Robin Johnson). After meeting in a hospital, the duo run away, make a home in an abandoned dock house, and explore the grungy wonderland of midtown. The two form the band/gang Sleaze Sisters, who perform a proto-punk song (lyrics: "spic, nigger, faggot, bum, your daughter is one") on the radio show of a sympathetic DJ (Tim Curry). Teen girls all over New York follow their exploits, dressing in garbage bags and bandit eye grease. It's the best parts of a half-dozen great 80's films - Desperately Seeking Susan, Hardcore, Ladies and Gentlemen The Fabulous Stains - only better.

The film keeps the girls out of too much trouble. They get chased through porno theaters but are never caught, and when young Pamela starts work at a topless bar, she refuses to dance topless (the script called for nudity, despite Alvarado being 13; she stayed clothed only after her mother stormed the set with a Bible). There are no drugs, no threats of rape. Even the strong overtones of romance remain suspended, forever unfulfilled. For a movie celebrating the slime of the Bad Apple, it's a very innocent story.

Pamela's politician father heads an embryonic Times Square cleanup campaign, complete with Milton Glaserish posters reading RECLAIM THE [HEART LOGO] OF THE CITY. Mr. Pearl isn't so much the villain as his campaign is, and the audience's sympathies are steered towards the "authentic" / "vibrant" take on megatoilet Manhattan. Here's a neat scene from the middle of the film, showing Pamela and Nicky cavorting down the forty deuce;


It's a Guys And Dolls moment in a Taxi Driver universe, a Disneyish romp two decades before any hint of an actual Disney Store (the real-life campaign to clean up Times Square, also kicked off in 1980, only declared victory last week).

The time capsule value of Times Square is fascinating, but it's Robin Johnson who steals the show. She's a 16-year old force of nature, rivaling Tim Curry's own star turn in Rocky Horror just two years earlier. Johnson struts, preens, pounces, and explodes, a preposterous Popeye voice emerging from a Joan Jett / Angelina Jolie face. The scene where the two girls swear a blood oath in the abandoned dock house - screaming each other's names into pleading echoes- produced a visceral reaction I didn't know I was still capable of. Over the course of the movie, finding it impossible to conceive of a universe where Johnson didn't go on to stardom, I convinced myself I was watching a young Leah Remini, perhaps performing under a stage name.

Afterwards, DAM coauthor Zack Carlson headed a Q&A with Moyle (I've known Zack since we toured together in '98, and thus suppressed a familiar twinge of jealousy - so far this year, other former colleagues have played at Madison Square Garden, walked on the north pole, and garnered a 4-star NY Times restaurant review; but who's counting?) Moyle fingered producer Robert Stigwood for the film's flaws. After the director was fired, many of his darker elements were removed, producing curious errors of tone and continuity. Squeamish about lesbianism, RSO deleted the explicit romance ("it wasn't like they were eating each out or anything. Just necking and stuff."). Stigwood, having made a bundle producing Saturday Night Fever and Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band, slapped an absurd Bee Gees song over the credits and called it a day.

This was more amusing than sad - Moyle repeatedly mourned the "corn" of the final product - until he implicated Stigwood in Robin Johnson's disappearance. Johnson signed a development deal with RSO. The film tanked at the box office, and she was kept from promising projects for three years. After a decade of bit parts, she wound up as the voice of a helicopter traffic reporter at local KFWB.

Someone asked about Johnson's whereabouts now. Moyle told us she was alive and well, living in Florida and operating heavy construction machinery. He also said that she occasionally channeled a several-thousand year old being, in the vein of Doonsbury's Boopsie Boopstein. The audience laughed, perhaps thinking he was joking, and when he made clear he was quite serious on both counts, laughed even harder. It was a sad end to the night, and an intriguing one. When does someone make the movie about her life?

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Letters to clothes, 2010


Dear Nightmarish Collection of Hippie Garments,

Sorry I screamed just now. It's just that there are so, so many of you. And that means there are just as many hippies out there, waiting to be clothed by you. It's a hard thing to get my mind around.


Dear Pregnant Ramones Shirt,

How dare you. There're 6.973 billion people in the world, more coming down the pike every hour, food riots and pandemics and tp rationing all over the place, everyone's struggling just to scare up a scrap of Soylent Green, and you sit there smugly in your storefront window, trying to convince kids it's "cool" to get pregnant? You're worse than Joe Camel and the Hitler Youth guys combined. Get a life, jerk.

Dear Comically Amateurish Obama Shirt and Hat(?),

Where are you now? Does someone, somewhere, still strut proudly in your candy cane assemblage of forgotten joy? Or have you been flung from attic to basement to yard sale to thrift store, forsaken by liberals who willfully ignored your centrist platforms during the campaign, deliberately downplayed your historic triumphs on health care, finance reform and economic recovery legislation, and whipped themselves up into a Ruplestiltskin tizzy fit just because you secured extension of jobless benefits for two million miserable, desperate Americans by striking a compromise with the Republicans instead of playing political chicken for the next two months and then having Bush tax cuts extended anyway by a hostile congress only now without the jobless benefits? Which is it?


Dear Bull Shit Shirt,

Hey, chief. I know, I know. I only wear you when all my other clothes are dirty. The thing is, you come on a little strong. Like if I'm at the food court at the mall. Maybe I was mad about high gas prices or something when I left the house - who the hell really remembers - but by lunch time I've kind of forgotten that I'm wearing a "message" shirt. Then everyone's staring at me and, well, it's uncomfortable. You understand, right? Don't worry. Soon enough, it'll be Mad Max times, and then it's going to be you and me all the way, bud. OK?

Dear Wall of Glow In The Dark Horse Shirts,

Take a good look at the hippie duds up top. The people who will wear you will someday have to fight the people who will wear them. Sure, there's more of them. Sure, they're probably made of sturdier materials and, yes, those materials are almost definitely less toxic than whatever weird inks and compounds make your gorgeous steeds glow in the dark. But you do glow in the dark. That gives you a notable advantage, and plenty of time to dangle about and figure out how to use it.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Interview with Shaan Obney

Shaan Obney performed in the bands Le Shok and Nazti Skinz, and roadied for Wrangler Brutes for two weeks in the American south. I place him in the top 5% of roadies I've dealt with. This interview avoided any specific question (depths, operating speeds, specific nations he'd been off the coast of) that could land him in Leavenworth. This was also the first we'd spoken in half a decade.

SAM: I have a suspicious memory from your roadie days. What I recall is that you never showered or changed your clothes, but instead rose every morning, still dressed after sleeping on the floor, fastidiously cleaned yourself with two lint rollers - one for your back, one for your front - and then you were good to go for the rest of the day. Did this actually happen?

SHAAN: No. I actually showered when everyone was asleep. Because, at the time, I felt like I was imposing on the rest of the band....

SAM: That is good roadie behavior.

SHAAN: ...so I would wake up before everyone else and I would shower, then I would wear the same clothes but I would change my underwear and socks. And then I would de-lint myself.

SAM: It set a powerful template for on-the-road personal hygiene.

SHAAN: I gotta say, the lint brush thing kind of haunts me to this day, because everyone expects me to have one.

SAM: They're not cheap.

SHAAN: That's true.

SAM: So after Wrangler Brutes broke up in late '04, you were so distraught that you immediately joined the Navy....

SHAAN: Exactly.

SAM: Where was your basic training?

SHAAN: Great Lakes, Illinois. It's about eight weeks.

SAM: My impression of basic training is that it is not fun.

SHAAN: You know what? It's not fun. But Navy boot camp is basically a two-month course on how to fold clothing correctly.

SAM: Really. You're not crawling through mud, or having the guy from Full Metal Jacket yell at you?

SHAAN: No running the gauntlet. After basic training, I went to Basic Enlisted Submarine School, which is another two months. Eventually I spent four years on the USS Boise.

SAM: And was that the excitement equivalent of Boise, ID? Or did you get a party sub?

SHAAN: On my first day on the boat, I was told that 'Boise' was an acronym for 'Being Onboard Induces Suicidal Emotions'.

SAM: What was your job?

SHAAN: I am a sonarman. I trained for a year to do that.

SAM: OK. I have the USS Boise up on Wikipedia. It's a nuclear sub!

SHAAN: Yes. The United States has no diesel powered submarines.

SAM: But no nuclear weapons on the Boise.

SHAAN: No, I was on the class of submarines that doesn't carry nuclear weapons. Although we can, technically.

SAM: So if some shit goes down, like with a Soviet sub, or a giant squid, you gotta ram 'em.

SHAAN: That would probably be a bad idea, because the front end of the submarine is actually made of fiberglass.

Pre-Man Shaan, as Wiggins The Roadie, Mississippi, 2004

SAM: I've heard rumors that your sub was stationed under the North Pole at one point.

SHAAN: We weren't stationed there. We were transiting from Norfolk to Japan, and we went under the North Pole and broke through the ice. But we were never 'stationed' at the North Pole.

SAM: Did you hop out in a ski parka like Rock Hudson in Ice Station Zebra?

SHAAN: I did go topside and walk around on the ice....

SAM: Holy fucking shit.

SHAAN: Yeah. I literally walked around on the North Pole.

SAM: Jesus. How was it? What's it like up there?

SHAAN: Well, based on it being winter, it was dark all the time, so it looked super fake.

SAM: It was dark but not pitch black.

SHAAN: It was kind of like borderline sunrise. You had enough daylight to see what was going on, but only enough that it looked like you were on some Universal Pictures sound stage.

SAM: So at that point, standing there, did you think 'wow, this was all worth it'?

SHAAN: Yeah. 'Nazti Skinz never got me anywhere near this latitude'. (Laughs) No, I kind of felt like 'what was I thinking'? There was some poor decision making to be had, and I was at the helm of the poor decisions made....

SAM: ...that led you from civilization to this barren wasteland...

SHAAN: Exactly. At that point the barren wasteland was kind of like a metaphor for my life. (Laughs)

SAM: And so, was this just a pit stop? Like 'here's you chance to see the North Pole, boys.'

SHAAN: It was pretty much like 'hey, we're at the North Pole, it would be cool to break through the ice. Just to say we did it.'

SAM: Wait a minute. That just makes it sound like it's a bunch of dudes in a van making a pit stop....

SHAAN: It is. I've always said to people that being on a submarine is pretty much like if you're on tour with a band and you were trying to go through Texas but you were stuck in some weird time warp and you just did it for six months straight.

SAM: But there's chain of command. Somebody must have made an executive decision to break through the ice...

SHAAN: I think it's one of those things where it's the commanding officer's discretion.

SAM: So you are telling me that it's like if Andy is driving and we happen to be passing by The Mystery Spot in Santa Cruz and he's like 'guess what? We're going to The Mystery Spot now.'

SHAAN: Pretty much.

SAM: Wow. Hey, that reminds me. Andy wants to know where is his jacket.

SHAAN: Oh! Yeah. I know what he's talking about. I lost it overseas.

SAM: "At the north pole" is what I think you mean to say.

SHAAN: If it makes the interview any better, yes.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Books Read: Nov '10


A RAISIN IN THE SUN by Lorraine Hansberry (Claremont Library, 25¢)

Before reading Raisin, all I'd really known of this 1959 play was A) its zinging at the hands of Strangers With Candy, and B) the hammy dialogue ("damn my eggs! Damn all the eggs that ever was!") that I'd unconsciously mimicked, in prolonged private monologues to my cats, for years and years. I was shocked at how little of the plot I'd picked up by osmosis. Are American kids supposed to have read this in school?

There're two ways to interpret this play in 2010. The Full Circle reading (several barely-employed generations smooshed together under one roof = life after Sept. 2008) is nicely checked by a Jetsons-style smugness (Chicago has birthed a Sidney-Poitier-style black president! We have iPhones!). Although both readings are deeply undercut by Hansberry's pleading earnestness. And is it already so far into the future that Phylicia Rashad - megafox of the Cosby Age - has to play the frumpy Mama role? What?

I REMEMBER JIMMY: THE LIFE AND TIMES OF JIMMY DURANTE by Irene Adler (La Jolla Library, $1)

Reading this undemanding, sincere account of Jimmy Durante's life left more questions than answers. How did a man this homely get to be so famous for so long? What kind of talent could propel a face like that into motion pictures? Was he a mascot? A dupe? The token Ugly Guy? Someone the masses could laugh at / with?

Irene Adler's book doesn't solve these riddles. What it does do is provide 187 pages of wonderful photos of the Schnozzola in action, starting with his early days in late-stage vaudeville right through to his TV appearances in the early 60's. In nearly every photo, Jimmy mugs for the camera - a ghastly sight - usually surrounded by the cream of Old Hollywood royalty and/or vixens. The faces at the edges of each photo are often more interesting than the subject.

I enjoyed this. My only complaint is with Arlington House (also publishers of The Forties Gals and The Funsters), who couldn't be bothered with such trivial concerns as quality bookmaking. Reading this in bed, the binding disintegrated, sprinkling loose chunks of flaky, yellow book dander all over my pillow. It looked carcinogenic.

FEAR OF FLYING by Erica Jong (Claremont Library, 25¢)

Here's a phenomenon from a 70's childhood I can't imagine was unique. 1) I'd go to a friend's house to stay the night, 2) inevitably I'd have to cross through the bedroom of the friend's parents to use their bathroom, and 3) inevitably Fear Of Flying (occasionally accompanied by The Joy Of Sex and/or Kama Sutra) would be waiting for perusal on a nearby dresser or bedside table. It was impossible to avoid peeking, and equally impossible to hide my mortification afterwards. In the pantheon of childhood Forbidden Horrors of Adulthood, Fear Of Flying wasn't quite the Sex Pistols or Dawn of the Dead. But it was up there.

Reading FOF as an adult, I feel vindicated. Grown ups of the 1970's seemed creepy and sex-obsessed because, apparently, they were. Jong's Isadore Wing romps through Europe with a sweaty brute of a man, delving again and again into all the sticky crags of the human psyche (and body). In the service of escaping an unfulfilling marriage, Wing brutalizes her cuckolded husband, then rationalizes this brutality in the framework of second generation feminism. The writing is zippy, occasionally inspired (especially the bits about Wing's ex, and his mental insanity), but also mean spirited, sordid, and grubby. According to Amazon, there are only 17 "cunts" in the whole novel, which seems impossibly low. It felt like Wing's boyfriend called her this at least three dozen times.

For a paperback with such a racy cover - its tantalizing peek of naked hip and boob soffit hinting at something even more lowbrow - I've never read a less sexy book. Many of the grim depictions of adult relationship complications were deeply depressing. Endless arguments, mixed signals, the tangible horror of romantic indecision; why would anyone want to re-live any of this through fiction? Then there was the day I brought this to read at the laundromat. That was not so classy on my part. Seemingly overnight, I've become one of the creepy adults my own self. No thanks.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Review: The Hoochie-Coochie Man

THE INTERNET, Dec 1 - I've spent the month browsing Destroy All Movies, a 450-page "complete guide to punks on film". It's an amazing book. On page 149, there's a reference to 1983's Get Crazy, a movie I'd never heard of. It apparently stars Malcolm McDowell, Ed Begley Jr., Daniel Stern, and Lou Reed. It also features Fear's Lee Ving as "Piggy", which is similar to the character "Lee Ving" he plays in The Decline Of Western Civilization, only more fun. Piggy's band plays a show at L.A.'s Wiltern Theater, which was due for a real-life renovation and thus green-lighted for a trashing. The result is this;



It's not Fear. But really it is. Fear's Derf Scratch and Philo Cramer are listed in the credits, and although I count nine guitarists (and a conductor) onstage, Cramer's signature bendy licks are clearly audible over the whole thing. A friend who know such things tells me that Cramer plays a Gibson without a whammy bar, instead bending the neck of the instrument itself. The movie's poster seems to confirm this, with a young woman joyfully riding a guitar into the night sky, stretching the neck like an old stalk of celery. Some particulars:

1. This actually exists. I'm not comfortable with the implication. Namely, that with enough due diligence, I can find a completely amazing unreleased version of a completely amazing song, by one of my favorite bands, with an accompanying 35MM video, if only I scour the internet long enough and hard enough and with a pure enough heart. This seems like a recipe for future disappointments.

2. The yell at 0:53. I've tried to do this very scream many times - in both my professional and private life - and never quite pulled it off.

3. Right at that moment when the human mind wonders 'how can this thing that I am watching top itself?' - one minute twelve seconds - everyone starts speaking German. Having never seen the film, I choose to believe that this is part of the original American edition, and was used to make something already awesome far more awesome still.

4. I've witnessed a few stage dives from balconies and rafters over the years, and each one was pretty terrifying. But this video makes such behavior - a volley of bystanders, young and old alike, drifting down to the dance floor in dreamy delight - look like something I would someday still like to do.

5. A giant shopping cart materializes at 2:37. Fifteen seconds later, maniacal laughter spills into the song. I would like to work both of these elements into my life somehow.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Review: "Collapse" (2009)

This time last year, moviegoers were treated to a triad of Christmas-season apocalypse movies; the bubbly Earth-buster 2012, the dramatically less bubbly The Road, and the much, much, much less bubbly documentary Collapse. This last movie - Chris Smith's look at one lone, persuasive doomsayer - served mostly to make The Road seem palatable as an entertainment choice. I myself only made it through 2012. Who wants to pay $18 (with drinks and popcorn) to sit through a non-exploding apocalypse? Why would I pay any dollars to see a movie that plausibly makes the case that civilization is dying? But Collapse eventually wound up on cable, and I grudgingly scooped it into my DVR. Unlike many distasteful fictional films, it seemed irresponsible to not give this documentary a respectful viewing.

Collapse's Cassandra is an unassuming ex-cop named Michael Ruppert. Ruppert ran the From The Wilderness newsletter (no mention is made if the initials are deliberate), and the film follows his dire predictions, from spring '09, through onscreen interviews and narration over stock footage. This version of doomsday stems from petroleum scarcity - nuclear weapons and global warming are distant afterthoughts - although its oracle doesn't limit the scarcity to just oil. Our era, he tells us, is "peak everything", pegged to an unsustainable "infinite growth paradigm". How many dates were ruined by this movie?

Being a film about the immediate future of civilization, Collapse elicits defensiveness. I found myself seeking cracks in Ruppert's persona, willing wrongness upon his premise. The film starts with stills from his newsletter that look vaguely Larouchian; I kept waiting (hoping?) for him to mumble something nasty about Jews. It was distressing to realize that I lacked the capacity to approach the subject matter objectively, my frightened brain automatically trying to discredit the messenger.

Ruppert obliges my skepticism. Several times, he does that annoying conspiracy theorist thing of pausing with a tiny smile after saying something provocative. Once, faced with a startlingly relevant question ("what about human ingenuity"?), he answers with a non sequitur about "the MSM", then defiantly waits for the interviewer's reaction. There is a distinct lack of self-reflection in Ruppert's pronouncements, a stubborn reluctance to utter the words, "I know this sounds crazy, but consider...". At one point he advocates buying gold, that staple of Glenn Beckonomics, as a means of avoiding fiat currencies. Isn't gold the ultimate fiat currency?

Ruppert's sales pitch is based on defensive logic. He's been right before, the thinking goes, therefore he must be right now. Only; was he so right? He drapes himself in the doomsday mantle of Nouriel Roubini without totally delivering the predictive goods. "My economic predictions," he says, pausing for a bit of pursey-lipped certainty, "we had it so right." His pre-crash lectures on mortgage-backed securities were uncannily accurate, but the big picture seems off. In this telling, 2008 was a crash "nothing like we have ever seen before," and the Greek debt crisis "a revolution". It's not quite Nostradamus.

Illustration courtesy of Joe Preston

Throughout his dialogue, Ruppert toggles between two extremes. Are his dire predictions in the vein of Al Gore (a warning) or Fred Phelps (a verdict)? He comes across as the enemy of hyperbole, then equates a global economic meltdown with the asteroid collision that killed the dinosaurs. There's an unfortunate bit about restoring "balance" to civilization, as if every problem he discusses - greed, disorganization, short sightedness - wasn't an innate, timeless function of human nature. I was reminded of Dr. Seuss's The Butter Battle Book, an arms race parable that - like Collapse - discounts progressive crosscurrents in human nature. What about all the people across the globe who agree with Ruppert? Where does Ruppert's own dissent factor into the fate of western civilization?

After an hour of colluding with its subject via grim music and grainy footage of oil wells, Collapse abruptly switches gears when Ruppert starts weeping onscreen. Tellingly, the tears come not from the direness of his predictions - the millions, if not billions, who will die if his scenario comes to pass - but from the isolation and frustration of being a full-time doomsayer. The film then becomes a study of a lonely man, and then the study of the duplicitous filmmaker who subtly betrays this lonely man. It's impressively meta.

Collapse didn't scare me nearly as much as I'd thought it would, although I'm still glad I avoided it in theaters (certainly there were no scenes as delightful as 2012's cosmic whoopee cushion smackdown of Los Angeles). Pondering the film afterwards, I was left with a strange appreciation for the world as it is now. Something terrible is surely coming for all of us this century. But it's not here yet. Ruppert's somber narration imparted me with a deep appreciation for antibiotics, freeways, libraries, Pandora, statins, Turner Classic Movies. And I registered a gratitude for those even more impressive, and entirely invisible, triumphs of human organization: alternating current, bar codes, packet switching, sewage treatment. That people have made it even this far is impressive.

Also, watching the blobby, JPEGgy title cards brought an even more urgent realization: I need to pony up for HD.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Brooks Recap

THE INTERNET, Nov 26 - Two weeks ago, I and Brooks Headley - subject of last year's The Dessert Psycho - were featured on "The Food Scene" online radio show. More accurately, Brooks was featured and I called in and tried to not sound snide or weird.

I had some funny gag questions I was going to slip in, but being on the radio is scary and I choked. The full interview is here.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Smashing Party @ Tit Mouse

HOLLYWOOD, Nov. 20 - The invitation to the Titmouse smashing party told us to arrive anytime after five o'clock. Titmouse - producers of TV's Metalocalypse, among other projects - have held annual smashing parties since 2004, and they seemed to have worked out all the fine points. "If you want to smash," the invite explained, "bring something you hate and/or something that smashes really good. Hint - CRT monitors and TVs smash really good. So do toilets, plaster statues and giant vases. Don't bring watermelons or fire. We can't allow any food due to slippery danger or fire because it is fire."

The invite failed to mention that a thousand people had been invited. We decided to arrive early. At the front entrance, I was given a plastic wristband and made to sign a two-page liability waiver. Fine print told me, "The risk of injury from the activity and weaponry involved in smashing is significant," and had me acknowledge that "the activities of smashing are physically and mentally intense." I was issued a heavy duty respirator that seemed more expensive than the paltry 3M dust masks I'd salvaged from my garage's earthquake/ Al-Qaeda kit. Several people milled around in full eye-goggles and Road Warrior masks.

A large tent covered the Titmouse parking lot. Inside this tent, a smaller cage had been erected from chain link and protective mesh. Inside this cage, I could see three plastic trash cans. One stood upturned to make a pedestal, while the other two held all the implements of smashing; axes, shovels, sledgehammers, swords. A bowling ball rested nearby. Past this, in the Titmouse lobby, an open bar received a few sober partygoers. I grabbed a free Coke and returned to the cage, where I overheard one gawker remarking to another, "you can't imagine how gross it's going to get in just an hour from now."

graphic courtesy Titmouse

I caught up with writer and animator Christy Karacas, who'd I'd only met in person the night before, although we'd worked together twice last year. Christy is one of those gentlemen who fits the description of "the best". He told me and Tara about the glorious second season of Superjail!, and then a guy with a bullhorn took the stage in the cage and announced, "We must smash into ash all that is trash!"

A heavily protected man attacked a nude female mannequin with an ax. It was thrilling, and also disturbing. People whooped and hollered. He took a half-dozen whacks to get the head off. Bits of plastic - or whatever mannequins are made of - flew everywhere. One more blow speared the head on the ax, with the blade popping out of the lady mannequin's forehead. Afterwards, another padded fellow attacked a TV set with the head/ax. It was easy to see that the air in the cage - and thus the tent - would soon be a toxic 9/11 soup of heavy metals and carcinogens. I retreated.

Unlike most of the rest of the crowd, I wasn't so keen on smashing anything. I've broken a lot of possessions in my life, so my thing now is more like, how do I not smash anything? Back when I had a small record label, me and my business partner Neil used to hold frequent smashing parties of our own stock. Only the night before, at the same party where I'd met Christy, did it occur to me that this might have been a problem for the artists on my label. Later, I located Joel from Landed and asked if this had been a problem for the guys in his band. "Oh yeah," he said, not missing a beat. "It was a bummer, dude."

An hour in, we had to leave. Cinefamily was holding a 6:30 showing of the elusive Times Square - itself a movie with lots of things being broken - and sometimes you have to make sacrifices. "We usually get shut down by midnight or so," the invite had warned. Now I understood this would probably come from the growing throng of freely drinking party smashers, and not the sounds of the smashing itself. Later I would learn that we missed celebrities, live music - a marching band, some sort of "speed oi" act - and lots and lots of destruction. It was sad to miss the whole thing, but I still felt grateful to have been invited to a simply smashing party in the first place.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Review: The APL Delaware St. Annex

REGRETS DEPT., Nov 22 - A lot of businesses and organizations have had the honor of firing me over the years, but the Albany, NY public library system got there first. This was at their Delaware Street annex, in 1985. The APLDSA was a tiny branch - about the size of a large suburban living room - and not known for difficult customers. It was the perfect job for a 16 year old who fancied himself a budding smartfellow.

In hindsight, I should have paid more attention to office politics. On the second Friday in November, I reported to work as usual, shelved some books and greeted some customers. My friends Bob and Eddie arrived at closing time. High school juniors, we were all too young to drive, and my boss, a Mrs. Lorraine Smi, had agreed to chauffer us to the Corrosion Of Conformity gig across town. I was closing up shop when Mrs. Smi beckoned me into a thinly partitioned back office. There was a problem - she said in a tone both soft and final - with my shelving. Then she read me a poem;

While you are trying your best
you are unable to perform
your paging duties
to my satisfaction
and I feel
at this time
it is necessary for me
to terminate your employment.

I accepted the letter in shock. I was barely a man and already unable to perform my duties. I knew my friends had heard everything through the meager wall. It was a library; what else was there to hear?

“Can we,” I asked quietly, “still get a ride to the show?” Ms. Smi nodded without smiling and drove the three of us to the Washington Street VFW in a difficult silence. Bob and Eddie are big shots now - a TV journalist and a doctor - and I thank them for not laughing out loud until Ms. Smi left us on the sidewalk and drove off into history.

Her face has faded with time, even if her insult has not. I was a good god-damned shelver. I shelved the shit out of that place. I’ve always felt I was unjustly dismissed, collateral damage in Albany budget battles, a pawn in a much larger game. I can accept that. Or maybe some mentally insane hobos came in and rearranged my careful shelving. I can accept that as well. Stranger things have happened. But I don’t know if I can accept that I was a bad librarian.

Here's the thing: was I a bad librarian? Subsequent years haven’t given me any chances to disprove this negative. I’ve frequented a lot of libraries since, but almost never fetched a book on my own. At the famous NYC 5th Ave branch – in the ornate, vast reading room that strangely reeked of old gym socks and whose windows were still blacked out from WW2 – I wrote my book requests on slips of paper and handed these to employees, who then lowered these requests, by hydraulics or rope pulley, into the catacombs below. Downtown, at the giant cube library NYU graciously let my college use, I only studied, or wrote terrible fanzines. In Richmond, VA, I spent many hours in the main branch on Franklin street, a fake airport terminal that seemed to mirror the Cancelled Flight inertia my life had taken on. But I almost never checked out books. The charming Providence, RI library had a good VHS selection. I use the local Claremont, CA library now only when I need graphics of cowboys or body parts, and I know what aisles to browse.

At the time of my firing, I had no way of knowing that I'd participated in the final days of the traditional, multi-millennia-old library system. A year later, arson destroyed 400,000 books at the central Los Angeles library. Six years after that, the National & University Library of Bosnia & Herzegovina was destroyed by war, a 1.5 million book hit to humanity's archives. Up until the 21st century, libraries - and books themselves - were lousy, lossy mediums for storing data. The minor uproar over digitizing card catalogs in the 1990's has given way to the wonderland of digital library information available from any computer in the 2010's. Soon it won't be possible to lose any books. "misshelving" will cease to exist, as a fireable offense or otherwise.

Here's what else isn't going away: the ding to my honor. If you've Googled yourself, Mrs. Lorraine Smi of upstate New York, and found this page, know that this indignity remains an open account. You may have won this round, but the battle is far from over.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

New: George Washington's America (review)

EXCELLENCE IN JOURNALISM DEPT., Nov 18 - My review of Barnet Schecter's George Washington's America; A Biography Through His Maps is now online over at Bookforum.


I probably would have accomplished more with my life by now if I had a cool name like Barnet Schecter. But, you know, water under the bridge.