Monday, October 18, 2010

New: Spice Up Your Marriage

EXCELLENCE IN JOURNALISM DEPT., Oct. 18 - "Spice Up Your Marriage", my contribution to Vice's upcoming comedy issue, is now online.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

New: For The Faithful

EXCELLENCE IN JOURNALISM DEPT., Oct 7 - My 2,174 word preview of the upcoming Articles Of Faith reunion show is now online at the Chicago Reader. But I just wasn't able to shoehorn one story into the piece, despite its relevance.

In 2004, my band spent a week in Chicago, recording at Steve Albini's Electrical Audio. I'm neutral on Albini's music, so I was more awed by the facilities than the engineer. The control room overlooked a huge studio with 30-foot ceilings that resembled a spent fuel pool in a nuclear power plant. It could just as easily have held water and glowing uranium wands instead of drum parts and racks of equipment and a Nelson-Wiggen grand piano.

On my first day of vocals, I found myself in a large alcove directly under the control room. My only communication with those above was through headphones and one of the dozens of antique microphones that surrounded me and which I was terrified of accidentally kicking or tripping over. Albini's voice came into the headphones, asking me to give him some information about my vocal style.

I thought about this for a moment. "I've been told that I emulate the vocals of Vic Bondi," I said. "From Articles of Faith?" We'd spent most of the week indoors, so it still doesn't seem totally implausible that I'd forgotten that we were physically in the city of Chicago, dealing with a Chicago engineer, with a long, long history with the punk scene of Chicago. There was a lengthy pause in the headphones. Finally, Albini's voice returned.


Then I was left to stand in silence, wondering how, once again, I had screwed up something so swiftly....

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Interview with Marty Violence

I met Marty Violence in Richmond in 1994. A decade later, Marty moved to New York during a weird period in my life when all my friends from different parts of the country converged in one city and started forming odd interregional alliances. In the middle of this period, Marty - a Virginia friend - started playing bass for Ted Leo - a New Jersey friend. Ted Leo's band got a slot opening for Pearl Jam, and the long and short of it is that Marty wound up playing on stage at Madison Square Garden.

So our friendship has been colored by this new inequality. At the end of your life there are, after all, only a handful of things that you can regret having missed: seeing the pyramids, climbing Everest, swimming the English Channel, writing the Great American Novel, playing onstage at Madison Square Garden. Marty has now been denied one of these items. It's weird. I caught up with him last May, at a Brooklyn back yard gathering in which I suspect some drinking had just transpired.

Sam: I read somewhere that you gave me credit for the name "Marty Violence". But I didn't come up with that!

Marty: I'm pretty sure you did.

Sam: When?

Marty: I'm positive you came up with it.

Sam: It sounds like something I'd do. But I don't remember doing it.

Marty: I know you did it. There was a time when you were like, 'you need a name'. And that's what you came up with....

Sam: I don't like that I have a whole period of my life where I'm the equivalent of a blackout drunk. Why can't I remember this?

Marty: Maybe it was you and Adam? But I'm pretty sure it was just you and then Adam kept calling me that. And that's why it stuck. I didn't really want to call myself that...

[discussion of time Marty fought a possum in the bathroom of the apartment below Sam's]

Marty, 2nd from right, in a Steve Bruleish moment

Sam: We've both lived twice at 514 W. Clay Street in Richmond. After you moved out of the downstairs apartment and I moved out of the upstairs apartment, I moved back in to the upstairs, and then you took over my lease after I left the city in 1998. Did you have any problems with the downstairs neighbors?

Marty: Oh, yeah....

Sam: I need you to clarify something. The day I left, I thought this is incorrect. I can't cede this apartment to Marty without a zinger. So I did a walkthrough as you. I walked through the entire apartment pretending I was a buzzed Marty; smiling, holding a bottle in my right hand - you're a right hand beer holder, always have been - halting in the doorway of the back bedroom. I thought, Marty wouldn't look to the right. That's not his style. Marty is the kind of guy who would look left. And then, drunk and content, Marty would further tilt his head up. That's where I wrote 'Marty Sucks' on the inside of the door frame. This worked, right?

Marty: Nyeeeeah..... I remember that.

Sam: And thus you were zinged? Sorry, dude. Gotcha.

[drunken third party laughter]

Marty: No, I actually don't remember any of that.

Sam: Seriously! You don't remember this.

Marty: No.

Sam: I've told this story for years! You never noticed that someone had written your name, with the word 'sucks', on the wall of your house, where you lived?

Marty: I don't recall that at all.

Nappy: I'm timing this interview. You guys have two and a quarter minutes left.

[drunken chortling and guffaws pick up volume]

Sam: From my perspective, there's been a jump cut. It goes from Young Man Marty - good time mascot Marty - to boom! Man Marty; bearded, married, Madison Square Garden Marty. Was there a very specific moment when you thought 'Hey, I'm the new Marty'?

Marty: Hm. (strokes meager beard)

Sam: I'm going to call it 'The Change'.

Marty: Well, I don't want to be too clichéd, but I guess it would be, well, the day I got married...

Sam: That's very nice. And very clichéd.

Marty: OK.... Madison Square Garden?

Sam: Right. About that. You played two nights there?

Marty: Yes.

Sam: OK. This is how I picture it. Either A) you have total clarity and you're like, wow, I'm playing at Madison Square Garden, as Steve Martin described being on the Tonight Show for the first time. Or B) it's so terrifying that you have to force your body to do every movement, step by step, like a giant meat marionette. Which one was it?

Marty: Definitely A. Our sets were 25 or 30 minutes. What really helped was that it was so dark. You could barely see people's heads in the audience. But you could tell they were out there. It was totally different from being on Jimmy Fallon, where I got really wasted before I went on. And then it happened, and then I was like, "Oh, that's over." And I barely remember it. But I was completely sober at Madison Square Garden.

Sam: In either of these appearances, at any point, did my face pop into your mind as someone who should have shared in your experience?

Marty: No.

Sam: If you're on stage at Madison Square Garden and you break a bass string do you just, like, fart and die? What happens?

Marty: Well, if you're opening up for Pearl Jam, what you do is you break a string, and you go, [makes unintelligible gesture] then you put your own bass string back on.

Sam: In front of everyone.

Marty: In front of everyone.

Sam: Now, do you actually have to tune on stage at Madison Square Garden?

Marty: Yeah. You do that. In front of the 500 people that are there before the 25,000 or so that will show up.

[explosion of drunken hoots and hollers from increasingly belligerent partygoers]

Sam: This is MY interview! Woodward and Bernstein didn't have to put up with this! Christ almighty!!