Saturday, December 31, 2011

Endings of 2011


1. DIAMOND LANE STICKERS

It's going to be hard, in the far future, conveying the incredible smugness of Prius ownership in the first decade of this century. For a few years there, the Toyota Prius was nearly the only SULEV (Super Low Emissions Vehicle) on the road, offering all the haughty superiority of a bike with all the seats and AC and awesomeness of a car. In sharp contrast, all other vehicles on the road - including all those hippie-owned, soot-belching VWs - were revealed as monstrous gas guzzlers. Owning a Prius in the aughties was a fast track to self-righteousness.   


It was also a fast track to the fast track. California awarded Prius owners with Diamond Lane stickers. These deceptively flimsy decals clung to our bumpers with some super-strong, secret government adhesive, and made our futuristic cars 2% more futuristic. They also allowed solitary Prius drivers access to the car pool lanes. Can you imagine the unique self-satisfaction of zipping through clogged traffic in your own private freeway lane? Of course you can't. You don't drive a Prius. Or you don't live in California. Or you live in some year later than 2011 and your car is powered by Hydrogen or yard trimmings and you don't have to worry about air pollution.

Anyway, the dream died in July. You can thank CA vehicles codes 5205.5 and 21655.9. Also the new PZEV (Partial Zero Emissions Vehicle) cars. And your own indifference to my moral superiority. All of you guys killed the dream. Congrats.

2. BORDERS
  
Why do (other people's) bankruptcies make me so happy? And why does the specific bankruptcy of Borders Books make me so especially happy? I spent many nights in the Borders of Montclair, CA. I read a lot of their books, drank a lot of their coffee, sat through a quake in their leather chairs. I shopped at many Borders in many parts of the country. I never held my miserable one month of employment against them.


So it's weird that I get a little thrill whenever I pass their exit on the freeway and see that big, bare retail space. And who pays to keep all their lights on?

I love shit like this. It's messed up.

3. SCULLY

I was kind of disoriented the night I arrived in California, twelve years ago. I retrieved all my worldly possessions - a duffel bag of clothes and two frightened cats - from a crowded baggage carousel, and realized with a rough jolt that I no longer owned keys. My girlfriend picked me up and drove us to my future in-laws' house at 1 AM. I was jet lagged, freaked, and slightly stunned that I had actually renounced the entire east coast of America.

All this may explain why I immediately locked us out of the house. It was far too late to wake anyone up. I skulked around the bushes near the kitchen, noticed one of the windows was unlocked, hoisted myself up, and stealthily popped out the screen. I was halfway inside when a large labrador mutt ran up at face level. It was Scully. We'd met once before, but I didn't know if he was the kind of dog who would rip out an intruder’s throat. I froze. We exchanged a long, meaningful glance. Slowly - tentatively - his tale wagged.


We were good pals for the next dozen years. My wish now is that he gets to live in the neighborhood of Dog Heaven where Vincent Price and Elizabeth Taylor hand out t-bone steaks every hour and cartoon fire hydrants dance the fandango on every street corner. Farewell, sport.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

MAVIS MCCORMIC 1922-2011


My grandmother Mavis was 47 when I showed up. She and my grandfather Ralph were then living in the outer LA county province of Pomona (a city I'd return to, by complete coincidence, 30 years later). She taught at Mt. SAC College, he taught at Cal Poly Pomona. After their back yard vanished in an overnight mudslide, they moved to Keno, Oregon. But Keno eventually proved too remote - too eerily silent at night -  and they relocated to the relatively sprawling metropolis of Klamath Falls. They lived there until his death in 1997, and her death late last month. She was 89. 


It's a typical grandparent story. Here’s what’s not typical; my grandmother was a nuclear physicist. Raised in Dust Bowl Oklahoma, she was the first in her family to graduate college, and she went on to work with radioactive isotope treatment for liver and thyroid disease at Stanford Research Institute. Despite her sense of humor – wry? dry? – there was something slightly formidable about her intellect. Although we were very close for four decades, she was never "grandma" or "grammy" or "grim grams". I only called her “Grandmother”.  


Here’s a wonderful photo of her from the late 1950’s, working on the first smog study in Los Angeles. I’m not sure of the context, or the nature of her research, or the tie-in to her particular field. I didn’t start trying to sort out the chronology of her career until it was too late, the precise sequence of her life eluding both of us.



At some point before my existence, she worked on weapons systems at General Dynamics. We never discussed this period in her life. During the years I knew her, Grandmother was a progressive’s progressive. She was a founding member of the Northwest Energy Coalition and the Klamath Solar Association, as well as president of the county’s League of Women Voters and active with the Oregon Citizens Utility Board. Sorting her voluminous papers earlier this month, I was struck by the absurd breadth of her interests: solar power, reproductive rights, campaign finance reform, sheaths of technical info on heavy water reactors, power grids, energy efficiency, many articles addressing Enron before Enron’s collapse, lists of legislators, and literally thousands of newspaper clippings, each neatly dated, and many underlined or highlighted. I got through 10 bankers boxes of information, only slightly more than half her paper estate.


In life, it was a little too easy to overlook the scope of her accomplishments in general. Ralph got her into gambling (she financed her unsuccessful 1990 State Legislature race with $7k in poker winnings). She got him into piloting, and they took their Cessna on several cross country flights, including jaunts over the Canadian wilderness and rural Mexico. They lived in Europe for 4 years in the late 1950s, and she traveled on her own to Australia, China, Israel, and the Soviet Union. She was the only person I ever met to fly over the North Pole (although not in her own Cessna). 


As a devout agnostic, I have to at least entertain the possibility that somewhere she and my grandfather have been reunited, perhaps with some (or all?) of their wonderful animals: Corky, Pee Wee, Pete, Trudy, Vasi. As a devout atheist, she might be very annoyed at receiving extra innings. Or was she a devout atheist? I'd always assumed so. Discussing the matter with my mom, however, the best we could remember was that my Grandmother had once called organized religion “awfully silly”. It's one more detail requiring the clarification that will now never come.


Tuesday, December 6, 2011

New: I've written a novel.

MY LIFE, Dec. 7 - Some things have transpired. For starters, I've changed the name of this blog. The URL is the same, so if you've been kind enough to link to me in the past, then you can sleep well tonight, safe in the knowledge that your link is still valid. Same blog, different title.

The name change comes in the service of something larger: my first novel will be released on April 1, 2012, and I decided to use the title for my new book instead of my blog. Perhaps this seems counterintuitive, in that some people will probably mistake this entirely new, 265-page work of fiction for a collection of blog posts in book format. But here's the thing: I'm Sam McPheeters and I can do whatever I want.

The novel The Loom Of Ruin could be called a "satire" or "dark comedy" or a "story in which lots of terrible things happen to a lot of good people". If you like my writing, you will like this book. It was written with you in mind.

The novel is being released through Mugger Books, a new, L.A.-based publisher run by my friend Anthony Berryman. You’ll be able to preorder a copy in the first week of January. Digital e-reader presales will commence in the next month or so. I'll be posting a lot more information about this book, and the related book tour, in the weeks to come.

This is one of several projects I have lined up for 2012. My blog suffered this year because of these projects. That won't be the case next year. I like posting stuff here. If I had the option, this would be my only online outlet. Thanks for your patience. I'll make it worth your while.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Misc: Life, Void

REALITY, October 30 – In the last half of 1993 and first half of 1994, I did very little with my life. I’d moved to the south, to a large house on a block where nothing ever happened. I learned to ride a bike, played a lot of basketball, and watched a lot of MTV. Although I did have a seasonal job around Christmas to pay an old IRS bill, that was my only adult responsibility. Rent was $95. By any possible measure, I was a lazy sack of slob.

Whatever karmic debt I incurred by my year of sloth has now been paid for with the last few months. It’s hard to describe how busy I’ve been, especially because all the projects I’m currently toiling over won’t come to fruition until next year. I can’t sustain this pace, and I feel bad that I’ve had to let some important things slide, like my blog, or hygiene. Last week, for example, I realized I hadn’t bathed or changed my clothes in three days. I did this a lot in 1993 as well, but back then it was because I was too lazy for grooming. This time around I was too busy for grooming. Either way, it was kind of gross.

On Saturday night I took a break. I went to my friend Anthony's house in LA, watched TV, and ate a lot of bad food. I made sure to shower first.




Anthony had the new Void LP on Dischord. I’d been so busy with my life that I’d forgotten it existed. Last month, I’d considered pitching some magazines about reviewing this as The-Last-CD-I’ll-Ever-Buy type piece, but then it was too late, and doing a review would have necessitated getting a review copy, which would have negated the concept in the first place. Also, I was intimidated to hear it. Many, many times over the last quarter century I’ve stepped into a record store and thought, there’s no new Void record, so why am I here? My bluff had been called, and it felt weird.

It was weird, too, hearing these songs stripped of their scariness. If you watch CNN while listening to their 12-song side of the Dischord Faith/Void split, it will appear that the world is rapidly disintegrating. The demo tracks included on this "new" release, in contrast, were merely sketches, fun - in that junky, generic way of primordial hardcore - but not particularly unique or inspiring. The singer's voice did not yet approximate the Dover clip art of demons and monsters that decorated their LP art (this record just featured an assortment of photos, including one of the singer, sullen in his prom gear). I grew momentarily depressed. This wasn't really a new Void record, because, of course, there can be no new Void record. The drummer has already passed away; someday we will all die. The universe will come and go, but there will never be another Void.

Then we watched “The Jerk” and I felt better again.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

New: bugs

THE INTERNET, Oct 5 – New column up, on the bug pit of Uzbekistan. You should read this while you are eating because I would find that funny.


SEMIRELATED: This is the first October I've been able to enjoy as an adult. Those of you with severe arachnophobia know what misery Halloween season can be. Every public space is decorated with garish, monstrous spider decorations. Sometimes those decorations are in places like supermarkets and banks and Laundromats where one's presence is mandatory. If you’re scared of spiders – giant, cartoony, or otherwise - it’s a long, torturous month.

Hypnotherapy has changed all that. I had to buy some Dayquil at Walgreens recently. While I was waiting in line, it took me a moment to realize that I was standing in front of a 2-foot cloth tarantula. This would have caused me acute distress just a year ago. Now it’s an afterthought. Seriously; if you’re someone who suffers from a major phobia, consider hypnotism. Cost less than $500. Changed my life.

Friday, September 30, 2011

New: Stamina Land

THE INTERNET, SEPT. 30 - My new article on traveling to Petra, Jordan is now online at - surprise! - Vice. I was there for 30 hours, much of which was spent in excruciating pain. It was the best trip I've ever taken.

Also, I've got a new column up about optical migraines. Which I now have, again. Enjoy.

Friday, September 16, 2011

New: Messiah Hunt

THE INTERNET, Sept. 16 - My new, 5,000+ word essay on mental illness in the Holy Land is now online at Vice. I've shot my mouth off for years about the complex psychotic rupture known as Jerusalem Syndrome, and I was embarrassed, last year, to read that I'd referenced the phenomenon in at least three unrelated articles. So it was nice of Vice to send me there to cover the real deal. Thanks, guys.

Also, I logged another weekly column on Tuesday. This one's about the Weird Period of late 2002. It's not bad (for me).

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Problem: Creepy "Book" Situation

THE ZONE OF UNEASE, Sept. 6 - Two weeks ago I learned that a book had apparently been written about me. Turns out it’s more of a “book”. The team of Henssonow, Surhone, and Tennoe have also penned such classics as “United States Courthouse and Post Office (Kansas City, Missouri)”, “Raqibul Hasan (cricketer, Born 1987)” and “Alice in Chains (German Edition)”. According to Amazon, there are 118,168 "books" in the series.

My best guess is that this is somehow related to an Amazon phenomenon known as “private label rights”. Maybe that concept has been taken over by spambots. The increasing sophistication of marketing robots makes weird items like this an inevitability. Although it could be something else entirely. My first reaction at seeing this was that I was somehow in trouble, and I guess I shouldn’t rule out that option either.

FYI, I have a birthday coming up in 7 months, if anyone wants to buy me one. Used copies start at a -1% discount!

Also, I have another column up, this one about the crushing crushingness of Kansas’s “Dust In The Wind”. It’s decent.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

New: "The Teaching Profession"

THE INTERNET, August 30 - I've got a fresh column up, on the hideous suckiness of teaching. I give it a B. Writing comedy is hard. For every hit, you get two misses. Or three. I was so frazzled with last week's piece that I never got the thing finished. Although it doesn't seem like anyone noticed. You have to insult a lot of people at once for anyone to take note. I learned this lesson the hard way 20 years ago, so this is neither a fresh observation nor a complaint. But it does mean I'm going to have to start slandering more states if I don't get some feedback. My hands are tied on this one.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

New: Things To Read

POMONA, Aug 4 - My pal Steve tells me I am "blowing it" with this blog. So, to reiterate: I am in the middle of a very, very busy period in my life. Things will clear up soonish. In the meantime, I have two new columns up on Vice, on Glenn McCoy and Chexsystems (two subjects everyone should be up to speed on).

I am running out of filler graphics for this blog.

Also, I remembered the other day that I've been meaning, for the last decade, to write something about Brendan Mullen's "Annihilation Man". I read this 6,500-word LA Weekly piece on Germs frontman Darby Crash in early 2001. The article made an enormous impact on me, vastly expanding my understanding of how music journalism could (and should) work. I emulated this essay years later, with my profile on Doc Dart. And although Mullen abandoned this structure with the following year's Lexicon Devil - opting instead for that flimsiest of book formats, the oral history - I'd always meant to write him a brief Thank You for the Weekly piece. Unfortunately, he died two years ago. So I guess that's off the table now. Unless people in Heaven read my blog. Huh.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Early July Recap

I did some traveling a few weeks ago and ended up in New York. I didn't get to see many old friends, but Neil and Noelle were kind enough to drive up one night from Philadelphia and meet me for dinner. Afterwards, we walked through the neighborhood where Neil and I were roommates in 1988. The city has changed so much since then that we agreed to refer to each other as "future version of Neil Burke" and "future version of Sam McPheeters". This seemed like the only honest way to deal with 2011. At one point Noelle groaned.

The night before, this happened. Sorry.

Also, this occurred, which begat this.

We all know you don't know how to read, buddy.

Me 2023.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Corrections

CORRECTIONS DEPT., June 15 - Of last December's post, paragraph two, my pal O. writes;

I fucked up! It looks like he is bending the neck from some angles, but at about 6:21 in this clip from Decline you can see him whanging a whammy bar on his SG during "Beef Bologna." So much for my knowledge of things. Retract!

And this week's Vice column is now online. Apparently it is an every-Tuesday kind of deal, NOT every Monday. Now I know.

Also, I finally wrote and posted an obituary for my good friend Kara, who died on Valentine's Day. I had such a hard time putting this together that I had to bench it for a few months and let myself get used to the idea that she really is gone. That hasn't yet occurred, but I didn't like the idea of letting this go unwritten indefinitely. So it's up now. I miss her.

Monday, June 13, 2011

New: Hiding The Horror

THE LAND OF TRIUMPH, June 13 - "Hiding The Horror", my new 5,000+ word essay about beating arachnophobia, is now online at Vice. I took a huge gamble with this piece and it totally paid off. Kudos to me. And thanks to everyone at Vice for facilitating this.

photo by John Michaels

Not long after my pal John snapped this photo - a picture that would have caused heart palpitations a month earlier - I found myself driving home high as a kite on raw human ego. I swerved, I cut people off, I lashed elderly drivers with my car horn. I just conquered my biggest fear, lady! I yelled more than once. What have you ever done with your life????

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

THE INTERNET, June 7 - My new weekly column, "The Brutality Report", is now online at Vice. It'll update every Monday.

I've entered a weird - and hopefully brief - period where I'm working above my capacity on projects that won't come to fruition until next year. I've been telling friends I'm operating at 110%. But really it's more like 114%. Some things have to give, and more often than not it's this very unpaid blog that loses. It's frustrating. Hopefully things will be back to normal soon. Until then, my new column can take up some of the slack?

Monday, May 23, 2011

Review: Macho Man Most insane promo EVER

THE INTERNET / HEAVEN, May 23 - In life, "Macho Man" Randy Savage never made a dent in my consciousness. But I am going to have a hard time forgetting him after seeing the video below. Never has there been a clearer distillation of the Id, Ego, and Superego than in this two-minute WWF promo from an alternate universe eighties / nineties:


Seriously, if I were a psychologist, I'd start every session with a new client by making them watch this. Things happen here that won't even be named until the DSM-VIII. WTF squared.

Monday, May 16, 2011

New: The Offensive Review

THE INTERNET, May 16 - My 3,322 word exposé on Horseshit magazine is now online at Vice.

If you're someone who asked me, over the course of March, what I was working on, I probably answered, "a bunch of horse shit." As usual, I was being deadly serious.

Monday, May 9, 2011

New: Munchies thing

THE INTERNET, May 9 - Brooks Headley's episode of "Munchies" is now online. For those of you unfamiliar with Brooks, he was the subject of my 7,320 word profile, "The Dessert Psycho", as well as an implausible string of NY Times accolades, including one from Thursday.

I got the kitchen pretty much cleaned this afternoon and bought some new tube socks, so I'm not sweating it either. Don't worry about me.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

New: Four Fresh Sites

THE INTERNET, April 27 - An average of eight new websites get added to the world wide web every day. I know the people behind four of today's:

- Neil Burke's new art site. This is, to the best of my knowledge, the only place where you can safely purchase a copy of "Oid" for your dorm room. Or perhaps you're not in college quite yet, and you are instead looking for a juicy quote for your high school yearbook. Again, neilburke.net is where you want to be.

- Neil Burke's new blog. I have great hopes for this, and I envy all of us for being around to see its origins. It's like if you or I got to peer over Thomas Jefferson's shoulder as he wrote up the DOI. Don't sneeze!

photo by John Michaels, but only because I was driving

- Jesse Pearson's new site. Jesse is the former editor of Vice, and hands down the best of many great editors I have worked with. There are interviews with Elmore Leonard and William Gibson and photos of Omar Little and the whole thing is simply delightful and classy. If you work an office job, than I am going to ask that you hold off on those TPS reports and instead spend the morning reading Jesse's website.

- Noelle Burke's blog. Noelle runs Xenotees, secretly runs Monoroid, and without her work Etsy would still be a one-room yarn store in Sheepshead Bay. Why was this concealed from me for so long?

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Archive: Best Business Writing

FROM THE ARCHIVES, April 20 - I am, at heart, a frustrated business writer. My old column in Punk Planet (2000-2003[?]) was intended as a forum for business writing in the least businessy publication I knew of. I think the idea was to give my writing some focus. It didn't work - those columns were still pretty disjointed - but it did give me a yearning to someday work on actual finance writing. When I'm grown up. In my late 70's.


Of the Punk Planet pieces, there's the 1,582 word "Indices Of Doom" (discussing an economic downturn that feels quaint now), and the 1,590 word "One Year Of Boring Magazine Subscriptions".

Then there are three pieces from my old websites; the 555 word "Time To Fight", the 590 word "Notes From The 2001 Mordam Convention", and a 609 word piece on the finances of my old band.

Finally, there's the 500 word "The Crying Of Lot '77", a clever little piece from the Village Voice (online). If you are a steady reader of this blog and you also happen to work at Bloomberg Businessweek, seriously: put me in the game. I'm great with deadlines, have decent personal grooming skills, and a simply hilarious resume.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Archive: Best Film Writing

FROM THE ARCHIVE, April 15 - Writing about cinema is tough, in that sitting through most movies is tough. But I have gathered a few decent, small scale film pieces over the last few years. Let me get this graphic out of the way, and then I'll provide links.


From my old, pre-blog websites, there's the 778 word "Grief On Mute" (written back in the days when I was more charitable towards audiences at the Egyptian; at the last film I saw there, a drunk behemoth squeezed in next to me and produced his own flask and martini glass), my 989-word review of 2003's "The Core", and a 1,050-word look at the straight-to-DVD "Last Best Chance".

Then there are a few gems from this blog, such as an 817-word review of "What We Do Is Secret", a 1,018-word review of the Turkish non-masterpiece "Kurtlar Vadisi Irak", and an 841-word review of the near-masterpiece "Times Square".

Also, I conducted a delightful interview with filmmaker Alex Cox for the Village Voice. At least it was delightful for me. Enjoy??

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Problem: Perpetual Mess Machines

RECURRING FAILURE DEPT., APRIL 13 - My eBay store - and the affiliated auction of my old fanzine, Dear Jesus - has come to an end. Despite my careful bookkeeping, the whole thing devolved into a shameful and protracted clusterfuck. Dealing with the pricing bureaucracies at eBay, Kinkos, and Paypal was like negotiating with the East German government. I could never get a consistent per-unit dollar amount on the project, and every month eBay hit me with seller fees that equaled two utility bills. It felt counterintuitive. It's like if you wrench $90 worth of copper piping out of your basement, but when you call the guy at the recycling plant, he tells you there's an $88 processing fee. How badly do you want your two bucks? In my case, the answer is Not So Much. These are mere first world problems only occasionally masquerading as second world problems. There's nothing unique about my situation.

Except there is one thing unique about my situation: I hate my product. The jolly Fedex Kinko's staff made this reality especially awkward, what with their insistent cheerfulness and helpful staff. Years ago, a Kinkos employee actually chewed me out over issues of content. I know the drill. It therefore seems a tad dishonest for these nice people to now ignore the awful smut I must enlist their help in manufacturing. When the editor of San Francisco's MRR politely requested a copy for review, I declined (although this would've been problematic anyway) on the grounds that I don't really want anyone to know about Dear Jesus. But how does one manufacture, distribute, and market something on the extreme DL?


So Dear Jesus is now available through this blog*. I'm doing it without the use of eBay, and it's a print-on-demand scenario, which means the orders could take a few days longer to make. I have no idea how long I'll be making and selling these things. The hassle factor is definitely one large consideration.

The humiliation factor is another. My original hope was that the exculpatory introduction would insulate me from all the bad writing and bad ideas I cooked up 20 years ago. But I know that's not really possible. Each little zine packet I send out into the world is another entity representing a "me" that no longer exists. It's confusing, and frustrating. Even though PDFs of the zine aren't online, the mean spirited imp responsible for it is still out there, an autonomous persona with a seemingly open-ended lifespan. I can choose to ignore him, or I can choose to wring a few bucks out of him. But he - the ghost of me - isn't going anywhere.

NY Times writer Jonathan Dee nailed this phenomenon in January 2010:

Not only can the past never really be erased; it co-exists, in cyberspace, with the present, and an important type of context is destroyed. This is one reason that intellectual inflexibility has become such a hallmark of modern political discourse, and why, so often, no distinction is recognized between hypocrisy and changing your mind.

Again, my predicament isn't special. Many people - millions - find themselves typecast and pigeonholed by their former selves. There's nothing unique about my situation.

And yet, again, there is one other thing unique about my situation: the Fear Of Smell blog. This flattering, well-intentioned site documents a compilation album my record label released nineteen years ago. It's a great record, and although I had no real part in its greatness - besides being in the right place at the right time - I did design a wonderful cover for the second pressing in 1998.

The F.O.S. blog, however, focuses on the covers of the first pressing. I did not design a cover for that run, great or otherwise. Instead, friends and distributors were given markers and hundreds of blank record jackets. It didn't occur to me until far too late that many of these covers would be supreme bummers, and it didn't occur to me until it was really far too late that someone might actually want to document all these bummers. Meaning I now have a website where I can regularly find fresh horrors I have inflicted on the world without my own knowledge, as if I were a naughty amnesiac or a chronic black-out drunk. It's a portal of inexhaustible mortification without precedent. I haven't yet figured out how to make a dime off this particular perpetual mess machine, but when I do you'll be the first to know about it.

* 5/5/11 - screw it, I'm done. No more for sale. What a nightmare.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

New: Null Detector Revisited

THE INTERNET, April 6 - My old bandmate Andy Coronado has just posted his salute to DC outsider bands on the LA Record site. Years ago, he and I had envisioned this as "Null Detector", a specialty radio show on KSPC (meaning we were going to pitch it to KSPC). The idea was that each night would be affectionately devoted to the loser bands of a different major US city's early punk scene. But we just weren't able to get our acts together.

Except for the t-shirt, Andy did a bang-up job with the concept. I'm glad this exists.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Archive: Best Music Writing

FROM THE ARCHIVES, April 4 - My computer tells me I've written 82,379 words about music in my lifetime. It stands to reason that a fraction of these pieces would end up in the Not So Bad category. A fragment of those articles are in the Almost Good category, and a wee selection of those pieces rise to Kind Of Readable grade. These are the articles I want to share with you.


I gave the OC Weekly a few good pieces. There's the 605 word "Extreme Extremeness",the 647 word "The Disappointment Remains The Same", the badly retitled "Beyond NC-17", and the contemplative, 866 word "Ashlee's Jam".

Then there's the 888 word "Best Records" for DC's Dusted Magazine, and the 800 word "The Formula", which appeared in The Stranger.

Of course if you're a masochist, a night shift security guard, or have jury duty, you can always read the 9,263 word "Survival Of The Streets". This one counts as a film piece as well, but there are plenty of words about music towards the end. Enjoy??

Friday, April 1, 2011

Hard Drive Miscellany (2011)

BALONEY TIME, April 1 - After a computer virus sent my personal files all over the globe ten years ago, I do all my work on an offline Dell 2400. The 200 GB hard drive - a luxury when I got it - chugs away like an espresso machine. Occasionally I take little excursions through its vast and unordered files to see what kind of weird shit I accumulated during the aughties.

I designed a website for my pal Anthony a long time ago. It didn't really do anything except pop up links to the Cro-Mags site, and eventually the domain expired. D'oh.

A few years ago, I and Tara and Justin and Sarah all went to the Renaissance Fair in Irwindale. The ladies had full 17th century costumes ready to go (what woman doesn't?), but Justin and I didn't have anything from that time period. I salvaged a few pieces from my old Uncle Sam outfit and found a furry camera bag for a hat. Justin apparently murdered a hippie drifter for his duds. At the Faire, we encountered a surprising amount of animosity, with several blacksmithees and pizza booth wenches calling us "jam band guys". I have never seen so much sunburned back-cleavage as I have in that one day.


Early man. I always keep one of these on hand for a few yukks. No matter how bad things get, I'll never be as stupid as this guy. What a bozo!


Only photo from the old fridge. We had 200 of these little portraits up there. It was impressive. Moral: always document your refrigerator.

Found this near my car in 2003(?). If I'd still been living in Jersey City, I would've assumed a Santeria curse had been placed on me. Out here, it just means someone's crummy band didn't work out, and they probably had a meltdown after a bad practice or show and threw this out the car window while driving to a strip bar.

I don't know what this fellow is doing in my computer. Shoo!

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Problem: Celebrity encounters

THE GOLDEN STATE, March 30 - Ten years ago, I bought a map to the stars' homes. I and my dad and my wife forced my 14-year old kid sister to take a two-hour trip through residential Hollywood. My sister didn't really seem to understand our delight at finding Madonna's front gate or the bungalow of Eartha Kitt, but the rest of us had a blast. Seeing celebrity houses is fun.

Seeing celebrities, however, is not. It's creepy and weird and cognitively disruptive. Here are some memorable encounters from the decade since.

1) ELLIOTT GOULD

I run into this joker everywhere, and every time it's the same experience. There's an initial, reflexive jolt of adrenaline at spotting a celebrity, followed almost immediately by the realization, oh, it's just that guy. It's like he's challenging me to say something. But what? "Excuse me sir, but I really hated you in 'Mash'" ????

2) JIMMY KIMMEL

I spotted Kimmel three years ago, at the Hollywood Arclight. It was hard not to spot him. He stood at the head of a long line at the concession stand, facing backwards and addressing the crowd as if doing standup. I was reminded of the handful of punk shows I've attended in DC, and all those exquisitely mortifying moments of avoiding eye contact with various Dischord Records luminaries. So intense was this memory that I actually walked past the concession stand spectacle and then watched my movie in a popcornless funk of humiliation.


3) CHARLIE DAY & MARY ELIZABETH ELLIS

Day and Ellis - "Charlie" and "The Waitress" from TV's It's Always Sunny In Philadelphia - were lingering in front of the Edendale, in Silver Lake, two months ago. I passed them as I walked in, executing a horrible one second eye-contact hold with Day that made me feel as intrusive and guilty as if I'd walked up to him and caressed his cheek. Ellis looked annoyed - in character, perhaps - and the two of them fled into the night, arm in arm. It was a sneak peek into an alternate version of their hit TV show, one in which Charlie actually gets the girl. I'm not sure if this was worth the awkwardness.

4) DUSTIN HOFFMAN

I'd just walked into a tony Santa Monica toy store when I turned and saw the Rain Man. I spent the rest of my brief shopping excursion avoiding whatever aisle he was in. Even though I was the only childless male in the store, it really felt like Hoffman was being the creepy one in this scenario.

5) PATRICIA ARQUETTE

Patricia Arquette walked into a Hollywood Halloween store I was in 10 years ago. This was before her star turn in CBS's Medium, so Arquette was then known as the star of David Lynch's "Lost Highway". If it sounds uncomfortable bumping into someone you last saw being forced to strip nude by Robert Loggia, try doing so while your friend John Michaels says, over and over, at full volume, Did you see who that was? Did you??

6) SETH GREEN

SEE: ELLIOTT GOULD. Then delete the 'Mash' part. Seriously dude, stop following me into every other store and restaurant I eat at. It's not funny. Stop.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Blind Trust & Pie Fraud (2000)

FROM THE ARCHIVES, March 28 - This originally appeared in a 2000 issue of Punk Planet. It's not a particularly graceful chunk of writing (I definitely don't use as many parenthetical asides these days). And it seems strange to remember that there was once a time when Halliburton wasn't as globally recognized as the Nazi army.

Smart businesses maintain cash reserves for emergencies. Businesses run by bozos, as is mine, maintain scheme reserves. When times get tight, previously ridiculed fundraising plots get dusted off for fresh inspection. A few years back, for example, a lease on a cheap and charmingly decrepit office space required that I buy one million dollars in liability insurance ($11 a month to cover me in the event of a UPS driver pulling a knuckle joint on my doorknob). One afternoon, reading over the insurance document with my lone employee, we discovered that the insurance covered lawsuits resulting from acts of "defamation, slander, harassment and humiliation". We came up with what is looking more and more like a credible business plan. Namely: on videotape, I order my employee to drop his pants, then smash him in the face with a pie and howl with laughter. He sues, an outraged jury awards the humiliated employee the million from my insurance company and we split the winnings down the middle. Although the scheme would probably result in a rate hike, it could be worth the risk. "Humiliation" is a hard thing to disprove. In essence, my intentions would need to be gauged, and there's no exit port for these intentions but whatever comes out of my mouth.

In August, GOP vice presidential candidate Dick Cheney accepted a choice retirement package, certain points of which are making me misty for that pie fraud scheme all over again. For services rendered to Halliburton - the Texas based oil services company he's served as chairman and chief exec these last five years - Dick walks away with $20 million in stocks and cash, instantly doubling his paper worth. A few editorials cried foul at the general, big-picture unfairness of the payout (thousands of employees were laid off during Cheney's watch), but of course the story is so legal and routine in today's economy that it doesn't go far except maybe as exhibit 884-J in the ongoing, stupifyingly obvious epic of US campaign finance corruption. And yet, wrapped up in Cheney's bonus is a puzzle distantly related to my proposed humiliation lawsuit. How would a hypothetical vice president Cheney handle the conflict of interest? How can the man's true intentions be gauged?

To handicap their immense advantages in contacts and insider information, high level public officials are bound by strict laws when reentering the business world. There are lag times, for example, of one to five years before starting at any company whose interests intersect with their old post. Rules are murkier when someone travels in reverse, from business back into government. The "Chinese Wall" - procedures used by investment firms to avoid illegal use of inside information - grows much more complex in an org as large and ridiculous as the U.S. government (statement of disclosure - I encountered the Chinese Wall in 1988 during a very tense 37 minutes of employment on Wall Street as a "cold caller", a job whose description still eludes me. My new boss took me aside and, in hushed tones, pointed down two hallways; left for soda machines, right for "off-limits, sensitive information that won't be in the Wall Street Journal until tomorrow morning" I nodded reverently, veered left, bought my Pepsi and sprinted in disorientation out of the building). The president and vice president, for example, are required by law to address any conflicts arising from their financial holdings, usually by establishing a "blind trust". Someone else handles their investments and doesn't give them any details. If Clinton knows not that he owns 800,000 shares of Exxon, the theory goes, the less likely he'll be to manipulate national policy to influence the value of those shares (although this first family allegedly waited 6 months before setting up their own blind trust).

Bush says he and his running mate would set up blind trusts if elected, which is nice because they'll have to on account of they're both mega-rich and it's the law. Cheney says he'll sell his stock if he gets elected. But not until then, which already gives us some insight. Even issues raised on the campaign trail can theoretically affect stock prices, which can affect how much money this guy gets. Cheney's candidacy is one of the most conflict-seeped of the last half century. If you don't count Perot (whose company wasn't publicly traded) or Forbes (on the grounds of his being a mutton barely able to propel himself about under his own volition), we have to dig back to Wendell Willkie's entanglements with utility companies in 1940. But Cheney's pretty versed in this stuff. He's already profited hugely off US foreign policy he himself was responsible for. Grateful Saudi and Kuwaiti sheiks "saved" by then-Defense Secretary Cheney's prosecution of the Gulf war welcomed Dick with open arms on recent lobbying trips. Halliburton, a company that was pulling in hundreds of millions before his arrival, was working in the billions by this summer. War gave Cheney "clout", one of the great unquantifiables. How much more clout will his candidacy bring? And Big Oil (of which Halliburton is a component, although not an actual oil company itself) also operates with its own interests. Playing dual sides of the fence, both domestically (Cheney lobbied for and won the $900,000,000 Kosovo cleanup contract from the Clinton administration last year) and abroad (Cheney lobbied on behalf of lifting sanctions to oil rich "despot countries" Iran and Libya, and has, at times, had to align himself with OPEC's price hikes, supporting a massive monopoly that'd be illegal under US antitrust laws) is part of Cheney's background. Bush W.'s main advisor Karl Rove took $150,000 from Philip Morris while dishing up the counsel, and Rove's shrug-off of any apparent conflict of interest sums the mode. Bush and Rove "never discussed it", case closed. That's the beauty of conflicts of interest. In essence, Cheney's intentions need to be gauged, and there's no exit port for these intentions save whatever comes out of Cheney's mouth.

Weird questions of causality arise. Al Gore receives about $20,000 in royalties off a Tennessee zinc mine every year, an amount too small to trigger a blind trust. Would a blind trust be required if he made $40,000? $100,000? If a hypothetical President Gore invaded zinc-rich Namibia and inched US zinc prices that much higher, would we really be able to gauge his full intentions? (Punchline: the Gores own 25 times this amount in Occidental Petroleum stock.) Even Ralph Nader owns over three million dollars in technology stocks, companies whose fortunes could be deftly manipulated in a series of lunchtime phone calls from the office he seeks (statement of disclosure - I was fired from Nader's NY Public Interest Research Group in 1986 after a very tense 3 days of employment, and the episode has left a hardened kernel of rage in my heart for all time). Nader was actually accused of conflicted interests 30 years ago, when he issued a report blasting an IT&T merger, then profited off IT&T stock he sold short two days before the merger was approved. "Mere coincidence" he told a reporter, which is accused corporation shorthand for Prove It.

This will be my mantra during the civil case against my alleged acts of humiliation. And when an enraged attorney thrusts a copy of this very column in my face, I'll huff, "mere coincidence". Nearby, a single tear will silently roll down my humiliated employee's cheek.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Achive: Best writing

FROM THE ARCHIVES, March 25 - There are now well over 100,000 words on this site, much of it archived material from old zines or columns I wrote 5-15 years ago. Some of those old writings are not so hot. But a select few pieces are very hot indeed. Since I haven't done so yet, here's a list of my best writing on the internet. Immediately after this graphic. Which I'm using to represent the quality of the writing below.


First, there's the 645 word Disney's Creepiest Sexy Animated Female Leads Awards, which I wrote for the Village Voice 3 years ago. I was (and remain) very intimidated to write for them, and thus spent a lot of time trying to make this good. It worked! It's a good piece!

Then there's an 845 word review of a 2007 Van Halen show that kicked off this blog. I think I was entertaining the notion that I could sustain this level of quality every day. Hard lesson. For some reason, Blogspot refuses to let me reformat this piece in san-serifs. Another hard lesson.

Punk Planet got three very good columns from me, all of which I reprinted here. There's the 1,047 word About The Postal Exam, the 1,226 word Tweakers Vs. Shredders, and the 2,348 word, two part obituary for Alberti Records which was my first taste of long form essay writing.

Then there's my 7,784 word profile of the man known as 26, The Troublemaker, as published by Vice in early 2009. This thing is like a car that won't run out of gas. I frequently find myself at the mall or in the sauna at the gym having strangers come up to me with tears in their eyes over the goodness of this article. So kudos to me on that one.

Soon: list of worst writings??