Thursday, February 17, 2011

KARA ENGEL 1968-2011

I met Kara in late 1999. I'd just moved to southern California and was living at my future mother in law's house. My dislocation highlighted the importance of quickly stepping into a new social circle. I needed to impress my girlfriend's pals, and I needed to impress them quickly. As my spouse's best friend, Kara posed an extra challenge. The two of them had been tight since 8th grade. What if Kara and I didn't get along?

We did get along. I think we were both relieved that we actually liked each other, and weren't facing years and years of feigned interest. In fact, we had a great deal in common, especially in the List Of Things We Call Bullshit On. This list included, but was not limited to: bad coffee, bad smells, Jane Valez Mitchell's hair, kids, people who have kids (a topic I softened on after several pals started breeding), marriage (a topic we avoided altogether after I married), bad art in general, bad L.A. art in specific, and social networking. Up until two weeks ago, we were both still churning over this list.

Kara's death Monday, at her home in Temecula, offered more than just the shock of death itself. Up until this weekend, I'd have guessed she had many months left, possibly even years. When the end came, the speed and ferocity of her cancer seemed almost supernatural. She was 42.

Twelve years ago, one of many things I had to digest in the strange new state was the versatility of the word "dude". On the east coast, "dude" was a dated, one-note joke. On the west coast, the word was alive with multiple values; as a casual greeting, a heartfelt greeting, a pip of annoyance, a face-saver, a defuser, a warning. The inflections and intonations seemed endless.

Kara had her own way of saying 'dude'. Her voice would drop to a growl and she'd stretch the word out with a slight prelude of phlegmy annoyance, forcing it to carry far more weight than it was intended for. It was how an elderly middle Eastern woman might say "dude", if elderly middle Eastern women used California slang to convey the sorrow of the world. There's no way to spell Kara's version. In the last few years before she got sick, Kara frequently focused this word on growing old, a subject that rose to the top of the Bullshit List. We were approaching our forties, then we'd all entered our forties. She wasn't having any of it.

It seems strange now that she has bypassed growing old altogether. When I think of Kara - as I will do often for the rest of my life - she'll be the same Kara every time: young, funny, annoyed, alive.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Review: "Some and None"

FROM THE ARCHIVES, Feb 10 - I can't overstate the impact this song had on my formative years. In particular, I can't overstate the sheer existential horror of the "none of us are here" line. I remember laying awake in bed as a petrified kindergartner, pondering the terrible riddle of those five little words. If someone was talking, how could NONE of them have been there?

1. I had not, however, remembered the wonderful little tune. With its pippy organ and peppy game show tempo and that neat start-stoppiness of a good Gun Club song, it seems like it would be impossible to feel sad while "Some And None" is playing. Just try it - go out and get a divorce or get your foot amputated and then watch this video. See? Everything's fine!

2. The mosh pit starting at 0:32. Earlier in the day, I'd read John Seabrooks' gruesome New Yorker article on stampedes and mass tramplings. This song made that article OK.

3. If I ever rob a bank, I want to incorporate this song into the mix (iPod? Boom box? In the getaway car?).

4. This is the only video I could find in English (Ginger Manson just isn't the same in German or Spanish). This version, with its weird, acid reflux sizzle of VHS, raises a different eddy of nostalgia: it feels like I might wear out the YouTube video if I play it too much.

Friday, February 4, 2011

New: Dear Jesus anthology

THE INTERNET, Feb. 4 - Unlike other lulls on this blog, January's one-post malaise had a blamable agent. I've spent the last few weeks carefully restoring copies of my old fanzine, Dear Jesus, for online sale. Reading all my early 1990's writing - occasionally funny, frequently mortifying - screwed up my writing processes in the present. But that process is now complete, and you can purchase copies of the new collection on my refurbished eBay store.

From the new intro to the Dear Jesus anthology;

Remember when you were 14 and completely insufferable because you thought you knew everything? Ever wonder what would happen if you stayed that way well into your twenties? Well, wonder no more. Dear Jesus is what would happen. I'm not embarrassed by any of my old bands: I am deeply embarrassed by these five fanzines. They provide an accurate written account of me at my absolute worst as a human being.

I've had to do a lot of explaining and apologizing in my career, and I'm not blind to the irony of explaining and apologizing for a zine whose own intro, written 22 years ago, explains and apologizes for my previous zine from the mid-1980's. In a perfect world, I would have hunted down and shredded every copy of Dear Jesus. Instead, the logic of capitalism dictates that I nicely package the whole thing for a quick buck. My humiliation can be your bathroom reading. So be it. No big deal. Enjoy.