First Encounters With Mr. Jimi

21 Jul
Rock royalty meets Jimi Hendrix for the first time, in their own words.

B.B. King and Buddy Guy

– Of course you gotta start with these two cats.

Frank Zappa

– Coolest dude of all-time.

Little Richard

– From the 1973 rockumentary Let the Good Times Roll; the clip is must-see, the film not so much.

Joni Mitchell

– Met in Ottawa, where Joni was a folk singer; Hendrix taped her show and they went back to the hotel together for sexy time, at least I hope so

Eric Clapton

– An excerpt from a questionable BBC documentary, ‘The Seven Ages of Rock – Episode 1 The Birth of Rock’; Clapton isn’t in this clip but the two had obviously met at some point.

Chris Squire

– Changed his bass strings every night; had never spoken to a black person before opening for Hendrix at the legendary Marquee Club in 1966.

Ron Wood

– Shared a flat in Holland Park for several weeks; says Hendrix could play guitar left and right-handed.

Robert Fripp

– Shook Hendrix’s left hand, once…and goes on for four minutes on how and why [Fripp] began sitting during live performances – unheard of for rock guitar players at the time, for sure – and coincidentally, Hendrix was present at that show – 1969, it’s unclear if King Crimson and Hendrix shared a bill because I can’t be arsed to watch it again; they met the show; Hendrix said, “Shake my left hand, it’s closer to my heart.”

Jeff Beck

– This cat’s ego is as predictable his “jams”; he should have been a railroad engineer or something, because right on schedule, he claims that Hendrix swiped one of his riffs; even this clip is over-rated.

Robbie Robertson

– Brief story about hanging out with Brian Jones and meeting Jimmy James! Something about this clip says, “Cocaine, lots of cocaine.”

Les Paul

– Awesome Yarn from The Man Who Invented Stereo; rambling in a cool grandpa sort of way; he had no idea who Hendrix was when they first met; wanted to manage him; watch both clips

George Harrison

– Haha this has nothing to do with Hendrix, but watch it anyway.

Lou Reed

– The earliest reference and use of “bitchin’” to describe a guitar player that I’m aware of; Lou doesn’t actually say whether he met Hendrix, but it’s a fun clip anyway.

Shuggie Otis

– Shugs still has something on the ball…kind of. He got an autograph.

 

 

The Good News: Pink Floyd is Releasing a New Record – The Bad News: Pink Floyd is Still Making Music

9 Jul
Pink Floyd, "It Would Be So Nice"

Pink Floyd, “It Would Be So Nice” (1966)

Here’s my beef with megalithic rock corporations like Pink Floyd. They are absolutely filthy rich, yet they continue to churn out boxed-set after redundant boxed-set with the supposed bonus of unreleased demos that nobody was supposed to hear in the first place. And that’s exactly what the latest “new” Pink Floyd scam is all about. Do you really need a need a 5.1 Surround Sound Mix of a record – The Division Bell – that neither Syd Barrett nor Roger Waters played on? Cuz those two dudes, like it or not, were Pink Floyd. What we’ve been listening to – or not – since The Final Cut, is The Dave Gilmour Band. He’s a fine musician, but he is not Pink Floyd, except in the eyes of the law, and justice is blind. Right?

According to pinkfloyd.com and I’ve no good reason to doubt it, the band and their label just released the 20th anniversary boxed-set of The Division Bell that nobody – not one fucking person – was waiting for. On the heels of this crowning achievement of greed and banality, comes The Endless River.

“Pink Floyd can confirm that they are releasing a new album, The Endless River, in October 2014. It is an album of mainly ambient and instrumental music based on the 1993/4 Division Bell sessions which feature David Gilmour, Nick Mason and Richard Wright. The album is produced by David Gilmour with Phil Manzanera, Youth and recording engineer Andy Jackson. Work is still in progress, but more details to come at the end of the summer.”

You can read the who, what, where, when and for God’s sake, why? by clicking here.

Meanwhile, here’s to hoping that everything on The Endless River is just as wasteful and insipid as every note of The Division Bell, which couldn’t possibly be any further from the Pink Floyd which mattered. Otherwise, I’m going to start feeling sorry for them. And I’m sure they can afford my pity.

BSM Joints: San Francisco Muni – Joke, No Joke

7 Jul
The California of my mind is a “magical” place where everybody gets a prize of undetermined value. Likewise, San Francisco is many, many things to me, but most of all, it was home for nine years. And for a long time, I thought it would be madness to live anywhere else.

According to a Business Insider report on Transit Score® rankings, S.F. has the second most reliable public transportation system in America, second to New York.

Muni1A lot must have changed in the six years I’ve been gone, because the S.F. public transportation system I’m familiar with, was less than dependable. That’s being nice. Muni is a joke – a total joke, and then again, you’ll hear people say, “Muni is no joke.”

During my residency, I relied on Muni for approximately three long, excruciating years of unpredictable service and general anxiety – I never knew from day to day if I was going to get to work or school on time. Almost any bus or light rail line could be inexplicably shut down, delayed or re-routed according to the whims of the central command, and/or circumstances beyond any one person’s control, or at least, that’s the way I chose to see it.

To be fair, Muni got me to where I needed to be more often than not. You never remember all the mundane trips back and forth where nothing unusual happened. It’s always the unpleasant events that linger in your memory. However, I never left the house in a big hurry. You can’t roll on Muni without a comfortable time buffer. If I had to be some place that would take an hour on Muni, I left an hour and a half in advance.

This most recent trip to California was 95% business – not much time for fun. In S.F., Chris Lanier offered to let me use his car when he didn’t need it, but that left me with a day or two without wheels. In the past, I had always rented a car; this time, I decided to let fate decide. Roll the dice.

Arriving at the outset of Memorial Day Weekend, both the Giants and the A’s were playing at home, so the Bay Area was buzzing with baseball fever – and nowhere were people more buzzed than on public transportation.

The first-place A’s had Detroit and the Giants faced the bottom-feeding Cubs. My man Sean Cunningham invited me to attend the A’s game with his family on Memorial Day. So for the first time in three days, I found myself on Muni.

njudah500I was staying with my brother Matt Tucker at 48th and Ortega– deep Outer Sunset. Getting to Rockridge in Oakland – our initial meeting point – required Muni and BART, the latter being an infinitely more reliable system, but it was a two-hour-plus journey in either direction. Anyway, it was interesting to see the confluence of A’s and Giants fans as they moved in both directions. For the most part, the trip to the Coliseum was uneventful, but the ride back to the Sunset was mildly amusing and somewhat nostalgic.

Among other things, I came across The Post-Prep Muni Sizzurp Boss.

On the N-Judah headed west; this cat oozed his way onboard at Cole and Carl, rapt in stupor, and deliberately – it must have taken him five minutes – proceeded to mix up a batch of promethazine and codeine cough syrup, otherwise known as Sizzurp. Then he sat like this, taking painfully long and tedious draws from his cup, until 19th Avenue, where the double-red light gave pause. Sizzurp Boss very slowly – glacially – made his way off the train just before the doors closed.

Muni SizzurpI snapped this photo on my phone right before its battery died. Obviously, Sizzurp Boss didn’t notice.

Even though I think those hats are silly and have my own personal stereotypical assumption about people (men and women) who wear them, I was impressed. New shoes, new jacket, new backpack. Just a real nice, junkie-next-door kind of cat. Clean. A fiend with style, more or less. Kind of refreshing, actually.

I thought, “Well, would you look at that – he’s got a pink iPhone.” A regular student.

On the other hand, cough syrup and codeine is for amateurs.

Two stops later, I treated to a much more familiar sight – something I was used to seeing on a daily basis: A pair of straight-up junkies – a man and a woman – climbed aboard and began arguing about which direction they were supposed to be headed. These two were Old School needle fiends; bundled up for Arctic conditions on one of the most temperate and reasonably warm days in a decade, their exposed patches of skin had the consistency of hamburger meat.

The man seemed relatively composed and convinced they should be heading west – which they were. The woman was shaking uncontrollably and clearly wasn’t sure exactly where the hell she was. They smelled like rotting garbage, of course, and the few riders left onboard sighed in relief when the pair disembarked at Sunset.

A skater kid sitting nearby looked over and said, “Shit, man. I thought I had a drug problem.”

“Not anymore, chief.”

***

The next day’s agenda was packed with stuff I needed to accomplish, but it was back-to-work for Chris and I wouldn’t have access to his car until later in the day. The morning couldn’t go to waste, so I took a deep breath, and decided to see how far Muni would get me.

Took the 71 bus from the western terminus at 48th and Ortega, got off at 23nd and Judah. Following a bizarre 45-minute delay for an eastbound train, during which time, that unfortunate lot of us standing at the N stop watched not one but five westbound trains come sailing past. And at the same time, we’re all facing west, looking for the next train to come up over the hill at 34th. Finally, a two-car N rolled up, and of course, it was packed to the gills. No way I was getting on that thing. The Muni app on my Samsung said: Next train in 22 minutes. My agenda had been all but thrown out the window – I couldn’t throw it out a window because I was out of doors. Disgusted, I walked to Irving Street, hailed a taxi, and went straight to Enterprise Rent-a-Car on South Van Ness.

The precise location was 22nd and Judah – in terms of how far Muni took me before I said, “Screw this.” It was approximately 11:30 a.m, over an hour since I left Matt’s house. I could have walked there and back in the same amount of time.

The kids at Enterprise gave me a Ford Focus. It was a nice enough car, and pricey, too. But man, it was worth it. The agenda was back on track, and in fact, from here on out, almost everything went as smoothly as it possibly could. A game-changing decision. Get off Muni, now!

Bottom line: There’s a reason I owned a car for most of the time I lived in S.F., and it wasn’t a love of paying a grand in parking tickets every year. It was Muni, plain and simple.

 

BSM Joints: Frank ‘n Hank – Low Budget Libations in Koreatown

22 Jun
Frank 5As it were, I found myself with a night to kill in Los Angeles. A Google search for “dive bars in L.A.” turned up Frank ‘n Hank, a throwback, low-brow watering hole purportedly frequented by Charles Bukowski when the joint was run by its original owners: Frank the father, and Hank the son. And Koreatown wasn’t Koreatown – we’re talking 1960s and 70s – it was considered Central L.A. The point is, things have changed, but Frank ‘n Hank is still serving cocktails from 6:00 p.m. to 2:00 a.m., seven days a week.

The establishment in question is now run by a very nice, capable older woman named Snow, whose countenance suggests, “I’ve seen it all, and most of it I don’t want to see again.” Fair enough.

Frank ‘n Hank was a leisurely 10-minute stroll from my hotel, which was about as far as I wanted to travel that evening. So, according to the Frank ‘n Hank’s Facebook page, Wednesday night’s special was $2 bottles of Pabst Blue Ribbon. No mention of karaoke.

barflyposter_zps72d5c656As an exceedingly vague pop cultural reference, the façade of Frank ‘n Hank is one of a dozen or so bars that appear in the opening title sequence of the motion picture Barfly (1987) starring Mickey Rourke and Faye Dunaway – written by Charles Bukowski. When viewed as a semi-autobiographical depiction of the author’s life in L.A. – which it is – Barfly is a decent movie. If you didn’t know anything about Bukowski before watching the film, you might not appreciate it as much as an aficionado of his work.

Meanwhile, there is only circumstantial evidence to suggest that Frank ‘n Hank had anything to do with the film and it’s important to note its location – about three miles south of Barfly’s fictional but very real location – the vicinity of Hollywood Boulevard and Western Avenue. In fact, there’s no mention of the joint in this short film [part of a documentary The Charles Bukowski Tapes (1985) by filmmaker Barbet Schroeder – who directed Barfly]. However, this map shows that in 1972, Bukowski occupied an apartment at 151 S. Oxford, which is definitely in striking distance of Frank ‘n Hank.

Anyway, the general tone of Yelp reviews described the bar as a ‘classic dive’ which tends to draw it’s fair share of “hipsters”, particularly before and after a show at the nearby Wiltern Theater, but notwithstanding an eclectic mix of characters or friendly regulars. The drinks are cheap, the bartender is nice; they have a pool table, dartboards and a jukebox. CASH ONLY! The only thing more agreeable would have been a pinball machine. Then you really have my attention.

Chuck and MickeyFrankly, I wasn’t expecting much out of Frank ‘n Hank, and I was not disappointed. Other than $2 PBRs, there was nothing especially outstanding – impressive – about the visit. The joint retains a superficial veneer of its bygone dive bar ambiance, but none of the funk. When I first walk through a dive bar door, I’m waiting for the funk – the noxious combination of stale beer, rancid cigarettes, and the lingering fumes of industrial cleaner, self-loathing and addiction. Meanwhile, the clientele is what truly defines a dive, and other than one lone shark pool hustler sitting idly in the back, unnervingly quiet, the only two “characters” in the joint may have been the bartender and yours truly.

A dive bar is the kind of place – or used to be the kind of place – where it’s not a question of whether some chick puked in the ladies’ bathroom last night, whether some dude got hit over the head with a beer bottle by his old lady, it’s how many times and how much vomit/blood was involved?

ThinLizzy-Jailbreak-FrontThough it’s easy to imagine Bukowski hanging out in that kind of a place, Frank ‘n Hank isn’t that place anymore. Aside from a rough portrait of the irascible man hanging behind the bar, his ghost was not present. The joint seemed completely devoid of dive bar “edge”. If someone had broken a glass, I might have twitched in surprise. A baseball game was on the flat screen. Nothing happened. The joint was one continuous shrug. Of course this impression is based entirely upon one anonymous visit, by a dude who doesn’t and has never lived in L.A.

The jukebox was decent, if homogenous and predictable for a dive – surprising for a so-called “hipster” joint. You’da thought at the bare minimum, it would have Slint’s Spiderland or something from My Bloody Valentine, but no dice. In this way, F’nH jukebox reminded me of a true dive; it had all the big hits – Johnny Cash, AC/DC, Metallica, G’nR, Tom Petty – but nothing that would knock my socks off, like for instance, Thin Lizzy’s Jailbreak.

Did they have any Thin Lizzy? Nope. But I accidentally programmed “Long Black Veil” three times because I forgot how a jukebox works, basically.

Six or seven beers – let’s call it seven – and four hours later, I’d pumped $5 into the jukebox but hadn’t talked to anyone other than the bartender – and that was “May I please have…?” and “Thank you”. For the most part, I didn’t even eavesdrop on people. It was kind of nice; I just sat there and chilled with my thoughts and listened to the music – a type of purgatory I don’t always get the opportunity to enjoy.

Frank 2The place never got close to full, but the crowd seemed to rotate every half hour or so. The only thing I remember anybody saying is some kid telling his date that he was thinking about becoming a driver for Uber. “What a great idea!” the woman gushed.

All in, a body could get fairly squared away at Frank ‘n Hank for $26, and that’s infallible.* The joint might be running low on atmosphere, but it’s rocking the economy.

Bottom line: If I lived in or near Koreatown, I would probably frequent Frank ‘n Hank on a semi-regular basis. If I lived elsewhere in L.A., it would make a good pit stop for a show at the Wiltern, and at this point, the contingencies have will reached critical mass. Frank ‘n Hanks plays the part, but doesn’t come with the dive bar funk – location and bargain prices are the main attractions.

* Generally speaking, I tip $1 per bottle/can/drink/glass no matter what it is. So for me, this was $3 PBRs all night, which is not too shabby.

 

The Takeaway Monday Morning Mood Reset: Bill Burr and the Philadelphia Incident [NSFW]

16 Jun

BurrWARNING: The following video contains extreme profanity, includes graphic descriptions and vulgar representations that go beyond the pale of what is considered appropriate in public or even private discussion. It is also the funniest thing I have seen in at least a decade – since Chappelle’s Show went AWOL – and easily one of the most courageous things you will ever see anybody do in front of an unruly mob, in this case, 15,000 sunbaked and drunken Philadelphians.

Comedian Bill Burr has balls of steel, but he’s actually pretty funny, too. As it was for me, perhaps this video will be your gateway into the comedy of Bill Burr. True story: I had only a vague recollection of Burr from his three appearances on the aforementioned Chappelle’s Show [in one episode, he plays the cop that gets whacked by Wayne Brady] and although I’m pretty sure I’d seen his stand-up routine, he really wasn’t on my Comedy Radar. Anyway, comedy is my thing – it’s my joint. As I mentioned in the Rodney Dangerfield post, I’m not interested in watching anything unless it’s funny. You wanna go to a movie? I don’t care if the theater has four movies: three potential Academy Award nominee/winning films a la Silver Lining Playbook, American Hustle, and Schindler’s List – AND then, let’s say Dumb & Dumber 2. There’s no question, we’re going to Dumb & Dumber 2, even though the first one didn’t make much of an impression on me. Or…we’re not going to the movies. Together.

Dave Chappellephoto by: Danielle LevittSame with television – although I admit to a weakness for NCIS and CSI: Miami. Regardless, here’s the gist of what I’m trying to say. Maybe I like comedy so much precisely because there isn’t enough of it in my daily life. Therefore, I’d say at least half of all my YouTube searches involve comedians. I’ve been on a George Carlin/Mitch Hedberg trip for a couple of months. Anyway, I came across a video of Carlin dealing with a heckler – a video for another time and not nearly as epic as what you’re about to see. From there, I used the sidebar to watch a few other videos of comedians destroying hecklers – Jimmy Carr has a couple of good beat downs. And then…I came across the Bill Burr in Philadelphia Incident. This is no exaggeration, I have watched this video more than two dozen times – all 13 minutes of it – and it never fails to bring tears to my eyes – from laughing so hard.

Backstory: Opie and Anthony, hosts of American talk radio/comedy program The Opie and Anthony Show on XM and Sirius Radio, hosted Opie and Anthony’s Traveling Virus comedy tour in 2006. The roster of comedians included Bob Saget, Jimmy Shubert, Jim Norton, Dom Irrera, Bob Kelly, Bill Burr, Ralphie May, Patrice O’Neal (R.I.P.), Otto and George (R.I.P.), Rich Vos and Tracy Morgan – a veritable Who’s Who of Upstart and Established Stars of Stand-Up Comedy.

On September 9, 2006, the gig at the Susquehanna Center in Camden, New Jersey (part of metropolitan Philadelphia – the towns are separated by the Delaware River), got off to a bad start. Philly fans are notoriously rude. They boo everybody; that’s their thing. But today, they met their match: Bill Burr. The first two comedians, Bob Kelly and Dom Irrera – the latter being from Philly – were mercilessly booed off stage. As the story goes, Burr was third; he was waiting and watching in the wings as both Kelly and Irrera were humiliated. Right before taking the stage, Burr said to Opie and Anthony, “They ain’t fuckin’ doin’ that to me!”

What happened next is legendary, and will stand as the greatest beat down of heckling in the history of comedy time. Enjoy!

Just in case you weren’t convinced about Philly’s reputation for being hard on performers, here’s Destiny’s Child getting booed at the 2001 NBA Finals – Philadelphia 76ers vs. Los Angeles Lakers – and nobody asked me, but I’d never heard this song before – “Bootylicious” – and I think on the merits of the music alone, they should have been booed out of the arena. Fuck Beyonce and all that Whitney Houston over-emoting uh-oh-oh-whoa-oh-oh-whoa-oh-oh-oh shit. They move around nice enough, it’s the music that makes this a four-minute ordeal, so fast-forward to about the 3:25 mark.

No matter what you do, keep the spirit of Bill Burr close to your heart as you face yet another Monday morning.

The Johnny Cash Show’s Top 20+ Guest Performances

15 May
Cash 1A couple of weeks ago, I mentioned Johnny Cash as an example of the songwriter I didn’t want to emulate, and nobody said anything and that’s fine. I meant no disrespect. At all. In fact, he didn’t even write “A Boy Named Sue”; that was Shel Silverstein. There are few people who ever lived that I would say you gotta like, but you gotta like Johnny Cash and Shel Silverstein, if nothing more than for their compassion and humanity.

Although I own maybe one or two of his recordings on vinyl, my respect for Johnny Cash’s life, work and legacy will never be diminished. His television appearances, including the commercials, are perhaps the most under-rated or over-looked aspects of his career.

I’m not the world’s biggest fan of movies and television, but I generally know what’s currently cooking. Likewise, as a toddler of the 70s, TV wasn’t my life but I still had my jams. WKRP in Cincinnati, All in the Family, The Jeffersons, Sanford and Son, The Odd Couple, Good Times, M*A*S*H*, The Benny Hill Show, et al. These are classic, eternal programs that will forever stand the test of time.

To be frank, since the early 70s contemporary television has gotten progressively worse and I don’t see it ever getting better. In fact, there’s still room for deterioration; it can and will get worse. I think people watch reality shows out of sheer laziness. This is what TBS is giving us this season? OK, let’s watch that. All forethought is precluded. People continue to watch reality shows even though they know it’s a bunch of scripted nonsense precisely because it’s scripted nonsense.

Cash wkrp_headerFortuitously or not, we now have YouTube and an ocean of online media providers, so nobody is lacking for terrible programming to make or watch. Likewise, there’s a ton of great stuff just floating out there in the ether.

Take for example The Johnny Cash Show, a music variety program hosted by the Man in Black from 1969 to 1971 on ABC. While I was too young to remember, I’m 99% certain that my family watched at least a couple of episodes. The JCS was somewhat unique at the time for featuring a wide range of folk-country musicians, such as Joni Mitchell, Bob Dylan, Linda Ronstadt, Kris Kristofferson, Neil Young, Gordon Lightfoot, Merle Haggard, and James Taylor, in addition to jazz great Louis Armstrong, Stevie Wonder, Ray Charles, Charley Pride, and even Derek and the Dominos, who are surprisingly good (without Duane Allman). In fact, the complete list of guests over the course of 58 episodes is pretty staggering. Ed McMahon and Albert Brooks made appearances. It was a cool show. Enough said. Here’s a link to the complete first episode which features Bob Dylan and Joni Mitchell. Insane.

Cash opened each show with one of his own jams, usually backed by a rotating cast of regulars including June Carter Cash (his wife) and the Carter Family, The Statler Brothers, Carl Perkins, and The Tennessee Three, and The Statler Brothers performed brief comic interludes, which I believe may have been influenced by Hee Haw, a similar but more comedy-centric variety program that originally aired on CBS at the same time as the JCS. Hee Haw was the premiere showcase on commercial television during the 1970s for bluegrass, gospel, and other styles of American traditional music.

Cash TVindexAnyway, after sifting though the clips on YouTube, I’ve assembled what I believe to be the best of the best performances – the Top 20+ – although you can compare it to this article by Margaret Eby on Flavorwire, which was written in 2011; we agree on three accounts: Joni Mitchell, Derek and the Dominos, and Louis Armstrong. In particular, Eby was impressed by CCR’s performance of “Bad Moon Rising”, which to me, is musical styrofoam. Anyway, no question, the duet between Johnny and Joni on “Long Black Veil” is one of the greatest things I’ve ever seen in my life on YouTube.

And as a bonus for all you industrious kids who scroll to the bottom, I’ve also included a trio of television commercials featuring Johnny Cash. You gotta be at least 30 years old to remember that Taco Bell spot, which is among the greatest things I’ve ever unwittingly stumbled upon while surfing the net.

1. Joni Mitchell “Long Black Veil”

2. Joni Mitchell “Girl From Saskatoon”

It’s easy to see why a lot of dudes fell hard for Joni. She’s magnetic or something. Quite a soul, that woman is.

3. Neil Young “The Needle and the Damage Done” and “Journey Through The Past”

One of the finest Neil Young performances of “The Needle” that I’m aware of. Gave me goosebumps the first time.

4. Stevie Wonder “Heaven Help Us All”

I’m partial to Stevie. He’s pretty much my favorite vocalist of all-time. Here’s another reason why.

5. Hank Williams Jr. Medley of Hank Sr.’s “You Win Again/Cold, Cold Heart/I Can’t Help It (If I’m Still In Love With You)/Half As Much”

Man, that kid could sing before he turned into a cartoon character. Much respect.

6a. Bob Dylan “Girl of the North Country”

6b. Bob Dylan “I Threw It All Away”

I’ve reversed the original order of appearance. I don’t know. “I Threw It All Away” sounds to me like a throwaway. It rates here because it’s great to see Dylan in this era, just making his comeback.

7. The Everly Brothers “That Silver Haired Daddy of Mine” feat. Ike Everly

Very rare clip of their father, Ike, on guitar.

8. Louis Armstrong “Crystal Chandeliers”, “Ramblin’ Rose” and “Blue Yodel #9″

9a. Derek and the Dominoes “It’s Too Late”

9b. Derek and the Dominos feat. Carl Perkins “Matchbox”

This is amazing. And I don’t even like Clapton, but he’s alright. Sweet.

10. Charley Pride “Able Bodied Man”

Charley Pride was actually the first and really only country guy I cared for as a kid, and in fact, I own the 45 of this jam.

11. Roy Orbison “Oh Pretty Woman”

Johnny kinda stumbles a bit on this one, but Roy is rock solid.

12. Waylon Jennings “Only Daddy That’ll Walk The Line” and “Brown-Eyed Handsome Man”

It’s only been the last decade or so that I’ve come around so to speak with this outlaw country stuff, but it all starts right here. Waylon was the original, and he’s really loose here. Good stuff.

13. Shel Silverstein “A Boy Named Sue”

Bad audio. If you really need to see this, look for a better version.

14. Burl Ives

If you’re old enough to remember “Chim Chim Cher-ee”, then you’re old enough to know that Burl Ives was amazing.

15. Ray Charles “Ring of Fire”

16. The Everly Brothers “Bye Love”

17. James Taylor “Oh Susanna”

18a. Chet Atkins “Recuerdos de la Alhambra”

I taught myself how to play this jam from this video. Or at least, I tried.

18b. Jose Feliciano “I Guess Things Happen That Way”

Love me some Jose, baby. Should really be rated higher, but things got hectic.

19. Bobbi Gentry “On the Bayou”

I think Johnny and Bobbi did it a few times. Watch this and say otherwise. Christ.

20. The Monkees

Just watch.

 

BONUS!!!!!!!!!!

Johnny Cash Television Commercials
Taco Bell

Amoco

Lionel Trains

40 Years of Brilliance: Genesis on The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway Complete Interviews

9 May
LambLike every genre of modern popular music, mid-1970s progressive rock has watermarks as well as washouts. Along with a handful of other records – for example, Yes’ Close to the Edge and King Crimson’s Lark’s Tongue in Aspic – Genesis’ The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway is quite possibly the most impressive and influential progressive rock album of the era.

Recorded and released in 1974, “The Lamb” as it’s known to aficionados, was by far the band’s most ambitious and accessible effort to date. Forty years later, standout cuts like the title track, “Back In N.Y.C.”, “In the Cage”, “The Carpet Crawlers” and “Fly on a Windshield” bear repeated listens, year in, year out. And so, rather than blather on about what a great record it is, etcetera, why not let the band members tell their side of the story. These interviews were part of the Genesis Box Set 1970-1975 and conducted in 2007 with band members Peter Gabriel, Tony Banks, Mike Rutherford, Phil Collins, and Steve Hackett. OK, so let me say something. As a big-time Genesis fan, these interviews are phenomenal. Peter, Phil, Mike and Steve come off as a genuinely cool cats. Tony, on the other hand, kind of comes off sightly arrogant and maybe bitter. You be the judge.

Part 1

Part 2

Part 3

Part 4

 

Cheesy Listening: Anyway, Here’s “Wonderwall”

7 May

It’s not insanely surprising that somehow this video and in fact The Mike Flowers Pops had escaped my attention. First of all, I am not a huge fan of Oasis, so I was never interested in hearing any more of their music than was required by law. Meanwhile, easy listening was never my thing – ironic or otherwise. I didn’t see any of the Austin Powers’ movies until years after they’d come out.

Light My Fire

The ‘In’ Crowd

Velvet Underground Medley – All Tomorrow’s Parties, Venus in Furs, White Light/White Heat

Based on the Wikipedia entry: The Mike Flowers Pops (also known as MFP, The Pops or The Mike Flowers Pops Orchestra) is a British easy listening band fronted by Mike Flowers (real name: Mike Roberts) and supported by the “Sounds Superb Singers” and “Super Stereo Brass”. Formed in 1993, there can be more than a dozen members on stage at any time. The band is principally known for easy listening or lounge music covers of both classic and contemporary pop music.

The title “MFP” parodies the budget record label Music for Pleasure, also known as MFP, which produced a series of “Hot Hits” cover version albums in the 1960′s and 70′s.

The band rose to prominence in the UK in 1995 when they released a cover version of Oasis‘ hit song “Wonderwall“. BBC radio producer Will Saunders recruited Flowers for BBC Radio 1 DJ Kevin Greening in order to cover the ‘Hits of 95′ for Greening’s Saturday show; “Wonderwall” was his first week’s project. Chris Evans heard the song and made it ‘single of the week’ on his Radio 1 breakfast show, telling listeners that this was the original version of the song. The single, issued by London Records under the name The Mike Flowers Pops, was released while the Oasis original was still in the UK Singles Chart, and itself reached the Top 10. Flowers’ version peaked at #2 in the Christmas 1995 chart.

Following the success of “Wonderwall”, The Mike Flowers Pops quickly advanced from performing shows in nightclubs and small concert halls to touring festivals and larger venues across Britain and Europe. At the end of 1996 they toured Britain with Gary Glitter on his last ‘Who’s in the Gang’ tour. They played large venues including Wembley Arena and Birmingham NEC. Cover versions of The Doors‘ “Light My Fire“, and “Don’t Cry For Me, Argentina” also reached the Top 40 of the UK chart.

***

In 2002, Henry Miller Sextet set out for another mini-tour of the West Coast. Our first night was at Dante’s in Portland, OR. After our soundcheck, the engineer played jams from his own collection over the sound system. The doors opened at 9:00 p.m. and it was like 8:15 or so. Anyway, we’re sitting at the bar and all of a sudden we hear this:

***

So it turns out both Mike Flowers and Richard Cheese and Lounge Against the Machine were chimping from this guy, Frank Bennett.

It wouldn’t be true cheese if we didn’t include Pat Boone’s In a Metal Mood; No More Mister Nice Guy. One of my favorite AC/DC songs of all-time, “It’s a Long Way to the Top (If You Want to Rock n’ Roll)”.

Personally, I always felt if you were going to do the parody thing, you couldn’t top these cats:

Enjoy the cheese.

The Inner Distance, Make a Sound, and Come Closer

7 May
Almost Cover 003 with logo no titleHere we are at the end, where ambivalence meets its ultimate adversary – my attention span. These last three songs were not held back for any particular reason of their own; however, you won’t be reading the 8,000-word exposition of Who, What, Where, When, How and Huh? But it was written, you can be sure.

Frankly, that particular story didn’t want to be told. There is no further comment at this time. I’m pleased to say In the Spirit of Almost has been released from captivity in toto. All 17 songs are now available as free downloads on Soundcloud. Aztec Hearts bows gracefully, smiles graciously, and slowly walks off stage.

By design, everything about Aztec Hearts was mercurial, capricious and enigmatic. It is impossible to say how anybody else feels about it. The music is unquestionably esoteric in the sense that it was created with the knowledge and intent that only a select group of people would ever hear it, and even fewer would listen more than once.

Creating without expectations is the embodiment of personal freedom, although it doesn’t necessarily imply that nothing matters – in terms of the art itself. Quite the opposite; this music mattered more to me than almost anything else in my life, at least back in the beginning. My existence battled in the balance of the first two AH records. Five years later,  In the Spirit of Almost was borne of necessity. That matters.

DSC05559Although I used the “One man, one microphone, one year” as a mantra of sorts, there was not a timeline or schedule for this record. It would be finished when it was finished. But I think anytime you are working without a deadline, one of two things happen. You either get really lazy and never actually finish the project; or you find myriad types of motivation and allow the project to follow its own course—mutate, change direction—winding up somewhere other than your original intention, but fuck it, we’re here.

The one microphone deal just sort of happened. It was the one microphone I brought back from S.F. Having certain self-imposed limitations was part of the Aztec Hearts ethos from the very beginning. I wanted to write and record music that I heard in my head, but could never translate into a band setting. It’s funny in a self-deprecating way but my “dream band” – which is what AH was supposed to be – consisted of six clones of myself. When I started recording, I actually had a small variety of microphones to choose from, but I used the condenser on the first track and thought, “Hey, this sounds good on just about everything.”

There are certain perfections in life. You can get a perfect score on an exam. You can have a perfect day when everything goes your way. Similarly, artistic perfection is achieved not when the work is free of flaws, but when the artist is satisfied that the work represents their vision. There is a distance between the record I wanted to make and the one I wound up making. In the Spirit of Almost is “down the hall” from the initial concept, but it’s still in on the same floor, in the same building.

Some of the distance can certainly be attributed to my working methods, and certainly a lot of inspiration was found in a bottle of wine. Chemical recreation was never a waste of time for me. It helped me waste time, but it helped me, too. All I can say is that alcohol and or drugs can be dangerous in two ways. First, they can kill you. Second, it can make you see things about yourself that you never wanted to see or admit or know or understand or finally realize that’s why you’re so messed up in the first place.

new smoke

This guy, circa 2004

There is the temporal self – how you want others see you; and then there is the inner self – who you really are. Something happened about ten years ago and it freaked me out to realize how far away I had drifted from my inner self. The character I portrayed was light years away from who I wanted to be, or who I really was inside. The inner distance was vast. Most importantly, I began finding my way back. I haven’t arrived, but I think I’m almost there.

There are many special and unique aspects of the record, beginning with its unlikely inspiration. Life is constantly moving forward. We are always heading toward something, in the process of getting somewhere. But our consciousness has a fixed location. We may change and evolve as people, but being comes from and stays in the same place. It’s always there, reminding you who you are, and sometimes, what you’re doing.

As desperate as I was to finish this record, a part of me did not want it to end, mainly because I didn’t know what I was going to do next. Make another record? Start working on a new book? Then there came that feeling: it didn’t really matter. The songs would be posted on Soundcloud and nothing would happen. Maybe 30 people would listen to the tracks. Shrug. To spend a year on something and finally say it’s finished, is somewhat of a deflating experience.

So I found ways to prolong the mixing process, in order to stay in the “creative zone.”

Only an idiot starts making a record with the idea of not finishing it. But even in earnest you can get to point where you lose interest, which is completely subjective and contingent on any number of personal variables. In my situation, the only pressure to finish came from within. Time—my window of opportunity—is limited.

No matter what, it is a vivid though idiosyncratic representation of my work. That’s all any artist can ask for. There’s no shame, guilt or second-guessing in referring to myself as an “artist”. If you do something as long as I’ve been writing and recording songs, you deserve the right to call yourself an artist, for better or for worse. It doesn’t matter that you haven’t sold many records and now give your art away for free. Everybody is an artist as far as I’m concerned. The only thing that makes us different from each other is the subjective levels of self-awareness and intentional esotericism with which we express ourselves.

The Inner Distance

 

“The Inner Distance” was the very last song written, and the very last to be recorded. One Sunday afternoon I was noodling on my guitar and Janice said, “What’s that? It sounds good.”

The melody was based on a variation of a song I’d written almost 20 years ago, called “Piano Lessons”. It was more or less stumbled upon as opposed to discovered.

tvontheradio-britt

TV on the Radio

From there, I added a few more parts, cobbled a structure, and tracked the main acoustic part later that evening. The overdubs were spread out over the course of a month. The arrangement was based and recorded on a click track in 4/4; however, the drums and percussion switch between 3/4 and 2/4, which gave it an odd syncopated feel. Plus, I didn’t notice until much later that I’d shortened certain measures of the arrangement by one beat, against the click. Anyway, all you math rock kids can try and figure out the time signature on this one. There is no way I could ever duplicate that type of unconscious mistake.

Sonically, there’s an obvious Beach Boys influence, as well as TV On The Radio, who are of course massively influenced by the Beach Boys.

Make a Sound

 

Five Style, Minature Portraits (1999)

Five Style, Miniature Portraits (1999)

Way back in the day – January 1997 – my band Whitey was recording demos with Dale Meiners at his Ghetto Love studios. At roughly the same time, Sub Pop recording artists Five Style, led by guitarist Billy Dolan, were recording what was supposed to be their second album, also with Dale at Ghetto Love. Being friends with Billy and big fans of his band, we excited to be working there at the same time.

Billy was elusive about the subject, so every time we came in for a session, we’d be all over Dale about the Five Style record. What are they doing? How does it sound? Occasionally, Dale still had a mix on the console from their session the previous night, and he played us a track or two. Man, it sounded hot!

Ghetto LoveOur demo was finished within a week or two, but I frequently came by the studio to hang out or help Dale break down from a session. Wesley Willis was often there. Fred Mangan, too. A month or so passed, and the Five Style sessions ended. One day I came by to hang out with Dale and he was cleaning the main room, so I started helping him – picking up books and magazines and whatnot. Dale came across a bunch of cassette tapes labeled Five Style Rough Mixes and said, “Have you heard any of this?”

So long conversation cut short, Dale gave me the tape; but not without a serious warning, “Do not let anyone other than Ronnie and Matt know that I gave you this tape.” And so, I kept my word. For 15-16 years, the only people (in our social circle) who ever heard that tape were the three of us. It was like our secret bootleg. The cassette didn’t even have a case or song titles listed.

Bill 2

Billy Dolan

Up until then, Five Style had been an instrumental band, so it was extra interesting that they had chosen to work with a vocalist named Mike Hueneke – which Billy explains in this interview. The results were a super-human blend of New Orleans funk and British hard rock. We loved it. And as it turned out, the tape Dale gave me was not a complete mix of the album; it cuts off in the middle of the fifth song. Years later, Billy said there were at least 10 to 12 songs.

Unfortunately, that Five Style record was rejected by Sub Pop and never released. The band parted company with vocalist Hueneke, and wouldn’t release another record until 1999′s Mythical Numbers, by which time I had left Golden Tones and moved to San Francisco. But I kept that tape, and listened to it as often as any other record in my collection.

Even longer story cut short, last year I reconnected with Billy, and told him I wanted to cover a song from that record, but I didn’t have any song titles. The jam that I thought was called “I’ll Give You Love” was in reality called “Make a Sound”, and Billy referred to it as “one of Mike’s songs.” Anyway, he gave me his blessing to rock the jam in my own way.

Of course, my chunky version bears only slight resemblance to the original, which has a super-slinky feel; and I took a few liberties with a few lyrics and the arrangement. Sonically, I was shooting for early 70s Rod Stewart meets English Beat, except I didn’t have access to a horn section, so I had to cheat. In the end, I don’t think I came anywhere near the target, but I was satisfied with the results to set it loose upon the ears of the world.

Come Closer

One of my favorite little anecdotes from the entire recording took place while tracking the piano at KHS in May 2013. The piano rooms are located on the fourth floor, and essentially dominated by teachers and their pre-teen students. On this particular Saturday afternoon, the place was almost empty, with only two out of more than a dozen rooms in use. Even though I asked for a room as far away from everyone else as possible, the young woman-in-charge put me smack dab in between the only two rooms already occupied. Fuuuuuuuhhhh. Despite my humble protests, she essentially shrugged and scurried away. Take it or leave it, chump.

It had been more than five years since I sat down in front of a piano. Although I figured this would strictly be a practice session, I went ahead and set up the BR-1180 and the microphone anyway. The first hour was pretty humbling. It was a bit of a challenge, but all I really wanted to do was to play some right-hand chords with octave bass on the left in D.

Noise from the adjoining rooms was also a source of distraction. On my left side, was a kid doing rudimentary scales, while on the right side there was a 10-year-old girl absolutely shredding her way through Chopin’s Étude Op. 25 No. 2 in F Minor. At one point, I was simply hammering down on octaves of Ds and As and F#s in the lower register. Tape was rolling. An hour went by and I had maybe 10 minutes of workable piano parts.

The girl and her teacher took a break just as I stepped out to go downstairs and have a smoke. The girl looked at me said, “Oh hello! That was you next door?”

I said, “Yeah,” slightly sheepish. “What were you playing?” And then she told me: Chopin. So we had a nice little conversation about classical music. Upon saying goodbye, the girl poked her head in my room, saw the microphone and the 8-track, furrowed her brow and said, “Good luck on whatever it is you’re doing in there.”

Quite rightly, all the piano tracks from that first day were keepers. For this record, piano was used for color, not as a lead instrument like so much of Bigger Brighter. There were a total of three KHS piano sessions, and all of them went pretty much as described above.

IMAG0280The drums were recorded and played manually on a Roland electronic kit also at KHS. Yes, that’s the 808 setting. Technically, I suppose it could be considered a violation of my “no drum machine” policy, but there were actually sticks, sweat and blisters involved; and it was my first experience playing an electronic kit. Truth be told, I really enjoyed it. No, I had blast doing it. The electronic kit was also used on “Slouch”, which might not be as noticeable because they are mixed with live drums, as well as several jams that didn’t make the cut.

Some of the percussion was played by Tim Hogan, although due to the crazy amount of bouncing I had to do—remember, I was working with eight tracks—all of his contributions are combined with stuff I did later. It’s easier for me to tell you what he didn’t play. If memory serves, this was one of the first songs we collaborated on.

The intro sound collage has been cut down to :15 from its original 1:59. This being the third overall track to have its intro shortened, it occurred to me that musique concrete is really fun to do, but it’s not so much fun to listen to. In fact, I think 15 seconds is too long for an intro. People don’t have time these days. Let’s go. Chop-chop with the entertainment.

And that’s it.

In the Spirit of Almost is dedicated to Janice and Henry. Thank you to all the folks who made it possible for me to make music, and those who listen as well.

Back to School, Unfortunately Not Starring Rodney Dangerfield: O Mercutio

26 Apr
School boltThere was not a single thunderbolt of realization. There was no sea change. Epiphanies were for students. James Joyce, please. Somewhere, sometime around the age of 30, I could no longer avoid, escape, or mitigate the very real possibility that a career in music was not going to happen for me. Not unless I got the hell out of Chicago and started over somewhere else. Frankly, a fresh start was the least of my concerns. What I needed was a clean break.

By this time, fooling myself was a survival mechanism. Obscurity is dim, but there’s always a bit of light. Light is the most invasive of all properties; it will find a way in. While I held on to the hope that someday we would arrive at our moment in the sun, hope is worse than any drug.

Drug and alcohol abuse are intensely anti-social, personal activities, while playing in a band is inherently social and communal. No matter what happened, if there were barriers in front of us, I’d always push them a back a little bit further. Clinging to a strand of hope was worse than having one beer too many, or needing to be high in order to do my job. The effect of every band-related decision was multiplied by how many members are in the group, and as the de facto leader, that responsibility can weigh heavily on your conscience. It did mine.

A feeling of wanting to “give up the ghost” started the age of 27 or so, which is basically over-the-hill for aspiring rock stars, and articulated by Henry Miller in Tropic of Capricorn, who was in the process of becoming my favorite writer and something of an inspiration. To be fair, we didn’t have delusions of proper noun Rock Stardom – we didn’t aspire to Metallica or U2 – but we definitely wanted to make critically-acclaimed records, tour the world, and play to sold-out venues. As an independent musician, if that’s not on your dance card, you don’t show up to practice in the first place, right? You stay home and study for the CPA exam.

On a personal tangent, if you’d been on the scene for nine years and only felt whispers of interest from the most minor league of record labels, you might have felt like you were done, too.School Tropic

Of all the bands I played in, two had their chances both within and without the Chicago indie rock scene. In fact, both had multiple shots to make good impressions on people in positions of power. And clearly, we didn’t do that as many times as necessary. The point is, we did (most) of our homework. We got our music out there. We played as many shows as we could get. We made demos and sent them out; but most of the time, people didn’t respond, or when they did, their enthusiasm was lackluster.

If you had the gumption to start your own label and distribute your own records, more power to you. Running an indie label was a little different then. You were dealing with actual CDs and albums. Record stores. Sniff. Unsavory elements.

None of us wanted to do it. We were not businessmen. We never had that economic mentality, that competitive drive. We said, “Let’s make this record, man. Who cares if it sells?!?” And no big surprise, we rarely if ever sold anything. Every band I ever played in used to argue about who would have to organize, set up, and work the merch table (merch = merchandise: CDs, T-shirts, etc.) before, during and after shows.

Maybe this has been articulated by someone bigger and better, but I’ll tell you straight-up why I hated wrangling with merch. Sitting or standing behind a table with all your stuff out on display reminds me of being in middle school and having to do bake sales or sell raffle tickets for the Kiwanis pancake breakfast every miserable year, and you’re sitting there, dumb and purposely cheerful as a cartoon character, and it was most powerless, desperate and pitiful situation to be in – with your hand out. “Hey, please buy my record. How ‘bout a t-shirt?” It was flea market bullshit.

School LemonadeLike the neighbor kid’s sidewalk lemonade stand, even though much respect for the entrepreneurial spirit, there is a subtle guilt trip behind the whole thing.

What a resourceful little dude! Sure, I’d love a cup of your refreshing and thirst-quenching lemonade! What’s ten bucks to me? I want to support local lemonade vendors!”

At the level we were at – bargain basement – Tuesday night opening slots at Club Nowhere, if someone was ever interested in our merch, they could just walk up to me after the set and ask, “Where can I get a copy of your new EP?” Right here, son. It happened so infrequently that we were spinning our wheels by putting effort into merch. And besides, if you were a band with a following, you had people – non-band members – who handled it for you.

At any rate, my last band from the Chicago era was unquestionably the best and most artistically rewarding thing we’d done up until that time. Lo and behold, we actually got some interest from Spin Magazine and a couple of local labels. Unfortunately, we more or less fell apart before anything life-changing could materialize. That’s when I understood that my failure didn’t have anything to do with the industry, or my choice of friends, and least of all the merch table. Perhaps I simply wasn’t that good.

School_zero-recursionIn real life…I mean…it’s so hard to say exactly what I mean here but, half of my “thoughts” told me that we were special, that we were way ahead of our time and fucking geniuses. The other half told me that we were shit, plain and simple. Perhaps my biggest mistake of that era, was when I thought about what I would do if I hadn’t “made it” by the time I was, say 27 years old, I never had an answer. Music was all I ever wanted to do. Though my parents constantly warned me about having a backup plan, I chose foolishly to ignore them. And so, following a 10-year run of dead-end jobs and failed aspirations, “I can’t keep doing this” became a recursive loop.

Everybody has to have a limit or a breaking point. Most of all, it comes down to the most tired of clichés. Being lucky is better than being good. Being in the right place at the right time. It wasn’t how good you were, it was who you knew. E-T-C. Connections trumped all, but the bottom line was always: Draw a good crowd, get invited back. Clear the room, and don’t call us, we’ll call you.

Coincidentally, in early 1999, closing in on the odd age of 31, my grandmother gave me a modest amount of money as an early inheritance. Upon discussing this windfall with my parents, they said, “What are you going to do [with the money]?” and I replied, “Go back to college. Get a degree.”

“That sounds like a brilliant idea!”

“In California.”

“Even better!”

So that was it. A couple of months later, I packed up and left for San Francisco. It’s hard to regret this kind of decision. Had my grandmother not given me the money at that time, it cannot be said what I would have done, or if something else would have come along and changed my course. But it can be said that I most likely would not have moved out to California and I almost certainly would not have a college degree. Not that I wouldn’t have wanted to live in S.F. – in fact, I’d been out there a couple of times and fallen in love with the joint. It was Disneyland for crackheads. This was a once in a lifetime opportunity and those only came around once.

It would have been real easy to squander the money on the band and everything that came along with it. At the same time, the band was falling apart; it just wasn’t happening. So we took a month long break in March 1999, and before we could get back together, I told them of my plans to move. They were like, “Hell yeah, that’s cool! Do it!”

School RodneyIf Caddyshack (1980) is my all-time favorite movie, Back to School (1986) starring legendary comedian Rodney Dangerfield is Top 10. Mock me at will. Don’t care. Neither film is the greatest comedy ever made, and Back to School wasn’t even the funniest movie to come out that year – Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, One Crazy Summer, and Ruthless People were easily as good. Yet Back to School out-grossed all of them at the box office.  However, the above-mentioned films represent what I want most out of a movie. Stupid, mindless fun, which manages to resonate on a very human level. Good-natured slapstick. Think: Marx Brothers, Benny Hill, The Three Stooges. Put it this way, I would rather sit through the entirety of Adam Sandler’s The Waterboy – again – than the first five minutes of Dangerous Liasons. No offense to John Malkovich, et al.

Whereas Caddyshack – in addition to Rodney – had Bill Murray, Chevy Chase, Ted Knight and many more familiar faces, Back to School was pretty much Rodney and company: Adrienne Barbeau, Burt Young, Keith Gordon, Ned Beatty and a young Robert Downey Jr. In short, they didn’t have the same collective star appeal. They were great, but Sam Kinison’s minor role as an unhinged history professor almost stole the movie. Never mind that this movie screams: NINETEEN-EIGHTY-SIX! OH! OH! OHHH!!!

The plot may run a bit thin, but Sally Kellerman was easy on the eyes, Rodney’s character (Thornton Melon) actually had some depth to it, and a cameo by Kurt Vonnegut was the coup de grace, as far as I was concerned. Plus, Oingo Boingo.

The Internet Movie Database (IMDb) gives Back to School a 6.5/10, and Rotten Tomatoes has 84% positive views. Black Sunshine Media gives it 11/11 supernovae.

Back to School has a special place in my heart, not just because of Rodney, and not because I went back to school at an advanced age, but because it was released the same week I graduated from high school. It was the first movie I saw that magical summer of my emancipation into adulthood. On acid. Two months later, I was still tripping as a freshman at Illinois State University. Ah, yes, but I was not ready for college, and I was destined to be back in Darien, bussing tables in a Mexican restaurant, and trying to put a band together.

“The Triple Lindy” isn’t my favorite scene from the movie, but the dive itself is sort of a personal metaphor – it reminds me of my life’s journey.

SFSU ccsf 03Thirteen years later, having abandoned several attempts to get a degree, once again I went back to school – unfortunately, without Thornton Melon. With only a handful of transferable credits from junior college, I would be starting from scratch. Therefore, in the Spring of 2000, I enrolled at City College of San Francisco (CCSF) to satisfy all the core requirements and matriculate to San Francisco State University (SFSU). At the same time, I got a gig at a downtown restaurant, first as a food runner, and later as a waiter who just happened to know a little bit about wine.

While the overriding goal was to get a degree—any degree—I figured that it would be a good idea to major in something I liked and was good at, for instance, creative writing. The music program required advanced reading skills that I didn’t have, so that was out. Anything with a shitload of math was out. In fact, I was surprised to learn that you could earn a degree in creative writing! It boggled my mind.

This determination fulfilled half of the equation; at least I enjoyed writing. Whether or not I was any good is subjective and beside the point. Was there a career in it? Who knew? Didn’t matter. The degree itself mattered.

Meanwhile, not long thereafter, I met a dude who taught English in Japan – something I’d always wanted to do – visit Japan, that is. Not necessarily teach English, although I wasn’t above teaching if that’s what it took to make the nut. Teaching would have been a step up from my current restaurant gig. Regardless, this dude told me that in order to get a working visa in just about any foreign country, you needed a college degree. That was just one more reason to go back. Asia was a permanent fixture on my radar. The day I left for S.F., when I got in the truck and turned the key, the first thing I thought was that there was no turning back and we’ll just keep heading west until we run out of west.

Clearly, at my age, going back to school was serious business. Almost overnight, I became a hardcharger – academically and financially. Not only was I paying my own tuition – [with help from Oma] – but every hour I spent on campus was an hour I wasn’t working, hence, making money. So I quickly became adept at time management, perhaps one aspect of my life that desperately needed an overhaul.

0_School_ccsfCollege demographics were a little more diverse than I expected. There’s much more at stake than the basketball team and Spring Break. My fears of being the only “old guy” were confirmed first semester at CCSF, but that’s because I was taking core requirements like astronomy and biology. As the late Greg Giraldo said, “Community college is like high school with cigarettes.” It wasn’t until second semester that I had another adult classmate.

By and large, I considered CCSF to be utilitarian at best. In those days, it was a little rough around the edges. People didn’t seem to linger on campus. I didn’t, that’s for sure. If I had an hour or two between classes, I would walk down to Ocean Avenue and hang at the coffee shop, or I’d hop in my car and cruise around. Every now and then, only when the weather was bad, I might have lunch in the cafeteria and then poke around the library.

In summer 2001, I matriculated to SFSU with Upper Division standing, majoring in English Literature with an emphasis on creative writing. One of the smartest things I did at both schools was to attend summer and winter sessions. A majority of students on a four-year track skipped these sessions for fair enough reasons: To work, to travel, to relax, etc. Therefore, registration was always wide open, and you could pile up a bunch of hours in a short amount of time. That’s reason I got a degree in less than three years as opposed to four.

0_School_SFSU Logo

All in all, I was enjoying all of the academic experiences I blew off the first few times around: The studying, the lectures, the notes, the essays, the exams, and the environment of learning—all of it. Not to mention the fact that as a single man, and college was crawling with women. Never putting myself out, I took what came my way and had a good time. Most of all, I learned to make the system work to my advantage. There were right and wrong ways of doing damn near everything. It’s funny that I hadn’t figured that out already.

0_School_SFSUThe demographics at SFSU were considerably weighted in my favor, considering graduate students and teachers. Most importantly, I blended in with the crowd. The university’s facilities were first-class, and I wasted no time getting familiar with the ins and outs. The 2001 summer session went smoothly. It was chop-chop, serious business now. The fall semester started in August, and then…

9/11.

You know. You were there. You saw it. You felt it. Everything changed. Even though life carried on, it was the same place and the same people, it was different. People were weary and wary. We were all affected. Likewise, in search of comfort or numbness, I started drinking at the pub in the Cesar Chavez Student Center between classes. Prior to this, I had a rule about “No drinking before sundown”, which became “No drinking before sundown or at any time on campus,” which came into play the minute I discovered that there was a pub located at the heart of campus. Of course, at first I thought, “Awesome!” and then I thought of my mission, and I thought, “Ohhh nooo, this could be dangerous.”

0_School_pub

The Pub in the Cesar Chavez Student Center

Going to school during the day and working at night was manageable up until a certain point. The events of 9/11 shook me up pretty good though. The managers at the restaurant were very accommodating as far as scheduling and switching shifts. For once in my life, I was actually planning ahead. I’d be working out the logistics for next semester midway through the current one. By registering for classes as soon as they opened, I never had an issue until my senior year – 2002 – when many of the classes I needed to take were in the afternoon or evening only.

My memory is a little fuzzy, but I would estimate that 70 percent of students in the creative writing program were full-grown adults. Most of the “regular college kids” – who lived on campus or in the dorms – didn’t make much of an impression on me. The point is, almost everybody in the program was a commuter with a “real job”. The program was certainly tailored to an adult schedule, one which didn’t include an unreasonable amount of morning classes.

After discussing my options with a manager and a counselor, I decided to cut back on hours at work and go for 25 units-per-semester. In order to make the nut, I had to take out a student loan, which was not really a big deal, but not something I wanted to do. Anyway, this meant that I would basically spend all day every day on campus, which was new and uncomfortable. It was then that I decided to move out of the shared flat in the Richmond District and into a studio near campus.

The only reasonable joint I could afford was an in-law located in Oceanview; a no-man’s-land neighborhood but a fair 20-minute walk to school. To be frank, Oceanview was sketchy, especially at night. It wasn’t Oakland – but it was dangerous enough that you had to be careful. My car got broken into within a week, and there were certain streets I tended to avoid whenever I walked to school, which was whenever it wasn’t raining. Parking at SFSU was either expensive or impossible, so I tried to avoid driving. The M-Line was a block away, but it was notorious for (among other things) breaking down and taking 15 minutes to get across Junipero Serra (19th Avenue); thus, I could walk faster. [NOTE: The below map is pretty cool. Just scroll over to get the paw thingy and move it around.]

Being on campus all the time had its pros and cons. The benefits were mainly academic. I spent a lot of time in the library and the student center. The main drawback was getting everything done ahead of time, and then idle hours with nothing to do. The “No drinking before sundown” rule had been suspended after 9/11, and consequently, there were many afternoons that I would roll into my 4:00 p.m. class with a decent buzz. Of course I was smoking pot every three or four hours. During the break I would jet down to the pub and chug a pint before heading back to class. We’d get out at 6:15, so I’d have 45 minutes to continue drinking before the next class. The cycle would repeat itself and there were many times that I was hammered by the time I got home at night.

0_School_roofSmoking pot in California, especially S.F., was such a non-issue that I could get two or three times as high as normal, and nobody would have noticed or cared. There were unofficially approved smoking sections on campus – particularly the roof above the student center, where they had bleacher seating. Anyway, sometimes you can get too high and paranoid. That never happened to me in California. On the other hand, I wasn’t keen on advertising was I was up to, either. I wasn’t trying to impress anybody.

For the most part, I rarely participated in class discussions or socialized with my peers. On the other hand, I met and got involved with several women and had a few male buddies in the pub. Otherwise, I kept to myself and at first, this anti-social behavior was based on focus; I couldn’t let anything distract me. As time wore on, I didn’t want to talk to anybody because they would know I was drunk. Or high. Or both. Occasionally, someone would try to make conversation and I would vaguely shake my head, as if to say, “I’m not interested. Leave me alone.”

Despite being this highly motivated yet functionally dysfunctional character, I only had one vaguely embarrassing experience at SFSU – thanks to Shakespeare.

0_School_sfsu_gatorsAlright, first of all, somebody is bound to be thinking, “But, it’s SFSU.” As in, it’s a shit school; a weigh station for soon-to-be or incomplete washouts. Or teachers. The university was originally founded as a teacher’s college, and the English department of any California State University is the main conduit to a teaching career in the state. Granted, SFSU is a second-tier school compared to UC-Berkeley, but overall, 30,000 students can’t be wrong.

And then we have our school mascot – God bless him – Ougee, this green and purple little alligator – an allusion to the Golden Gate Bridge and a play on “Gate” = “Gators”. Don’t call it conspiracy, but I think Ougee may have been the inspiration for Barney, the most insipid and evil of all children’s cartoon characters. Our main outdoor “stadium” had reeds growing in the bleachers. I kept looking for posted signs saying, “This is a get in and get the fuck out type of school. Got it?”

0_School_tamingshrewTaylorTo be honest, I may have “read” Shakespeare back in high school, but I didn’t get. At all. They jammed us with A Midsummer Night’s Dream and Hamlet, et al, but the only work that I even slightly understood – or cared to understand – was The Taming of the Shrew, and that’s because I had to watch it one Sunday afternoon at my grandmother’s house. It was either watch the film or go downstairs in the basement and amuse myself with an empty coffee can.

It may not be the case that Shakespeare is required at all predominantly English-speaking universities, but the way the creative writing program was rigged at SFSU, you were virtually required to take at least one semester of Shakespeare. Somebody please correct me if I’m wrong – Do we have any Gators in the audience tonight? Raise your hand if you went to SFSU! – but I was looking to get through this ordeal without Shakespeare, and it simply wasn’t possible.

Regardless, I wound up taking two Shakespearean courses, and while I wouldn’t say I enjoyed them, I did gain a better understanding of the man’s work.

In the second class, the course syllabus opened with The Tempest, and then to Romeo and Juliet, when the professor announced plans to read the latter out loud in class, while extrapolating on the meaning and significance of every scene. Unfortunately, she didn’t say there would be a line-by-line autopsy. She asked for volunteers and there were a total of two dudes in the class vs. multiple male roles, so I piped up and said,”I’ll do it, but only if I can be Mercutio.” Of course, it wasn’t really like I had a choice. I was going to read at least one role.

Having seen multiple versions of R&J, I was familiar with the Capulets and the Montagues – the whole she-bang, really – how could anybody not be familiar – but the role of Mercutio just kind of stuck to me. Plus, he gets killed halfway through, so I’d be off the hook in a couple of days. This was an afternoon class, so my number one concern was not drinking before or during class. That put a serious damper on my daily routine.

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Harold Perrineau Jr. as Mercutio in Baz Luhrmann’s modernized version, William Shakespeare’s Romeo + Juliet. By far the best I’ve ever seen.

So Mercutio gets whacked, and I figure I’m done with reading. Back to the pub we go! Did I remember to refresh and read ahead? No. I showed up to the next class hammered. The professor says, “Oh, Trevor [Romeo] won’t be here today. Why don’t you take his place?”

“Um, I…was a terrible Mercutio.” This is true. I read the part in a flat monotone from the get-go. “Friar Lawrence? I can do that.”

I looked at the kid reading the role Tybalt, who also got whacked yesterday, and he shrugged and made the “Ain’t got nothing” face.

The teacher pshawed and said, “Just go for it! Have fun with it. You’ll be great.”

“Yes, but I don’t want to be great.” Alright, lady. That’s what you want? Is that what you really want? For me to have fun?

Though I’d only ever been in a couple of junior high school theater productions, but I had loads of experience on stage. Being completely loaded gave me the courage and carelessness to take the reading bit to the next level. In short, I went full Shakespearean – emoting and articulating like I’d heard it so many times in the past. Standing up – which no one had done up to that point – I roughly pushed my desk aside and played Romeo to the best of my drunk-ass ability. It was the only time I remember anybody laughing in any of my classes, ever. We had fun.

At the end of the class, the teacher waved me over and said, “Wow, that was great. Have you ever done any acting?”

I said, “No, I’m a drunk.”

She tilted her head, squinted and said, “Ohhh. I figured that. Actor, drunk. Same thing.”

You might think that it would be impossible to pass some of these classes when you’re half in the bag – scratch that: out of your mind – but I’m living proof that it can be done. Unfortunately, within a month of that first semester living in Oceanview, I had essentially become a full-blown alcoholic and now dabbling in narcotics.

0_School _mark

I spent a lot of time at this joint, and eventually wound up dating one of the clerks. That was trippy.

Cut off from my friends and living down in this unpleasant and unbelievably windy pocket of Oceanview, whether or not I had classes, I’d start drinking around noon and continue until midnight or whenever I passed out. During the few shifts per week I actually worked, the party continued. All of my course work was completed under the influence of something.

One of my best friends was a manager from the restaurant I worked at. He got promoted to GM and transferred to our sister restaurant in Palo Alto. He’d been bugging me about coming down to visit him and have dinner – Palo Alto was about a 45-minute drive – and finally, I promised to come in on a Sunday night. Currently, I had been seeing a young woman from school, so I asked her to join me. The date and reservations were made.

On Sunday afternoon around 3:30, I drove to the woman’s house to pick her up. The plan was to hang out at my place for a few hours. The reservation was for 8:00 p.m. Arriving at her house, I rang the bell and there was no answer. I called her cell phone but it was turned off. Her car was parked out front, and I figured she had to be home. So I sat in my car for a few minutes. I tried her cell phone again to no avail. She lived about five minutes from me, so I drove home and tried to rationalize the situation.

Waiting an hour, I tried calling again. No dice. Wherever or whatever she was doing, she had no intention of talking to me. Another hour passed – it was about 5:30 by now – and I tried one more time. Bewildered and a little heartbroken, I called my manager friend and told him I wasn’t coming. He did not take the news well.

“Dude, you’re coming without or without that stupid girl. Forget about her. Get your ass down here and let’s have a good time.”

I opened a bottle of wine and put on some loud music.

0_School_palo-alto-mapBy the time I got in the car for the drive to Palo Alto, I was buzzed. Not drunk, just feeling good. Arriving safely at 8:00 p.m., my friend joined me for dinner and we went through at least two bottles of wine. There were shots of ouzo as well. As I said my goodbyes, my friend said, “Dude, are you sure you’re OK to drive? You can come crash at my place if you want.”

“No, man. I’ll be fine.” As I wobbled to my car, I thought, “Man, I don’t know if this is a good idea.”

It was not, in fact, a good idea. Within minutes of getting on 280 headed north, I was pulled over by a County Sheriff. He walked up to the window and after I handed over my license and registration, he said, “You been drinking tonight, sir?”

I looked up and said, “Listen, you got me. Let’s make this easy on everybody and just run me in. I’m not gonna blow [submit to a breathalyzer].”

“Well, alright,” the cop said, “I respect your honesty, but I’d at least like to have you step out of the car for a field sobriety. Just to get a gauge of where you’re at [in terms of a BAC level].”

“If you insist.”

Though I didn’t blow or let them draw blood at the police station, the cop said I was probably in the 0.16 – 0.20 range, but cut me a break and wrote 0.14 on the police report; karma for the cooperation. Anything higher than 0.15 is considered Aggravated and comes with an Enhanced Penalty. Not quite a felony, but close.

Look, I’ll be honest with you. Getting a DUI was the worst thing that I have ever done to myself, ever. Especially at that point: my last semester before graduation; it’s supposed to be a time of celebration. My parents were planning on coming out to S.F. for the ceremony. What a buzz kill. It happened in October and it was next summer before all the legal stuff was over, and a year later I got my license back. I will say this: I have never again gotten behind the wheel of a car with even a drop of alcohol in my system.

The rest of that semester was just grinding and ugly. But I got my degree.

And hey, so did Thornton Melon. In fact, Rodney Dangerfield was 50-something years old before he “made” it. He gave up a bunch of times. He came close on many occasions. As Jim Carrey once said, Rodney showed us that it’s never too late to make your mark.

For the duration of this essay, the one thing I avoided was the power and value of knowledge.

We constantly hear about “never giving up on your dreams” and all that, but I think quitting is underrated. You should quit if you’re doing something you don’t want to do. You should quit even if it’s something you want to do but aren’t making any progress. In a particular way, there’s a difference between learning how to do something and trying to make something happen. If you’re having a problem trying to solve an equation, giving up is apathetic. If you’re chasing a dream, giving up is closure.

DFW 4

The title and reference to Mercutio from Romeo and Juliet more or less came fairly late in the writing process, and didn’t have much to do with the song, although I had just recently read through Hamlet a couple of times, on search related to David Foster Wallace and Infinite Jest.

The working title was “Crabtree and Madeline”, and the original lyrics were scrapped or incorporated into other songs. The vocals seemed to take forever but it was really only four months. And then I accidentally (and irreversibly) recorded over the drums. It was by far the most labored and problematic writing and recording process for one song I’ve ever experienced.

Coincidentally, I interviewed Mike Watt during this period. He told me that people (he knows and likes) send him tracks and he’ll play on them, free of charge. For a split second, I considered asking him to play on “O Mercutio”, but then I chickened out. Honestly, it seemed a little presumptuous. So then I thought, “I’ll just try to play like Watt. I’ll do my best Watt impersonation.” And that’s what I did.

The Byrds - Fifth Dimension

The Byrds, Fifth Dimension (1965)

Like a couple of other jams, there is a heavy Roger McGuinn and the Byrds influence with the electric 12-string guitar. Overall, the vibe I was shooting for was The Minutemen and Firehose meets the Byrds. Post-punk vs. country psychedelia. There’s also a bit of Can, Wire and the Fall in terms of dynamics, which was definitely intentional.

The idea of a preacher with a megaphone has always struck me as incongruous. A true man of God shouldn’t need a megaphone, microphone or 30-foot video screens. Religious zealotry is basically unacceptable in my world view. The antics of evangelism are repugnant. However, there’s something intolerant about my own intolerance of their belief systems and behaviors. I don’t have the right or the will to judge anybody. So the proper response to a hypothetical preacher calling for apocalypse is “OK, that’s cool. Fine with me.”

“I didn’t get there cuz I wasn’t trying to go” was inspired by John Cheever, who said that as a critic, you can’t blame a writer for failing to achieve something he never set out to do in the first place. In rock music terms, it would be like saying Bon Jovi is OK, but they’re certainly no Queen. Of course they aren’t. That was never their goal. At least I hope it wasn’t. They may have wanted to be as big (read: popular) as Queen, but that’s where the similarities end.

The line about “fingernails and razorblades” is a reference to infants, not narcotics.

There are direct references to songs by R.E.M. (“Harborcoat”), Genesis (“Dancing in the Shadows of the Moonlit Knight”), and Ethyl Merman (“There’s No Business Like Show Business”).

Some of the lyrics are too cryptic and personal, which means I’m the only one who will catch the reference to “Doing push-ups in the party line.” It was actually “push-ups in the parking lot”, but I messed it up and just decided to leave it.

O Mercutio

Thanks for reading and listening. Much respect.

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