Jukebox Antagonist – Episode 5

28 Aug
To save everybody the trouble of reading or referencing Episode 3, during the mid-Oughts, I used to hang out at a joint in Fantasyland called Baltimore’s Inn.
My favorite MLB manager of all-time, Earl Weaver.

My favorite MLB manager of all-time, Earl Weaver of the Baltimore Orioles.

The jukebox at The Balt was something of a conundrum. It was a situation that refused to resolve itself. Here was the rub. The owner of the bar, Earl, had final say over everything in the joint, rightly so. On the downside, he was Cosby sweater adverse to change. Very little about the bar, specifically its decor, had changed in at least 20 years.

Meanwhile, The Balt had a semi-permanent rotation of bartenders: Stacy, Al, Freddie, Big Ted – who only worked on Saturday afternoons – and Earl himself on Sunday morning during the NFL season. And this one cat named Vince would occasionally cover a shift. Anyway, for the most part they were all good bartenders and decent folk.

Freddie and Al seemed to have the most influence over Earl, and of all the bartenders, Freddie cared the most about the jukebox and the pinball games. Anyway, when Freddie was in good graces with Earl, the jukebox would be top-heavy with Freddie’s selections – they had a strange friendship that I didn’t even want to know about. But this is where things start getting subjective. Freddie had what I considered to be exceedingly poor taste in music. He liked rock, just all the stinky stuff. I’ll get to that in a minute.

This is how Freddie saw himself.

This is how Freddie saw himself.

Fred was stocky dude about my height with jet-black hair and Tom Selleck mustache, who claimed pure Sicilian heritage – and probably most likely had a serious _______ habit. His bartending uniform consisted of Hawaiian shirts and cargo shorts. Sometimes he had a backward baseball cap, but he always wore Air Jordans. He loved Air Jordans. In winter, he wore an Orioles baseball jacket. He said been bartending at The Balt since high school, long before Earl bought the place from the original or previous owner. And I believed him.

Freddie and I were not always friendly. We eventually developed a cordial repartee – he always let me stay for after-hours – but things got off to a rough start, and it was my fault, too.

That very first night after moving into the neighborhood, I went down to the joint for a couple of beers. Freddie was working a couple of regulars at the bar – grizzly, old dudes. The familiar dive bar stink – stale beer and ammonia – wafted through the air, and I chuckled to myself when I first saw him. “Check out Aloha Guido!” I sat down and soaked in the shithole atmosphere.

And this is how everybody saw Freddie

And this is how everybody saw Freddie.

“What can I get you, buddy?” His voice kind of matched his appearance, but his tone and delivery wasn’t truly intimidating. There was something almost child-like about him. Well, maybe high school student.

“Bottle of Bud, please.”

Freddie eyeballed me, “Are you over twenty-one?”

“I’m thirty-five,” I replied, slightly proud.

“That’s not what I asked you.”

“Oh. Sorry.”

“I’m going to ask you again.” He rested his paws against the bar and leaned toward me. “Are you over twenty-one?”

“Yes.”

“That’s all I wanted to hear. One bottle of Bud. Two-seventy-five.”

Frosty introduction aside, I had really hoped to ingratiate myself at some point in the future. So I sat and quietly drank the beer. Ten minutes crawled by. Ordering another beer, I made my way over to the jukebox, and then perused the pinball machine.

Upon returning to the bar, Fred made change from the five-spot, and the beer was waiting for me. Vaguely familiar rock music came from the jukebox. The voice was something I’d heard before; couldn’t place it. Derivative blues rock with some kid screaming nonsense over the top. I wasn’t sure. Could it be Montrose? It wasn’t “Rock Candy”, which was the extent of my Montrose familiarity. But damn, I knew that voice.

Montrose, 1973

Montrose, 1973

Freddie was air-drumming and bobbing his head to the beat, a visual cue I should have picked up on. It’s queer how I noticed he was jamming to the cuts, but I still wound up being a jackass. And I certainly wasn’t looking to cause trouble. Most of all, I was just trying to make conversation.

“Excuse me, sir,” I called out. “But what is this [music]?” pointing at the ceiling.

“Hey buddy,” Freddie said. “I’m not your father. Don’t ever call me ‘sir’ again.”

“OK…what should I call you?”

“Freddie.”

“OK, Freddie…. What’s playing right now?”

“Are you kidding!? It’s Montrose. With Sammy Hagar.”

“Oh…” I took a long pull from the beer.

“Oh, what?” Fred prodded. The vultures were staring me down from the other end of the bar.

“Um, that explains something to me,” I mumbled, “something…sth…personal.”

“Explains what?”

“Nothing. Sorry,” backpedaling in a hurry.

Freddie did not look pleased. “You said it, pal. Explains what?”

This is Van Halen. Accept no substitutes.

This is Van Halen. Accept no substitutes.

“Why it sucks, basically. Sammy Hagar. No offense. He ruins everything. Destroyed Van Halen.”

Freddie pulled the beer from my hand, pointed to the door and said, “Get out of my bar.”

I hesitated and then briefly shuddered in shock, “Huh?”

“Out!”

“Are you serious?”

“I’m dead serious. You want to be a smart ass? We ain’t serving smart ass today. Take it somewhere else.” He scooped up my beer, wiped the spot where it sat, and again pointed at the door. Facing indifferent stares from the trio of vultures down the rail, I drifted toward the door. The vultures cackled as I stepped out on to the sidewalk. Apparently, in nature vultures don’t really cackle as much as they make gurgling sounds as they feast on dead flesh.

A week went by before I returned to The Balt with my fingers crossed that Freddie wasn’t behind the bar – he wasn’t, it was Stacy, a total sweetheart. We bonded almost immediately and at some point, I told her about my earlier run-in with Freddie, and she said, “That figures. The guy is such an asshole.”

Stacy clued me in to the bartender’s rotation. As long as I avoided Friday nights and weekday mornings – not a problem, thanks – I wouldn’t have to deal with Freddie. And so I became familiar with the rest of the crew. A couple of months went by and one night I walked in expecting to see Stacy behind the bar, only to find Freddie.

“Well, well, well, look who it is. You got anything smart to say about Sammy tonight, smart ass?”

It was one of those slow-motion situations – a full-body wince – and I wanted to turn around and walk out, but I’d only wind up looking like a chump – and besides, what I said in the first place wasn’t wrong. I honestly believe that Sammy Hagar is a lackluster talent. And then, any hope of escaping vanished when Vince spun around and acknowledged my presence. “Hey there.”

“This guy,” Freddie said to Vince, “had the balls to tell me that Sammy Hagar sucks. Do you believe that?”

Glassy-eyed and slurring, Vince said, “That’s…probably… something you should have kept to yourself.”

Being humble yet resolved makes a situation more or less reset itself. In a word, I was contrite. My apologies accepted, Fred brought me a Bud while Vince patted me on the back, shook my hand, and said, “Welcome to…the club. Fred has 86’d me for far less…egregious offenses.”

By the end of the night, it was me and Freddie playing pinball, arguing about which was better – the original versus classic line-up of [the] Scorpions. Personally, as I told Fred, I don’t think there is any comparison between Lonesome Crow-era Scorps (1972) and the band that made Blackout (1982), and to prove my point, I use this jam from Lonesome Crow to emphasize the disparity.

Scorpions – Action

As the years went by, music was pretty much the only thing Fred and I ever talked about. He never asked about my life or what I did for a living, and I never asked why he was riding around the neighborhood on a kid’s BMX bike with a bridal train of scratch-off Lotto tickets coming out of his back pocket at six o’clock in the morning.

Some of Freddie’s favorite bands – off the top of my head, the ones I remember arguing about – were (in no particular order, and in addition to the Scorps):

Asia, Starship, Blue Oyster Cult, Blue Oyster Cult, Blue Oyster Cult, Blue Oyster Cult, Kansas, Molly Hatchett, Dire Straits, UFO, Foreigner, Guns n’ Roses, Dokken, Metallica, Pat Travers Band, Robin Trower, Uriah Heep, Y&T, George Thorogood, Montrose, Quiet Riot, Hawkwind, Ratt, Doobie Brothers, Saxon, Accept, Styx, Heart, Journey, Stevie Ray Vaughn, Eric Clapton, Deep Purple, Vanilla Fudge, Van Halen or anything else with Sammy Hagar.

And this freakin’ guy, Canada’s answer to Bon Jovi, though it was never really a question.

Aldo Nova – Fantasy

In all honesty, that’s a pretty damn good intro to a crappy MTV rock band video. They rented a helicopter! Hello, 1982!

Nevertheless, there was one band that Freddie inexplicably despised: R.E.O. Speedwagon, a band I personally loved at the age of 12, and this caused me a ridiculous amount of unnecessary existential angst. I lost sleep thinging about it, for real. How could it be possible? If a dude is onboard with Journey and Styx, he’s gotta take R.E.O. with him, too. That’s like saying you like people but small talk is not your thing.

R.E.O. Speedwagon circa Hi Infidelity (1980), at the height of their popularity

R.E.O. Speedwagon circa Hi Infidelity (1980), at the height of their popularity

Of course, Freddie liked the Stones, Beatles, Kinks, Who, Zappa, Zeppelin and Hendrix – he loved the Bobs, Marley and Dylan. But here’s the thing, if Freddie was going to put some Dylan on the jukebox, he always played “Hurricane”; eight minutes of Oh My God and Stop It Now For God’s Sake, Bob, Goddammit.

Bob Dylan, "Hurricane Parts 1 and 2" (1976)

Bob Dylan, “Hurricane Parts 1 and 2″ (1976)

The pinball machine for a long time was located just a few steps from the jukebox. If I happened to see Fred make a move for the box, I could ostensibly scoot over and cut him off – we had more than a few scuffles – but a lot of the time I’d be mid-ball, and couldn’t move. In that case, I’d yell over at him, “Come on, Fred. No Dylan tonight!”

“You don’t want Dylan? OK, whaddya want?”

“I want you to step away from the jukebox.”

And so, our arguments would generally start with me saying, “Dude, you gotta do something reasonable about the jukebox.”

“Like what?”

“Asia? Come on, man. We don’t have any Yes, King Crimson or ELP, but we have Asia? That’s low class.”

“Asia? That’s Earl’s record, but I freakin’ love ‘em. Steve Howe, Carl Palmer, John Watson, and uh, what’s his name, from the Wiggles?”

“First of all, it’s John Wetton. The keyboard player was Geoff Downes, and the band was the Buggles. ‘Video Killed the Radio Star’? ‘Member?”

Starship, Knee Deep in the Hoopla (1986)

Starship, Knee Deep in the Hoopla (1986)

Our conversation is interrupted by the intro to “We Built This City”.

“Jesus Christ, did you just play Starship?”

“What’s wrong with Starship?”

“What’s right with Starship? Name one thing. I dare you.”

“Aw man, Mickey Thomas…”

“’Fffffhhhh. Maybe ‘Jane’ is a great track, but that’s Jefferson Starship. We have Knee Deep in the Hoopla. Man, everything they’ve done since 1978 is awful, horrible stuff. You realize that if you have ‘We Built this City’ on the jukebox, some jackass is going to play it? That jackass being you. It happens, man. All the time. Why not put Rick Astley in there?”

“Ah, you’re just bitter. OK, I’ll play ‘Peaches en Regalia’ for ya on the next round. How ‘bout ‘Willie the Pimp’?”

“No, man. We’re lucky enough to even have Hot Rats in the box and all you ever play is ‘Willie the Pimp’. Play ‘The Gumbo Variations’.”

“What?”

“Track five.”

Five years of that, people.

Now about Sammy Hagar, and this is almost verbatim of every jawbone Freddie and I ever had about the subject. First and foremost, Hagar’s a Rock n’ Roll Hall of Famer, and who the hell cares what I think of him, his music, or his tequila? In the manner and style of Wesley Willis, I say, “Rock on, Sammy Hagar. General Electric, we bring good things to life.

This is like watching the Yankees play the Cubs - I want them BOTH to lose.

This is like watching the Yankees play the Cubs – I want them BOTH to lose.

Next, I’ve gone through every phase of Hagar’s career from Montrose to Chickenfoot and I can’t find a single song that I would ever want to hear, under any circumstances. When he was in Van Halen, I did not participate. That 5150 record is nonsense. Pure shit. I hear that and all I think is, “Cocaine is a hell of a drug.” When Sammy left VH, my heart felt a little lighter.

And then one night in the middle of an argument with Freddie, it hit me. There is one Sammy Hagar song that I think is quite funny – in its banality. “(There’s Only) One Way to Rock” is one of the most vapid, stereotypically “rock” songs in the pantheon of rock music. This song speaks to the lowest of the lowest common denominator. Sammy wants you to know that he’s traveled the world, banged a bunch of chicks, did a bunch of drugs, and now holds the Secret to Rock. He knows there’s “a million ways to make love” but only one way to Rock. He just never gets around to saying what it is. There’s just one way though, man. Make no mistake.

Perhaps the absence of self-awareness – the delinquency of logic – is what availed Mr. Hagar to rock so hard, for so long. Please look at these lyrics:

Crank out the drums / Crank out the bass / Crank out my Les Paul, in your face

How about we don’t crank anything in my face, Sam? That’s hilarious to me because I’ve written some pathetic lyrics. We don’t even need to point out the implications. Next thing you know, I’m going to start talking about Loverboy. So, here on my jukebox, the closest I could ever come to playing anything related to Sammy Hagar – as the antagonist – is a song that name-checks him. And so, here’s one of the essential Southern California punk bands, Circle Jerks.

Circle Jerks – Heavy Metal Weekend

 

While we’re in somewhat of the neighborhood, let’s check out seminal Northern California punk miscreants of roughly the same era, Flipper.

Flipper – Talk’s Cheap

The pure, amateur delight of Flipper may never again be duplicated. Every now and then, we need to lighten the mood. Anyway, we saw Flipper at Cabaret Metro one time in like 1986-ish(?), and they were easily the most fucked-up band I’d seen to date. These dudes made the Replacements look like Latter-Day Saints. Flipper also holds what I believe to be the record for Most Original Members to Die of Heroin Overdose, with three (Will Shatter, John Dougherty, and Kevin Williams).

Ice-T, Original Gangster (1991)

Ice-T, Original Gangster (1991)

Aside from disco, the only other type of music that Earl refused to put in the jukebox was rap and/or hip-hop. We had tons of old school soul, R&B, and funk – Little Richard, Sly Stone, Al Green, Marvin Gaye, The Spinners, The Temptations, and Ohio Players – they were all represented – but the closest we came to rap and hip-hop was the Aerosmith/Run D.M.C. collaboration from a best-of compilation. At the same time, I was thankful that we didn’t have Saturday Night Fever, so I considered it a wash.

Occasionally, I would come in on Sunday morning to watch NFL and have a chat with Earl, specifically on my part about either the jukebox or the pitch on the new pinball machine. Though I lobbied really hard for at least one record by Public Enemy or A Tribe Called Quest – for chrissakes, De La Soul would have been acceptable – my pleas fell on Earl’s deaf ears. There was one time when I had Freddie convinced that it wouldn’t hurt to have Dr. Dre’s The Chronic. When that fell through, I pushed for Body Count, Ice-T’s metal band. Never happened.

Ice-T is one of music’s all-time great storytellers. The next jam comes from Original Gangster (1991), which was remains his biggest album, and one of those tracks I like to play for people who say they don’t get, understand, or otherwise like gangster rap. This is about as gangster and articulate as you can get. I mean, yeah, Chuck D. and Public Enemy were spitting truth, but Ice-T is spinning yarn, baby – he’s knitting a goddamn sweater. Public Enemy was never gangster anyway. The point I’m trying to make is no matter how many times I hear this jam, I have to listen to it all the way through, just to find out what happens at the end.

Samples: “Black Sabbath” by Black Sabbath, “When the Levee Breaks” by Led Zeppelin, “9mm Goes Bang” by Boogie Down Productions, and “I Ain’t No Joke” by Eric B. & Rakim

Ice-T – Midnight

 

Regardless of its veracity, Ice-T tells one hell of a tale, and I’m inclined to believe him. Kind of. Most of the time. Likewise, there are some lyrics that need decoding.

Midnight chillin’ at A.M., P.M. / Coolin’ drinkin’ apple juice / In Evil’s BM

juke 5 ampm-resizedAM/PM = a convenience store chain with branches located in several U.S. states, including Arizona, California, Nevada, Oregon, and Washington.

Evil’s BM = BMW

The sounds up loud to attract attention / Armor-All’d tires on a lowered suspension / Nardi to steer with / Alpine deck was glowin’ / Bumpin’ Big Daddy / And the n—- was definitely flowin’

Alpine = Stereo system

Nardi = Steering wheel by Officine Nardi, an Italian automobile and racing car maker, named for Enrico Nardi

Big Daddy = Big Daddy Kane. Here’s what Ice-T had to say about Big Daddy. “To me, Big Daddy Kane is still today one of the best rappers. I would put Big Daddy Kane against any rapper in a battle. Jay-Z, Nas, Eminem, any of them. I could take [his song] ‘Raw’ from ’88, and put it up against any record [from today]. Kane is one of the most incredible lyricists… and he will devour you on the mic. I don’t want to try to out-rap Big Daddy Kane. Big Daddy Kane can rap circles around cats.”

I was ridin’ shotgun / Donald and Hen in back / Look thru the tint recognized a jack

juke 5 nardi bmwLook through the tint = Tinted windows

Jack = Car-jacking in progress; (v.) to take something from somebody at gunpoint

Two brothers strolled up / Talkin’ bout get out / Donald D blazed / Shot one fool thru his fuckin’ mouth / Why would they step / When they know we’re strapped? / I never cruise L.A. / Without a Gat in my lap

Step = Attempt to jack another brother

Strapped = Armed

Gat = Pre-Prohibition name for any type of gun, in reference to the Gatling gun, a Civil War-era rapid-fire precursor to the machine gun. Seems like common knowledge, but a lot of fools think it’s a reference to the sound a gun makes.

The other fool shot / Caught the E in the shoulder blade / I busted thru the car door / That’s where the n—- laid / Hen jumped out / Dropped two nines in his forehead / Evil was bleedin’ bad / The car seats were turnin’ red

Dropped two nines = Shot the dude in the head twice with a 9mm pistol

Looked to my left / There were two more carloads / N—-s in hats and hoods / In an attack mode / And they hadn’t yet begun to fight / E hit the gas / It was one past midnight!
We boned down Vernon / Right on Normandie / Left on Florence / Gettin’ thru the E.T.G.s / Spun out on Vermont / Made a left on Colden / Right on Hoover / “E, where we goin’?” / He didn’t even answer that / Checked the rear view / They were still out back / Where were these brothers from? / What made these brothers come? / Bang! our back window was removed by a shotgun

juke 5 tee-gee2E.T.G.s = The 83 Gangster Crips (ETGC) also known as Eight Tray Gangster Crips, are primarily an African-American street gang located in the area formerly known as South Central, L.A. Their neighborhood spread from Gage Ave to 79th Street, between Western Ave and Vermont Ave. Named after a popular residential street called 83rd Street in the heart of their neighborhood. The E.T.G.s are considered by everybody on the planet to be one of the most violent street gangs in all of Los Angeles County, with over 300 active members. They originated from the Original West Side Crips, led by Stanley Willams (Tookie), in the early 1970’s.

Now Hen G was shot / Don caught a ricochet / These motherfuckers was ill / They didn’t come to play / Bust a right turn, parked / And then we got left / Hid in the bushes / Shot the gas tank to fake death / But would this really keep them psyched? / Three of us bleedin’ / It was ten past midnight!

Keep them psyched = Fooled, tricked

Shot the gas tank = Here’s where the story begins to slip just a little bit. See, I’ve seen this on MythBusters

Myth: A gas tank will explode when shot by a bullet. (From Episode 15)

juke 5 bustedplacard-728291

“It has already been proven that when shot by a normal bullet a gasoline tank will not explode. However, if a gasoline tank is shot by a tracer round from a great enough distance so that the round can ignite with air friction, it will cause the gasoline to catch fire. By the time this happened the tank was so riddled with bullets (from previous tracers that were fired too close to ignite) that there was no contained pressure, but the MythBusters surmised that had the tank been properly enclosed, it may have exploded; but overall it remains extremely improbable.”

So I believe all the stuff about getting shot, but the chase part is on shaky ground. They didn’t blow up Evil’s BM, that’s for sure.

I really didn’t like how this shit was goin’ down / Wrong night, wrong time, wrong fuckin’ part of town / Ya see we was deep in the Hoover’s hood / Three n—-s bleedin’ / That shit don’t look good! / See over there red don’t go / Some places red’s all they know

Hoover’s hood = Ice-T and his crew appear to be in Crips territory, and though he doesn’t mention any gang affiliation, according to his bio, he associated with Crips – who wear blue. Bloods of course wear red. It’s unclear what he means other than a couple of guys bleeding in the hood: no bueno. Nobody is coming to help them, basically.

But not our luck / Tonight we was real fucked / Broke down an alley and we instantly had to duck / Fuckin’ police on a gang sweep / No time to deal with one time / So we had to creep / Broke thru a back yard / Ran thru a vacant lot / E, Hen and Don kept up / To be some n—-s shot / Shit was gettin’ crazy / So I had to get busy / Hen was bleedin’ worse / And Evil was gettin’ dizzy / Looked in a parking lot / I needed a snatch bar / Had to hot wire / So I moved on an old car / It was a bucket, but fuck it, it had to do / Started it up and scooped my whole crew / Two blocks later / We saw fuckin’ blue lights / The pigs were behind us / It was half past midnight!

juke 5 9mmSnatch bar = No conclusive evidence on the translation for this term, as all searches led to erroneous meanings.

Bucket = old, beat-up car. A rust bucket. The rest of it is all pretty self-explanatory, I think.

When they pulled us over / Shit got worse / I waited till they got out and then I hit reverse / Fucked ‘em up, I seen one cop fall / Threw it in gear, yo I’m outtie y’all / Don’t know how but somehow we got away / Lost the jackers, the cops, dumped the G.T.A.

Outtie = Run from the cops. All right, now Ice-T and his crew are in some real trouble. The felonies are multiplying exponentially here. Would L.A.P.D. pull over a stolen vehicle in the heart of South Central without their weapons drawn? I dunno. That’s a little sketchy, too, but even more unreliable is the part about not knowing how they got away.

G.T.A. = Grand Theft Auto. The stolen car. What they would have been charged with had they been caught.

Made it back to the hood / Fixed the crew up / And even though Evil’s car blew up

Evil’s car blew up = No, it didn’t, Ice. That didn’t happen. I’m tellin’ you.

We made it home and then I crashed out / Thinkin’ bout my all-night death bout / Then somethin’ woke me up / From my dark sleep / The sound of fuckin’ police / When they’re tryin’ to creep / Broke thru my door with no goddamn warning / Looked at my watch / It was six in the mornin’!

Yes – South Side of the Sky

Progressive rock is the stinky French artisan cheese of the rock world. A lot of folks don’t appreciate it, but those who’ve acquired the taste are fabulously in love with the stuff.

juke 5 camembertIf King Crimson is the Camembert de Normandie of prog rock, one of the most pungent and yet savory of all cheeses, then Yes is the Brie de Meaux; a very mild creamy cheese that should appeal to anyone who says they don’t like cheese.

Personally, I can take about 20 minutes of Yes in one sitting, and then Jon Anderson’s voice starts grating on my nerves. I’ll say this about the band: They had some of the most trippy album artwork of all-time, by Roger Dean.

“South Side of the Sky” is from their most popular album of the classic era, Fragile (1973), but was overshadowed by massive radio hits “Roundabout” and “Long Distance Runaround”. If for no other reason, I’ll put this on just to hear Steve Howe’s amazing guitar parts. That kid could really play.

 

Herb Alpert’s Tijuana Brass – Whipped Cream

Commercial Break #1

When you think of Black Sunshine Media, don’t just think “media.” Think of the entire spectrum – the sounds, the sights and the sensations. Think of our fascinating stories, intriguing dialogues and crisp editorial insight. And best of all, we can cater your next special event! Black Sunshine Media – we bring dark things to light.

Jukebox Antagonist – Episode 4: The Manager

18 Aug
Back in 2007, I briefly managed a bistro-type joint in an unfamiliar neighborhood of San Francisco. The gig lasted about two months before I went back to waiting tables at my old job, which was infinitely more amenable to my lifestyle. Deeply humbled by failure, I was relieved and yet more determined than ever to escape the restaurant industry, once and for all.

Anyway, one of my few enjoyable responsibilities at the bistro was maintaining the music for front of the house – they had a five-CD changer in the back office. To be honest, the system was kind of a mess; the previous manager – a DJ-type persona – had cleared out all of his gear, so the remains were jerry-rigged by one of the bartenders acting as manager. One of my first tasks as manager was to straighten out the sound system.

Before I even took the gig, I was repulsed by the bistro’s music agenda. During my first reconnaissance visit as an anonymous customer, I heard Enya, Kylie Minogue, Ricky Martin, Stereolab, and horrific acid house electro jazz techno-nonsense by artists I don’t even want clogging up the arteries of my memory. It was pure garbage – crap I would expect to hear blasting from a hair salon in the Castro, where it belongs. That’s when you ask yourself, “Am I willing to work in a place where I can’t stand the music?” Survey says: Maybe…

Weeks later, I would meet the previous manager and it would all make sense. The music part, I’m afraid.

So two days after I took the gig, I went to the owner and said, “Hey, would it be cool if I mix up the soundtrack?” He said, sure. In fact, take $150 out of petty cash and go buy some CDs. Do whatever you want. Make it your joint. No problem.

On my first day off, I went down to Amoeba Records on Haight Street and went wild, but in the meantime, I brought in some of my own CDs to the joint. Almost overnight, staff and customers were commenting on the change of music. Several people said, “You know, the music was the one thing I never really loved about this place.”

As you might imagine, from the perspective of the jukebox antagonist, I was thrilled. But it was fleeting. In truth, the difference in music was nothing but a ripple in the sea of doing business. The regulars were coming back no matter what kind of music you piped in.

Amoeba Records has an amazing selection of used records in all formats. With a buck and a half plus a few sheckles from my personal kitty, I wound up with almost 20 discs, a few of which I already owned on vinyl and played at home on a regular basis. I think I paid $3.99 for Led Zeppelin’s Coda, mainly as an afterthought, the last CD in the basket. It’s a record you have in your collection, but never gets played. Name a song off Coda. See, you can’t.

Every day I would only change two of five CDs in the player from the previous day. So each record would be in random rotation for at least two days, that way it would give staff and extremely regular customers a chance to get more acquainted with the second Velvet Underground album. That was something I thought about on a daily basis. Meanwhile, I was completely dropping the ball on just about every other aspect of the gig. But the music was tight.

juke 4 Led_Zeppelin_-_CodaThough I probably should have been thinking about what kind of music really sets the tone for the restaurant as a dining experience, I was much more motivated by turning people on to cool music. Of course, this was just one small aspect of the managerial experience, but I was glowing with pride when I caught one of the bartenders unconsciously grooving to “Baby’s On Fire”. She was feeling it, man. You could see it. She wasn’t shaking her ass to impress anybody – the place was empty – she just got the jam. And eventually she asked, “Who is that one band with the baby on fire song?”

“Why, that’s Brian Eno, sweetie.”

And I wound up turning her on to Roxy Music, too.

So I was tickled the night a song from Coda was playing over the P.A. when one of the regulars said to me, “Is this Led Zeppelin?”

“As a matter of fact, it is.”

“What album is this from? I’ve got every album, but I’ve never heard this.”

 

Led Zeppelin – Ozone Baby

 

You can hardly find a decent Zeppelin song that hasn’t been played to death – until we happen to chance upon this jam. Recorded during sessions for the band’s final studio album In Through the Out Door in November 1978, “Ozone Baby” was one of three songs recorded yet omitted from the ensuing album due to time constraints; the other two being “Darlene” and “Wearing and Tearing”. Featuring harmonized vocal effects from Robert Plant – a rarity in the band’s catalog – this track is one of their most straightforward and up-tempo numbers, with slight hints of new wave and post-punk urgency. Alternate selections: “Friends” or “Out on the Tiles” from Led Zeppelin III (1970)

 

Deerhoof – Come See the Duck

 

From the Green Cosmos EP (2005), purchased during the Amoeba spending spree.

Deerhoof is an incredibly interesting and sometimes challenging band that I have never seen live, but have much respect.

juke 4-Mates_of_State_My_Solo_ProjectDeerhoof and Mates of State were two major influences as I transitioned from being in a band to working (mostly) on my own in Aztec Hearts. At any rate, I had records from both bands in heavy rotation at the bistro, particularly Mates of States’ debut album, My Solo Project (2000).

This “Come See the Duck” jam makes me chuckle every single time. When Green Cosmos became part of the bistro’s rotation, I suspect nobody really noticed because it always seemed to come on during the busiest rush of the evening. I knew it was playing, but I don’t think anybody else gave it a second thought.

The owner usually came in just before closing, and sometimes he’d stick around for a chat. One night, I was clean-up bartending and he was having a snack – nobody else in the joint but the kitchen staff, and they were on their way out, too. All of a sudden, “Come See the Duck” comes on and the owner stops in mid-chew of his food. He looks at me; I’m buffing a wine glass and just kind of smirking, also a little buzzed.

“Christian, what…?”

“It’s a local band. They’re called Deerhoof.”

“Have you been playing this all night?”

“What do you mean by ‘play’?”

The next morning I replaced Green Cosmos EP with (probably maybe it’s impossible to say my favorite Deerhoof record), Apple O’ (2003). Nobody said a word about it, for the duration of my employment.

King Diamond interview with Joe Franklin

 

Perhaps even more incongruous than Joe Franklin interviewing a Danish metal singer is the fact that Joe Franklin isn’t one of the most popular radio and television host personalities of all-time. For whatever reason, he was strictly an East Coast phenomenon.

juke 4-Abigail_(King_Diamond_album)On the other hand, King Diamond was a late 1980s phenomenon, and there was a period of about six months when I was into metal. I don’t regret it at all, but I’m glad it didn’t stick. Then there was a period in the late 90s when I first moved to S.F. that I listened to KUSF college radio, and I got turned on to a bunch of second wave Norwegian black metal, particularly the bands Emperor, Mayhem and Thorns. Those were a gruesome couple of months – plus, I was doing carpentry for $13 bucks an hour. Those Norwegian cats will bring you down, man. It’s the aural equivalent of an appendectomy without anesthesia.

The bistro’s all-Hispanic kitchen staff came in early morning, and I’d roll up around 10:30-11:00 a.m. Doors opened at 5:00 p.m. for dinner service. Of course, the crew would be rocking the Ranchero music, which I love, and so I wouldn’t even bother to turn on the main sound system during the day. One of the prep cooks was a younger cat who always wore metal band t-shirts: Megadeth, Slayer, Deicide, etc. One day we were talking about music – I said something about his Avenged Sevenfold shirt – and I said, “Have you ever listened to King Diamond?” The kid shook his head. No, I never heard of them.

The next day, I brought in a copy of Abigail (1987), which is just about the right amount of King Diamond anybody needs in their collection. Just sayin’. Anyway, the kid loved it, and so I gave him the disc. But from then on, me and that dude would exchange song lyrics with each other, like, I’d sing (in King’s falsetto), “I am alive!” and the kid would respond with, “Inside your wife!” Shit was funny to us. When I was super-high, I’d walk around the joint howling, “Miriam’s dea-eh-ead!” True King Diamond fans will be all over that shit.

King Diamond – Abigail

 

King Diamond – A Mansion in Darkness

 

Tom Waits – Clap Hands

 

What did I pay for this? $6.99? Customers and staff loved this record; it received the second most commentary and praise, behind the all-time favorite…

 

Stevie Wonder – Love Having You Around

 

The first record in the basket was Music of My Mind (1972), of course. It’s a Personal Top Ten. Had to have it.

 

Off Broadway – Stay in Time

juke 4-1980_04_05__musicradio_89_wls_chicago_1https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zJOTXWoeIew

 

This is for all my Chicago people, especially my fellow comrades who got to see Off Broadway perform in the Hinsdale South H.S. gymnasium circa 1980-81. I’m pretty sure I was in eighth grade. The band hailed from Oak Park, Illinois, just a hop, skip and a jump from my hometown.

This track is of course from their debut album On (Atlantic Records, 1979), which reached #101 on the Billboard 200. “Stay in Time” hit #51 on the Billboard Hot 100 singles charts, and #11 on the WLS Musicradio 89 survey of top songs for 1980.

And I found in the cut-out bin for $.99 at Amoeba. A couple of people in the bistro asked, “Is that Cheap Trick?”

 

Off Broadway – Full Moon Turn My Head Around

 

Exactly two weeks before I bailed on the bistro gig, I had come to the conclusion that things weren’t going to work out. That morning, I realized that I had crossed over from caring about the gig, to thinking about the best way to get out of the gig. It was a day I will probably remember for the rest of my life. Sun was shining. Unseasonably warm day. Around noon I took a short break and walked up toward the cleaners to get my evening shirts, when I crossed an alley where a homeless woman had laid out all of her possessions on a blanket, in typical impromptu S.F. street sale style. She had a decent stack of CDs that caught my eye, and almost without thinking I approached the woman and said I’d give her ten bucks for the CDs, sight unseen, cash in hand. She snatched the bill from my fingertips.

juke 4 folk MI0000082082There were 13 CD cases in total, four of which did not contain a disc, so nine for the price of 10. Among the first records in the stack was Troubadours of British Folk, Volume 2 (Rhino Records, 1995), which featured the usual suspects Lindsfarne, Nick Drake, and Fairport Convention. Under that, was Burl Ives, and under that, a homemade compilation of sea shanties entitled Irish Pirate Songs. And then: Abba, Arrival (1979); Warrant, Cherry Pie (1990); Journey, Escape (1978); TWO Joan Armatrading records, and a Donna Summer best-of that made a loud thwack as it hit the back of the dumpster. All in all, I thought, “That’s about the most ‘San Francisco’ collection of CDs I’ve ever seen.”

Upon returning to the bistro, I loaded up the CD changer with my latest scores. Every record I scored from the homeless woman wound up in the rotation, including Warrant, which brought more than a couple of confused and furrowed brows. Anyway, I’m running out of time here, so I just wanted to say that Troubadours of British Folk Volume 2 turned out to be one of my favorite records of the year, and my favorite cut was the super obscure “Mr. Fox” by Mr. Fox.

Mr. Fox – Mr. Fox

The Slightly Less Terrible of Two Terrors

12 Aug
Terror“The so-called ‘psychotically depressed’ person who tries to kill herself doesn’t do so out of quote ‘hopelessness’ or any abstract conviction that life’s assets and debits do not square. And surely not because death seems suddenly appealing. The person in whom Its invisible agony reaches a certain unendurable level will kill herself the same way a trapped person will eventually jump from the window of a burning high-rise. Make no mistake about people who leap from burning windows. Their terror of falling from a great height is still just as great as it would be for you or me standing speculatively at the same window just checking out the view; i.e. the fear of falling remains a constant. The variable here is the other terror, the fire’s flames: when the flames get close enough, falling to death becomes the slightly less terrible of two terrors. It’s not desiring the fall; it’s terror of the flames. And yet nobody down on the sidewalk, looking up and yelling ‘Don’t!’ and ‘Hang on!’, can understand the jump. Not really. You’d have to have personally been trapped and felt flames to really understand a terror way beyond falling.”

- David Foster Wallace (1962-2008)

Jukebox Antagonist – Episode 3: Special Pinball Edition

8 Aug
From Chicago to San Francisco to L.A. to Manila to Taipei to places beyond and between, my favorite places to drink are dive bars; unpretentious, bread n’ butter, good old-fashioned “watering holes.” The drinks are cheap and equitable, the bartender is vaguely congenial but no-nonsense, and the regulars seem like a rough bunch of characters, but once you get to know them, they’re a bunch of fluffy kittens. Most importantly, nobody is there to “make the scene.” A dive bar is the antithesis of a scene.
Pittsburgh's Pub, San Francisco, CA

Pittsburgh’s Pub, San Francisco, CA

Over the course of a drinking career, every sports bar and nightclub has a time and a place – you’ll see me at Slammer’s and the Foo Foo Lounge, too. The object of the game is to make myself comfortable anywhere booze is available. I like to think that just about anywhere I go is a potential drinking establishment. Anyway, the term “dive bar” never carried a stigma or negative connotation, and at least some of my affection for the low-rent atmosphere came from reading Hemingway and Bukowski, and falling for the romance of functional alcoholism.

My favorite dive bars have two things besides booze: Pinball and a jukebox. If we can smoke inside, even better, but not necessarily a deal-breaker in temperate climates where smoking out on the sidewalk isn’t a form of nicotine-shaming.

The jukebox accepts bills, the pinball machine does not. A dive bar by definition shouldn’t have a bill changer. The till usually has a decent supply of quarters, but it’s always a good idea to have some on hand – at least a buck’s worth – just in case. There’s a 24-hour Laundromat just up the street if you’re in a pinch.

juke 3 - action baseball

Action Baseball (Williams Mfg. Co., 1971)

Other than music, pinball has been my longest running joint. I went through phases with video games – particularly, Asteroids – but I always came back to pinball. In the mid-70s, my family took a camping trip in southern Colorado and stayed at a series of KOA campgrounds. At every stop there was a small recreation center with a vending machine and couple of arcade games for the kids. We’d have a couple of hours to kill before lights out, so I’d head up to the rec center and spend my candy money on pinball. The first game I clearly remember playing and getting good at was Action Baseball (Williams Mfg. Co., 1971).

As the years went by, pinball became my game of choice at Showbiz Pizza and Chuck E. Cheese, where half of all peer-based birthday parties were held in Darien, Illinois, circa 1980. With the emergence of major amusement parks, we’d go to Six Flags’ Great America at least twice a year. Much to my parents’ aggravation, I’d spend most of my time in the video game arcade.

No matter if it was Disney World’s Magic Kingdom, Disneyland, Kings Island, Busch Gardens, Old Chicago, Noah’s Ark at Wisconsin Dells, Santa’s Workshop, or Six Flags’ St. Louis. The lines for the rides were unacceptable. I didn’t have the patience to wait an hour for a two-minute rollercoaster, sweating like a slave, especially when it was nice and cool inside the air-conditioned arcade. During the average Six Flags visit, I’d maybe hit Logger’s Run for a splash of cool water, and take a couple of spins at Winner’s Circle Go Karts. The Roto-Rooter was also amusing and there was never a line for that joint. But then it was back to the arcade.

Most of all, I liked the physicality of pinball, that you could use your body to influence the playing field – it’s a matter of finesse; ride the machine too hard – meaning, move it around too much – and you’re going to tilt, and lose a ball. After a while, you learn how to “feel” the ball on the flipper and how to dislodge a ball from a stuck bumper without tilting. Pinball was one of those games where I could be content to play without any social interaction whatsoever, except maybe to order a slice of pizza and get more quarters from Mr. Munch at the cash register when the bill changer was out of order.

juke 3 - mr munch_lg

Hey Mr. Munch. Gimme two bucks worth of quarters.

Pittsburgh’s Pub in the Outer Sunset District of San Francisco is probably my favorite dive bar of all-time, mainly because I spent more time there than any other joint in my life – the better part of five years. Like everything else, there were stretches of weeks and months where I avoided the bar, which was pretty hard to do considering its location: 173 sober steps from my apartment.

The other reason I loved Pittsburgh’s: They had pinball and a jukebox. Actually, they had several different pinball machines over the years, but Theater of Magic and Star Trek: Next Generation had the longest tenure. Indiana Jones: The Pinball Adventure and World Cup Soccer came and went on several occasions. And – and! Depending upon the bartender, if you were welcome to stay for after-hours, you were allowed to smoke inside. In fact, we had to smoke inside because they had to shut and lock the front door. Genius. After-hours were great. But that’s a different subject.

During my run in the neighborhood (2003-2008), Pittsburgh’s had something of an unsavory reputation, especially among people who remembered the bar from the early and mid-90s when it was operating under a different name. The joint wasn’t particularly known for physical violence or shit getting really out of hand, but everything else was on the table. There was a persistent yet almost comfortable element of vice on Friday and Saturday nights – it was there if you wanted it.

My closest friends who didn’t live in the Sunset frowned upon the joint, and never – not once – accepted one of the invitations to meet me at Pittsburgh’s for a drink, which stopped coming after a couple of years. Eventually, I befriended a crew of local regulars – the after-hours set – and that took on its own social orbit, separate from my pre-existing life, which had another division of friends between work and being in a band. Among my friends from the bar, we called it The Pit.

The Pit was also home to the just-about quintessential dive bar jukebox. It had everything you would expect a watering hole to have: Hank Williams Sr. to Little Richard to The Clash to Blue Oyster Cult. In fact, it was a little heavy on the B.O.C.; when simply a greatest hits compilation would have sufficed, we had two or three albums to choose from. And I loved B.O.C. – when I was 12. Sure, “Godzilla” is a great jam, and “Burnin’ for You” is a fun, senseless, one-groove boogie track. If you were a teenager in the 1980s. But then there’s this…

Blue Oyster Cult – Shooting Shark

Please do me a favor. I really want you to watch the B.O.C. video for at least the first minute. Number one, it’s a casino in Michigan. Number two, band introductions? Don’t get me started on that shit. So I’m not even going to post the video where they do a Macarena dance during the guitar solo intro to “Don’t Fear the Reaper”. Google it. The clip is from the same show. Anyway, THIS is why rock music blows. It’s because of THESE guys.

Just stop already. Get a hobby. Learn a skill.

And so like every jukebox, The Pit’s had its share of stinkers; some people really really like Bon Jovi, and they have to hear “Livin’ on a Prayer” one more time, even though Slippery When Wet is cued up in the cassette deck of their ’84 IROC parked right out front. They also like Asia, Starship, Kansas, Dire Straits, Foreigner, Guns n’ Roses, Dokken, Metallica, Pat Travers Band, Robin Trower, Uriah Heep, Y&T, George Thorogood, and Deep Purple. Who am I to begrudge them?

This documentary on Deep Purple’s 1975 tour of New Zealand is one of the most neckbeard, Spın̈al Tap things I’ve ever seen in my life. No, seriously. Check out drummer Ian Paice’s neckbeard. At the same time, David Coverdale is actually pretty damn cool. He oozes rock star. [For Purple fans only: Bear in mind that this is from the Mark III era, so there’s no Ritchie Blackmore.] And it’s got a bitchin’ intro.

“Auckland International Airport, 9:00 a.m., November 13. A yellow Boeing 707 freighter lumbers to a parking space on the tarmac. About the same time the plane lands, in a stadium not ten miles from the airport, men race the clock to build a giant outdoor stage. The yellow plane is being chartered for five weeks by English rock band Deep Purple. Cost: a quarter of a million dollars.”

 

At any rate, The Pit’s jukebox was a little quirky but satisfactory by even my malaise-faire personal standards.

shithole2

“Making the scene” at The Pit

The narcissistic appeal of the jukebox never dawned on me until I started drinking and hanging out places like The Pit. Why would people pay to hear music in a joint that’s already charging them to be there? Early on it seemed to me that he onus of entertainment fell on the operator of the establishment; the atmosphere of the joint should be included in the price of the drink. Either that or there’s a cover charge for live music. At any rate, perhaps a year into my drinking career, I had a minor revelation: Nothing is free and you get what you pay for.

Consider arcade games. A dive bar owner is basically trying to squeeze every last quarter out of the joint. It’s not that he’s necessarily greedy, but he’s running a business, not a fraternity. Likewise, many dive bar patrons need something to do. Billiards, darts, pinball, foosball and first-person shooter video games are the perfect distractions. Generally speaking, these activities are never free – ever – even if your buddy has a pool table in his parents’ basement, somebody paid for it.

For one thing, if the jukebox were free, some sour jackass is going to jam us with Diana Ross and the Supremes all night. And there is nothing worse than a dive bar with Frank Sinatra on the jukebox – meaning all of them. There’s always that one closet case macho man with a crush on Frank. That shit makes my skin crawl. Sinatra is great – in elevators and beer commercials – but I don’t want to hear “Luck Be a Lady” tonight or any other night. Take that nonsense somewhere else, like Bingo Night at the Elks Club.

It’s a fact: You can’t throw a party and let just any old drunk have access to the sound system.

Consequentially, I did not begin to appreciate the value and power of the jukebox until I was in my late teens, early 20s. Traditional jukeboxes with vinyl records had long been a thing of the past – except at Johnny Rocket’s, and what the hell are you doing in that patch of tourist quicksand? Did you get turned away at the Hard Rock Café? Geez. And half the time, those old machines malfunctioned, so you’d program “Let’s Go” by the Cars and it would play “You Ain’t Seen Nothing Yet” by Bachmann-Turner Overdrive – and talk about getting ripped off. It only cost me a couple of quarters before I learned the lesson; if I want to hear something, I can do it at home.

Much better than the old way.

Much better than the old way.

Right, so when I started getting into jukeboxes, it was all CDs – and you got to see the cover art and a track list. The entire experience was a dramatic improvement over the old school way.

Nowadays, most joints have digital audio players and the bartender usually creates the sonic atmosphere. I’m sure it varies. When I was hanging out at Sam’s Club, they had cable music programming coming through the flat screen and house speakers, and they’d always let me pick the station. There’s a joint in Taipei called Roxy Rocker that has a DJ who takes requests, which by definition is what a true DJ should do. Ask Bob and Ron.

Speaking of Bob and Ron and their delightful Record Club, I’d like to congratulate them upon reaching a milestone – their 50th podcast on the Steve Dahl Network. Here’s my favorite Bob and Ron episode from the archives.

Bob and Ron’s Record Club Radio Archive – Episode 56

 

Back to the jukebox. Having the power to dictate the music in a semi-public setting is a type of self-expression that is equal parts share and show-off. And then there’s just wanting to hear “Runnin’ on Empty” while sipping your Budweiser and playing Gin Rummy with Wanda. At any rate, you have no more than three minutes and thirty seconds to make a point or set the tone.

When you’re on the public transportation and there’s some kid blasting music on his headphones or smartphone – God forbid, an old school boom box – he’s not doing it because he wants to turn you on to the hottest and latest joint from Wu-Tang; he doing it to show his contempt and utter lack of respect for everybody in the vicinity. When you’re driving down the road and stopped at a light when a dude rolls up in a monster truck with a 5,000-watt P.A. system in the bed, and the deafening thuds of Nickelback are rattling your doors – again – this cat isn’t saying, “Hey y’all, you should hear this cut. It’s smokin’!” No, he’s saying something more along the lines of, “I have self-esteem issues.”

A band that needs no introduction.

A band that needs no introduction.

When you’re putting ostensibly hard-earned money in a jukebox, you’re making a slightly magnanimous gesture to your fellow bar patrons. You might be thinking, “Let’s liven this place up a lil bit!” Or: “If there’s any Sex Pistols in this muh-fuh…” There’s never any Sex Pistols in the jukebox anyway, but that’s not the point. You’re willing to shell out a few quid on everybody’s behalf so we all don’t have overhear our exceedingly inane conversations.

On the other hand, the issue of controlling the tempo, setting the pace, and imposing your will on the people is obvious, but you’re not really thinking that when you’re flipping through the jams, making your selections. At least, I know that’s not what I’m thinking.

The Velvet Underground, Loaded (1970)

The Velvet Underground, Loaded (1970)

No matter how weak or shallow the range of selections may be, I try to go as deep as possible. For instance, if – and this is a huge sloppy if – the jukebox happens to have The Velvet Underground’s Loaded (1970), I’m going to skip “Rock n’ Roll” and “Sweet Jane” and get right to “Cool It Down”, which is partially motivated by desire to show off my knowledge and familiarity with VU. At the same time, it’s a super sweet jam – probably my favorite on the record. My compadres will feel its groovy vibration. “Oh! Sweet Nuthin’” is another sleeper that doesn’t get much airplay.

The Velvet Underground – Cool it Down

My m.o. during those years was to post-up at The Pit just after midnight, having worked a shift at the restaurant gig, and puting a couple of tallboys in the tank during the 45-minute Muni crawl from Embarcadero to the Outer Sunset. The years when I was driving, I would go home first, drain a bottle of wine and then roll up on The Pit. Either way, I’d come in, shake off the cold, say hello to the regulars, Ray or Kelly would crack open a beer and set it on the bar, and I’d make a beeline for the pinball machine, provided someone wasn’t playing already. In that case, I’d wobble over to the jukebox and look for something that hadn’t been played a million times.

Over the years, I can recall making a few friends at the jukebox. Every so often, someone would wander over and ask, “Hey, whatcha gonna play?” or I would do the same – if I was feeling social, which happened from time to time. I had my moments. Up until mid-2004, I had never made a friend over pinball. It just wasn’t part of my routine. I drank, played the game, and kept to myself. There were a few occasions where another pinball enthusiast had invited me to go two-player, but 95% of the time it was just me and the machine. Pinball was such a personal experience – somewhat like masturbation, I guess – that you don’t want someone looking over your shoulder while you’re playing. It’s not a spectator sport. Besides, watching someone play pinball is just below knitting on the scale of visual experience.

My beloved Theater of Magic at The Pit

My beloved Theater of Magic at The Pit

One night I came in to find a vaguely familiar-looking guy playing Theater of Magic, which by the way, is probably the most beloved classic game in pinball history [Bally Mfg. Co., 1995]. So this guy, he’d recently started appearing in the neighborhood. He always wore a frumpy denim jacket – that was how I spotted him out on Judah Street, down by Java Beach Cafe. My first impression was: Sloppy but cultured – world-weary yet not inapproachable. I guessed him to be around 27-32 years old, and definitely not a native Californian. It was the first time I’d seen him in The Pit, so I took more notice than usual.

Anyway, he had the machine and a free game coming to him, so rather than intrude, I hung out at the bar and waited for my turn. Eventually this new guy balled out and went to get another beer. When he returned I drifted over and introduced myself and asked if he was interested in two-player. He was.

Max Edwards was the first reasonably sane person I ever met who could consistently out-play me in pinball and that became clear from the beginning. Most of the pinball wizards I’ve met are out of their minds. There was one regular named Johnny who was a bonafide wizard – he held the top five high scores on every pinball machine they ever had. And Johnny was certifiably insane.

 "Not even magic can help you now!"

“Not even magic can help you now!”

Over the course of a few weeks, Max and I became drinking-slash-pinball buddies. He turned out to be a very erudite and articulate cat, hailing from Minnesota by way of Tampa, Florida – I’m not sure in which order he descended. What we had in common was living within crawling distance of The Pit and we both liked to stay up late. We’d play Theater of Magic until bar time, and occasionally stayed for after-hours. If he wasn’t there, I’d just drink and play by myself, since hardly anybody except for me, Max, and Johnny ever touched the machine.

It wasn’t until several months later that Max told me he was a musician and played in a band. That was as far as it went. Our conversations hardly went beyond the game or “Ready for another beer?” However, at some point we began commandeering the jukebox, which was right next to the pinball machine.

This added the world of music to the unfolding dynamic of our friendship. We clashed almost immediately. Max likes Bob Dylan, I do not. Etc., etc., etc.

And so one night, I told Max that I too was in a band right here in San Francisco. He said something about, “I just assumed you were a musician.” And again, the conversation trailed off to something else. It seemed like neither one of us wanted to talk about our musical pursuits. Everything that happened in The Pit was completely unrelated to our everyday lives. It was a dive bar. There was one clock on the wall and it was always ten minutes fast.

Lifestyle of Wigs EP

Lifestyle of Wigs EP (2005)

Sometime late spring of 2005, Max mentioned that his band, Lifestyle of Wigs, was based in Minneapolis, and he was going back to play a few shows. He explained that he’d followed his girlfriend out to S.F. when she took new job. He took a miserable, low-esteem gig with a P.R. firm, and it wasn’t working out. Something like that. Anyway, Lifestyle of Wigs was recording and playing shows up until the time Max left. That’s all I knew

As for the other members of the band, drummer Ryan Lovan (Roma di Luna, Minor Kingdom & Brad Senne, Haley Bonar, Mandrew) and bassist Taras Ostroushko, Max didn’t say much except that he missed playing with them, and implied that the band was no longer together.

Not long after that, we began hanging out more often, particularly after bar time – 2:00 a.m. – usually at my place, since I lived alone and we could make as much noise as we wanted. We listened to records and talked about stuff, but we’d both be hammered by that point and none of the conversations are memorable on my end, except that we had them. But I’ll never forget the very first night we were at my house and Max picked up my acoustic steel string.

“Hey Christian, do you mind if I re-tune this thing?”

‘Not at all. Have at it.”

He tuned the guitar to a version of Open F# – with no 5th on the 6th string. So it went: F# F# C# F# A# C#. And then he proceeded to play an original song, which sounded pretty good.

My band at the time, Henry Miller Sextet, had gone through some shit and we sort of spun out in late ‘04/early ‘05, just as we’d finished making a new record. So I started concentrating on Aztec Hearts. I had a bunch of songs that didn’t really work for HMS, in my estimation. These were written in standard tuning on guitar, or piano. After reviewing the demos, I decided that only a few of those jams were keepers – I needed more songs.

One night, probably a week after Max’s first visit to my crib, I heard something in my head and reached for a guitar to snuff it out. Grabbing the Max-tuned acoustic, I instinctively formed an E-chord, fully expecting to hear a standard E major. Wait a minute. That ain’t right. It’s kind of cool, but it ain’t right. Oh…Max.

Juke 3 - Winners Cricle

Winner’s Circle Go Karts, Six Flags Great America

The guitar itself had sat unmolested for a week, but the tuning had slipped down a half-step. And thus my love affair with Open G tuning was born. But that’s a different story. What’s essential to this story is that if not for Max, I probably would not have truly embraced this “alternate” tuning as tightly as I did. Believe me, I’d experimented with guitar tunings, a bunch of ‘em. But I heard some of the melodies Max was coaxing from the instrument and I thought, “I could use that.” Ultimately, I kept that guitar tuned to Open G exclusively.

Three months or so passed. Max went back to Minneapolis and upon his return mentioned the shows in passing, but he gave me the impression that LoW was done and buried. Taras, the bass player, had left the band. Anyway, it was good to have a real friend in the neighborhood. Then I invited Max to see my band play at Bottom of the Hill, and it was probably a decent show – in terms of how we played. The joint was probably empty, I dunno. Honestly, I can hardly recall bits and pieces of shows here and there. From 1989 to 2007 is basically one show, and nobody came.

Out of the blue, Max asked if I’d be interested in playing bass for LoW during a couple of shows this coming September.

“In Minneapolis?”

“Yeah.”

Max gave me a copy of the LoW EP – along with a couple of studio tracks – and I was immediately impressed. Recorded live at the Turf Club in St. Paul, the EP is a document of an edgy and electric performance. It wasn’t perfect, in fact, it was a little messy at times, but Lifestyle of Wigs was a band that I would listen to even if Max were not my friend. They were utterly original but I heard traces of Television, Neil Young, Palace Brothers, Guided By Voices, Fugazi, Minutemen, Sonic Youth, Big Star and even hometown heroes, Hüsker Dü.

Lifestyle of Wigs EP (2005)

 

It had been a fairly decent stretch of time since a friend had given me one or more of his CDs and said, “Tell me what you think.” Max didn’t even really say that, either. He said, “I need someone who can play like Taras [the original bass player].”

OK, I’ll try. I guarantee I’ll try. So it was settled. We booked our flight for early September and I spent the next month learning the jams.

mpls

Sadly, this is the only picture I can find of Max and Ryan – from the backseat of Ryan’s car somewhere in St. Paul, MN, September 2005

Upon arrival in Minneapolis, we had two practice sessions as a group before playing the Turf Club in St. Paul, opening for Rank Strangers – one of Max’s favorite local bands – and a groovy outfit called Little Man. Max was pretty nervous, and I think Ryan was, too, but I was cool over there on bass. Didn’t even have to worry about backup vocals.

The next day we played a live radio show called The Current on Minneapolis Public Radio. And then the last night we played the Hexagon Bar with two phenomenal bands, Duplomacy and Seawhores. The shows were good. Max and Ryan didn’t seem too pumped though. That was just my impression. I think they missed having their pal Taras on bass.

Overall, it was a fantastic experience for me. First, I got to play bass almost anonymously in a band that I dug and respected. Second, who doesn’t like traveling? It had been seven or eight years since I’d been to Minneapolis. Furthermore, we stayed at Ryan’s house, which is where I met his wife Sarah, who would wind up singing on the first Aztec Hearts record, literally a month later. Meanwhile, most of Max and Ryan’s friends were super cool – truly beautiful people – and it was just a party from start to finish.

On Sunday night, Max and I flew back to San Francisco and that was the end of that.

Max and I went back to the routine of playing pinball at The Pit and after-hours at my crib, until a month or two later, he moved down to L.A. with his lady. He came back and stayed with me for a couple of weeks before moving on again – I think he went to Tampa. He’s in St. Paul these days.

It turned out to be a one-off thing, but I had a blast playing with Max and drummer Ryan Lovan. No matter what, “Triptic” will be one of my all-time favorite jams. [Just to clarify, that’s not me on bass; it’s Taras Oustrushko.] The band may be long gone, but the music of Lifestyle of Wigs – what little of it survives – deserves to be heard and shared.

Jukebox Antagonist – Epsiode 2

28 Jul
That was a real cliffhanger back there in Episode 1, wasn’t it? I was threatening to name my “best” Nirvana song, with a hint that it wasn’t by Nirvana. It was one of those tropes that sounds good when you toss it out there, but completely impractical or even imaginative. See, I went back and basically rifled through the Nirvana catalog, and came away with the following conclusion. I don’t believe they had a best song. They had a bunch of really good jams, but to say that “Drain You” is better than “All Apologies” is a stretch.

A lot of bands were buoyed by the wake of the Nevermind sinking cruise liner, but only a small percentage could be considered to be Nirvana rip-offs or copy-cats. Bush sounded exactly like Nirvana – with a decent guitar player. Anybody who wants to argue with me about Kurt Cobain – God bless the man, the myth, the legend – being an incredibly talented guitar player, get in line and you might want bring something to read, cuz it’s going to be a long wait. The so-called alternative-grunge phenomenon was bigger than any one band.

Certainly, there were bands that nicked bits and pieces from Nirvana’s routine, just as they scavenged from the Pixies. That’s been going on forever in music. In the meantime, alternative rock was a festering sore that had been building up for more than a decade, waiting to burst. And wallow in its own puss.

Failure – Saturday Savior

Failure is one of the few post-grunge, mid-90s American rock bands that make me think, “Why weren’t these guys huge?” As opposed to mid-90s British rock bands like Bush and Oasis that make me think, “How in God’s name are these guys huge?”

Failure first came to my attention in 1996, around the time “Stuck on You” reached #23 on Billboard ‘s Alternative Songs Chart. Dale Meiners turned me – us – on to Failure. Our band Whitey was recording with Dale at Ghetto Love, his Chicago studio circa 1996-97.

One day, Dale and said, “Hey guys, have you ever heard of [this band] Failure?” He put on Fantastic Planet and we were impressed. Very impressed.

It reminded me of a similar incident back in 1990, when our band Brain Kiss was recording an EP with Matt Suhar – who passed away last year in a bizarre and tragic accident. Matt Suhar was one of the good guys.

juke-2-fugaziBrain Kiss had enough money to record five maybe six songs. Matt was producing, while some cat named Neil was engineering. One day they brought in the first Fugazi record (Repeater, 1990) as a reference record. Matt said, “Dudes, you should be listening to this, not Jane’s Addiction.” And in a way, he was right.

We were embarrassed by how good Fugazi was. Oh wow, we really are a bunch of suburban slackers. Fugazi was kicking ass while we were tripping balls. And that was pretty much the last time you would have caught me wearing a tie-dye t-shirt.

Being in the studio puts me in a different headspace in terms of listening. If you’re a music nerd and you read interviews with producers and engineers, they frequently talk about having “reference records” during the recording process. For instance, Trent Reznor said that while recording 2005’s With Teeth he would use Brainiac’s Electro-Shock for President as a “sound reference.”

“Brainiac was a band that, on this particular record, the sound would be something we’d reference, because it sounded very low-tech, electronic garagey sounding. It has an interesting low-tech sound to it that was inspiring. Even thinking about that visually would lead us into certain paths of production ideas.”

Failure – did a band ever live up to their name like these guys? Were the Outlaws really outlaws? Were the Eagles really eagles? Failure had it all – good songs, great production, mid-major label support, critical and peer approval – but 1997 was more or less the last anyone heard from Failure – until now.

If you’re interested in their story, click here. or watch the following clip, in which Ken Andrews and Greg Edwards discuss Failure’s demise and recent revitalization. I’m kind of curious to see these cats live. I think it might be good.

“Saturday Savior” gets the nod over “Stuck on You” for several reasons. It opens the album, hence the first song I heard when Dale popped the CD in the player, and thus, remains my strongest impression. “Hmm,” I thought, “it sounds familiar, but sounds amazing!” Of course, the average music nerd could probably name about 10 bands that Failure “sounds” like – I could – but this is just…better.

The second reason is that it was more appealling to me than “Stuck”. The song has one progression with a tonic and a sixth. I hear it and I love it.

The third reason is:

Lionel Ritchie – Stuck on You

Doesn’t that make you smile? How about this:

Wesley Willis Fiasco – Jesus is the Answer

Even though I missed posting on Wesley’s birthday this year (May 31), “Rock Over London, Rock On Wesley Willis” tells the story of how we met and became friends – which led to meeting Dale Meiners, who played guitar in Wesley Willis Fiasco, one of my all-time favorite bands. See how I did that? Slick, huh?

The first time seeing the Fiasco (1995) was the most compelling live rock performance I had seen since Jane’s Addiction at the Aragon Ballroom (1990). And as I wrote in that original article, the Fiasco blurred the lines between spectacle and art, resulting in a jarring musical experience. When you’re standing there thinking, “Are these guys for real?” You realize that this doesn’t happen every day, but it’s happening right now.

Again, the above link contains just about everything I need to say about Wes, but here is a rare clip of WWF live in Hollywood.

Wesley Willis Fiasco – Intro/The Frogs/Casper the Homosexual Friendly Ghost

Arthur Fielder and His Boston Pops – Bond Street

When I was a youngster, Arthur Fiedler And The Boston Pops, What The World Needs Now: The Burt Bacharach-Hal David Songbook (1972) got a lot of airplay. For the most part, whenever my mom put it on, I’d think, “Christ, this again?” It’s an instrumental record but even a four-year-old can’t help but earworm that insidious trumpet bit about the clown and his pathetic shoes too big for his bed. Cryin’s not for me, no… Next thing you know, Dionne Warwick is standing in your living room, and she smells like lavender and cocoa butter.

But there was one song – “Bond Street” – which really pricked my ears. I was like, “That drummer is doing something cool!” and I didn’t know it was an entire percussion section.

The Frogs and Eddie Vedder – Jeremy/The Longing Goes Away

Ah, speaking of the Frogs and since we’re on this whole post-grunge kick anyway, it wouldn’t be right to leave Eddie Vedder out of the mix. I’ve watched this video maybe half a dozen times and I keep thinking that they couldn’t have picked a worse camera angle to film this shit, unless of course it was just some dude with an iPhone – wait, this was 1994, nobody had iPhones or even cell phones.

For a spell in the mid-90s, The Frogs were the underground band du jour for successful alternative musicians like Vedder and Billy Corgan. [I’m so tempted to post super embarrassing clips of Corgan on stage with these cats. Google it yourself. Corgan – is there anything he can do?] Anyway, the original recording of “The Longing Goes Away” is one of the most beautiful songs I’ve ever heard in my life, too, Ed.

It was also during the same period of time – the mid-90s – that I was writing for a series of Chicago magazines, most notably Tail Spins, Subnation, and Velocity. As a result, I got a lot of demos and press kits shifted my way.

For a year or two, I wrote a recurring, pseudonymous column in Tail Spins called “Felix Navarro’s Bitter Corner”, which was basically a free-form editorial platform for the most unhinged or diluted fake music critic/impressario in existence. The pseudonym was created from inter-breeding the characters Felix Unger (actor Tony Randall) of The Odd Couple, and Dave Navarro, guitarist for Jane’s Addiction, et al.

The writing wasn’t always AP style, or good, but it was conversational and real, and more importantly, the vitriol was present and accounted for. And surprisingly, appreciated by the readership. Felix was one of the more popular features of the ‘zine while it lasted.

juke-2-manugentindexSomewhere along the way, I developed a concept for the Felix Navarro column called Demo Dare, in which I literally dared bands – 95% of which were inherently obscure local bands who didn’t have a label and couldn’t get any press in the Illinois Entertainer if they held Ma Nugent at gunpoint – to send me their demo tapes, in exchange for a guaranteed review. That was a big deal for nobody bands – getting press. It didn’t matter if it was good or bad press, you just needed someone to talk about your stupid, shitty band.

The complete story of Demo Dare is most definitely a tale for another time – I got death threats and shit – but one thing happened right after I’d published my first story about Wesley Willis (credited under my real name, Christian Adams):

I received a Demo Dare package from a woman in Franklin Park, Illinois, named Jan Terri. She sent a homemade VHS tape, a self-released cassette demo, and a press kit complete with glossy headshot that I wish I would have framed and saved for antiquity, but I didn’t. Now these people are telling me that Jan Terri is a “viral video legend.”

Jan Terri – Journey to Mars

At the time, I was initially reluctant to write about Wesley because of his schizophrenia. I didn’t want to write about him because he had issues, I wanted to write about how those issues influenced his art. Plus, he had a support system of righteous people who weren’t trying to exploit him.

With Jan Terri, I didn’t want to write about her because she obviously had issues and it didn’t seem like anyone was trying to keep her in check. Or at least whoever was in her corner was like, “Fuck, yeah! This broad is insane!” And that was unsavory to me. There was absolutely no Art – with a capital A – to what she did.

juke-2-J.T.h_shotThen I learned the truth. Jan Terri was a limo driver who fancied herself a musician, entertainer, performer – and more or less continues to make it happen, depending upon how you define “making it happen.”

The VHS tape contained several music videos, most notably, “Journey to Mars”, and the press release said something about breakout hit single. Some shit like that. It was so cringingly bad that everybody I showed it to was like, “Nuh-uh, that shit is whack.” And so, Jan Terri may have had a mention in Demo Dare, but I don’t remember. I dropped the subject. Not interested.

This was absolutely pleasant news to me: Jan Terri appeared on The Daily Show in 2000, and was hired to play parties for Marilyn Manson. She’s considered an outsider musician.

Oddly enough, I’m pretty sure I still own that original VHS tape she sent me in 1995; I was haunted by the headshot for years.

Twenty years later, I’m online looking for the original “Journey to Mars” video, and I know it’s out there, when I stumble across the newest, latest, worst Jan Terri video I’ve seen to date. Actually, I’m a couple of years too late on this crap. “Losing You” is – according to Dangerous Minds a “regularly-voted worst video,” but “Skyrockets” is way, way worse.

Jan Terri – Skyrockets

Stay tuned for Jukebox Antagonist – Episode 3

 

Only in Taiwan, Episode 4: Fruit Beer?

28 Jul
If there’s ever been a bit of unsolicited advice that I would wholeheartedly share with my child, it’s that nobody likes a whiner. People who complain all the time are a drag, and they’re generally more than willing to bring you down with them.

That said, my life in Taipei is somewhat stagnant. All work and very little play. But I don’t like to complain about it. I’m a problem solver, right? Therefore, I’m always on the lookout for creative projects to keep me busy during idle times, which is part of why I wrote The Lazy Bastard Guide to Mandarin, and recorded another Aztec Hearts album, and maintain Black Sunshine Media. It’s something to do.

My drink of choice - 2010 Don Vinico Carinena Tempranillo, NT$229 (approx. US$7.65). It's a palatable yet cheap guzzle.

My drink of choice – 2010 Don Vinico Carinena Tempranillo, NT$229 (approx. US$7.65). It’s a palatable yet cheap guzzle.

You know what else I do in my free time in Taipei? Drink. A lot. Pretty much every night, unless it’s physically improbable. Mostly red wine, but I will drink beer when I’m hanging out with friends. Hard alcohol (liquor) is almost never part of the conversation, but I’ve been known to order a cocktail – usually a vodka Martini – in the airport smoking lounge. I don’t have a grudge against cocktails with distilled spirits; they’re just too rough on my liver, which has taken a beating and deserves the benefit of the doubt. Don’t even ask me if I want a “shot” of anything. The answer is no.

Beer may be the oldest alcoholic beverage known to man, and the third most-consumed beverage in the world, behind water and tea. A fermented beverage using rice and fruit was made in China around 7,000 BC, and the product that early Europeans guzzled might not be recognized as “beer” today. Alongside the basic starch source – the sugar required for fermentation – the early European beers would contain fruits, honey, a variety of plants, spices and other substances such as psychotropic herbs.

By the 16th century, beer was so important that the Duke of Bavaria, William the IV, introduced a purity law called Reinheitsgebot, which was the only really notable thing Bill did in his life, but everybody took the law very seriously. According to Reinheitsgebot, the only permitted ingredients of beer are water, hops and barley malt. It remained the oldest food-quality regulation in use up until 1986, when it was abolished by the European Union as a ‘binding obligation.’ Germany passed some new law in 1993, and that’s all I know or care about that.

Fruit beer TaiwanTaiwan loves its beer, loves the fuck out of its beer, specifically, its own beer: Taiwan Beer, brewed by the Taiwan Tobacco and Liquor Corporation. They drink the stuff by the tanker. It’s pumped in through the hydrants – they use it to put out fires.

Taiwan Beer is unquestionably the island’s most iconic brand and prominent cultural institution. Brewed as an amber lager in a Pilsner style, its distinct taste is produced by the inclusion of ponlai rice (locally harvested “Formosa rice” 蓬萊米). The ponlai is added to the malt during the fermentation process in order to save money on more expensive ingredients such as hops and barley – you know, the stuff beer is supposed to be made from – which are not widely grown in Taiwan, as well as to impart a purported “smoothness.”

Though it’s somewhat of a contentious issue on the street, I’m going to be honest with you people. I can’t stand Taiwan Beer. It makes me unhappy. And I drank Taiwan Beer for my first year in Taipei mainly because I was running on adrenaline and not paying attention. I reckoned, “I’m in Taiwan, I should drink Taiwan Beer.”

A lot of rookies make the same mistake. My good fortune was to catch it and cut it out.

Taiwan Beer’s “distinct taste” is codespeak for raw, unpleasantly earth-like flavor, which gets progressively more rancid as the beer gets warmer in your paw. Some of the most difficult swallows of my drinking career were the last gulps of a Taiwan Beer tallboy. It’s like drinking run-off from a landfill. You kind of hate yourself after those.

Nowadays, when I’m in a situation that calls for drinking beer – usually hanging out at a 7-Eleven – I strongly prefer two Japanese beers, Asahi and Kirin, over anything else in the cooler. I can’t say that I would never drink Taiwan Beer again. There are plenty of extenuating circumstances in which I could imagine drinking a few Gold Medals. I can say with nearly absolute veracity that given other options, I would chose not to drink Taiwan Beer.

Taiwan Beer has one smaller local competitor, Taiwan Long Chuan Beer, owned by the Taiwan Tsing Beer Corporation and brewed in Kaohsiung City. In 2012, Long Chuan launched a line of fruit beers, which were supposedly very popular in the summer. Taiwan Beer quickly entered the market; they now have five different fruit beers in stores. Long Chuan has four – that I’m aware of. They might have 50 for all I know. I see four in the cooler at 7-Eleven.

Fruit beer SamsBack when I was a bachelor, I used to hang out at this local bar called Sam’s Club. One night a pair of women came in and ordered some strange bottle of beer, and then proceeded to share it, all the while cooing over the drink and taking a bunch of selfies with the bottle. I said to the bartender, my friend Simon, “What the hell are they so excited about?”

“That’s the new lychee beer. It just come out.”

“Lychee beer. Are you serious.” No question mark necessary.

“Sure. You want to try?”

“No thanks, man.”

“It’s good – haohe!” Good to drink.

All right, so I’m not a big fan of lychee, either. Smells like perfume to me.

So for the last two years, I’ve been seeing this gradual expansion of fruit beers in the coolers at 7-Eleven and my local supermarket of choice. Every time I walk by, I think, “Who the hell is drinking that crap?”

Here’s something you probably didn’t know about me. In 2004, I took and passed the Introductory Course for the Court of Master Sommeliers. The certificate essentially means that I had a fundamental yet significantly developed knowledge of wine – how it’s made, where it’s made, who makes it, what it tastes like and most importantly, why. [The passing rate for the course is 60%, by the way – so it’s not terribly difficult, but it’s not a walk in the park, either.] It would be hubris to call myself a sommelier – I am not. But if I had stayed in the restaurant business, I may have moved on to the next level. It’s impossible to say.

The other day, my friend Beldone and I were yapping back and forth about some random people promoting their fancy beer-tasting event at a local restaurant. We were basically making fun of them, because that’s what we do when we’re not making fun of each other. But man, even beer can be pretentious, especially in Taipei. I [wrote], “Yeah, I taste beer every time I drink it.” Real clever, sport.

Anyway, this afternoon I went to the supermarket and I saw a woman perusing the fruit beer section – and it is a section, no doubt – and so I stopped to see what, if anything she would buy. I was super curious, man. I’d never seen anyone buy or drink a fruit beer, other than that one time at Sam’s. The woman picked up and eyeballed a couple of items, but ultimately walked away without making a selection.

Then it hit me. Let’s do a fruit beer tasting! And so I grabbed a basket and loaded up on 11 cans of liquid, which set me back approximately ten bucks.

After putting the fruit beer in the fridge for a couple of hours to get it down to a drinkable temperature, I reluctantly selected the first candidate – grape – because I really dig grape soda, which Beldone tells me is the number one drink of choice among inmates on death row. Now, I don’t know where he got that information but it seems highly plausible; grape soda does kind of seem like the beverage of the doomed. Let’s see how much further down the line of damnation we can go.

Fruit Beer Tasting Notes

* The majority of these beverages are 2.5% alcohol unless otherwise noted.
Fruit beer grapeTaiwan Beer – Grape
  • Light-bodied, clear and pale, orange-pink color; effervescent but short foam.
  • Strong Welch’s grape juice nose with watermelon overtones. Hints of a Jolly Rancher dissolved in bleach.
  • Pungent mouth feel on impact – a reflection of the underlying rice brewed swill – which lingers unpleasantly, almost bitterly on the dentals; grape jelly infused with chutney shoots toward the back of the palate and mercifully, immediately disappears, leaving only a fleeting wisp of grapesque flavor. Nail polish as an aperitif.
Fruit beer mangoTaiwan Beer – Mango
  • Bright complexion, slight effervesce, rusty-gold color – could be mistaken for regular beer, if you didn’t see the mangoes clearly pictured on the side of the can.
  • Prominent mango nose. Floral and sugary aroma. Hints of lychee nut and honeydew.
  • Surprisingly mild and tangy flavor. The passion fruit overpowers the rice beer funk. Not nearly as horrible as I thought it would be. Took a voluntary second mouthful. Much longer finish than the grape. Slightly tacky residue on the palate.
Taiwan Beer – Pineapple
  • Redundant visuals on complexion and depth – looks like beer, nothing special.
  • Beguiling, frustratingly vague nose. Smells of something that maybe stepped in some pineapple a couple of blocks away.
  • Grimacingly immediate garbage mouth presence. Wisps of pineapple and salt water taffy. Not the worst thing I’ve ever had in my mouth, but certainly the most unpleasant of the day – so far.
Fruit beer green apple 123Taiwan Beer – Sweet Touch Green Grape
  • Soft, rusty color, medium bodied, clear complexion. Flat as a pancake.
  • Sour, unidentifiable nose. Would not have guessed “grape” if it wasn’t on the side of the can.
  • Foul raisin, prune, and pickle mouth presence. Tacky finish. Flouride aftertaste. 3.5% alcohol.
Taiwan Beer – Sweet Touch Green Apple
  • Brilliant, medium bodied, pale color. Slight clouding near the top. Decent amount of bubbling.
  • Hardcore candy apple nose. Sickly sweet aroma. No mistaking what this is.
  • The sweetest of all flavors so far. Like insulin mixed with antifreeze. Had to spit it out. Super gross.
Fruit beer lemonTaiwan Long Chuan Beer – Lemon
  • Flat, clear, yellowish-gold, diuretic urine color. Nothing on bubbles – went flat within seconds.
  • Medium scent of 7-Up or Sprite that’s been left open for a couple of days. Slight hints of lemon drops.
  • Clean, fresh mouth feel with a slight tartness of lime and lemon, without a beery aftertaste. Not unlike a Shandy. Unfortunate brackish, fish tank water finish. Off-brand lemon-lime soda with suggestions of some kind of nut, like walnuts or something. No fruit presence or persistence of memory.
Taiwan Long Chuan Beer – Banana
  • Redundant color, depth and complexion. Good initial head, but faded quickly. A few stray champagne bubbles persist.
  • Potent banana aroma popping straight from the can. Reminded me of my mother’s banana pudding, but sadly, not Baker’s Square banana cream pie.
  • A touch too sweet and overboard on the banana flavor. Not unpleasant, but almost chewy.
Fruit beer hello kittyTaiwan Long Chuan Beer – Hello Kitty Apple
  • Medium bodied, clear color. Another dud on the fizz.
  • Intriguingly complex aromas of hard cider, green apple, Washington apple, and almond.
  • Pulpy, cotton apple mouth feel. Long finish. Slightly astringent, low-grade cider aftertaste. Slightly disappointed by the complete lack of Hello Kitty flavor.
Taiwan Long Chuan Beer – Peach
  • Bright, clear, pale yellow. Persistent bubbling. Zero depth, but strong, long-lasting head.
  • Subtle nose with hints of peach pit and mild petroleum jelly.
  • Bold fruit mouth feel. Strong peachy peachesque presence. Overtones of apricot, watermelon, and honey. Subtle urging to punch someone in the spleen. Smooth finish. Slightly chemical aftertaste.
Fruit beer kirinKirin – Lime Drink
  • Wasn’t sure if this was a beer or what, but it was on the same shelf as the fruit beers and there’s a lime on the can, so let’s do it. [I'm pretty certain this is Happoshu (発泡酒 happōshu lit. "bubbling spirits"), or low-malt beer. The Japanese are as particular about their beer requirements as the Germans. Let's skip the rest.]
  • Call it a 3% alcohol version of a vodka tonic, cuz that’s exactly what this tastes like. Maybe even the most-watered down gimlet you’ve ever had. It’s not bad, it’s just not the cocktail I would want to drink more than once, on a lark – unless they jerk up the alcohol content to something reasonable, like 15-20%. Very strong tonic water and lime presence.
Kirin – Grapefruit Drink
  • Have you ever been drunk enough to accidentally put your cigarette out in your cocktail, but still have enough on the ball to catch yourself right as the butt hits the drink, so it’s only submerged for a second, but extinguished nonetheless? And you’re like, screw it, the drink is fine, but it has that little bit of nicotine-tar cigarette flavor until the very last drop? That’s what this crap tastes like to me.

And there you have it, kids. Another episode of Only in Taiwan comes to an end. I’m going to open a bottle of Tempranillo and get rid of all these stupid fruit beer cans.

Jukebox Antagonist – Episode 1

23 Jul
Eno's first two solo albums are my preferred dosage, but lemon flavor you say? Hook me up?

Eno’s first two solo albums are my preferred dosage, but lemon flavor you say? Hook me up!

Facebook has been an unlikely source of musical inspiration that I’ve confused and stonewalled for a long time.

There is a wanting to “be involved” on social media that transcends a thumbs-up or a re-tweet. By posting status updates are we not inviting others into a conversation? The danger, which all of us are susceptible on various levels of engagement, is trying to change the conversation by one-upping the guy who posted the original video. “Oh yeah? What about this one?” Or worse, “Boo! Dave Matthews blows!” And that’s bad for business anyway you look at it. Fortunately, almost everybody behaves like an adult and just keeps scrolling.

Something I’ve learned the hard way – which also applies to my own status updates – unless I have something very personal or relevant to contribute to the conversation, I try to keep my mouth shut. The end. Now hit me with your Candy Crush invitations!

This had been going on for a few years before I could articulate the paradox – if it is a true paradox. It feels like one to me. Since a lot of my friends have the Facebook-YouTube routine covered, and do a good job of keeping me entertained, rather than compete or dispute – as in, tit-for-tat, wouldn’t my time be better spent thinking about something else?

The answer was yes – and no. Yes, I have better things to do, and no, because thinking about stuff is what drives everybody insane in the first place. At least if I’m thinking about music, I’m not thinking about all the bad shit in the world, like planes getting blasted out of the sky. For sure, I’m a relatively frequently flyer and that stuff scares me. I don’t want to think about it.

The last couple of months produced a collection of YouTube links that I would have ordinarily shared on Facebook, but more importantly, took some time and put some effort into explaining why – this is an extended status update.

Why is this important?

Despite unlimited access to the world’s record collection, I listen to less music now than at any point in my life.

juke-1-Bitches_brewThough I’m mostly interested in rock music, variety is crucial to a colorful existence. Should I be ashamed to admit this or not, the other night I sat down and listened to all four sides of Miles Davis’ Bitches Brew, start-to-finish, for the first time in my life.

Bitches Brew isn’t just a seminal jazz record by one of the all-time greats, and the progenitor of what became jazz rock. At the time it was released (1970), it was a revolution; a pivotal moment in modern jazz; someone called Davis “the Picasso of Jazz”. I respect that and listen to his music more out of obligation than pleasure. You can’t really know anything about music without an intermediate background in Miles Davis.

Over several decades, I’d become familiar half of the record; “Spanish Key” and “John McLaughlin”; got groovy to the crazy-funky “Miles Runs the Voodoo Down” at least a dozen times. Miles Davis is not easy listening, you do know. Generally speaking, this isn’t zippity-zop-zop jazz. It’s serious as a heart attack.

As a non-visual experience – the album runs 94 minutes, about the same as the average Hollywood film – it’s nice enough if you put it on and do a bunch of housework; you’re not going to miss anything during the first 20 minutes of Side A (“Pharoah’s Dance”) – but I’m just not interested. To be sure, it’s an astounding work of art. “Miles Runs the Voodoo Down” is hot lava – transcendent music. But my overwhelming impression of the double-album experience was, “Damn, that was almost a total waste of time.”

At times, I don’t want to hear any music – ambient and/or otherwise – at all. To be frank, the one thing I want to hear more than anything else is the one thing that’s the hardest to come by: complete silence.

The majority of my musical life is hunting down music that I missed (or didn’t get enough of) along the way. Forty-six years is a lot of ground to cover. More importantly, with a two and a half year-old son, I’ve got Thomas and Friends on a recursive loop in the background of my thoughts, spinning like a ceiling fan. You try humming “Anarchy in the U.K.” over that nonsense.

Believe it or not, for years I’ve made a concerted effort to seek out new music, albeit on the internet – it’s been a few years since I’ve seen a “real” rock show. But name a currently trending indie or otherwise rock band. Go ahead, don’t be shy.

____________________. I’ve heard at least three minutes of their music – and I was not impressed.

Margot and the Nuclear So and So's

Margot and the Nuclear So and So’s

There have been a few exceptions. My brother Ronnie Kwasman plays in Margot and the Nuclear So and So’s – they’re good, I like them a whole bunch, and not just because Ronnie is in the band. There’s a crazy metal band I’ve written about before, Red Fang, who give me a few toe-tapping moments. Likewise, I’m sure there are millions of people are still making killer music, the current crop of chart-topping, “alternative” rock bands notwithstanding. For whatever reason, either I don’t need it or I don’t care one way or the other. I’m happy for everybody who is doing their own thing. No beef. End of.

This applies to the music I’ve made, too. My best years are at least eight to ten years behind me. I’m not listening to my own records at home, that’s for sure.

Regardless, a huge part of this weird “aversion” to music comes from the fact that I hardly have to make an effort to hear music in general. Something pops into my head, “Bam! Google, YouTube.” Just in case you’ve wondered how it’s possible (or legal) for people to upload copyrighted material to YouTube, watch this two-minute video – it’s very enlightening.

Furthermore, I’m spending exceedingly less on music with each passing day. And forget about downloading free MP3 shit. What’s the point anymore? I’ve bought no more than 20 records on iTunes in my life, and thus, the majority of my library is from a CD collection that nearly gave up on itself in 2010.

It’s something you wouldn’t wish on your enemy, but I recently gave away the remains of my vinyl collection – the sweet stuff – that survived an even earlier purge. The records went to a very good home but they are no longer mine. Twenty years of music, gone forever. Nearly every single one of those records told a story. Maybe it told a tale in relation to the music, like, “I was listening to this when I heard about John Lennon getting shot.” Maybe it was something about how I acquired the record. Each one had its own descriptive pedigree.

And this is why I believe the internet has killed music. In nearly every case, I had to go out and get those records. In some cases, I spent a long time looking for them, and paid a dear price, too. In fact, just going to the record store was a big part of the experience. Nowadays I have to look hard for a record store, but every band has a groovy website, and it’s a thousand times easier to buy the record on iTunes. Ninety-nine cents is the current value of a song. It simply makes me shrug.

juke-1Rush-All-The-Worlds-A-422461The recent revival of vinyl is trendy but unsustainable, and this opinion has nothing to do with the wistful nostalgia of the days when we’d roll a joint using the gatefold of All the World’s a Stage as a de-stemming tray. The future is virtual or viral or in the clouds; and the future travels light – no matter what anybody says. Eventually, every vinyl collection will be sacrificed to the gods, but will live theoretically, forever. The music will carry on.

***

My goal is turn you on to some stuff you might not be aware of, or remind you of something that maybe you had forgotten about. This is the only way I know to use the internet as a positive force for rock music. Maybe you’ll dust off some of your old records and get them into the computer. Maybe you’ll go out and buy a few records. Maybe.

This got me thinking about what I actually listen to on a regular basis, aside from what’s playing on the sound system at my supermarket of choice. For instance, it’s a slow day in the office – a radio station day, so to speak – which doesn’t happen nearly as often as it used to. There are a few ways this can play out, but generally speaking, let’s say I’m in the mood for Rod Stewart – the early stuff, relax.

There are three maybe four Rod Stewart records from 1969-72, not including his work with the Faces, that I can sit through – and by sit through I mean not be compelled to skip a track or three or all of the B-side. If I never hear his version of “Twistin’ the Night Away” for the rest of my life, I think I’ll be OK.

juke-1-rodstewart-neveradullmoment-lpHowever, I’ve heard Every Picture Tells a Story far too many times. Likewise, I know every record in Stewart’s catalog, so I know where not to look for simpatico jams. And I don’t see this trend reversing itself in the foreseeable future. It occurred to me – again – thanks to the internet, I don’t have to get up and move the needle or change the disc. I don’t have to put the record back in its sleeve and slide it back into the rack. Click. What do I want to hear next?

The fact is I seldom listen to albums anymore. Does anyone? Simply put, I listen to isolated songs from the artist’s catalogue. This is the way of the world, cherry-picking from here on out. Stick with the Rod Stewart example. Out of all his early material, there were a couple of jams that never got their due – those are the cuts I want to hear, not “Maggie May” or “You Wear It Well”. For example, here’s “Los Paraguayos” from Never a Dull Moment (1972) – but I could have just as easily chosen “True Blue” or “Italian Girls”.

Rod Stewart – Los Paraguayos

Not even halfway through this jam, I’m already thinking about what I want to hear next. How about Queen? That’s a fairly logical transition.

Meanwhile, if you pay attention to the lyrics, you might be in for a little bit of a surprise. Here’s my favorite bit:

Honey don't even ask me if you can come along
 Down at the border you need to be older
 and you sure don't look like my daughter
 Your ridiculous age, start a state outrage
 and I'll end up in a Mexican jail
Queen – Long Away

Again, veering away from the mundane, here we have a beautiful little power pop number written and sung by Brian May, from A Day at the Races (1976), which in itself is a sneaky record. Critical reception remains mixed; the Allmusic Guide gives it 3-and-a-half stars, while Rolling Stone gives it two out of five. The big hits from the LP were “Somebody to Love” and “Tie Your Mother Down”, both fantastic numbers, but neither of which I need to hear again in this lifetime

With few exceptions, most of the following tracks may be familiar in the sense that you probably own the record it’s on, but most of these jams have not received a significant amount of radio airplay to be considered a “big hit.” In some instances, the artist is obscure enough to have escaped the Billboard Hot 100 on several occasions. These are some of my personal Deep Cuts – these are or would be on my iPod as opposed to some of the artists’ more popular works.

 

PJ Harvey – 50ft Queenie

From her second album Rid of Me (1992). Produced by Steve Albini. Not much else to say. Wow. Very attitude. Such rock. Though I wasn’t a big fan when Harvey was the Next Big Thing, she snuck up on me simply by coincidence. It’s tempting to compare every female rock singer with Chrissie Hynde – this is the Pretenders with jagged edges.

There was a year in the early Oughts that I used to hang out at a bar in West Portal called the Philosopher’s Club, which was next door to a super-cool, old school chophouse called Bullshead Restaurant. The bar attracted a very uneasy mix of college kids from SFSU and grizzled old winos who staggered out from their elderly mother’s basements around noon, and killed the afternoon at Portal’s Tavern before rolling down to the Club.

juke-1-Rid_of_MeAnyway, Rid of Me was on the bar’s jukebox; somebody played this jam, and I thought, “That’s pretty good.” It became one of my go-to jams whenever I felt like stuffing a few bucks in the jukebox, which turned out to be something of a contentious endeavor.

There was this one cat named Richie who tried to dominate the soundtrack. He’d beef with people if they jammed up “his” playlist, so most folks didn’t bother with the jukebox. And for whatever reason, the bartenders put up with this guy – I guess he was a long-time regular.

Of course, I didn’t know all this in the beginning, so I’d post up, get a beer and make a beeline for the jukebox. One night, I happened to be seated next to Richie and his old lady; Richie had his back to me but his lady was eyeballing. She said something about the music – I had played Ray Charles or something – and Richie said something to the bartender about “bumping the box”, which as far as I knew, some jukeboxes had remote controls.

The selection on this particular jukebox was about as eclectic as I’d ever seen; it had everything from Bobby Darin to the Melvins. And it was the first jukebox that I ever saw where you could download additional songs from the internet. So if what you were looking for wasn’t on the box, it could grab the track from Napster or whatever.

juke-1-backstabbersFor the next hour or so, not one of the songs I had selected were played. It was all Richie’s nonsense. I mean, some of it was tolerable, but seriously, he played the same stuff every time. One of his signature jams was “Back Stabbers” by the O’Jays – and he’d play it three times a night. Now I liked the jam – the first 50 times I heard it – but at some point, enough is enough.

So I said something to the bartender and he feigned ignorance about the jukebox. This led to me and Richie having a discussion, which turned into an argument, and he basically invited me out on the sidewalk for a beating, which I politely declined – mainly because Richie couldn’t walk; he had been in an accident and his legs were almost useless; he got around on crutches. So I started coming in a little earlier than usual to avoid the guy.

Alice Cooper – Halo of Flies

Sounds like it could be the Pixies – if the Pixies wrote eight-minute progressive rock suites about a quasi-fictional counter-intelligence agency. Unfortunately, whenever I think of the Pixies, I think of Nirvana. [Does this really need to be explained?] From there I was thinking, “What’s the best Nirvana song I’ve ever heard?” Here’s a clue: it’s NOT by Nirvana.

***

That’s all for today’s episode of Jukebox Antagonist.
NEXT EPISODE: Failure, Wesley Willis Fiasco, Arthur Fiedler, Deerhoof, Roy Thomas Baker and much more!

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 was 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.

 

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