December 2003 Archives
It appears that the address to the left (in the "WRITE TO ME" link) has been, um, eating everything sent to it for about a month. Should be fixed now, but if by chance you've tried to reach me there & I haven't written back, try me again... sorry--!
Between poring over the Goodbye, Babylon liner notes ("Aaron Graves may have been the greatest tambourine player on record"), reading Dave Sim's exegesis of his own Latter Days (much more revealing and convincing than his Torah commentary, I have to say), and continuing to inch my way through Rising Up and Rising Down, plus attempting to formulate a Unified Theory of the Cure (the Robert Smith one) for a piece I'm writing, I've got a lot to wrap my brain around inside our cozy apartment. (I've got a desk in the work-room, near the radiator, at which I have yet to write a word, largely because I don't yet have a chair for it. Instead, I type while slouching on the sofa. This is the future they told us we'd have.) Which is good. You know how it rains in Portland? A lot? Well, yeah, that's what it does.
No, really, read it.
Happy discovery of the day #1: "Dough for the Do-Do," a Porky Pig cartoon from 1949 (apparently a color remake of a b/w cartoon from 1938) that's heavily influenced by Dalí and Magritte. Yes. Also deeply wacky.
Happy discovery of the day #2: the Multnomah County Public Library allows you to request any book or CD in their system from their Web interface, and will have it sent to the branch nearest you when it becomes available. Hello, Hank Williams box.
Lisa requested "green things" for dinner, so I made salad, black Tuscan kale with raisins, and brussels sprouts Cockaigne. Everything locally grown (except for the raisins) & acquired at the co-op grocery down the street, where I ran into Jamie Isenstein from Columbia, who was just in town for a day (and not even staying in that part of town). The "Cockaigne," incidentally, is not a cooking technique ("braised in butter and olive oil"), it just means "a personal favorite of the Rombauer/Becker clan."
Professional responsibility tells me I should be trying to listen to a whole lot of things from this year I haven't heard yet before I start doing any kind of annual wrap-up (and in fact I'm going out tomorrow to buy a couple of things as a Chanukah present to myself). Professional responsibility, nonetheless, is getting overridden by the kick-ass mix I got from Gaz in Australia: Laura Lee's "I Need It Just As Bad As You" and Kwest tha Madd Ladd's "101 Things to Do While I'm With Your Girl" are two great ones I didn't know (are infidelity songs automatically good? is there a counterexample?), Son of Bazerk's "Change the Style" and Vivienne Goldman's "Launderette" are two I was especially pleased to hear again. And speaking of the latter, this hits my sweet spot hard.
Thing I'm considering putting on lacunae: a curated MP3 section--links to songs I like that I've found elsewhere on the Web. Anyone interested?
One wok and one vintage purple couch (which is already Edie's favorite scratch-toy) later, I'm back in business--the place is starting to feel a little homier. Baked a squash, stir-fried some veggies from the place down the block with Prof. Andy Smith's Secret Ingredient, boom I've got dominion over the stove.
Also bought two very strong reminders that the year is not over until it is ovah, best-wise. Number one: the Rapture's You Are Here, apparently a bootleg of the mix they did for BBC Radio, which kicks their own album up and down the block (and I sort of like their own album). Does Max Pask's "Stupido" really sound like that? Why doesn't all music sound like the B-52s' "Mesopotamia"? How have I managed to not hear Frankie Smith's "Double Dutch Bus" until now? Will Special Ed get into heaven on the strength of "I Got It Made" alone? (Answer to that last one: yes. At a Prince Paul show I went to a few years ago, he pointed the mic at the audience for all 17 rhymes with "made" near the end of it, and they remembered every one ("and when my dishes got dirty I got--" "CASCADE!").
Number two: Goodbye, Babylon, which, uh, WOW. I'd say something stronger than WOW, but it would not be in keeping with the spirit of the thing: an alchemically potent collection of Southern gospel from 1902 to 1960 (but mostly ca. 1929-1935), organized for theme and flow rather than for history or category. Aims very high; does not miss. At all.
I've finally got steady Net access, which means that updates will probably be a lot more frequent in the future. In the meantime, though, just as I'm getting used to Portland, I've rediscovered copies of a bunch of letters I sent back in the early '90s, which I may excerpt occasionally for everyone to snicker at quietly. They are... very early-'90s (note, for example, the nonexistence of the Web). This one's from February, 1992, when I had been in New York City just about exactly as long as I have now been in Portland (curiously, I just got my library card here today!):
This week was the first temp job I've had where I didn't get to sit around and read for money. It was at some conglomerate faceless enough that I don't even remember its name, and I worked there two days ago. I'm not sure what its business is, either - the only clue I got was a report I typed on a survey of small bookstores (it had a lot of graphs with prolix names), which concluded that some of them make money and others don't, and there's really no way to predict which will and which won't. The atmosphere, though, was pretty tense. Overheard dialogue at 10 AM: "JUST START FAXING! NOW!! THE FAX HAS TO BE THERE IN FOUR MINUTES OR WE LOSE THE ACCOUNT! I DON'T CARE IF YOU HAVE TO STICK THE GODDAMN FLOPPY DISK IN THE FAX MACHINE! JUST START FAXING! START FAXING!!" Fax machines, I know from having used one for about an hour and a half Thursday, are the slowest essential component of office technology. It takes about thirty seconds to fax a page -- thirty seconds in which an entire corporate revolution can take place. I've noticed that people do all sorts of things within their desk areas to reduce stress, or rather to provide suggestions of reduced stress. Elizabeth pointed out to me that many office-workers, especially women, have bottles of hand-lotion at their desks, just to give them something soft and smooth to touch in order to relax. The desk I was at on Friday had a big computer-printed page that said something like "BY THE WATERS OF THE RIVERSIDE I WILL LAY MY BODY DOWN/AND LET SWEET MUSIC SOOTHE MY ACHING BONES."
Culinary pleasures of New York: the honey-roasted peanuts and cashews you can get on street-corners; the ridiculously cheap Indian food at a couple of the places on 6th Street between 1st and 2nd Aves.; the combination Chinese restaurant/video store a couple of blocks away (free video with $20 delivery); clementines at the little corner grocery here in Hunters Point... Culinary disappointment: the suggestion by Gerry and Nancy that I might do well to invest in some bottled water, given the fact that the tap water here is occasionally opaque. Also, it took me a while to figure out that the bathroom taps are not in their usual positions. Few things are grosser than warm Gatorade. (I live on Gatorade--I can drink gallons of the stuff--so I brought from Michigan a canister of enough Gatorade mix to make a few boatloads.)
I applied for my Queens library card yesterday, and checked out Hunter S. Thompson's Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas and Gabriel Garcia Marquez's Story of a Shipwrecked Sailor. The librarian at the local branch likes to intimidate patrons who try to pull one over on her (pulling out gigantic pairs of scissors and snipping their library cards in half, that sort of thing). I like her.
Thursday night Azalia and I went to a birthday party for her friend Althea down in Alphabet City, on the Lower East Side. Althea is an artist who has a book coming out in a couple of weeks, done in collaboration with a poet friend of hers, also in attendance at the party. Althea herself is about the thinnest healthy person I've ever seen, with all-black clothing (I was wearing tan pants, which were the only item of non-black clothing at the party) and straggly short bleached-white hair. One wall of her apartment is covered by a poster with the words "ANAL SEX" in bold white capitals against a black background. Boy, do I ever feel like a bohemian now.
Back in Portland, Edie in tow (she was very well-behaved). I will simply note that drinking Red Bull makes me a Very Bad Man. A third of a can and, well, with the exception of a half-hour nap on the airplane I've been up for the last 36 hours. I giggle at things, and obsess over wordplay. Last night, as I was walking to the subway with my barely-sipped can, a little splashed onto my hand. I licked it off, and suddenly had a horrible flash on seeing a junkie, ten years ago, drink his little tube of methadone and then lick the cap out, then pour Sprite into the tube so he could drink the last tiny bits. "If I say something weird," I tell Lisa, "just remember, it's only the bellow of the Bull."
New Yorkers: do as I did and go see this at the Landmark Sunshine. Lauren, you especially, if you haven't yet.
I'm about 120 pages into William Vollmann's Rising Up and Rising Down, and it's completely astonishing. It's also, so far, maybe the worst-proofread major book I've ever read. Someone please supply the missing punctuation and/or words from this passage, on pg. 106 of Volume MC (in the section headed WHEN IS VIOLENT DEFENSE OF REVOLUTIONARY AUTHORITY UNJUSTIFIED?):
"2. When its ends rather then mere military cut off subjects and bystanders cut themselves off from their ordinary attachments.
EXAMPLE: the Khmer Rouge."
Actually, here's a little contest: whoever suggests the most entertaining (and sense-making) additions of punctuation and/or words to this passage, and posts them in the comments here, wins a prize--a mix CD, let's say. Please note that the fifth word in the passage is "then" rather than "than"; for the sake of the contest, let's assume it's intentional.
(I've met the guy who proofread parts of it, and like him a bunch, and am assuming that he's not the one who proofread the part I've read so far.)
Liz suggests that when I make a new mix CD, I should provide casual annotations for it on lacunae. Liz has bright ideas. So here's what I put on the new one, Monsignor Monsoon, and why.
1. Pigmeat Markham: Here Come the Judge
Markham was a baggy-pants comedian (he wore blackface into the '50s) who played the Apollo Theatre more times than any other performer. "Here Come the Judge," in its initial form, was a courtroom sketch that became his greatest hit; in the late '60s, he appeared dispensing one-liners on Laugh-In, where "here come the judge!" became a catchphrase. Shorty Long had a hit in 1968 with a soul single with that title (have never actually heard his version, although I've heard a risible-and-not-in-a-good-way cover by the Feminine Complex); Markham, not about to let his line be stolen without a fight, immediately recorded a "Here Come the Judge" of his own, with the Chess Records house band. I was struck by the way it stops dead twice for Laugh-In-style gags, and by the anti-Vietnam-War sentiment--weird for a funk novelty, but not unwelcome.
2. Television: Venus
Thank you, Tom Verlaine, for building the stage at CBGB. When I went back to Michigan a couple of weeks ago, I was amazed to discover that I owned a copy of Marquee Moon on LP--must've picked it up off the freebie pile at Flat, Black and Circular sometime in my teens. In any case, it's a record I didn't fully appreciate until Lisa coaxed me into it. I can never remember how the vocal melody of this one goes after the first couple of lines, but I can sing along with the whole guitar part.
Television also reminds me of a game I started playing a few weeks ago: coming up with songs that ought to be discovered among Johnny Cash's latter-day tapes, on the principle that if he covered Nine Inch Nails he might well have covered anything. You just have to bust out with the song with the appropriate sanctified, weatherbeaten baritone, and get the Johnny Cash phrasing right. "I remember... how the darkness doubled..." Works great. Ditto for "every time I see you falling, I get down on my knees and pray."
3. The Books: There Is No There
I've loved both their albums, but it took a while to parse this one (and figure out how with all that guitar-pickin' and laptoppery it didn't remind me of Gastr del Sol, exactly). This track stuck out first, mostly thanks to the slightly superhuman fingerpick-collage at the end.
4. Kid Creole & the Coconuts: Annie, I'm Not Your Daddy
One of the things that occasionally frustrates me about pop is that the virtues of great dance music and the virtues of great songwriterly music rarely turn up in the same place. This time, they do--August Darnell was really on a roll for a few years, I guess (if I'm remembering correctly, he's also the guy behind Machine's "There But For the Grace of God Go I"). Also, major points for the background vocals that go "onna-onna-onomatopoiea..."
5. The 49 Americans: Architecture Stops
A D.I.Y. collective, ca. Douglas's U.K. 1980 sweet spot--they appear to have done everything in their power to do things the hard way (everyone switched instruments after every song, etc.). Mostly on here for the sake of pacing.
6. Antibalas: Che Che Colé
A cover of a Willie Colon song which I'm ashamed to say I've never heard--but the first distinct example of the Latin/Afrobeat fusion they've been claiming since they started. Heard it played at the !!! show on Halloween, and moved.
7. Phoaming Edison: Post-Ignells
Said it before, say it again: James Kavoussi is a freaking genius of rock. Every so often, I get a tape or CD-R with his latest batch of songs, and it always takes a while to sink in; this one's from a CD-R called GWEEEE!!!!! It all seemed like one continuous batch of texture, until I saw Fly Ashtray play a couple of weeks ago, and they played this song, and I scurried home to hear it again. There are a few songs in their circa-1991 repertoire with titles like "Ignells #2" and "Non-Ignells"; I'm guessing that the "Ignells" refers to the descending blunt-clutch three-chord sequence that shows up in some form in a few of them, but don't know for sure. GWEEEE!!!!! also includes a piece called "Post-Ignells #9," which is a "Revolution 9"-style cut-up of this one.
8. Holger Czukay: Cool in the Pool
The bass player from Can, from the period when he was really, really into shortwave radio--this was right after Can broke up, basically, and in a lot of ways it's a continuation of the disco-y groove they'd been working on "I Want More" and some of their final album. Plus: extraordinarily dumb lyrics that sound much better in a thick Churman accent.
9. Marva Whitney: I Made a Mistake Because It's Only You
One of my favorite singers ever--a James Brown protégée who sang absolutely everything like it was the most urgent message ever. The title is one of those near-nonsensical concatenations of two discrete parts of the song, like "Let a Man Come In and Do the Popcorn"; the instrumental track showed up again a couple of years later in Hank Ballard's not dissimilar "From the Love Side"; the song itself is pretty insubstantial, but you'd never guess that from Marva's performance.
10. Grupo de "La Alegria": El Tambor de la Alegria
Robert Crumb, who put together the anthology from which I got this, doesn't know much about it, and neither do I; rhythmically and in terms of the voices' sound, it just seemed to fit here.
11. Broadcast: Pendulum
The first couple of Broadcast singles grabbed me right away, although at the time I think I thought they sounded just like Stereolab (hint: no they didn't); the subsequent album left me cold for about six months, until I realized it was really terrific. Same goes for the new album--or rather the pre-album single, which has now aged with me properly. It's going to be another couple of months until I realize how good the full album is, I suspect.
12. The Breeders: Wicked Little Town
They've still got something left in them: who knew? The best performance on that Hedwig and the Angry Inch tribute that came out recently. (Well, I probably got a bigger kick out of Sleater-Kinney with Fred Schneider--can't beat Corin Tucker screaming "My sex-change operation got botched!" in that Corin Tucker voice--but I bet this one will hold up under severe multiple-play stresses better.)
13. Belle & Sebastian: Final Day
Band I love, song I love (in its original Young Marble Giants incarnation), performance so insanely non-intuitive (in that it sounds nothing like the original and sounds nothing like Belle & Sebastian have ever done before) that I can do nothing but admire it. And as a thing-in-itself? Well, I do like the idea of a double-speed Pet Shop Boys.
14. Rhythm & Sound with Jennifer Lara: Queen In My Empire
That Rhythm & Sound with Tikiman album that came out a year or two ago is wonderful--reminds me a lot of the Congos' Heart of the Congos, and it was a brilliant idea to bring the super-ozone-charged staticky form of European digital dub together with an actual reggae singer. The two new R&S discs (one with various singers' vocals, one instrumental) are not quite as thrilling, but I like this song a lot., especially how deep the bass gets It's just WAY too long, so I actually edited it down to about half its length (cut three or four passages out of the middle, and now I can't even tell where they were).
15. Stereolab: Jaunty Monty and the Bubbles of Silence
A while back, I put together a CD-R for myself of all of Stereolab's singles, in reverse chronological order--it just seemed like a good idea at the time, and they sound better that way than in regular order. Before we drove out to PDX, I added "...Sudden Stars," the new single, at the beginning, and it's even better now. This one's from the same EP as that, and caught my ear first texturally ("...Sudden Stars," I thought, recapitulated a lot of their older stuff, & it turns out to be partly cobbled together from old, unused recordings).
16. De La Soul: Keepin' the Faith (Straight Pass)
From the best miserable we-give-up second album ever, De La Soul Is Dead--actually a remix, from the "Millie Pulled a Pistol on Santa" single, picked because it foregrounds that "there was a girl in a relationship" chorus that got stuck in my head for days after I revisited DLSID, and also because nobody was worried about whether the samples were in the same key or not.
17. Li'l Bunnies: Bunny Hop
Had the Li'l Bunnies only ever put out their first single, they would be roughly the greatest hardcore band of all time. They put out a second one, and later an album; not the same. In any case, all six songs are about being extremely hardcore bunnies. (Lyrics to first one: "WE'RE THE LI'L BUNNIES!/AND YOU THINK IT'S FUNNY!/BUT IT'S NOT!/FUCK YOOOOUUUU!" etc.) My friend Kate also has fond memories of them--she quoted the "hop hop, little bunnies, hop hop" bit at the end of this one to me.
18. Cymande: The Message
I'm unclear on a lot of stuff about this band (all I know is that the CD I've got also includes "Bra," which either I used to hear on the radio a lot or got sampled someplace familiar), but I love the horn parts on this song--the whole affair actually reminds me a lot of the parts of Antibalas that don't come straight from Fela Kuti.
19. The Ex: Konono
An encore from their live set at the Knitting Factory a few months ago--a song (really a two-chord riff) they picked up from an "electrified traditional" Congolese band called Konono No. 1. I suspect this will end up on their next album, but I wish they'd figure out how to condense it and make it a single instead (in the same way they made a single of their version of Muzsikas's "Hidegen Fujnak a Szelek")--when they think in terms of three-minute pieces rather than 45-minute albums, I love what happens, and they haven't done that in a while.
20. Sweet: Wig-Wam Bam
Just because something is as crass an appeal to 11-year-old girls as it could possibly be doesn't mean it's not great. Plus now I understand Jaime Hernandez's best book a little better.
21. Shooby Taylor: I'm Looking Over a Four-Leaf Clover
"A powerful, non-narcotic antidepressant," as Shooby's cassette case calls his recordings, made in some awful little demo studio in the early '80s. Yes, they are all like this. This one's actually augmented by R. Stevie Moore, and appears on Moore's new collection Nevertheless Optimistic.
Lots of time, little updating, largely because my access to the lifeline that is the Internet has been sorely limited lately--I've been haunting the WiFi cafés of PDX, sucking up the bandwidth where I can find it. Last night found me crouched on a side-street next to a closed café in the freezing cold, attempting to send 100+ change-of-address emails and slurp 100+ messages that had arrived during the day without anybody noticing me and my shiny glowy white iBook.
But Lisa & I have actually found a place: a wonderful (if cold) quadplex, right near the intersection of Alberta and MLK, with beautiful wooden floors, a gas stove (if not yet anything to cook on it with: I have become enough of a cookware snob that the $60 10-piece kits one can buy at Target simply won't do, it's Anolon Advanced or nothing for me), "central heating" (i.e. a giant honking metal thing in the middle of the living room that radiates life-giving warmth against the sinister Portland cold), and fabulous landlords who live right upstairs.
The neighborhood is basically mid-gentrification: right near the aforementioned café and the heart-on-sleeve organic co-op grocery, a little bit down the road from the Alberta Arts District, across the street from the historically black church that inspired the Dekum Doers, around the corner from a shuttered beauty-supply store whose '60s lettering is falling off. As you walk down Alberta, you pass a yoga spot run by a former major-label A&R woman who quit the grind to teach people downward-facing dog, a little deli whose signs in the windows have been yellowing for months or years, a lot of posters for something called POH HOP, a pizzeria whose special is a vegan pizza with barbecued tempeh, a bunch of art galleries (which invite the public to visit on the last Thursday of the month) and occasionally a few old houses, surrounded by fences and borders of lawn, whose residents have a look about them of "goddamnit you're not going to make ME move."
Unrelatedly: Liz has finally forwarded me the link to her amazing, design-critique-oriented blog.