March 2004 Archives
A series of days that have consisted mostly of involuntarily engraving the pattern of the fabric on the winedark sofa on the backs of my legs--there's not much to tell about the life of my brain or body other than what I've been tappity-typing and researchity-researching. I travel out to get ingredients; I prepare and eat food; every once in a while I wander as far as the CD changer and replace its contents. Then I go back to typing, and to interviewing people. Actually, when Lisa's 12-year-old CD changer sputtered and threatened to expire from overuse, I took a bus out to Circuit City and bought a replacement. That was my big WOO! WOOOO! excitement for the last few days. Chelsey and Carrie came over for brunch on Sunday, for which I probably cooked way too much stuff, but it was nice to be able to entertain. (The pomegranate syrup we'd picked up at the African grocery a couple of days before went really well with the cornmeal pancakes.)
Attempting to figure out what I want to make for Burning Man this year. I know I want to make some kind of installation piece to be placed out in the deep playa; I know I want it to change its form, either regularly or incrementally or both, and to have at least some of its changes enacted by the people who visit it. I imagine it as being opaque or solid on its sides and at least sort of open on top; I'd like it to provide an inaccurate and mutable view of what's above it. And I want it to be something that people can "get" instantly. Clearly there are a couple of important elements missing here, like what the hell exactly I'm talking about. But I'm going to bat this one around a little bit and see what ends up fitting my mental specs.
Finally started reading the Eno diary that Leela gave us months ago. I really like it so far, as I suspected I would. I also want a life like his; we'll see about that. Enjoyed his evaluation of New York-as-a-village: "Good sides: osmotic learning/cooperation/informality/support/intense hybridization/shared assumptions; Bad sides: malicious gossip/exclusivity/taking people for granted/lack of focus/small-mindedness/overscrutiny/forgetting that this is not the whole world/backscratching/shared assumptions unquestioned."
Mister O is a 30-page-long wordless book that has the best premise ever. I cracked up at the end of almost every page.
Reading the Comics Journal's 2004 special (their twice-a-year special issue appears to have become a once-a-year special issue), I was struck by a question that's been nagging at the fringes of my comics-crit consciousness for a while: what independent North American cartoonists are producing a substantial body of work right now?
By which I mean: who publishes new material regularly--substantial, serious stuff that's going to be staying in print for a while? Ten or fifteen years ago, there were a lot of answers to that question, and they've all slowed down drastically. Peter Bagge is doing very occasional reportage and a once-a-year Hate cash-in; Dan Clowes has finished one issue of Eightball in the last four years (supposedly another one's coming this summer); the Hernandez brothers are doing fairly intermittent issues of Love & Rockets and their own comics; Sim/Gerhard have retired; art spiegelman did In the Shadow of No Towers a few times but is otherwise sticking to illustration; Eddie Campbell, just as he seemed to be hitting a new peak, gave up his own magazine and is apparently working on a Batman graphic novel; Gaiman and Zulli's Sweeney Todd never even happened; Jim Woodring's barely doing any comics at all any more; ditto Scott McCloud... Chris Ware continues to eke out a page a week if we're lucky... Chester Brown, well, I liked Louis Riel a hell of a lot, but it's not like he's erupting with a new Yummy Fur every six weeks any more...
I'd figured: well, it's cyclical, new people will come and take their place. But when I really try to think of independent comic book artists who seem to have a really serious work ethic and are working toward books that I can, you know, recommend to people, I get... well, Carla Speed McNeil, definitely, and maybe James Kochalka (whose stuff I don't love nearly as much) and Paul Hornschemeier and Craig Thompson, but the last three have never put a serialization into the double digits (although admittedly Blankets could have). And there the list stops for me. (I know some people would include Scott Morse or Andi Watson.) Rachel Hartman hasn't published a comic in almost two years. Megan Kelso is brilliant (her comic in the Comics Journal special made me think of this in the first place), but it's going to be years before Artichoke Tales is finished. And so on.
What's weird about this is that it's clear that good, major comics projects, once they're done--and especially if there are a bunch of them by a single cartoonist--bring in money in something like perpetuity. Sim and Gerhard are retiring on the proceeds of the Cerebus books. The Hernandezes, between them, have something like twenty books that keep on selling. From Hell worked out just great for Eddie Campbell. McNeil is doing nicely with the Finder books, and so's Thompson with his. So why do so many amazing cartoonists only do the very smallest-scale work these days? I know that serialization in pamphlets is really hard to pull off right now, but it's also a lot more reliable if your pamphlets can come out on a regular basis...
At the market yesterday, I saw a bag of nettles, with a note saying that they'd been "wildcrafted" that morning. I'd seen nettles there a few other times in the past week, and asked a few people about them. "You can't get much out of a bag that size, but people who like them swear by them. I think they taste like spinach, myself," was the typical reaction I got. So I decided: what the hell! Tonight--tonight we will feast on nettles.
I followed Euell Gibbons' instructions for cooking them (I trusted them, remembering the copy of his book Stalking the Wild Asparagus on my parents' bookshelf when I was younger). You put the young nettle tops in a big vat of water and swish them around with a spoon to clean them; then you use tongs to put them in a pan with a lid, with no more water than what's already clinging to the EVIL VENOMOUS STINGING PARTS, and let them steam in their own juices for about 20 minutes. At which point they're edible, or, to quote Gibbons, "A more wholesome vegetable never came to the table. Cooking completely destroys the nettles' stinging properties, and actually converts the venom into wholesome food."
Dubious, I thought, but they actually were very good with butter and a touch of tamari--they had a sort of artichoke-like overtone, more than spinach, I think. Even though, while they were cooking, a little fake Ogden Nash couplet came to my head: "Perhaps you wish your tummy'd settle?/It could be that you've et a nettle." Also made a leek-and-potato curry that came out well enough that I'm likely to try it again.
Got my tickets for Coachella today. There will be much traveling over the next few months. And about time, too--I've explored my couch about as thoroughly as it can be explored.
In retrospect, I was probably a little too enthusiastic about the prospect of the Franz Ferdinand show, maybe because I've been reading all these other reports from people who've been seeing stars--they were solid & fun last night at Berbati's Pan, but I like the record better. (They looked like they were pretty worn out from the tour.) Although the slowdown into the disco part of "Take Me Out" did to the crowd what I assumed it was going to do--the mean elevation of the tops of people's heads went up about six inches for a little while.
We made the mistake of taking Edie outside for a few minutes yesterday. Edie's never really been outside since she was a street kitten in the Bronx--we figured that an 8-year-old cat is probably a little old to start being an outdoor kitty. But it was such a beautiful spring day, and she seemed so eager to enjoy the sunshine... BIG MISTAKE. BIG BIG MISTAKE. Now she is inconsolable--standing at the back door and meowing as pitifully as she can, all the time, and sometimes scrabbling at the windows. Lisa's ordered a cat-leash to take her for walks out there...
Really nice picnic at Sarah's place on Sunday--she told us to bring "something salady," so I went overboard and made an Indian eggplant salad and a Burmese cucumber salad, and Lisa made fruit salad with coconut and chocolate chips. Do I sound excessively Portlandish if I note that the weather was gorgeous and it only rained once? I had had an actual dream about craving chocolate cake the night before, and Sarah's girlfriend Mary (I should say "Sarah's wife Mary"--they were officially married a couple of weeks ago, yay PDX, although the friends-and-family ceremony isn't for a while yet), who has a cake-baking company called Cake It to the Limit, made a vegan chocolate cake with pureed raspberry filling that fulfilled that dream.
We watched the DVD of all of the Smiths' videos tonight--there aren't many, and most of them are not very good at all. Oh, Top of the Pops, so much to answer for--four or five videos, at least, consisted of the Smiths miming on the show, Morrissey in increasingly ridiculous outfits, including one that involved a shrub sticking out of his back pocket, and Johnny Marr alternately looking like he'd prefer to be in some other band and looking like he was in some other band--black leather jacket, mirror shades. It made me wonder: why on Earth did it occur to Morrissey and Marr to work together in the first place? They really don't seem like each other's type. I mean, they were, obviously, but I wouldn't have guessed.
The only video of theirs I remembered liking from the old days of MTV was "Stop Me If You Think You've Heard This One Before"--Morrissey leads a procession of his lookalikes and wannabes around on bicycles. Nothing else that good here--the Derek Jarman short film with three Smiths songs as its score at the end is okay, too, but the songs seem incidental to it.
How did it take me this long to notice that the rhythm section on "This Charming Man" is basically playing "You Can't Hurry Love"?
Finished the Cerebus re-read at last--I'd hoped that the "exegesis" business in the 280s would be more bearable the second time around, or reveal more stuff central to the story, but no.
The All-Authorized Indie Vinyl MP3 Blog idea seems to be pretty popular. Next question: does anybody have excess space on a .mac account, or otherwise access to the kind of storage space/bandwidth I'd need to do something like this? I'd probably want to do no more than a song or two a day, and leave them up for a week or two.
Played guitar (with L.) for a couple of hours last night--the first time I'd gotten to play the Strat with somebody else. I'm very rusty. It's always very easy for me to get back into playing bass after an absence, and I've always got a warm-up curve with the guitar. Anyway, we played a bunch of songs from my vintage R&B songbook (one of the few songbooks to survive the Great FedEx Catastrophe of 2004)--I love all those old songwriters' change-of-perspective tricks, like where the chorus of "Baby I Need Your Lovin'" goes F-Dm7-C-Am7 (play that on a guitar and you'll see what I mean).
Three more Cerebus books down today, three more to go in the Great Re-Read. I don't think I'd ever read the "Sudden Moves" section in one sitting before; it makes a lot more sense to picture the geography of the whole sequence in my head. (I still don't understand the ending of the "Time and the River" sequence, though.)
"Saw a great Mekons show at Maxwell's Saturday. Langford brought in a cheap cassette recorder they'd purchased that day plus a box of old 'Retreat From Memphis' cassettes, and they proceeded to tape each song of their set, selling it immediately afterward to a member of the audience. Don't think our awareness of the Big Artistic Statement detracted from the humor -- or stopped us from buying one ('Prince of Darkness' for $5.00)! God, how I love those Mekons!"
Apparently this is the 200th entry in this blog. Took me long enough, is all I have to say.
Entirely too much of today was spent re-reading the "Mothers & Daughters" sequence of Cerebus: the 50-issue stretch that takes the longest to get through, thanks to the Godawful all-prose sections that occupy a lot of "Reads," especially. I'd forgotten how totally poisonous that part is, and not in the healthy-poison sense in which Oscar Wilde used it. But I'd also forgotten how gorgeous the "Minds" section is--all three thirds of Cerebus end with the character essentially by himself for long stretches, and the one-character-visible-on-panel problem never takes hold in this one. And I continue to love Astoria's last few scenes. She's the one character in the series who actually matures (I don't count Rick, who basically becomes a completely different character while he's off-panel, or Cerebus, whose personality change at the end of "Minds" wears off quickly).
I noticed a while ago that Astoria shows up first around #31, and last around #181; she's an important character, present or not, for almost exactly half of the series. And if the story can end when Cerebus dies (without wrapping up all those dangling plot threads; what are they to him?), and if Sim can imply that #201-300 are somehow vestigial (i.e. that the main body of the story ends with #200), then I can privately imagine that the beginning and ending of the "main body" are vestigial parts, too--that this series is really about Astoria, and about the meaning of turning one's back on power-for-its-own-sake.
So, since God only knows I've got a ton of vinyl that's not in wide circulation right now, I'm thinking I might set up an audioblog of my own. The idea would be that I'd go through all my thousands of 7" singles, in alphabetical order by artist, and post (for a week or two) an MP3 of a vinyl-only song by each artist--but ONLY the artists from whom I'm able to get permission.
Obviously this would be kind of ridiculously time-consuming, and I'm wondering how many people would care. If you'd be into it, post a comment here; if I get enough comments, I'll retrieve my first box of singles the next time I'm back in NYC and start in on it.
Hall and Oates' "Las Vegas Turnaround" is really not so far from being a Belle & Sebastian song.
We went to see Quasi and the Thermals last night. The new Thermals stuff sounds great live too; Quasi, though, seemed exhausted somehow. Not like "creatively exhausted," and they're obviously still really attuned to playing with each other. But I've been to Quasi shows in the past where it really seemed like they were letting something out of themselves, and this time it felt like they were squeezed dry, and sometimes like they were trying to raise a racket in the hopes that they could get into it. Great encore, though: they brought everybody from the Thermals and the Swords Project and the Minders up on stage and did Yes' "I've Seen All Good People"--half of the others had expressions on their faces like they had no idea what that song was. And Quasi shows apparently now have a taper section. That's what the drum solos are for, I guess.
Four volumes into the big Cerebus re-read (got to the end of Church & State II), and I'm finding that the sections that are almost overfamiliar to me--can't tell you how many times I've read the sequence with Astoria in prison and on trial over the past 17 years, but I found that I knew most of the dialogue almost by heart--are alternating with sections that I'm realizing I totally didn't get when I've read them in the past, and are now becoming much clearer to me, especially the relationship between the Eastern and Western Churches. (I can't believe Sim was quoting from "The New Matriarchy" as early as #20.) I'm also noticing that virtually any time one of the characters gets to make a protracted speech, subsequent events demonstrate that he or she is lying.
The café attached to Big City Produce is now open a couple of nights a week, including tonight--they had the brilliant idea of serving vegetable skewers for which the skewer is a locally grown rosemary branch. Mmm.
Made my pilgrimage to Excalibur Comics yesterday morning to buy the final issue of Cerebus and whatever else happened to be coming out (which turned out to be Promethea and Powers--with Promethea in particular I get the very strong sense that Moore has said his piece with the long explanation of his magical system and is now just trying to wrap things up because that's what one does). Anyway, it's a pretty brilliant ending to the series--a very nasty inversion of the single biggest death-of-the-protagonist cliché. And everybody who's wanted to see their favorite character just one more time gets a... basically, a "you can get what you want and still not be very happy" moment. Also kind of fascinating that Sim deliberately doesn't wrap up a lot of dangling plot threads--which is underscored by the fact that he introduced a bunch of new ones last issue. (And he alludes directly to the most famous one.) It's the end of the character's life, it's the thematic payoff of all the big ideas of the series, and that's all we get.
Now I get to start my re-read of the entire series in preparation for a long piece I'm doing on it. Most of the way through the first book now, & surprised by a few bits that are in retrospect setup for stuff that happens much later, and by long passages that aren't.
Mahjongg last night at the Meow Meow were, as I expected, much better than their EP. A little too arch to really pull off the funk more than half the time (you can do dance songs in 10/8 or 9/4, but it's a lot harder for them to automatically precipitate actual dancing). Really good arrangements, though--I liked the very fast one that built up to peaks and abruptly switched from a regular drum kit to an electronic kit, or vice versa, a few times. I want to hear their next record.
Why haven't I posted to Collating Bones today? Because last night I listened to about half of New Hope for the Ape-Eared, the new Tom Scharpling/Jon Wurster CD. The first thing on it is a routine where Wurster calls Scharpling's radio show as "Corey Harris," the lead singer of an alternative-rock band called Mother 13. They're on a major; they just had their first album released; they're playing the corporate-sponsored-radio-station-event third-stage circuit. They are doomed. He doesn't understand why he's not going to be a star. You already know exactly what they sound like, and he plays one of their songs, and it does sound exactly like that.
I listened to 15 albums today from the slush pile that I'd been putting off listening to for one reason or another (they all looked sort of dubious), and I swear a dozen of them were by Mother 13. (Some of them only lasted a few songs before I gave up, I admit. And I'd rather not make notes about anything in the blog unless I'm actually capable of listening to the whole thing. Even if I'm going to hit and run, I have to hold myself to some standards.)
In the "time heals" dept.: April 30, Northampton, MA, triple bill of Sonic Youth, Sebadoh... and J. Mascis. (Well, J. did produce the Breeders' cover of "The Freed Pig," and I did see him in the front row at a Sebadoh show at Maxwell's about ten years ago. But this still makes me happy.)
Nice brunch at Junior's with Amy today--she had some useful suggestions for ROBOT EYE, and was more coherent than she lets on (I wasn't). When we got back here, I'd gotten a package from Amazon with Glitter From the Litter Bin, a new comp of junkshop glam from the early '70s. We put it on, and eight songs in I started giggling at an... exceptionally blatant ripoff of T. Rex's "Jeepster." And what was this song, you may ask? Well, it's by Small Wonder, and it's called, I am not making this up, "Ride a Black Sheep."
Got the March issue of The Believer in the mail today; it includes an article I wrote & am pretty proud of: "Notes on Art So Bad It's Good." Concerns Susan Sontag and The Apple, & attempts to generalize a theory about what camp turned into.
Gave the World Food Cafe cookbook its first major workout in this household tonight: a beet-and-eggplant "black curry" (i.e. with toasted spices) with basmati rice and a spicy pineapple coconut chutney. I think we're going to be going back to it a lot.
Otherwise, I ended up spending almost the entire day grinding not-quite-fruitlessly on a piece that's been bird-dogging me for over a week. (I say "not quite fruitlessly" because it did eventually get to the stage where I hit "send," although I had to spend some quality time with the Strat first to make sure I actually knew what I was talking about in one passage. That was fruitful too.) Also discovered that Franz Ferdinand are now so popular that they won't be able to do an interview with me over the phone; I sent them some questions via email, while playing "Take Me Out" repeatedly. (Apparently, Alex Kapranos used to be in a band called The Karelia; has anyone reading this heard them? Why do I suspect that Steve can tell me all about them?)
Today was the first really REALLY nice day we've had since we got to PDX--I mean, short-sleeves-no-sweater weather. This, I'm told, is a preview of what summer will be like. I took the bus north about a mile to meet Sarah for coffee, then walked back home, enjoying the sunshine and the air.
So that would be ROBOT EYE, then--a weekly emailed listing of interesting events in PDX, beginning late this week. Anyone wants to subscribe, you can do it by sending a blank message here.
Lisa was away for the weekend (taking pictures of our landlords at the beach), so I spent most of it in a bachelor-pad stupor: empty cereal bowls on the couch, going out to keep myself busy, doing some work at the La Palabra studio. Went to a house party where Limited Express (Has Gone?) were playing--I'd been left pretty cold by their record but thought I might like them live, & didn't really, despite their surface similarity to some bands I do like. Went out to brunch with people a couple of times. Finally, L. came back yesterday afternoon, and we met up with Michele to see the Lecture Series at Reed.
Charles Mudede spoke on the dump-sites near SEA-TAC, and despite an entertaining riff on the distinction between the "big country" as in Big Country and "God's country" as in U2, loses all the points for NOT HAVING FINISHED WRITING HIS LECTURE before he showed up and thus letting it dissolve into total blathering incoherence; Mike Wilder talked about the natural history of the guinea pig, which turned into a rant against researchers for not respecting the guinea pig's basic human rights (& made the mistake of casting natural-selection-type adaptations as a conscious decision on the part of a species); Dick Anderson, who looked and talked like Eric Idle's Gavin Millarrrr, gave a lecture on boredom and its taxonomy, which was interrupted by a terrorist gas attack on the building, complete with sirens, flashing lights, and a TV news crew right outside reporting on the tense goings-on (simulcast on the big screen in the room). Nice.
I've been thinking for a while that one thing I really wish Portland had would be something like the Squid List in San Francisco or Nonsense in NYC: a weekly, emailed, curated listing of interesting upcoming events, especially fun and uncategorizable stuff--things that don't quite fit even in the alt-weeklies, or come into existence too late, or whatever; a way to bring together the overlapping underground arts communities of Portland; a place to go off about why people should go to a Paul Muldoon reading, the Lecture Series, a Limited Express (Has Gone?) show, a free vegan lunch in Courthouse Square, a "wedding party" to celebrate Portland's same-sex weddings, etc.
But wishing that kind of thing into existence won't work, so I'm doing it myself. I'm figuring out what kind of format I'm going to use, how much of my own commentary I'm going to add to it, what sort of links I'll put in it, etc. (suggestions are welcome), but my real initial query to all of you is this:
Should it be called "Drizzle" or "Robot Eye"?
Let me know your preference in the comment section, preferably with why you prefer it.
In other news: finally fixed the buzz in our stereo (& especially the turntable) that had been driving me batty for a couple of months. It is now blissfully silent aside from its intended hi-fi operations (I celebrated its new high-functioning capacity with some old Tall Dwarfs and Steeleye Span records)--now I just need to find people to come over and listen to records with me.
I've set up an RSS feed, in a very tentative way (linked over to the left), and it doesn't seem to work. Those of you who know more about this stuff than I do should please let me know how I'm doing it wrong.
Just for the sake of content: package from Dusty Groove arrived yesterday, with treats for me inside--my favorite is the new Sharon Jones single, "Genuine." The Daptone Records crew is interested in almost exactly the same kinds of funk I am, and this is basically a popcorn record, in the same sense as "Let a Man Come In and Do the Popcorn" (it's got a similar flight-attendants-crosscheck-for-arrival beat, but faster). Lyric and performance are perfectly generic in the sense of perfectly-fine-and-of-their-genre. When I play the forthcoming Thermals album, I think "this is the sort of band I've always wanted to be in"; when I play "Genuine," I think "no, this is what I actually wish I could do."
Lisa's got a bunch of new portraits up at Spiraling!
Just got a pile of Ramones albums in the mail, for a little piece I'm doing. I note with amusement that three of them start "Blitzkrieg Bop"/"Beat on the Brat"/"Judy Is a Punk." Also bought myself a copy of Fleetwood Mac's Vaudeville Years, ostensibly as research for a piece I'm writing but really because it's a bunch of recordings from the same time period as Then Play On. A very strange record: about 2/3 beautiful psychedelic blues with Peter Green et al., and 1/3 too-wacky comedy/snark led by Jeremy Spencer. Some of which, it turns out, was originally supposed to have been an EP included with Then Play On. I can't imagine it was too painful a decision for some label person to have denied them artistic control on that one.
And I bought the new reissue of the Fall's Dragnet--glad I skipped the last two reissues! I have very fond associations with that album: Lisa used to have it installed as disc 2 in her CD changer, for months and months, and when we started dating, every time I went over to her apartment and we'd listen to something else, it would end, Mark E. Smith would yell "Is there anybody there?," and the Fall would squirm into "Psychic Dancehall." That album's a very big influence on the way I tend to tune guitars...
Observation courtesy Lisa.