March 2009 Archives
Word’s gotten around that Blender magazine has shut down—the April issue that recently came out will be its last. I’m really going to miss writing for them. I was involved with this incarnation of Blender pretty much from the get-go—when it started up, they called me up and asked me if I could fill a chair in the office for a week, which became two weeks, then four, then six, and even after I left the office I kept writing for them right up to the end.
Blender took a certain amount of guff for its in-your-face graphics and bite-sized copy. The thing is, it had really good, densely packed, thoughtful, funny bite-sized copy—especially in the Rob Tannenbaum era. Tannenbaum’s my favorite kind of editor, the kind who has a hunting falcon’s eye for flawed or flabby writing and will do whatever it takes to make it right, or rather to make me get it right; his breakdown of what each half-star of the magazine’s five-star rating system meant has been a useful tool to me in contexts that don’t even have to do with music. I particularly liked working on the “Back Catalogue” features—overviews of particular artists’ entire catalogues, with short reviews of every album they’d ever released. Thanks to those, I now know a lot more about the Beach Boys, Elvis Costello, New Order/Joy Division, Creedence Clearwater Revival/John Fogerty, Aretha Franklin, Sonic Youth, the Clash, the Byrds, the Cure, Nirvana/the Foo Fighters, ABBA, David Bowie, and above all Bob Dylan, on whose catalogue I spent three months of unforgettable total immersion.
Blender was about music as a source of pleasure—not status or cultural power or part of a lifestyle, but limitless fascination and enjoyment, which was its editors’ attitude, too. The point of Blender’s design was to make it a pleasure to read, page-for-page, and that’s what it was for me every month. I hope I get to work on another project like it sometime.
I wouldn’t have guessed that I’d ever get to see the Homosexuals play live, but there they were last night at East End. Well, “they”: Bruno “Wizard” McQuillan backed up by a much younger band. Who, to their credit, were tough and agile enough to navigate the songs’ constant abrupt turns. Even so, it was weird to hear e.g. “Soft South Africans” and “Hearts in Exile” played as straightforward punk rock songs. (And weirder still to hear some of those songs open up for jamming: I would also not have expected “Walk Before Imitate —> Drums/Space.”) The set list was basically most of The Homosexuals’ Record, with a few choice additions—one or two new songs, “You’re Not Moving the Way You’re Supposed To,” etc.
To paraphrase a poster that one sees a lot around Portland, the same traits that make for a monumentally annoying conversationalist also make for a terrific punk frontman, notably semi-coherent peace-and-love speechifying and a habit of inserting a falsetto “wooooooo!” into conversation every half-minute. The show had one of the worst encores I’ve ever seen (Bruno sitting behind the drum kit, interminably attempting to demonstrate how a reggae beat should be played correctly, then grabbing a guitar and making up a couple of songs on the spot, then playing a few more drum solos), but I still walked out glowing from how much fun the main set was, and how good it was to hear those songs in a live setting.
Both in Portland; the first one’s for food. Portobello Vegan Trattoria, people. 2001 SE 11th Ave. Do not sleep on it. It’s the same building as Cellar Door Coffee Roasters—actually, it’s the same space, just a different identity in the evenings. Incredibly good bread and olive oil and pumpkin cappellacci and squash “spaghetti” and roasted Brussels sprouts and… everything. And very reasonably priced. And a very, very patient waitstaff. And our table was right next to a coffee table with Sara Varon’s Sweaterweather and a Little Nemo collection and an old Duplex Planet Illustrated comic book on it. Plus the Mountain Goats and Neutral Milk Hotel on the stereo system. The first Neutral Milk Hotel record. My. Kind. Of. Place.
The other one is something that is just so… Portlandy… I feel obligated to point it out: Nationale, at 2730 E. Burnside, a tiny little store that sells Stuff the Proprietor Likes, mostly of the design-intensive variety. Art, textiles, French candy, a handful of beat-up old LPs, tiny Rhodia notebooks, fancy dishes, the Marriage Records catalogue, etc. Recommended by Craig Thompson, no less! (On the stereo system there: Smog’s “Bathysphere.”)
One of my WIPs led me to this gem: Jilted John singing his theme song on Top of the Pops in 1978. I love everything about this clip: the distortion that makes his singing even more plaintive, his wounded/bitter facial expressions, his young-Stephen-Malkmus haircut, the fact that it actually seems to be a live band on ToTP, the Devo hopping dance the guitarist is doing, the guy who’s just there for interpretive dancing until the end, everything.
Not least because I want to be drawn by José Luis Garcia-Lopez.
Alex Ross (“not the cartoonist”) remembers what I was doing 20 years ago better than I can recall what I was doing 20 minutes ago. He has documentation.
Forgive my taciturn blog. Like Wittgenstein said, “what we cannot speak about we must pass over in silence.” It would be nice to say that I’m working on a secret project that will transform everyone’s experience, but if I were I’d never admit it here. All I have to report on here is my own experience, and it’s been in a very small orbit lately. I’ll post some more pretty pictures soon, and try to scare up some more experiences (about which I’m permitted to write).
In the meantime, why not go and entertain yourself with the “Losing My Edge” audioblog?
A comic book I bought at WonderCon this weekend whose cover sums up perfectly what it’s like to be Sterling’s dad: