Monday, April 28, 2008

Omnibustin' Loose!

One of my buddies has dubbed me the Transfer Addict, thanks to my constant self-flaggelation with jetlag. And he may be right: what better hallmark of addiction is there beyond the knowledge that something is physically killing you (not to mention the planet), yet your life would be cast to the wind were it not draped around such a frame? I'm off to the land of fine cheese & whine; I'm sure I'll greeted heartily upon my arrival. But before I vanish, I wanted to leave a handful of worthwhile distractions and a few soapbox digressions so boredom is not an issue.

1. Speaking of addicts, I've waxed prosaic about the aesthetic tendencies of habitual drug-users before. I've also spent hours enthusiastically endorsing total legalisation as the only humane (and sustainable) drug policy. I don't particularly feel the need to explain myself, if only for fear of being a bore. Yes, yes, yes, drugs can be incredibly scary (see: Before and After) but they've also led to some incredible creative achievements (see: Before and After).

Yet I keep coming back because some drugs are so cloaked in shadow & mystique that otherwise progressive people recoil towards illogical, Old Testament extremes, such as prohibition and punishment for transgressors. The way most people discuss heroin is like listening to a Chinese person talk about Japan. Never mind that often junkies can hide their habit for great lengths of time and no one notices anything amiss. There remains the conventional wisdom that heroin is the devil, but cocaine is just dandy - and this cart of horseshit is reinforced by the likes of career waster Nikki Sixx in his new book, The Heroin Diaries. Yes, Sixx is purportedly literate. Mercifully, John Dolan refuses to let this humourless confession by "a classic L.A. white-trash cokehead" go without reproach. Dolan is not arguing in favour of picking up the needle, but rather attempting to disillusion people who believe that cocaine is a "safe", socially acceptable drug whereas heroin is not. Though the full article is well worth a read, here are a few highlights:
...Why is this called The Heroin Diaries? Because Nikki's publisher realized cocaine is too sleazy and too 1970s to interest anybody. Heroin, which only entered the middle-class California druggie's repertoire in the 1980s, still retains some of its exotic, forbidden appeal.

...If you've spent any time in L.A. you've probably met guys like this. For them, cocaine is simply part of a normal healthy diet, whereas heroin is just plain evil. Odd, because among intelligent druggies opiates get a lot of respect, while coke is simply despised. For serious drug people there are two ways to go: up with some variety of speed, or down with some kind of opiate. Coke is scorned as a short-acting verbal emetic, a silly drug for moneyed trash.

...This book reads like Hunter Thompson rewritten by Nigel Tufnel. Every rock cliché you ever heard can be found in its pages, even "Welcome to my nightmare." But Nikki and the friends interviewed for their recollections of his crisis are hopeless at depicting the nightmare, taking refuge in stale adjectives like "dark" and "pain." Tommy Lee explains that drugs "led us to this really dark fucking place," then, realizing he's onto a good adjectival thing, amplifies his remarks, stating that said place was, in fact, "dark as fuck."

...The elements of the story are simple: the hero has to dive deep into sin. This part of the story is always bragging disguised as confession: "My sins are bigger and gaudier than your sins." The gaudier and noisier the sin, the better. Nikki has done his best to check this item off the list, God knows. The sinner must then crash and burn, hitting bottom. Nikki fulfills this requirement on page 384. ...Before he can even turn blue properly, Nikki is visited by Grace -- Grace the religious epiphany, not the groupie of the same name. His unintentionally hilarious reaction to the fact that he's been literally, physically saved is, "Maybe there is a God." Many an observer would have come to the opposite conclusion: Cobain kills himself and Nikki lives? There is no god. Nikki survives simply because he's famous; he's surrounded by adoring, masochistic women, one of whom revives him. Without the fame and fortune, not only would he have died but his "pain" would interest no one at all. Suffering served up without these condiments is available all around you; just look into the cars stopped beside you at the next red light. But how many bestsellers do you see about the suffering of, say, a single mom working at Wal-Mart in Houston with chronic back pain and a broken air conditioner? That's true suffering. That's Hell on earth. But nobody wants to know about it. Nikki's suffering, by contrast, has spent a long time on Amazon's top thousand sellers.

...The only really radical, interesting thing a rock star could say would be what people dread hearing: "Ha ha, I'm famous and you're nobody! I drink your adulation like blood! You send me all your love and money and I give you nothing! And I'm the happiest man in the world!" If Mark David Chapman's lawyer had made that argument the thesis of his defense: "My client killed Dracula! You should be giving him a medal!" we might have the beginning of an interesting discussion about celebrity as a new form of extortion, of oppression. Instead we get Spinal Tap's cover of "Amazing Grace."
Aside from lancing Sixx' self-indulgent three-act, Dolan makes time for the succint & sage argument against prohibition: that it makes quality control of street drugs impossible, and turns every step of a junkie's journey - from purchase, to content, to ingestion - a potentially fatal gamble. How puritanically passive-aggressive and morally repugnant.

2. Okay. Foals. Let's talk about 'em, 'cuz everyone else is. I understand the appeal: they're armed with an earworm and they make a hell of a Q And Not U cover band. A perfectly clinical amalgam of everything that was cutting-edge in New Yawk about six years ago. (For once, the Forkers got it right.) But enough with all the "math rock" misnomering already! Disco strut plus angle-saxon funk stutter does not a polyrhythm make, morons. Did all of England (or at least the NME) miss Discipline and Don Cab?

3. Ah, Crystal Castles. Steal and get P3NED. What I personally am most incredulous about is that people aren't tired of this shit already. Even that mid-song blast of bitcrunched feedback (I don't think anyone even realizes that's a Melvins sample anymore) seems to cop to creative exhaustion: "Yeah, we could write a bridge, or just break it down, but... fuck it, I just wanna dance!"

4. *Ahem* Thank you for your time & attention.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Classic Western Archetype Not All It's Cracked Up to Be

It began as a matter of my circumstances: living in a country I had no prior experience of and whose language I did not speak, with a daily routine wherein human interaction was a matter of choice, not fact. It was aggravated by an ever declining number of return communiqués, slowly snipping what tenuous telecommunicative threads connected me to overseas. Not one to half-ass anything, I began replacing conversation with records (see below) and soon found myself quoting certain fictional characters more out of expediency than referential exaggeration.

A trip was taken that would hopefully provide some context and settle a few ongoing quandries. Certainly, some quandries were settled (and I returned sans moustache), but this was also a fact-finding trip and - as always - the Truth is hardly the tonic we'd like it to be. I came back more uncertain than I left, not the least because of two specific exchanges.

The first was between an old friend and me. In discussing our Hell In a Handbasket prognosis for the planet and how relationships slacken through transience, she mentioned that a source of strength was the knowledge that certain people do, and always will, have your back. Her parents' neighbours, for example: though she hadn't seen or spoken to them in years, when/if the shit really hits the fan, she knew the block she grew up on would wrap itself in a protective embrace. This caught me off guard, as I'd not considered that I have no such safety net. No one I've bothered to stay in touch with was remotely geographically compact. I'd exchanged my friends for a loose-knit network of globe-peppering acquaintances.

The second exchange happened in that most seemingly-unlikely-yet-inevitable place for epiphanies: a 24-hour coffee & donut shop. Unable to sleep one night, I took a stroll from my paternal grandmother's house through my old neighbourhood, past my elementary school and towards the university hospital. I soon saw the familiar beacon of my favourite fast-food franchise and decided to pick up something for breakfast. Approaching the counter, I smiled and started calling out various flavours of donut with an insomniac's husk to my voice. The pear-shaped woman behind the counter cocked her head like a confused beagle and, in that nasal gargle of an accent my home province seems to have acquired in the past twenty years, she asked me, "You're not from around here, are you?"

I paused to calculate the percentage of my life that had passed since I'd left my hometown. "No, I guess not."

The woman grew a broad game-show winner's grin. "Are you from New York?"

A half-dozen glazed donuts is a pitiful consolation prize for having lost your sense of place.

All My Friends Are Dead
(Click on the title to download the mix)

1. The Dandy Warhols - "Be-In" (00:00)
2. Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds - "Cabin Fever" (06:57)
3. Hot Snakes - "I Hate the Kids" (13:01)
4. Tom Waits - "Misery Is the River of the World"(16:05)
5. Pissed Jeans - "Fantasy World" (20:20)
6. Bachi Da Pietra - "Non Io" (23:54)
7. Fugazi - "Long Division" (27:28)
8. Brian Jonestown Massacre - "Anenome" (29:38)
9. My Bloody Valentine - "I Can See It (But I Can't Feel It)" (34:52)
10. Cody Chesnutt - "Juicin' the Dark" (37:57)
11. Faust - "Jennifer" (40:44)
12. Ringo Deathstarr - "Some Kind of Sad" (46:27)
13. Sonic Youth - "Death to Our Friends" (48:30)
14. Spiritualized - "Home of the Brave/The Individual" (51:31)
15. Burial - "Nightbus" (57:44)
16. Brian Eno - "I'll Come Running" (59:49)
17. Marvin Pontiac - "No Kids" (01:03:23)

Saturday, April 19, 2008

White People Dancing

Between my recent reintroduction to Arthur Brown and this week's revision of OMD over at Pitchfork, I've spent the past few jetlag-addled days marveling over the physics-defying gyrations of which the human body is capable. Now, I believe in a binary ultimatum - you either make music, or you move to it - and live by the former. That, however, does not mean that I don't appreciate some fancy footwork as much as the next fellow. And these days, everyone's getting a little footloose, since Dave Chappelle so guilelessly made the case that, yes, folks that aren't black can dance. (Not to mention the supposed & apparent death of irony in indie-rock which had stilted so many students' confidence on the dance floor.) True, there remain certain earmarks for objectively "good" dancing (e.g. grace, balance, pacing) but I've always admired those who throw caution, dignity, and themselves to the wind. It just so happens that many such characters are, in fact, white. Blame it on physiology: they just ain't got the hips to crump properly.

Now, there are certain qualifiers and caveat I must offer upfront. For starters, as much as I'm hypnotized by the beserker Dervish whirls perfected by the Dillinger Escape Plan, it's become so ubiquitous as to be uninteresting. Also, I acknowledge that, despite the post title White People Dancing, two Japanese made it onto the list. This is because if you want people who make white folks look like they've got five-hundred-pounds-per-square-inch of pure funk in their feet, look at the Japanese. Seriously, even their hip-hop dancing mysteriously prioritizes the upper body above the lower. As for latino Omar Rodriguez-Lopez' presence... well, who do you think listens to the Mars Volta? White people!

Finally, yes, a number of these videos are reposts, and I don't give a crap. I'm operating on a time zone eight-thousand miles west of my current location, so sue me if I'm not up to full speed.

1. Guy Picciotto of Fugazi

With all the power of a pentecostal and the effete hip-swivelling of a Meredith Monk fan.

2. Omar Rodriguez-Lopez of (then) At the Drive-In

Certainly, Cedric Bixler-Zavala has some mighty fancy moves of his own, but as frontman he obviously focuses more on making slick, big statements, whereas Omar's muse is, uh, less filtered.

3. Arthur Brown

What makes this even more absurd is to consider how vastly influential Brown was in the long term. Go down the list: Druidically-dressed doom-obsessees, spooky facepaint, skinny & sinewy dudes throwing shirtless shitfits, etc. Even the Red Hot Chili Peppers donned flaming helmets for their stint on Lollapalooza '92.

4. Ian Curtis of Joy Division

The obvious choice for fans of spazoid indie-nerd dancing everywhere. Unfortunately, the Curtis dance craze never caught on because, in fairness, you have to be an epileptic to move like that.

5. Andy McCluskey of OMD

Ian Curtis a la Molly Ringwald.

6, Damo Suzuki of Can

Bonus points for the bellbottomed unitard on this one.

7. Ian Svenonius of (then) Nation of Ulysses

Master of a modified James Brown technique, involving periods of calm punctuated by bursts of raw soul power.

8. Nick Cave

Seen here with the almighty Birthday Party - in diapers no less! I confess this selection was made not the least because this infernal mindfuck of a video deserves to be seen more widely. But shellshocked shuck-'n'-jive that Cave busts out (and continues to, to this day) is the best smack-addled softshoe around.

9. Mark Manley in The American Astronaut

Apparently, the manner in which Manley busts loose in this scene were not choreographed: this is basically what he did during his audition, and who wouldn't put a man with moves like that in a movie?

10. This chick

Actually, after watching this again, she's unarguably number one. And my god, imagine what's she's like in the sack. Kids, don't do drugs!

Monday, April 14, 2008

Show & Tell


I'd always been dimly aware of Arthur Brown as some lanky cat in facepaint that my parents digged (yes, digged, not dug, squares), but a little quality time spent with his records last week has reawakened me to this man's unmitigated genius. Try that 4-octave range on for size, kiddo! And have you ever seen such dancing? Let it be writ in the sky in magnesium flares: Arthur Brown set the precedent.

This particular video also features drum-syncing that makes the "Sweater Song" look spot-on. As the man says... Terrific!


Friends, transients, countrymen and -women... lend me your ears and wallets. As of right now, my new full-length is on the block over at Spoilt Victorian Child Records, and I would deeply appreciate your patronage. Does that sound desperate? Well, guess what, I ain't held a full-time job in three years and can't get a work permit where I'm domiciled, so yes, I'm begging. Wait, redact that - I'm busking. (You would be, after all, getting something in return.)

But hell, y'know what? The album's good enough that it can back up whatever braggadocio I throw out. So fuck begging; I'm doing you a favour by letting you know you can buy Exit Strategy right here. Who wouldn't want something that stitches together Wall of VooDoo, Ministry, and the Fall?

Friday, April 11, 2008

Fame in the Internet Age

I'll spare you (and them) their high school yearbook photos

Congratulations, lads, in little more than a year you've ascended from obscurity to satirista punchline!

How sadly predictable, too: as soon as I read "some bearded hipster guy," I knew where the joke was heading. Don't make it too easy for us curmudgeonly naysayers (boo! hiss!), boys.