Saturday, December 22, 2012
Friday, November 30, 2012
I didn't smell fall arrive in 2012. Unlike every other autumn that I can remember, that sudden undercurrent of crisp rot in the air,—I missed it somehow this year, that smell that madeleines one's mind directly into the cycle of all falls, always fall, the season of live-in decay. Cycles are forever; we are not, even with respect to ourselves.
(For me, fall has been the only season that I experience as a season, as recurrence. Winter is a time to get through, but it never feels like a déjà vu. Spring is filled with clichéd potential but never provides the temporal gap for reflection. Summer is so preoccupied with right-here-right-now that the past and present dissolve. And fall falls on us like a ravenous but patient vulture. We will always be dying our one death, which lasts forever.)
Maybe I was clinging too tightly to the rhythms of this summer's summer, when we forgive ourselves for our need for pleasure and revel in doing nothing. Lists of things that "must be done" bleach in the sun; by Labor Day, we cannot recall what was so pressing about all those things.
Indeed, it's been many, many years since the autumn that I am living in has not followed a very hot and muggy August. By contrast, fall was barely welcome this year: it brought no relief because, apart from a pair of truly warm days, the summer's summer, there was no heat in Berlin from which to be relieved.—Which is to say that fall wasn't even negatively determined this time around.
But if this is the first fall that arrived without my catching its scent, then perhaps I have finally been freed of the after-effect of so many years of school. Above all, autumn has always smelled like the first semester of a new school year, even long after I had stopped going. This is the year, then, when that ghostly feeling released its grasp, finally, belatedly, but does this also mean that I am ready to return?
Or, as Unwound sang in another song from 2001, "The future was invented back when you thought you were human, and now it's only getting better every day that we forget."
Saturday, November 17, 2012
My story is an arrangement of an ancient dream (although I would have you believe I conjured it on a glistening beach in Rio while playing chess with Isaac, whose only distinguishing feature is a single silver hair, two inches in length, sprouting from his sunburned neck). The critic will hail it as “raw and heroic, an autobiographical indulgence.” The astute reader will recognize its irrelevance. The homme de lettres, who incidentally no longer exists, will cry, “Derivative!” Neither of these appraisals would have made much of an impression on the hero of my story, and they need not concern us either.
Friday, November 9, 2012
Wednesday, October 31, 2012
I recall all of this as my Internet begins to fill with news of the death of Lebbeus Woods (see also Steven Holl remembers Lebbeus Woods, not to mention An Architect Unshackled by Limits of the Real World, etc.). I also remember flipping through Radical Reconstruction, which OF had lent me, while lounging on MK's bed in her tiny Fort Greene apartment; that must have been the summer of 2001. Radical Reconstruction hit me like an anvil, though it wasn't until I came to Berlin, perhaps, that its lessons sunk in.
Wednesday, October 24, 2012
Here is where my OCD and my hoarder-ish tendencies combine to make being un-free seem preferable to...whatever being free is. The hoarding is a family trait, via one parent, the procrastination (a.k.a. perfectionism) also, via the other. Are we not the synthesis of our parents' worst characteristics? I see it in my own Kind:
Parenting isn’t so much passing along positive traits as attempting to minimize the transfer of negative ones. If you’re lucky, you might be able to break even, but you’ll never be in the black. In this sense, children raise us because they make our flaws visible and more vivid than our virtues and force us to focus upon and mitigate them.
This reminds me that, as a child, I used to play a game with the neighbors that involved hiding one’s action figures around the yard; I buried my original Princess Leia in a hole at the edge of the lawn by the bulkhead. I’ve probably already told you this story, which should give you a sense of how the burial and permanent loss of Princess Leia continues to be a discussed event among my family. For a long time my father would look for her while mowing the lawn, thinking that she would turn up someday, if only in pieces, thanks to the mower. Many years later, a girlfriend came upon an original Princess Leia at a flea market and gifted it to me. I have hoarded that one still, I think, unless it found a new owner when I left Cambridge...perhaps it was finally passed down to someone else?
Friday, September 28, 2012
Monday, August 27, 2012
I have also lost interest in you. You are lost. I have begun to understand where I am, despite this city's size. I did not check the map once today, on my long ride to make an appointment in person -- because I am evidently too stupid to understand how to dial the office's telephone number correctly.
Also, on the way back, I derive a pleasurable sense of moral rectitude from pedantically waiting at traffic signals when no one is coming. That there are no witnesses to my strictness only increases the feeling of rectitude.
Pretty girls on bikes, why are you wearing tights in this heat?
Thursday, August 23, 2012
Instead of pulling over the guy slowly cycling through a right-hand turn -- OK, yes, the light was red -- at one or two miles per hour, in a quiet and pretty empty neighborhood street, you might want to focus your attention on the busy intersection just up the way, and the packs of reckless young people blowing through it on their fake track bikes, no matter what the signal says.
PS: Also, why does it take four of you to write up a single traffic citation?
PPS: I know I said I was sorry, but I'm not.
PPPS: No, contrary to what you said, what I did was not "sehr gefährlich."
Thursday, July 12, 2012
The following first appeared on Facebook, July 11, 2012.
"'Today, 43 per cent of Berlin consists of forest, lakes, parks and agricultural land -- an area of 382 km2 in total, nearly seven times the size of Manhattan Island (57 km2). Twenty per cent of this open space is protected land -- that's 76.4 km2 to be exact, one and a third times the size of Manhattan Island'" (http://verspaetet.blogspot.com/2012/05/cities-cities-cities-cities.html).
PS--Hey, New York City, oddly, come August 2013, I will be living in you again.
Friday, June 8, 2012
We kept passing people carrying household supplies: a giant sack of packages of toilet paper, armfuls of sponges, a jug of Allzweckreiniger. We are nearly run down by a woman on a bicycle loaded with four or five industrial-sized boxes of powdered laundry detergent. As we round the corner onto Kottbusser Damm, ach so: the Schlecker there is having some kind of going-out-of-business sale. There is a crowd of people waiting to enter – a thick line winds through the entire store from door to Kasse. People are cleaning this place out.
An old man sitting outside makes an apparently humorous observation about RJKY and her papa. We smile uncomprehendingly into the sun.
In the courtyard of the Tagesmutter's building, there is a man – in mask and apron – welding a grocery cart. The courtyard is shared with a cafe, movie theater, and Turkish grocery store. He seems to be working for the store. Is he simply repairing the cart? Or is he reinforcing it for some unique task? It goes without saying, I think, that we do not always see people welding grocery carts on our way to daycare.
A workman enters the building behind us and then, with smiles and mumbles of encouragement, patiently allows RJKY to go first up the stairs. She reaches the door and knocks. He stops. Ah: he is also going to the Tagesmutter's. Something about the plumbing.
RJKY's friend N has worms.
While receiving this news, a phone call (and somewhere, a star fall, I suppose). My telephone never rings. I am not at home. It's the company installing a faster Net connection in The New Apartment. The call is dropped. They are kind enough to call back. I forget to collect the Laufrad from the courtyard and have to recross Kottbusser Damm.
Other workmen have left a trailer full of dirt blocking the door.
I squint into the sun as I pass an already bustling La Femme.
Tuesday, June 5, 2012
Wednesday, May 30, 2012
The process through which my music player, news sources, mail, and writing instrument all came to reside in a single device/interface has been nothing short of a personal disaster.
I really believe this.
Once, as They say, it was a boombox, electric typewriter, handwritten letters, printed newspapers. (And He rested on the seventh day.)
Stereos of varying sophistication and power came and went, but they were always Their Own Thing. The old typewriter was swapped for an unwieldy 386; later I acquired a b/w laptop incapable of connecting to the Net – a glorified typewriter, then. Along the way, indeed, the Internet "arrived," and correspondence shifted to email mostly; but I always had to access the Net from school or work, i.e. not from the hinky little laptop on my main desk at home.
On the eve of September 11, I received a used freebie, an old beige Power Mac G3, and in a single stroke, music, the Net (meaning news and correspondence, mainly, but plenty else as well), and "word processing" were collapsed into this one satanic Ding with/in which I have lived for more than a decade.
Now I endlessly flit from activity to activity – choosing music, checking for new mail, tapping a sentence here, or there, social network sites, oh, God, checking for new mail – never able to hover sufficiently over a single project to produce anything except exhaustion and a sense of Lost Time.
Friday, May 25, 2012
Thanks to the magic of Shuffle, I just happened to hear "Seeing You" and was transported back to AWITN's show in Allston several (many?) years ago – and recalled the personal errand I ran in connection with it. Through the Ides of March is a great album. That show at Great Scott was also great.
And I heard "Seeing You," and I thought: I wonder what AWITN is up to now. And lo, their band page on Exile from Mainstream's site says that they are playing in Berlin...tonight. This bit of the uncanny is itself consistent with the atmosphere of Through the Ides of March.
Wednesday, May 16, 2012
when, after our midday nap, rjky and i are sitting on our respective potties, facing one another with a basket of magazines between us, rjky always insists on taking Der Spiegel and The Economist for herself, as she pushes Elle été and old issues of Brigitte into my hands...
The following first appeared on Facebook, February 18, 2012.
rjky has added the word "tower" to her vocabulary -- usually in reference to the massive spires that have become her stock in trade when we're playing legos. so i'm teaching her the chorus...a perfect song from a perfect album (an album, what's more, that often dominated my late night, high school joy rides of alienation and boredom): indeed,
"radio waves curve and cross / I stand below them / lost // above me is a black obelisk / and the dangers that I risk // here gather the ghosts of the mind / that tear my heart and here I find / all the traps that have been set / everything I would forget beneath / The Tower The Tower The Tower The Tower The Tower The Tower The Tower The Tower"
Monday, May 14, 2012
Reader's book isn't really governed by an argument, except maybe that cities are hard on the environment, which is tantamount to saying that people are (how insightful!). The chapters could be read in any order, really; each chapter pairs a theme and a couple of case study cities, but their sequence isn't important. The prose is sober, bordering on boring. This overall nibble-ability is my excuse for taking seven or eight months to read it. (That, and my sudden interest in second-tier serial television dramas. Seriously.) Cities would make a great bathroom book.
And I feel as though I learned many things that I should already have known (and that I have already forgotten). Here are four I keep turning over:
I. "The traditional view, deeply entrenched in academic literature and popular writing on the subject, is that the development of grain cultivation on the fertile soils of Sumer, and the invention of the plough, enabled farmers to produce surpluses, which not only led to a rapid increase in population but also inspired village communities to coalesce and form cities. Thus the world's first cities are said to have arisen simply because farmers had discovered a way of producing more food than they needed for themselves. But there is an alternative view of the evidence, suggesting that the crucial developments occurred in reverse order - namely that the cities came first and advances in farming technology came only as a response to the demands of the cities" (14-15).
II. "In 1920 the city had extended its boundaries to include the surrounding network loosely linked towns and communities which had always been informally known as part of Berlin but whose regional differences had often frustrated the city's plans for growth and development. Eight towns, fifty-nine parishes and twenty-seven rural estates joined the central districts of old Berlin to create a city which grew more than twelvefold in the process: from 65 to 820 km2. Of that area a third (273 km2) was forest and natural landscape; furthermore, the legislation which had created Greater Berlin guaranteed that a large proportion should stay that way. Today, 43 per cent of Berlin consists of forest, lakes, parks and agricultural land - an area of 382 km2 in total, nearly seven times the size of Manhattan Island (57 km2). Twenty per cent of this open space is protected land - that's 76.4 km2 to be exact, one and a third times the size of Manhattan Island" (284-285; emphasis mine).
III. "No wonder demographers and historians write of the 'urban graveyard effect'. Deaths exceeded births in all great cities. Indeed, it was not until the beginning of the twentieth century that urban populations became reproductively self-sustaining - when, in other words, the number of births in a city began to exceed the number of deaths recorded each year. Before then, cities needed a constant flow of migrants from the countryside simply to maintain their population size - let alone provide for the astonishing growth that many of them experienced" (217-18).
IV. "Which means that if everyone on Earth lived as comfortably as the average citizen of North America we would need not just one, but three planets to provide for them all" (303).
Friday, April 27, 2012
I recently returned from Asia, including two weeks in Myanmar (which I loved, despite the political context), where, as is my habit, I tried to track down some local music. I was invited to a punk show at a shopping mall by some enthusiastic male students from an English class I randomly led for a couple of mornings; but, as it turns out, it was a day or two before Independence Day, and the authorities were not likely to let the show take place. I skipped it. On the other hand, I did attend the most bizarre New Year's Eve party of my short life; imagine: a high-class hotel; reserved, numbered tables; an all-you-can-eat buffet; unlimited drinks; a rowdy crowd (mostly from Singapore and other parts of the Malay Peninsula, not to mention lots of Thai and Chinese, plus some South Asians from the RoI, and a pair of fat tourists, probably Germans); an emcee who can only be described as a pastiche of Chris Tucker's character in "The Fifth Element"; crowd participation (couples tug-of-war, female wrestling, an endless raffle (I won two nights in a luxury hotel in the Shan state, close to the Golden Triangle, that I couldn't use because they expired, well, a couple of weeks ago)); the weirdest dance thing I've ever seen, complete with midget and scrawny, overdriven Asian belly dancer; and a dozen or more live music performances.--All tied together by the theme of this particular New Year's Eve bash: The Gladiator (I shit you not).
The music ran the entire pop gamut, from covers of midwestern bar jukebox classics like Kenny Rodgers to odd, punky, Avril Lavigne (I think) type stuff (with some rapping thrown in, heh). The English-language hits sung in Burmese were by far the most interesting. The setup was two bands, each of which played along with the many individual vocalists and pairs of vocalists, who would all dutifully present their sheet music to the band before turning to the audience, mic in hand. One thing I really enjoyed: no vocalist could sing more than a few bars before audience members would begin streaming to the stage to pin flowers in their hair and to give them helium balloons to hold (picture, if you will, a long-haired rocker guy, with fingerless gloves, studded denim jacket, daintily holding a pink balloon). Some vocalists finished their performance completely weighted down by the outpourings of the audience -- something like putting dollar bills in the g-string of a stripper, only G-rated. The smoke machine was in heavy, heavy use. I couldn't understand the performers' names, but some of them seemed to be famous, at least in Yangon. The situation of a single band playing with multiple vocalists is more or less the norm, from what I can tell.
Myanmar's biggest band (for a decade now), Iron Cross, is a hard rock outfit with several singers. I bought two Iron Cross disks on a shopping trip with a student from the English class I mentioned. They are, to wit, Lay Phyu's "Kha Na Layy Myarr" and Myo Gyi's "Nate Sa Du Wa," and their schizophrenic trajectories, from almost Pantera-like heaviness to Hong Kong film soundtrack sappiness, is apparently completely unsurprising. I've actually really begun to enjoy all of the songs, though, even the cheesiest of them, but the standout is Lay Phyu's amazing "Ma Mayt Pyit Net" (yes, even with the string section).
I also picked up some tapes on the street that I hope to digitize soon, the first of some traditional music (which I don't expect to differ radically from the Burmese folk music available through the totally amazing Sublime Frequencies), the second, "Emperor Oasis," by a singer who looks kind of like a Burmese Sonny Crockett (that promises to be fun: though the jacket is nicely printed, the tape itself is a regular old 60-minute unit you could pick up in a drugstore (or maybe not, anymore)).
My big purchase, though, is hiphop heartthrob Sai Sai's "Happy Sai Sai Birthday" album, a recording of a show Sai Sai played on, yes, his birthday (the closer is the audience singing happy birthday to him). Much of the music sounds vaguely like something you've already heard (scraps of Eminem, what have you), but the Burmese rapping is -- pardon the expression -- totally awesome, particularly the ghetto superstar (re)remix "Chit Thu Tan Ta Tha Chin" feat. Kaung Myat (of "My Name Is Kaung Myat" fame) and Nge Nge. Sai Sai's website is http://www.saisaionline.com.
All of this music was purchased on the recommendation of one student I spent some time with while in Yangon. I asked him to take me record shopping, and it was his help that resulted in me getting to hear the disks before buying them (I mean, in the first place, he took me to the right store). Thankfully my wife was traveling with her laptop, and I was able to return the favor, loading him up with music that is completely unknown in Yangon (Pixies, El-P, Sleepytime Gorilla Museum, Blonde Redhead, and so on). He wrote me an email a couple of weeks ago to say that he really likes everything I gave him.
Tuesday, April 24, 2012
Five blog posts, then, one for each year worked at Berkman – though this blog wasn't activated until about two years into my time [t]here, which was, all together, five years, two months, and two weeks, exactly. So.
A cranky dilettante, to judge from these meager posts, is a kind of not speaking; or, a muttering that never quite rises to the audible level of the blog named for it.
The initial impulse – hardly a flicker really, and decidedly lacking the dignity and pedigree of an Intention – was to provide myself with a space in which to share the notes I would scratch and scribble during the many Berkman Center events I attended over the years. But the (admittedly remote) possibility that even one person might come across these notes was enough to set off my Pathologically Time-Consuming Prose Revision Compulsion™. I simply edited everything out of existence. I am no blogger.
In point of fact, this post has taken me more than a month to write, and the occasion for its composition, my departure from the Center, is nine months behind us – though I feel, thanks to the second family I found in the Berkman staff, as though I’m simply on a very long vacation. Here is my “out of office forever” bounce message:
Thanks for your message.
As of August 2011, I am no longer at the Berkman Center for Internet & Society.
* If you're a reporter, please resend your email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
* For other matters, please consult the staff list at http://cyber.law.harvard.edu/people/staff for the correct contact.
* If you're unsure of the right person to contact, please send an email to email@example.com.
After a fuzz more than five years as a full-time staffer among the amazing folks who lead and support the Berkman Center, I am relocating to Europe for a couple of years -- with huge gratitude to the many people inside and outside Berkman who have made my time here challenging, engaging, and fun.
Personal messages may be sent to my personal email address, or feel free to track me down via your favorite social network site.
See you on the Internet!
Five years is longer than I was in college, and it’s as long as I was in grad school before disappearing one day, without a word of farewell. Five years is almost a long time.
But it is also true that I am sorry, I think, to miss this, for reasons that I have not been able to untangle for myself. And now I must decide whether or not to submit a photograph and biography to the so-called Reunion Book. What would such a biography say? Would it be written in the first or third person? Perhaps it is written in the second person. Yeah, that could be my trick.
Having aped one of Joel Brodsky’s “young lion” photographs of Jim Morrison for my senior yearbook portrait, captioned with a confusing quotation about anarchy or something, I feel -- and in this I have not risen above my adolescence -- that it is important to double or double up or double down on the rebellionizing now, twenty years on.
But negation and provocation are not indifference. I am uncompromised, to appearances, but I am also unfree, as in un-indifferent. So I may as well send something in?
There is this, and then there are all of these, uh, social media profiles...which one supposes a clever robot could assemble into a nifty dossier/profile. Aye, a robot. Aye, robot.
So I may as well send something in? No, putting all of this into writing has succeeded in working out the kink. Sorry or not, I shall do nothing. There.
I have passed the test. I will diminish, and go into the West, and remain an asshole.
* In a delightful twist, I will arrive in the locality of the reunion, to visit my family, just days after the event.
Sunday, April 22, 2012
...when I arrived as a first-year [student] myself, I was delighted to tape two new CDs from you...: they were Painkiller's "Guts of a Virgin" and "Buried Secrets." I remember there was some controversy with the album cover of one of these, but I don't remember what it was ["Guts of a Virgin" was censored in the UK]. I still had the original cassette copies of those albums until this summer when, in the moving "process" (i.e. apocalypse), I shed a large number of tapes -- to the sidewalk. Hopefully some East Cambridge neighborhood kid is having his mind blown right now by Scud Attack, having stumbled into the pile of cassettes and fished out a few that looked interesting.
I remember you saying to me knowingly: It's John Zorn and Bill Laswell with the insane drummer from Napalm Death. And, since I had some passing familiarity with Napalm Death, I nodded knowingly.
Years later, in NYC, [PK] was trying to open my mind to drum and bass and other electronic musics. Of the many, many disks he loaned me...a few stayed in my library. Two were Mick Harris projects (including a perennial, personal favorite, "Total Station").
Two or three days ago, I was reading a record review that mentioned blast beats and thought to myself, "All these years I've told myself I know what a blast beat is, but do I really? I think I have to confess to myself that, as a technical matter, I do not know." The Wikipedia entry on blast beat features Napalm Death prominently, and so, at last, I learned that Mick Harris, of Total Station and many other electronic projects fame, was the drummer in Painkiller and Napalm Death, among other live bands.
Tuesday, April 17, 2012
Tuesday, April 3, 2012
I expend all my will not to drink, so that, drinking, I should drink out of failure, in the sovereign intensity of failure.
Wednesday, March 28, 2012
These over-HTML'd myspace profile pages are as intriguing as they are annoying...the rush to say everything about oneself, all at once, in a concatenation, nay, an explosion! of pictures and visual motifs (and/or a song, while the text, by contrast, becomes barely legible), a kind of hysterical insistence, identity by proxy, as though a list of favorite movies were not already enough to flatten subjectivity into a display of effects. There is in this rush, this hysteria, a certain honesty. Overwhelm me with your truth! And when you do, thankfully, there will be nothing left to desire and no speech.
In futile symbolic protest of the new Facebook TOS, I’m deleting my one “Note” in Facebook and reposting it here.
March 15, 2008
Yesterday morning I read — mostly sympathetically — an opinion piece on Salon about youth and the Internet (http://www.salon.com/mwt/feature/2008/03/14/kids_and_internet). One bit of diction pricked me: “Teenagers today read and write for fun; it’s part of their social lives. We need to start celebrating this unprecedented surge, incorporating it as an educational tool instead of meeting it with punishing pop quizzes and suspicion” (emphasis added).
For the last year, since the so-called surge of occupation forces in Iraq, I’ve been taking note of the use of “surge” in the press, on- and off-line, and I believe that its use has increased. Admittedly it’s possible that endless prattle about the surge in Iraq has sensitized me to the word, permitting me to take note, whereas before the word would have slipped past, invisibly, as it were. But I don’t think so. I would contend that, now, everything can be a surge, is capable of surging: profits, hospital admissions, inflation, companies, support for presidential candidates, market demand, unemployment claims, liabilities, interest in an issue, crime, sports teams, prices, emotions, and so on; support for the troop surge itself, if there is any, can be said to surge. Now, “surge” has become so current as to be able to describe the increase in its use: a surge of writers using “surge.”
This is not to say that “surge,” deployed figuratively, cannot accommodate this broad range of uses. Rather, reflecting on the current context of this range, I want to ask to what extent the militarization of the U.S. is accompanied by, or bound up with, a rhetorical militarization. After all, I’ve just written “deployed” in connection with the use of a word.
A friend commented nearly a year later, writing:
Very astute. And not to have elicited a comment. Pearls before swine. I’d like to suggest “seiche” as a possible antidote to the overuse of “surge.” A seiche, I learned today, is a standing wave in an enclosed body of water that, due to its long wavelength, is often imperceptible to the eye http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Seiche).
I’m thinking that “seiche” could be used to describe long, subtle trends, that go unnoticed to “observers in boats on the surface.” Say, ramping up of law enforcement surveillance after 9/11, or rising rents in NYC.
It is not a sexy, militarized word. The other problem is one of pronunciation. “Pronounced “/seɪʃ/, or approximately saysh)”, it does not rhyme with quiche. Please advise.
These Genghis novelizations are fun. However, I was annoyed and disappointed by the author's inexplicable decision to refer to the Persians and Persianized Turks encountered by the Mongols in this installment as Arabs, e.g., the Khwarezmids were decidedly not Arabs! Such an incredible departure from history requires an explanation, but the historical note at the end of the novel doesn't mention it, though it does mention a number of much less drastic alterations to the record. How to account for this disastrous lapse? Is the author stupid or lazy or both? Or perhaps he needs to fire his editor.
The Maggot will be having a house guest while I am away next week visiting The Fam, so I’ve tried to clean up my desk area, which is in the living/guest room. Part of the clean up has been to reorganize the piles and piles and piles of tapes in light of my new motivation for continuing with the tape digitization project, mainly MOG. Yes, these MOG posts are affording me some focus on the process. And in the process I came across some (7) low hanging fruit, i.e. had already been captured and just needed to be cleaned up and tagged...
Two tracks, one from Coffin Break, the other from Skin Yard, from an old Kiss covers compilation (from vinyl to tape to mp3: the results sound, mmm, iffy).
Two more tracks, one from Coffin Break again, the other from the incomparable Alice Donut (Brooklyn?), from an old Buzzcocks covers compilation (again, from vinyl to tape to mp3).
A side of an old Coffin Break 7”, Freebird/Pop Fanatic.
So that’s five covers of quote-unquote classics from predominantly Seattle bands. In fact – though without the original sleeves I’m only guessing – I’ll bet all of these were recorded by Jack Endino. If the so-called Seattle sound exists then it’s determined exactly by the tireless work of Endino in the 80s and 90s. Anyway. I must have more covers compilations featuring Seattle bands lurking in the towers of tapes. I recall that they were all the rage among the SubPop/related folks.
Two tracks from Tad’s 1989 “God’s Balls,” which still fucking rules (and was also recorded by Endino, natch). When you buy the “Salt Lick” CD you get a chunk of “God’s Balls,” but for some reason these two gems, “Hollow Man” and “Nipple Belt,” aren’t there (along with the first couple tracks on the album). “Nipple Belt,” especially, totally rocks me...and not in a nostalgic way. I love this song – long, throaty yells from Tad and a punishing two guitar attack over a simple and fuzzy bass line: “And I need some kerosene / I need some antifreeze / to keep my girls young.” Word.
my messenger bag — made in good ol’spokane, wa, in about ’90 or ’91 and guaranteed for life, though the manufacturer has been out of business for years — my messenger bag — the one that has served me daily through college, grad school, long beach, seattle, hijinks, tomfoolery, work days, lost days, fat days, thin days, days in cairo, beijing, yangon, deep winter commutes in cambridge — my messenger bag — the nylon of which is now so thin you can see through it — my messenger bag needs to be retired. won’t you recommend its replacement? i’m looking for a hand-made-in-usa, over-the-shoulder courier bag to join me for the next 20 years...
In response to my post about Ben MacMillan, Pleaseeasaur wrote to say, "It's so wild to me how certain albums or bands conjure up specific eras and even specific moments in my memory." I agree. I am always blown away by how microscopically certain bands/albums/songs evoke moments and stretches of time. I can't listen to "Joe's friend's band" (that was how Pleaseeasaur's Superchunk, "Foolish" tape was labeled) without seeing the two of us, driving in his yellow Volvo, on Sportsman Club Road on Bainbridge Island, on a relatively sunny day, with a small cassette deck between our two seats. Where were we going that day? The destination cannot be recalled. The journey unfolds in my mind with radical clarity: we turn off 305 onto Sportsman Club, the car begins to climb a long, gradual hill, the song is "Like a Fool."
Tuesday, March 27, 2012
Ben McMillan died recently. I am really saddened by this news. My sincere condolences to Ben's fiance, family, and friends—and fans.
My friend and fellow fan Pleaseeasaur wrote me yesterday to point me to a Seattle PI blog with some songs and videos from the two bands Ben sang for: Skin Yard and Gruntruck, both of which I adored when I was growing up.
I still love both of these bands. For me, Skin Yard's music has aged better, maybe. Or perhaps it's simply that Skin Yard was one of the first bands, along with another SY band, Sonic Youth, to obsess me completely—and not only because of the coincidence of shared initials. Of course I have all of the albums and most of the singles recorded by Skin Yard and Gruntruck, and then some. My favorite Skin Yard incarnation is the lineup of Ben, ingenius Jack Endino, drummer Scott McCullum a.k.a. Norman Scott (who also drummed for Gruntruck), and bassist D. House (weirdly, a dozen years ago, I was involved in interviewing Daniel for a job to which he applied). Skin Yard's '88 album Hallowed Ground, which I'm listening to right now, feels classic. Every time I listen to Skin Yard, Hallowed Ground in particular, I get choked up on a wave of memories and flashbacks from my youth in the Pacific Northwest. It's raining, I'm driving through a seemingly endless tunnel of evergreens.
I tried to go to every all-ages show Skin Yard played in Seattle during my last two years of high school. Once I stayed for an especially long encore and missed the last Winslow-bound ferry. I slept on a wooden bench at the Colman dock. I was sweaty, it was cold, but I didn't care. Seems there was always a large pit when Skin Yard played, but I felt that it was a safe space, that someone would pick you up if you fell, people were smiling, laughing. I credit Ben's community-minded, almost fatherly, regard for his fans as the reason for these slam dancing utopias. I can't number the nights that my friend Josh and I drove around Kitsap County in his old Audi, listening to Skin Yard and smoking nasty Benson & Hedges menthols.—Or, driving along in an altered state, having to pull over during the song "G.O.D." because I was experiencing something like an epiphany. The song remains one of my favorites: the way Ben's saying "talk" over and over organically fuses into the rhythm of the song's opening moments to become a "tock," a haunting, extra bit of percussion, of time.—Or, driving with Josh to Olympia to see Nirvana, singing along to "Drunk on Kerosene" at the top of my lungs. Ben's long scream in the song "Hallowed Ground" is one of the most spine-tingling rock vox in my music collection. I had the Skin Yard t-shirt with the nasty Giger image on the front and "too much acid / too many people / too little to do" on the back. My mother refused to touch the shirt, so its purchase marked the moment when I began doing my own laundry. I wore the shirt so frequently that, when it was retired to a cedar chest with other scrapbook-like objects, only the printing was holding it together, the cloth having disintegrated.
I think Ben was from Poulsbo, the tiny town where I grew up, but, at least, he hailed from the same side of the sound? maybe Suquamish? I think I wanted to be Ben McMillan. After my first Skin Yard show, I started wearing jeans and black leather belts and shoes like Ben. I grew my hair, had earrings. I formed a band with friends, The Dorx. Whether unconsciously or not, I tried to imitate Ben's vocals. Lots of effects, tight versification, some religious themes. I listened to Gruntruck's album Push on a daily basis during my sophomore year in college. It was the soundtrack for my bout with a certain addiction and of my coming to my senses several months later and recommitting myself to my studies.
One of my birthdays coincided with a Gruntruck show at the OK Hotel (I can't quite triangulate the date, must have been my 18th, spring of '92). The logic of the coincidence was compelling: I took the ferry to Seattle for the occasion. Gruntruck played with savage precision that night. "Move in Silence" was perfectly executed and listening to it now, years later, gives me a shiver. Ben high-fived me when I was being squeezed against the stage by the moshing crowd behind me. He was drenched in perspiration, his long hair matted to his forehead. I was ecstatic. The evening is captured in the black and white photo inside the Push jacket: the top of my head can be seen just below Ben on stage; I am facing the crowd, as though part of the performance, which I was, for, despite the aural brutality of his music, there is beauty: Ben had a way of linking himself to the audience to create a momentary antidote to alienation. He will be missed.
Monday, March 26, 2012
As I mentioned in my second post, for months I have been digitizing my old cassette tapes, which number in the hundreds. The population is uneven and mostly marked by various periods of poverty: from albums I taped in college before selling the disks for cigarette money to rare and out of print vinyl I taped over the years. Some of these, of course, will not be digitized because, hearing them now, I think they suck. Others are cause for disbelief: how could I have gone for so long without hearing this? Last night's digitizing falls into the latter category:
Jesse Bernstein, "The Sad Bag" (1) an out of print 1990 Trigger Recordings cassette-only release, recorded live at COCA (Seattle), with a cover designed by Madame Talbot. (Does anyone know what the fifth track is titled?) I originally copied this from Ben Blankenship (2) back in the very early 90s; I was just finishing high school. Ah, the stories I could tell about seeing Bernstein read. His "opening" for Jello Biafra at the OK Hotel back in, uh, 90? 91? sticks out in my mind: it was very crowded and hot, and Bernstein repeatedly dowsed the crowd with water from a plastic gallon jug.
Steel Pole Bath Tub, unidentified cd5 (3). I have no idea when this came out (and haven't been able to ID it; offers of help gratefully accepted), and the sound quality is awful. But, hey, I was able to preserve two of my favorite SPBT songs. In college, tens of times, I saw SPBT at the apparently now defunct Satyricon (Portland). They frequently appeared on the bill with Heavy Johnson Trio (whose bassist was a cook at the then recently opened Delta Cafe in SE and whose diminutive guitarrist usually appeared wearing a huge viking helmet, complete with horns), as well as the fucking amazing Gern Blanston, long since broken up -- a huge loss for PDX music. This SPBT is a very special recording for me, as I copied it from a dear friend who passed away a few years ago and who was my constant companion and driver for all those nights at the Satyricon: Julia Harrison, peace be upon her (4).
Both Bernstein and SPBT have significant online afterlives: here and here, respectively.
About ten years ago I lent Ali Ahmed my copy of VN’s The Gift. I can’t recall now the precise reason for his request. Professor Ahmed was one of my favorite people at Queens College. I savored our short, energetic conversations about marxism, Professor Ahmed saying, “Yes, yes, yes,” and nodding his head rapidly while we vibrated in the field of students coming and going across the threshold of Rathaus. I forgot to ask him to return the The Gift before I moved out of The City a couple of years later. That copy has become a gift in its own right. It had been a member of the full set of VN’s novels that my parents presented me with when, after the first semester of my junior year of college, I announced that I was going to read every word the man had ever written. Imagine my delight — yes, I just typed, “Imagine my delight” — when the box under the Christmas tree was ripped open to reveal the tremendous bulk of VN’s novels. That delight was repeated and intensified infinitely in the actual reading, which took me a semester and a summer and cued my senior thesis on Pale Fire. Today, at the Cambridgeside Galleria Borders Bookstore, I finally bought a new copy of The Gift.
Sunday, March 25, 2012
the therapist was right.