Thursday, June 16, 2005

How many monkey butlers will there be?

From the lovely and ever-curious Miz Lola comes this important information from the Transportation Security Administration. Now, when you take your helper monkey with you on U.S.-based flights, you'll know exactly what you're getting into.

It's tough to make a call on the best line from this thang, but a strong argument can be made for: "The inspection process may require that the handler take off the monkey’s diaper as part of the visual inspection."

Friday, June 10, 2005

Away the Reds!!!

Second post in a day? That can only mean one thing...

Liverpool has been granted a place in next year's Champions League - as, of course, they should.

Is it really so strange?

Has it really been this long? I can't even begin to think about all the excellent crap that's gone on since my last post. So I won't.

Instead, I'll point you (and I don't know who on earth you are since I don't tell anyone about this thang...) to William E. Jones' website. Because, first of all, my new favorite writer - Iain Aitch, more for his subject choices than any mind-blowing stylistic feat, but remember, taste is the new talent, so Aitch qualifies as ABSOLUTE GENIUS - wrote an article about him.

But most importantly because Jones' film Is It Really So Strange? has got to be the most wonderful example of cross-cultural pollination in recent pop history. Strange? documents a scene in East L.A. where young Latinos have become, en masse, OBSESSED with Morrissey and The Smiths. There are entire club nights where nothing but Moz's stuff is played, and a Latino-fronted Smiths cover band - The Sweet and Tender Hooligans.

Of course, in a way, I s'pose it makes perfect sense: The Smiths is all about being alienated within a culture that is supposed to embrace you, and which you are supposed to embrace. The Smiths, and Moz too, is, as Aitch put it, "shorthand for middle English, middle-class, late-teen angst". It's about being intensely British - Keats, Yeats, Wilde, trains to London, Panic on the streets of Dundee, Essex Boys and Girls, tea and a bit o' crumpet - while simultaneously being cast out of that culture for reasons that one simply can't understand. Hence the fixation on characters like James Dean, Marilyn, and Shelagh Delaney, Americans and Brits who epitomized the "revolt into style".

So, I s'pose, if'n yer a young Latino at somewhat of that same cultural turning point - when you're absolutely not an outsider, you're part of a growing majority in some places, and you're certainly not out of place or context, but at the same time the surrounding culture doesn't seem to embrace you (how many young middle-class Latinos are in mainstream cinema? TV?) - why not buy into that angst?

Woah. That's probably all a load of shit. Hell, I live in Pittsburgh, where there's, like, five Latinos... if somebody stumbles across this and has a better take on it, that'd be lovely. Until then, I'll revel in a world in which completely unrecognizable cultural connections are still possible; in which there still can be an underground, despite all our post-modern technological contacts; a world where the iconography of Marilyn Monroe and that of the Virgin of Guadalupe can still be brought together as representations of the same force.

Thursday, April 14, 2005

Press release du jour

Received via email:

"You received the wrong press release re: Richie Havens. We here at Madison House Publicity realize Homer AK is in Alaska. For some reason all of your e-mail addresses were considered to be in Alaska. I bet the weather is alot nicer in your area.Anyway, sorry for any inconvience, but as soon as Richie is really in your area we will let you know. "

Thursday, April 07, 2005

Very, Very Slow Fade

Sasha Frere-Jones on Slint in the new New Yorker is one of those pieces of music writing that, like the best music itself does, made me look at the minor quirks of my own life in a completely different way; appreciate something I’d not appreciated; glory in the negative and transcend it. That’s a lot of weight to put on someone who apparently has stories about dating related to Big Black and wants to see Oxford Collapse on Cribs. But sir can get the job done.

Two weekends ago, The Johnsons Big Band went to Chicago to play the Hideout and then back up the world’s greatest living Englishwoman, Sally Timms, as she opened for Slint at a mega-venue called Park West. It was important to me because I adore Sally and because it would’ve been – had the entire crowd paid attention – the largest crowd I’ve ever played for. But it was mostly important because these two shows, buffered by a few hours of the most enjoyably hedonistic stupidity the JBB has yet produced, were the last the Johnsons will ever play.

Slint is one of those bands, not unlike Simon & Garfunkel, which I despise for reasons completely unrelated to the band itself: Spiderland was the record amongst people who, in my college radio days, tormented me unknowingly; confusions which turned to wounds which turned to scabs that have never fully healed. Plus, Slint went on to inspire so many of the artists which truly turn me off of music – music that’s aimed at the head, which is fine, and which ignores the ass, the throat, the fingers and the breath. Which is not fine. Seeing them live in concert, pausing for minutes between songs, arch-fans booing and shushing those who dared to show their unworthiness by breaking the silence, redoubled my ill will.

But reading Frere-Jones on Slint, two weeks after the show, makes me see a different show. Not holier-than-thou indie showmanship, on the part of band and fans, but an entire generation of now-grown college-radio boys, paralyzed by their own inability to communicate, and by their own stiff upper lips. Slint’s refusal to, for example, speak to the audience between songs wasn’t some kind of academic statement – it was a nod to that audience’s needs. The audience needed, for an hour or two, to communicate solely through plodding guitar articulations and seat-shaking bass-and-drum crashes. As Frere-Jones says, “… proxy for all the stuff that boys don’t talk about: that excruciating weekend with your new stepfather; that scary walk in the woods; that rift with your best friend, whom you haven’t seen in years.”

And it’s only now, reading F-J’s piece, that I realize the life-imitating-art perfection of that Slint show: Slint’s music is about all the reasons why The Johnsons, which I will always consider one of the best bands to ever play, could never succeed and can’t continue to exist. That weekend, that walk, that rift, that inability to simply state a need, ask for help, decry an injustice, spend time alone or request meaningful company: When someone asks why we split, I couldn’t quite explain it, since we get along so well musically and personally. But our music has ceased to be about introversion and collapse – it’s become about extroversion and community, stability and reasoning. Meanwhile, inside, most of us are still terrified of being asked our opinion, yet upset at not having that opinion listened to. We’re guardedly pessimistic. In the end, our music became something that fulfilled the needs of each individual within the band and the audience – to create a commonality and then subsume itself within that commonality – but it ceased to fulfill the needs of The Johnsons as one dysfunctional subset of that commonality.

Halfway into Slint’s set, we all left. We grouped together for what will probably prove the final time, complete with the roadshow of girlfriends and stragglers, and stood outside Park West hailing cabs and divvying up responsibilities, all the while blagging on about that moment’s common enemy: Slint blew. I mean they fucking sucked. And their fans sucked. It was everything we hated about indie rock, despite the fact that some of us were big fans. (Sam, for example, soundchecked his drums with Spiderland beats, which he not only knows but teaches to his young student.) But the fact is, perhaps Slint is what we don’t like about ourselves, and what we didn’t like about our own music – not its sounds or its feel, but the missing links that made it all fail.

Ahh, fuck it and go check out bassnation’s new mix, Darkest Before Dawn, a Dawn of the Dead-style update of darkcore and, more importantly, just some sweet evil sounds. Mmmm...

Friday, April 01, 2005

Bill Maher on Sexual Loop-holes gets boom boom BOOM for Bill Maher's rant today about abstinence-only education and its resultant generation of kinky kids. I'm giggling. And I'm not even high.

Wednesday, March 23, 2005

The Go! Team Live at the Apollo

Nice review over at Music For Robots (scroll down a bit) of the first of three nights of The Go! Team shows in NYC. I can't remember the last time a spankin-new band took hold so instantly as a fave. Here's obviously why: "...the sheer joyous energy the band put out onstage really effected the crowd in a way I've only seen a few times in a New York City club ..."

I'm re-reading Peter Guralnick's Sweet Soul Music right now. It always slightly turned me off by its extremely white-60s-hippie view of soul music: Otis and Rufus and such as musical descendents of the blues tradition; Motown as a purely commercial affair (whatever the hell that means - as one jazz player said, "that's why they call it the 'music business', not the 'music friends'"). But I s'pose I've grown up or somesuch shit, because this thing's really meshing with my music thoughts these days. And this passage, where Guralnick relates his own come-to-Jesus moment re: soul music, stuck out - I've got the page dog-eared, but reading that Go Team thing seemed to spark it all on its own. He's discussing a revue he went to in Boston as a young man, which featured (get this!) Solomon Burke, Otis Redding, Garnet Mimms, Rufus Thomas, Joe Tex, The Tams, Sugar Pie DeSanto, and more:

I don't think Rufus Thomas or Joe Tex even showed up for that evening's performance, but that, I soon came to realize, was par for the course, and , so far as I can recall, their absence was never even announced from the stage or remarked upon by the cheerful, well-dressed, and enthusiastic audience which seemed to saunter in and out of the theater in waves, with many missing the opening act, some leaving before the closing act was done. It was the occasion, I came to understand, that was of consequence as much as the show itself. There was a spirit of community in that packed theater, encouraged, certainly, by the performers but springing from a common experience, an openly shared perception of reality, that was both palpable and infectious. New York Times reporter Clayton Riley has described his childhood memories of the Apollo in a somewhat earlier, more decorous era, how "folks just showed out, as the saying went, came gliding through the Apollo lobby with with proud, confident grace, wearing the best clothes and finest manners ..."

What I think Guralnick, and through him Riley, is describing, is exactly what rock music lost at some point to the tyranny of genius. 'Rockism' often gets tied into this idea of genius - the idea that someone like Bob Dylan or Radiohead is this incomparably brilliant creator of music who must be listened to and appreciated and studied. The idea that the body of work is more important than any single aspect, single moment, single performance (live or on record) - and therefore a band that has one truly great song is considered disposable.

That's, I suppose, what puts my thought in line with the anti-rockists, the pop-ists, whatever the fuck people on blogs call 'em. Because it seems to me that if you can create that experience that Guralnick is describing - the communal sharing of a set of ideas, or at least a set of drinks, for a little while, then you've succeeded in ways that a thousand people sitting still and quiet in a theater listening to whatever can never succeed in, right?

Hell, I dunno quite what I'm getting at - just, perhaps, that the tyranny of the tortured genius has been temporarily suspended by the likes of The Go! Team, who'd rather have you buy into the team for a moment than spend ten years figuring out what it means to place that comma there.

That's all a little ridiculous for a Wednesday morning, eh? Shut up. It's spring.

Thursday, March 17, 2005

DC Kevin rules earth

The greatest post-gig story in rock-music history. DC Kevin, of The Bolophonics (who, by the way, do not rock), tells the tale of his post-Grog & Tankard gig experiences, on his birthday no less, in our nation's capitol. Bless him. Bless Claudia, Mrs. Kevin.

Myles and Myles of na gCopaleen

Nice piece on about Flann O'Brien, maybe my favorite of the early 20th century Irish writers. His At Swim-Two-Birds was one of those magnificent moments when a book and your life intersect at exactly the right place and time - like On The Road is for almost everyone who reads it. (As long as you read it before turning 20.) I liked it enough to steal copies of one or two more of O'Brien's books - the Myles na gCopaleen collection of his Irish Times columns; The Poor Mouth - in a fit of springtime manic youthfulness.

I've forgotten how good it feels to shoplift arcane items - Flann O'Brien books, cassettes of old radio serial dramas, that Godfathers album I almost got busted for a Boscov's. And for the first time in I'm-not-sure-how-long I'm glad for St. Patrick's Day, all of a sudden. Because it's reminded me of At Swim-Two-Birds and the legacy of silliness and satire, the Shakespearian qualities of drink, and the gorgeous siphoned youth of spring.

Shit, that's almost poetry, and you know what O'Brien says about poetry (quoted in the Salon piece):

"Having considered the matter in -- of course -- all its aspects, I have
decided that there is no excuse for poetry. Poetry gives no adequate return in
money, it is expensive to print by reason of the waste of space occasioned by
its form, and nearly always promulgates illusory concepts of life. But a better
case for the banning of all poetry is the simple fact that most of it is bad.
Nobody is going to manufacture a thousand tons of jam in the expectation that
five tons may be eatable."

Pittsburgh Makes the Headlines Again

Usually when Pittsburgh makes the news, it's because we've been declared something: Most Liveable, Most Rockin', Worst for Singles, Worst for Jobs, Worst for Football (compared to the damnable Pat's)...

Now, Twinkies have been news around here since their inception. And considered GOOD news, no doubt! Fry 'em, or just eat 'em raw - the little cream-filled devils make everything better, even if your entire city is being decimated by 40 years of poor political and economic leadership! Through this AP wire story, the rest of the nation - and the world - can share in Pittsburgh's own ongoing struggle; we don't deny that we've secretly sought to acquire yellow-cake!

In Caliban bookshop the other day, I heard a San Fran psych-garage radio show, and the the DJ played the Swamp Rats, commenting afterwards that he had been to Pittsburgh, and that the Swamp Rats were definitely the only worthwhile thing that ever happened there. Well, move over ancient garage rock - and watch out for photos of famous art works remade using Twinkies!

As a child, my best friend's mother, Pat Roberts, published The Twinky Cookbook - which must be a kitsch collector's item by now. She, too, was a photographer working in the cream-filled yellow cake medium. Her followup, The International Twinky Cookbook - I recall helping her flesh out the recipe for Twinky Haggis - was dropped by the publisher, and never did see the light of day. That's what you get for being ahead of your time.

Wednesday, March 16, 2005

Footie Crap

What am I supposed to say to the household Magpie (not to mention the far more taunting ones over here) when this sort of thing happens, on the same day that this sort of thing happens, a day after this sort of thing happens.

On the other hand, here's some good news from Pipers Pub: Monday, March 21, 2:45pm, Brighton vs. Reading on TV. Yes, I know, it's Reading - yer man from The Office's team. Still, worth a laugh or two to watch Albion, eh?

Veksing Questions...

It's not often - at this stage - I get to feel really, truly, on top of things musically. Yeah, ahead of 99% of the population, but that other 1% all seem to be full-time bloggers. (They probably are. Hell, I don't have a JOB and I blog FAR less than a lot of these music geeks.) But this time, it just feels so freakin' on-the-verge with Tom Vek. I can't get over this song - "I Ain't Saying My Goodbyes" (Check out the video here) - that I heard on some internet radio show based out of Brighton*, center of the hedonist's universe. Reminds me of a pesky British Rapture or, what we've all been looking for, Le Tigre for blokes. Plus, he's ugly. That's a BIG plus.

Speaking of Brit-Shit, check out MySpace's webcast of the American version of "The Office" tonight at 8pm - if you dare. Anyone who's seen "Men Behaving Badly" or "Coupling" in their American forms will know to watch out. Fact is, it ought to work, right? It's such an American show. But I have faith in U.S. network TV's ability to destroy the soul of any comedy.


(* By the way: What's up with losing to Plymouth and now Wigan in the same week? Is it beat up on your betters week in the Championship? Now the lads are in relegation danger, which is ridiculous if you notice that, for example, Reading ISN'T. Okay, I know nobody cares, but it helps to vent.)

Tuesday, March 15, 2005

Lukewarm Lukewarm Heat

I know I'm kinda late on this, but - Anybody hear this new Hot Hot Heat single, "Goodnight Goodnight"? If not, you can check it out on the front page of their website, or from Warner Bros.

I'm not a particular fan of the band - there's some good stuff on that thar Make Up the Breakdown thingy, but mostly they sound like a one-hit-wonder that hasn't had its hit yet. But this song's got a couple things that I haven't heard out of them before - maybe it's the one:

1) It's catchy in an entirely new way for them; catchy in the "memorable" way, as opposed to the "pop hooks are always catchy" way. Like Black Tie Revue (Pittsburghers), or Snuff maybe. (Or maybe I'm just thinking of them because they have a new singles collection coming out...)

2) It's stunningly commercial. Like, this song is already both a radio hit and the end-credits tune on a teen movie. It's already getting ugly guys laid and making the uncool think they're hip.

3) This one's got Warner behind it, rather than Subpop. A band like this was born to be on a major label (and to be dropped by said label immediately upon underselling expectations). Instantly, we've got video airplay, bigger mag stories, and radio airwaves cooking with Hot Hot expectations.

Thing is, it's not really that great a song - but I feel for these guys. I'm gonna listen to it 1,000 times a day (for free) for one week, out of sympathy. Bless 'em.

Saturday, March 05, 2005

Andaman's Going Back to Normal

A flurry of wire service activity about the Andaman Islands, like this story about how the Onge tribe not only survived 100% intact but grew their numbers by one when a woman gave birth days after the disaster struck, and this story about the potential positive effects of the tsunami, which could find the Onge returning to their traditional hunter-gatherer way of life.

Interesting to read that even the Onge can trace great big chunks of misery back to the British rule. Brits brought them penal colonies, transplanted mainlanders, alcohol, and - as always - dependence on the British. Yikes!

The Onge now are apparently interested in going back to the way they lived before intrusion, before their gov't-built housing plans, etc. It's thought it might help the widespread depression amongst the people that's deeper and deeper amongst the tiny population (97, I believe). It reminds me so much of the theory that Stonehenge was a monument built by a prehistoric British leader to show the SUN to be on equal footing (gods-wise) with the MOON; that sun life, agrarian farming, was equally worthy as moon-life, night-time hunting. According to the theory, the people were deeply depressed by the cultural memories of what you might call night life - the excitement of the hunting life; the pride of it. And agrarian life made more sense logically, but had no religious/ceremonial backing to it: Thus Stonehenge, a monument to the moon (at least in this theory).

Kind of horrible to think that maybe our whole problem as a human race is that we should be wearing loincloths and spearing deer rather than blogging. Yet so obviously true.

Back in the Saddle

Yeah, yeah, yeah. I'm pretty bad at this.

Back at it, as of RIGHT NOW. I mean, look above this post, eh??

Tuesday, January 11, 2005


I must admit to being somewhat taken aback at the incredible quantity of press on the Libertines in the US right now. But today's NPR segment took the cake, and proved everything: It was well put together, emotional, interesting, and thoroughly convincing. And at the same time, it was a total joke. "Unpredictable," one Brit-music-biz type calls them. "The only band that behaves like a proper rock band."

Yeah - unpredictable - the rock band that goes junkie and breaks up and rob one another and can't be in the same room.

Great records, Likely Lads, but it'll be nice to see you recede into your shady '70s rock-dropout druggie corners. At least someone like Happy Mondays or even the mighty Darkbuster has the decency to have a joy to their hooliganism and self-destruction, rather than this post-Altamont woe-is-my-needle-arm, tear up over our losses ladies shit. Yikes.

CNN Hilarity

"One of our viewers wrote in to ask when foreign governments will be pledging support to victims of the California floods - we won't hold our breath for that." - Jack Cafferty

Friday, January 07, 2005

Short Sightedness Part III

Chick points us in the direction of a great Op-Ed from the NYT on New Year's Day, by Jared Diamond (of "Guns, Germs and Steel" fame) on history's lessons to great societies. The moral of the story, by the way, is NOT "every man for himself."

Thursday, January 06, 2005

Julian Cope is Dead-On

Well, hours after posting about the Andaman islands, and the lessons we can learn from them, I read the head Head himself, Julian Cope's New Year's day address , which serves as the missing half of what I was trying to say.

Quoting John L. Sullivan, an American 19th-century politician, regarding Manifest Destiny and how it relates to Iraq today:

At the beginning of 2005CE, vestiges of America’s belief in ‘Manifest
Destiny’ are still evident in its government’s perception of the rest of the
world, the ‘Outlands’ if you will. ... evidence is clear that many modern
Americans have ‘little connection with the past history of any of them, and
still less with all antiquity’, as John L. Sullivan wrote over 150 years ago.
But far more chilling is the fact that Sullivan’s self-righteous words written
so long ago still – for many of we Europeans and Brits at least – sum up modern
American foreign policy:

‘We have no interest in the scenes of antiquity, only as lessons of
avoidance of nearly all their examples. The expansive future is our arena, and
for our history. We are entering on its untrodden space, with the truths of God
in our minds, beneficent objects in our hearts, and with a clear conscience
unsullied by the past. We are the nation of human progress, and who will, what
can, set limits to our onward march? Providence is with us, and no earthly power

It's clear that what Cope is saying, and in fact what Sullivan said and so many Americans - including, it's obvious, Bush - is so directly related to the lessons of the Andaman's. America has such faith in the equation of civilization with technology with "good" that this culture seems unwilling to give an inch of a chance to "old" and low-tech. Hence our inability to even preserve our miniscule, 200-year-old history and historical sites - nonetheless the culture, history, art, and existence of the indigenous peoples who lived here for millennia before we dominant modern Americans arrived.

The Andaman's and others lived for hundreds of generations before their folktales of great walls of water became useful. We have no idea what purpose is behind the resources left to us by our ancestors in oral history, folk memory, and sacred sites. Imagine the items left to the protagonist by his own self in Philip K. Dick's story (and Woo's film) Paycheck - when the need for our antiquities arises, then we'll know its purpose. "A clear conscience unsullied by the past" - is that what brought about Abu Ghraib? Perhaps not. But that is what will win that atrocity's architect promotion.

Lessons from the Andaman Islands

This website is a good online resource for news of the effects of the mind-boggling Asian tsunami on the tiny Andaman islands, home to one of the world's only remaining completely independent indigenous peoples.

These islands have seen a permanent rearrangement of their geography - one island has, in several instances, become two or even three; Katchall is, at this point, still more than 50% submerged, "and geologists fear much of it may have been eaten away by the sea."

But what's most interesting - though completely understandable - are the survival numbers of some of the most remote tribes in the Andaman and Nicobar islands, quoted here from an news update:

The 270 Jarawa, who lived in complete isolation until recently, appear to
have escaped unharmed. They almost certainly were living in the forest when the
tsunami struck.

Most of the Onge, who live in two government-built settlements, fled to
high ground as the sea level fell, and so survived. Their awareness of the ocean
and its movements has been accumulated over 60,000 years of inhabiting the

Reports from overflights of Sentinel Island, home of the most isolated
of all the tribes, the Sentinelese, indicate that many have been seen on the
beaches. The Sentinelese fired arrows at the helicopter overhead. However,
confident assertions by the authorities that all the Sentinelese have been
accounted for are premature, as no-one has any idea of their population
(estimates range from 50 - 250), and landing on the island is impossible.

No reliable reports have yet been received on the fate of the 41 Great
Andamanese, but early indications are that they have survived more or less

Similarly, there has been no reliable information on the fate of the
380-strong Shompen, an isolated tribe of Great Nicobar Island.

Join this with this story of a tiny village near Banda Aceh, where most of the population survived because of an ancient folktale handed down by the fishermen warning that when the sea recedes quickly and suddenly, you should seek high ground as it will return in a massive wave. Which, of course, it did. In an age in which we're constantly handed technology as the answer to all problems, in which gadgets and tools are replacing traditions and knowledge more quickly than we're able to assess what these changes mean, it seems a healthy reminder that our ancestors lived hundreds of thousands of lives and died hundreds of thousands of deaths to bring us these lessons. The locations, traditions, stories of all our ancestry have been kept as sacred for hundreds of generations for a reason - just because we may have forgotten those reasons, doesn't make them any less important. Some day, it will all come back a thousandfold.

Wednesday, January 05, 2005

Belated 2004 Year-In-Review

All those silly people do their year-in-review thingy at the end of the year. We procrastinators and forgetful old drunkards know the time to go is early 05 – and once again, for the tenth year in a row, let me just say: THIS is gonna be MY year. I can tell, man.


The Futureheads, Franz Ferdinand, and Dogs Die in Hot Cars briefly staved off the complete death of my interest in rock music/rock bands/guitars. But mostly, I put that down to nostalgia – those bands take various aspects of my fave older bands (XTC, Wire, Gang of Four, Dexy’s) and do minor modern adjustments to them, the result being some great rock albums (esp. Futureheads).

But better still is the ever-improving !!! – don’t believe the naysaying indie-heads who think that !!! (chk, chk, chk, whatevah) has gone downhill: “Pardon My Freedom” and “Me and Giuliani” are both brilliant singles (and perennial Busted dance-floor fillers), and Louden Up Now is a great album.

TV on the Radio released another of the singles of the year – “New Health Rock” – further staying the execution of rock from my bloodstream. Sharon Jones & the Dap-Kings made “Genuine,” a real contender for the absolute best single of the year – a chunky JB’s style funk thing that might make you cry the first time you hear it. Tinariwen made African blues dub that almost makes one care about a six-stringed guitar.

But mostly the year belonged to poppier and dancier beats and records: Felix da Housecat’s polish and shine (the whole Devin Dazzle album, the Rocket Ride mixes, his mind-flogging/neck-snapping remix of Britney’s ubiquitous – both on the airwaves and the top-10-of-04-lists – “Toxic”); Morgan Geist’s weirdo-slips-into-mainstream (Unclassics, Metro Area single #5, the Franz Ferdinand deconstruction); Two Lone Swordsmen’s …Motor of Sin EP and Double Gone Chapel album, the Bugz in the Attic Fabric installment (may’ve come out ’03, I was still canin it in ’04, and I haven’t heard “Booty La La” yet, dammit); Erlend Oye’s sublime DJ Kicks mix; M.I.A. “Galang” and Big & Rich “Save a Horse (Ride a Cowboy)” for the love of music blogs; Dizzee’s “Stand Up Tall” (his best single yet); DJ/rupture’s Special Gunpowder album for making “world” music that doesn’t sound like a bead-shop soundtrack; more and more.

The Streets and Dizzee Rascal at the 9:30 Club in DC provided, for me, Show of the Year. My li’l bud David was over from Blighty with his ladyfriend, and joined Ms. Lola and I for a night of Brit-Hop that actually works (as one Pgh indie rocker pointed out). Dizzee was brilliant, though a little bit more like a late-night infomercial demonstration for “The new Dizzee Rascal brand hip-hopper – it can hold three jackets, six shirts, and a comforter!”, as he blurted out new rhymes with no beats simply to stun the largely unsuspecting crowd with his flow. The Streets are a little bit more readily available to U.S. ears – and live, Skinner & Co. played it up, making things accessible while still talking trash on the audience (and themselves) constantly. The live drummer thing was a little weird – one of the best parts of both Streets albums, but particularly effective on A Grand, to me, was the herky-jerky riddims, which a live drummer never seems quite right on. Though dude managed to rock thru with little trouble, minus a few rock-star cymbal-crash moments that were certainly ignorable in the context of nuff beers. After the show, to Café Saint Ex, where Dizzee was “DJing after the show” according to some girl at the show. To him, apparently, “DJing” equals “sitting at a champagne-bottle minefield of a table with readily available ladies”. The DJ at hand was playing horrible, horrible music (‘80s and whatnot), but we got to chat briefly with young superstar grimey, so I suppose on the groupie scale that worked out. (A later trip to St. Ex at Thanksgiving, a nasty bartender, and equally ‘orrible DJ who thought it was funny to play “I Like Big Butts”, shall be our last. Because it’s not.)

Prince came in second, but only because Mellon Arena’s a silly place for a show. Purple Power in full effek, with Candy Dulfer and Maceo Parker on saxes, the stunning John Blackwell on drums (everyone else should give up and let him be the only living drummer), and Prince on what – for all we know – was just another mediocre night. What the hell do we know, though – it was full of sex and sweat and dripping with funk and soul and corruptness. Love at first note.

Attila the Stockbroker came to the U.S., and even to Pittsburgh, which was a major treat. His 20-yr-old poems and one-yr-old songs rang true with equal political cynicism and bile, and hilarity. Someone with that level of geo-political and historical intelligence, and that much true-punk anger and pride, should not be physically capable of being that funny. Plus, the staunchest and most self-sacrificing ally Brighton & Hove Albion has – bless ’im.

John Cale, Toots Hibbert, Jake Burns (of Stiff Little Fingers), Robyn Hitchcock, Morgan Geist (Metro Area/Environ records), TV on the Radio, Mike Heron (Incredible String Band) – some good old-fashioned music legends submitted to interviews with me this year. Pleasant stuff all ’round, but Cale’s got to be the most influential of the bunch. I was never a huge Velvets fan, and his solo canon’s simply too vast for me to get started on now, but this man taught me that it’s never too late to quit looking backwards. Of all the artists I wrote about in the 04, Cale was the one most excited about music in all its possibilities, the one most willing to un-cynically announce his adoration for pop experimentation and his embracing of the now – while Junior level underground rockers were denouncing everything that didn’t sound Velvet-y, Cale spent the year demanding more from the Neptunes and Kanye and Britney. Like a kid in a candy store. Mike Heron, similarly, wanted to spend the whole time talking about Devendra and Newsome and other ISB-influenced kids. Love it.

Sally Timms brought The Johnsons Big Band large quantities of love and lessons. The JBB played as Sally’s band at the Warhol Museum here in Pittsburgh, at the Abbey Pub in Chicago (opening for Califone, who I don’t think I “got”), and at CMJ at the Touch & Go/Dim Mak showcase at Irving Plaza. It was one of the biggest gigs I think we’ve played, being a CMJ showcase and in a huge venue that (eventually) sold out. We played well, Sally was gorgeous (and stole a bottle of Jameson’s for us, cheers), Battles (ex-Don Cab and Helmet) was incredible – jaw-dropping – and TV on the Radio bizarrely beautiful, although we missed most of that because we had to prowl the lower east side with Damon Hamm (ex-Pittsburgh) as T. Glitter leaned out of cab windows announcing to all his adoration for the You-Nited States of America and, particularly, the LES. Glitz introduced me to some Polish girl as “My friend, Juddy – he’s a communist too! Well, he used to be …” before coming to the astute realization that communism never produced anything but hot chicks and lousy architecture. True, friend, true.

Dego, I.G. Culture, Afronaught and Demus spun me right round at Co-Op at Plastic People, East London bwoy. By no means my first introduction to the joys of broken beat-ery, nor to the horrors of the Bad Neo-Soul Live PA (I don’t know who it was, but they should’ve quit long ago). But for sheer syncopated swagger – the joys and thrills of hip-hop, broken up and stabbed with a needle full of futurism an’ t’ing – Co-Op was tha trick. Similarly, Daz-I-Cue (another Bugz in the Attic man) and King Britt and some incredible tiny little white dude cuttin’ up indie hip-hop at APT in New York, complete with a good neo-soul live PA by Michelle Shaprow (singing the immensely sublime (if that’s possible) “If I Lost You”). Daz-I-Cue brought out his futurist mulligan take on Fela’s “Zombie” and 500 people bordered on collapse.

Russ Dewbury taught me a DJing lesson at the Brighton Jazz Rooms. Dewbury looks more like Rusty Trawler in the film of Breakfast at Tiffany’s than anyone should probably ever mention aloud in his presence. He chain smokes, never mixes records, lets 11-minute afro-house remixes play out in their entirety (including kick-drum intros and outros), and spins in what looks like a disused serial-killer body-storage basement near the seafront. The drinks were watery and sticky, everything in the club’s covered in a thin layer of Carlsburg, and the crowd looks like they’re the ones who couldn’t get into any of the “nicer” Brighton lad clubs because they were too loaded. And within 20 minutes, we knew we’d be back the next night. Femi Kuti house remixes next to “Wack Wack” by Young-Holt Trio next to James Brown, the odd Loft proto-disco latin thang, and broken-beat nu-jazz blips and bleeps from Cologne. The dancers knew everything from the 60s northern soul to the ’05 broken beat, and were obviously dressed in soul-club style: screw impressing people, we’re here to dance. Ms. Lola and I had started the evening at some Irish pub a few blocks away where one of the Lo-Fidelity All-Stars was spinning northern soul and 70s soulful funk (Stevie Wonder, etc.). He had two turntables set up on the bar – no, like, on the bar – and was stoned out of his gourd: When one record was running out, he’d take a deep pull from his Guinness, and start looking for the next record, often leaving half a minute or more between records. But we heard brilliant northern, in the most laid-back environment ever, and the place was packed – most of ‘em showed up at the Jazz Rooms a few hours later, after the older lads had stoked the beer fires enough to dance and gawk at the 12-yrs-their-younger gals without feeling the embarrassment that each of those actions should’ve brought.

Soulcialism began and took off at the Eagle. The White Eagle is dingey and dirty and seedy, it’s cheap and drunk and doesn’t have a phone. As it turns out, this is the perfect environment for a northern-soul night. The owners treat us better than anyplace I’ve ever DJed before, and better than most live clubs treat the bands that provide their bread and butter. Plus, as an after-hours, the joint doesn’t have a regular customer base before about 1 a.m., so there’s no one to come in and bitch us ahht for blasting old soul records when we should be playing Motorhead on the jukebox (although that begins in earnest around 1:30 a.m., at which point I want to hear “Ace of Spades” as much as the next red-blooded Amerikkkan). The Eagle crowd teaches me new things each time: No matter how hot the storming records are – and “The Shotgun and the Duck” is one helluva new stormer hit for Pittsburgh’s soul luvvas – they go crazier for “Give Me Just a Little More Time” and “Band of Gold” and other mid-tempo flavors, which I give full marks for. Sometimes those big beats are just a color mask. But come on, kids, let’s get it together on the clapping for the big records, eh? Fast tempos need love too.

A few runners-up for performance of the year: Biaggio Ruggeiro at the hotel bar before Chelsea vs. AS Roma played in Pittsburgh. I thought we should just go home when the Chelsea queers started singing “No Surrender.” (By the way, “No Surrender to the I.R.A.” in 2004? How about “Slightly Less Surrender to the I.R.A.” or something? Ya lost, lads, ya LOST.) And I can actually sort of relate to the anti-Pope stuff. But when they started singing “God bless 9-11”, it was B who calmly walked over, ordered a beer, and told 20 over-the-hill Chelsea ex-hoolie eejits that they probably shouldn’t do that sort of thing, if that’s allright. Proves their mettle, as they shut up immediately. Stu Braun in Las Vegas who arrived after being awake for over 24 hours already, and proceeded to drink bloody mary’s for another 22 hours straight, sleep four hours, and wake up refreshed and heading for the poker room. T. Glitter at the Garage in Winston-Salem, N.C., who is the main reason that The Johnsons Big Band played one of the best sets of its existence that night, despite two ill-fitted openers and a crowd of about 12. At one point, one of the audience members – none of whom had heard of us before – went to the hipster bar around the corner and offered to pay admission for anyone who’d come to the show, because she’d never be able to explain it to them afterwards. We sold more CDs that night than any other in 2004, with people buying copies for friends and strangers. King Django, Dr. Ring-Ding, EST at Nick’s Fat City, who showed up after the gig was supposed to end, but still managed to cobble together a brilliant two-hour exhausted show. The entire JBB in Myrtle Beach, S.C., where Glitz sang Prince at karaoke and Stu did the worm and everyone got sunburnt and CC and Dana taught me the joys of Corona and Mike’s Hard Lemonade on the beach – that’s livin’. The whole Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association for one helluva rodeo in Las Vegas, plus Waddie Mitchell and Don Edwards for teaching me a lot about the U.S. of A. that I hadn’t understood, and a lot about life that I probably never will. More to be added as they come to me.

Finally, urraybody knows me got married in the 04, and that proved brilliant. Two quick-hit versions follow of highlights that deserve to be on the Best-of-04 list, but I dunno how to get ‘em up there:

Lars & Emily for elegance and style under big-wedding pressure – gorgeous, stylish, and full of love, just like they are; Matty Mo & Linzee for a sense of class and of dedication to a larger being – an extended family of friends, relatives, and weirdos – blessya; Dave & Jess for proving the cosmopolitan people can do old-school Americana and religion and make it beautiful and joyful, rather than stifling or choked; Cathy & Rob for making over-the-top into something that seems natural and, at times, truly intimate – if anyone could do it, it’s them mugs.

Honors go to: Nels Cleath for the most honest and beautifully adoring best-man’s speech there has ever been or ever will be, reducing tough-guy punks to dribbling masses of tears; Stu Braun and the Boilermaker Jazz Band for ripping “wedding band” to pieces as a very concept, even as they played the part; The B-3s for pulling something, I hope, special together for Matt ‘n’ Linz – and myself, for handling the part of Reverend with righteousness and a pinch of cinnamon (and, of course, Big Dave Alexander, for drunkenly thinking that, since I’m the Rev, the six-foot 200-lbs drunk guy causing trouble would listen to me if I told him to get it together … but he did!); Jason for organizing a last-minute bachelor party at a strip joint – the night after the wedding – and for realizing that maybe it wasn’t a good idea; The Johnsons Big Band, for learning Hava Nagila, and for making it truly, deeply funky, and tearin the roof off one expensive-assed tent.

Tuesday, December 28, 2004

Global Rich

One more thing: In the wake of the tsunamis in southeast asia, it's unlikely we need much else to remind us how freaking good we've got it, but here's one anyway: Pop over to Global Rich List and type in your income to find out HOW MANY PEOPLE are poorer than you. It's a lot. I promise. No, f'real. Like, a TON.

Oops, I Downloaded a Mix

By the way, if you want some music to twirl around to this New Year's Eve, there's some fine stuff up at Bassnation - check the Xmas mix from Dr. Wo (recommended by the finest dance-music writer around, Simon Reynolds), and a couple of mighty reggae things, all well worth it!

Ter'rists Syndrome

If you haven't read Jonathon Raban's The Truth About Terrorism in the New York Review of Books, it's time to waltz right over and do so now. Is Al-Qaeda a brilliantly organized international network of jihadists, or a SPECTRE or COBRA invented by neo-cons to further their post-cold war needs? Is terror the number one threat to American livelihood, to life and liberty, or simply to democracy itself? Nope, nope, nope, of course nothing's that easy - sigh. But Raban's article is one of the few things you'll read that will leave you thinking that maybe - just maybe - there's actually something we can DO, if our leaders would listen to the right people, other than just panic.

After all, in Michael Shapiro's A Sense of Place book, a series of interviews with (for my immediate want of a better term) travel writers, Raban's take on American Middle East policymaking is the most sensible yet:

... the Arabian Peninsula is probably the most memorious place in the world.
It's where ancient events still rankle ... I get into a cab anywhere on the
Arabian peninsula and the cab driver trying to suss up my position will say
"What do you think of Sykes-Picot?" Or, "What do you think of the Balfour
Declaration?" These events are recent. It's as if history all takes place in one
awful moment as far as most Arabs are concerned.

Raban points out in that interview that the borders American policymakers ignore are those of language, and psycho-history, waging war and occupation on these people as thought they were hyper-rational Washingtonian suburbanites rather than the current inheritors of a millenia-old culture... yikes.

Don't Panic, is all I can say. The Shaun of the Dead DVD is out, and on the excellent commentary by the writers and director, they reference the new Hitchhikers movie repeatedly, since so many of their peoples are involved in it. Fan-freakin-tastic, as far as I can see. Check out the cast: Martin Freeman (Tim on The Office) as Arthur Dent, Mos Def as Ford, Sam Rockwell will be the PERFECT Zaphod, Bill Nighy IS Slartibartfast ... I know, this is incredibly geeky, but hell - it's exciting to see someone get their casting right instead of, say, plopping Keanu in. Plus, a fewof old-timers from the TV and BBC Radio series (Simon Jones, who played Arthur Dent, for example) are rockin that shtuff. Lovin' it.

Monday, December 27, 2004

Going to Hell

Jaysis, thank goodness that Xmas thing's over. I don't think my liver can take much more.

Good times, though, good times indeed, with all the peoples back in town for Drankin', loads of good food, and some fine results in the world of sport - which gets much more important as the days become depressingly short and the outside world more and more oppressively cold. Brighton & Hove Albion, Liverpool, and the Steelers all won this weekend - best of all the boys in black'n'gold'n'at, with the playoff picture looking (knock on wood) rosy.

Bad news came, too: Constantine comes out in February, a film I had not heard about before, but am now hellbent on somehow destroying... this is the film version of the fine Hellblazer comics, starring the idiotic Keanu Reeves as John Constantine. Yeah. Keanu as the gruff-n-tuff Silk Cut-chain-smoking, pint heaving, cancerous cockney supernatural detective type fella. Roight. This ought to be loverly.

For far better Hellblazer-related news, John Constantine creator Alan Moore has recently interviewed Brian Eno for the BBC, according to City of Sound, so that's bound to be fascinating. If ya can find the interview itself in MP3, lemme know!

Friday, December 17, 2004

Godin ya, son

Lotsa good stuff in the old Guardian Arts section this week - profile of Bobby Friction & Nihal, BBC radio's Asian overground DJ duo; a review of the recently-late Dave Godin's latest Deep Soul Treasures compilation, which serves, according to the review, as his fitting epitaph; and a cool piece on The Most Beautiful [record] Sleeves of 2004 (or go straight to the photos here).

Hadn't really thought before about the proximity of Dave Godin's and John Peel's deaths, but really, there could hardly be anyone whose lives in music have effected my personal tastes more than those two. Peel, of course, for those late night weekend gatherings at Raia Pixton's house, fawning over the few Peel Session EPs she had stacked on the shelf (Siouxsie, Joy Division), and all the intrigue that they held. It's rare that something - especially a rock music something - can remind me of that feeling of intensity, of a completely welcomed yet unknown world, that the artists of those initial Peel Session exposures exploded. I never really liked Siouxsie, but I still get all stomach-churny when I learn something new about her; Joy Division still makes me feel the romanticism of a whole world that is so elementally distant yet completely correct.

It still happens of course: The only other true explosion of musical-cultural passion like that for me was northern soul. Dave Godin didn't just give it its name, he might as well have fathered it, turning Tamla Motown out on the UK, giving little bored kids in Wolverhampton and Wigan and other horrible places I never want to go that start with W, something equally mythological: Black American music. I can hardly conceive of what it was like in the 1960s to be a young Brit, wartime parents still growing victory gardens, and hear the downtrodden-yet-hedonistic joy of the Supremes or Vandellas or Miracles - imagine "Going to a Go-Go" when your biggest night out is a round of bitter a block away? But I bet it's something akin to hearing New Order in Binghamton, NY, when your previous exposure to modern non-radio music was Rush. Only bigger.

Northern soul was equally big for me: All the blow-up of Anglophilia combined with the frantic passion of black U.S. soul music - give me all of it. And like all the best personal experiences with music, it's taken me everywhere else: Every dance music I like is informed by the history and the sound of northern, from Metro Area to disco to Fatboy Slim to funk.

So thanks, Dave and John, for everything. A couple of eccentric - perhaps even weird - chaps with insatiable musical passions opening doors for other people. May there be more like you, and it diminishes you not to guess that there will.

Wednesday, December 15, 2004

On the Blog

Blogging revives in me the same feeling as college radio: That thought (knowledge?) that no one is listening, and the refreshing, downright liberating realization that it just simply doesn't matter at all.

In other words, there was a lapse in blog-confidence there for a minute, since I haven't even told anyone the address so no one even COULD be reading. Interest rekindled, I'll trundle on with transcribing/embellishing some of my journal-notes-crap from the past weekend in Las Vegas asap. Then maybe I'll go about telling someone to read it.

Wednesday, December 08, 2004

Seagulls Ska Update

Woah - a few weeks out, and Attila the Stockbroker's Seagulls Ska campaign is #2 in the Amazon pre-release sales chart... So order up now, eh?

Pamplona Without Hemingway

Forty-eight hours to Vegas, and all talk has reverted back to Stetsons and rebel-flag belt buckles. Reporting in from Sin City, where he's already a few sessions in at the National Finals Rodeo, Brew demands that, "No, seriously dude, you'll feel SO STUPID if you don't have a cowboy hat. The chicks all have 'em, dude - the BABIES have cowboy hats ..."

Fortunately I just started Iain Sinclair's London Orbital, which includes the following juicy little bit:

There's always a warm glow in not belonging, in being the only abstainer at a fleadh in Ballycastle, the only non-Iberian bull-runner in Pomplona who
hasn't read Hemingway; it means you're not responsible. You don't have
to enjoy yourself. It's not part of the contract to become one with the spirit
of place. You are not obliged to spew, fight, sing, dance, wreck your car or in
any other way amuse yourself. And this is very liberating.

So to hell with the cowboy hat and belt buckle; the goddamn rodeo can survive the encroachment of a single skinny white city boy with the whole city-boy nine yards: Clarks, cords, Harrington, Perry. I don't think that 150 years of Western lore are going to be ruined by that any more than they'll be erased by the advent of TV advertising boards, $50,000 pickup trucks, big-hat country singers or the pink shirt.

Speaking of travel, big news out of the Post-Gazette today: Thank god we've finally got a proper way to get from Pittsburgh to Myrtle Beach. The Johnsons Big Band's now-annual expedition to the beach in 2005 will benefit greatly.

Sunday, December 05, 2004

Seagulls Ska

In his infinite wisdom, esteemed Brighton stadium announcer, radical ranting poet and general punk-of-all-trades Attila the Stockbroker has joined forces with other Brighton-based influentials (such as ska boys Too Many Crooks) to release a record in aid of Albion's bid for a new stadium. It's ska, it's footie, it's political, and it hates Crystal Palace. Sigh.

The record comes out first week of January, and Sussex Ska (as the band is called) is hoping to make a bid for the top-10, since nobody else releases records then and you don't need that many pre-sales to get into the charts. Here's where you can pre-order through HMV - dunno how that works for we Yanks, but hopefully just cuz we're Queen-less (though not despot-less) doesn't mean our sales don't count for the charts.

If We Get Through for Two Minutes Only, It Will Be A Start!

I've always been a big ole geek, but somehow the computer part - the useful part - of geekiness eludes me. So that's why it took 'til 12/04 for me to start a blog. You'd think, with the compulsive onanistic talking and self-argument, it'd be a natural. I guess we'll see.

I'll leave the TEST message up there, because Australian wines are important - no other wines come with such toughness of bottle and fortitude of fight. Plus, the Ozzies have come up with the year's greatest advance in cell phone technology - the first drunk-specific cell phone advance that I know of.

Friday, December 03, 2004


A test of the emergency blog network - these are the days of fortitude and Australian wine.

Test in Ital

Test in Bold

Link to Johnsons