Thursday, May 04, 2006

beta bye-bye


What used to be read here (about golf, zombies, jackelopes, hot dogs, the color of paint in Japanese flicks) will now carry on at my new blog, so please update your bookmarks so as to read the cleverly entitled Beta Blog.

(Not to be confused with Andy Beta's blog).

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

beta ne travaillez humide jamais

Mais, je mange beacoup de hot dogs.

This is my final post over at Moistworks. Hard times even at the mp3 blog side of the biz, I guess. Appropo, it deals with odds'n'ends, alternate realities, non-selected songs from my previous two months of posts, making soppressata, mystery meat, superstring theory, sausage casings, high school's lost time, and of course, chowing down on hot dogs.

Sunday, April 30, 2006

beta plates

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

beta blue

Baby blue was the color that he wore...

Another Seijun Suzuki movie, another night of flummoxed eyes. Rewatching recently Branded to Kill and Youth of the Beast, with Tokyo Drifter last night, I finally remembered why I had to own these movies. Audaciousness aside, Suzuki (who despite being considered a B-movie director is by all intents and purposes an auteur of Japanese cinema) makes almost no sense, careening about underneath your confounded gaze like some sort of Yakuza pinball machine. Never being able to keep the characters straight, I always figured that it was just a side-effect of my continued inability to keep Japanese authors distinct (who wrote Thousand Cranes again? And wait, is Chuang-Tzu Chinese?), but even the studio execs were lost and implored that Suzuki play it straight for Tokyo Drifter.

Branded to Kill gets liner notes from John Zorn and Tokyo Drifter has a brandished pullquote about it being a "free-jazz gangster film" (fwiw, I'm not the biggest fan of Japanese free jazz, "Jojo" Takayanagi aside). Yes it is frenzied, fiery, abstract to the point of befuddlement, but there is method to the madness here, an obsession with edits, angles, how characters complement their surroundings, and in a rare dose of the kaledioscope for Drifter, priddddy colors.

Racking my brain trying to think of a musical analogy for Suzuki, someone suggests Naked City, but who sound-clashed, brain-slashed, and jumped with daredevil cuts first? The hues are so vertiginous, jaw-plopping, that music no longer holds as metaphor, so I scramble to blubber about how Tokyo Drifter ranks up there with Dario Argento's Suspiria, or reaching further back, Busby Berkeley, though Susuzki's foreground of violence (not that he doesn't have odd musical interludes, like when his baby-blu gangster strolls and whistles the theme song in a Winter Wonderland) is far more drunken and cool. (QT had a hand in production of the DVD as well). Aside from hiring production designers rainbow-obsessed and high on Gladden paint, the three directors also revel in illogical plots that border on being concussion-fuzzy and irrevent in the resulting confusion that follows in the wake of their delirious visions. At any given point in Drifter (the DVD suggests such poignant chapters as "Tetsu's powder blue coat of honor" or "Saloon Western (Candy-colored set)") you may well ask aloud, "I have no idea what's going on" before settling back into the lavish, hallucinatory color wash once again.

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

beta plays golf in phoenix

Circa sixth grade, I was sub-suburbed out in AZ, wedged betwixt the Sun City Gals and Ahwatukee kicking it in those inverted trapezoid parks they have out there in the desert. When I wasn't drawing cartoons about our school mascot, the Scorpion, I supplemented my schoolyard bidness of flipping Blow Pops for a quarter a pop by walking to the canals that cut through the desert landscape. Like some cement circulatory system, these steeply-sloped waterways intersticed roads, groves, parks, and of course, the ever-fertile golf courses that grew everywhere out here. Nourishing a pricey oasis, the canals doubled as watertrap on any Phoenician course.

Such immense troughs made me imagine I was in a scene right out of The Martian Chronicles, the channels feeling ancient through the arid wasteland. I would walk these ducts with my step-father, his knees popping with each step (due to a stint as a college QB) as we crunched down these gravel roads buffeting each slope of the canal. Using a tiny wire scoop affixed to the end of a retractable pole, I trolled the sludgy bottom of these wide Vs, scooping out drowned golf balls that could be ball-washed and re-sold for a dollar a pop, allowing me to spring for TurboGrafx video games and comic books. Turning candy-shelled bubblegum into shiny quarters or rubbing the slime off the dimples of long-submerged golf balls and turning it into cash, it was small change, but a way to eke out a tad more allowance as a 'tween than a lemonade stand.

There isn't too much I recollect about such days in Arizona, save that it probably shaved off any Texan accent I might've otherwise acquired. I'm barely cognizant of myself at that time, haplessly unaware of the world or much of anything. The only music I liked then was the Led Zeppelin boxset (who I had never heard previously) and The Uplift Mofo Party Plan, which soundtracked the downing of Pepsi as my best friend and I played hoops every afternoon after school, huffing and puffing about all the girls in our class that we were "totally boning." Mostly my after-school days were spent bicycling in the desert sun with three squeeze bottles of water as I made my way along the canals and scorching hot sidewalks until I reached the comic book store near the ASU campus.

Somewhere along that route, I came across a newsprint thing called the Phoenix New Times. The comics in this one were weird, far from my tastes at the time (snark all you want about my favorites, Power Pack). Zippy the Pinhead, Bizarro, This Modern World, I laughed at these oddities. I also recall a mean-spirited slam of that impervious teen sensation, New Kids on the Block, only because there was a reference to what surely must be an imaginary band, the Butthole Surfers. Sitting in my physics class, I barely could suppress a chortle at what sort of deviant writer could make up both a band name like that and a "record" called Cream Corn From the Socket of Davis. What body part could that even be?, my pre-teen mind pondered, oblivious in Sex Ed.

When I moved back to Texas, I forgot all about Arizona golf pros, golf courses, golf balls, and finally realized that yes Butthole Surfers did exist, and Cream Corn From the Socket of Davis was tenable indeed, if as inscrutable as Psychic, Powerless,...Another Man's Sac. In Texas, I grew obsessed both with writing and with listening to as much music as possible at this time (meaning lots of Butthole Surfers). Seeing my best friend's father's record collection (he's the culprit mentioned here) wowed me, and I only hoped to learn so much about music as him. Even when I finally graduated and decided to move to New York City, it was with the ambitions of creating music in NYC. I envisioned such projects as "The Suckestra," in which esteemed all-star musicians (I always pictured Thurston Moore, Derek Bailey, Susie Ibarra for some reason) would perform with their floor-cleaning apparatuses, be it broom or shop-vac, in addition to continuing my old band. I would toil in obscurity at some office and ply my trade at night, writing poems and stories never to see daylight while making the improv scene with a prepared guitar jammed full of umbrella tines and struck with massage mallets.

It didn't quite work out that way, and for some reason I found myself working at a computer place with lots of downtime, barely clearing the exorbinant rent. I filled it up writing about music for weird websites, like in Norway and Houston before one day getting in over at the indie salt mines. Realizing I would never support myself writing poetry, I would instead enter that lucrative world of music writing.

Having just been fired for the second time from said salt mines (after arguing for better writer treatment, payment, and not having my words changed in the middle of the fuckin' night without my permission) and having just picked a fight on ILM with Chuck Eddy about whether or not Metallica was indie (knowing fuck-all about either Metallica or indie), I decided I would just hand him something. It never ran, but I had his ear and persisted. Having scratched my head at more than a couple of reviews (like this Don-doodled doozy) I experienced that heady sensation myself of being able to find my jumbled words on any corner of the city.

Always a part of my Tuesday night ritual, ducking out to the street corner to pick up the new Voice and peruse it, reading names like Schaunberg, Ridgeway, Hentoff, Hoberman, etc., I cannot put into words my exhilaration at finding my byline among them (in the teeniest of font sizes, but still). I was part of the tradition. I mean, Bangs wrote there, Meltzer, Tousches, people I had read way back in high school when trying to figure out what fucked-up music I should be blasting out in the school parking lot. Psychotic Reactions and Meltzer's Gulcher were huge, the latter so that I started doing my own ramblings on such quotidian idiotic shit like glow in the dark stickers; growing a moustache (not that I could grow one myself for another five years); Trout Mask Replica as first hip-hop record (in the days of Heavy D and Arrested Development); why "R.E.M. Kicks the Beatles' Ass"; cock-rock sitcoms, as well as a sitcom starring Kim and Thurston. Only in retrospect did I see my own obsessions with music crit all the while, and only as happenstance did I realize I myself had come to fruition. Now I was on the same page as folks I had long read, first in Texas and some eight years on in the city: Chuck Eddy, Robert Christgau, Frank Kogan, Greg Tate, Michaelangelo Matos, Douglas Wolk, Sasha Frere-Jones, Simon Reynolds, Jon Caramanica...

In much the same way as my step-father had a decade previous, Chuck helped me earn a living by giving me a chance to perform that most curious alchemical work: sounds into words, plastic jewel cases into paper checks, dirt into pearls --or to detractors-- bullshit into shineola. So whether I thought about Klaus Schulze's kim chee, erecting neo-psych cathedrals, the sound of Shangri-La-La Land, suffering sunstroke in a surfer community, making bad James Brown jokes or good jokes about the Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling and Princess Leia, I suddenly had a platform to elucidate such harebrained connectors between disparate items. Growing emboldened, confident, I branched out even further, writing in places I have never even seen (hello MPLS!). Other gigs felt more like work though, fitting into an alt-weekly style, but nothing was as much of a thrill as opening up the newest issue of the Voice and finding myself there among other luminaries once again. It was not just an honor, it was fun as fuck.

Having not heard from Chuck in a week or so (any writer will tell you that NO ONE is more responsive to emails than Chuck) I had a dream Tuesday morning that involved us talking on the phone about all the pieces he couldn't run at the Voice due to space limitations. When I woke up, I had an email from him and we bandied back and forth a few ideas for the future. Come mid-afternoon, the news hit me. Having watched every single one of my editors step down since January, be it in Miami, Seattle, Minneapolis, Nashville, and watching SPIN get gutted like Bambi with a few quick and nasty strokes, I knew it was only a matter of time before something happened to Chuck, and yet even as I consoled Nibs that it was ultimately for the best when he was shitcanned, I was disarmed that this horrible day had finally come for Chuck. My welling up of tears was tempered only by my subsequent nausea and disgust. Granted, my own emergence at the Voice came well after the halcyon days, a half-century since Mailer, post-Murdoch, even after that drastic cutting of space and Draconian word counts, and with the shadow of the New Times umbrella blocking out the Vitamin D, the luster was dulled, dimmed, but it still absurdly enough shone for me regardless.

Foolish gold is all I feel now, undecided if I will ever get to finish up my assignments at "Village Voice Media" and if I will even try to forge ever onwards into the drought of the music crit landscape that has plenty of skeletons already caught in its sands. It's tough to come to terms with the nagging fact that fifteen years later, some 2500 miles away, I am once again simply polishing some goddamned golf balls for middle-aged businessmen in Phoenix. Maybe I should switch to lemonade.

Sunday, April 16, 2006

heep see

Virgin Insanity : Illusions of the Maintenance Man
Espers : II

Privately pressed Texas stoners should be a no-brainer, yet this thing thuds on the other meaning of the phrase, meaning it gets me over loner-stoner like a bale of Mexi-dirt. Had I been an initial explorer, it's easy to see how falling down such a jackalope hole in a record bin could be so coveted: kooky teens from suburban Dallas in a haze of wacky weed strumming as they attain the Godz within. As something tenable in the twenty-first though, the daylight dispels such doodled illusions.

Espers may dig such a platter. For their own Amon Drool sequeling, arcane vinyl fetishizing, and the sort of librarian listing of all the vintage gear they accrued (along with arsenic old-lace dresses), it might make for knee-jerk dismissal. Especially as we deal with the shriveled pedal fall-out from the year that freak-folk broke (1966 dude). Yet moonbaths in the milky Nightwood extract is redemptive for them and Greg Weeks and his Big Love-like Djunas are even prescient enough to hitch themselves to the year that Black Metal broke. Though they are far more crepuscular and subtle, aligning themselves to the rust that never sleeps but thrives on such a surface.

The Knife : Silent Shout
Fiery Furnaces : Bitter Tea
Weird boy-girl (Hansel und Gretel) dynamic dualities at play, though only one breadcrumb trail to Neverland is stomachable. Biblical bodily-harm band names, and oxymoronic album titles aside, the masking and layers that Olof Dreijer and Karin Dreijer Andersson project never feel clever and cloying, unlike the Friedbergers. Aside from myself, I can't think of anyone who would benefit more from an editor (or in this case, a producer) than Fiery Furnaces. Their dog-paddling through proper names, cut-ups, and quirkiness (not to mention lame presets) is maddening, nearly causing last night's Movie Night to divide against itself. Maybe it is a psylocybin-steeped brew (which I'd usually never turn down), but much like such trips, shit turns boring the back half, when you stop wanting profundity and just want simple pleasures. Even Fluxblog frets whether or not you're gonna fuck up "Police Sweater Blood Vow" in the studio.

The Knife have some cheesy presets, too, like to dash their pop much like the Fiery Furnaces do. It takes nearly three minutes just to get to the ludicrous drum fill and chorus of "Like A Pen." They claim to be from Sweden, which is more cred-worthy than admitting the truth of their Siberian origins and how they have weird Deliverance-type inbreeding out there. The blurring of identity and gender sounds crucial to the Knife's survival, their duality distorted by digital processing and meat-locker isolation chambers, the horrors of daily life on a spiritual tundra such that it can feel like 500 degrees. Jiff Skippy hears Scott inside 'em, which I hope implies he hears Brecht and the fact that Silent Shout is also Munch-rock.

Belle & Sebastian : The Life Pursuit
Sparks : Hello Young Lovers
If you'd told me that post-April Fool's Day I would have barely spun the new Theo Dini but gotten downright dizzy on the unspeakably irritating Belle & Sebastian, I would've made your breath smell like boot polish. But I'll be damned if a twee-pop record isn't stoving in my head even as I type this. And how to explain my lifelong disregard of Ric Ocasek's hiccup vocal delivery somehow getting co-opted by Stuart Murdoch to my boxer-knotting delight on "The Blues are Still Blue"?

Yes, Viagra has restored their vim and vigor and taken them back to their days of being underwear models. Lascivious, silver-tongued devils though they may be once more, dicking around and whatnot, now it's their hearing that becomes the stumbling block. Punchlines, rather than prattled off with such effortless glee by the Evelyn Waughs of Glam, are now repeating payoff lines for five minutes or more. Not that there are no new twists; "Perfume" sounds downright sincere, until you realize the boys have never been once been so sappy. Then the laundry list of lays and the ladies' corresponding scents scans instead as a sly "settling down" pick-up line. And so they continue to dick around.

heep ep

Joe Tex : Buying a Book
Bobby Charles : Bobby Charles

Disparaging as it is to flip through used records in New York (not to mention keeping in mind waxy accumulation in the earhole and the hell that is moving boxes of records), it was finally worth my while as two things I had been pining for suddenly appeared in the wood crates. It's no secret that I am taken with Joe Tex (for those who don't know, the phrase "heep see" is from Joe's joint "Heep See Few Know," flipping Scripture in the days before he really got all 5%) but finding his crisp yet wistful classic Buying a Book was just short of impossible this far north of the Mason-Dixon line. His world of sock hops, prom dresses, hand-me-down shoes, dabs of mustard greens, grandma's can of snuff, it sounds impossibly passed, like when a Carl Perkins teen ditty talks about polishing up a horse for Saturday night's picture show. Bus depot hieroglyphics, barber shop-talk, So-n-so's misfortune, everybody'n everybody's bidness...the more things change the more...
Joe Tex - Anything You Wanna Know

Mike McG gave me that slice of Bobby Charles's watermelon first, to slurp and quench to seek out the Band in all its sepia doubt beat, its mudfoot strut, from Jesse Winchester to Jackie Lomax. Now I can hear how it snuggles into crackles like a cardigan in a spring wind. Ever wish Randy Newman just grew up redbone? Sang in swamp shacks instead of at Disneyland? As prime Band-non-Band, this Bearsville record serves as the Chelsea Girl for VU-non-VU. 'Cept Bobby don't have to make explicit that life is a carnival, just squint (maybe it's a wink) about the carnie aspects, you know how people are. Easy Lee as Lee Dorsey, Bobby Charles leans back while dudes like Danko, Dr. John, and Levon Helm loop-de-loop.
Bobby Charles - Small Town Talk

Friday, April 14, 2006

beta flashback

A conversation about the Beatles that took place at a Jim's Diner a good twelve years ago, up at Moistworks.

Similarly, recalling the first time I ever heard Tom Ze, back in high school.

No, I'm not going to my high school reunion or anything like that (that nostalgic ship already sailed), but I am pondering a book proposal dealing with such a time. It means revisiting a book like Acid Dreams: The Complete Social History of LSD so as to again be struck by information about Dr. Hubertus Strughold, a Nazi scientist who performed mescaline studies at Dachau (in addition to injecting inmates with gasoline, crushing them to death with pressure chambers, and other experiments involving poison, gas, and other chemicals). Tucked away in the US military under Project Paperclip, he relocated to the states where he became renowned as "the father of space medicine." Go figure that he lived in San Antonio, too.

It also means a stroll through the scorched parts of the mind, rescuing such artifacts, creating the artifice of teen thought, and wondering what the narrative thread through such a tangle could actually be, learning how to illuminate such burnt filament. In the words of thee mighty Trux, "It's an education every day."