November 12, 2010

Your Ears You Keep, and I'll Tell You Why

"Harry, you know how much I love watching you pretend to work, but I've got Reagan's 100th birthday to plan, my re-election to fumble, my legacy to cripple, and professional liberals to frame for it. I'm swamped. "
—President Barack H. Obama
My ears have been ringing for over seven years now. I can pinpoint the precise moment this began—an explosively awesome gig in spring 2003 where my thunderous bass rig got augmented by a massive in-house subwoofer—but that doesn't make it any easier to deal with. The left ear is definitely worse, but at least it's consistently and predictably bad. The right one falls in and out of dog-whistle range at radically random intervals, and the doctors all say that it's a progressive and permanent case of tinnitus. All rock stars get hit with this sooner or later, but I haven't wanted to be Sting or Pete Townshend for a long time, and it's a wretched feeling that I'm, like, totally over, you know?

Now, I don't expect any sympathy for my condition—I did this to myself, after all—but as with all the ravages of age, it's the little things that I miss here and there that make for a big fat bummer. I mean, I love headphones and earbuds just as much as any sane person, but I can only stand to listen to music that way for so long before the ringing comes back and my brain just tunes out. I don't play many big gigs anymore (even though both of my bands have been revived in 2010 after years of inactivity), so the best times I have listening to music are 1) my daily commute, and 2) the ten-to-fifteen minutes I take every night to—like Jarvis Cocker told me—do the dishes.

I'm completelly serious, dude. Doing dishes is never a chore if I can rock out at the same time, and lemme tellya, you haven't lived until you've lathered up a sponge with detergent as Them Crooked Vultures rip apart your cochlea. You haven't experienced anything like the true bliss of scrubbing away the most stubborn gunk while Prince or the Roots supply the low end. I dare you to reach the same peaks of aural pleasure while cleaning the bathroom or vacuuming the floor. Not with a hundred funky Man/Miracle songs could you do this. My wife claims that she has, but as with so many other things she must know wisdom I don't, because I've tried replicating her experimental behavior and it hasn't worked.

But that's okay—sometimes you feel like housework, and sometimes you want to just sack out with a beer and tell the universe to fuck off. Like tonight—a prime Friday night for rock & roll degeneracy, and here I am bashing away at this stupid keyboard with only a bottle of Blue Moon to fuel the last reserves of my psychic energy. Good goddamn, I'm tired. I'm not complaining, mind you—2010 has been very good to me, project-wise—but I feel like I've been working my ass off with programming and design for fourteen straight months.

And I have plenty of ass to work off, man. A decade of various sedentary office jobs, plus the occasional streak of unemployment, has guaranteed me plenty of posterior real estate, and no one needs ass assets like that. Oh sure, I bike sometimes—but it doesn't help much. And yet, I don't really care—because I can finally sleep at night. Hell yes—righteous beauty rest is now my truest friend, even on the nights when I'm up 'til 2am painstakingly piecing together dastardly PHP and e-commerce modules. For that, I have only the Byzantine Empire to thank.

Yeah buddy, you read that right—because for me, midieval religious warfare, barbarian invasions, mystical iconoclastic debates, and declining, collapsing societies will always equal major Z's. I've finally found a history topic that will put me to sleep. I mean, it absolutely knocks me out—there is no considered musing on the nature of Life, the Universe, and Everything like I do with other interesting periods of history (the Age of Discovery, the American Civil War), or even the head-slapping parallels with today's wild party of decadence (classical Greece, Rome, and especially the intervening Hellenistic era). No, there's just a pathetic and dumb succession of Byzantine emperors and empresses who gain power via coups, and then do awesome and/or terrible things like argue with the Pope over the nature of God, or destroy the imperial army by fighting Arabs, Slavs, or Bulgars.

Reading Byzantine history is so stunningly predictable that insomnia will never afflict me again as long as I can crack open a biography of Justinian or Basil II or Bardas Phocas or Empress Zoe. Those crazy people always ended up on the wrong side of fate, but reading about their successive, similarly gruesome demises (often at the hands of their own rabid children or feral servants) is way better than counting sheep—especially when you throw in a scholarly author of such stereotypical pip-pip and tally-ho aristocratic, elistist English condescension as John Julius Norwich.

So pretty please, pardon me if I can't bring myself to give a fuck about the melodramatic travails of the biggest asses in the country—the feckless Democratic Party and our goofy, Boyd-Langton-crossed-with-Steve-Urkel president. I mean, shit—I enjoy watching Republicans lose elections as much as the next squishy suburban liberal (and a good many of them did lose last week, especially here in California), so I probably won't be supporting any no-hoper "primary Obama" efforts for 2012. Unless I myself am the candidate. Hell yes—why not? I'll be over 35 by then, and I can write a Facebook and Twitter post without taking all morning. Maybe Alan Grayson can give me some money-grubbing tips. I have more guts than that fat bastard.

Wait, what? Jesus, let's get control of this useless tripe. Next thing you know, I actually will run, and then lose—and no Democrat wants to lose in 2012. No way, dude—one wrong move and every losing candidate will end up like all those wretched Byzantine ex-emperors. Their eyes will be gouged out, their noses cut off, and their heads tonsured (even the women!) before getting shoved into sack-cloth undies and condemned to live their remaining time on Earth in some isolated monastery or convent, far out among the wild neo-Christian tribes of Nebraska or North Dakota or Saskatchewan. Oh yes, they will become extremely familiar with what "to the pain" means, my sweet Westley.

But not me, old sport. No—I'll be safe in my cardboard California condo, secure in the comfort of a relatively low (for 2007) mortgage interest rate, and nothing bad will ever happen to me again. Well, except that infernal high-pitched whine between my ears. That will be one hell of an endurance test, dude.

So pray for me. Send, like, care packages or whatever.

October 12, 2010

Album Covers I Have Known 1997-2009

Posted these a while back on Facebook (sadly, yes, they got there before they showed up here), so I figured might as well reissue recycle repackage:

"Battery Acid Blues" by the Mojo Wire (Dec. 15, 1997)
Our first official "album" had the same name as my weekly music column in the UCSB Daily Nexus, so I thought it was strikingly appropriate to illustrate it with a caricature by Nexite cartoonist Tony Bogandovski. The original column it ran with was this one: http://bit.ly/cI6ZMe. The album itself was full of cartoonishly simple blues and surf pastiches from the '60s, and the cover worked so well that I returned to cartoons for cover art later too. More about this album (including streaming audio) here: http://bit.ly/qtklf

"Rocket Fuel Malt Liquor" by the Mojo Wire (Apr. 8, 1998)
The red-headed stepchild of Mojo Wire albums, this sprawling mess is illustrated by an old watercolor detail of mine from around 8th grade. It's…uh…really red (the watercolor was a pastiche of the planet Jupiter) but otherwise not necessarily a bad design. However, it's also a cut-and-paste job from my pre-Adobe software days, and therefore appropriately amateur in style. More about this album here: http://bit.ly/98eXe

"Seaside Hamlet Skids" by the Mojo Wire (Apr. 20, 1999)
Another amateur cut-and-paste job from my pre-Adobe days, but this design has aged pretty well and is still one of my favorites. It's the first really strong CD cover design I ever made, I think. The photos were snapshots of Isla Vista and Avalon circa 1997, but I can't remember where the reverse-type smear came from. The recording itself is a similar mix of amateurism and inspiration, and you can read more about that here: http://bit.ly/asPT3R

"You're On Your Own" by the Mojo Wire (Jun. 3, 2001)
This one took a while to pull together, but then so did the recording itself—the Mojos' final original album was a mix of remakes, live stuff, and originals. The unifying theme was "ugly Isla Vista," and visually I'd been inspired by warm colors and (randomly) some old Spanish textbook vocabulary cartoons of sad kids, sugary food, and pills. Funny, sure, but ultimately not as good as this band cartoon I thought up later. Well, 3/4 of the band cartoon; Bryn's caricature still doesn't look right. Anyway, more about this album here: http://bit.ly/x6iSd

"My Band Rocks!" E.P. by Honey White (Nov. 26, 2002)
The cover for Honey White's first CD was created by drummer Bill Fedderson (fitting in a way, since his kit dominates the recording) and then refined by me, beefed up a little for color, contrast, and stuff like that. Bill was inspired by the band's fleet of two Volvo wagons that helped us move gear to every rehearsal and gig from 2002-2004. The Volvo theme was something I continued via gig posters and fliers and more, but it all started with his simple and elegant idea. More about this CD (including audio) here: http://bit.ly/YthLK

"Live and Unprofessional" by Honey White (Jan. 28, 2003)
This design is the first of several that really haven't aged well at all. Every designer goes through their "Photoshop filter mashup" phase and this was part of mine. The recording itself is great—capturing everything that was good about our Isla Vista live shows in 2002—but this cover doesn't do it justice. It was supposed to be more about color than image, but a grey slab doesn't evoke the fun of these crazy gigs. It's drab and boring, but everyone needs to stand up and admit their own personal moments of "meh." To be continued. More about this album here: http://bit.ly/T2q4Z

"Epic Noise Now" by Honey White (June 10, 2003)
The bad "Photoshop filter mashup" phase will continue until morale improves! Well, sort of—this cover, for a compilation of live recordings from our 2003 shows, has a much more interesting color palette, but it still suffers from the "weird distortion of band photos = art!" phenomenon I'd been enthralled with at the time. Alt-rock fans also might notice that this layout blatantly rips off the Flaming Lips' "Soft Bulletin" cover. More about this album here (yes, same link as last time): http://bit.ly/T2q4Z

"Low Fidelity Favorites 1997-2001" by the Mojo Wire (Aug. 5, 2003)
We interrupt this "Photoshop filter mashup" orgy to bring you a halfway decent throwback. A mirage of a montage, a collage of sabotage. A diff—sweet Jesus, what the hell was that? Uh…never mind. Long story short: in 2003 I was unemployed and had lots of time for random distractions. One of those was design in night school. Another was "remastering" audio using basic compression. Both went into the mix for this Mojo Wire best-of, and I learned many aesthetic lessons for good and ill. It's not genius work, but it'll do the job—plus it looks a little like "Exile on Main Street." A little. Anyway, listen to the goodies here: http://mojowire.bandcamp.com/

"Saturated Songs" by Honey White (Jun. 22, 2004)
Last of the red-hot (and blue) amateur live album Photoshop filter mashups, but at least it's a little more refined than the others. I was trying to make the perfect image for the way Brian's guitar sounds when he's feeling epic, and this slow-lava drip of drenched cool colors seemed perfect. Of course, a Photoshop-savvy person would look at it and say "hey, that's just polar coordinate distortion with lots of blue on it," and they'd almost be correct—but whatever. The font is called Croobie, and it came bundled with my DVD-authoring software (always a painful subject). More about this album here: http://bit.ly/aAvjl7

"How Far is the Fall" by Honey White (Apr. 28, 2005)
This one is probably tied with the Mojo Wire "Seaside" cover as my favorite. Combining the successful Mojo best-of montage idea with (by this point) one year as a professional designer paid off handsomely. I felt pressure to create something great because this album was THE BIG ONE, creatively and technically, when we went pro in a real studio with the masterful J.D. Mayer at the helm. Marika's in-studio photos worked perfectly as highly stylized slabs of color, and though there were several versions (including a fun fruity-citrus palette) I finally went with a blue-green-purple mix, to match the album's reverb- and echo-laden guitar sounds. More here: http://bit.ly/d0ovCj

"Deluge and Drought" by Honey White (Jul. 3, 2007)
The best Honey White live recording gets the best live album cover, despite being released a few months after Honey White went on effective hiatus. This cover also had several versions made, but the final ended up being straight "honey" yellow and white on that textured black background (itself a distorted detail from the "How Far is the Fall" cover). The band images are manipulated photos by Lenore Griego, from our disastrous UCSB Campbell Hall gig (at least something good came from that show) and the typewriter-from-hell font is called Adler. More about this album here: http://bit.ly/aAvjl7

"The Weapon of Young Gods" by Low Tide (Mar. 11, 2008)
Low Tide was an instrumental solo side project of mine from the Mojo Wire days, and I revived it when recording echo-bass-heavy background music for writing a novel. The novel is stuck on a second draft, but this "soundtrack" was sure fun to make. The cover uses a found and manipulated triple-calavera image (it's a scene in the book) overlaying a mess of blue paint that began as a Rauschenberg-like "combine." Every few months my boss takes us away from our computers to "get our hands dirty" and make art to re-inspire our creativity. Hey Barbara, it worked. More about this album here: http://bit.ly/cqphxp. Play the whole album here: http://lowtide.bandcamp.com/

"Some Reassembly Required" by Honey White (Dec. 1, 2009)
This online-only release was a compilation of the best stuff from Honey White's first three live albums, (which never got high-quality digital releases), so part of the cover's design is a montage of all our gig posters and flyers that I designed during 2002-2004. The rich honey-jar color overlay is a distorted detail from a photo by Owen Salisbury, taken at the last Honey White rehearsal to date in May '07. It was one of many great shots from that session, which definitely deserve their own cover in the future. More about this album here: http://bit.ly/aCjg0Z

September 01, 2010

Would You Like Whipped Cream With That?

"Businessmen, they drink my blood, just like the kids in art school said they would."
—President Barack H. Obama
Politics is a serious business, or so I'm told—and told often—by people across the ideological spectrum. Indeed, so many have imparted this particular turd of wisdom in my direction so frequently and earnestly that I've long since ceased to give the idea any credence or respect. Sure, that refusal in itself isn't exactly novel either—but good goddamn, people sure do take this shit too seriously. Much more so than the people who are actually supposed to be taking it seriously—who usually seem to be having a king-hell orgy of fun—because they have either discovered, or always known, how infinitely ridiculous they are. And they have accepted it.

Well duh, you'd say—and again, you'd be right—but come down to my level here for a minute and humor me. That's step one, incidentally. Anyway, I know we live in serious times and so we must be serious people when oil spills or floods or hurricanes other disasters are thrust upon us by that fickle and treacherous Mother Nature (not to mention the perverse vagaries of our own frail species)—but I keep getting surveys in the mail from Tim Kaine. Urgent response required. President Obama must know your views immediately. At least that's what I think it said—I tossed it in the bin almost immediately after ripping it open and seeing URGENT plastered all over the top half.

Sorry, Tim. And double, triple, and quadruple sorry to Mitch Stewart and all those other earnest, do-goody liberals who keep sending me emails—but Your Thing is not really My Thing. I've known this for many long years now, and I'm not sure why I ever deluded myself into thinking it might be My Thing (though a few choice spasms of unrelated personal insecurities might be the reason), but no matter—and really, nothing personal. Seriously, Tim—don't look at me like that. Genuine shock and surprise doesn't suit you, dude.

What? No no, I haven't forgotten all those killer nights in Georgetown and Charlottesville and Richmond. That one Cracker show we caught at the 930 club was truly the shit, man. I still appreciate you putting up with my Reverb Theory of Rock and how it applied to David Lowery's epic trilogy of heartfelt ballads. You were a real trouper back then, man. And hey, remember the time when we TP'd George Allen's house? That was so fucking awesome, dude. I'd totally do it all over again, and exactly the same—because you and I both know that guy will be back, right? Heh. Staggering into the public eye again, shaking off the dust of obscurity like some hungover, brain-damaged phoenix. It'll be creepy man, and you'll need to be ready, and—

Dude, lay off the whiny angst, okay? Don't worry about the president. He's got this shit, yo. Didn't you hear? I mean, you're only the chair of the D. N. fucking C., right? Didn't the Doctor show you the ropes when you took on the job? Didn't he, like, leave you that letter that all outgoing officeholders leave to their successors? You did it for that bastard McDonnell, didn't you? I remember you going on and on about Warner's note that you got. It was, like, really embarrassing, you know? Not that there's anything wrong with a grown man crying with mawkish sentimentality—I've done it myself on many occasions—but sometimes you just have to pull your shit together.

Like right now. I'm told there's, like, an election coming up. I know, seriously! And guess what, man—it's on my birthday again! No shit! Know what happened the last time those two things coincided? Don't you remember my shitty little sob story? Bush was re-elected, man. I got so wrapped up in that election that you wouldn't have recognized me. Indeed, most of my friends and family who got that weepy little screed in their email boxes cringed inwardly, I'm sure—but the ones who did reply were gracious enough to not condescend. Well, all except my high school sweetheart, but she was a Republican, after all.

I know you know where this is going, Tim—so feel free to check out anytime. This hotel has never heard of Don Henley. I know, cool, innit? And dude, I'm telling you—it's time to take the clippers to that dome of yours. Trust me, I did it over a decade ago, and I've been a whole new man ever since. Anyway see you later, Timmeh. It's time to impart the Wisdom, even though I'm sure any reader with a functioning cerebral cortex and a healthy sense of the absurd has already figured out what that is.

Hell, maybe I don't even have to say what it is—I mean, if you have to ask, or if you've even read this far without clicking away in disgust or boredom or whatever it is the cool kids do these days, then you probably wouldn't appreciate or get it anyway. But whatever—maybe that's the new thing now, but somehow, I doubt it. Why? Well, as I've mentioned before, the twenty-year nostalgia cycle never stops, and the glorious apathy of the early 1990s will soon envelop all of us in its nurturing womb of self-importance. If'n it hasn't already, of course—but if it has, my suggestion is to not let people push your buttons about it. When that happens, you have truly elected the way of pain, man.

Personally, I can't bring myself to take this election seriously. I know, I know—sturm und drang und fear and projection and all that—but really, I'm not interested. Oh, I'll go vote—I'm not ugly AND stupid—but my perfect record of no canvassing, phone-banking, and other erstwhile pastimes of politicking has yet to be breached. I understand that once it's broken, I'll go on a seven-game-losing skid just like those dipshit San Diego Padres (yeah, that bandwagon's gettin' mighty crowded, ain't it?) and never make the post-season. My energy will be spent by Halloween, and I've learned from my years in Isla Vista that such a development would be catastrophic.

Because I've got things to do, Barack. I've got songs to write and gigs to play and novels to publish and marketing to design and websites to build and all that other silliness that makes life worth living in This Great Nation of Ours. Seriously, dude—I've accepted being someone who won't go out there and rip the world in half. Activism sucks from my point of view. I'm not interested in influencing or being in power, not interested in jumping through the hoops required. I don't have what it takes, as it were. And I refuse to be judged for that—from the righteous leftists and the compromised party people alike.

Yeah, man—you can either get depressed when what you create doesn't matter, or you can blow it way out of proportion and have some fun. You know this. I know you do—you've published books and stuff too. Now, on to more important shit, Mister President. Have you chosen a piece of pie yet? And hey, would you like whipped cream with that? I've got other customers, you know? Just sayin'.

August 07, 2010

Slow Food on a Hot Stove: New Honey White Songs & More

(Cross-posted from the My Band Rocks blog...)


...and when I say "New" I mean "after 2005," or something like that. Also, many more new Adam songs than represented here in these quick snippets of 12 new (sort of) demo songs from 2006-2010. Some are future Honey White songs, some are not. Some are so new they don't have titles yet. They are:

Nightfall
This is one of Bryn's that was done just after Honey White finished our "How Far is the Fall" album in 2005. Bryn has a knack for writing further good songs even after recording is done—a habit that goes back to the Mojo Wire days. "Nightfall" made it into several HW shows in 2005 and 2006, and kicked off our "Deluge and Drought" live album, but to date has not been recorded in a studio.

The New Normal
Another one of Bryn's, of more recent vintage (2009 I think). Honey White had already hiatused by this time, of course, so Bryn brought it to the March and June rehearsals he and I did with Adam and Kevin in the Clap (or Contact Hangover, or Worst Birthday Ever, or whatever the hell the name is). Bryn cited the Black Keys as an influence on this tune, and Adam takes a swaggering solo in this clip.

Bubble
This is a demo of Brian's that he made earlier this year while toiling away at that PhD in Washington DC. We've been trying to figure out the time signature for months and still don't have a clue. I think it's 17/4, but I'm not a real musician, so what the hell do I know? Anyway, I think it's my favorite Brian song ever, and did my best to add a (very) simple bass line to the demo he made.

Winner Take All
Bryn led Honey White through this rootsy jam in March 2005. I added lyrics and a wobbly demo vocal to it 2 years later. "Winner Take All" could go well in either band, I think, but we shall see where it works best.

Historical Friction
This one's all mine, done in April of this year, and based on a 20-second loop of Bill's electronic drum kit. The chords are based on the themes I used on the "Weapon of Young Gods" book soundtrack CD in 2008, which I figured was appropriate since the lyrics poke fun at the idea of "writing what you know."

(Adam's New Song)
I love this tune, and when Adam brought it to the March 2010 rehearsal I jumped at the chance to give it a lyric. I'd only had 2 verses done by the second rehearsal in June, but the band played it even better. Now it only needs a chorus…

Hold Still
Bryn first played me this tune in July 2004, and Honey White took a stab at it while we were in the San Francisco studio doing "How Far is the Fall," but I didn't finish the lyric until about September 2005. This snippet is from a demo I made off the studio jam, but Honey White's rehearsed it a few times, and it's probably another song that could fit well in either band.

Tempting Fate
Another one that's all mine, and that's worked really well in the Adam/Bryn/Keir/Kevin band. I finished it around Feb. 2007, and used some drum sample bits on the above-mentioned soundtrack CD, but (like some other songs) it didn't really work until Bryn rebuilt it from the ground up. This take is from the March 2010 rehearsal, with a deft little solo from Mr. Hill.

Happy
Another Brian demo, from (I think) 2005. This was also made with some drum samples from Bill, and is the first demo that I recall Brian singing on. Honey White tried it in our last rehearsal, in May 2007, but along with "Bubble" I think it would be a great addition to a future HW album.

(Drop-D)
Third Brian demo of this set, and the oldest one at that, from 2004 or 2005. It's an entirely self-contained track—with Brian on every instrument—and all it needs is a few vocal tracks over it and it could be done, but alas its master tracks were wiped when Brian's laptop took a shit and died.

Green Hills
Bryn wrote this song under sad circumstances in 2005, and Honey White began rehearsing it in about October of that year, I think. We got it to a point where it even made it into a show (8/4/06), and I really like my bass part, but Bryn thinks it still needs some work in the lyrics department. We shall see.

(Brynstrumental)
A solo piece of Bryn's that he recorded earlier this summer, in the style of the Mermen's Jim Thomas. I included it here because I think it's pretty and 12 is a nice round number.

Who knows if or when any of these will be recorded—and which band will record them!—but it's good to listen through all of them and know we've still got it.

July 23, 2010

Major Metropolitan Area Horribly Debased by iPhone Camera

We spent the week in Seattle, and I couldn't be bothered to use a real camera. Oh well...

July 14, 2010

This Book is a Movie (Soundtrack)

As many of you know, I've been wrapping up a novel for...uh...several years now—and it's almost done. Really and truly. Anyway, I was so into it at one point that I even wrote and composed a soundtrack CD for it, mostly because I'm a raging egomaniac, but also because I'm not famous and don't know famous people and have no leverage on famous musicians and their music. I.e. music that I could have used for a super-hits soundtrack if my book ever became a movie.

Instead, I merely have Grooveshark—which means I can re-inflict the mid-1990s on all of you. Oh yes, I can get Jeff Buckley to back up a schizophrenic Spanglish nightmare scene, or the Jesus and Mary Chain to put music to a humid April morning in Chico. I can get PJ Harvey's voice for a love scene gone morbidly sideways, an Elliott Smith surf instrumental for late-afternoon zen hallucinations, or a thick and creamy Tortoise groove for a foggy night on campus at UCSB. I can get the Beastie Boys to bash out the funk for a head-butting soccer game, or Sea and Cake for some mellow drinking sessions in the freshman dorms.

I can even get an old Radiohead B-side to back up a night-driving Capo Beach scene, get Elastica to blare their car song out of a pickup's stereo, or land Morphine's treacherous saxophones for a quick beatdown scene, or snag Bjork for a surprise betrayal dialogue. I can unleash Kyuss for a brutal death scene, I can pour the Mermen's reverb all over a nostalgia scene, and get some classic Liz Phair to rescue one character from the depths of despair. Best of all, I can summon the Verve for a massive, epic revelation scene, and James' eerie Eno-isms for the closing credits.

I know people always make playlists and this isn't really that big of a deal. Except when I say it is. So it is. But my own stuff is an even bigger deal:


<a href="http://lowtide.bandcamp.com/album/the-weapon-of-young-gods">Calaveras Desagradables by Low Tide</a>

July 09, 2010

The Designer/Wordsmith/Rockstar - or, How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Being "Gifted"

Originally published as a "Student Voices" column in the Summer 2010 Gifted Education Communicator.
No one ever asked me if I wanted to be “gifted.” I didn’t know what it meant at first, and it didn’t seem like I had a choice in the matter, so it took a while to get used to the idea. At seven years old, I definitely wasn’t ready—it was sort of a surprise, and I’ve never handled strange new surprises very well. I was an eldest child and a late bloomer, and had always been better with routine and stability. Even now, as a thirty-three-year-old professional designer, I still don’t improvise as well as I’d like, and in a field that depends on spontaneous sparks of inspiration, that can be dangerous. I’ve long since learned that such catalytic tension makes for great creativity, but it wasn’t an easy lesson, especially back when I was a newly-minted “gifted and talented child.” That was more like getting shoved on stage, front and center, beneath a gigantic spotlight.

Dealing with that spotlight gradually got easier, but only after I was able to define my role on stage, instead of having it defined for me. If I had to be up there, in the band, I had to do something fun. Not singing—too exposed. Not lead guitar, either—too flashy and complicated. Not drums—steady, yes, but too essential, with no room for error. But the bass guitar—now that looked like the way to go. Its unobtrusive nature made perfect sense to me, so that’s the role I chose. The bass is always in the background, but it’s constant. It’s an essential piece that’s missed when it’s gone, but it’s dependent on drums to sound its best. The bass is grounded, repetitive, familiar, and relatively simple. It’s a rhythm instrument, stringed but percussive, steady and supportive, neither leader nor follower. Like many musicians, I identify with my instrument a little too closely, but that helps keep the stage fright away—and I definitely had stage fright as a child.

Over twenty-five years later, that uneasiness isn’t difficult to express at all, but for a first-grader suddenly catapulted to the second grade reading class, it was awfully hard to understand why walking down the hall alone and simply knocking on the classroom door felt impossible. That was one of at least a dozen similar experiences that underlined what now seems like a haphazard approach to giftedness at my elementary school. I always got moved to combination classes to do extra work at the next grade level, and being gifted back then was definitely presented like a chore or an obligation. I didn’t understand, in third grade, why the music teacher assigned violin practice records when I could already blast through every piece in the book, playing by ear. I didn’t get the point of writing an essay on the Age of Discovery in fourth grade, when I could just draw a world map, freehand, and explain it that way. It made much more sense, in fifth grade, to ditch the after-school GATE class and gamble quarters on the 1988 presidential primary with my best friend—until a pretty girl shamed us both into going to class with her.

In middle school, though, something happened—“being gifted” was probably the only thing that actually got easier—the assignments were relaxed and fun, and relied on a healthy injection of individualism from each student. Thanks to what must have been a well-designed program, I got away with good grades in English for creating grammar lessons taught by Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles; I won praise in Art for designing alternate album covers for my favorite music; I actually had fun writing a U.S. History paper on the rise and fall of the Confederacy. Even better, people were impressed with all the weird stuff I could do—and let me tell you, a kid can get used to that kind of applause.

Getting rewarded for being ravenously curious about the world felt great—like being paid to start food fights or play X-rated video games—and looking back, that’s when the egomania began to creep in. It wasn’t exactly naked, slobbering hubris—just smug, inward sneering—but I realized that sometimes I could just “do school” to get by, without really trying. There were still limits—I won the county Geography Bee in seventh grade, but got bounced after the first round at the state level; I crashed and burned on the Algebra placement test, ending up in the “normal” eighth grade math class—but the seed of sloth was planted, despite the genuinely good and earnest efforts of parents and teachers who all seemed to have my best interests in mind.

That kind of blasé self-confidence—on top of the usual chaotic teenage neurochemistry—could have spelled academic doom in high school; thankfully my experience ended up being much more socially and emotionally balanced. I got all the brain food I could ever need from the accelerated and advanced placement humanities classes. I was encouraged to read about whatever I wanted—literature, history, politics, music, art and culture, from Homer to Hunter S. Thompson—and drew on all of it when turning in term papers on Roosevelt’s Executive Order 9066, on Canto IX of Dante’s Inferno, and on e.e. cummings’ sneaky, profane usage of Greek in “Jehovah Buried.” The only problem was that researching those things didn’t feel like work at all, so I never learned proper study skills. Except for Biology, every math and science class I really had to study for—Algebra, Trigonometry, Chemistry—ended ugly, and I barely scraped by. The bigger lesson, though, was working with kids who weren’t as comfortable in school as I was—which definitely balanced my perspective. The only class that didn’t present either extreme was Visual Arts, and it became an oasis of calm creativity during my otherwise gloriously gonzo senior year. It was subjective, easy, and fun—especially sketching girls’ portraits to get dates—and there was no “right” or “wrong” way to be an artist. Unfortunately I forgot about that nugget of wisdom for almost ten years. For that, I blame the University of California, Santa Barbara.

I’d always vaguely expected to get a higher education, but was never too anxious or excited about it—college was just another first I’d have to endure. Initially, everybody else seemed gifted too, and it wasn’t actually that much different from high school—aside from some unhinged personal behavior and colossal financial repercussions—so I coasted through two years as a Geography major. I was actually on track to be a city planner until I got a D in Urban Planning despite working like crazy.

Switching to English was an easy fallback—I’d always been a good writer, and appreciated the more nutritious diet of literary criticism than I’d had in high school. It didn’t take long for the impulsive sloth to bite back, though. I got away with turning in first-draft, B+ quality papers on everything from the Chaucer-Shakespeare-Milton heavy hitters to Kafka, Kerouac, and Rushdie, and I still hadn’t learned to study. Two further major distractions on top of that were a fitful sortie into journalism (I wrote arts reviews for the school paper) and a sidestep into music (I played in three rock bands over ten years), but fortunately those weren’t detrimental enough to keep the Regents from eventually coughing up my diploma.

Of course, it’s all fun and games until you have to get a job, or book a gig, but sometimes it’s still really hard to knock on scary unknown closed doors. For better or worse, that was part of the rudest post-graduate awakening that I had to deal with: fewer and fewer people cared about how smart or talented I was (or thought I was). It shouldn’t have been so shocking, but being “gifted” didn’t matter anymore, to anyone. It wasn’t some magical inoculation against the world’s superficial snap judgments. Worse, those same little snatches of sloth had fermented into a strange sort of passive entitlement: why wouldn’t that company hire a bright capable kid like me, right out of school? Why wouldn’t that newspaper run my articles? Why wouldn’t that club book my band? Nobody cared—and I hadn’t learned how to make them care. So, like every other self-absorbed post-grad, I flailed around gracelessly for a few years. I eventually landed some bureaucratic office jobs, but belatedly succumbed to all the obvious downsides of giftedness: underachievement, procrastination, boredom, resentment. It was a lesson in humility worth learning, but I wasn’t able to kick the doldrums until I decisively returned to what worked: creativity (freelance journalism, music, and art) and education (night school for graphic design and web development). I did what was challenging and fun—and lo and behold, people noticed.

Even so, I wasn’t expecting to end up where I am, doing what I do. When I was younger I had a different enthusiasm every year, and I bled them all dry. I wanted to be a paleontologist, an oceanographer, astronomer or cartographer. Later I wanted to be a journalist, or maybe a novelist. Now, my business card describes me as a “Designer/Wordsmith/Rockstar,” but it’s only lying a little bit. Professional creativity is a slippery way to make a living, but creative people at my age are only beginning to hit their peak. Advertising and marketing isn’t necessarily the best career choice for someone with spasmodic shyness and a streaky work ethic—and yet here I am, staring at a computer screen all day, making words, paper, and pixels look pretty.

So no, I didn’t ask for the “gifted” label around my neck—and sometimes I resented it—but it did eventually prove to be a push in the right direction, as long as the right people did the pushing. In my experience, when parents and educators treated giftedness like something set in stone—a requirement, a necessity—it was simple to ignore, subvert, and resist. When giftedness was presented as something fragile, to be pampered and fussed over, it was too easy to panic once that attention went away. However, when mistakes were allowed, and perfection wasn’t the goal, then the failures weren’t as personal. When giftedness meant malleability, and its definition was something I was allowed to change, then every challenge was always worth the hard work, and it was easier to improvise. I’m still not always comfortable improvising—or with being gifted—but I’m comfortable enough in my own skin, and at ease with my place in the world. I don’t need to be a rock star—not among my family, friends, or colleagues. I don’t even need to be an expert musician. I’m happy to just be the bass player.

July 02, 2010

Baby, Let Me Show You a World Without Sin

I don't know where you're going / But you don't know where I've been / Baby, let me show you a world without sin
—Malcolm Reynolds*
Polarity has never been an issue for me. No, I'm not the kind of guy who flies off the handle at random—or at least not for about twelve years or so. Oh sure, there's the odd presidential election meltdown or sudden spasm of selfish mania—but in general I've been a pretty even-keeled guy while the rest of the world has gone to shit. I'm not bragging—I'm empathetic to the myriad all-important passions of my friends and family, and even indulge in a few of those when it matters—but it's been a good lesson in zen after going certifiable for most of the late '90s. I have lived in a calm, mellow, bland universe of mature reflection and deliberate balance. So today, when a truly beautiful Friday went suddenly, brutally Sideways, I nearly lost it. Seriously—bizarro brain chemistry was all-powerful, and I questioned my own Purpose In Life.

The cause of today's spontaneous combustion isn't important—explaining certain professional frustrations to the uninitiated is never easy for a worker bee like myself, but whatever—and there's no real point in bringing it up, except for this: I re-learned that glorious truth we all must remind ourselves of periodically. Yes, the Wisdom, the Righteous Natural Law that prescribes the only way to deal with the universe's random perpendicularity: when life throws you sideways, drink your V-8 and bend everything else back the way it should be, with pure will. Control the uncontrollable. Respond with such overwhelming force, such sheer ability, such monstrously awesome power that all who behold it quake in awe and gladly accept that they are beaten. Or not. Hell, it's not for me to tell anyone how to behave or how to live. If you believe that what you do for work or play is Good, Worthy, and Moral then who am I to criticize? Indeed, why shouldn't I just sit back and mind my own business, since it's the only real thing I truly excel at? Why shouldn't I keep on the Grand Tour of a World Without Sin? Huh? Why not?

I'll tell you why—and forgive the inner Miles Copeland transmogrification here—because it's BORING. How many people became Dante Aligheri groupies after reading the boring-as-whale-shit afterbirth known as "Paradiso?" None. Zero. Everyone was already flattened and sacked-out from throwing their collective undergarments at him because of "Inferno," weren't they? Oh, you know they were. "Purgatorio" might be the underrated critics' fave, but the sins were what put the asses in the seats, every time. No one likes to read happy stories, no matter what Hollywood or Madison Avenue or "Got a Happy Story" might claim. No, we live for the ugliness and depravity; we yearn for the revelation that someone out there, some other poor bastard, is much worse off than we are. This is a human thing—Americans are just better at self-delusion when it comes to this, unlike, say, the English—and while some believe that's what makes us Mighty, I am not one of them.

No, I'm firmly in the "people are much weirder than they seem" camp. I mean, just think about what we've seen so far, these past weeks: impotent wrath over some hubristic blogger's liberation from the Washington Post, bickering envy from everyone who believed Diego Maradonna was done for long ago, stupefying sloth from congresscritters only too happy to kick the unemployed when they're down, incalculable avarice from every rich (and wish-they-were-rich) enemy of the goofy hodgepodge Financial Regulation bill, a Supreme Court nominee's unabashed gluttony for Chinese food, rabid lust by a female senator for fictitious pinup-monsters, and—last but not least—the infinite vanity of Mick Jagger, complete with old-lady scarf and ex-President accessory. Easier targets like Michael Steele, Manny Ramirez, or the entire fallacy of Toronto/G20 don't even register in the lower reaches of Sin's rusty edifice in comparison. Not even oceans full of black death (with their attendant redneck politician apologists) and double-dip recessions (with their attendant weak-bowelled financial advisors) could even get in the door at this point. Not when hot Guatemalan girls I used to know in college are more despondent over Brazlian fütbol failure than their own auto-accident fallout. Priorities, mis amigos, priorities—Dutch Courage means something totally different now, doesn't it?

Ah yes, because in my own personal corner of green, leafy, middle-class, artery-clogged torpitude, everything is all right, darlin'. The sun is shining, and everything is fine. Never mind the long hours, crushing demands, and June gloom of yester-month. That is all gone now, like Landon Donovan or Stanley McChrystal or Research 2000, and Life…she is Good. Novels get written, songs get sung, rock bands get re-formed, and art is created, appreciated, and (best of all) Paid For In Full. Marketing Marches On, baby. Gray hair we can deal with. Love handles, we can ignore. Coffee-yellow teeth, we can bleach. Why? Dude, do you even need to ask? It's Independence Day Weekend in America, man—and we native sons and daughters of groovy socio-capitalism's last gleaming are here to PARTY! Oh, bring it. Right on. The '90s revival is right around the corner, y'all, and that wild orgy of triumphalism will never, ever, EVER get old—for it was the time of our Youth and Young Man/Womanhood. Yes yes, I'm dating myself here—with apologies to the elder and younger idealists among us—but in the '90s, my friends, you could date yourself however you wanted. And hey, if I need to explain that, well…I'll tell you when you're older. What happens in 1997 stays in 1997, okay?

Now, where the fuck was I? Jesus, you throw back a few and everything vanishes upstairs—just like Nancy Reagan said. Or was it President Ronnie, before he was kidnapped by ninjas and had to be saved by the Army of Bad Dudes? I can't remember anymore—all these little Reagans running around Ventura County sucking down Tea have me seeing double. Anyway, I think I may have said it better in the more recent past, so if you care to make sense of all this silly shit, maybe you should look elsewhere for those seven deadly sins that Just Won't Die:

We Move Like We're Suspended in Amber 1.27.10
Walk On Your Lips Through Busted Glass 2.5.10
The Horrible Burden of Being Right All the Time, Part II 2.14.10
When "Rock and Roll" Only Meant One Thing 3.16.10
It's Always Amateur Hour Somewhere, Part I 4.26.10
It's Always Amateur Hour Somewhere, Part II 5.15.10
Sometimes You Break a Finger on the Upper Hand 5.25.10

Happy Friday, boys and girls. You're welcome. Oh, and * Mal didn't say that—I did.

June 26, 2010

Seven Sobering, Selfish and Simplistic Soliloquies

Don't let other people's hang-ups fuck with your art.
—Keir DuBois
Same old deep blue green ocean view. It's almost too good to be true. Same bliss and doubt, day in day out. It's all about deluge and drought, deluge and drought and no surprise on this horizon. Same myth is strong in every song: stuck on the wrong island too long, island too long with no surprise on this horizon, no surprise on this horizon.

<a href="http://honeywhite.bandcamp.com/track/island-fever-2">Island Fever by Honey White</a>

Familiar wreckage in the aftermath of fucking up again, as awful as if it took all I had to fail in the end. Forever overwhelmed too easily and always so behind, as if I ought to lose a piece of me to win some peace of mind—cause I get along here, but I don't belong here. Ain't difficult to keep believing it, but I'm not gonna crack, If this is all there is I'm leaving it, and never coming back, cause I get along here but I don't belong here. Yeah I get along here, but I don't belong here.

<a href="http://honeywhite.bandcamp.com/track/famous-last-words">Famous Last Words by Honey White</a>
I wanna make it easy, I wanna make it quick. I wanna make it painless, sugar—and this should do the trick. A little limber racket, a little lick of fun, a little liberation never upset anyone. Hold still—this won't hurt a bit. You will learn to live with it. I need you to accept it. I need this understood. I need you to appreciate it's all for your own good. Hold still—this won't hurt a bit. You will learn to live with it. I'm under way, I'm unabashed, I'm unashamed to work up passion, I'll take what's mine, and everything is all right, darlin'—and everything is fine. Hold still—this won't hurt a bit. You will learn to live with it. mp3
Crawling toward another beautiful blank sunrise, west of home and east of everything else we prize, with one hand on the bottle, one foot out the door, and one eye shut pretending that we've seen it all before. I wouldn't know I'm having fun, but I wouldn't stop for anyone, cause if I need to think at all, somebody else will take the fall. It's only the peak of my career—no wonder it's all downhill from here. We know we'll never have it all by any reckoning, but we can't resist the hotter property beckoning. Tonight the power couple is not two of a kind, and two against the world isn't what they had in mind. I wouldn't know I'm having fun, but I wouldn't stop for anyone, cause if I need to think at all, somebody else can take the fall. It's only the peak of my career—no wonder it's all downhill from here. We're living in a terrible wreck of our own design, and everybody's reputation is on the line. But no one needs a blessing—we're not on holy ground—as long as we remain inside our happy heathen town. mp3
The heat is high but I know my way and nothing so wrong will happen today. I have been kicked out of nations, I have died on reservations—losing every lead, learning how to bleed, spinning like a toy isolate destroy. You have no idea what you did to me and lately you're so sure it's good to be without security, and though all things end baby—all things end—I just don't know when I'll begin again. So honey take a bow I hope you're happy now that almost everyone can see that day is done. Cause I been kicked out of nations, I have died on reservations—spinning like a toy isolate destroy. Your security is no good to me you have no idea what you just did to me I've got to turn around and face the sunset down—got to turn around and face the sunset down cause the heat is high but I know my way and nothing so wrong will happen today. mp3
You call this archaeology? It's desecration, man—exhuming ancient melodrama just because you can. You're way too busy ripping fiction from the facts to notice that the fossil record's still intact, but I know what happened, I know what went down, and nobody rewrites history as long as I'm around. You call this therapeutic? it's reckless shuck and jive, manipulating dead emotions just to feel alive. Cause everything was epic until you lost the plot and wound up with an epilogue that everyone forgot, but I know what happened, I know what went down, and nobody rewrites history as long as I'm around. You call this creativity? it's kleptomania! You keep a muzzle on the muse, she'll keep betrayin' ya, She knows all your secrets, she knows when you lie, she knew all about you when you were some other guy, and she told me what happened, so I know what went down, and nobody rewrites history as long as I'm around.
The day you threw me back out in the open, I fell apart a thousand times and then I hit the ground so hard I knew that everything was broken beyond all hope of healing clean and sober, safe and sound. But tonight the town's electric, and I'm a lightning rod, and I can shake it off without another second thought. I used to wanna be the main attraction so bad that no one else would ever do me any good, and up until you took evasive action, I never gave my heart away—not even if I could—but tonight the town's electric, and I'm a lightning rod, and I will give it up for anybody on the spot and just let go. Tomorrow ain't a threat to my behavior, and all that I can do is stick around to wait and see if I could ever be somebody's savior now that everybody knows you got the best of me. But tonight, tonight the town's electric, and I'm a lightning rod, and I can take a shock as well as any son of god.

Version 1 (2002):
<a href="http://honeywhite.bandcamp.com/track/the-lightning-rod">The Lightning Rod by Honey White</a>

Version 2 (2006):
<a href="http://honeywhite.bandcamp.com/track/the-lightning-rod-2">The Lightning Rod by Honey White</a>

June 17, 2010

Eight Fables About Action, Inaction, and Distraction

If I'm part of a problem, but not part of the problem, then it's not really your problem.
—Keir DuBois
For many years now, I've forgotten my dreams—if I ever remember at all. Reality wants my attention more often, so I always come when she calls, and I'm getting used to the pull of routine and the comfort of my fatal flaws. Cause I never really found Boredom attractive, but she won't stop flirting with me. She don't understand that I can't reprimand her for such innocent flattery, and I used to think I could hold out forever—but she's circling patiently. For many years now, I've forgotten the fear—but now I remember it all. The nerves and the pressure of one good impression are making my confidence crawl, cause I've got a date with Ambition tonight but she's not returning my calls.

<a href="http://honeywhite.bandcamp.com/track/fatal-flaws">Fatal Flaws by Honey White</a>

Get busy bringing out the cheap tequila. It's awful, but I just can't put it down. Here comes another drinking song, but I can't help myself—lately the hangovers and hang-ups hang around, and suffer like a half-assed work of fiction within the steady grip of epic funk. If talent jumps a generation, here it skipped them all—as if it's easier to deal with it drunk, and sing one last hallelujah before we say good night. The liquor's flowing all over creation, and even though by now it's way too late, I'll have a little rum and honey, you can nurse your gin—and we'll pretend to finally set the record straight, cause your attention span's a starving artist, and it's high time you finally did some good. Who do you think you are now, honey? What do you take me for? Get off the cross—it's cold, we need the firewood. And if you're going back to town alone, you better keep your halo out of sight, and sing one last hallelujah before you say good night.

<a href="http://honeywhite.bandcamp.com/track/one-last-hallelujah-2">One Last Hallelujah by Honey White</a>
Survival on the naked truth has saved another boring youth from having any bit of fun, or getting close to anyone—and by the time I bought the myth an amateur could deal with, I heard the luck was running out for everybody anyhow. Come on love—forget about the pressure and the fear, cause we can't afford to waste another year. It used to mean the world to me, but chasing down elusive dreams and second-guessing everything is so unhealthy, mon ami. Come on love—forget about the pressure and the fear, cause we can't afford to waste another year. Here we come now, here we come—so unprofessional to some—but we know better, we know best, and we'll endure nevertheless. Come on love—forget about the pressure and the fear, cause we can't afford to waste another year.

<a href="http://honeywhite.bandcamp.com/track/unprofessional-2">Unprofessional by Honey White</a>
Too lazy if I work, too nervous if I steal. Too heavy if I hurt, too harmless if I heal. Too smart to waste the effort, too stupid to appeal to anyone too superficially unreal. So please have mercy on me—I don't know what I want to be. Too many hours later, too much is still the same. Too close to losing everything and too scared to play the game. Too good to get the credit for taking all the blame, and too thirsty for the glory to feel any shame. So please have mercy on me—I don't know what I want to be. Too noisy on location, too quiet on the set to notice if I might deserve exactly what I get. Too casual in theory to really break a sweat, and too busy at the moment to care about that yet. The choice ain't ever up to me, and it's not the life I want to lead, so please have mercy on me—I don't know what I want to be.

<a href="http://honeywhite.bandcamp.com/track/mercy-rule">Mercy Rule by Honey White</a>
A few weeks into summer, and I've yet to see the sun illuminating anything the way I want it done. It's not for lack of trying, and not for lack of fun, but I got tangled up beneath the losers and the lost—ripping into frenzy just to get the point across, and desperate to win it all no matter what the cost. If only you could see me now. If only you could see me now. I knew what I was doing—I knew it all along. I knew when not to worry all about the right or wrong of ending up anonymous and dying to belong. If only you could see me now. If only you could see me now. Don't know if it'll ever be enough for anyone to believe me when I promise that I've only just begun to keep myself from sinking into sweet oblivion. If only you could see me now. If only you could see me now.

<a href="http://honeywhite.bandcamp.com/track/sweet-oblivion">Sweet Oblivion by Honey White</a>
Somehow we began the night invincible as ever, and always so impulsive or inspired. Somehow we're all ending up immobilized together, and always so oblivious and tired. Suddenly it's all about denial on a bender, and everyone's so easily impressed. Suddenly it's all about the easiest surrender, and definitely blacking out the rest, forgetting everything I know and then dissolving into history again. The waves are rolling in again, allmighty and illegal, and I'm already in over my head. The volume is intensive and the impacts are for real and no one is immune who isn't dead.

<a href="http://honeywhite.bandcamp.com/track/blacking-out">Blacking Out by Honey White</a>
When I was younger, I was still insane—I looked like Abel and I felt like Cain. I learned to fear, I learned the art of war—until I guess I couldn't take it anymore. or else I got too callous—so I grew up and I approached the bomb with automatic cool and heroic calm, methodically defused her right in time, and now our reason overrules our rhyme and interrupts our rhythm. So, why upend the balance? Sometimes I feel okay, and deal, and I give up but then sometimes I feel like tempting fate again, or wreaking havoc every now and then, or risking everything I got to slash and burn up past another point of no return, and leave the rest in ruins. So why upend the balance? Sometimes I feel okay, and deal, and I give up but tonight—tonight I feel like tempting fate again.
Still up against the way it always will be, and shackled to the way it's always been. Still opposite the center of attention, and banished to the outside looking in. Forgiven any consequence of any reckless stunts, as long as I do anything to win. Don't matter if I can't move like I used to, or even if I think as slow as sin, or even if I don't know any better, or if a soul is underneath this skin—cause all the broken pieces always snap back into place as long as I do anything to win. Cause I can take a dive, yeah I can take a fall—but as soon as I can take control I'm gonna take it all. So when the worst of here and now is over, and dangerous charades are wearing thin, and aftershocks are right around the corner, and ever after's itching to begin, I'll look out on the promised land, the king of all I see—as long as I do anything to win. Oh yeah, I would do anything—it's been too long, I'm bound to hit the wall. Cause I can take a dive, yeah I can take a fall—but as soon as I can take control I'm gonna take it all.

May 25, 2010

Sometimes You Break a Finger on the Upper Hand

Jesus! Can't you guys recognize bullshit? Don't you think it would be a useful item to add to your intellectual toolkits to be capable of saying, when a ton of wet steaming bullshit lands on your head, "My goodness, this appears to be bullshit?"
—Douglas MacArthur Shaftoe
I've been having problems with deadlines lately—the space-time continuum has been extremely treacherous recently, especially today—and it's put me in a viciously foul mood, with no patience for crafting any cute little novellas about random deadly sins. I mean, those dumb morality fables have been fun so far this year, but I'm not really interested in humoring that impulse right now. What's more, another deadline is looming with extreme prejudice—not web development this time, but writing—and so I need to crank the rusty machinery into gear enough to spew two thousand worthwhile and honest words for a real publication. Yeah, don't come too close, or I might snap your spine with my righteous rage, just like Barack Obama did to Bono recently.

The hell you say—but photos never lie, especially when they're shot by pompous maniacs like Pete Souza. Seriously, look at that shit—the President is about to give U2's frontman a Vulcan Neck Pinch to knock him unconscious, the better to break his back with. Oh sure, the usual excuses were made
President Barack Obama meets with Paul David “Bono” Hewson, lead singer of U2 and anti-poverty activist, to discuss development policy in the Oval Office, April 30, 2010.
…but within weeks, the disturbing truth slowly emerged:

Bono undergoes surgery, tour start postponed
According to a statement on U2.com Bono “has today undergone emergency back surgery for an injury sustained during tour preparation training. He was admitted to a specialist neuro surgery unit in a Munich hospital, and is under the care of neuro surgeon Prof. Dr. Jorg Tonn and Dr Muller Wohlfahrt. Bono will spend the next few days there, before returning home to recuperate.
And it went downhill from there:

Bono needs 8 weeks recovery, North American leg postponed
U2.com has announced that Bono has been discharged from LMU University Hospital in Munich. The physician, Dr Muller Wohlfart confirmed that Bono underwent emergency surgery on Friday after suffering severe compression of the sciatic nerve. To ensure a full recovery, he needs to start a rehabilitation program to recuperate for at least eight weeks.
Hence:
06-03 Salt Lake City, UT - Rice Eccles Stadium ^
06-06 Anaheim, CA - Angel Stadium ^
06-07 Anaheim, CA - Angel Stadium ^
06-12 Denver, CO - Invesco Field ^
06-16 Oakland, CA - Oakland Coliseum #
06-20 Seattle, WA - Qwest Field #
06-23 Edmonton, Alberta - Commonwealth Stadium #
06-25 Pilton, England - Glastonbury
06-27 Minneapolis, MN - TCF Bank Stadium *
06-30 East Lansing, MI - Spartan Stadium *
07-03 Toronto, Ontario - Rogers Centre *
07-06 Chicago, IL - Soldier Field *
07-09 Miami, FL - Sun Life Stadium *
07-12 Philadelphia, PA - Lincoln Financial Field *
07-16 Montreal, Quebec - Montreal Hippodrome *
07-17 Montreal, Quebec - Montreal Hippodrome *
07-19 New York, NY - New Meadowlands Stadium *
No more "City of Blinding Lights" for you, Barack. Did you realize the consequences of your actions? Did you even stop to think about what might happen if you pushed the little leprechaun-man too far, never giving in to his naive demands for AIDS medicine funding? No, no you didn't. You were too caught up in your own problems—and yeah, we know it takes a lot of time and patience to govern slowly and decisively, especially when it makes you look like you need a Valium—and thought nothing of how this might affect millions of people in the land you claim to lead. I mean, do you have any idea how many poor bastards re-arranged their lives to go see these shows? Unpaid time off, sick days, gallons of gasoline, hundreds of dollars on tickets—the legions of U2-yuppies out there are fucking pissed, dude.

And really, you of all people should have realized the potentially disastrous political fallout from this folly. Don't you remember that, ever since 1992, the American two-party system has been fueled by the engine of U2's album and tour output? Don't tell me you'd forgotten about that—it swung the 2008 election in your favor, man:
Now, by the album theory, this year was all set to be locked up for Crash McCain, what with plenty of substantiated rumors about a new U2 album looming in the fall. However, it seems that someone in the U2 camp—be it the nefarious Edge, the sullen Mullen, the libertine Clayton, or the socio-capitalist manager McGuinness—has overruled Yer Man Bono, and forcibly delayed the new release to 2009.
We all know how that ended up—a U2 gig at the Lincoln Memorial, a balls-ass-freezing inauguration with an inept Chief Justice and a collapsing Ted Kennedy—all before the underwhelming leak-then-release of No Line on the Horizon in February and March. It did not age well, and according to the biased Beltway, neither did your presidency, despite the hysterical, projectionary, and insecure ravings of your own rabid fanbase.

Wait, what? Look at your record? Ho ho, don't make me laugh—health care? Financial reform? Lilly Ledbetter? Is that underwater volcano of oil funny? How about those crazy North Koreans? And all those shit-stupid tea baggers with guns? Pop another Valium and get back to me, will you? This isn't about you. man—this is about ME, and the U2 shows I won't be able to see until 2011 (even though I hadn't bought tickets yet anyway) because you decided to get offended by the fifty-year-old Irishman in goofy sunglasses. His sciatic nerve will never be the same now, and his hot wife and daughters will weep bitter Gaelic tears. Even the Edge might consider abandoning his palatial ambitions in Malibu in solidarity.

Because hey man, I was SURE that the band would begin reviving some of those gloriously underrated '90s songs on the 3rd and 4th leg of this ugly beast of a tour—hell, with the recession on the wane, there's no doubt they would have brought back "Discotheque" and "Lemon" and "Mofo" and all those other awesome four-on-the-floor musical seizures to rock the stadiums across our great land. But no, you had to get greedy. You had to pick on a man older and shorter than you—a foreigner, to boot—on your home turf, while he was your guest. Never mind the silly lobbying and un-funky dance moves. Never mind the gargantuan ego and obvious self-absorption, no matter how much you may have identified with it. Never mind the undeniable greed of power and the apologists for those in power.

No, forget all that crap. None of it matters, because I'm not getting what I want: a bloated, recession-defying rock juggernaut with the carbon footprint of a planetoid. Thanks a lot, Mister President. Maybe you can come to my house and watch the new U2-360 DVD with me when it comes out next week. We'll have a beer summit and talk shit about Elton Gallegly, Meg Whitman, and Simon Cowell, and all will be well.

May 15, 2010

It's Always Amateur Hour Somewhere, Part II


"I've always considered writing the most hateful kind of work. I suspect it's a bit like fucking—which is fun only for amateurs. Old whores don't do much giggling. Nothing is fun when you have to do it—over and over, again and again—or else you'll be evicted, and that gets old."
—Hunter S. Thompson
So...I had lots of great plans for this essay, but they all gave way to a brutal onslaught of sloth (ironically, itself brought on by a month-long crazed fit of workaholism). Yeah, I wanted to write about lots of other, more momentarily interesting things—the ongoing side-project/supergroup war between Jack White and Josh Homme, the vile vagaries of purposefully testing active server pages in, uh... Linux environments, the sheer Solomonic conundrum of judging portfolios of the most talented young graphic designers, and the totally rad band reunion/rehearsal I had back in March—but I never got around to doing that.

No, never strapped on the sack to pontificate about Man/Miracle, (my new favorite band), the first-place (!) San Diego Padres, or the recent stumblefuckitude of the Capistrano Unified School District. Hell, I didn't even want to write about me, which is what any self-respecting narcissist would do by default. So here I am, falling back on the old stand-bys—quoting a writer that I and everyone else have already quoted and aped and diluted to death —when I finally have a stray second to piece together coherence.

What? No, no—fuck that, I've got a story to finish. Yeah, the promised finale in the Epic Saga of the Weelykta Party, or something like that. Well, all I've got is this stuff, and in the spirit of sloth (which, Universe Willing, I will shed sooner or later), I will now foist it on you all.

Anyway, like every overblown mythological saga (cough LOST cough), this one ends with a whimper. See, Frank Weelykta, the great Prohibition-hater, never saw his dream of Repeal come true. Sadly, like all great activists FTW was doomed to crash and burn in the wake of his own previous brilliance, cast off and forgotten by those who trampled him to climb their own stairway to eternal glory. It turns out that the Weelykta Party's relative success happened without its fearless leader:
At the height of the 1924 convention, Weelykta had bequeathed all administrative and managerial privileges over to subordinates, deciding at the last minute to take direct action outside the political process. His namesake political party continued to prosper without his input, bending the ears of influential politicians of all stripes (including future president Franklin D. Roosevelt), and frustrating traditional Prohibition supporters at every turn, including the infamous "Klan-bake" incident of 1925, when Weelykta Party Treasurer Smedley Robinett (armed with only a candle and a jug of ethanol) faced down the entire Anaheim, CA chapter of the Ku Klux Klan outside a busted Silverado Canyon distillery.
Weelykta, for his part, ran fast and loose in 1925 and 1926, disappearing into Mexico for weeks at a time only to return with a fleet of rum-runners, supplying all California with glorious booze:
Civic leaders and local businessmen shunned him, but Hollywood celebrities and rich eccentrics treated him like a pet tarantula. At the height of his fame, Weelykta could count on the support of not only the Wrigleys and Dohenys, but also the Bogarts and Mitchums of the world. He soon based his entirely illegal operation on San Clemente Island, a convenient halfway point between Tijuana and Los Angeles (as well as Wrigley's Catalina Island). Naturally, this enterprise made Weelykta a hated enemy of the U.S. Coast Guard, but he was initially able to slip through their fingers on several occasions, until one day in early 1929 when his flagship, the Choicest Hops, was forced to run aground at Monarch Beach.
Whappo! How the mighty, desperate, and insane fall into ruin. But wait—it gets worse:
According to contemporary police reports, Weelykta's crew fled up Salt Creek into the sparsely-habited canyons of Dana Point, where the great man himself was finally brought down in an epic gun-battle among the lima bean fields. The grisly incident spelled doom for Weelykta Party electoral fortunes, but by that time the party's platform had already been absorbed piecemeal into FDR's broad coalition of fearless booze advocates. When Roosevelt himself finally gained the Oval Office and celebrated Prohibition's repeal, saying "I think this would be a good time for a beer," the President honored the original speaker of that quote—none other than FTW himself, the late Frank Weelykta.
The great man was later revealed to be survived by four daughters, all from unwed unions scattered around the country. The Weelykta name thus died out immediately, but Frank's legendary DNA runs rampant in the genetic makeup of Southern California to this day. I know this to be true because my source is impeccable—Weelykta's great-grand-daughter, one Olivia Maria Garcia. Yes indeed—Garcia, the half-Latina daughter of Chicano power activist Gordo Garcia and noted SLA munitions expert Bonnie Boomhauer—loved to talk, and I learned all about her volatile family history, back through her grandmother Winnifred Talulah ("Winnie") Finklestein of West L.A., who just happened to be the out-of-wedlock-daughter of—you guessed it—Frank T. Weelykta.

It took a while to get the complete details about "WTF, daughter of FTW," but that was understandable considering the circumstances (Liv and I were two neurologically-underdeveloped students scraping by in the nubile cesspool of Isla Vista, CA), but she was an excellent historian beneath her hard-partying exterior. It may sound pathetic, but I still hold great respect for her research despite the fact that, back in 1997, she dumped me without a second thought for some alpha-male asshole from Theta Chi.

But enough about all that silly Weelykta shit—you can only flog a stupid pun and its attendant lame acronyms for so long, and I sense that the story itself is ultimately sad, dumb, and unimportant, like 99.9% of all the other tangentially-political malarkey that passes for activism these days. So sloth won out again, I guess, for now. Goddamn, I need to get me a new Power Animal—too much more of this sinful gibberish and I'll be written off with even more extreme prejudice than before.

I had you going for a split-second there, though, didn't I? Eh? Ehhh.

April 26, 2010

It's Always Amateur Hour Somewhere, Part I

"I tell you, old sport—I've never met anyone as committed to a single cause as that man Weelykta. Why, I daresay he'd be a sterling example to all of us, if he manages to accomplish anything, of course."
—Jay Gatsby
"Gatsby's a rotten bastard, a hopeless lightweight. Terminal amateurs like him make us all look bad."
—Frank Weelykta
"Tequila and tabasco/Formaldehyde and gin/Hell yes we're gonna drink it all!/Hell yes we're gonna win!"
—Singing delegates at the 1924 Weelykta Party National Convention
Sustaining political enthusiasm is a hard racket—it starts ugly and ends uglier—and I know this is true because in my case it began early. As a seventeen-year-old budding party hack, I had an AP U.S. History term paper to complete, with two topics to choose from: the unjust tragedy of Executive Order 9066 or the gluttonous comedy of the Twenty-First Amendment. Being a righteous (but not yet terminally gonzo) adolescent, I chose the former, and have regretted it ever since. But now—now I can come clean.

Indeed, there is no twelve-step recovery program for sustained political over-enthusiasm, but if there were, surely one step would be immersion in the toxic yet inspiring legacy of the great Frank Weelykta—a true American Icon of the early Twentieth Century, on par with Babe Ruth, Huey Long and J. Edgar Hoover. You may laugh, but his rise and fall holds many lessons for those of us often frustrated by the political constipation endemic to the two major U.S. political parties. Check it:
Very little is known about Weelykta's murky origins. He was born Franklin Thomas Weelykta ("FTW" for short) in 1899 to William and Temperance Weelykta, allegedly in either Ann Arbor, Michigan or Akron, Ohio (the family owned property in both cities). The elder Weelykta, a professor of demography, would today be regarded as a raging case of bipolar disorder, but of course these things were not diagnosed back then. According to his son, William would explode in fury if anyone referred to him by his hated childhood nickname, "Wee Willie." Conversely, Temperance was said to embody her own name in every way except one: she was a functioning alcoholic, ameliorating her husband's crazed extremes with surreptitious helpings of gin, gin, and more gin.
The irony of this escaped no one, but irony was also rarely diagnosed back then. The (Library of Congress) biography continues:
The younger Weelykta made his way through the burgeoning years of America's Century in relative anonymity, but the one constant in his life was alcohol. Unlike the third-party advocates of today, Frank drank neither tea nor coffee. Frank just drank. From his first snort of Dr. McGillicuddy's Peppermint Schnapps at the tender age of five, his fate was sealed.

Like many other young men of his age, Weelykta joined the U.S. Army in the waning days of World War I, and though he never saw combat, his experiences in Paris immediately after the Armistice were defining; deranged nights out with a young Humphrey Bogart and a harem of French women were just the tip of that particular iceberg. However, Pvt. Weelykta's European tour was summarily ended with a literal and metaphorical dishonorable discharge: he was sent home to the Midwest after relieving himself at the base of the Arc de Triomphe.
Ozzy, you're a shriveled amateur next to the great FTW, but I'm sure you two would have made fast friends.
Once home, Weelykta did not stay in one place for long; tales of his drunken escapades are still heard in Chicago, Houston, Denver, and Los Angeles to this day. Oh sure, everyone has stories like that from their youth, but FTW's were different, mostly because of their inherently politicized nature. When Prohibition became the Law of the Land in 1920, it immediately earned many mortal enemies, but none more virulently committed than Frank Weelykta.

Previously apolitical, Weelykta was not, in the parlance of the times, a "progressive" man. While he shared many views with the old "Bull Moose" Progressive Party, his differences with their platform on the issue of prohibition were obviously profound. Above all, he hated Woodrow Wilson for enduring a humiliating veto override. After 1920, Weelykta declared his life's work would be the repeal of the "unjust, tyrannical, and fundamentally un-American persecution of recreational drinking."
The record deletes the rest of that quote. It really ended with a terse "Noble experiment, my flabby drunk ass!"
Weelykta's activism saw its apotheosis during the 1924 general election. Banished from the Progressive Party after publicly ridiculing presidential nominee Robert LaFollette's anti-gravity hair, Weelykta hitched a ride back to California in the entourage of ex-governor Hiram Johnson (a Progressive himself who only grudgingly respected LaFollette). Disillusioned with the progressives over their apathetic policy toward repealing Prohibition, Weelykta then organized his own political party "conventions" at various pubs and bars around Los Angeles.

Agitating for repeal up and down the West Coast, the eponymous one-issue Weelykta Party was a colorful but as yet ineffective force in politics. Their members eventually numbered over 1,500 from twelve states. Repeal, of course, didn't happen until much later, but the Weelykta Party sowed the seeds of eventual success by systematically infiltrating every other party: repealers found sympathetic drinkers among Democrats, Socialists, Progressives, and even some Republicans.
After that, FTW disappears from the usual sources; Wikipedia, Britannica, and even the Library of Congress all wipe him from the face of history. Until now—because I, well…I found out what happened to the poor guy, and it was 360 degrees of karmic balance for everyone involved. Oh yes—Prohibition was repealed, of course—but everyone already knows that. Besides, my own fermented sense of balance tells me that it's almost the month of May—high time for a sweeps-week cliffhanger—so anyone who actually cares about the end of the Weelykta saga will have to tune in next week...uh, sometime.

Hey, it's a tough week for me, okay? I got CSS and HTML to code by day and rock shows to see at night. I have not yet begun to defile myself, but I am also, after all, a professional.

Oh, one more thing: a hat-tip goes to Capt. Nick Clemente, U.S. Military, who first told me the legend of FTW back in 11th grade.

UPDATE: The story continues, with Part II here.

March 16, 2010

When "Rock and Roll" Only Meant One Thing

"One song which would really tear the house down was 'Tutti Frutti.' The lyrics were kind of vulgar. White people, it always cracked 'em up, but black people didn't like it that much. They liked the blues."
—Little Richard
"If rock and roll has to be only one thing, then you might as well say it can only be Little Richard."
—Bono
Like many struggling rock stars, I've endured all kinds of cheap taunts and envious smears in the foul underbelly of the music industry. It comes with the territory—when making the quantum leap from bleating opinionated man-child to Serious Ball-Busting Artist, the attendant fallout irrevocably mutates many observers into one-note projection machines. These poor souls are called "critics," and I know how they think, because I used to be one myself.

And let me tell you, rock criticism has got to be one of the most banally self-defeating jobs ever conceived by man, because you have to attach significance to songs that were, of course, all about fucking. You have to imbue thick, rich layers of meaning onto something inherently plastic and disposable; you must infuse the wisdom of age onto something made from the sweet nectar of youth; you have to pin down a moving target with taxidermic precision, freezing it like a museum piece to be analyzed by future generations.

Too many great rock & roll albums have been retroactively neutered that way—hell, at 30 years old, even hip-hop's an ossifying institution now—but that's what happens when any form of music gets wedged into an overly hip, self-referential niche, barely sustained by its own narcissistic feedback loops of bitter elitism. It's not a new phenomenon—jazz suffered similar criminal negligence in its twilight years during the staid '80s and bland '90s, and there's nothing more hopelessly bitter than certain white male jazz musicians—but rock & roll's extended episode of euthanasia during the past decade has been especially painful to witness.

That doesn't mean it's completely dead, but it's not for lack of trying; the "indie"-rock and synth-pop revivals of the 2000s was even more transparently false than the retro-'70s "grunge" wave of my youth. However, music industry obituaries of any kind are themselves meaningless anymore too; poring over fossilized minutiae in a quixotic effort to bolster one's own nerdy obsessions is the very definition of soul-death. But the impulse to dig deep is always there. The search for new magic bullets is endless, but it always starts at the same place.

I don't have to tell you when—some of you were probably even alive back then—but for the rubes, the gist of it is this: somewhere back in the hazy sepia-toned mists of time, an epic cataclysm tore our great nation in half, and nothing has ever been the same since. Much research has been done, though, and modern methods of carbon-dating have placed the epicenter square on the well-coiffured head of one Richard Penniman of Macon, Georgia.

Young Richard did not appear marked for success—being poor, black, and queer was obviously not a recipe for greatness in the mid-1950s, especially when paired with frenzied, shouted paeans to good booty—but success found him just the same, and that was that. Little Richard embarked on a career that became an endless brawl between his soul and flesh—drugs and orgies one decade, gospel and God the next. Rakishness and repentance. Sin and salvation. Rinse, jheri-curl, repeat.

That carno-metaphysical tightrope-walk has defined rock (and country, and gospel, bluegrass, disco, rap, etc.) for so long that it was rare to come across any superstar musician who was not, ultimately, a glutton for punishment in some way. There were a few, but they couldn't hold back the raging beasts of the emergent music business, who coasted in on Frampton's tresses and laid waste to paradise far more completely than any coke-addled junior health-insurance lobbyist brigade ever could.

Indeed, a whole phylum of the menagerie even named itself "Los Angeles," spawning slavish fans, lustful groupies, power-crazed monsters, ruthless emotional vampires and desperate corporate zombies all screaming "Eat it raw, righteous man, eat it raw!!!" whenever some earnest young fool with an acoustic guitar straggled into town. They'd kidnap the poor bugger and drag him out to the canyon somewhere as a karmic coyote sacrifice, and then five years later he'd emerge as some brilliant, demented genius—plunking out crude 8th-note solos on a battered Casio keyboard.

And why? Because the impulse of vengeful punishment for perceived betrayal is strong among rock's fickle fans. Pop fans won't care, country fans are laughably loyal (unless you're a Dixie Chick), and rap fans will recycle your grooves into immortality. But in white-dude rock music, artistic betrayal, selling out and giving in to the man are all fatal misinterpretations in the eyes of the naive hordes—all grounds for instant ostracism and immediate purgation from the history books. Well, at least until Rolling Stone or Spin or VH-1 or even (shudder) Pitchfork wonders "where are they now?"

Totally, dude—they always want more. They are never sated and they will nitpick for eternity. They recycle and reissue and repackage on vinyl and cassette and CD and mp3 and who knows what next. They burrow like leeches into your brain and suck out all the luscious tapioca they can find before flitting away to some other sucker's cerebral cortex to start the process all over again. The same way. For the same reason. With the same results.

On the other hand, that could be exactly what they want you to think. Trust me, I know. I've Been There, and at the end of this month, I'm going Back—and I don't care how gluttonously self-indulgent that might appear. There's always another song to write.

Yeah, because Richard Penniman is an old man now, but even he knows that there's always another way to Rock.

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