Tuesday, December 13, 2005


November’s usually undercover – incognito. You turn you head quickly as it walks by, never quite sure if you really saw it.

November’s half October, half December – only its own month because the other two would be far too long otherwise.

November’s a stage hand, a background assistant. It helps fall make sense, never wanting much recognition though. November prefers anonymity.

November likes the work, likes the preparation, likes it when things go right and nobody pays attention why. I woke up every day in November, never thinking it was November, always with my mind on something else.

November starts when Halloween ends, and ends with the fading memories of Thanksgiving. It’s bookended by the strangest holidays we have – one celebrating misdirection and disguise and the other embracing a gluttony so remarkable it leaves a week’s worth of leftovers.

I love November – it’s a timeout if you really want to take it. Deep breaths for free.

November tries to squirm a bit, though, sneaking into both fall and winter, both Christmas and Halloween, both warm family embraces and solitary exhales, steam-breath dancing from the lips. Who’s to blame November, the middle child, from proclaiming that it’s both young and old? Who’s to blame when November wants just a bit of it all?

I left town for a bit in November, damn near everybody does. November facilitates gatherings, a perpetual host, making bold introductions across broad groups of friends and families. Many a November gathering is likely to never be repeated.

November’s a little slow, by design. It’s protective, nurturing. November ain’t trying to leave anyone behind. Patience all around, November urges, and we’ll all have a piece of pie, all get a good time in at some point, all have time to make sense of the fall before the winter hits.

Monday, December 05, 2005

Kelvin-Helmholtz Records

Look out, it’s here. The only record company I know of named after an obscure atmospheric phenomenon has dropped its first release, a 16-song compilation appropriately named “Prescott Made Me Do It.”

And I suppose it did – Prescott that is, making them record, making them create, making them take a dreamer’s idea and give it life.

This Kelvin-Helmholtz is a family affair, helmed by my bro, Stu Leblanc, and his cohorts, Colton and Andrew. They pulled it off, and pulled it off in style, with a nine-hour, 13-band show, all in a sleepy little hick town.

I know that hick town all too well, and I know that for some damn reason many of its young inhabitants are forced into creativity, forced to make do somehow, forced to turn weird and vibrant in the face of boredom and oppression.

Stu and Colton have long talked about starting their own record label, and here it is. One compilation, however, is but a first step. Promising, though, are at least two of the bands on the compilation, in fact the two bands who will form the cornerstone of the label’s stable. Keep your ears open and one day you’ll hear Blankets and the Swim.

Those two were for me the highlight of the show and the album, by far. Much of the rest tilts too hardcore or screamy for my tastes. My own friends who contributed made probably the weirdest music on the set, which is to be expected coming from them.

As far as the label goes, I’ll likely have at least some peripheral role as it develops, with Stu one of the leaders and half of the Swim soon to be moving into my pad here in Tucson. Maybe I’ll pick up the guitar more then.

There’s a lot of damn music in the world, a hell of a lot of it amazing and a hell of a lot of it terrible. A great portion I’ll never hear. But why not make more of it? So here’s to Kelvin-Helmholtz Records, and to a long life of great music.


New Pornographers – Sing Me Spanish Techno
Okkervil River – Black
Crooked Fingers – Call to Love
Luna – Speedbumps
Neko Case – If You Knew
Alejandro Escovedo – Crooked Frame
Dead Hot Workshop – Burger Christ
Al Perry – Little Bird
Townies – Fantasy Jones
Calexico & Iron and Wine – History of Lovers
Mike Doughty – Unsingable Name
White Stripes – Take, Take, Take
Ozlo – Windows Down
William Shatner – Common People
Neutral Milk Hotel – In the Aeroplane over the Sea
Sundays – Here’s Where the Story Ends
Lucinda Williams – Greenville
Tom Waits – Heart of Saturday Night
Bob Dylan – When the Ship Comes In
Woody Guthrie – I Ain’t Got No Home

Saturday, November 19, 2005

Bye Bye Restraint

This post is about politics. It’s about lying, murderous sons of bitches and blinding stupidity. It’s about anger, a full pot of anger that can’t hold another drop and keeps boiling over. It’s about corruption deep enough to embarrass even the arch enemies of the power mongers. It’s about right and wrong and how deeply they’ve been obscured through a campaign of lies. It’s about unnecessarily dead soldiers by the hundreds. It’s about wanting a fucking change so bad a pacifist unknowingly clenches his fists.

George W. Bush has led this country into a crusade the last thousand years should have ensured wasn’t possible. He’s subjugated every single notion of American democracy for a holy war. He’s raided the treasury as if he were a king. His arrogant and unrealistic worldview has reinstituted sadness and hatred as American ways of life.

Dick Cheney is so slimy it’s hard to believe there’s a human heart beating inside. His sneer is only fitting as a symbol of Evil. His lies are among the biggest and the boldest of all time. Dick Cheney’s existence alone is enough to disprove God – or to prove the Almighty has lost big time.

The Republican Congress is a crack whore that repeatedly drops its baby right on its head. “There’s cock to suck,” it tells the whining, malnourished brat at suppertime. “Fend for yourself. I didn’t want you.” Congress’ management of the country has done nothing but create losses for the least deserving. And the rich get richer, the corporations get tax breaks, policy breaks and pretty much the run of the place.

And this goddamn war… Mr. Bush, here’s the truth, since you’re so disinclined to tell it:

We torture. That’s right, America is a goddamned torture machine. And we don’t care. You’re brown. We’re ordained by God as rightful owners of your oil. And we like it. The “loose cannon” soldier is perhaps the ugliest myth of this whole damn Iraq conflict. Torture climbs the chain of command like a limber monkey up a tree.

We have no business in Iraq in the first place. You lied. The justifications that won you congressional approval to use the threat of force were horseshit. There’s not even a debate on that topic, except for what you keep insisting. This new war against critics is surely to backfire, unfortunately it will almost certainly be far too late.

Your closest advisors conspired to illegal uncover a CIA agent, just to attack her husband, who had the audacity to be factually correct, on the opposite side of your assertions.

This war is lost already. This war could never be won because it never had an objective. Iraq will never be a democracy because there’s no historic basis to even make it a singular nation. Removing Saddam Hussein from power accomplished nothing more than paving the way for his successor, who in all likelihood will be equally awful.

This war has killed American interests worldwide and is accomplishing little else than to enflame tensions throughout the Middle East, making the U.S. look like the bad guy to any number of disillusioned teens who are just waiting for a target for their anger.

So, Mr. Bush, why do you keep lying to your country? Do you think that little of us? Are we even worth the truth? Can I please have a tax break? I promise I’ll pray to your unnecessarily vengeful, racist God. I’ll shut up. I’ll look the other way. I’ll hate, as much as you do, every piece of shit liberal who has the fucking gall to step in front of your imperial march, or challenge your monarchical birthright to “lead” this country (to ruin).

This post is about politics; it’s about being fed up. It’s about the inefficacy of turning your head because it seems “easier.” It’s about boiling over every once in a while. It’s about fuming and churning inside because the crooks and the warmongers have lied their way into control again. It’s about trying not to lose all hope for the future. It’s also about the easy way out, about writing instead of marching, about engaging in a liberal roundtable rather than getting in anybody’s face. It’s about fear and hesitancy, the unfortunate trademarks of the comfortable.

Appendix: Necessary

Okkervil River’s Black Sheep Boy is the first record I’ve ever heard that was followed by its own appendix.

The cynic’s first thought might be that appendix is a cutesy clever title for a follow-up EP, but I swear it’s the absolute best description of the record.

Black Sheep Boy is a stunning record, full of harsh imagery and chaotic, crashing sounds that all fit together to create the feeling of a lost outsider, hurt and strange and longing for solid ground. It’s like the swirling TV static dizziness of a head rush, but with emotions and more dimensions than you know what to do with. The songs build together, each taking little detours into its own little world of abandonment and the identity-questioning of a born outsider.

And the appendix takes a few more detours, from the “you never earned your soul” chorus of “No Key, No Plan” to the familiar refrain and melody of “Black Sheep Boy #4.”

Will Sheff has written one of the most intricately meditative records in all of rock, spinning the notion of the black sheep over and over and over and over, digging songs out of every crack he can find. There’s hopelessness, anger, abandonment, listfullness, optimism, confusion, paranoia, love and hate and it’s all just stacked together and molded just right, more of a long windows-down drive than a roller coaster ride. Running through it all is a sense of solitude, for good and bad, out of choice and out of necessity. Sheff has bred his black sheep into dozens of different varieties, each its own creature, few even sharing in resemblance anything but that black sheep DNA.

At two recent live shows, I saw the band – Will especially – perform with more confidence and assuredness than ever before. They’re in command, from the softest chord strumming to the wildest drum pounding. It’s a performance, but it’s unstaged. No two set lists are the same. No patter is pre-written. It’s just a band whose members appear to feel most comfortable and alive when they’re playing music for people. And those are the best.

The Tucson show was just the second back in the states, after two days off following a 22-show, 22-day Europe tour. The band was wiped, Will’s voice in sharp decline, and it was the first show back for keyboardist Jonathan Meiburg. Will busted strings and damn near killed his voice, but it all seemed to enrich the performance. Okkervil River isn’t the fucking Sound of Music. It’s chaotic tumbling music, full of unbridled energy and fueled by some of the strangest, most poetic lyrics ever screamed out at the top of the lungs. The crowd wouldn’t let them end, with a forceful contingent to my right lobbying heavily for Kansas City, one of the screamiest songs in the catalog. And Will complied. I snagged a set list after the show: it wasn’t even on their list, but they brought the house down.

I later learned the next day’s show in San Diego was cancelled so Will could visit a doctor, who diagnosed him with strep throat and told him not to talk for a week. Will said the tour must go on, and it did, with steroids for his throat and plenty of tea.

I caught up with them in San Francisco a few days later for a show that couldn’t have been more different except for its quality. There must’ve been only two or three songs that were the same in both sets. It was remarkably high energy, and in talking with band members afterwards they only looked rejuvenated, thrilled to have just finished having that much damn fun.

Some long overdue music writing

The Calexico and Iron and Wine collaboration In the Reins is a near perfect marriage, rich intricate music, subtle lyrics and all sorts of harmonies across the board.

Think of it as a grapefruit-cactus record, players from the sunny, bright lands of spring training finally getting together.

I’m an Iron and Wine novice, but close to a Calexico expert, so what I hear most is Calexico breathing a new life into Sam Beam’s tunes, taking the skeletal chord arrangements and melodies and dressing it all up. No other band could back Beam like this, melting themselves nearly away to fit perfectly with the front man. It’s a Calexico record like you can tell Richard Buckner’s Devotion + Doubt or Neko Case’s Blacklisted is.

Calexico’s “Southwestern” sound is played up too much in national articles or record reviews. They’re almost written off as a novelty in that respect and while in some senses the label is accurate, it misses what the band does best: embrace versatility. The horns and mariachi are just a small part of the band, which keeps drifting further from the hyphenised descriptions they’ve been given before, and even from the “desert noir” tag. Calexico has grown from a Giant Sand side project, through all the easy descriptions, to emerge as one of the most talented, unique bands around today, indie or not.

Perhaps the most apt comparison now for Calexico would be to the Band. They’re a group of incredibly talented musicians, feeding off older sounds and spinning and weaving it all together into an unmistakably singular sound. They can back anyone, with incredible skill and selflessness. Of course, Calexico is a much looser arrangement than the Band, and nearly entirely lacking the crazy personalities, but musically they’re cousins beyond a doubt.

Joey Burns holds court, a versatile guitarist and the band’s essential visionary. John Convertino is the most distinctive drummer I’ve ever heard. He gives the snare a “pop” that nobody else can come up with. And the rest of the players fill it all in perfectly.

“He Lays in the Reins” is a perfect opener, perhaps the most “Calexico” of the seven-song EP. It has the same kick and urgency of “Alone Again Or” from Convict Pool and “Sunken Waltz” from Feast of Wire. And then Salvador Duran breaks in, the first signal that the album is full of surprises, things that at first glance might seem out of place, but in the end give the album its texture, its uniqueness.

“Prison on Route 41” is a straight-forward folk stomp, mid-tempo. The narrator has let his family more or less rot in prison for the sake of a woman. It’s a sad tale, rendered with banjo and harmonica, with the strongest country undercurrent of the record.

“A History of Lovers” is harmony like they used to do it, peppy, bright and given great bounce by head-nodding horns. The darkness of the lyrics juxtaposed only lend the song a more interesting aura. Beam’s writing is near it’s strongest here, taking a love-triangle story song nearly into Dylan territory.

The blues-boogie of “Red Dust” was the toughest act to settle into on the album, seemingly out of place, a dusty Southern track that might fill the “rowdy” slot on a Lucinda Williams record. But it sinks in. The sound is the furthest from either band, yet more evidence of the enriching nature of the entire project.

“Sixteen, Maybe Less” returns to more of an Iron and Wine style tune, lyrics turning heartbreaking, far more whispered than sung.

“Burn that Broken Bed” is where the trumpets rule. Muted and haunting, I’m never quite certain when they’re going to come in or fade out. It’s that uncertainty, that suspense, that really drives the song. Again, it’s a touch that only Calexico could add.

“Dead Man’s Will” closes the album and just may be the strongest track. The poignant, simple lyrics are haunting. It’s timeless and heartfelt, something Woody Guthrie could’ve written. And the high praise is warranted. It’s the most stripped song, but again it’s so much more than simply Beam’s fingerpicked guitar that defines his other records.

Time runs as a theme through the album, with Beam musing on losses and regrets, with soft, slow tunes and minor keys rounding it out. But the difference from his Iron and Wine records is the fullness of the sound. Quiet doesn’t mean sparse, or singular, as anyone who’s spent any time sitting in a lawn chair in the sunshine in the middle of a forest can tell you. It’s that quiet that opens the ears up to all the different little sounds, and lets each one reach its full potential, making the whole mix better.

And I’d be remiss if I didn’t point out that the record probably wouldn’t have been anywhere near as strong if it wasn’t recorded in Tucson. It has that mystery in sound that so many of this town’s records have. There’s always an instrument in the mix that you wouldn’t expect, always a turn seemingly out of character for the performers.

When the bands got together in concert, it was a nearly five-hour event, a full set from each, then a set together, with the EP played in its entirety, plus a few covers including: “All Tomorrow’s Parties” and “Wild Horses.” At one point I think there were 12 people on stage. Incredible.

I’d like to see another collaboration, but not for a while. Let each band grow and evolve and change and then get back together. I could guarantee the sound wouldn’t be anywhere near the same. And that’s the strength of all the players.

In the Reins ranks among the best albums of the year, and is probably in a class by its own as far as indie collaborations go.

Sunday, November 06, 2005

Another Stab at the Rolling Stone Contest

The one that hit my mailbox yesterday has Bono gracing (defacing?) the cover. Who is going to be on the next one?

Place your bets in comments and the winner can assert dominance over the mere mortals.

San Francisco highlights:

Go karting

Fish, fish ‘n’ chips, clam chowder, Thai, Indian, burgers, burritos, bangers, pizza and on and on

Spending $130 at Amoeba records

Watching hippies twirl

Aerobe in the park

VFW ale

Freaktown and Scotter

Okkervil River at the Café du Nord

Halloween combo of a keg and a zombie nurse

Robert Anthony Peters on stage

Talking football with cabbies

Mild synchronicity

The Zeitgeist


Sunday, October 30, 2005



That dog'll hunt!

Monday, October 10, 2005


October is what we’ve been waiting for. It’s the turning point between summer’s furnace heat and winter’s crackling fireplace.
October can’t decide what kind of pie it wants, but it doesn’t matter because they’re all delicious.
October has a beauty so complex even 11 different shades of brown delight the eyes. It’s a waltz, bright and full. October has some of the best ground of the year.
October is a small town kid off to the city for college on a full-ride scholarship.
October’s probably going to grow up to be president one day.
October is the all-American kid, broad-shouldered and sandy-haired, with a soft grin and bright eyes. October is a young Robert Redford.
October tastes great – spicy sausage and creamy caramels. October is a month of pretend and redemption. October is everyone’s favorite uncle. It’s psychedelic and wholesome.
October is playoffs and kickoffs. October’s middle name is Classic.
October can see no wrong in you. “Have a hug,” October says, “I’m a month-long festival.” You grew up with October, and it’s good to see him doing so well, healthy and happy, with a gorgeous wife and a beautiful young daughter.
October starts getting mystical, but knows how to laugh at itself.
October just had its first grandkid and is as happy as a little Buddha statue.
It’s October, and I’m going to the mountain, then to the city by the bay. October’s the trifecta – a perfect month for a friend’s birthday.
October reserved its place long in advance, claimed the mild days so nobody else would get in the way. October is probably the world’s most shared secret.

Wednesday, October 05, 2005


Two incredible indie acts, two album of the year candidates, two personal favorites, two tremendous nights of music. And in between, a working “vacation” in Flagstaff. NTB, NTB.

When a five-day span includes Mike Doughty, the New Pornographers and an escape from the desert to the Northlands, it’s hard to formulate much of an argument. Flagstaff is beautiful, Doughty has a new band and is making some of the best music he ever has, and the New Pornographers are fun incarnate.

Doughty has assembled an upright bassist, a drummer who can handle the funk and even leans a bit hip-hop and a funky keyboard dude. This isn’t the subtle “small rock” of the last tour that brought him through Tucson, this is a crack group that actually starts to resemble a stripped-down, restrained Soul Coughing. Doughty’s music is all the better for it. He doesn’t need to toe the line on his old band, but his guitar style and vocal rhythms fit right into a loose funky band.

He stuck mainly to Haughty Melodic tunes, which was fine by me. He dipped a couple of times into Rockity Roll and Skittish tunes and played just two Soul Coughing ones – True Dreams and St. Louise, both personal favorites.

Not only was Soul Coughing one of my first concerts, it was probably the first new, hip, underground band I ever got into. The neo beat funky jazz or whatever they could be called really hit home when I was 15 and the sound has never left my soul since. Sure, I was big into Dylan and Springsteen and embraced both folk and punk, but Soul Coughing was pretty much the first band that I could listen to with knowledge that it made me intrinsically cooler than most people.

And from that first show in 1996 I haven’t turned away. Doughty’s solo re-emergence assured that. And two live shows the last two years have cemented my fandom.

Doughty is a tricky artist, and a tricky performer. Even with the band, I’m tempted to think of his solo stuff as mostly the folk-derived songs of Skittish. But he’s far beyond that and even though there’s a similar sound, solo he’s far divergent from Soul Coughing. Anyway, a hell of a Tuesday night.

Wednesday night was the drive to Flagstaff – my most profound home away from home. Flagstaff is a treat, a recharge and as prophetic as a nice high. Previously unknown nuggets of the self emerge, for some reason, in the mountain air. New ideas spring from my mind when I’m in tune with Flagstaff. I want to live there, someday, to see whether an extended exposure will enhance the magic or simply render it mundane.

The friends are few there now, but hospitable and warm. I’ll go again soon, and pay better attention next time to the whisperings and the frequencies of the place and the land.

As if to prove that diversity can have a decidedly ugly side, I left Flagstaff Friday for Phoenix. Arizona has a good deal of this planet’s most beautiful places, and one of Earth’s cruelest jokes, an ugly hole devoid of redemption unless you are one of the soul-less who thinks they find it at a car dealership or mega strip mall. Phoenix shouldn’t be necessary, but it is. Republicans have to live somewhere.

The rural reservation farmlands of Coolidge and the high deserts from Florence to Oracle guided me home, a re-energized thinker of fresh thoughts on a pilgrimage back to where he started.

And with hardly enough time to fire up a load of laundry I had to jet, destination Downtown and indie rock heaven. I stopped by Congress for a patio beer and alt-weekly reading before heading over to the Vaudeville-era Rialto, host to perhaps as many of my happiest moments as any other building on Earth. It’s the perfect “small” theater for “big” bands. Live music in Tucson is a unique thing for national acts. Sure the city doesn’t get the biggest acts, but for the most part Tucson fans can see touring bands in the smallest venues they’ll play, likely paying less than any other fans anywhere.

In my mind, the New Pornographers are honorary locals, thanks to Neko Case. This was the second time I’ve seen them at the Rialto and it was top-to-bottom great, a fast and intense show designed to get you moving. I’m no NewPorno expert, but I was glad to hear my two favorite pre-Twin Cinema songs: “Gradual Descent into Alcoholism” and “All for Spinning You Around,” if that’s what they’re named. Highlights from the new album included “Jackie Dressed in Cobras,” “Use it” and “Sing Me Spanish Techno,” but every song was captivating.

If only every week could bookend Flagstaff with two great shows… I’d quickly fall into a pit of exhaustion, but man, I’d be enjoying it.

Sunday, September 25, 2005

No More War

I spent three hours yesterday in and among some 500 anti-war demonstrators, watching as they chanted, sang, waved and marched, signs held high, in solidarity against George W. Bush’s unholy war of terror in Iraq.

What really happened there? Or, more appropriately, what will happen now?

It’s no secret this country has turned against Bush’s folly. Hell, barely half were even in support of the fucking thing in the first place, with millions of protestors worldwide shouting loudly, and nearly stopping the invasion before it began.

Only once before in history did a nation’s own people rise up and force the government to abandon a war: Vietnam.

It’s going to happen again. It’s going to happen without a draft, without violence, without major arrests and god willing without the death of 58,000 of our own soldiers, and untold thousands of others.

I don’t want to wade too deep into the politics here though. This is the sights, the sounds and the curious nature of the peace movement, by its very nature probably the widest ranging, most diverse cause imaginable.

There are the usual suspects, to be sure. In the movie PCU they’re called the “causeheads,” an appropriate label for the crowd that almost seems to protest for protest’s sake.

But the march yesterday here, and judging by the pictures and video from D.C. the same there, was virtually an Everybody’s Club. There were all ages, from 3-year-olds to folks who look like they’re pushing 90. One of the highlights was the Raging Grannies, the funniest group of post-menopausal women out there. Their reinterpretations of “Yankee Doodle Dandy,” “Guantanamera” and “God Bless America” are witty and damning.

The man in the overalls with the banjo stuck to the old standards: “Michael Row Your Boat Ashore” and one of my personal favorites, the song that should be our national anthem, Communist leanings be damned: “This Land is Your Land.” Woody captured everything this country should be like, everything it would be if the Declaration of Independence and the Bill of Rights weren’t subjugated by the power interests from the get-go of this country.

My favorite sign of the day (creative, but don’t get lost figuring it out too literally): “Frodo failed, Bush has the Ring.”

I’ve been among protests for a while, seen a good dozen of various types.

One thing I noticed yesterday, and one thing I think will increasingly come to matter as this year progresses, is the near ubiquity of calls to impeach Bush. Like previous protests, this isn’t just saying NO WAR, it isn’t just saying BUSH LIED US INTO WAR, it’s demanding the constitutional removal of an American president. It won’t happen. It should, but it won’t. The Republican majority in Congress is far too corrupt and far too deep under Karl Rove’s spell to ever take that action.

But given the forcefulness of the impeachment call at the protests, and the fact that nearly two thirds of the country now oppose the war, I’d guess that somewhere near 20 percent of this country believe Bush should be impeached and tried. Argue with the guess if you want, offer your own, be regardless, recognize that it’s a significant portion of Americans.

But back to the color of the day. I wish I was more of a photographer, or that I’d at least brought my camera. Some of my best photography came from the protests in Los Angeles in 2000. It’s not only the color and the theatrics of the whole thing. Protests have an undeniable energy, and you can capture it in people. The expressions, the yearning eyes, the sense of duty… it all comes through in the lens.

Face it, protests can be entertaining. The redundancy of the speakers aside, there’s plenty to look at, plenty to take in. Above it all perhaps is the feeling of oneness and accomplishment that pervades the rally. Demonstrators are DOING SOMETHING ABOUT IT. They’re not sitting back, not writing letters, not engaging in friendly debates. They’re idealistic, but they’re not stupid. I’d wager this country’s best educated, smartest and wisest people absolutely oppose at least this war (if not war in general) for the simple reason that they’ve gotten past the bullshit administration rhetoric and understand what the conflict really is about. And those reasons – power, oil, neo-con colonialism – do not in any way justify the action, which is why so many other “justifications” were offered.

Those “justifications” were just like a baseball lineup, building to power, then falling off.

Leading off was “Axis of evil,” up second was “Saddam is dangerous,” hitting third was “WMDs” and the administration was off and running. If that wasn’t enough, the clean-up hitter was the powerful but subtle insinuation of “nuclear capabilities.” After that, the quality of hitters started falling quickly. Fifth was “liberation.” Sixth was “Democracy.” Seventh was “Bring ‘em on.” Eighth was “the insurgency is in it’s final throes.” And up ninth, the puny, ineffective “Stay the course.”

Ninth, of course, will be the one that strikes out to end the game.

Staying a disastrous course will lead to more disaster. Any idiot can see that. America is waking up. The wave is coming. And the last idiot who realizes that the course he’s stayed is ultimate disaster will be a disgraced and hopefully impeached president.

Sunday, September 18, 2005

This is a strange band to pack a 1,400 seat theatre

The last time I saw the Decemberists, there must’ve been 200 people in a little club up the road. And sure, they have what more or less qualifies as a hit album, but my best guess for the incredible difference in crowd size is simply the hype train catching up.

Colin Meloy writes things that resemble songs, but are in fact slightly more, like musical theater without the stage act. The intricacies in both story and sound give the songs an incredibly beautiful weight. The listening experience is rich. It’s hard to imagine a band that is so quirky and at the same time so good.

The songs have a fascinating postmodern love of an ancient time that never actually existed. The songs are the past as Meloy imagines it, his own classic world.

But despite this childlike creativity, these aren’t stories you tell children, they’re stories too delicate and too rich.

Follow the hype to your own record store, buy the Decemberists and embrace them. This band won’t go away – in fact their only getting better – so just submit.

Sunday, September 11, 2005

The Future

Mr. Chair is correct about political blogging – it’s an unsavory pursuit. Politics heats people up like little else, and it’s an easy subject to write (or rant and rave) about. For my own part, I stuck to the politics too much, and it took a long while to get over. The embedded cynicism in political writing crosses over too easily to daily life, and the overly analytical eyes can see politics in everything. In many ways it corrupts day-to-day existence. Plus, being honest, it’s a lot more painful to lose than it is to win and after November I just couldn’t take it anymore.

But Hurricane Katrina isn’t politics. It’s world history and it’s going to shake this country’s foundation. There’s anger in the masses like I’ve never seen – anger primarily at the government in general, and rightly placed.

The Bush administration’s callous approach to the relief effort and its even more galling approach to trying to weasel out from under the mounting blame and criticism has rightfully enraged everyone but the president’s most staunch supporters.

All the details about botched preparation and immediate response are well enough known (certainly by these readers). I want to know what will come. And I’ve got a few thoughts.

If nothing else Hurricane Katrina and it’s aftermath should force every American to tear down his her own thoughts about poverty, charity, leadership and the fundamental role of government in the society. It’s time for a complete re-evaluation and a whole new set of rules in this country. And I doubt we’re going to see much of a damn bit of support for the overall philosophy and direction Bush has been leading the United States.

If there’s ever been a time since the Great Depression that the common American was demanding a populist leader it’s now.

We need to add the War on Poverty to the top of the list of goals in this country. If the U.S. military is equipped to fight two wars, it’s people can damn sure add a war on poverty to the ill-defined war on terror.

Politics is what follows all this, but for a top-of-my-head pick, I’d say John Edwards looks like a hell of a president right now.

His realistic description of the Two Americas looks prescient right now.

Thousands of people died in this natural disaster for no other reason than they were poor and their government failed them. There certainly would have been a death count in this hurricane regardless, and the scary fact is that under some other set of circumstances it may have been even worse.

But every step of the way – starting years ago when the Bush administration decided to shift crucial levy restoration funds to his fool’s errand in Iraq and in all sad likelihood continuing indefinitely – the federal government has stranded its neediest citizens when they needed help the most.

This whole scenario makes the right wing’s sneers about “welfare moms” all the more cruel. It starts with their attitude, their disdain of government, their love of power and their crusade to dismantle everything that helps their fellow citizens.

Their use of “welfare” as a dirty word is among those first cancerous cells that spread to choke all of New Orleans, leaving people to use roofs as islands, food-less, staring as bodies swirled around them, unable to defend themselves against the storm.

For years the gap between poor and rich has been expanding in this country as the shining goal of equal opportunity for all has been left to rot and rust, ignored in favor of a host of right-wing causes: prayer in school, outlawed abortion, Middle Eastern oil crusades, the demolition of science and our natural world and the abandonment of civil rights.

There will be a dramatic leap in the politics of this nation soon and it will destroy the political career and the legacy of President Bush.

The driver of Wrong Way America will be booted out the passenger side door as a real leader takes over with a true American agenda: bringing our troops home from Iraq, working to restore the good name of the United States overseas, correcting corporate crime, restoring ethics and honesty to Congress, developing a tax code that closes the loop holes and dodges for the wealthy, delivering quality health care to everybody, protecting the environment and educating, educating, educating our children, each and every one, from the youngest age until they’ve achieved what will put this nation ahead of the world once again.

Government is the people of this country, not a dirty word, not something to be drowned in a bathtub.

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

Hot Cong Fever Forever

I ran into Al Perry today at Los Betos. He was just sitting there, waiting on his burrito. “Blazing set, man,” I said.

He thanked me, then without any hesitation said it had been one of the best weekends of his life.

He was right – he had to be.

Club Congress 20th Anniversary was nothing short of historic – three nights of outstanding music, accompanied by the feel that something absolutely unheard of was happening.

I felt it right away. The whole crowd was geared up; they all knew it. They all knew that this was something damn special.

I was hosting Stu LeBlanc and CH for their weekend out of the pines, a preview weekend of the eventual move. Also swinging through town for the weekend was our favorite expatriate, Mr. Tim Finagain, on loan from Paris.

I was riding high all week for the show and Tuesday’s show by the Knitters only added to the anticipation.

When thousands of people congregate – and dozens of bands reunite – to celebrate a city’s music scene over the years, there’s an obvious tendency to think there’s something special in that scene, something special in that sound, something special in that town. And it’s all right.

My own knowledge of the Tucson music scene goes back just eight years. I know most of Greyhound Soul and Fourkiller Flats, of Calexico and the latter Giant Sand years, of the newer clubs. I know nothing of the defunct clubs, nothing of the departed acts and sadly, next-to-nothing of Rainer Ptack.

But even in those few years, I’ve caught on to the enduring legends, caught a buzz from what came before.

The counterpart to the weekend, the documentary film High and Dry, spent a while pondering on what precisely makes up the Tucson sound. Some speculation went as narrow as a particular drum style, a sort of off-beat, opposite sound. Others cited the heavy guitar presence. Some spoke more esoterically about “space” in the sounds. Some merely over simplified it with the “desert rock” tag – which has been around long enough to actually come to mean something.

I can’t cite anything in particular, other than the city itself. It’s more of a feel and a character than anything else. It’s relaxed, with the only urgency in the music itself. It’s quirky at times, beyond unique at others. There’s a landscape to Tucson music. It’s four dimensional. Its connection with a Tucson listener is immediate – and deeper than pretty much all but that listener’s most favorite music. Tucson’s music is filled with contradictory characters – from the anti-hero Howe Gelb to the British bluesman Tom Walbank. Tucson’s music is contradictions piled on each other, competing sounds and genres layered as if they were instruments. And the perfect mix is achieved in so many different ways, it’s hard to cite a particular sound.

The first act I really caught Friday was the Sidewinders, and Rich Hopkins’ guitar alone is plenty enough to make you believe they were truly screwed out of hitting the big time. Leave the Gin Blossoms comparisons at home, the Sidewinders are more like a dust-baked Replacements in sound, if not impact and Paul Westerberg’s songwriting.

I caught a tantalizing bit of La Cerca – a band ready to make a big impact. Let “desert rock” now take over the indie stage.

The highlight of Friday, and probably the whole weekend, was Giant Sand. Howe Gelb has a presence alright, and it only grew with the importance of the event.

He’s certainly been the longest-playing and widely appreciated and revered performer associated with the Tucson music scene, as innovative and influential as you’d find anywhere these days.

There were new songs and old songs, with his old bandmates Calexico back in full force. I lost some of the specifics as the night grew hazy, but that sound is still in my mind: Howe Gelb doing whatever he wanted with that guitar. And I was constantly amazed.

Saturday brought the Al Perry All Star BBQ, with Al hosting court as the Legend he is. Not that he needs a lead guitarist, but Al brought out two, including Chuck Prophet, for a triple Telecaster attack that was stunning. He played a friendly set, filled with the classics: Loserville, Little Bird Flies Away (though I’m not sure on that title) and Dreaming. The best, though, was “We Got Cactus,” the near-signature song he rescued from obscurity, complete with its Bloodspasm songwriter singing backup. Incredible.

Next I caught the peyote blues of Greyound Soul inside the wonderfully renovated Rialto Theatre. Greyhound was in great form, perfect form really, but I had to make the toughest decision of the weekend and run across the street to catch the Drakes, performing under their new name, the Townies.

If Giant Sand hadn’t been so perfect, this would have easily been the set of the weekend.

The Drakes played old and new and sounded perfect. The guitar/keyboard combo was spot on. Tom Stauffer’s got some top quality new tunes – including one I woke up humming the next morning and couldn’t shake all weekend. Their brass section fit perfect. The Drakes’ sound is terribly hard to describe because it’s so versatile. They can swing between dense and spare like few others. I’m not sure if anybody else could go without a bass on some songs and have a tuba (that for some reason they kept calling a sousaphone) hold down the low end. They closed with Randy Newman’s Louisiana 1927, but the second-to-last tune was the one that really brought the house down. Here’s to more shows and more records by the Drakes/Townies, who sound like they’ve got the “Fantasy Jones.”

And the night kept going, with a shot of pure adrenaline known as Chango Malo. The boys were in high spirits, but were either forced or offered to cut their set short to get the gig back on schedule. No problem. As the drummer left his kit to announce it would be the last tune of the night for them, he invited the crowd up on stage. So there MP and I are, dancing right onstage, along with Chango Malo and about 50 other crazies. Excellent.

But Saturday wasn’t done yet. In the surprise bonus great act of the night, I finally caught Tom Walbank, playing a righteous boogie blues like it was the New Year or something. I was groovin’ and shakin’ it – and I rarely groove, and never shake it.

I caught High and Dry on Sunday and am now vastly more informed about the scene –vastly more impressed, and vastly more appreciative of the fact that I chose this place and have been here for nearly nine years.

Sunday night however was a bit tougher. The legs weren’t holding up so well. The stomach wasn’t quite sure why it’d been drowned so much the two previous days. But the music didn’t stop and despite my lower-key demeanor, I didn’t withdraw. And the bands were perfect for a sitting back time. The swooping mysterious desert jazz of the Friends of Dean Martin and Friends of Dean Martinez (I’m still not up to speed quite on the precise difference) could float right on over to me sitting on a curb without losing a thing. And then Calexico (performing as Spoke) just kept it going. The current ambassadors of the Tucson scene played the good guys, cutting their set short to get the night back on track.

Fourkiller Flats closed off the weekend for me, a second reunion gig in two weeks and I couldn’t be happier. They played with the keyboards again, a new sounds that just slides right on in and makes the music a little denser, a little richer. I’ll never figure out why Fourkiller Flats didn’t explode. Maybe they hit the alt.country wave just a bit late, but Jim Cox’s songs of heartbreak and boozing are incredible and his voice just kicks you. The set had a couple songs that thrilled me because they were familiar from shows in years past, never recorded or left off albums for whatever reason. Ah man, what a happy comfortable time standing in front of that stage.

So that’s the roundup. I’m an appreciator in the whole scene here and the weekend was mind-blowing. I hope every performer and participant can join Al Perry in proclaiming the weekend one of the best of all-time.

Wednesday, August 31, 2005

Let the Circle Be Unbroken

Last night down at the Rialto, I caught the Knitters - a collective of veteran punk rockers lighting country music on fire for the sheer enjoyment of it all.

Anchored by Dave Alvin’s blazing guitar and a tight rockabilly rhythm section, the band’s true brilliance is the same as it is for X – John Doe and Exene Cervenka’s synchronized wail that slowly becomes another beast entirely, its own singular creature, born to breathe fire and shout heartache.

The music was tight and spot-on, a reminder that Woody Guthrie is god and good American music is all the damn same - it comes from counter-culture fringes, the subversive elements of sex and drugs right up front, but with an earthiness and an honesty and a wisdom that comes from living on the down side of the good life.

It’s true and good and right. And the punk shown through. The punk will always show through and always has. Until the 1970s, it simply went by different names and came from different places. It was Woody and the Carters, it was Charlie Mingus, it was boogie brothel piano and Robert Johnson’s devil guitar.

What X put on stage in Los Angeles in the early 1980s and what the Knitter put on the stage last night is proof it’s all the damn same. The Knitters did turns on Woody’s “Do Re Mi” and the Stanley Brothers “Rank Stranger,” as well as X screamer “Burning House of Love” and Knitters fave “Call of the Wreckin’ Ball.”

It’s the America that fell beneath the cracks and is better for it. It’s the America of Woody and Ray Charles and Johnny Cash. It’s the outlaws and the righteous, but more accurately and most importantly it’s the America that denies and abhors the power structure. It’s the America that doesn’t want the Machine of oilmen and bankers and war-mongers. It’s the America of Hunter S. Thompson and Edward Abbey.

So many of our greats and our legends have died, but more will rise, like John Doe and a host of others.

Last weekend, Hunter S. Thompson’s ashes were exploded in a mess of fireworks 150 feet above ground in the crisp Colorado air.

The celebration included the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band’s cover of the Carter’s Let the Circle Be Unbroken. Another Carter tune reinterpretation became one of the cornerstones for the whole new alt.country movement. But look beyond No Depression to another Tupelo classic - their version of the standard Moonshiner.

Dylan - a Guthrie and Carter disciple himself - spun his own version of Moonshiner out of a put-on folkster image in the years before his words jumped out of his head and his pen kickstarted a new America.

Yesterday also saw new Dylan releases, priceless recordings dug out of some vault somewhere. They should’ve never been buried in the first place, but I don’t mind. This whole new release thing just serves to remind us all that the whole damn show is still being run by a bunch of crooks at the top.

The set includes the Vietnam protest song chronicling the disfigured soldier “John Brown” and song I’ve never heard called “West Texas.”

Which brings to our vacationing cowboy dipshit in chief. He may not be the evil incarnate of Hitler, nor the propagandized Mr. Magoo parody of the Chinese communist leaders, but there’s no greater symbol of a corrupt government sending its own sons and daughter to their deaths in an immoral war than the arrogant smug grin and cowboy chuckle of George W. Bush.

As Thomspon wrote in his last Rolling Stone piece:

“Your neighbor's grandchildren will be fighting this stupid, greed-crazed Bush-family "war" against the whole Islamic world for the rest of their lives, if John Kerry is not elected to be the new President of the United States in November.”

Well, Kerry lost, but we can still kick and scream and end this fucking war:
“We were angry and righteous in those days, and there were millions of us. We kicked two chief executives out of the White House because they were stupid warmongers. We conquered Lyndon Johnson and we stomped on Richard Nixon -- which wise people said was impossible, but so what? It was fun. We were warriors then, and our tribe was strong like a river.”

These days the tribe is strong as well - and right in our moral certainty that this war is both evil and stupid:

“While bumper-sticker patriotism may have anodyne effects on Bush and his followers, the retroactive ethical justifications for the invasion and occupation of Iraq are flimsy at best. And for so many on the left, the undermining of America's moral strength under this administration is more of a "grave and gathering danger" to America than Saddam Hussein ever was.”

The voices are out there and they’re strong. Another example: I stumbled onto some writer I’d never heard of today, somebody who is either a nobody or a wise man, but he wrote something amazing just in the past week:

“It is also certain that a doctrinaire, intellectually incurious, unblooded and stay-at-home gaggle of technocrats led by a faux cowboy from Connecticut unwittingly unleashed this waterfall of blood. …
The war itself is over, the retreat will begin shortly, and Iraq will settle in to its own bloody reinvention over the next decade. And America, my country, will reel."

The country will reel, but others will step up in the footsteps of Woody Guthrie and Dylan and the country greats and tell the real stories of this nation - the footsteps of the down and out, the longings and the imagination of the poor children.

There will be more anti-war songs and some will die away. There’ll be love songs and songs of screaming disillusionment. There will always be protest. There will always be an American spirit to the best of its music.

And even out of an unprecedented sadness and defeat, New Orleans blues will one day flourish like never before.

Saturday, August 27, 2005

Catfish at the record shop

Go buy the New Pornographers Twin Cinema and the White Stripes Get Behind Me Satan.

Trust me. Just do it. Or Just Do Them, I guess, buy the records and trust me.

Catfish at the clubs

So, what have these fair readers missed since the Sufjan Stevens show?

For starters, Alejandro Escovedo.

Texas’ own mix of Dylan, Joe Strummer and Willie hit Congress Tuesday night, the day the desert dwellers drank in 2.29 inches of rain, the most of any single day in the past 22 years.

The man is a legend, the legend is a man. He was wearing a tie-less black suit, with slick-backed hair and looked nothing like a man who’d been beaten down by disease.

He could rock as hard or as quiet as he wanted, but he rocked.

It was the type of show where you’re just drinking in the singer’s presence, washed out and surrounded by the sound of the performance.

Some of Stu’s friends came down earlier this month on a tour of their own and while I missed their set, I did carry guitars from a basement and sit in a plastic chair in an alley next to a van, drinking cheap beer. And some of the boys journeyed with me to catch the Bad Monkey.

The Old Pueblo loves its own, harbors a heartfelt, solemn respect for those who tread its streets. A woman whose fingerprints are all over the Tucson music scene died recently. I never knew her; I missed the punk scene here in the mid 1980s because I was in elementary school. But I gave my $5 to the benefit show and saw the re-united Fourkiller Flats play one of the best shows I’ve ever seen. It was as if the Beatles were native to Tucson and never quite got out, broke up and were playing a one-off benefit show. All their best friends were there, the bar compatriots and the folks who spent three years wondering where the hell the Flats went. The tunes were so comfortable, so damn well done. Incredible.

This weekend will be incredible as well. Viva Tucson. Viva Desert Rock. Viva.


August has muscled its way in and there’s nothing you can do about it. Get ready; there’s plenty of shit to be done.

August is a demanding sonuvabitch. August is a Monday, no two ways about it. You’ve had the weekend, and now it’s time to grind.

August points down the road toward September, and says “That’s your rest.”

August is sweaty. August is full. August is what you’ve been preparing for.

August is a playoff race – there’s no room for beginners. August just got done lifting weights and sure looks like it.

August isn’t patient, but it’s rich. Sleep later, the fun is as intense as the work in August. August is a pagan celebration of absolute movement – complete, frantic, spastic, unending, unquestioning, vital movement.

August is out of synch – too many moving parts. There’re gears grinding, missed moments and not a moment to think.

August is first grade, or freshman year. There’s no wisdom in August – you’ll sort through it all later. August is caffeinated, sleepless adventure.

August is when filing systems go to hell, when stacks stack up, the start of the hole you’ll spend the rest of the year digging out of.

August is blue collar, not decadent like September. August is experience showing the newby how it’s all done.

There’s nothing mystical or mysterious about it: August’ll kick your ass.

“August was awesome,” you’ll say when September hits, “but who the hell’s idea was that nonsense?”

August has given me more newness than anything else in a long time. August is all five sense set on high, pushing the limits. August is the price you pay and the reward at the same time.

If August were a band, it’d have four guitarists, bass, drums, keys, horns, backup singers and special guests sitting in on harmonica and pedal steel.

August really should be two months.

Sunday, August 21, 2005


So I finished moving Saturday, but spent most of the week unpacking and putting stuff away. I'd have loved a day off work besides the weekend, but no dice.
At this point, I'm more or less settled in, enjoying the balcony's mountain view and enjoying the quiet.
There's still more to be done, some unpacking-wise and some shopping-wise, but the pace has slowed and hopefully comfort will settle in.
As a bonus, I discovered I have some measure of free cable. It's only the lower stations and pretty much the bonus channels are just WGN and two CSPAN channels. But the rest are crystal clear and that's what really matters.

Saturday, August 06, 2005

Sufjan Stevens

While a friend struggled with whether he could like Sufjan Steven's
music in the days leading up to the show, I was more or less clueless.
I'd heard a couple of tunes and read several reviews, but went in
nearly expectation free: I knew just that I'd be seeing an indie folk
The eight-piece band came out all decked out in Lt. Col. Henry Blake
style Illinois gear, cheerleading their way into the set, which opened
with a state-by-state account of the U.S.
The show was damn good. The songs jumped between quiet and boisterous,
but each one seemed to fit.
At first I couldn't quite decide how to read Sufjan, but a theory emerged.
A cynic could easily view the whole shebang - matching costumes, an
overly literate musical and lyrical style and the ambitious 50-state
project - as a completely pretentious act. But it was all good and
Sufjan is infused with this childlike enthusiasm and creativity, which
he harnesses remarkably well.
Think of it like this: the costumes are dress up, the imaginative
songs are filled with a childlike fascination of their subjects, the
multi-talented band is a play group and Sufjan is in the middle of it
all, an adult reflecting on childhood by playing childhood.
This theory is still vague, but it grew during the show.
His state-themed songs are deeply researched and filled with
characters that fit well into a quirky appreciation of a state's
uniqueness. He even brings in legend and superhero tales, all the more
fitting to capture a child's mind. Though his songs are deeply
researched, they're haphazardly so - more grade school book report
than scholarly text.
And when he introduced one song with a story about a summer camp
experience making up a flying wasp predatory bird thing, it fit just
I was reminded of Finding Neverland, with the talented adult writer
captivated more by what captivates children than by anything else.
Sufjan fits with that, but even moreso, playing this character
himself, swirling between the creator and the subject matter.
The show was beautiful at times, quirky for the most part and filled
with songs that seemed to bridge the creativity of kids and adults.
And I'd never seen anything quite like it. Great for $10, but now I
should move on to an album or two.

UPDATE: Edited to get rid of that weird font.

Saturday, July 30, 2005

Life in Tunes

Today’s topics are the letters i and x, the number infinity, and the painfully obvious notion that technology revolutionizes music.

I’m amazed that the digital revolution is continuing to spin crazily, further and further from its groundbreaking introduction of the compact disc.

The Apple music universe, with the i-everything, still seems to be the realm of fantasy. How some little gizmo can be a personal jukebox holding entire record collections still seems like somebody’s great-but-impossible idea. Throw in the podcasting, the ability to buy any song and it seems too good to be true.

I remember being blown away by my old roommate’s 60-disc changer, with its full random function and incredible accessibility. And this isn’t ancient technology, he still uses the thing. But the ipod bests that by a factor of 100,000 or so: it’s roughly one percent the size, with roughly 100 times the storage. Incredible.

And one of these days I’ll buy one of the damn things.

Then there’s the all-everything, all-the-time satellite radio. On a 20-hour cross-country U-Haul drive, I got hooked. The programming is nothing short of genius, from the formulating of the individual genre stations to the playlists, track-by-track. Satellite radio and podcasting are a year or two away from being universal. They’re just that good.

The access to great new music is mind-blowing. It’s leaps and bounds beyond the near-yesteryear of Napster and cd burners.

Then there’s the opposite side of the coin – digital failure driving me to the most fundamental analog medium: radio.

My car’s cd player crapped out on me a month or so ago, and since I’ve been glued to KXCI, the community radio station. It’s not always great, but the variety and quality of music overall is stunning. I’ve heard an incredible amount of new stuff on the dial and been frequently thrilled when one of my more obscure favorites came on the radio. The “real people, real radio” tag truly fits.

The last component of this is the oldest of them all – live performance. Through these new technologies, touring bands of all levels are reaching new audiences and fans of all stripes are finding new favorites, a perfect marriage.

Tuesday, July 19, 2005


July is on fire. It burns. It burns freely, wildly, nothing to stop it but some far off hope, a coming rainstorm or a blast of change.

July tries to make you think it’s slow; it lulls with empty hours and searing heat.

July is the middle of the year. It celebrates independence; it has to. The ideal of July is a fiery individualism, seldom reached but celebrated as though it’s universal.

July is just waiting to turn a corner, dulled and slowed, looking for the next adventure. July is a cradle, a set of bookends looking back and forth for something to hold.

July is a rickety footbridge crossing a dry creek and though I’ve marched more than halfway across already, I’d still like to turn back. I’m not ready for those August banks.

I’ve done my best to embrace July – its heat, its oppression, its long days and nights indistinguishable from one another – because if I don’t there’s a good chance it’ll kick my ass. Surviving July is like running with the toughs, just for a while, just to get to the next part of town, to hitch along ‘cause there’s nothing else to do.

July can’t help but bring thoughts of January, but they’re vague, the shadows of good memories, with none of the bad.

July is an adolescent who steals smokes and flicks the butts at people’s heads, laughing like he’d invented the whole gig.

July is a desert acting like a peacock, flexing his muscles in a big-time show of dominance and power.

July almost – almost – shouldn’t be natural, or legal.

Just try to shepherd yourself all the way through July without getting cut or lost somehow, floundering drunk-like in the heat or the storms or the hours that have stacked up when you weren’t looking.

July isn’t big on alternatives.

July shouldn’t have four letters, it should have 17, all spiky and thorny, filled with Ys, Ks, Ms, Vs and at least three Ws. YVKWWMMYYMMWWKVVK – that’s more like it.

July sure as hell ain’t gonna take you seriously.

Friday, July 15, 2005


It's a bummer I quit writing about politics...
So anyway, the days here are long and hotter than hell and the sweet sweet thunderheads haven't rumbled in yet.
There's summer pro league basketball to watch on the weekends.
I can't wait to see this movie called The Aristocrats. It better come play here.
For fellow Okkervil fans and friends, here's another great press clipping.
Then there's the most despicable thing I've ever heard of:
Coach paid player to hit boy
The Associated Press
PITTSBURGH -- A T-ball coach allegedly paid one of his players $25 to hurt an 8-year-old mentally disabled teammate so he wouldn't have to put the boy in the game, police said Friday.
Mark R. Downs Jr., 27, of Dunbar, is accused of offering one of his players the money to hit the boy in the head with a baseball, police said. Witnesses told police Downs didn't want the boy to play in the game because of his disability.

Police said the boy was hit in the head and in the groin with a baseball just before a game, and didn't play, police said.

"The coach was very competitive," state police Trooper Thomas B. Broadwater said. "He wanted to win."

Good lord, this is T-ball! That's surely going to be the next Sports Illustrated sign of the apocalypse.

Make sure you're keeping up on Mr. Chair's travels. And Mister Arnie's Year Following the Break Up.

In the coffee shop here, Brenton Wood just came on the radio. For my money, he's got to be the most underrated Motown/soul singer there is.

One of these days I'll lay out my athiest/panthiest/Jedi theology on y'all...

Anybody seen Charlie and the Chocolate Factory? Or Wedding Crashers?

Wednesday, July 06, 2005


Every city and town has it – the claim to fame, the world’s biggest, oldest or best whatever, the birthplace of whomever, the unique mundane bit of trivia some chamber of commerce so thoughtfully applied to the town’s name as an official title.
And without fail, the more lame the designation, the more lame the town – the more lame the destination, the more lame the moniker.
So where does the World’s Oldest Rodeo fit? Pretty near the bottom. It’s not as bad as the world’s tallest cross, as a friend recently described the site of her family reunion. And it ain’t the Town Too Tough To Die, like that lame-ass place down the road that annually celebrates a 120-year-old murder by getting all dressed up in period costume and fake killing each other for a weekend.
But I was born in the town that boasts the World’s Oldest Rodeo, grew up there in the cool pines and the downtown of quaint shops, and never once went to the rodeo. I never gave a shit.
Once again I found myself in the middle of the madness, out and about on Whiskey Row on rodeo weekend, watching the cowboys drink and carouse.
Maybe it’s strictly a cowboy thing, or maybe any sort of celebratory crowd acts the same, but there was a seriousness they applied to the revelry that I don’t see on the average weeknight trip to my favorite haunts. They were geared up and gassed up, two-ton pickups unloading clean-shaven cowboys with new, perfects hats and perfumed cowgirls, asses nearly bursting out of Wranglers.
In the middle of that you had the Valley folk, the Phoenix and Scottsdale weekend get-away-ers looking for cool weather and some “authentic” small-town Arizona experience for their Independence Day.
And there, plain as the dust on the ground, is the paradox of every town’s claim to fame: that same dumbass thing that attracts all the folks to come see it, to see “real” sites, history and festivals, is what turns the town into a goddamned Disneyland façade of what it’s supposed to be. Americans don’t like zoos nearly as much as they like marveling at people slightly different from themselves. City folk like quaint heartland bullshit and country folk go nuts for the city’s manufactured glamour.
And when it’s your own hometown and you see through every bit of smoke and spin applied to everything it’s all the more maddening. I feel an amazing disconnect with the hick town that spawned me.
But for some reason those rare return trips home are increasingly interesting. I can peek through a kaleidoscope of different perspectives. Some close friends actually love it there; some are counting the days until they can get out; some will always hate it but never leave.
Real life has hit most of them and that’s the most fascinating of all. Some of my oldest childhood friends have families and honest-to-god careers. And not for the life of me does that seem the slightest bit attractive. It’s not a matter of arrogance or snottiness. Sitting on a porch with a couple beers, talking life and everything else, I can almost carve out in my mind an existence there for myself. It’s vague, ill-defined notions really, but it reinforces the connections that are the strongest roots in my life. But roots are just a support system, a delivery method for the ability and the opportunity to do so much more.
One day maybe I’ll settle on a place that defines itself in much grander terms. Or more likely, I’ll try out a few places, cities that can’t quite settle on a single claim to fame and offer up several possibilities. When you climb the ladder to the top, cities don’t have claims so much as nicknames: the Big Apple, the Windy City. And it’s all still for the tourists.

Thursday, June 30, 2005

Sub Pop at the Hot Cong

An Northwest indie rock invasion in the late June desert? Yes, please.
Rogue Wave and Helio Sequence – both made up of kooky popsters with way too much talent – each put together tremendous sets Tuesday.
Both defy description a bit too, though neither is particularly groundbreaking. But sometimes indie excellence lies more in making a stew of various influences than stepping out on your own.
For the Rogue Wave, think a bit of the Shins, but more straightforward rock most times.
For Helio Sequence? Well, the Modest Mouse sound is definitely there a bit, but the harmonica wailing and feedback guitar brings in some Neil Young elements.
Regardless, both bands should be doing a lot better than a 100-person draw, even in the middle-of-the-week, middle-of-the-summer Tucson. Oh, and they will. Just thank me when you go check them out.


Six months down, six to go. How’s 2005 shaping up? Well, decent, I ‘spose.
Why are half years never subjected to the same sort of reflection reserved for the full year? Or even half as much?
Screw it. Catfish Vegas presents… presents 2005.5, the best of the year so far, a collection of movies, music, personal experiences and nonsense that has kicked ass.
Okkervil River has far and away put out the best album so far this year. “Black Sheep Boy,” is all sorts of crazy awesome. It rocks harder and swoops slower than any of their previous efforts. And in the concert category, their March show is also among the best.
Shows in general have been a high point for the half year: Okkervil, Luna, Crooked Fingers, Clem Snide, Steve Earle, Wilco, Calexico, Neko Case, Social Distortion and more.
Other albums that are sure to be on the end of the year bests: Bruce Springsteen, Crooked Fingers, Clem Snide, Beck, Mike Doughty and Bright Eyes (also, I’m sure, the Decemberists, White Stripes and Spoon, though I’ll have to hear ‘em first).
I can only recommend outright three movies so far this year: Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, Sin City and Crash. I’ll throw in Star Wars for the nostalgia. Still on the list to see are Batman and Land of the Dead.
And in the Catfish arena, how ‘bout camping, trips North and Midwest, time at the ballpark, promotion and refuge. And then there’s all the mess: SKC and time wasting for the most part.
And nonsense? Nothing else has quite so nearly defined this half year. DJJ alone has stretched absurdity farther than I’d have guessed.
Props to the Ponderosa pine tree.
And in closing, here’s a New Half Year’s Resolution (in the immortal words of Freaktown): Henceforth, I will kick ass.

Monday, June 27, 2005


June’s gots its ups and its downs.
I had a stint in the Midwest and a stint up North, re-embracing roots I know and exploring ones I’d only just met.
I’ve seen the Doctor; he’s pretty much the same as ever. But the General and Chair are at crossroads so large there are double left turn lanes each way and buttons to signal the flashing cross signs.
June is a time when eras start and stop, trading the baton like sprinters in a 4X100.
It’s a full month, stuffed with moments of reflection, each coming just a bit too late to really matter.
It’s watching those around you prepare for their own transitions – the drives, the jobs, the semesters, the loves.
June is more acute than its twin July – more immediate, harder around the edges.
It’s strange that June follows May; no other successor varies so wildly from its predecessor.
June contains not only the year’s longest day, but the second, third, fourth, fifth, sixth, etc. But the revelations occur at night, in those short hours when Today means the absolute most, suspended in perfect balance between Yesterday and Tomorrow.
June so wants to be eternal.
June has given moments of the most pure relaxation I’ve had in ages and June has extracted high hopes in exchange.
June’s the total package, the one-stop shop.
It’s a yin embedded with its own yang, a bit rough for those who prefer their shampoo and their conditioner to come from separate bottles.
June never needed warming up and it certainly doesn’t plan on slowing down. In the winter days vanish, sneakily waltzing out the door while you’ve got your nose in a book, But in June the days whiz by, completely in the open but blurred as highway stripes.
If you have to ask, you don’t understand June. And if you’ve come to understand June, too damn bad because you can bet it’s already July.

Thursday, May 19, 2005

Looking for Harry Belafonte

These are crazy days. The Nest is occupied. One of the Filthies has lost his mind, while the other one is pushing full steam ahead on destroying what’s left of his.
I’ve endured several hair interventions lately, as well as a couple dealing with problems of a more existential nature.
I had a dream the other night that I finally submitted to a haircut, only to have the friend who offered styling help leave halfway through the job to write a paper for school. It’s alright, I told everybody at the bar, I’m getting the haircut finished tomorrow.
I’m testing my research skills out with the King County Superior Court, re-emergences are everywhere and tomorrow it’ll be 100 degrees in the Ol’ Pueblo.
The other night, Mr. Chair told me about how it was funny we couldn’t find Harry Belafonte the previous evening. What? I didn’t remember looking for Harry Belafonte. We both knew we were talking about a cd, but the General was far more confused, wondering why we had been searching the house for an elderly black man.
But I didn’t remember looking for Harry Belafonte. Turns out Chair dreamed it. Just ponder for a moment what that dream really means.

Whirlwind & Refuge

Here's the new mix:

Whirlwind & Refuge

Okkervil River – For Real
Clem Snide – End of Love
Crooked Fingers – Big Darkness
Mike Doughty – Long Black American Car
Wilco – Not for the Season
Bruce Springsteen – Long Time Comin’
Paul Westerberg – As Far as I Know
Drakes – Bunny
Neko Case – The Virginian
Flatlanders – Tonight I’m Gonna Go Downtown
Bob Dylan – I Shall Be Released
Richard Buckner – Straight
My Morning Jacket – Mahgeetah
Sun Kil Moon – Carry Me Ohio
Thrills – Santa Cruz
Bright Eyes – At the Bottom of Everything
Superchunk – Shallow End
Mathematicians – Subtract My Life

Wednesday, May 04, 2005


Three years ago, I took in a lost soul. An old Little League buddy turned spiritual advisor walked through tragedy and turmoil back to the desert. The desert welcomed him readily, eventually giving him a gorgeous blonde and a healer’s job. And I gave him my couch. So began the 505’s endeavor to become Zion, a Refuge for the weary and heartbroken, the contrite and perhaps even the prodigal.
In the hierarchy of karma, running a Refuge must at least place a person at the lieutenant level. Comfort, ears, beers and a place to toss a suitcase are what I have to give. And not everybody will, I’m sure. But anyone who is in my vast and intricate memory of great days and notable experiences is guaranteed at least as much.
After housing Freaktown for several months, I hit the road, bunking on couches, floors and actual guest beds for more than two months. My hair grew long and my beard reached what most thought was an uncouth shagginess, what I saw as a symbol of complete freedom.
I embraced the West, as much of it as I could, sharing late nights with old friends and strong drink. Along the way I read Lord of the Rings, and began thinking of myself and my journey in Middle Earth terms. I was a traveler from the Great Southern Desert, on my way north to kin and allies, defeating peril along the way.
I had nearly entire days of open highway, on winding roads through ancient mythical forests (the Redwoods) and wide Interstates across vast wastelands (that part would be Wyoming). I slept in great cities, walked great streets through tall buildings and absorbed more of the world in a shorter time than I’d ever before or since.
And now, I’m again running a Refuge, in the same place. Tragedy and heartbreak has sent one and soon another of my best friends couch-ward. I’m grateful for the company, glad to offer the shelter and broken to pieces at its necessity.
But Refuge is part of life, sometimes a large part, sometimes as big a part as Adventure, Achievement and Love.
My guests have lives with no maps, and theirs is a perspective that is oddly compelling. In no way do they measure future in 40-hour blocks and they do not need to change out of work clothes at any point in the day. Their minds are solving problems, large great ones that despite the pain open doors all over, strange magical doors in places nobody has ever thought of as a way to go.


Out-of-town work excursions should always be so damn awesome. Last Tuesday I jetted to the Unholy Valley of the Sun, met up with the Factor and jetted for the scuzziest nightlife we could find in a strip mall.
Wednesday after working I hit the road for the Great North to see Wilco at Flagstaff’s Orpheum, a make up for the previous year’s rehab-based cancellation. (It’s more than a minor sore point that another of last year’s rehab-cancelled shows at our fair Rialto was not also rescheduled.)
I met up with Stu LeBlanc and the Short People at Flag Brew for dinner and then into line, where Stu told of strange end-of-days prophesy and mentioned something about 90 percent of the universe’s matter being mission.
The show was incredible, as were the two I caught in November. For having gone more than seven years since the first time I saw Wilco, I sure as hell made up some shows in a hurry.
I’ll reiterate now the fact that Wilco is without question the best band playing these days, both in terms of studio records, live shows and general commitment to the independent spirit and power of rock ‘n’ roll. Each album is awesome, each in its own sense groundbreaking and I’m sure they’ll continue putting out quality material if for no other reason than Jeff Tweedy’s writing just keeps getting better.
The show leaned heavy on The Ghost is Born and Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, but we got a treat of two Mermaid Avenue 2 songs. Tweedy seemed a bit peeved, hurling his guitar at an amp before one encore and he appeared to steal someone’s camera. It kinda upset me that people kept taking flash pictures during the show, despite firm warning against such practice at the door and somewhat diligent security. I had my digicam in my pocked by forgetfulness more than anything, but didn’t touch it. I’d never flash a band and I know the quality of low light photography anyway. But Tweedy appeared to lean forward and motion for some front row person’s camera, and I swear I saw him walk off stage with it. Anyway.
Back to the Valley and the hospitality of the Factor and one down to Tempe Thursday morn.
Afterwards, I reassembled the Factor, the Short People and threw in Mr. Chair and we crossed the River to the Marquee, to see Calexico and Neko Case. Incredible once again. Neko Case blew me away with singing and hotness and Calexico brought out the full mariachi band, which I hadn’t seen in ages. If Wilco is the best band playing these days, Calexico is an infinitely close second, again in terms of both recordings and live performances. And Calexico has the oddly additive quality of being more or less a studio backing band as well. They do make everybody better, including Neko Case.
Another brilliant night, then back to sleep, back to Tempe, then back to Tucson to finish up the week’s work.
And what did Friday hold? Only the SICK Festival (Southwestern Intergalactic Comedy Kermis). The Secret Show opened with a short but really good set, Darwin disappointed, New Kevin was super wacky, Comedy Corner had a great Hell-themed cycle of sketches that included the grossest Scooby Dooby joke I’ve ever heard, and Demitri Martin had so many damn jokes I keep remembering them one by one ever since.
Only two frustrating text messages marred the night, which continued after the festival with the usual party and eventually I concluded what had turned into a rather confusing 22-hour day.
Not to be outdone, Saturday continued rocking. Caught the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, then went Downtown for a Secret Show special, which concluded with a bit about alligators I so helpfully suggested.
Then back to the house for a great party – friends from long ago, bellies full of laughs and a groundbreaking adventure for at least one of the housemates.
On top of everything, over the last few days I’ve spoken to two long-lost friends and seem to be parting ways with other company.
And talking in vague terms. A lot.


Steve Earle
Okkervil River
Robyn Hitchcock
Social Distortion
M Ward
Clem Snide
Crooked Fingers
Neko Case

And several nights of amazing local music – all since February.

Saturday, April 09, 2005


April is a strange month.
It's a windy bunch of nonsense, punctuated by the first real actual heat of the year. It's coated in wildflowers and promise of wildfires. April is when people change times for reasons that still escape me. April is a curious mix of things coming to a close and things just starting. April is opening day and playoff runs. April is when politics get wacky and when the dead become famous for the wrong reasons.
April is a spotlight nobody can dodge. April is a musical explosion. April as a first name makes more sense than April as a month. It's all about looking to the future, getting lost in what might actually matter.
April is a strange month, senses choked off.
It's bright mornings and empty evenings. People run, from old lives and new ones. April's just a half a cup of coffee, not enough to do anything but still rich tasting.
April. I'll mark another year soon, not that I really care to.
If January is wheel-spinning, April is bald tires and a reckless driver.
April may eventually get somewhere, but there's never any telling.

Sunday, March 27, 2005

Firefighting ain't my game...

But it's sure fun to give it a shot.
I spent eight hours Friday in a modified firefighter academy, learning more about fire behavior and incident command than I ever have before and getting all suited up, oxygen included, and shoved in a 450 degree room. Fun stuff.

The first of the drills we went through is called the maze. You get all suited up in turnouts, boots, helmet and go "on air," ride an elevator to the third floor of the training tower, and exit into a pitch-black, debris-strewn room, filled with simulated smoke. It's such a shock to start breathing through a mask, but there wasn't any time to think about that. I had to hit the ground, crawl around (always to the right first), find a fire hose and follow it as it snaked through the room. And the hose goes two ways: to the nozzle (into the fire) and to the engine (away from the fire). Oops. I chose one way and crawled through, over and under a bunch of crap to the nozzle. Turn around. Back over the same 15 feet or so, which wasn't any easier, then into new uncharted territory. I got stuck once on my airpack, flat on my stomach, couldn't move either way for a second, nearly panicking. You have almost no sensory ability there - no sight, touch is muffled by gloves and the rest of the suit, all I could hear was my own breathing (which nearly induced panic several times). The only thing I had was thought process (which wasn't working all that well either): breathe, go slow, crawl, follow the hose, get the fuck out of there. The training captains cheated for us a bit, shining a flashlight toward the right path a couple of times and tapping my shoulder when I got stuck. Damn, what an experience.

Next was the "flash over" prop. It's basically a box-car looking metal box, one end set up about five feet above the other end. In there they light a fire, and you sit on the other side, well below "floor level," the only way anybody could surivive the damn thing, even in full firefighting gear. Then you wait, watching the fire getting bigger and hotter until the entire place is pitch black with smoke. There's a raging fire not 20 feet away, but flames aren't remotely visible. Then the fire gets hotter and hotter, until it "rolls over," the smoke gases swirling in on each other until the fire shoots back across the entire ceiling, right over your head. But you still can't see it for the smoke, only feel the heat bearing down in you. Then fire training captain doused the fire a bit to cool it down so it could built back up for another rollover. Again and again. Twenty minutes in this near dark chamber, 400 degrees, breathing oxygen through a mask wondering if there's any smoke getting in through a little crack. At the end the smoke had cleared enough that I could actually see the fire rolling over my head, thick dark fire that looked more like waves than flames. Incredible. The drill is to show firefighters what a rollover looks like, to teach them that any signs of such means to get the fuck right out of there, because next is a flashover, when the fire is so hot that anything in the room just simply combusts in a floor-to-ceiling wall of flames.

Next was the Dragon, a natural gas and diesel fire that reached 30 feet into the air. This was the only bit that was specifically different than actual firefighter training (save a modification or two). Three firefighters start walking toward the blaze, two holding fire hoses on a fog sream, a strong, misty spray spread as wide as possible. The streams basically act as a shield, letting the firefighters walk up right to the gas pipe and shut it off. We trailed in behind them, helping to carry the hoses on retreat. It's amazing, the fire is hotter for those standing around the perimeter than it is right up inside, just because of the water shield.

There's no way to describe the feeling of depending on this hose to put oxygen into a mask so I could breathe. After a while I just continually breathed because it was the only way I could be sure I was actually doing so. A long, slow breath in, then a long slow breath out, then again, no pause in between.

That was it for an exhausting day, a series of strange experiences, robbed of sight, thrust into intense heat and forced to function without having much of a clue of what surrounded me.

Sunday, March 20, 2005

Bookend Tucson

I’m 25 and Mike Ness is 42. I’m writing my way through several phases of a quarter-life crisis, he’s rocking his way through a mid-life one. I’m standing on the fringes, a good way back of the pit, nodding my head, while he’s at the center of it all, creating a frenzy and a sing-along, providing a couple thousand folks with a hell of a good time.
And we’re both a good bit removed from our last encounter.
I’d been in Tucson just a week, an 18-year-old college freshman, clueless but eager to soak it all up. I was a week removed from the only home I’d ever known, thrust into dorm life, with beautiful girls everywhere and absolute freedom. I was in a new place, a hoard of new friends already, and on Friday night, I was headed to see Social Distortion play, the first concert I’d even seen that didn’t involve two hours of driving.
Mike Ness was riding high, having turned years of recklessness into White Light, White Heat, White Trash, a thrashing good time of an album. He was hard-core as ever, threatening to beat some guy’s ass who tried spitting on the stage.
I was on one side of the cage in the (thankfully) all-ages club. There was a big group of friends there, mostly punkers from the old hometown scene, emerging occasionally from the pit, sweat-soaked wife-beaters clinging tight. Two pals thought to get the Rebel Waltz tattooed on their right arms after the show.
One of the pals joined me at the show last week, nearly eight years after the first time I’d seen Social Distortion.
Social Distortion has long been on the periphery of my favorite bands, a punk rock outpost for an otherwise country-folk centered music fan. At the best their songs are tight, anthematic rockers, sewn with rough tales of hard living and failure. On stage Mike Ness sells it all perfectly, his persona of hardened punk godfather easily believable as he sketches out in stage talk the places where his songs can’t go. What sounds at times like nostalgia is simply background information. Talk of hard drinking in a parking lot 20 years ago isn’t bragging or proof he belongs there; it builds energy on the way to the chorus: “Story of my life.”
And so goes the shows, so goes Mike Ness, and so goes his audience.
There was Story of My Life and there was Story of My Life, and eight years in between. I think we’re both better off for it.