Tuesday, November 24, 2015

A thing that happened last month

On a weekday evening last month, I went to my neighborhood commercial art film theater (that, to be honest, mostly screens middlebrow visually bland horseshit about famous inspirational people, old folks getting their grooves back, old British folks getting their grooves back in India, feelgood neoliberal message movies for upper-class white people who are really pleased with themselves, movie-star Oscar-grubbing vanity projects, and a couple of genuinely good-to-great independent and foreign movies a month) to see a movie. My wife had a busy night, so I was flying solo and decided to get some candy at the concession stand, which we never, ever do. As I was waiting in the sort-of long line, I noticed a hubbub of some sort near the front with some very flustered-looking young employees exhibiting facial expressions I knew well from my own high school and college years in retail (the "can you believe I have to politely listen to this goddamn unreasonable human being to keep my job and can you believe how many fellow human beings are this goddamn unreasonable" look). The hubbub hadn't yet reached pandemonium status but was approaching a clamor. This is an unusual thing at a theater that mostly attracts rich old people wanting to see whatever chapter of exotic fucking marigold hotel we're at now or fellow thirty- and forty-somethings who like non-superhero movies. The guy at the concession counter was enraged, and his voice kept getting louder.
This theater chain has a policy that if you buy the enormous, expensive, enormous popcorn size and you manage to eat it in all its enormity, you can come back in the lobby for a free enormous refill during the screening. The angry man at the front was under the impression he could come back any time he wanted and get a free refill, including a quick drop-in after work without even purchasing a movie ticket, and his empty popcorn container had clearly seen many miles on this road we call life, considering it was dented in several places and covered in dirt. When he received the reasonable verdict that a refill was not going to happen on this particular date and time, Mr. Popcorn Tub 2015 went berserk. He told the awkward college-aged assistant manager that he was doing a terrible job, he berated every member of the staff in detail, he threatened to call 911 and the police department, he yelled a ton of stuff about "false and misleading advertising," and he closed with this beautiful sentence about enlisting the local TV news watchdogs in his crusade before angrily storming out: "I'm gonna call 7 On Your Side and put this place on blast!" ("Area Man and His Dirt-Covered Container Denied Free Refill in Obama's America, tonight at 10, right before 'The Big Bang Theory'")
The woman in line ahead of me turned to me and rolled her eyes. "Calm down, man," I said. "It's only popcorn." Then I thought about all the misery I've caused in my own life with my own quick, stupid temper. Then I bought some Twizzlers.

Friday, November 20, 2015

Everyone I grew up with is dead

I was very fond of my mom's brothers and their spouses and girlfriends and kids when I was growing up, and I used to have a lot of good childhood memories before social media ruined everything forever. There is a curious disconnect between their friendliness and warmth in person on the rare holidays when we're all in the same place, and the vitriolic, hate-filled spew they seem to spend every waking second of their free time vomiting forth on social media. Anyone who is slightly to the left of Ted Nugent is an idiot, a moron, a hater of freedom, a hater of the United States, weak, a sheep (they love calling people sheep even though they never post an original thought of their own, just memes and chain letters and propaganda videos), a loser, a coward, etc., etc., etc. They find transgender people hilarious. They make fun of Black Lives Matter. They back every police officer who shoots an unarmed black person or uses unnecessary force. They express anger and hostility toward the communities who stood up for themselves and protested this police brutality. (They loved Cliven Bundy, though.) They think everyone on food stamps is either lazy or a scam artist. They post the ugliest anti-Muslim propaganda and anti-Arab and anti-Middle East racist bullshit and think the entire Muslim religion is a terrorist call-to-arms. They thought the blowhard, pandering governors who said they weren't going to take in Syrian refugees (even though each one of these goons knows he has no authority to deny them) were great guys. They post memes with fabricated statistics, distortions, exaggerations, and lies, and when I was still dumb enough to respond with proof, they told me they didn't accept my sources because "all sources are biased." Shortly before I quit Facebook, they called my mother and I "fucking keyboard warriors" who should "move to Iraq if you love it so much" because my mother posted something on her own damn page about the overselling of ISIS by right wing media to stir up hatred, and I defended her when they all ganged up on her like the redneck creeps they unfortunately have become (always were?).
I quit Facebook, which helped considerably, but I still occasionally see their bullshit when I log on to my wife's account to see what she and our friends and my non-asshole relatives (mother, brother, sister) and the band I'm in are posting. It bums me out, man. It really, really bums me out. If they were just moderate conservatives who weren't doling out a near-constant stream of insults, misinformation, racism, and xenophobia, it wouldn't bother me. We don't have to agree. I have friends who are Republicans, libertarians, Communists, and anarchists, all schools of thought I could never subscribe to, but these people don't treat other people like garbage for having a different point of view.
To be fair, I hate liberal memes and preaching to the choir and liberal infighting about who cares more and how you're caring wrong and the way people are pounced on and destroyed for saying something ignorant or prejudiced in public or for not using the currently fashionable buzzword for a marginalized group. I hate all the white liberal self-congratulation and back-patting and bragging about enlightenment. I hate goddamn Facebook memes. I hated myself when I was on Facebook arguing with my relatives. I hate politics in general. Art and fun are my bags. But I hate the right wing social media shit-stirrer hate factory the most.
Whenever I think about the angry, hate-filled, macho, violent garbage my relatives perpetuate on social media, I get really down. Even if almost all of the shit they say about liberals and all the "information" they post is wildly inaccurate and a clear misrepresentation, I take it personally. It grinds me down to think they think so little of me. I hate how they've tarnished so many fond memories. I feel my own anger and hatred increasing in response to theirs, and I don't like that about myself. I don't know how people who had such a great, kind, open-minded mother and grandmother could spend so much time trying to make other people feel shitty. Why are a bunch of American white people with families and decent jobs and hobbies they love so bitter and hate-filled and angry and resentful and paranoid and suspicious of anyone who doesn't look, think, and act exactly like them? It seems to bother my brother and sister less than it bothers me, and I don't know how they so successfully let it go without dwelling on it. But I'm obsessed. Why are they doing this? Were they always like this? Would my grandparents and friends' grandparents act like this if social media had been a part of their daily routine? What happened to my relatives? What the hell happened to them? What happened to everybody?
Is anybody else dealing with this? How do you keep it from ruining your day? Do you just cut them loose from your life? Is Mark Zuckerberg one of history's greatest monsters, or did we do this to ourselves?
TGIF, motherfuckers.

Monday, October 12, 2015

TV Guide movie listings that may exist

[48] MOVIE - Comedy
"The Godfather." (1978) Spiritual guffaws abound in this sequel to "Oh, God" when God (George Burns) finally meets His biological father, an inanimate beam of light voiced by James Coco. John Denver returns, but is outshined by Burt Reynolds as Sen. Ptarmigan. (1 hr. 48 min.)

[58] MOVIE - Action
"Blade Runner." (2003) Wesley Snipes returns as Blade in the concluding installment of the popular vampire trilogy. This time around, Blade walks away from the world of vampires to pursue his dream of competing in a series of charity marathon fun runs, but have the vampires walked away from him? Paul Giamatti was nominated for a Golden Globe for his portrayal of Blade's racing coach, Clutch Merriweather. (2 hr. 21 min.)

[12] MOVIE - Horror-boxing-musical comedy
"The Rocky Horror Picture Show." (1977) In this offbeat crossover sequel to the Oscar-winning dramas "Rocky" and "The Last Picture Show," Rocky Balboa (Sylvester Stallone) agrees to fight glam rock-singing transvestite scientist Dr. Frank-N-Furter (Tim Curry) in an exhibition match in Archer City, Texas, in order to raise money to reopen the Royal Theater. Starring Meat Loaf in dual roles as ex-delivery boy Eddie and eccentric boxing promoter "Texas" Bob Sugarditch. (3 hr. 52 min.)

 [82] MOVIE - Basic mathematical errors
"Fast Five." (2011) Vin Diesel counts to five, but the count is too fast because he leaves out the number three. (4 sec.)  

Monday, May 25, 2015


My friend Zulema died of cancer last night while a major thunderstorm brought flash floods, a tornado, and a mini-tornado (like a tornado, but cuter) to our adopted city of Austin, Texas, sending her off in style. She was only 39, she was awesome, and it sucks. My heart's aching for her, her boyfriend Darin, her family, and her many, many friends, but I'm also enjoying the celebration of her life that's been happening in and on various social media outlets (the same outlets that are too often filled to capacity with negativity, hostility, humblebrags, pointless political arguments, and cliched platitudes) and the love and community connecting every one of us who knew her. (I apologize for the hippyness of that statement, but I also don't apologize because I totally mean it.) I love seeing photos from the parts of her life that didn't intersect with mine, and I'm in awe of how much goodness she put into the world. I hope it's not just temporary, but I feel like this love and community is making me a less hard, less resentful, less closed-off person. I need to remember to keep those feelings around and appreciate the love and friendship I have right now. I take too much of it for granted and retreat into the private world in my head too often.
Enough about me and my problems, here are a few things I love (fuck the past tense) about Zulema and my way too brief time on this planet with her.
She had one of the great first-name/last-name combinations.
She loved Captain Beefheart AND Hall & Oates. Yeah!
She was sweet and kind, but also interesting and hilarious. Too often, that Venn diagram looks like two separate circles with a foot of space in between.
She was never one of those "hey, look at me" people. She was modest, humble, relaxed, comfortable with herself. No big ego stuff, no drama. She was always so present, so receptive to everyone around her. She never had to win over the room. She just said funny stuff quietly, naturally, in the course of conversation. As someone who's publicly made an ass out of himself on too many occasions, I always admired that about her.
She was incapable of taking a bad photograph. I only look passable in maybe one out of thirty photographs. She looked great in every one, even when she was sick.
She said one of the five or six funniest things I ever heard. Two summers ago, a group of us pooled our money and rented a beach house in Port Aransas, a small resort town on the Texas coast of the Gulf of Mexico. We spent that long weekend swimming in the Gulf, cooking and eating big delicious meals, drinking lots of beer and wine, and hanging out in the swimming pool and hot tub across the street at night. On one of those nights, after returning to the house, a few of us were sitting on the balcony, enjoying the breeze, and we got into this long, booze-fueled conversation about what would happen if our beach vacation turned into a Hotel California-style scenario in which we could enter but never leave. What happens if you were trapped in a beach town forever? We weighed the pros and cons in detail, and Zulema said one of the drawbacks to permanent beach life was that the beach town prostitutes were "too sandy." That's one of the most hilarious things I've ever heard, and it makes me laugh every time I think about it. I can't do that joke justice because so much of it depended on her word choice, her delivery, and her facial expressions, but if you don't think that's funny, even in my truncated, fuzzy memory version, you should be catapulted into a swamp.
She was just someone you felt good around. She made you feel better. She was so damn likable.
She got sick shortly after that Port Aransas trip, and I didn't see her for a while. My last conversation with her was four months ago at the grocery store. I was putting some kind of produce item into my cart, and someone tapped me on the shoulder and said, "You need to put that back." I turned around, and it was her. She looked great, healthy and happy. She'd beaten it for now, but only a week after our conversation, she'd find out that the cancer was back and that it had spread. That last conversation was a fun one. We talked about our shared love of Bob Odenkirk and the way he yelled "Goddammit" on "Mr. Show," and we talked about cat buttholes. My uncle married a Jewish woman (this seems like a weird digression, but wait for it) and converted to Judaism. He became way more obsessed with being Jewish than his Jewish-by-birth wife. I am the same way, but with cats. I was a dog lover from the jump, but since my wife and I got two cats three years ago, I am the cat-lovingest son of a bitch in town. Zulema was a cat lover, too, and we talked about our pets. She told me a story about an old cat of hers who unwittingly ate some hot chile peppers, which led to some joking about the eventual passing of those chile peppers and about cat buttholes in general. I'm so glad I ran into her that day. There's something ridiculous and completely endearing about cat buttholes being the subject of our final conversation.
I wasn't one of her closest friends, and I only got to hang out with her for a handful of years, but I thoroughly enjoyed her company, and I was lucky to know her. I miss her already.

Monday, January 05, 2015

My favorite music of 2014, or geezers > youngsters/my year playing music

I usually write about my favorite films of the year on my movie blog, but I've never tried to do a favorite music of the year post because I thought it would be too much work to figure out. This year, I realized that the Date Added button in my iTunes and a few music and indie-label web sites would make that process easy.
This year really hammered home what a 37-year-old American man and Robert Pollard fan I am, but come on, people. The cliche that most artists only do work worth listening to early in their careers is fashionable bullshit. The stereotype was once true when the Baby Boomers (those monstrously self-absorbed assholes who think the '60s were the only decade that ever happened (so self-absorbed they make the millennials look like St. Francis) who fucked up, and continue to fuck up, everything) made great music in the late '60s and early '70s and then proceeded to suck lazily for the next 40 years (insert many notable exceptions here), but it's not really true anymore (and wasn't true of the old jazz and blues guys who influenced them). The people of later generations learned from their mistakes. Also, those Boomer rock gods and goddesses became multimillionaires and even billionaires, and rich people can't make art once they learn they're rich. Money and superfame are worse than drug addiction at extinguishing the creative spark, in my armchair not-fact-checked opinion.
I am continually creatively juiced up by new music made by people my age and older, on both the international and local levels, and underwhelmed by a lot of the music made by the post-tween set (again, insert the many notable exceptions here). At the Fun Fun Fun Fest I attend every year in Austin, the old folks regularly play mindblowing sets while the hyped attractive youngsters flail and pose and play songs that sound like Don Henley making love to Hall & Oates in a convenience store bathroom (which actually sounds pretty fantastic on paper, come to think of it). I like not relating to the youth of today, and I don't feel bad about that. I am getting older and I would like to glean the wisdom from the artists hitting that patch of road ahead of me instead of chasing the eternal youth mirage. All that being said, damn does that precocious lil' guy Ty Segall float my boat. Good job, young man.

Here are some 2014 records I enjoyed a great deal in 2014, in the order I added them to my computer (don't kick me in the taint, btw, I bought most of them first on vinyl or CD b/c artists should be paid for their work (except for the jerks who get paid way too much)):

Stephen Malkmus & The Jicks - Wig Out at Jagbags
Bohren & Der Club of Gore - Piano Nights
Guided By Voices - Motivational Jumpsuit and Cool Planet (Cool Planet is better but Motivational Jumpsuit has my favorite GBV song of the whole reunion: "Alex and the Omegas")
Beck - Morning Phase 
Damaged Bug - Hubba Bubba
The Men - Tomorrow's Hits
Doug Gillard - Parade On
Sweet Apple - The Golden Age of Glitter
Vertical Scratchers - Daughter of Everything
King Buzzo - This Machine Kills Artists
Neil Young -  A Letter Home
J Mascis - Tied to a Star
The New Pornographers - Brill Bruisers
Ty Segall - Manipulator and $INGLE$ 2
Le Butcherettes - Cry Is for the Flies (minus the two minutes of Henry Rollins poetry that precedes one song)
Shellac - Dude Incredible
Circus Devils - Escape
Mark Lanegan Band - Phantom Radio
Melvins - Hold It In
Moonsicles - Creeper
Thurston Moore - The Best Day
Guano Padano - Americana
Eyehategod - Eyehategod
Sleaford Mods - Chubbed Up +
D'Angelo - Black Messiah

2014 albums with some great moments that I enjoyed to a lesser extent overall than the above
The Unsemble - The Unsemble
The Afghan Whigs - Do to the Beast
Mac DeMarco - Salad Days
Thee Oh Sees - Drop
Death Grips - Niggas on the Moon
Twilight - III: Beneath Trident's Tomb
John Frusciante - Enclosure
Teenage Guitar - More Lies from the Gooseberry Bush
Split Single - Fragmented World
Tweedy - Sukierae
Neil Young - Storytone (the solo disc is good, the orchestral disc is pretty cheesy)
tetema - Geocidal

Older albums and box sets reissued in 2014 and 2014 compilations of old stuff put together for the first time in 2014 that I had a lot of time for (2014 edition) (2014) (it's two-thirds Numero Group) (2014)
Josefus - Dead Man
Al Green - Let's Stay Together
Unwound - Rat Conspiracy and No Energy
Various - Warfaring Strangers: Darkscorch Canticles
Sandy Denny & The Strawbs - All Our Own Work
Various - Music of the Mountain Provinces
Ned Doheny - Separate Oceans
The Brothers & Sisters - Dylan's Gospel
Nikki Sudden -all the solo and Jacobites reissues and Kiss You Kidnapped Charabanc with Rowland S. Howard
Bulbous Creation - You Won't Remember Dying
Led Zeppelin - III
Various - Eccentric Soul: Capitol City Soul and Eccentric Soul: The Way Out Label
Sensational Saints - You Won't Believe It
Solaris - The Waves of the Evernow
Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young - CSNY 1974
The Montgomery Express - The Montgomery Movement
Various - Local Customs: Cavern Sound
Various - Country Funk Vol. 2: 1967-1974
Various - Night Walker: The Jack Nitzsche Story, Vol. 3
Bedhead - 1992-1998
Jordan de la Sierra - Gymnosphere: Song of the Rose

Local business:
My band The Early Stages released our first hard-copy meat-space vinyl single in 2014, which you can still purchase and/or stream (see the post just below this one to find out how). We proved to be slightly less unpopular in the rest of the world than we are locally as no local stations played any of the three songs at any point in the entire year, not even at 3 a.m. Our local cachet, never that high to begin with, continues to plummet. (Humblebrags ahead.) However, Jon Solomon of Comedy Minus One Records played us on his show on New Jersey radio station WPRB, and Maximum Rocknroll played us on their online radio show. We were also reviewed favorably in Maximum Rocknroll and Wire magazine. That Wire review, which, if I may braggadociously point out, is an international publication, netted us one whole sale. Who says analog is dead, right? Stop backing away from me.

Austin bands we played shows with this year who played sets I particularly enjoyed:
James Arthur's Manhunt
The John Wesley Coleman Band
The John Pauls
New China
Rabbit Fist
Woozy Helmet
Foot Patrol

Our local brushes with fame and semi-fame: We played with a Rush cover band (Central Texas' premier Rush cover band, I've been told), Angelo Moore from Fishbone, Lesley Rankine from Silverfish, Pigface, and Ruby and her brother who is Public Image Ltd's current bassist and who has also played with Elvis Costello and Spice Girls (to an audience of 12 people), and got a nice compliment from Babes in Toyland's drummer (who was one of the 12 people in the audience). Gerard Cosloy walked out of two of our shows clearly bored. Prince sat in with us and played "When Doves Cry" and "Uptown." (I made one of these up, but it's not easy to spot. If you think you've found the untrue anecdote, write it down on a postcard depicting a tropical beach scene and send it to Can-Smashing Robot Lie-Spotting Contest 2014/15, 666 Fake Address, Blair, NE, 69854. If you guessed the lie correctly, you will receive a crate of organic California prunes and my power of attorney.)

Happy new year, you princes of Maine, you kings of New England. Don't fill up on bread, and keep it street legal. 

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Promotional content

Please forgive this self-promotional post, but I play in a band called The Early Stages, and we put out a 7-inch recently. Copies are still available, and you can buy one at this link. If you don't want to buy it, you can also stream it for zero dollars at the same link. Ted Nugent sucks.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

A song for every year of my life #28: 2004

I haven't done one of these for almost a year. I usually unintentionally abandon every series I start on this blog, but here it is, back from the grave. I want to post more frequently here, even though the nonspecific journal-style blogs seem to be dying (I'm a sucker for any medium or piece of the culture that's slowly dying), and this old series came to mind today. I'm almost always thinking about music anyway, and music is the only healthy thing that makes me feel better when I have convinced myself I'm a piece of shit loser. I'm going through a bit of a phase (13 years and counting is still a phase, right?) where I feel like an unsuccessful, perpetually broke, missed-my-calling, unable-to-communicate-verbally-with-humans, sad, angry, bitter, jealous failure, but music stops those thoughts and is better than my other means of coping (alcohol, television, food, repressed rage). Movies and books are also amazing things, but I have to be in an okay place to really engage with them. Music is some kind of voodoo-salve, cosmic gloom squeegee that can turn the room purple if you play it loud enough and give it your full attention. It's the only thing that works unconditionally in a world that is mostly complete and utter bullshit. (Well, my wife and my cats are pretty great, too, but I take the good things in my life for granted because I have problems.)
How cruel that 2004 is my next stop. Looking at the big list of records released in 2004, I don't see much I care about. I'm sure there are tons of local, below-the-radar 2004 records waiting to melt my face off, but the ones I've heard don't have the juice, except for a big pile of records by people I've already written about in this series (I'm trying to do just one song per artist) and a smattering of others. One of those others is the only musical hero of mine who follows me on Instagram, Doug Gillard. Gillard has played guitar for a metric fuckload of quality bands including Guided By Voices (who broke up again today, goddamn it), Cobra Verde, My Dad Is Dead, Death of Samantha, Gem, Bill Fox, Nada Surf, and Lifeguards. The guy is a guitar wizard who is really good at playing hot guitar sounds on the guitar for guitar aficionados, but never at the expense of a song. He's also a damn fine songwriter, with three damn fine solo albums and a damn fine solo EP. Here is the song "(But) I See Something" from his 2004 album Salamander. This song has a lot to recommend it. It's subtle, pretty, and catchy, with a girl group/early Pretenders/indie pop/classic rock swirl of sounds joining together into a nice little whole, and I dig the old-school parenthetical in the title. I'm a man who enjoys parentheticals.

Alternate choice: Melvins/Lustmord - "The Bloated Pope"
I love the Melvins. They're still a vital band putting out great records and trying new things three decades into their career. They're like the metal Yo La Tengo. This song is from their unfairly neglected collaboration with electronic noise terrorist Lustmord, Pigs of the Roman Empire, that is better than most 2004 records, especially the boring ones by Arcade Fire, Eminem, Kanye West, U2, Green Day, Sufjan Stevens, et cetera and so on that were getting all the attention from the critics that year. I like this song because it kicks ass and sounds good, and also because Lustmord got his start by going to high-profile shows and just getting on stage before the opening band and performing until someone figured out he wasn't on the bill and kicked him off the stage, and finally because I was raised Catholic and forced to go to church as a kid even though I never bought into that organized religion malarkey so you can probably guess the song title warms my heart. Ted Nugent sucks.