City of Joyful Dread

I caught a fever, a holy fire

Category: rock ‘n’ roll

Maurice

I was checking out at Pep Boys and gave the cashier my phone number so he could look up my discount card.

Him: “Maurice?”

Me: “Uh, no.”

I gave him an alternate number, which worked.

Me: ” ….some people call me Maurice.”

Him: “Really?”

Me: “Uh, no, I, uh–not really.”

And I realized he was in fact young enough that I would need to explain the Steve Miller Band.

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Hippie Ghost

Timothy_Leary's_Dead_(movie_poster).jpg

Timothy Leary’s dead
no I mean he’s
really dead
cold
the way you turn
from me
when you
light up

Timothy Leary’s Dead poster courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

New Year’s Eve, Los Angeles, 2007

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we were at the Whiskey on Sunset Strip
with the Doors tribute band
on New Year’s Eve
Wild Child
our child
screaming wild

mock Jim Morrison was the shaman of the night
he’s better than Kilmer,
you told me
& he was

we sang “Auld Lang Syne” when the clock struck twelve
or he did
or maybe it was “Moonlight Drive”
we swam to the moon & climbed through the tide
at midnight
where there were no clocks

when the music was over
we went south on Sunset
down past San Vicente
walked on fallen manzanita
to where our rental car was now missing
TOW ZONE
the words in red I never saw
hours before
now obvious in the new moments
of the new year
& the rage took over

I was shaking
in the cool LA night
with a wild fury
you went to hold me
& I broke away
like a boxer
walked back through the black night
& the sage & the chaparral

my target was the winter prom
at Le Bel Age
rows of limos
well-endowed young women & men of the night in white
who deserved to suffer
the way I suffered

I swore at the Whores
& the Doors
& the Sunset Pigs
from the lobby

called the debutantes sluts
their stud paramours apes
wished them all wonderful venereal
diseases
overturned trash cans
flipped off the bouncers
who called me crazy motherfucker
went running up to Sunset
where you watched or hid
as I danced on the hood of a
Mercedes Benz limo with
tinted windows
grabbed my crotch
& told the New Year’s traffic
both westbound & eastbound
I wanted them to
DIE
DIE
DIE

natural child, terrible child
not your mother’s or your father’s child

eventually I recovered or
you recovered me &
we walked half an hour to the
impoundment lot
where our rental car was waiting for
hundreds of dollars
went back to the Hotel Figueroa at 4 am
& slept until noon
but it wasn’t until brunch at
Millie’s in Silver Lake
on New Year’s Day
tomato juice & tofu scramblers
that it occurred to me
I wouldn’t have made it
two seconds at the Bel Age lobby
without handcuffs
never mind the sluts or the apes or the hood of the Mercedes Benz
if I were black

Photo: Dave Brock of The Doors tribute band Wild Child singing with Ray Manzarek & Robby Krieger of The Doors at the 013 in Tilburg. Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Reflections on Gord Downie

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Minolta DSC

Gord Downie, poet, shaman, and lead singer of the Tragically Hip, announced last month on the band’s website that he had been diagnosed with terminal brain cancer last December.  The Hip will be touring Canada this summer, beginning in Victoria and Vancouver and ending in Ottawa and Kingston, Gord’s hometown.  I won’t be making the trip north, which means that my last Hip concert will have been April 27, 2007 at the House of Blues at Showboat Casino in Atlantic City.  The House of Blues, and the Showboat Casino, closed in August 2014.  Dead and stark,/it’s a museum and we’re all locked up in it after dark, in the words of the Hip.   

Too much of the past 22 years of my life has involved Tragically Hip and/or Gord Downie lyrics, quotes, tableaux vivants, romans à clefEight Hip concerts, two solo Gord concerts across three states, five venues, twelve years, maybe twenty hours, over 100 bootlegs.  Music, membership (being drawn along by it,/carried under, carried away), and memories.  Below are a few more.

*          *          *

The Tragically Hip comes from Maple Leafs country, Gord is a hardcore Boston Bruins fan, but I first heard about the band courtesy of a hockey writer from Brooklyn.  A 1994 Stan Fischler column in The Hockey News ranked “Fifty Mission Cap” as the best hockey song ever written.  I wasn’t a huge Fischler fan—he was a hopeless New York Rangers writer as far as I was concerned, I was a Vancouver Canucks fan living outside of Philadelphia, which meant I doubly hated the Rangers, since it was only a week or two after Game 7—but nonetheless, I was curious: who was Bill Barilko, Dead Maple Leaf Defenseman, and who were the Tragically Hip to have written a song about him?  I found Fully Completely used on cassette for $3.99 at Plastic Fantastic Record Exchange in Ardmore.  I listened to it often that summer, home from college. Within a few months I bought Road Apples, and then Up To Here.

*          *          *

The name “Tragically Hip” was taken from a sketch in ex-Monkee Michael Nesmith’s 1981 video Elephant Parts, which I watched with my obsessive Monkees (and Doors and Beatles and Beach Boys and Buffalo Sabres) fan, Television major, half-Canadian girlfriend from Rochester, New York the winter before.  I would write about her, Joni Mitchell, Marshall McLuhan, Barenaked Ladies, Alan Thicke and others for a graduate evening class in Postmodernism I took during my senior year of college, in April 1995, in a paper titled “Canadians, Lovers, & Other Leitmotifs.”

We met in a TV lounge, on a Saturday night, between Mystery Science Theater 3000 and a TV movie that featured Alan Thicke pointing a gun at a robber and snarling, “Whaddya want, violins?”  Both she and Alan Thicke were Canadian.  Dating her increased my desire to watch television.  Sometimes we watched together, but not very often, since I was living in Los Angeles at the time.  Once, in my film class, we went around the room talking media studies, and I turned out to be the only person who preferred TV to film.  I told this to her.  She paused and then said, “I love you!”  We laughed.

I only mentioned the Hip once in my paper, more as nominal metaphor (meaning, they were in fact hip) than as lover or leitmotif.  We had only just met.

*          *          *

Thanks to guest host Dan Aykroyd, a Canadian who went unmentioned in my paper that semester, the Hip were the musical guests on Saturday Night Live in March 1995.  It was a momentous occasion for a band from Kingston, Ontario (population 123,000) who lacked an American audience and a momentous occasion for me, since an old friend now attending a liberal arts school regularly ranked among the “Top Ten Countercultural Colleges” by High Times Magazine (“I don’t know anyone who’s been busted for smoking here”) was in town to offer me my first “experience” in the Jimi Hendrix sense that night.  Stoned, we watched Gord blow through “Grace, Too” and then “Nautical Disaster” on the six-inch TV screen in my West Philadelphia dorm room as my mother taped it on VHS a half hour away (I was worried I would miss it).

As Mike Spry would write: The album version of [“Grace, Too”] begins, “He said I’m fabulously rich,” but on this night, on the biggest stage of their careers, introduced by fellow Kingstonian Dan Aykroyd, who was so adorned in Canadian gear as to parody patriotism, Downie sang, “He said I’m Tragically Hip,” as he tended to do in live performances, a nod to those of us in the know, to a country proud to see their favourite sons on America’s brightest marquee remaining true to who they were, true to what we believed them to be. It was as if Downie was telling us not to worry, that they were always going to come home to those who loved them like no other could.

Other explanations had Gord simply forgetting the words and substituting the band’s name because it rhymed.  Leery of flag-waving nationalism—startled mid-concert by a bottle of tanning oil thrown by a fan at an outdoor festival the following summer, he would warn the crowd, “You mix this shit with patriotism, and it’ll make you crazy!”—Gord wasn’t being Canadian, he was only being human.

We were human too, and we were hungry.  We ate a large bag of potato chips (Georgie Woods, The Snacks With the Goods, named in honor of local R&B broadcasting legend Georgie Woods, The Man With the Goods) and wandered off in the stairwells in search of a balcony with a view.  We probably never found one.

Looking for a place to happen, making stops along the way.

*          *          *

Hip 1995

I first saw the Hip in concert at Theatre of the Living Arts on South Street that April, during the Day for Night tour, promoting an album I’d owned on cassette for a few months.  Fellow Canadians the Rheostatics (known north of the border for, among other songs, “The Ballad of Wendel Clark Parts I and II,” which they played that night) opened.  Someone in the crowd was wearing a CLARK #17 Leafs jersey; someone else wore a BARILKO #51 (for the year he died; as a player he wore #5) Leafs jersey.  I mostly remember Gord.  The TLA is a small, mostly standing-room venue—I would see the Hip four more times there over the next seven years, and Gord with the Country of Miracles there the year after—and I was only a few feet away most of the night, watching him writhe and shake and rant, shamanistic, stream-of-consciousness (“Enjoy the desert or it will enjoy you, that’s for sure…fuckin’ A;” “There’s somebody’s wallet in the street/,This ain’t no goddamn quest motif”), wearing a red Return of the Jedi tshirt and jeans, becoming momentarily startled by his shadow against the velvet curtain (“Who is that creature?!”), introducing “Locked In the Trunk of a Car” as “a Salman Rushdie tune.”  He was 31.  I was 22, and I was blown away.

*          *          *

When I graduated college that May, I was ready for something else, but with more college the most immediate option, I had applied to two Master’s of Teaching programs.  Both rejected me, and now I was contemplating some other program to be determined, related somehow to rock music and popular culture.  I contacted my former English Department Chair, whose name was also English.  I told him I wanted to be a rock critic.  I asked him about Cultural Studies programs.  He told me to write about rock music.

I wrote about rock music and my Canadian ex-girlfriend and hockey.  I wrote poems and I joined a hockey pool.  It was 1995.  The internet didn’t exist yet.  Email, for college students, was only two years old.  Hockey fans could follow teams, both teams they were fans of and teams they weren’t, on listservs run by other hockey fans.  Many, though not all, teams, had one.  The Flyers had one, run by a Comcast software engineer named Pete.  The Sharks had one, run by a web designer named Chuq in Silicon Valley.  The Penguins had one, as did the Kings, as did the Leafs, as did the Vancouver Canucks.  I joined all of them.

I had been a member of the Canucks listserv for a few months before Vancouver made their fateful and surprising Stanley Cup run in the spring of 1994.  “I want to learn more obscure nicknames for Jyrki Lumme,” I had written in my subscribe request to be added to the listserv.  “When he’s good, we call him the Flying Finn,” responded the list administrator at Simon Fraser University.  “When he’s bad, we call him the Fucking Finn.”

As a member of the Canucks listserv, I was surrounded by future bloggers like Canucks Corner’s Tom Benjamin and Bleacher Report’s Carol Schram; I posted semi-regularly (under my own name, because anonymity was impossible with a college email account) as a Canuck fan in Philadelphia and was a columnist for a few issues of a Canucks email newsletter called Breakaway News.  The Tragically Hip was my soundtrack, both literally—they were on in my dorm room, my boombox, my Walkman, when I borrowed my grandmother’s car with a tape deck—and figuratively, as the most often-quoted source in my email signatures.

Email signatures were more of a 1990s thing.  Some were more complex than others, such as the Pittsburgh Penguins fan who created a 1980s Penguins logo, or the Kings fan who created a crown, out of ASCII characters.  Most signatures were just words.  Mine were mostly Hip lyrics.  Some were more logical than others.  Bring on the brand new renaissance/ ‘cause I think I’m ready,/I’ve been shakin’ all night long/ but my hands are steady works well enough for a 22 year old temp; Do you like to be judged or liked,/Do you like it inside a barrel plunging over the falls and Roses are worth more dried than alive not so much.

I wasn’t the only Hip fan with a Hip email signature; other than my college friends, almost everyone else I knew who had email was a member of a hockey listserv.  Most were Canadian.  Aaron in Toronto, a member of the Leafs list whose signature read Armed with will and determination,/and grace, too, was the first I remember, but there were others.  If I remember correctly, someone even had Just then the stripper stopped in a coughing fit,/She said, “sorry I can’t go on with this.”  Everyone was doing it, at least in Canada.

*          *          *

Yeah, I was a fan.  I listened to them.  It wasn’t as big for my age.  It would have been my friend’s, like, parents that would have listened to it.  If I went to a buddy’s places for parties, it would have been on, for sure.
Pittsburgh Penguins center Sidney Patrick Crosby (“Sid the Kid”), born August 7, 1987

Generation—holding my breath/,No hesitation—freedom or death
–Toronto band Fucked Up, “Generation,” covered by Gord Downie & the Sadies, summer 2014 tour

A generation so much dumber than its parents/came crashing through the window.
–The Tragically Hip, “At the Hundredth Meridian”

*          *          *

Trouble at the Henhouse, the Hip’s followup to Day for Night, disappointed me at the time.  “Gift Shop,” “Don’t Wake Daddy,” “Flamenco,” and “Put It Off” were all decent songs and “Coconut Cream” (once introduced in concert by Gord as “this is a song about the world’s largest penis”) ended up on more than a few mix tapes but the album as a whole was too inconsistent, too affected, not as raw or as punk as their prior albums.  AllMusic calls the album a set of professional, but rarely exciting, anthemic hard rock that occasionally dips into pedestrian bar-band boogie. The Hip are at their best when they have a bit of grit in their sound, and for too much of the album they polish all of their rough edges away.  In retrospect Henhouse might be my favorite Hip album, though Day for Night and Fully Completely are probably better; “Sherpa” is among my top five Hip songs.  (I may be the only Hip fan who thinks “Ahead By a Century” is overrated; it’s less likely that I’m the only Hip fan who prefers the X-rated version.)

*          *          *

The Hip returned to the TLA in May 1996.  I was there with a woman I had decided to move in with during the Blizzard of 1996, which dumped a record 30.7 inches of snow on Philadelphia.  We were trapped in her, now our, Spruce Street apartment for three days.  I was unofficially living with her already.  Now I had nowhere else to go.

The Hip, who were trapped in Canada, would write “Something On” (“Outside there’s hectic action/, The ice is covering the trees/, And one of ‘em’s interconnecting/with my Chevrolet Caprice”), released on their 1998 Phantom Power.  As Gord explained, “We weren’t actually holed up in the house as the ice ravaged the county side. ‘We’ve gotta make this record, Ice Storm be damned.’ It put everything on hold in the entire North East for about five days and beyond. It crippled Quebec hydro power, anyway it was a huge storm, of huge magnitude. I was in Toronto, which never gets touched by weather of any sort, and these guys (the band) were in Kingston battling it out in their own individual ways as everyone was. Dealing with things from generator crime, to all manner of paranoia. Ya know, ‘Escape from New York’ material. We came and we had to do a song, ‘Something On.’ And ya know, I guess the feel of a guitar neck is pretty nice after five days of… that.”

I would write, in 2011, a poem called “1996.”  We were buried in snow/poetically/one weekend, it began.  I went home with you/one weekend/and never went back, it ended.  It would quote the Hip, though a different song: & the Tragically Hip sang “words cannot touch beauty.” 

I wrote “1996” in 2011, twelve years after we broke up, eleven years after I moved out, two years after we last talked; now it’s seventeen, sixteen, and seven, respectively.  But we were on South Street that night, and despite the fact that she was a Philadelphia Flyers fan and BARILKO #51 was back (and maybe CLARK #17 as well), she enjoyed herself.  I on the other hand was restless.  I wanted more.  I wanted more raw, more punk, more hypnotic energy, a dark cocoon, something to scare the living shit outta me.

[W]hen you’re 23/& the rest of the world is a moment/we can never outrun, I wrote in “1996” in 2011.  But at the time I never stopped running.

*          *          *

I became more obsessed with the Hip.

It happened slowly, as my other obsessions, both musical (the Pixies, Alex Chilton) and non-musical (the Calgary Fantasy Hockey League, virtual home of 1995-96 regular season champion Hop’s Frogs, which folded in 2000 as a result of fatherhood (the founder’s, not mine)), faded by degrees.  1997’s Live Between Us gave the world an official, live Hip concert on CD, with Gord references and allusions that could be tracked and interpreted and reinterpreted, like a Canadian Torah.  More importantly, the World Wide Web was available, and with it fan message boards and facts both obscure and less-than-obscure about the Hip, who they were (mostly Gord), what they wrote about and how they wrote it (exclusively Gord).

Thanks to various websites, but mostly Stephen Dame’s terrific A Museum After Dark, I found out that“I ponder the endlessness of the stars,/ignoring said same of my father” came from Milan Kundera’s Book of Laughter and Forgetting: “We ponder the endlessness of the stars but ignore the endlessness our father has within him.”  (I would borrow both in a 2013 essay about my own father.) Similarly, “Courage (For Hugh MacLennan)” quotes, almost verbatim, the Canadian writer’s 1957 novel The Watch That Ends the Night (“there is no simple explanation for anything important any of us do, and…the human tragedy…consists in the necessity of living with the consequences of actions performed under the pressure of compulsions so obscure we do not and cannot understand them”), which I found used at the Book Trader on South Street and read one summer.

Even the other music on my Walkman was somehow Hip-related, from Rheostatics, whose “Bad Time To Be Poor” the Hip sampled on Live Between Us, to Material Issue, for whom the Hip wrote “Escape Is At Hand For the Travellin’ Man,” my favorite song from Phantom Power and arguably my favorite overall Hip song, as a tribute after lead singer Jim Ellison killed himself.  Not to mention, of course, the Hip, who returned to TLA in October 1998 for the Phantom Power tour, as did we.

*          *          *

Gord Downie

We moved in 1999 and I moved out in 2000.  We split up, as Gord Downie wrote in 2001’s Coke Machine Glow, the book of poems I bought along with the CD of the same name the following summer.  I’m on a train to Montreal,/though it could be going/anywhere now,/I suppose.

I wasn’t on a train to Montreal, but in a bookstore in Calgary during Stampede Week for a sports medicine journal meeting; I was there as the publisher.  I was with someone else now, romantically, someone I had recently met and would be with on and off for the next six, or seven, or maybe ten years.

She wasn’t much of a Hip fan, or a hockey fan, but during our years together we would see Gord twice, once at the Tin Angel “acoustic café” in Old City Philadelphia for the Coke Machine Glow tour in 2001 and once back at the TLA with the same non-Hip backing band, now officially named the Country of Miracles, for their followup Battle of the Nudes tour in 2003.  Gord would autograph my Battle of the Nudes CD after the TLA concert, after we discussed the Canada Day concert in Central Park I had been to three years before.  “Have a heckuva summer,” he would write over the lyrics to “Figment”: You know my name is Figment,/I’m not who you think I am.

*          *          *

Ducunt volentem fata, nolentum trahunt.
–Seneca

And I found the end of the world, of course,
but it’s not the end of the world, of course.
–Gord Downie, “Vancouver Divorce”

2003 was also the year I began working with a Jungian.  He was a referral, meant to help a difficult relationship and resolve some perpetually unresolved issues.  Seneca’s words—Some the fates take willingly, others have to be dragged—hung ornately above his door.  We connected immediately: my father was from Zurich, he had lived in, romanticized, and still wrote about Zurich.

We met weekly, on rare occasions twice a week, for four years.  I resolved my issues, but in the worst way.  I became more obsessed with Los Angeles, where I went to college briefly during the Rodney King riots before transferring back east, more obsessed with moving back out west and with becoming a writer.  Writing was loaded for me, since my father (three marriages, two divorces with a third pending at the time he died) whom I barely knew growing up was a writer, and writers were in many ways and for many reasons rock stars to me.  (Don’t tell me how the universe is altered/when you find out it’s the writers who get laid, as Gord would often sing in live versions of “Poets.”)   

I took an Erotica writing night class, taught by a former mentor, during which I would write among other short stories “Daredevil,” whose title was an allusion to the Tragically Hip song of the same name but which here referred to the Daredevil Motel, where rendezvous occurred, with its odor of tobacco and wool and wood.  I celebrated dark places, as I had before, but they were no longer the dark places I had shared with a woman who loved me as I loved her.  I was now the darkest one, and my dark places were only my own.

*          *          *

My Hip obsession waned—2002’s In Violet Light was dependable enough (“a pleasing LP of R.E.M.-style guitar rock,” in the words of Uncut), 2004’s In Between Evolution a decent album but more uneven overall, and 2006’s World Container their worst effort so far—as my Gord obsession became more intense.

Maple Music released 29 live recordings from his 2003 tour as digital bootlegs at $10 CDN each on their website.  During the summer of 2006, I would order 26—Detroit and Philadelphia were unavailable because of technical issues and one of the Ottawa concerts was in my opinion redundant—and play them constantly.

In San Francisco for a plastic surgery journal meeting that October, I would book two nights at the Tenderloin’s Phoenix Hotel, where the narrator walked past those suits with wet hair at the breakfast buffet in “SF Song (San Francisco/The Phoenix Hotel)” (none of whom were there at the time).

More troubling was “11th Fret,” Gord’s my-woman’s-doing-me-wrong-but-at-least-she’s-still-with-me honky-tonk blues that reflected where I was from the other end: beginning to see someone else, withdrawing from my own relationship but unwilling to end it.  His words—So this is fucking off by degrees/and I suppose we turned out to be not-quite-Hawaii/but I can float back to sleep/‘cause at least you’re lying to me—weren’t only poetry or mystery, for once.  They were prophecy.

*          *          *

Eventually I moved on from the Tragically Hip and Gord Downie, not to other bands or other relationships or, so far, to other towns; I won’t be there when the wisteria fades/and falls on LA.  I moved on to mortgages and unemployment, recessions and paralegal school and law school and law school debt, Occupys and Mummers Parades and a Fight for 15.  But if the Hip were never so much of who I was again—and at times they were, or Gord was—neither would they become Nirvana, a band that no longer existed for a moment that no longer existed, what the 1990s were once that nothing will or can be now, neither for better nor for worse, verse chorus verse.  The Hip weren’t that.  Eight concerts, two solo Gord concerts, over 100 bootlegs, countless references, a conversation that just keeps coming up again and againEvery day I’m dumping the body, indeed.

*          *          *

I mean, I don’t know how you feel about Amsterdam—maybe you heard a little too much about it, but—man, that fuckin’ Vondelpark, that is somethin’ else.  It made me want to take all my clothes off and walk naked through it.  So I did.  I was thrown in jail for four days—sodomized, victimized, circumsized—but still, this song is worth it.  All the pain and all the suffering—this song is worth it.
–Gord Downie, introduction to “Flamenco,” from the Tragically Hip, Utrecht, May 1997 bootleg

This past February I was in Amsterdam for work for the first time ever.  I arrived on a Wednesday night at 10 pm, welcomed by snow flurries and two catcalling drunks on the train from Schiphol; I would depart by Friday at noon.  The only thing I wanted to see was the Vondelpark, where Gord wrote what he often referred to in concert as “the most beautiful song we know.”  I didn’t—I never even made it out of Sloterdijk, where my hotel was, and it was too cold to walk that far regardless—but Friday mid-morning, waiting on the platform for the NS (Nederlandse Spoorwegen) train to take me back to Schiphol and then a layover in London and eventually to Philadelphia, I glanced at the map and noticed stops at three stations an hour and a half away whose name any Tragically Hip fan would recognize: Hengelo, site of a memorable 1991 concert subsequently immortalized in “At the Hundredth Meridian.”  And with that, Amsterdam was worth the trip.

Three months later my writer friend in Flagstaff emailed me as I was on my way home from work.  Subject heading: Sad news about Gord Downie.  “Came across this while looking for something else,” it read, with a link to the CBC website.

I remember Buffalo/and I remember Hengelo,/It would seem to me/I remember every single fucking thing I know.

*          *          *

We don’t go to hell,/just our memories do, Gord sang 22 years ago, a memory of a memory now, but he was wrong.  It isn’t that our memories are in hell.  It’s that hell is knowing that the past is only ever memories, that we’ll never get it back.

*          *          *

O insomniacs of the world, good night/No more wishing on the Neverstar.

Thanks for everything, Gord.  It’s been a heckuva trip.

*          *          *

Gord Downie photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.  Source: Sarah Naegels, Ottawa.  Available under a CC BY 2.0 license at https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:The_Hip_03.jpg.

Roland Barthes on the Velvet Underground

The writerly text is a perpetual present, upon which no consequent language (which would inevitably make it past) can be superimposed; the writerly text is ourselves writing, before the infinite play of the world (the world as function) is traversed, intersected, stopped, plasticized by some singular system (Ideology, Genus, Criticism) which reduces the plurality of entrances, the opening of networks, the infinity of languages…[T]he goal of literary work (of literature as work) is to make the reader no longer a consumer, but a producer of the text.
–Roland Barthes, S/Z

The Velvet Underground’s first album only sold a few thousand copies, but everyone who bought one formed a band.
–Brian Eno (maybe)

Low Cut Connie at Levitt AMP Trenton, 8/15/2015

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#11 on your POTUS Summer Playlist.

Because Trenton makes, the world takes.

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Highlights also available on YouTube.

I Got Stripes

I Got Stripes

On a Monday, I was arrested (uh-huh)
On a Tuesday, they locked me in the jail (poor boy)
On a Wednesday, my trial was attested
On a Thursday, they said, guilty and the judge’s gavel fell

I got stripes, stripes around my shoulders
I got chains, chains around my feet
I got stripes, stripes around my shoulders
And them chains, them chains, they’re about to drag me down

On a Monday, my momma come to see me
On a Tuesday, they caught me with a file
On a Wednesday, I’m down in solitary
On a Thursday, Lord, I start on bread and water for a while

I got stripes, stripes around my shoulders
I got chains, chains around my feet
I got stripes, stripes around my shoulders
And them chains, them chains, they’re about to drag me down

I got stripes, stripes around my shoulders
I got chains, chains around my feet
I got stripes, stripes around my shoulders
And them chains, them chains, they’re about to drag me down

Written by Johnny Cash/Charlie Williams. © Warner/Chappell Music, Inc.
Official YouTube video © 2008 Northern Light Productions, courtesy of JohnnyCashVEVO.

The Mekons, Dogfish Brewpub, Rehoboth Beach, DE, 7/18/2015

Mekons 214332
Mekons 221808
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Mekons 230439

First Set:
Memphis, Egypt
Beaten and Broken
Tina
Millionaire
Diamonds
Fantastic Voyage
(Sometimes I Feel Like) Fletcher Christian
Big Zombie

Second Set:
Abernant 1984/85
Orpheus
Prince of Darkness
Now We Have the Bomb
Thee Olde Trip to Jerusalem
Last Dance
Ghosts of American Astronauts
The Curse
Hard To Be Human Again

Encore:
Shanty/Wild and Blue
Where Were You?

Full-ish set available via YouTube. “Where are you going today on your expedition?”

Werewolves of Westwood: Warren Zevon’s Top LA Songs

Warren Zevon Roxy

Because I found myself discussing both the West Coast gothic of Lana Del Rey videos with my woman friend Lisa and the oeuvre of Old Velvet Nose himself with my cousin Steve recently, below is my own ranking of Warren Zevon’s top songs about LA.

A few initial words of warning:

1. Only songs he himself wrote count. His cover of “Surfin’ U.S.A.,” eerily perfect though it may be, does not count.

2. Only songs normally about LA (i.e. the studio versions) count. “Werewolves of Los Angeles” (“I saw a werewolf with a Chinese menu in his hand,/walkin’ down Sunset Boulevard in the rain”) or “Werewolves of Westwood” does not count.

3. As David Fine noted in the introduction to his essential Los Angeles in Fiction essay collection: [A]ny discussion of the Los Angeles novel must begin with the observation that it is chiefly the work of the outsider…To a large extent it was their position as outsiders, their estrangement and sense of dislocation—expressed in moods ranging from fascination to revulsion and often a combination of the two—that gave the Los Angeles novel its peculiar ambience. Warren Zevon is from Chicago.

Now, my top ten, in more or less reverse order:

10. “Empty Hearted Town”
Someone once commented on the eccentric brilliance of John Wesley Harding as a songwriter by noting that he would take a song with the chorus “What’s the point in a headful of something/if you’ve got a heartful of nothing” and title it “Headful of Something” rather than “Heartful of Nothing.” Elements of the title and melody of this Zevon track, unreleased until the posthumous album Preludes (2007), would later be borrowed by “Empty-Handed Heart;” the “should have done, should have done” part would be borrowed by “Accidentally Like a Martyr.” Brilliant songwriters don’t only rearrange; they reuse. As far as Los Angeles, what’s notable here is that LA isn’t empty hearted because it’s soulless Hollywood per se but because the singer is desperate for love and money and has none of the former with not enough of the latter. Moreover, it’s cold, and he has no car (!): “I’m walkin’ down the sidewalks of LA/wishin’ I had a warmer jacket.”

9. “Even a Dog Can Shake Hands”
Briefly the theme song to the Fox drama Action, this is 1980s LA in 3:31: car phones (four years before Roger McGuinn mocked them), “you’ll be living in the valley some day” as the end of the world (12 years before Sarah Polley told Katie Holmes, “Don’t go 818 on me”), and “all the worms and the gnomes…having lunch at Le Dôme.”

8. “Poor Poor Pitiful Me”
The Linda Ronstadt cover may be even more LA-in-the-70s, but you can’t beat the original: “I met a girl in West Hollywood,/I ain’t namin’ names.” (Some of the live versions, which often changed “girl” to “gal” and by the mid-80s routinely reached over 9 minutes long, are also worth checking out.)

7. “The Indifference of Heaven”
A post-Rodney King Rebellion song, perhaps (I always heard “blood on my hands/and my hands in the till/down at the 7-11” as Latasha Harlins’s blood and Soon Ja Du’s hands, although it wasn’t a 7-11), this 1993 track never mentions LA, or geography, other than by inversion: they don’t live around here. “Billy and Christie don’t—Bruce and Patti don’t.” (Live versions of the moment also added “Bruce and Demi don’t,” “Brad and Julia don’t,” “Lyle and Julia don’t,” etc.—often more poignantly if the couple in question had just broken up.) Of course, even the glitterati can only live in a finite number of places. But those who live along the borders are especially aware of exactly where those borders end.

6. “Join Me in L.A.”
The only Zevon song with LA in the title (with punctuation, no less). Despite the 70s soul singers getting their funk on on the Warren Zevon album version, I prefer the starker Preludes version with just Warren, a guitar, and a harmonica. “They say this place is evil,/but that ain’t why I stay” is funky enough in words.

5. “The French Inhaler”
Whether it’s a fuck-you song to an ex or to Norman Mailer, this track, also from his self-titled 1976 album, is also about “this sleazy bedroom town,” where he’s doomed to end up “with these phonies in this Hollywood bar,/these friends of mine in this Hollywood bar.” The live version from 1993’s Learning to Flinch is even better.

4. “Carmelita”
As photographer Richard Edlund explains*: Carmelita is a street, it’s like a shortcut through Beverly Hills. I used to live in Echo Park, and they had the Pioneer Market down there, and they had this chicken stand where all these drug deals went down…where he met his man, right? Pioneer Chicken existed in LA until 2009 (I remember driving by one, and it was near if not on Alvarado Street) and according to Wikipedia, still exists in Indonesia. Indeed, as the Warren Zevon Wiki page for “Carmelita” notes, The song is ostensibly about a heroin-addicted writer in love with a Mexican girl, but, as with many songs on Warren Zevon, it might be more accurate to say that it is about Los Angeles than about the character in question. Also worth checking out any of various live versions (including the one on Preludes) with the “bonus verse” that mentions “your big Samoan boyfriend,” as well as changing “Smith-Corona” to “Smith & Wesson.”

3. “Detox Mansion”
If “The Indifference of Heaven” was the other LA from the Hollywood the rest of us see, this is the other side of the Hollywood the rest of us see. “Now I’m doin’ my own laundry,/and I’m getting those clothes clean.” The 1988 BBC 1 live version may be the best.

2. “Gorilla You’re a Desperado”
True story: when I first became a journal publisher back in 2000, I somehow found out that my manager and an editor we both worked with were Zevon fans as well (it was probably a Trader Vic’s reference one of them made and I got). I saw Warren in concert for the final time that December (available here, though not courtesy of me) and was obligated to mention it to both of them. Both declined, with my manager adding, “Tell him to do ‘Gorilla You’re a Desperado.’” He didn’t—he rarely did, in fact—but if it were the Roxy in 1980, he probably would have. Of the various late 70s/early 80s LA elements parodied in this song—the Jesus freaks, L’Ermitage, transactional analysis—the most brilliant might be the fact that Warren found an actual Desperado to sing harmony.

1. “Desperados Under the Eaves”
Original Beach Boy David Marks explains: Warren was constantly moving in and out of the place he lived with [partner] Tule and [son] Jordan. He’d move into the Tropicana, then when he got tired of it, he’d go back for a home-cooked meal. One night he ended up at the Hollywood Hawaiian motel somewhere around Gower and Yucca. He was there for a while, I mean, maybe two or three weeks, and he couldn’t check out because he didn’t have the money to pay the bill. So, one night, I got my mother’s station wagon and pulled it into the alley. He threw all his stuff out the bathroom window and we escaped without paying. Crystal Zevon adds: Years later, when Warren got sober, he actually went back there to pay the bill. Of course, by then he’d written and recorded “Desperados Under the Eaves,” so they settled for a few copies of his Warren Zevon album. Not just the best Warren Zevon song about LA, but maybe the best Warren Zevon song, period. Look away down Gower Avenue.

* “Carmelita” and “Desperados Under the Eaves” quotes from Crystal Zevon’s I’ll Sleep When I’m Dead: The Dirty Life and Times of Warren Zevon, HarperCollins 2007. Complete Warren Zevon lyrics available at http://www.warrenzevon.org/3.html. The Warren Zevon Live Music archive is available at https://archive.org/details/WarrenZevon.

Sammy’s Top Albums of 2014

Sammy

Top Ten Albums
1. Sharon Van Etten, Are We There
2. Mark Lanegan, Phantom Radio
3. The New Pornographers, Brill Bruisers
4. Gord Downie, The Sadies, and The Conquering Sun, S/T
5. Wussy, Attica!
6. Against Me!, Transgender Dysphoria Blues
7. Jolie Holland, Wine Dark Sea
8. Courtney Barnett, Double EP: Sea of Split Peas
9. Greg Ashley, Another Generation of Slaves
10. Blonde Redhead, Barragán

Runners-up/Honorable mentions
1. D’Angelo and the Vanguard, Black Messiah
2. The Baseball Project, 3rd
3. Angel Olsen, Burn Your Fire For No Witness
4. The Afghan Whigs, Do To the Beast
5. Black Milk, If There’s a Hell Below
6. Buzzcocks, The Way
7. Chris Forsyth & the Solar Motel Band, Intensity Ghost
8. The Brian Jonestown Massacre, Revelation
9. Warpaint, S/T
10. TV on the Radio, Seeds
11. Restorations, LP3
12. Kid Cudi, Satellite Flight
13. Karen O, Crush Songs
14. Jungle, S/T
15. Interpol, El Pintor
16. Guided By Voices, Motivational Jumpsuit

Top Not-Fully Original Albums
1. Bob Dylan and the Band, The Basement Tapes Complete: The Bootleg Series, Vol. 11
2. Silversun Pickups, The Singles Collection

Top Thirteen Songs
1. Sharon Van Etten, “Every Time the Sun Comes Up” (“I washed your dishes/but I shit in your bathroom”)
2. Gord Downie, The Sadies, and The Conquering Sun, “Crater” (“Getting crushed in our dreams/or in our dreams, doing all the crushing”)
3. Sun Kil Moon, “War On Drugs Can Suck My Cock” (“the whitest band I’ve ever heard”)
4. Cherry Glazerr, “Had Ten Dollaz”
If “Brass in Pocket” were written in 2014, it would be “Had Ten Dollaz.” If Suede in fact exists again, Brett Anderson will cover this.
5. The New Pornographers, “Brill Bruisers”
6. TV on the Radio, “Happy Idiot” (“what you don’t know won’t hurt you, yeah/ignorance is bliss”)
7. Courtney Barnett, “Avant Gardener”
8. Against Me!, “Transgender Dysphoria Blues”
9. Angel Olsen, “Forgiven/Forgotten”
10. Mark Lanegan, “Death Trip to Tulsa”
11. Black Milk, “Scum” (feat. Random Axe) (“sweet cats, I know your life,/bourbon cats, I know your wife”)
12. Jolie Holland, “Saint Dymphna” (“most of my heroes died in the gutter”)
13. The New Pornographers, “Champions of Red Wine”

Other
Burn Your Fire For No Witness was A.V. Club’s Best Album of 2014.

Black Messiah was Pitchfork’s Highest Rated Album of 2014.

Jolie Holland is the love child of Captain Beefheart, Van Morrison, and Janis Joplin.

Greg Ashley is the love child of Leonard Cohen and himself. Literally.

He may also be the love child of Greg Dulli.

This song is about Alexander Cockburn. No, seriously.

El Pintor seems to lack a tilde (either the I or the O), but apparently only Barragán warrants one.

Support your local Wussy!
(and, as always, your local Lanegan)