Saturday, September 30, 2006

North by Northwest

Well, here we are, in our new house, in our new city, in our new lives.

Been here since Monday, in fact. I brought up the rear of the caravan, providing transportation for (among many other things) our two cats. (Any of you who have ever traveled with cats know what that was like.)

I've had my handyman hat on since my arrival -- which so far mostly means that I've been doing a lot of painting.

The week before the move was fairly stressful. Played the last IJG gig of '06 at Safari Sam's on Thursday -- and it was sort of an anticlimax after the fun we had on our August tour. The band played well enough, though we were (in my opinion) seriously crippled by an unusually large number of subs. Further, the LA audience, which had come out in full force for our previous show (at Club Tropical), had seemingly retreated back into the warm comfort of a living room, a TV, and a beer. In other words, hardly anyone came out to hear us. All of this is quite frustrating, given that Safari Sam's is one of the coolest spaces we've ever had the opportunity to play.

Aside from the gig, pre-PDX week was full of recording sessions, as I continued to ready the material for our next album, The Art of the Mixtape, vol. 1. We got a nice chunk of work done, but it ate into valuable packing time, so I ended up having to delay my planned departure from 6 AM on Sunday to 3 PM on Sunday (an adjustment that also meant I was doing the trip in two days instead of one).

Anyway, so far, all our most optimistic expectations regarding life in Portland and our new house have been confirmed. Thandie absolutely loves the big-ass yard. Twice already the three of us have walked down to the nearest cafe for breakfast (a cozy little joint called Marco's -- stellar omelettes and coffee), a trip that involved following a "trail" (railroad ties set as steps into the side of a hill) through a mess of blackberry bushes. And twice now neighbors have popped over to welcome us -- one even brought cookies. Coming from the frantic lack of neighborliness that we found in LA, such acts appear extraordinary. They take some getting used to, in fact.

There'll be more details to relate in the weeks ahead, but for now I'm quite confident: this will be the perfect place from which to launch my plans for IJG, phase two (in which we finally are able to pay our bills by playing in said band).

Thursday, September 21, 2006

My life this week

Packing, packing, packing, recording, packing, recording, recording, packing, performing, packing, recording, packing, getting in a car and driving to Portland.

Whew! I'll fill in the details when I actually have time to think.

Friday, September 15, 2006

Why Erik Satie is better than Lynyrd Skynyrd

There are 841 reasons, actually.

Redundant? No way.

By the by, it's worth noting that the instructions on the original score are actually conditional: ""In order to play this motif 840 times consecutively to oneself, it will be useful to prepare oneself beforehand, and in utter silence, by grave immobilities." In order to play it that way -- not that one should be expected to play it that way.

So kudos to Kenneth Goldsmith (the guy behind the recent performance, linked above) for taking liberties with this one.

(No, I haven't listened to all eight hours.)

Free Albums points to a good article on the man and the piece.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Why Lynyrd Skynyrd is not a great band

All of the ingredients are there, sure, but check this out:

"Well I heard Mr. Young sing about us.
I heard old Neil put us down.
Well I hope Neil Young will remember,
a southern man don't need him around anyhow."

Aside from the knee-jerk defensiveness of these lines, have you ever read anything so fucking redundant? Couldn't they have, like, dispensed with the same sentiment in a couplet or something?

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Five years on

When I was at Drew University way back in the early nineties, earning my bachelor's degree in English and History, I went through a period when I was obsessed with two of the most disturbing events of the 20th century (not that there weren't plenty of those to choose from): the Holocaust and the Vietnam War. In my last real semester as an undergraduate, I took one particularly mind-blowing class (led by Dr. Ann Saltzman) on the psychology of the Holocaust. I think that was probably the first time I had heard the term "routinization," which in this context was used in reference to the majority of citizens under the Nazi regime, who may have initially been horrified by the actions of their "overlords," but who, as time went on, became anaesthetized to Hitler's violence. That is, though these citizens may not have explicitly approved of the gas chambers (for instance), they grew to accept them as part of the "new world order." It was that weird resignation, that weird casual refusal to take responsibility, that (many would argue) actually enabled the Holocaust to happen.

At around the same time, the first president Bush took us all into Iraq for Gulf War no. 1. What a crazy thing that was. Yellow ribbons (despite the extremely low casualty rate), full-page spreads in all the reputable news magazines, rah rah, we whupped 'em good, didn't we? I can remember being against that war too, getting into arguments with friends about it, convincing a few of them of the stupidity of it all. I was in the minority, alas. For my little east coast community, at least, Iraq 1.0 was kind of a purging of all the demons of Viet Nam (which was seen as "the first war American lost"). And even for me, an avowed pacifist, I had to admit that the swiftness with which we kicked Saddam out of Kuwait made me feel like, well, what the fuck... nothing can touch us, right? We've got it together as a country, even if we're being led by a jerk who often seemed like a parody of himself (believe me, Bush I made Dana Carvey's job easy).

I hated that war, and I hated the way that my family and neighbors seemed to think it was no big deal. But I was young, I was in college, and I was looking for a fight. The sad thing is that I didn't know -- none of us knew -- how relatively blissful that period actually was.

It occurred to me today that it's strange, very strange that we don't have national days of mourning for 9/11 and Katrina -- two of the most concentrated catostrophic fuckups in American history (conveniently packed into one godawful presidency). But then I wondered, if such official recognitions did exist, would they really make any difference? I can still remember everything about where I was and what I felt on Septmber 11, 2001 -- and I feel like I should be forcing myself to recall my own experience of that day as vividly as possible whenever the anniversary rolls around. Stoke the anger, I muse: maybe that will lead somewhere productive.

But I also feel as though, as Americans, we've gone through a process of routinization, responding as any sentient being would to a constant barrage of violence, lies, and affronts to decency: tune it out. Make yourself numb. This in fact is a psychological defense mechanism: it helps one to maintain sanity in an insane world. But it may also be the key insight of the strategists who got Bush II elected in the first place: in a mostly apolitical world, one can be as evil as one likes. In other words, create a context of constant evil, and evil itself no longer appears as an aberration. It is, instead, the way we do business.

Maybe this is where art can step in and actually be valuable. For instance: as I type I am watching Spike Lee's documentary on Katrina. Wow, it brings that disaster back with an unbelievable vividness. It's a merciless artwork that drives directly to the heart of the evil.

Man, I gotta do that too. Even in the midst of all the comedy in my own group, there has to be that arrow to the heart of evil. Otherwise what's the point, in a world like this?

Saturday, September 09, 2006

Bernie, we hardly knew ye

Half-watched (a replay of) the Leonard Bernstein American Masters presentation on PBS (okay, so they're not total fuckups) the other night, and was quite inspired, in spite of myself.

What an interesting life this guy led.

I can remember quite distinctly the first time I heard the soundtrack to West Side Story -- it was in the basement of our house in Florham Park, NJ. I was maybe 11 or so, had just aquired my first cassette recorder (which I thought was the coolest thing in the world), and had made my own copy of the LP. We had this old-school yellow formica table down in that basement, and I was seated at it, trying to complete some dumb homework assignment or other. Alas, I couldn't stop checking out the music -- an early example of my inability to put what I needed to do above what I wanted to do. Play, rewind. Play, rewind.

Then I discovered Candide -- thanks to our very ambitious high school band director, Andy Stachow, who apparently thought nothing of asking a bunch of pimply-faced teenagers to attempt the (rather gnarly) overture from that work. Can't remember if we ever got to play that one in concert... but does it matter? What's important is that I found out about it. And that overture continues to be one of my favorite pieces (indeed, I have earmarked it for the IJG "cover" album that I may try to do someday).

I suppose the thing I respect most about Bernstein now -- having discovered much of his other chamber and symphonic music (goodness gracious, have you heard Chichester Psalms?) -- is that, aside from being a consummate musical personality, he stuck to a particular concept and saw it through to the end. In other words, like another hero of mine, Samuel Barber, he never got aboard the twelve-tone bandwagon, but rather stayed true to an ideal of lyrical, melodic, harmonic music, not because it was or was not fashionable or "progressive," but because he liked it. Not that either side of this duality is "better" -- just that I can admire people who ignore a given zeitgeist in favor of their own aesthetic desires.

Ah, pleasure. What a complex phenomenon.

What has always baffled me about Bernstein, on the other hand, is that his total compositional output was not really commensurate with his talent. In that sense, I suppose he recalls Mendelssohn and Saint-Saens. But it just doesn't make a sense that a moron like me could seemingly be unable to stop writing, while Lenny suffered writer's block. Huh?

Ah, personality. What a complex phenomenon.

Saturday, September 02, 2006

What is Thandie watching?

Don't ask me why this one is such a big hit. I have no idea if she understands the plot or anything like that. But it is currently in heavy rotation for some reason.

Anyway, we're in Portland once again, continuing to dance the real estate tango -- the house inspection went well enough, but there are some big-ticket items that we're hoping to avoid taking on ourselves. Should know more in the next few days.

Oh, yeah, and I have a question: there aren't really any "stars" warring in Star Wars, are there? I mean, the Jedis and the Empire are warring, but they aren't "stars," right? So what the fuck?

(Sorry, I'm very tired, and drunk again.)

A nice debunking...

...of the whole "appeasement" argument.

Verrrrrrry interesting...

MySpace to Enable Members to Sell Music.