Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Keeping it Real - ODB's "Return to the 36 Chambers"

People are always arguing over who is the greatest emcee of all time, as if it could possibly be decided. Is it Biggie or Tupac, the iconic James Deans of rap? Is it Rakim, the lyrical genius? Chuck D, the Marv Albert of game-calling hip hop? Weezy? Jay Z? Jeezy? I don’t really care who the best is, it’s stupid and trivial.
My favorite of all time is Russell Jones, aka Ol’ Dirty Bastard, Osiris, Big Baby Jesus, Dirt McGirt, Ason Unique – the list of monikers goes on and on. 

I’ve been met with heavy criticism from many angles in this obsession; I’ve been accused of “ironically” liking him to “point and laugh at the ghetto-ass motherfucker”, just as I’ve been called "retarded" for not immediately citing either Big or Pac. Sorry to be real about my personal taste, but no rapper has ever moved me in the ways that Ol’ Dirty has moved me.  The one thing that cannot be challenged is the simple fact, a quote from Wu-Tang’s first album by Meth – “There ain’t no father to his style.” Period. Ason Unique is so for a reason. “This is why, this is why, this why!

I somehow identify with Russell Jones. Not in the sense that you’re thinking, but in the artistic sense. My greatest achievements on all art fronts have been from moments that were completely not rehearsed or planned; moments that I was enraptured with what I was doing. It’s obviously coming from a place of thought, yet releases itself in its own way in pure passion that you can’t truly claim to have “thunk it through”.  People may argue with me here, but I believe that was what is Mr. Osiris. And his first solo album, Return to the 36 Chambers, is all of these things: a concept album, a dramatic play - dished out in several acts, an energy completely enraptured, and so pure it is the most unique voice to ever enter the rap game; so pure, because it is completely giving and real, with no barriers of self-protection, or concern over any opinion. It is one million percent swagger in oneself, to the infinite degree.

 “Shimmy Shimmy Ya” is probably his greatest hit, and that makes sense to me. The RZA-laid hooks alone are in need of commemorating; Dirt has the swagger of a thousand men, and delivers nonstop verses of some of the most original combinations of rapping and singing that anyone has ever heard of, up to this point. Don’t forget the reversed verse; I don’t believe anyone’s ever done that before or after, either.  But most folks took this track and moved on; this is where they were wrong beyond reprieve.
The one thing that most people forget is that this album is the equivalent of a walking tour with the man himself. It is the realest foray into the depths of going out drinking with the most raw type of genius you would ever experience – someone’s probably going to get hurt along the way.

I’ll never forget the first time I heard “Brooklyn Zoo”– I had purchased the TAPE, so that I could rock out in my Hyundai to it (luckily I had a sick bass-booster), and my initial reaction to this was not much different to somebody freaking out over a “Blair Witch Project” or  “Paranormal Activity” movie;  I was scared shitless. No lie. I was completely taken with terror over the very thought of setting foot in the city of Kings. Little did I know that I would be at home here only a few years later, but that’s another story.  I will say, however, that it tasted very much like this song when I moved here – now it tastes of something completely different, perhaps something gluten-free, and safe for white folks like myself.
 “Rawhide” is probably the heaviest cut on the entire album (I’m biased, since it was my favorite for many years, although that title has been changed to “all” since) – once again, Russell is compelled to remind you not to fuck with him, that what is real is dangerous, and, well, fucking real. But at the same time, he maintains his place atop the mantel as being a clown, a freestyle guru, and an open-minded, experimental genius. This song encapsulates ODB as the unstable-yet-incomparable Uranium that he is; from one minute to another, he goes from goofing around to threatening the entire world. Where else will you hear this sort of thing?
The album encompasses everything frightening, while at the same time remaining positive, even self-deprecating – the interlude of the ladies making fun of the man, without any leftover feeling of resentment from him in any way. As a matter of fact, he somehow finds a way to incorporate childhood games into play, as well as simply singing “Somewhere, Over the Rainbow” over ladies who disagree and attempt to ruin his vibe. 
Ballsiest move by an emcee of all time. He took it there. Yup.
A braggadocio emcee going soft and singing R&B – this never happens. Once again, points for having no shame in the game. He knows exactly what he’s doing.
Not for too long, however; because along this drunken game, he stumbles into that moment of “check”, where one goes from inebriated bliss to hardcore over the possibility that someone is, in fact, biting your flow. You must always keep this in check, if you know what I’m saying.
And now, with Brooklyn Zoo II, we’re just dead drunk.
This is the embodiment of being highly drunk, and I’ve never encountered any other example of anything  remotely close to this. From repeating verses, to the recap of the album, to the live interlude – the philosophically brilliant commentary about what it is to be “drunk”: “When you drunk, all you can  see is fuckin’ light, man – that’s all I know, and that’s all I see…” This is the realest of the realest real real realsies realtor. He hides nothing, and does so without any shame. We are now (even sober) experiencing his drunken world. He also somehow drunkenly points out some more genius knowledge (this being the era of east coast vs. west coast) in that, if you take the north, the east, the west, the south:  that spells NEWS. (what the fuck other person do you know that has come up with that?
After all, isn’t being unpredictable and psychotic to some degree something inherent in every genius?
Russell Jones proves to me that you can never judge a book by its cover. The whole world enjoyed him in a “Jerry Springer” way – meanwhile, underneath it all there was the roughest, unpolished, genius diamond of them all. When we look at all the great artists that were taken from us to substance abuse, why would it be that he not be included in that circle, especially considering I would place him miles above the likes of Joplin, Morrison, Cobain, etc, etc, etc.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Rummaging Around Bruce's Addict

A dear friend of mine, Seany Hi-Def, asked me to do a thing for him a couple of days ago. Hi-Def knows that I live and I breathe for and through music. So when he asked me to sit down for a minute and write some words and thoughts about music, I was taken aback. Firstly, Hi-Def never asks for anything, ever. Secondly, he surely has a Rolodex filled with talented and kind people who both know much more about music, and, who are much more facile with putting thoughts into words (and who can self-edit).

But I was smart enough to immediately click off on his terms of agreement, unread (as usual). My only condition was that—since my mind does wander a bit--I insisted on some sort of a prompt. I bugged him for a prompt. I begged him for a prompt. And the prompt that Hi-Def dropped on me today goes like this:

“[write about] an album that moved you, changed the way you heard things/saw things. an album that no matter what happens in life, you go back to it and feel something powerful. doesn't matter what genre. doesn't matter what era. write about it from the heart, be true to the feelings you have in you about it.”

This is a very tall order, motherfucker, since there are so many albums that changed me and still move me. If you ask me to do this assignment seven times in seven days you’d get a dozen different reports.

Today I was all set on writing about the Fiery Furnaces’ Blueberry Boat (and thinking how I often cite Slint’s Spiderland as a quick all-time favorite), but instead when I took ‘Def’s advice and closed my eyes and thought about it, I found myself back in Claremont in the late ‘70s riding skateboards and BMXs, being as awkward as you can be, and absorbing all the clues to who I’d someday become.

Specifically, I found myself in the bedroom of the tiny apartment my grandmother and I shared--that was literally on the wrong side of the tracks--listening to everything wondrous on my giant headphones. Headphones were essential in this era because the walls of this tiny apartment were thin and privacy and courtesy were serious considerations. And because I listened to everything on headphones, nothing escaped notice or analysis. Quickly, I got to an album’s essence. This was a blessing for me.


I don’t know whatever happened to my cool older cousin who introduced me to leisure biking, bicycle customizing, dirty jokes, marijuana (genuine bamboo bong), and music. I’m long overdue in thanking Bruce for doing more for me than he’ll ever understand or remember. Musically, Bruce introduced me to Yes, Boston, the Rolling Stones, Devo, Aerosmith, ELO, ELP, Allman Bros., and other “white boy music.” My father and my uncle grounded me in Stevie Wonder, Curtis Mayfield, Sly Stone, Marvin Gaye, Kool and the Gang, and Al Green. But what Bruce played just fuckin' rocked!

When was about eleven, my then high school-aged cousin, Bruce, let me borrow his newly released 8-track tape of Aerosmith’s, Rocks. My life changed in many ways specifically because of this loaner. I became Technicolor Dorothy. I got rocked. I owned Rocks on 8-track and LP once I understood that the 8-track fucked up the playlist.

I know people hate on Aerosmith because since their epic 1978 collapse they’ve been the worst, most cliché, post-rehab bunch of corporate monkeys you’d want to shove into an active volcano. I fully appreciate this assessment, though, and cannot defend anything recorded after Night in the Ruts (with special thanks to Run-DMC for saving their junky asses). The best thing that could have happened to Aerosmith’s legacy would have been for them to crash their tour plane into the earth circa 1979.

But I’ll fight you to death over how awesome Aerosmith was between 1974 and 1977. Nobody rocked harder. Nobody rocked better. There were no bigger Rock Stars.

So having fully absorbed and studied every nuance of Rocks, I then went deep and hard into the Aerosmith back catalog. “Dream On,” from the ’73 debut was still fresh in my young consciousness from AM playlists of third grade. And making that those-are-the-same-guys connection was essential because I had loved that song as an eight year-old. Get Your Wings? I knew every beat, bass line, and guitar solo (“Seasons of Wither,” “Lord of the Thighs”). And 1977’s “Draw the Line” was my Jr. high skateboard jam album (“I Wanna Know Why,” “Kings and Queens,” “Bright Light Fright”).

I know this is unimaginably drawn-out, but the record I’m typing about today is 1975’s Toys in the Attic. Bruce gave me Rocks, but Toys in the Attic was mine. All mine. I had it first, learned it faster, and knew it better than Bruce.

This is Toys:

Toys is not only a textbook on 4/4 ensemble rock, it was a graduate seminar in hooks. It’s easy to understand my attraction, but it’s the 35-year wake that mesmerizes me. I can air-riff “Toys in the Attic,” I can sing every lyric, and I still FEEL every emotion I ever experienced listening to this record alone through poverty and headphones.

And in the history of the classic piano rock ballad, “You See Me Crying” is my most poignant and personally applicable (followed by “Home Tonight”). I’m a sucker for this shit and it was all about me.

I could draw the Aerosmith wings logo, I saw them at the Santa Monica Civic in 1978, and I fantasized of one day being Steve Tyler or Joe Perry. I lucked out becoming neither. I made my own Steven Tyler mic stand, I pouted my lips like Ugly Joe. I totally got it.

Toys in the Attic was my gateway drug-album into Jimi, the Beatles, Led Zeppelin, David Bowie, and others. The rest is history, and is still my future.

Oh, and if their over-produced cocaine records weren't enough, these addicts were a motherfucker live:


Around the beginning of my freshman year in high school my grandmother began limiting my exposure and access to my dear cousin, (don’t bring me down) Bruce. It made sense to me once he began to slip through the cracks of our community. It was all for my own good and shit. I clearly understand this now, but I will never forget what Bruce gave me: Genuine, 100%, white boy rock and roll! Only now could I even discuss a Slint or Fiery Furnaces record, see?

Thank you, Bruce. Every thing I learned about rock and roll you gave me.

Monday, July 5, 2010

"There Is No Cure, Only Reprieve"

"I am dreaming of the life, and it's not the life that's mine..."

Confession: I am a huge Blake Schwarzenbach fan.

I don't think that a day has gone by since the first time I heard him on a record where I haven't had a snippet of lyrics or a chunklet of melody that came from him in my head. Yes, I am aware that this makes me sound like some nerdtastic fanboy. I assure you, I am not -- I'm just a guy who fucking loves music and appreciates well-crafted songs, which Blake surely excels at if you look at his entire body of work. I know there are people out there who feel as though he reached the pinnacle of his abilities with Jawbreaker, but for my money Jets To Brazil’s Orange Rhyming Dictionary [released by Jade Tree Records in 1998] is as close to perfect as can be.

Maybe it was the period of time in my life. Maybe it was the lyrics. Maybe it was J Robbins’ stellar production. Maybe it was just the right record at the right time. All I know is that Blake was on point -- melodies crashing into guitar parts crashing into my broken head, colliding and leaving a mark that causes me to break out this album all the time for repeated listening.

" a stolen car I rocket west, out past that Jersey line."

Almost everyone I know was disappointed in Jawbreaker’s last album, Dear You. I wasn’t. I felt like that record, as over-produced and as slick as it sounded in places, was still a viable document for what Blake was all about. ORD kind of took all of that, slowed it down and then cleared away some of the murk to show you the bottom of the [B]lake. Adding fresh blood [Jeremy Chatelain from Handsome and Chris Daly from Texas Is The Reason] certainly allowed Blake some room to play with melodies and structure. The atypical Jawbreaker formula of four-chord guitar patterns, steady drums and melodic but plodding basslines was opened up a little wider with this new band. Jets To Brazil were able to play with tempo and meter much more, as songs like "Starry Configurations" and "Chinatown" were able to stretch out and show you their scars before hitting you over the head with the distorted choruses. Using the dual guitar interplay to their advantage, cuts like "Resistance Is Futile" sound almost New Wave-ish, with over-driven and processed guitars acting like synthesizers.

Jets To Brazil were certainly not going to be Jawbreaker v2.0.

In the moments that are Jawbreaker-esque, JTB still reaches beyond that band’s template -- as if Blake is saying, “look, man -- I can fly this way, too.” Opening the album with three massive sounding numbers in a row certainly didn’t hurt, and when you add the fact that Blake's lyrics easily stand alone from the rest of his peers, it’s hard to deny that when this album came out he was converting plenty of people to “his way of thinking.”

Yes, the lyrics. Just take this small piece from the album-closing anti-heroin anthem "King Medicine" for example:

you're such a willing stick to
beckon that wanting knife and
you've been looking for it
the right blade all your life
saying "who's gonna cut me
down to a size that suits me?
is there a worthy sculptor
among all you fine young knives?"

I suppose part of the reason why I feel so attuned to Blake's work is our shared love of Kerouac. I can feel some of Jack's madness hidden in these songs, eeking its way out between breaths, between notes. Hell, "I Typed For Miles" is all about Kerouac writing On The Road, if the information I've found out there is to be believed -- so, there is that.

Blake is now an adjunct English Professor at Hunter College here in NYC. He has a new band, forgetters, playing sporadic house parties and the occasional venue around Brooklyn.

I'm just glad he made this record. It has been a good friend to me.


Morning New Disease -- Live

Resistance Is Futile -- Live

Chinatown -- Live

King Medicine -- Live

Friday, May 7, 2010

"Potentate of The Small and The Great."

I used to think that Massive Attack’s Mezzanine was the greatest Waterbed Album of all time. When I say Waterbed Album, I’m talking about one of those albums that you would use to seduce someone -- an album full of rich and sensual sounds, so much so that whenever you hear it, your mind tumbles into the darkened corners of your sexual self, and you start to get your imaginary freak on with all of the fantasy people you dream about. Throughout my life, there have been many Waterbed Albums -- The Cure’s Disintegration, Morphine’s Good, Prick’s self-titled album, and the aforementioned heavyweight champion Mezzanine.

Former heavyweight champion, though.

The title belt has been wrestled away -- no, more like choked-the-fuck-out and dragged lifelessly from the ring -- by the otherworldy monstrosity known as Oxbow, and their disturbing and quite beautiful platter fittingly titled An Evil Heat.

Now -- please trust me when I tell you the following about this beast of an album:

An Evil Heat will suffocate you, but in that good kind of way. Kind of like when you want your lover to reach out and wrench their hands around your throat, just to see what it feels like to have a little taste of that type of darkness. From the moment the album starts, it becomes quite clear that this is an act of love. You will be beaten. You will be scarred. But you will love every moment of this beating. You will pick up your head, and stare off into the nothingness -- and you will want more.

Something important to know about Oxbow, is that vocalist Eugene S. Robinson is a monster -- and I mean that with the utmost respect(read the linked article, and see for yourself). He is unlike the rest of the kids on the playground. He is relentless, and his swagger will envelope you from the moment he opens his mouth on the opening track, "The Snake & The Stick," whispering right into your ear -- "One Sunday morning, the preacher went a-trawling/ To the House of Fuck, he come a-calling."

If that doesn't get you going, well, I have no idea what to tell you, my friends.

When I listen to An Evil Heat, it feels like a dirty gospel record. Not dirty in a pornographic sense, but dirty in a grimey and to-the-bone sense. Yes, there are tracks that stand on their own, but ultimately this is a swallow-it-all type of album. Something to put on late at night when the rest of the world is fast asleep, so that the feral and visceral parts of you can get the fuck on down. This record is all swagger and sweat. From the opening track right to the very end of the thirty-two minute(!) closer, "Shine(Glimmer)." This album will roll you. This album will take you into parts of yourself you never knew existed.

Don't believe me? Throw this fucker on the next time you want to let the animal out of the cage. See what happens. Write it all down. You can come on back and tell me I was right.


Monday, November 23, 2009

No such thing as an album for all seasons

I can only assume that associating an album with a particular moment of time is a collective experience. Sleater Kinney's The Hot Rock encapsulates the fall of 2000, Creeper Lagoon's Take Back the Universe and Give Me Yesterday will forever trap me in the winter of 2002, Modest Mouse's Good News for People Who Love Bad News might as well be a bona fide transporter stuck on the spring of 2004. Setting aside the apparent affinity for seasonal album association in even-numbered years, the formula for this phenomena is pretty damn predictable - obtain an album and play it relentlessly, almost to the point of physical dependence. Whether because of the ipod, the emergent tendency to download songs or merely a sustained period of insulation from new music (there was something of a dark ages for me between, say, Cat Power's You Are Free and The Kill's Midnight Boom) , it had been a while since I'd experienced that kind of obsessive temporal association with a record, until this summer's Rearranger from Mates of State.

I adore this album. It's cohesive, it's uplifting without being sappy and there's a mythology to the production of something pretty but not (totally) simplistic that maybe makes you think married couples can consist of two intensely creative people in a way that provides a helpful alternative to the Sartre-de Beauvoir model that I personally find so unlikely. Or intimidating. Or debilitating.

So thanks, Mates of State, for providing a model marriage and producing an album that I can presumably use for some time to transport me back to this past summer, which is becoming ever-more necessary as the cold progresses and the temptation to cocoon myself in Elliott Smith's From a Basement on a Hill (winter 2004!) threatens to ensure a low-level melancholia. Rearranger goes on the list of temporal transportation, which consists of records that matter not so much because they're brilliant (although some of them are) but because they illustrate, for me, the extent to which a relationship to an album (or band, or song) is so malleable over time. I wasn't ready to love Kid A when it came, but now I'm much closer to getting it. My affection for Pretty Girls Make Graves was much shorter than I would have thought, given my initial wave of obsession. Like books, musical artifacts come in and out of your life in weird and unpredictable ways. But even when an album that is perhaps not so great comes to be entwined with a particular period of time, it is perhaps more useful as a (psychological, emotional) time capsule, even if not as a representation of musical mastery.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Girl In A Coma - The Kids Are Alright

Girl In A Coma are the greatest band to enter my world in many years, and have provided me with the most transcendent concert experience I’ve felt in nearly a decade.

What? How? I will answer that question as simply as possible in a minute, but let me first start off this piece by reminding you of how I don’t review bands in the traditional sense, but rather I’m eternally on a quest to find the heart of this thing we call music, and why exactly it does for us what it does. Go here.

Aside from being completely moved by their music, what I love most about GIC is that they know exactly who they are and perform as such, unabashedly. They are one of few in this day and age who truly get it. And by getting it, they are doing just about the opposite of every other new “great” or “successful” band that continues to roll out, only to be forgotten for the next fad. You see, each and every time I hear about the “next great band” I delve in, only to enjoy, but not feel completely moved by it – eventually to simply forget about them. This is a pattern that has been going on for too long. So many bands that impress, but fail to come full circle: Yeasayer, Battles, !!!, Black Kids, Fleet Foxes, TV on the Radio, Fiery Furnaces, Cat Power – all the hipsterati, albeit the dated ones. (You get my point?)

So why do you continue ignoring them? From the onset, I believe it is because you hear their Moz meets Joan Jett sound and immediately categorize and shelve them. Sure, this comparison cannot be ignored – it was Joan, after all, who signed them to Blackheart records upon hearing a rehearsal, and Moz did indeed hire them to replace an opener. I’m also seeing the trends – popular music is currently controlled by the most futile, formulaic bullshit since Limp Bizkit. Even on the metal end, this emo-thrash that dominates MTV2 is quite awful. What we’re eternally left with is the hipster world, which clearly focuses on either bands that have an unheard sound that prevent them from coming full circle, or an uber-hip aesthetic of something retro; sincere without being sincere. That said, you’re still missing it.

“And I will save - and I will save all my words for someone who speaks my language so clear.”

Perhaps this explains everything properly, as Nina exclaims in their tribute to Jeff Buckley, “Vino”, from their current release Trio B.C. I am quite the Buckley admirer, yet I had no idea they felt the same when I first stumbled into GIC some time ago - in an odd, random shout-out by Latina magazine, the equivalent of a Spanish Marie Claire, yet nonetheless I owe it so dearly for changing my life for turning me onto these women. I’ll never forget that first moment I plugged into “Clumsy Sky” from their first album Both Before I’m Gone, the moment I heard the perfection of pure blood reincarnated; the moment I was reminded I was not alone in this world, as being someone who “speaks the language”, if you will…

We continue to search out for this unknown thing that we found within the likes of Nirvana, Pearl Jam, Radiohead, Arcade Fire, even Amy Winehouse, the latter being a ‘lost one’ – yet we continue to refuse to understand or embrace it. The years that have followed have created this eternity where it is so avoided that we’re left attempting to worship Bon Iver and the like, yet deep down when we look in the mirror we know the sad truth. This thing all of these life-changing bands have in common is their absolute nakedness; their unashamed attack, right in the face of the world that would normally laugh at them, yet now worship them. To delve into this would take an entire book, but it is quite indeed the exact thing that causes these same geniuses to melt down and possibly commit suicide (Buckley, Cobain, Winehouse?) and/or put up the blinders to save themselves (Yorke/Vedder).

Purity. Nakedness. Bleeding.

Think of them as early Radiohead. “Creep” - I watched them encore a punk-rock version of Creep that was much better than anything I'd ever expect of Thom, considering the steps he’s taken to distance himself from the MTV years. When Radiohead came out, I honestly saw them as a tawdry imitation of U2, despite loving “Creep”, and honestly, that's exactly what they were, which is probably why Bono still hates them, as well as why they all spend so much energy attempting to distance themselves from the fact, never playing anything from 'Pablo Honey', albeit rarely at best.

So here we are with Girl in a Coma. The hipsters will write them off, perhaps because they have major label support, perhaps because they don’t understand their specific brand of cool, but honestly because they’re being true in a false world. They're not trying to be cool, they are simply doing what they do. More importantly, and the very same reason we’re in a void of great bands nowadays, they’re coming from the true depths of love and pain, just like the greats you remember that no longer exist. While there are a few bands that come to mind presently on the same tip – most notably Regina Spektor, the Arcade Fire and the Twilight Sad – all of these bands are quirky, to say the least. And they also (Regina excluded) seem preoccupied with fitting into their hipster acceptance.

I realize the jaded would automatically place them into the "all-female" category. Here is where they differ:
 my problem with the majority of "all-female" bands is nothing more than agenda. For too long, here is how "female-fronted" has played out - psychologically speaking, something atrocious happened to you, and you’ve never been able to overcome it - to the point that you start your all-female band. You become political and serious, eventually spending much of your time on why men are the inherent evil in the world – how women can do just as well, if not better. I don't disagree. Look, I love a lot of bands like this, but not in the same way; they’re simply hung up on their own agendas, missing out on the ultimate beauty in life. As important, creative, and inspiring as it may be, I simply can’t fully embrace the ultimate fault that is their specific hatred toward the world, as I cannot understand it. Apologies riot grrls, but I'm a sweet guy that loves women and doesn't fit into your 'schism', so to speak.

Call me the hopeless romantic. It sucks to be here, but I am.

This is where Girl In a Coma rise above everyone. There are no agendas, no ostracizing, nothing of that sort – they don’t preach, it’s as simple as that. They simply are the real deal, doing what they love, as themselves. Perhaps this is why they’re not the biggest band in the world today, although if I ruled they'd be up there...

I’ll be painfully honest with you all. I’ve only ever been completely moved to tears by a live performance twice in my life. Never having seen Buckley or Radiohead, but then again, I’ve never seen almost all of my ultimate heroes. The first time I ever cried during a live performance was back in 2000, at Carnegie Hall. The young man I was there to see was none other than Pandit Ravi Shankar, and within several minutes his notes were reshaping my entire existence.

Not to insult those who understand Ravi, but I cannot begin to put them in the same realm, but that’s not the point at all. The point is that they alone brought it out in me again, several weeks ago at the Knitting Factory. Yes it is a different level, but it is the same principle – that of the absolute. The pure, naked bleeding I mentioned above. While Jenn and Phanie rock the fuck out in their own distant worlds – never attempting to strike a pose or look cool – there is Nina, in a trance, reminding me of a cross between Kurt, Jeff, and Mike Patton – that soul which is entirely possessed and encapsulated within herself, emitting the beacon of absolute truth we all possess, all the while emitting it as an angel from above with the voice she’s been blessed.

This young woman rips my entirety to shreds with every breath, as she should with you. The tragedy in it all is simply in the fact that I had to hide this, as I noticed that a few of the spectators nearby, in the largely gay crowd, were indeed making fun of me, which raises an entirely new set of questions to be asked at a later date. The fact that I broke down transcended weakness - it owed much more to pure beauty and hope than anything I've felt in recent years.

Allow me to draw another comparison, if I may. GIC are the modern-day Misfits. Yes, I said it, the Misfits – simply without the aesthetic need to impress you.

What were the Misfits, really? They were simply a group of true misfits, never fully appreciated until their demise. They embraced the angst of punk rock, that of being true outsiders, yet could not shed Danzig’s painful reality of the absolute – he was so infatuated with his versions of truth – those being the likes of Elvis, Roy Orbison and such - yet they were torn between the two worlds, in the exact similar manner as GIC. To embrace beauty, despite being so pissed off for being so misunderstood. This remains the ultimate quest, it seems. It remains entirely too complicated to fully embrace what is within, so we must mask it with at least a hint of abrasion. What everyone who loves the Misfits or Danzig realizes, yet never embraces, is the simple fact that he is indeed pouring out his soul, or 'crying', if you will. This is what all of the greats do, yet we're incapable of accepting or embracing it - always to shielded in protection, in avoidance, in fear of being hurt.

Yet being hurt is what 'it' is all about. Asi Vida.

These women are the perfect example of something we all believe to be dead, and that is the hope for the future. They are my current hope for humanity in this world of short attention-spanned idiot technological snarkers.

They are so good you must embrace them on your own, with an open, vulnerable heart - as these words cannot begin to bring justice to how I am truly impacted by them.

Asi Vida.

I do.

Friday, September 4, 2009

Tonight, the skies will open for you

Maybe the important thing is not happiness, but peace—not to feel joy, but calm, comfort. Maybe when we’re overwhelmed, the mission should be to simplify rather than to cheer up. Maybe it doesn’t really matter, at any given point, whether we’re happy or sad.

I just moved from a fairly central and bustling part of the city to a quiet neighborhood several miles north. I used to be thirty seconds away from coffee and Gatorade and breakfast, and now I walk ten minutes just to catch a bus. This was not by design. The move was strictly out of financial necessity. It was not an easy decision, but it was an important one—and a depressing one. It was depressing because the very necessity of it made me realize the structure of my life, the schedule by which I must currently abide, is so prohibitive of my ideal that it almost makes free will seem like a joke. But then I started walking around my new neighborhood in the wee hours, and even though it’s only a few miles up the way, the sky seems bigger. There are cottage-decibel crickets and midnight birdsongs and cool, breathable air and, yes, that great and imposing celestial blackness. I’ve never known a better way to imbue myself with sadness than to stare at the night sky, and I mean that in the best possible way. I cannot bring myself to feel even slightly significant when I place myself within the context of a wholly indifferent planet and universe, and that, too, is a good thing. Not indifference like the Free Market model, but indifference like the way you feel when you find yourself in the ocean, and you realize all you can see is water—no humans, no mountains—and you realize you are at its mercy, and that your only choice is to yield to nature. It’s a profound and consuming sadness, but life is also probably never simpler than in those moments. You roll around in the grass with your dog and it occurs to you that if you’re both lucky, he might live another ten years. You wake up next to your girlfriend with the sun in your eyes and you realize that, for whatever reason, all the love in the world won’t keep you together forever. These are the things you remember, not because they make you happy, but because they don’t.

Sun Kil Moon’s Ghosts of the Great Highway is probably the saddest album I truly love. It is, on one level, an album about a bunch of boxers who died young, long before their respective times, but really, it’s about the ways in which we deal with pain—painful memories, pain we caused, literal physical pain. The first song, “Glenn Tipton,” opens with a series of scattershot childhood recollections:

Cassius Clay was hated more than Sonny Liston
Some like KK Downing more than Glenn Tipton
Some like Jim Nabors, some Bobby Vinton
I like them all

Kozelek’s acoustic finger-picking dances in the background while he muses on the similarities between himself and a father he may or may not have known, and remembers a long-dead coffee shop owner named Eleanor, and laments the first girl he ever loved who broke his heart. (The latter earns the title of his “first victim.”) This is all vapor, but that doesn’t mean it’s not worthy of a song. These are the changes that haunt you, but that you can’t let yourself forget, either.

“Carry Me, Ohio” is a murderer—a love song in which a man out of love pleads for the woman he’s disappointed (and maybe even destroyed) to, somehow, be taken care of. (Which is to say, it’s not that he doesn’t love her, but that he can’t love her back.) “Salvador Sanchez” comes out of the gate fuzzy and goes through the aforementioned litany of dead boxers, gifted fighters, all of whom “fell by leather,” each and every one a tale of promise and life wasted, and yet who, when considered together, form a sort of fraternity that would be enviable if not for the initiation rites.

The centerpiece, though, is “Duk Koo Kim,” each of whose fourteen minutes weave and swirl and break and crash in a mirror of the fourteen rounds it took for the American Ray Mancini to kill the South Korean boxer for whom the song is named. Kim had a tough time making weight for the fight, but managed nonetheless to control Mancini for several rounds, opening up some brutal wounds before delirium set in and Mancini started working him over. Mancini finally dropped him in the fourteenth round and Kim almost immediately fell into a coma, dying four days later. A few months later, Kim’s mother killed herself. Less than a year later, so did the referee, who many thought a failure for not stopping the fight sooner. The song, of course, is not explicitly about the fight and its aftermath, but it still manages to encompass what one would imagine to be the emotions of all involved, the guilt and hopelessness and longing for the dead and gone. And still, after some sort of lifetime in which every sticking memory is an assassin, the song ends with the pastoral:

Birds gather 'round my window
Fly with everything I love about the day
Flowers, blue and gold and orange
Rise with everything I love about the day

Walk with me down these strange streets
How have we come to be here
So kind are all these people
How have we come to know them

You live with sadness. Sometimes you earn it and sometimes you’re saddled with it, but it’s the life you build around it that determines whether or not it’s a punishment. The album ends with “Pancho Villa,” an acoustic reprise of “Salvador Sanchez,” just to remind you one last time that there’s an eternity to be a ghost to others, but there’s only so much time to have the good fortune to look back sweetly on the ones that you have known.