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Billy and the Kid

I cannot recall for sure, but it was either 1991 or 1992. The Smashing Pumpkins were playing at the Paramount in Seattle and I was on the list +1 for the show. My son, Dashiell was twelve at the time and was a pretty big fan of the band (as was I). There was a special after show meet-and-greet Billy event, and about 150 of us were all hanging around waiting for the star of the show to arrive.

After about half an hour, and hush comes over the room, and my son excitedly whispers “Look pop, it’s Billy Corgan!” And so it was, and damn, he is a seriously imposing figure – especially with the extra six inches of lift that his Frankenstein platforms where giving him. Everybody in the room seems too paralyzed to walk up to their idol, so I say to Dashiell, “Go up and introduce yourself!” He says, “Really? You think so?” I’m like, “yeah, your twelve, you can still do stuff that you won’t be able to get away with as easily when your older. Go talk to him!” So he does.

Billy Corgan's Eyes

My 4’3″ tall son walks up to the imposing giant of a figure and being the very first person in the room with enough nerve to break the room, says, “Hi, I’m Dashiell!” All the young worshipers seem to be in a state of utter disbelief that this kid just walked up and began chatting with Billy. My son quickly becomes so confident that he tells Billy which songs he didn’t feel were as strong and why etc. The room is still awfully quiet so you can pretty much hear the entire conversation, and looking around the room I can see that certain people have a horrified look on their faces, that this little kid would ever have such nerve to offer any genuine opinions/criticism to the man of the hour. The best thing though was that Billy was super cool with my son and had a very real and engaged conversation with him. He seemed genuinely interested in what he had to say and was not at all the rock-star persona that I’ve heard about so often.

Billy talked with Dashiell for close to fifteen minutes, and everybody in the room was starting to get noticeably annoyed and agitated, no doubt fearing that they wouldn’t get their turn. I finally walked up and  said “We should go Dash,” and we did. I wish I’d have brought a camera. Great show followed by a really fun memory with my son.

Posted in Music, Personal Ramblings.

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The One About the Snake

I don’t know much about snakes, but I do know that rattlesnakes are on the list of the things that are best to avoid close up.

In 2013, I learned that there is a particular species of rattlesnake called the Green Mojave that is apparently one of the most venomous in the United States. As the name suggests, the Green Mojave is indigenous to the Mojave Desert. It can be found in and around the area surrounding Joshua Tree National Park, the very same area where Patty and I had been looking to buy a weekend getaway since late 2011.

In August of 2013, we put an offer on a place that was being considered for a short sale, and in the meantime the hopefully-soon-to-not-be-owner offered to let us stay at the property to get a better feel for the place, a lovely gesture designed such that we might begin to think of the property as ours. We chose to go out on Labor Day weekend. We packed up the dogs and a weekends worth of crap for a laid back couple of days in the high desert. Double bonus, it turns out that we were going out the same weekend as the Joshua Tree Music Festival as well as the beginning of the High Desert Test Sites. The music festival was probably out, but the test sites sounded like an interesting series of destinations and art installations in various locations between JT and the east end of Wonder Valley.

We headed out Friday evening, grabbed a bite in town before settling in to our cozy little cabin, one that had been uninhabited for several years, one that we hoped might someday be ours. Full and spent from an abnormally long drive, we plugged in the iPod, poured a couple of tequilas and let the calm quite of the Mojave Desert begin to seep in as the warm day gave way to another one of those startlingly quite desert nights.

I’m sitting in the living room, looking through the window towards the long range of mountains to the north, marveling at the endless sea of stars above, while Patty, the consummate worrywart, steps out onto the front porch. She calls back in the house saying, “Honey, I think I hear a rattlesnake.”

My original nickname for Patty was My Sweet Little Panic-Attack, so my first thought was “of course you do (sarcasm inflected here in case you couldn’t figure that out).” I said, “We are in the desert, but I don’t imagine there are any snakes nearby.”

I stepped out on the porch with her to listen, and I think she might be right. It’s about the only thing that we can hear in this unmoving still. Not only does it sound like a rattlesnake, but it sounds like it’s not that far off. I comment that in all the times we’ve come out here over these last seven or so years, we’ve never actually seen one.

We both keep listening, and then I look down to see that the snake is about two feet from where we’re standing. Coiled up and rattling, letting us know that it’s about as freaked out as I have suddenly become. I don’t remember what I said then, but it was a shriek. Eleven-year-old girl shriek, loud, my brain is burning and I’ve totally slipped into my primal self. I didn’t know that I was capable of jumping backwards six feet in a single bound, but as it turns out, I am! Patty is apparently paralyzed. I am squealing something unintelligible, something line along the lines of, “honeyyouneedtogetinhere, rightnowtheresasnakeontheporch, whyareyoustillstandingthere?!”

Coiled Rattlesnake - Not as big as it appears

I am not acting very calmly.

Patty suddenly re-enters the world of present-moment awareness and realizes what has just occurred, and jumps back in the house pulling the screen door shut behind her. I slam the main door and am looking for a series of eight bolt locks to further insure our safety. My head is spinning and I have absolutely no idea what I am supposed to do next, so I do the only thing that makes any sense at the moment: I grab this gallon-sized plastic margarita glass—apparently there as more than just decor, because there is no human capable of drinking an alcoholic drink that size—and fill it with water, open the door and throw the water on the snake effectively drenching it. A classic Woody Allen moment, only we’re dealing with a venomous snake instead of a Lobster.

Patty starts cracking up. “What’s the water supposed to do?!?” I begin to realize how ridiculous my little act of machismo is, however for a moment the snake does seem a little dazed.

And then it isn’t.

It begins to retreat, winding backwards, rattle fully engaged. It’s clearly feeling more threatened than anything. I on the other hand am in full flip-out mode. I tell Patty to go back inside and I begin to look around for something to smash the snake with. I am not as worried about myself as I am for the dogs who are both inside, and have no idea what the hell’s going on, other than the fact that something is not right and I am acting like a complete nut-job. I want the dogs to be able to run around outside, so I cannot have a rattlesnake hanging outside our front door, or anywhere in the yard for that matter.

I find a rock and lob it at the snake from an overly cautious distance. It lands on the middle of its body. I step a little closer and watch for the next several minutes. I think I may have killed it, but eventually the snake begins to move, and starts to try to wriggle out from under the rock. Another 5 seconds, and it manages to get out from under the rock entirely, slithering away seemingly unscathed, rattling its way to a low bursage bush a few yards away slipping  into its coarse foliage. I’m hoping its hurt, and decide to go back inside until the morning when there’s adequate light to see.

I feel the need to pour another drink. I make sure it’s a tall one.

It seems that the light pours in much earlier than back home in Los Angeles. I’ve had a restless night of sleep dreaming of snakes and checking on the dogs every hour or so. I trade my pajamas and slippers for a proper pair of pants and sneakers and see that the snake is still draped among the branches of the bush. I’m hoping that the snake has perhaps died during the night and go searching for a stick long enough to dislodge him from a safe distance. Patty is up now and is watching at an even safer distance through the window from the inside of our little desert snake farm.

I find an old branch that’s been cut to about four feet and poke at the snake, pulling it from the bush. It drops to the ground. At first, he’s motionless, then it wakes up, and rather quickly coils up in a defensive posture, rattle poking up and warning me that this is one pissed off groggy little snake. I run back inside to retrieve Gulliver’s Margarita glass, bring it back out and without thinking about it much, throw it upside-down over the snake, coiled up and not too pleased. I place the rock from the night before on top of the overturned glass, trying to figure out what the next course of action should be.

Snake under glass

I suppose it’s thanks to my hippy upbringing, but in my somewhat less panicked state, I don’t want to kill this angry little creature.  I hatch the idea that we can simply relocate the snake somewhere away from the cabin, and everybody can go on with their unfettered lives. We will hang out unencumbered, and the snake can find a new set of friends in a new patch of desert, one that is far away from our now-tainted little slice of paradise.

I enlist Patty’s help in finding a flat piece of metal or something that I can slide under the plastic margarita glass; something that will allow us to transport him in an enclosed space with zero wriggle room for potential escape. Somehow in this moment Patty is not viewing me a completely insane. Patty finds a dartboard hanging on one of the outside walls beneath the overhang off the kitchen and brings it over. It’s perfect. I manage to slide the snake-under-plastic onto the dartboard. In this moment, this all makes some strange kind of sense. What could possibly go wrong?

Patty starts her Prius  and I move the whole snake under overturned margarita terrarium structure over, carefully setting it on my lap while Patty begins the slow and careful drive west along the dirt and sand road, turning north up along Godwin Road.  We drive an extra half mile or so further until we decide we’ve gone far enough. Patty shuts off the car. I get out carefully so as not to free the snake prematurely while still on my lap, and walk another hundred feet further into the desert where I fling it as quickly away from where I am standing. The snake winds away, rattling its way hotly into another bush. I am pretty sure it’s telling me to fuck off, but my translation abilities are sorely lacking. I feel like a low-rent gladiator amped on adrenaline, and am proud that I took the time and made the effort to save a life rather than destroy it.

And with that, we set out for a day of fun and art installation adventure. For the next six plus hours, we drive all over the place experiencing a fantastic array of desert art installations. From large parabolic mirrors tucked in to the rocks and a community of crocheted tents, to a glass art installation inside of a trailer that had made the journey from New Mexico and the glorious and virtually incomprehensible subterranean “secret restaurant,” the evening culminating at The Palms, one of the more surreal and fantastic watering holes in this little slice of the Mojave Desert. They were hosting a fireworks display of sorts as a closing ceremony, so we sipped on a couple of drinks while waiting for dusk to fall.

The fireworks were not anything to write home about, but The Palms is always a fun time and is just a few miles away. We decided to return to the homestead for the rest of the evening and to let the dogs out to pee.  In a few short minutes we’re pulling into the homestead. Patty’s still in the car with the headlights on as I open the kitchen door to let the furry kids out to relieve themselves. It’s dark out except for the headlights of the car, and as both dogs begin running towards the mesquite tree in the corner, and in that split second, I see the rattlesnake sidewinding from the same spot on the porch where we first saw it towards the same bursage where it had spent the previous night! This was the same snake, and over the course of the day, it had traveled the half mile plus and returned to our house which it had apparently also made its home.

Pippa is running directly towards the snake and I scream “NOOO!! Pippa! Back in the house!!” She skids to a stop, turns around and runs back in the house while Teddy —alarmed at the panicked tone of my voice—bolts past the snake and around to the side of the house near the cactus patch and the palo verde tree. I run to the kitchen door of the house and close it to keep Pippa inside. Patty screams from the car, “what’s wrong?!?” I yell, “The snake! It came back!” I tell her to pull the car closer so that I can benefit from the brightness of the headlights and on autopilot reach for the closest brick, and hurl it at the snake. A direct hit. I find another larger rock and aim it with all my force. And then another. And another. Its head has been crushed.

Feeling bad about the dead snake

It takes a good hour before the adrenaline to ebb. It took several minutes to get Teddy to come back into the house. He is freaked out as he is a very sensitive dog. I am imagining dozens of rattlesnakes under every bush and stone, and am having second thoughts about this desert house thing.  I am of course being a city slicker in a complete state of panic (not for me so much as for the dogs) and this is the first rattlesnake I’ve come into this sort of contact with, and I had killed it. I have mixed feelings about this as I do not like taking the live of another creature, but when it comes to our safety, I don’t know that I can say I wouldn’t do it again.

I have however learned a lot about snakes since then, and know that half a mile to a snake is basically the equivalent of down the street to you or me. I have learned that there are calmer and saner ways of capturing a rattlesnake using tongs or a length of PVC and some nylon rope, and that you can relocate them safely, but you need to go several miles away if you don’t want them coming back.

We ended up buying the house the following January of 2014. Beginning that March, we started a top-to-bottom remodel of the place  and we managed to get everything done by September. We go out as often as we can, and have been renting it out on AIRbnb. We have never seen another rattlesnake since that one, and now that there is a steady flow of people coming in and out (with all of their smells and noises), it’s not too likely that a snake will be calling our place home. Given the choice, there preference is to stay as far away from humans as they can.

* * * *

More pictures of the Rancho are available on Facebook.

Posted in Personal Ramblings.

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The Best Films of 2014 – My 2015 List of Favorites

As I write this, a disclaimer that there are a few films that I have not yet seen that I expect might well bump a couple of titles from this list had I seen them in time. Because I’ve not yet seen Interstellar, The Imitation Game or Gone Girl, I have no opinion and cannot include them as part of my annual top-ten list. Additionally, I have not included any documentary films which I defaulted to last year as I felt that last years’ docs largely outweighed the overall quality of the feature length films. This year, I’ve created two separate best-of lists – this one and my Favorite Documentaries of 2014.

For the record, I am not with the pack regarding The Grand Budapest Hotel. I think it’s the best thing that Wes Anderson has done in (over) a decade, was a visual delight, but still suffered from his trademark self-aware/self-congratulatory preciousness that has been my issue with his work for much of his career. Throw all the eggs you want: I am impervious.

So with that said, this is my list of favorite films (so far) from 2014 from numero uno to numero diez:

Sound City

#1 –Boyhood

Already intrigued by the concept of a film being shot over a dozen years using the same actors throughout as they age over those dozen years, and equally already a fan of Richard Linklater’s work in general, I was very keen to see Boyhood. What I expected might be little more than a curious experiment in film making turned out to be a magnificent—albeit understated—piece of work that speaks so poignantly about the simple struggles of life, that the film often felt more like a window into these people’s lives than a “movie.”

There is such simple and honest purity to the story and to the character’s lives that Boyhood delivers a film that speaks with a truth that is so often missing in narrative film. There is a texture and rhythm to Boyhood that just feels …real. It is intimate and delicate, and ultimately is a triumphant, almost zen-like study in character. The passage of time is seamless and when the film was over, I felt grateful to have been allowed the chance to get to know these people. My favorite film of 2014.

#2 – Birdman (or The Unexpected Virtue Of Ignorance)

I believe that Birdman will likely win the Oscar for best film, and although my personal choice would still be Boyhood, Birdman—while flawed—is a super fun ride, delivering a remarkable acting  performance from the film’s star,  Michael Keaton.

Ever since his directorial debut with Amores Perros, Alejandro González Iñárritu has consistently delivered thoughtful, powerful and distinctive films (21 Grams, Babel, Biutiful). Birdman is a stylistic tour-de-force, unlike anything you’ve ever seen, although its impact on me was not dissimilar to the first time I watched the similarly unique Brazil. Keaton plays a largely washed up actor whose glory days were playing a superhero character, BatBirdman. Wanting to be taken seriously, he risks everything on a Broadway adaptation of Raymond Carver’s What We Talk About When We Talk About Love.

Throughout, there is a blurry lack of definition between reality and what we think might be hallucination. Keaton’s character is slowly crumbling under the weight of the project, and is largely at odds with his foil played by Ed Norton, his daughter played by Emma Stone and his girlfriend of three years played by Andrea Riseborough. As the film progresses, thing slowly spin further and further out of control, with Keaton barely hanging on as everything descends upon him.

I genuinely hope that Birdman wins the prize for best Cinematography for this stunning work by Emmanuel Lubezki whose previous achievements include Sleep Hollow, Y Tu Mamá También, Children of Men, The Tree of Life and Gravity. The film feels like a continual tracking shot, and some of the close-ups are so intimate that we feel as if we are intruders. Birdman is unsettling and manic at times, but equally edgy and dazzling. By the end of the film we are not left 100% certain as to where reality ends and imagination begins. I’m not sure if I found that satisfying or annoying. Perhaps a little of both.

#3 – Still Alice

There is no way that the Academy can ignore Julianne Moore on this one. She will win for best actress and she should. Still Alice is without any doubt the most heart-wrenching film of the year, with Moore playing a celebrated and accomplished academic who has been diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer’s disease. We are carried along her tumultuous and frightening journey as the disease progressively takes her further and further away from her memories and her sense of herself. She records a video to her future self with instructions as what to do in the event that she reaches a certain point of disorientation.

While Still Alice is often emotionally difficult, it is also deeply sympathetic and indelibly honest. This is arguably the strongest single performance of the year, one that ultimately casts a shadow on the rest of the film’s ensemble. If you’re feeling fragile, watch it another time.

#4 – Whiplash

I enjoyed this film immensely, though I doubt that I’ll be compelled to watch it a second time. A fascinating look into the world of competition ensemble jazz, Whiplash is a film that pits ambition and drive against the ruthless desire to win. The main character Andres (played by Miles Teller) is a talented young drummer wanting to be the best that there is, and his way to that goal is through the top band-leader Terence Fletcher (played by J.K. Simmons) in the prestigious music academy that Andrew is attending. Fletcher’s reputation as an iron-fisted tyrant precedes him, a reputation that does not even come close  to the lengths that he is willing to crush the spirits of his students in his pursuit of perfection.

I have little doubt that J.K. Simmons will win the prize for best supporting actor, as his performance is brutal and ferocious. I don’t know that a better portrayal of abuse of power has ever been committed to film as Whiplash succeeds in doing. It can be difficult to watch at times, but in the end, it is an uplifting triumph of the will after a physical and emotional game of cat and mouse.

#5 – Under the Skin

Sleeper of the year? It sure seemed like it. Or maybe Under the Skin is just too heady and weird for most American audiences to fully appreciate. Jonathan Glazer first made big screen waves with his 2000 full-length debut, Sexy Beast with Sir Ben Kingsley. I suppose Under the Skin is a science fiction film, but to try to compartmentalize it into an easy genre is to dismiss and diminish it. The central character of the film, played by the always stunning and alluring Scarlett Johansson, is some sort of alien life form (though we never get to understand anything about where she’s from or what her purpose is) who drives around Glasgow picking up men who appear to have few if any connections with people who might notice their disappearance. What she does to them is best seen rather than be explained, but for lack of a better word, can best be described as “harvesting.”

There is an emotional air to the film that—along with the genius special effects—might bring to mind aspects of Chris Cunningham’s work and could bring to mind elements of Spike Jonze’s Her from 2013. Under the Skin is perhaps the most difficult film to try to describe and capture in a brief review as it certainly the most uniquely moody film reviewed here.

#6 – The Lego Movie

Everybody’s already read it, and most that I’ve spoken to are in full agreement: Second only to Ava DuVernay’s snub in not receiving a nomination for her direction of Selma, The Lego Movie not being nominated for best animated feature was one of the biggest snubs this year, and a rather perplexing one to say the least.

There’s not a lot to say other than this film was totally ingenious, funny and massively entertaining, the story was clever and smart, the in-jokes were a mile-a-minutes, and the animation completely top-notch. It’s a playful ride for kids of all ages, one that never once feels once like it’s pitching a product. It’s hard to win a prize that you’re not even nominated for. Innovative, imaginative, refreshing and fun.

#7 – Only Lovers Left Alive

Perhaps it is because of my ‘80s obsession with Bauhaus that I’ve always felt that vampire movies should be somehow connected to the underground of popular culture, and as a result belong to the world of music and art more than any of the other ‘monster’ movie genres, but in my mind the best vampire movies of my generation are very few and far between. Other than Nadja and the classic The Hunger, I don’t know that I’ve seen any other movies that struck the right balance or contained the right flavor (pun intended)… until now. It would make perfect sense that Jim Jaramusch would be the right director to finally bring us a vampire film worthy of being included along with those other two.

Only Lovers Left Alive is the perfect parable of two aging punk/goth rockers (Adam and Eve) in love across an ocean (seemingly) for eternity. I was able to identify with the entire reality that Lovers manages to create as a rumination on my history in punk and grunge during the heyday of the Seattle scene. Looking back at those days while watching the new crop entering and creating a new scene, I invariably wonder how and if my contribution has any actual relevance to the kids of today. Romantic and sensuous, Only Lovers Left Alive is strangely contemporary while managing to ring a nostalgic bell for decades and days gone past. Dark and delicious.

#8 – Chef

This one came and went with a flurry of adoration and then sadly fell off the face of the planet. Chef was for me, the feel-good movie of the year, and it’s always nice to watch something during the year that fills you with warmth and sweetness, even if it does feel mildly manipulative at times. Chef tells the story of a hot shot Los Angeles chef who unwittingly gets into a Twitter war with one of the leading food reviewers in the city. He ends up quitting the restaurant, and buys a food truck in Miami. With the help of his chef-buddy played by John Leguizamo, and his son—with whom he is semi disconnected with—they drive across country stopping in cities along the way, creating a social media foodie sensation during their travels. Chef is a road movie, is a buddy movie, is the perfect father-son movie and is ultimately one of those “finding-yourself” movies that you cannot help but to enjoy if you don’t mind just taking the ride and enjoying the trip.

#9 – The Theory of Everything

This well-crafted, well-acted movie about Stephen Hawking has Oscar written all over it. A biopic of a famous person as they’re falling prey to a debilitating diagnosis (in this case, ALS); It is ostensibly a love story against impossible odds; it is reasonably slick; Eddie Redmayne’s performance, particularly his physical transformation is quite remarkable – so much so, that you find yourself thinking that he is indeed Hawking as opposed to an actor playing a role.

The Academy has a history of celebrating these kinds of performance (My Left Foot, A Beautiful Mind, Ray), but somehow, while I thoroughly enjoyed The Theory of Everything while watching it, I found it rather tame. I never felt the chemistry between Hawking and his wife, I never fully recognized the pure brilliance of Hawking’s genius mind in the film, and in the end the movie cannot seem to decide if it wants to be a biopic or a love story. It does a good job at both, but a stellar job at neither. Rent it.

#10 – Locke

A rather understated but pleasant surprise. Locke is for the most part a one-man performance by Tom Hardy who during the duration of a trip in his car from Birmingham to London, we watch everything in his life slowly unravel between his wife when he admits that he is making the trip to a woman who he had impregnated during a one night stand nine months earlier as she’s in the hospital going in labor. His intents have nothing to with love, but instead, because he feels it’s the “right thing to do.” The films is claustrophobic, not just because is takes place inside of a car, but on an emotional level as you palpably feel the struggle and tension of everything Locke is dealing with through a series of conversations with his wife, his children, the foreman at his work, and the woman who he’s going to be with for the birth of her/their child. It is a compelling performance, surprisingly layered and tautly on-edge for the full hour and a half.

For last year’s picks, check out The Best Documentaries of 2013 – My 2014 List of Favorites

For the year before, check out The Best Films of 2012 – My 2013 List of Favorites

Posted in Movies.

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Killing Joke – and How to Get (Almost) Evicted

If ever there was a record that begs to be played at maximum volume, it’s gotta be the debut release from Killing Joke. I have no recollection of exactly when I first discovered this magnificent piece o’ wax, but once I did, it became a staple of my early career as a young rocker boy.

Another “perfect” record, ‘Killing Joke’ is incendiary, brutal and raw. Cold sweat, youthful angst and anger, the perfect soundtrack to a primal scream.

Killing Joke s/t

Back when I first bonded with their amazing debut full-length, I was living in a side-by-side duplex on 15th Ave. on South Capitol Hill in Seattle, with my aging landlord living in the other half.  She was a woman in her late ’60s. It would have been 1984, because Meagan and I had broken up, but I was still living in the duplex – I lived there for over seven years – not bad for a laddie in his early 20s.

My old pal, Tom Davis was over very early one morning (in recalling this story my thinking is that he was probably there from the night before and we had stayed up all night, something I can hardly fathom any more). So at some point, for some unknown reason and utter lack of logic or rationality, we dropped the needle on the record and immediately cranked it, as the opening song ‘Requiem,’ really does need to be rattling the glass out of the windows at five in the morning to be fully appreciated. By the time ‘Wardance’ was tearing its way through the airspace of my apartment, the two of us were thrashing around the living room in utter abandon, headbanging and careening off of each other and the walls of the room.
Daniel House and Tom V. Davis a few years before - in 1980

Then we both realized that there was a rather insistent banging coming from my front door, and in unison, we both suddenly realized the larger scope of our situation at that moment. I opened the door, not thinking that perhaps the volume should first be turned down. There stood my landlord dressed in a plus-sized moomoo and bathroom slippers. And she was angry. I immediately had Tom run back to turn down the volume and attempted what must have been one of the most awkward excuses for an apology ever made by a clueless young man in his 20s. I had no explanation to give her. I had been so in the moment, that anything outside of the four walls of my living space did not exist.

I was sure I was going to be evicted, and to this day, I’m not quite sure how I managed to talk my way out of that one.

Now I pay a mortgage instead of rent, so I can play Killing Joke as loud as I like. The benefits of being a grown-up.

Released August 1980

Posted in Music, Personal Ramblings.

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From Guemes to Berkeley – A Reflection on Father’s Day

When my father announced in 1976—rather abruptly—that we were going to be moving away from Guemes Island, and back to the Bay Area, it was as if an anvil had been dropped on my teenage head. I had just finished 10th grade, and was indeed the happiest I’d been in years.

Since first living with my father in San Francisco at the age of eight, we had moved a total of five times over the course of under seven years. Guemes was the sixth place we’d lived, the third in Washington State. It was also the first place in all these years where my life  finally had some stability and where I had  managed to establish several genuine and meaningful friendships.  At the core were my best friends, Tom and Ben. The three of us were a weird sort of nexus to a close-knit group of us who lived on Guemes Island, a quick five minute ferry boat ride from the Anacortes mainland.  We were largely inseparable, and eventually, it would be because of that friendship that I was drawn to Seattle where I lived from 1981 to 2003.

Tom, Daniel, Grama Leota and Ben

On Guemes, I had gotten bit by the acting bug, and—only weeks before— had been offered the roll of Nick Burns in the local Anacortes ACT production of the Herb Gardner play, A Thousand Clowns. It was—and still is today—among my favorite films. At that time, I had not been aware that it had originally been a play. This was to be the beginning of an entirely new chapter in my life, one that would have doubtlessly taken my life in an entirely different direction had we stayed on Guemes. We moved before the play even started rehearsals, and I never pursued acting again.

So we moved away and I was crushed and crestfallen. More so, I was furious with my alcoholic father, who was once again uprooting me, but this time had been the first time I had known close friendship and stability in my life since living under his charge, so being a young teen, this was particularly difficult. And so in moving, I drew a firm boundary that I was done living with him. Instead, I would move back in with my mother in Berkeley, a decision that proved considerably less stable and structured than my life had been during those previous seven years with him.

My mother was living in a one-bedroom mother-in-law in West Berkeley with a boyfriend who she met through the methadone clinic they both frequented. Both were receiving some sort of Federal assistance, and neither was particularly capable of functioning in the normal social context of an urban environment. They spent the majority of their time parked side-by-side on their bed, watching TV and smoking cigarettes. My mom’s boyfriend would frequently fall asleep with a lit cigarette in his hand. I was always imagining them engulfed in flame some evening after he fell asleep and caught the bed on fire, and me crawling through a window just barely escaping alive. Nice flair for drama in my imaginary world. Eventually, he did manage to ignite the mattress, but it was a slow smolder, and the mattress was dragged out to the sidewalk where it burned for the next two days.

My “bedroom” was intended as a pass-through living room. You had to walk from my mom’s bedroom through my room to get to the kitchen, and you had to pass through the kitchen to get to the bathroom.  Those four rooms and a large utility closet was the entirety of the place.  The time I spent there was minimal, as I’d go to Berkeley High in the morning and then to my job at the U.C. Berkeley bookstore directly afterwards.  At the end of my shift, I would invariably hit one of several record stores and dig through their used bins, buying records twice a week on average. Occasionally, I’d take the bus home, but the bulk of the time, I walked the two and a half miles back to the emotionally depressing haze of my new environs. There I would read, listen to records on headphones, watch occasional TV and work on my homework until I went to bed. The next day was a repeat of the day before, and on weekends, outside of homework, I would get out as much as I could so as to minimize my time at my mom’s place.

Next to my mom’s mother-in law was a garage piled high with precariously balanced boxes full of clothes, books, old dishes, newspapers and magazines.  One box however was filled with a bunch of old records. I asked my mom if I could go through them and take any of the ones that interested me. She said it was fine. Many of the records were too thrashed to even consider, and most of them were by bands or artists that I was not familiar with or whose names I knew, but whose music I did not. There were classics from the Paul Butterfield Blues Band, Marvin Gaye, Lighting Hopkins, Horace Silver and Sonny Terry & Brownie McGhee. One record however jumped out, and that was Sir Douglas Quintet + 2 = Honkey Blues, the first official studio recordings by Sir Douglas. The artwork pulled me in, and upon slapping it on the turntable, what I discovered an AMAZING record that slipped effortlessly between straight-up rock, tex-mex, jazz and even noisy passages that would seem out of place anywhere else. It is still a long standing favorite of mine, almost four decades later. These records—in addition to the ones I was buying regularly on my own—were my solace and a place where my mind and thoughts could soar. They were indeed the one place where I could ground myself in what felt like a safe refuge, stuck in a house with a couple of methadone zombies.

It took close to two years before I was finally able to save enough to get out and into my own apartment. I was still in high school in my senior year, and it was still several months before graduation, but I found a simple one-bedroom in a fourplex on Derby Street, just below Martin Luther King Jr. Way, a quick walk to and from Berkeley High.

It was a couple of years more before I moved to Seattle to re-unite with Tom and Ben, but had my father never moved, I imagine that my life might have ended up very differently. Theater would have undoubtedly forged a different path in my life, and I wonder if I ever would have gotten into music the way that I did. It’s near impossible to consider my life without the history I’ve had in Seattle during the music scene in the ‘80s and ‘90s. My nine years of playing in bands—the most notable of which was as a co-founder, bass-player and song-writer for Skin Yard—and my fifteen or so years releasing music by other bands via C/Z Records. It is such a critical piece of my identity, one that I am genuinely grateful for.

I am not really much of a believer of destiny, however I am acutely aware how radically one decision at a fork in our life can completely transform the direction that we end up taking. The curious thing is that none of us have any way of gauging how things might have been different; we just know that they would have been – for better or for worse. I have no qualms about the way things turned out. I experienced more than my share of chaos and adversity under the barely-watchful eyes of my parents, but these were the experiences that helped to make me who I am today and that gave me the abnormal perseverance that have helped me to achieve the things I have thus far.

My father and I don’t have any communication anymore, but on this Father’s Day, I am reflecting on the seven short years that we spent together.  Sadly, he is slowing down in his life with a cognitive decline due to white matter disease, a disease I had not heard of before. I hope he is still able to reflect on his early days and on all the meaningful contributions and accomplishments that he’s made in his life.

Shooting guns at Salmon Creek - photo by Chuck Gould

My father has written and had published a book or two and has created a life in Petrolia, CA. that is a template for living self-sufficiently that I still find extraordinary. His time in the Diggers in the late 60’s has always given me a sense of pride, and his unrelenting commitment to finding better ways of living as part of our world have helped to inform my Pantheist notions of our place on this planet. His commitment to the things that he felt were important in his life is perhaps the most important thing that I am indebted to him for, and is certainly part of why I always try to live my life guided by my principles and driven by my passions.

Father and Son

Posted in Personal Ramblings.

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Social Media – Look at Me / You’re Doing it All Wrong

According to a new article in SocialMedia Today entitled: “The Ideal Length for Everything You Want to Post Online,” the ideal length for a blog post is between 1,500-1,600 words total. The article also included the ideal length for many different kinds of social media posts, and I cannot begin to tell you how ridiculously happy  I am to finally have somebody tell me exactly what I should be doing, and how wrong I’ve (presumably) been doing everything up to this point.  Apparently the numbers have been scientifically researched and verified. In the end, I really could honestly care less.

The Ideal Length for Everything You Want to Post Online

But hey, you say: “I wanna stand out! I wanna cut through all the noise. I wanna be relevant damnit.!” Isn’t that ultimately what social media is all about anyway: our undying need to be seen and heard, to be noticed, adored, affirmed and praised for how awesome we are in all of our creative uniqueness? Huzzah!

For years, I’ve been saying that social media ultimately appeals to two specific (and largely opposite) traits common in humans, narcissism and voyeurism, but increasingly I am of the belief that the tendency towards narcissism predominates, and indeed that social media is changing our culture to one that is increasingly more self-absorbed and narcissistic. An article from the NYtimes in 2012 explored just this question, at least in regards to the mighty SM Gorilla, Facebook. The final conclusion was, well… inconclusive. Some suggest that the area where social media is  turning people into self-absorbed, un-empathetic anti-social brats the most is with teens.  If anywhere, this is one age group where I would expect it to likely be the case, since social media does to a large degree replace traditional face-to-face communication. For younger people who are still learning how to interact and engage with others, a computer screen isn’t going to convey the subtle nuance of a real conversation. It makes sense.

Perhaps social media is turning us into a world full of narcissists, and perhaps it isn’t, and perhaps it’s moot. Social media isn’t going anywhere, and I don’t imagine any sort of grand movement where tens of millions of us are going to suddenly jump ship…nor am I suggesting it.

The real point of this post was (at least when I started) to discuss if we should all conform and adhere to reports like these (apparently social media and the web is also responsible for making us all a little more ADHD). Shouldn’t the general quality of the information and thoughts contained in a post trump the “scientifically researched” little box that we’re supposed to occupy?

If you have something to say, I say “say it” and don’t get too terribly caught up  in whether your post is too long or not long enough. Take the care to edit yourself and distill your thoughts so that you can say what you want in as elegant form as works for you, but beyond that, let your freak flag fly.

This post is—by the way— much too short. It is only 529 words, but I’m happy with it, so my apologies if you feel gypped. I have other things to do.

Posted in Social Media.

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The Best Documentaries of 2013 – My 2014 List of Favorites

This year, I’ve seen all but one of the films nominated for best picture, and while I give kudos to a decent field of good films, I gotta say, I’m not particularly blown away by most of what I’ve seen. I thought that 12 Year a Slave was solid, and deserves to win for best picture, but I don’t know that I’ll ever feel driven to see it again. I thought that Her was one of the more interesting films, one that I will see again, and one of the quieter films of the year –Philomena–is one of my strongest recommendations, as is Dallas Buyers Club for which Matthew McConaughey will undoubtedly win for Best Actor in a Leading Role. Another McConaughey film that it seems almost nobody saw, but that is well worth tracking down is Mud, released theatrically in 2012, but not on DVD until 2013.

I’ve decided instead to focus my attention on my favorite documentary films of 2013, because –in all honesty–I found more in this area to be excited about than in the bulk of the films produced for mass market consumption.  So with that said, here are my favorite documentaries from 2013 from fave down to numero diez:

Sound City

#1 –Sound City

Rarely have I seen a music documentary that hit me so square between the eyes, and not just because it connects so readily with my own self-identification as a musician from the fabled Seattle music scene, but more so because Sound City is such a beautiful love story to the power of music , and to the aural magnificence of traditional recording techniques when compared to the digital technology of today.

The movie is not about Nirvana or any of the other artists featured in the film (Fleetwood Mac, Tom Petty, Fear, Neil Young, Pet Benetar), but instead is an homage to a recording studio where all of these bands recorded. The main character of the film is in fact a Neve recording console; not any particular person or band, just a piece of equipment that was a key element of much of the music that it recorded.

It’s a hard film to fully do justice to, but it’s heartfelt and joyous, a celebration to the power of music, and a remembrance of a time that we may never know again

Remarkable directorial debut from Dave Grohl.

#2 – Far Out Isn’t Far Enough: The Tomi Ungerer Story

Talk about an awesome surprise from far out in left field. Tomi Ungerer was one of those artists whose art I remember from childhood, but whose name I did not readily recall. It’s a fascinating character study of one of the most beloved and acclaimed children’s artists of his time, but who was forced into obscurity when he work moved into edgy erotica and visceral anti-Viet Nam poster art. Towards the end of the ’60s, he was effectively barred and exiled from the publishing world and subsequently vanished from the public eye.

Ungerer is uncompromising and wicked if not utterly charming. His talent is undeniable, and even with his erotica – an area that seems so far removed from his work as a children’s author – there is a playfulness and charm throughout. This is an insightful piece of work, celebrating one of the more interesting and curious artists of the last fifty plus years. It is unapologetic and titillating. See it.

#3 – The Source Family
Perhaps it’s because I have such vibrant recollections from my childhood and the cultural chaos and transformation going on in the early ‘70s, but The Source Family is a comprehensive exploration of one of the earliest cults based in Los Angeles. Centered around ex-marine and alleged bank robber, “Father Yod” was one of the first vegetarian restaurateurs, a man who became the spiritual leader of “The Source Family,” a small band of misfit hippies whose existence was centered around Yod’s teachings, polygamous lifestyle (of course) and his psychedelic space-rock band Yahowha 13, The Source Family is a compelling study of obsession and the search for a universal truth. The film follows the progression and eventual disillusion of the Source family from Los Angeles to Hawaii, and as always seems to be the case, the utopian idealism finally crumbling under the weight of its unrealistic naïveté.

#4 – A Band Called Death

Drag City had a good year. Not only did they release my #2 documentary for the year, The Source Family, but they also released A Band Called Death, a considerably more celebrated and viewed film, about a band of three brothers from Detroit in the ‘70s whose music was punk before much of anything like it existed.

After a short-lived run, and limited recording, the band hung it up only to be re-discovered decades later thanks to the diligence and vision of one documentarian and the label who helped get the film to DVD and their music finally re-released for the underground public to fully appreciate.

It’s hard not to draw an immediate comparison to last years’ Oscar winner, Searching for Sugar Man, and the comparison is a fair one. Death’s music however is considerably more fierce, and their (re)discovery from a place of total obscurity is even more remarkable.

#5 – Big Star: Nothing Can Hurt Me

Finally! A proper film about one of the most beloved bands in indie America, the now-legendary Big Star, a band who at the time were almost entirely panned, and who now have a following that falls nothing short of worship.

For non-fans, the film might be something of a “so-what?”experience, but for fans like me, this is a welcome and joyous labor of love. It is thorough and full of so much great archival footage, even the die-hard fanatics will most certainly discover new revelations and a new appreciation for the trials and tribulations that this Memphis outfit endured in their rocky attempt to reach the world stage…something that never happened while they were all alive.

Nothing Can Hurt Me is bittersweet, but endearing and passionate. For the fans of Big Star and Chris Bell, this is essential viewing.

#6 – Dirty Wars

One of this year’s nominees for best documentary feature, Dirty Wars is an edge-of-your-seat piece of investigative political reporting that gets creepier and more disturbing and the film progresses. Peeling back layers upon layers of covert military activities, Dirty Wars shows us a web of conspiracy and collusion that is global in scale.

This is a film that makes you realize how very little, we the people have to do with the politics and aggressions that occur on the world stage, and more so how much of it is kept from us entirely. Not the feel-good-movie of the year. Sobering and intense, there’s a good chance you’ll feel angry afterwards.

#7 – The Square

A remarkable inside look into the beginnings and progression of the Egyptian revolution over the course of two years, where Tahrir Square in the middle of Cairo was the flashpoint for one of the more tumultuous political upheavals in recent history.

The Square gives unprecedented insight into a world as the events unfold. Several cameras were used by the protesters themselves, with much of the violence and military abuse documented in real-time.

The film is frenzy, and is chaotic and messy, exactly what you’d expect from a homegrown cultural revolution. This is a powerful  and up-close look at the power of determination and the resilience of the human spirit. The film itself has been banned for viewing in Egypt. That kind of says it all.

#8 – GLOW: The Story of the Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling

This is one of those films that opened my eyes to a whole (sub) cultural oeuvre that I was completely oblivious to even though it happened right in my mid-twenties sweet-spot when I was in the heyday of my musical creative life. “The Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling” was a TV show that hit the airwaves in 1986 and lasted for all of four years, during which time, they apparently took America by storm. It’s a fascinating exploration into the campy and short-lived world of women’s wrestling on television with such unlikely stars with names like Matilda the Hun, Mountain Fiji, Ninotchka, Little Egypt, Tina Ferrari, and, Big Bad Mama. Unfortunately, the quality of the source footage is not great, but as a slice of history, it’s fascinating and fun, and the human element is real and sincere.

#9 – Inequality For All

In my mind, Robert Reich is one the great modern day heroes for the down-trodden and one of the strongest voices for social and economic equality in America. I was ready for this film to be overly preachy and self-righteous, but what I got instead was a semi-depressing, but equally powerful and hopeful documentary showing the staggering degree to which income inequality is crushing the middle class.

While the topic may sound like it might be sanctimonious, the film is a sobering slap of reality and an empowering treatise on non-complacently, urging the importance of awareness and the need to speak out.

#10 – Room 237

Maybe it’s because I am a big fan of Kubrick, or maybe it’s because I genuinely do believe that The Shining is among his best films, but a documentary devoted to the throngs of conspiracy theorists that surround this film in particular is such a compelling topic for a film, how could I not jump at the opportunity to dive in head-first?

While I do not subscribe to the bulk of the purported hidden meanings contained throughout The Shining as many interviewed in the film do, I find the perspectives and intricate dissection by these people to be utterly fascinating. It’s hard to separate the conspiracy-fanatics from the film itself, and that in and of itself is compelling and worthwhile.

Any movie about movies already has my attention, but a movie about a movie directed by Kubrick – you had me at “hello.”

For last year’s picks, check out The Best Films of 2012 – My 2013 List of Favorites

For the year before, check out The Best Films of 2011 – My 2012 List of Favorites

Posted in Movies, Music.

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1,000 Years of War in Europe

Entitled a “Map of Europe 1000 AD to present with timeline,” this is a fascinating video showing a constantly changing geography throughout Europe over the last 1,000 or so years.

A couple of key items come to my inquiring mind.

What this ultimately shows is a never-ending history of war and conflict. Included are many that some of us already know: the Norman Invasions, the various Ottoman wars, Hundred Years’ War, the Eighty Years’ War, the War of the Spanish Succession and of course both World Wars.  It’s fascinating on the one hand, but equally horrifying to imagine just a seemingly never-ending history of aggression. Wikipedia has a rather jaw-dropping list of Wars in Europe going all the way back to BC, the majority of which I have never heard about. Overall, I should not be surprised. This is essentially a timeline of blood and the quest for power.

I can’t help but wonder if the overall timeline is accurate on terms of linear scale. It appears that it likely is, as the video is 5:30 in duration and 2:33 appears to synch with what would have been the approximate finale of the Napoleonic Wars.

For a static maps of Europe in year 1000 and each century leading up to the close of the first millennium, click HERE.

Posted in Video.

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(R)OcKtober, 2013 – The Seattle Edition

If I’m not mistaken, this is the fourth year in a row that I’ve posted a music video each day on Facebook during the month of (R)October. This year however, I did something a little different: Instead of choosing whatever video struck my fancy, I decided on a theme. This was the first time I’ve done this, and considering that Seattle is largely where I came of age musically, I chose videos by bands that I enjoyed during the the 22 years that I lived there, and indeed even a couple of bands that have entered into my consciousness since moving down to L.A. back in 2003.

This is a fun vanity project, however while I’m not sure if it’s due to the fact that Facebook is now throttling posts (hoping to extract money out of you by getting you to “promote” your post), or if it’s just that people aren’t as interested as a months worth of videos all falling loosely under a vague “theme,” but I have definitely noticed that I am getting waaay fewer “likes” and comments.

I think next year, I’ll just stay with the previous routine, and post whatever comes to mind that morning. Feel free to comment here however, and in the meantime, enjoy the rock!

Mudhoney - I Like It SmallMudhoney – I Like It Small Hammerbox - When 3 is 2
Hammerbox – When 3 is 2
Gas Huffer - Crooked Bird
Gas Huffer – Crooked Bird
The Fastbacks - Smells Like Teen Spirit
The Fastbacks
Smells Like Teen Spirit
The Poises - I Am The Cosmos
The Poises – I Am The Cosmos
Malfunkshun - The Words of Love
Malfunkshun – The Words of Love
Alice Donut - Mrs. Hayes
Hater – Who Do I Kill
Screaming Trees - Nearly Lost You
Screaming Trees
Nearly Lost You
Metal Church - Watch the Children Pray
Metal Church
Watch the Children Pray
The Gits - Second Skin (Live)
The Gits – Second Skin (Live)
These Arms are Snakes - Woolen Heirs
These Arms are Snakes
Woolen Heirs
Tad - Woodgoblins
Tad – Woodgoblins
Presidents of the USA - Lump
Presidents of the USA – Lump
Coffin Break - Kill The President
Coffin Break – Kill The President
Fleet Foxes - Mykonos
Fleet Foxes – Mykonos
Blackouts - Idiot
Blackouts – Idiot
Jimi Hendrix - Machine Gun (LIVE)
Jimi Hendrix
Machine Gun (LIVE)
The Fall-Outs - Here I Come
The Fall-Outs – Here I Come
The Visible Targets - Just For Money
The Visible Targets
Just For Money
Love Battery - Half Past You
Love Battery – Half Past You
Soundgarden - By Crooked Steps
By Crooked Steps
Sunny Day Real Estate - In Circles
Sunny Day Real Estate
In Circles
Skin Yard - Slow Runner
Skin Yard – Slow Runner
Flop - Anne
Flop – Anne
The Monkeywrench - Bottle Up and Go
The Monkeywrench
Bottle Up and Go
Forced Entry - Never A Know, But The No
Forced Entry
Never A Know, But The No
Laura Veirs - July Flame
Laura Veirs – July Flame
The U-Men - Gila
The U-Men – Gila
Treepeople - Something Vicious for Tomorrow
Something Vicious for Tomorrow
7 Year Bitch -      In Lust You Trust
7 Year Bitch
In Lust You Trust
Alice In Chains - Would?
Alice In Chains – Would?

If you’d like to see last years videos, CLICK HERE.

Posted in Music.

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Bejeweled Bodies, the Ultimate Veneration

I first became aware of Paul Koudounaris a couple of years back with the release of his Thames and Hudson book, The Empire of Death: A Cultural History of Ossuaries and Charnel Houses, but had forgotten about his beautiful and stunning imagery from religious ossuaries throughout Europe until I received an email from my friend Lee announcing the release of Koudounaris’ new book, Heavenly Bodies: Cult Treasures and Spectacular Saints from the Catacombs (also from T&H).

The ultimate veneration, these bejeweled bodies remind us distantly of the illuminated manuscripts from the earlier Middle Ages, but instead of decorating pages of text, we’re looking at the remains of various saints, both male and female, dressed and decorated with such subtle intricacy, all shimmering with silk and gold, sparkling in precious stones including rubies and emeralds. The result is breathtaking.


The images are visceral and cannot help but to remind us of our own mortality. For the meek, the images may be discomforting and perhaps even grotesque, but getting past any unease with looking at the remains of human bodies, what is left are these spectacular and beautiful seventeenth and eighteenth century skeletons photographed with the utmost attention to detail. This is an important body of work and visual history, recording a collection of historical artifacts that show a particular reverence for the dead. Almost an odd variation of taxidermy, these figures were reminders to the faithful of the treasures that presumably awaited them in heaven; more of a carrot than a stick a reminder that living a saintly life would perhaps bring the ultimate reward in the afterlife.

Jewel Encrusted Hand

Koudounaris’ fascination with the ways that death have been preserved, displayed and regarded in various European religious traditions may seem to some macabre, but it is the fear of wanting to know what happens after death that is ultimately the basis for the existence of all religion, so in exploring how some people within certain religious communities honored their saints, we can gain insight into how that attitudes about death have changed in today’s world.


Indeed, as the press release declared: “Death has never looked so beautiful.”

* * *

La Luz de Jesus Gallery (Los Angeles) is hosting an opening reception and book signing on Friday, November 1, 2013, 8:00 PM. I plan to be in attendance. Added bonus: everyone who buys a book at the opening will get a FREE print from Paul.




You can keep up-to-date with Paul Koudounaris on Facebook

Posted in Art, Photography.

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