Just Another Day in the Suck

May 18, 2008

The sooner we leave the better. Every few months it’s something new (old). Civilians killed, locals insulted.

At least this latest is sort of funny (really, it shouldn’t be, but then, if you can’t laugh at things, the world’s just going to pull you down), if only for the fact that it’s so childish: “Oh yeah? Well here’s what I think of your stupid book, doodoo-heads!”

So some wiseass plugs a Quran with a few rounds. I don’t ever want to subscribe to the idea that the Army is a bunch of monkeys and increasingly, ex-cons, but guys like this certainly aren’t doing my country, or humanity for that matter, any favours. I know a few in the service, and most of them wouldn’t put up with this nonsense. Sadly, not all of them.

Same goes for the people behind printing the Quran on toilet paper (though to be fair, if that chafes too much, there’s a King James variety around somewhere, I’m sure).

The real funny thing is that these religions are based on oral traditions. The gospel, Old and New were passed along orally, through sermons and the like. The Quran comes from the visions Mohamed laid out for his followers.

From my standpoint as a socialist, the reason these stories are so fanciful is because they were entertainment. Pillars of salt? Brimstone? Virgins awaiting you in the sky? Man, that’s just as cool as Scylla and Charybdis, or the Green Knight.

So what does a book matter then? I can understand the point. In fact, if I ever happened across a book-burning and saw some Vonnegut or Miller in the fire, I’d likely go a bit nuts myself.

It’s not the destruction of a mere collection of paper that gets to people, it’s the ignorance and arrogance, the sheer idiocy, and like I said, childishness. This is not how a civilized society works. But then, it seems we keep slipping further everyday.


57th Street is my Hell.

May 8, 2008

Pittsburgh, can we talk?

It’s cool you have these paper streets and all, but what the fuck?

I get 3/4 up a giant fucking mountain and the fair city tells me no dice?

Hence, I have to Indiana Jones my way up through the Shrine of the Silver Monkey, nearly breaking my money maker (my face, thank you).

Let’s rewind:

It’s two Saturdays ago. I get word the Philadelphyinz are playing a gig at Remedy.

Recently, I’ve been getting out more, making my presence known, though probably not felt. So I decide to go. I’m antsy all Saturday…looking for excuses not to go, thinking too much. To be fair, going out on my lonesome is a big deal to me, I used to get panicky enough not to leave the apartment for days.

But I go, a cute little triumph. I get there an hour early, because City Paper lies, promptly bump into a scenester chick who unloads, “Excuse me!”

Alright, we’ll do that. I sit down and hit a few gin and tonics, waiting. Finally some heads I recognize roll in, and I slip upstairs, cover not included. There’s some awkward talk with an old friend who’s grown up, some chitchat with Skinny Friedman and Apt One, and suddenly, some cats I haven’t seen for a minute are there. The Harlan Twins were among my favorites.

And the dancing, rapture motherfucker. I’m playing pool, dancing my face off, talking Steelers, film and grad school (shit, I am totally not qualified, but I generally have an opinion about everything) at the same time.

For the record, the Yinzer expats put down a fucking great show. I’m looking forward to hitting up one of their regular joints in Brooklyn or Philly. Smooth and lovin tunes.

An ex is there, which was a surprise. Her forcefield decorum was met by a drunken handshake and an apology for her not liking me. Well. I am classy at times. Not sure if that was one of them.

So last call sounds and I’m gone like the honeybee. Since I walked around one side of the cemetery, I figure I’ll round the other side and come out near home.

For the record, it took 30 minutes from Sonny’s to Remedy.

I walk, realize this part of Lawrenceville has yet to be colonized by art-fags, and turn up 57th street. I’m an eagle scout, I can find my way. But then, disaster! 57th ends in a creepy one light road up a hill or a paper street. I am nothing if not an enthusiast, so up the paper street I go.

I have hiked hellish topography worse than this. Granted, I was sober, but still. The hill went on. And on. Then the stairs, due to some crossed stars, bore a giant “ROAD CLOSED” sign, complete with yellow tape, halfway up the bloody thing. I did what any self-respecting scout would have done, I kept going.

Enter the vines, enter the thorny branches. Enter the stairs that disappear. Yes, every stair meant six that were never put down. So I’m clinging to the rail in the dark, working my way up to some halo at the apex. Then the stairs just stop completely. I’m still only 3/4 up the hill. Suddenly, I’m back in Cub Scouts, swinging on grape vines, rolling town junk heap tires down into gulleys, clawing my way through leaves and mud to the top of something I don’t need to be at the top of.

A backyard, a dog barking, a quick retreat into the welcome of a streetlight. Yes, I arose into a backyard. Some engineer fucked up somewhere. So I wander around, keep walking. By now I’m trying to call someone, just to say hello I am fucking lost what did you do tonight. There were a couple of funny voicemails (read: drunk and frantic) some brief conversations, and then I get ahold of this real cute photographer, we end up talking through to the end.

I skip through Morningside, Garfield and one or two others. I pick up a rock on the way, why not?

Finally, I breach unto the intersection of Baum and Penn, the world has found me. I walk a few blocks, some old black dude on a corner extends his hand with a ‘What’s up.” Without missing a beat, I clutch the phone in my shoulder, keep talking, switch the rock to the free hand and shake.

Later I realize this is completely inappropriate behavior. I also realize that I met this gentleman and his friends at around 3:30 AM.

After this, it’s all eyes on Get-Go, I drop my improv weapon and it’s a cheap sub and Gatorade, it’s a thank you to my cute photographer angel for the nice chat, and then half of Return of the Jedi and some sleep, after a surprisingly eventful evening. The lesson is to get out da hahs.

It’s 4:30 when I get home. I left at 2.

It is now glaringly obvious I made a very stupid call. But I make those every few months, and it almost always results in a drunk stumble through town. And it is always a great time.

Most of these good times would not be possible without the framework of this fair city, incomplete stairways and all.

Bless you, Pittsburgh.

Artistic License

April 25, 2008

Since the recent uproar surrounding the Grant Street Transportation Center’s offering towards a fresher, prettier Pittsburgh has been found to be (along with a couple other ‘offerings’) unlicensed, this brings up what should have been licensed.

Early this year, an artist by the name of Daniel Montano was in the local news and in angry posts all over the internets for his own brand of offerings.

To clarify my position: I’m a huge proponent and advocate as graffiti (the kids who are with it just call it ‘graf’, dig) and artists like Banksy really sing to me.

Paraphrasing from his manifesto or vision, outlined on his site (because I can’t seem to find it), the goal of Banksy is to get people involved in their environment- be careful where you lean or sit down, it may be a fresh work of art.

I will readily admit a lot of tags are ugly, and a lot of them aren’t really artistic expressions. But there is a fine line.

If you don’t think that’s beauty, you should have your eyes checked. That’s MFONE, who by most accounts is a petty vandal.

Call it what you will, but it has more class and technique than say, well, anyone with a spraycan.

Anybody who would dispute the dedication of people who are willing to climb bridges (remember Mook, Pittsburgh? No? just look at the pinnacle of just about every bridge in town), risk arrest, bodily harm, all for art is frankly wrong.

Perhaps a better example of this dedication would be one of the best art galleries I’ve ever had the pleasure of visiting, Cleveland’s RTA light rail Red Line. Everytime I visit my folks, I make sure to take the train, just to see some of the best contemporary art around.

I will take this over the Mona Lisa any day of the week.

Yes, it is vandalism. Fine. Agreed. But along with making the news, Mr. Montano got a lot of snarky, angry letters to the editor questioning his credibility as an artist. It’s important to remember that his arrest came on the heels of his exhibition at the Mattress Factory.

In a society where artists have stopped bothering to starve and routinely shill for advertising (seriously, commercials have become funny, entertaining and kinda cool is not for the face they’re commercials) or just quit the dream, it’s no small wonder you’ve got a few wild ones who won’t stop living the dream, even if it ends in the back of a police cruiser.

Here in Pittsburgh we laud ourselves for being culturally aware, we squawk about the artists in Lawrenceville and the monthly gallery crawl in downtown (which is tonight, actually), but folk are pretty quick to jump on graf artists. Lock them up, make them pay.

This brings me to where I started. Given a choice between a flat and soulless brick wall, a flashy (but equally soulless) LED not-a-billboard or a mural designed by a convicted vandal, what would you like to see on the side of the Transportation Center?

I agree that vandals ought to pay. Sure- buy the ticket, take the ride as Dr. H.S. Thompson would say. But let’s use our heads; make them pay the entire community back and give these voices in the wild a chance to be recognized and appreciated for the artists they are.

Plenty of cities do this sort of thing already with weed and seed programs, and the graf community is definitely capable of improving the community without being forced to make restitution, like this story from Seattle, and improving the aesthetics of daily life doesn’t always come from a spraycan.

The result is a vibrant, living city.

I offer this piece of tranquility from the Eliza Furnace Trail, taken by Dullroar.

This town could use a little more wet paint.

broken social scene and wooden people

November 15, 2007

myself, this one and her man went to carnegie mellon to see broken social scene this past saturday.

at twelve bucks, it beat out my desire to sit around with unapologetic hipsters at a thirty-five dollar decemberists show. i don’t often go to shows (this has been my first one in like a year) so i pick and choose carefully. i am also poor, so i will routinely curse interpol and other bands that roll through here and expect me to toss 40 down the plughole for lousy seats. open admission or no dice.

i also think i need to say that while i fucking love the decemberists (their last album, the crane wife, was totally epic, a B+, even if only for the ‘crane wife’ trilogy and ‘shankill butchers’), people that like them are generally pretentious wankers who seem to fit in with velvety libraries smoking fine tobacco and drinking port. yes, that’s what the decemberists pull from for their amazing songs, but come on people! act a little young!

i was taking drugs at the show. and i wish i had brought alcohol with me, because i wasn’t loaded up enough to deal with this:


those of you who identified this as a multi-layered forest, good job. but this is merely a metaphor for the absolute, cancer-risk level lameness that i have come to expect from shows in the entire rust belt region. i won’t even bother squawking that much about it. nothing will change it, the whole lot should be sterilised.

yes, it was a crowd of trees. wooden people. to be fair, it was cmu (the show was originally going to be at mr. smalls, but hand it to the geek squad at cmu, the sound and vision was hella good, and it was in a gymnasium!) so, no personality. but even the locals, which, judging from a response shout-out (who came in from the city?) to kevin drew outnumbered the dorks 2 to 1, were stock still. so, they’re all dorks, essentially.

so what did we do? fucking danced. indeed, there was a clearing of coolness wherever we strode. there were a few others within our sight dancing, but it was a sad sad fraction. i settled for loud-mouthing about the crowd afterwards. i had important hip movements to make, and wasn’t about to waste time bothering with anything but the music, which was fucking incredible.

the real stand out performance for me was ‘lucky ones’ off of kevin drew’s new solo joint, spirit if…

on the album it isn’t nearly as good….but it’s hard to beat live music, and the effect of the whole band belting out the ‘yeah’ gave me the chills. ‘superconnected’ and ’cause=time’ were also stellar. the band did what they could with such a lame crowd; kevin drew gently needled the college kid crowd by briefly explaining he never went to college because he already knew what he wanted to do. take that, you smug, rich, quasi-geniuses!

the frontman from american analogue set (who was playing keyboards for the set), which i admittedly tried and never got into, sang one of his songs, which was really good. i’ll have to give them another listen.

the opening band had a bit (just a bit) of a galaxie 500 vibe for a bit, but any interest i had quickly faded. cigarettes were more important. i was not into that scene.

all in all, for a band that i’ve long regarded as bedroom music, they rocked real hard live. i was pleasantly surprised, because as you all know, i like my loud guitars and the spiders from mars.

the setlist, which ran about two hours (yeah, i know, fucking awesome. but i still wish i had smuggled some whiskey in), ended with a sing-along- “it will be sad once we reach the end, but don’t forget what you’ve found”

i’d like to say that the kids finally loosened up (or at least swayed) under the hurricane force passion of the music in front of them at this point, but i was too busy howling along with the band to hear or see much of anything else.

if you ever have the chance to catch these guys, take it. i met a friend there during the opener who told me she and her crew had driven to nyc to see them before. i was surprised, but afterwards, i wasn’t about to forget what i had found.

radiohead-in rainbows

October 12, 2007

well, if anyone didn’t know, radiohead has finished their new album, and the shit is not in stores. no, no they decided to open a website, and for a minimum of 90 cents (credit card transaction fee) you can get the album. me, i decided to throw down 5 pounds, about 10 bucks.

there’s some contention around the album though. while i’m not thrilled about this, i can’t say i’m pissed. i was already thinking about ordering the discbox for myself for christmas (for bein such a good boy this year). i would love to have some radiohead on vinyl. plus the added cd, if the live versions are any indicator, makes it worth it. two cds, two LPS, and an art book. and you should all know how much i love stanley donwood, who does all the art for radiohead and is one of my favourite writers.

so, i’ve got a ‘sub-par’ recording (160kbps). yes, i notice. but the fact is, i rarely use my cd player. it’s much easier to use my computer- itunes is by far the best software for large libraries. so, this ‘sub-par’ recording sounds the same as all my other mp3s, and the cds i’ve been burning for years, because i do not buy them anymore.

does that make me a bad person? no, it makes me a pragmatic person. with little exception, bands get about ten percent of the profits from album sales. the real money is in merch and tours. i don’t feel a damn bit of regret when i look at stacks of burned cds, knowing some fat greasy fucks who have been systematically destroying the institutions of music through sloth and greed and sheer stupidity are not getting any of my money.

i do buy records at shows. i do try to go to shows. i may be leeching a bit, but nowhere near as much as the industry does on its artists. if anything, i’ve ended up giving more money to music because i download regularly.

the hard copy of in rainbows is coming out in january, printed by a major label. but when i bought the album online, the money went directly to a band i fucking love.

and this album, it blows hail to the thief out of the water, without a doubt. i can’t wait to hear it on vinyl, and hear the bonus disc tracks, particularly ‘bangers n mash’.

this album is gritty, soaring, and very creepy all at once. the final version of ‘nude’, a song i’ve been covering for years that previously was only available from live recordings is gorgeous. my version isn’t bad either.

in the grand tradition of most radiohead albums, there’s some real weepers on here. the last track will likely make you cry. think ‘motion picture soundtrack’ meets ‘fog’ meets ‘cuttooth’. phil selway’s drums are incredible, and thom yorke’s voice has gotten even more like an abused angel’s.

since it’s only a dollar (if you don’t want to give them your money for a sub-par recording) i recommend picking it up without delay.

it still pains me to know they’re never going to write another album like the bends (fuck off, i’m a bar rat, and bar rats like loud guitars and beer, think-music and wine comes second) i’m really glad they took the time to write a really solid album. hail made me think they had peaked.

radiohead-in rainbows: grade: A

and as a notice, from now on, i’ll be doing music reviews more often, and more in the style of real reviews. i used to do it all the time. just google me, i still show up in places.

our friend drano

April 18, 2007

that’s right.

tonite, i met a cat named drano. he was an extremely angry black man, who had earlier done community service by breaking the door off the pool table at the neighbourhood watering hole (logan’s pub. they done got a hippo for a mascot) making it free. he got mad when we alerted the bartender to the status of the table.

and well, drano, he wanted some respect for doing the community a service. us, we just wanted to play a game of pool.

and furthermore, it’s a good thing he had no more than words hinting at teaching my good pal miss bliss respect, coz boy woulda done got a crushed face.

i’m no frat boy (unlike captain ravenstahl, who has clearly never been to singapore), but bliss’s man is hella volatile.

and me, well.

it’s good that drano’s pal managed to keep him from doing more than bothering people with vague and ignorant threats.

so, you, right? are you that angry all the time?

as i said to my pal, ‘i’m glad i’ve got sense enough not to go out when i’m that angry, and furthermore, if i do, to keep my bloody mouth shut.’

are we that out of touch that we need this? you’re in a bar, you’re a friend. how it’s been, (or) how it should be.

kids, it’s ugly out there. but most people who hang out in bars are ugly. hence, my life (or my concept of my life) is filled with ugly fuckers. but they’re alright in my book. and c’mon. look at this fucker, my patron saint:

yes. bukowski. you wanna pull the cliche card? fine, i don’t give a shit. but i will say this: i fell upon him like he fell upon his favourites, and i never drink white wine.

furthermore, i don’t pretend to believe he’s more of a writer than an idea, or more to the point, a philosophy (go back ten spaces, raygun). boy said it clear about walking through the fire. all that matters is how you do it.

and drano, he does it. prolly burn himself up before he gets anywhere, but he walks.

drano, thank you for adding to the immense repository of story fodder, bumming cigarettes when i know you had some, shaking my hand with two fingers, and rocking your gear like it was the best coke you never blew.