Friday, May 30, 2008

Deep Fascination

So I'm working on this project for Amoeba Music's web site, in which I'm writing bios of bands. And it's making me go back and listen to artists I hadn't listened closely to in a while. Teenage Fanclub, the Country Teasers, Van Morrison, Jolie Holland -- all great all over again. And then there's the Feelies.

Oh, the Feelies. Never has a band been so hard to describe your love for. And yet it is a deep love. Deep and long lasting. Maybe it has to do with that show I saw in 1991 at the Warfield -- at that time it was probably the most exciting I'd ever seen, save for that Tom Waits gig in Cleveland in '87. They kept playing faster and faster and faster, until I was drenched in sweat from jumping around. Now, you've got to understand that in '91, I didn't dance. Jumping around at shows, too, was out of the question. So this was something special.

No band ever made me feel so euphoric, like I could jump right out of my skin with excitement. That slow building towards ecstasy, those mumbled vocals, that weird burning tension, those great covers (quite possibly the best version of "Paint It Black" ever, including the original). Wow.

I loved them from that high school reunion scene in Something Wild, when they did weird covers of David Bowie/John Lennon and the Monkees. I loved them from that Spin Magazine article in which a female fan said The Good Earth was a great album to masturbate to. I loved them for being such nerds.

One of them -- Glenn Mercer -- put out a decent solo record last year, with lots of Feelies on it. But he ruled out a reunion, because Bill Million was still happy living in Florida. According to this article, Million had quit the band in 1991 and moved his family south to take a job at Disney World -- without bothering to tell any of his bandmates. Health care, it seemed, was a bigger lure than alt-rock "stardom."

Still, something changed, as the band finally agreed to get back together this July. Two sold out shows in Hoboken and then opening for Sonic Youth on July 4. One miserable week before I will be in NYC. Arghhh! I guess I will have to make do with cool clips like this and this.

Oh, one more thing. Das Burning Man ist eine nooosance Man.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Who told you that? Steve?

The Flight of the Conchords full-length just came out, so I went back and checked out the first season. Turns out I hadn't seen a few of the episodes. (If you don't know what I'm talking about, the HBO show's a comedy about two hapless New Zealand musicians trying to make it in New York, and each episode features two hilarious tunes.) I just watched the one where they get mugged, and they do that spoof of a Beastie Boys video -- called "Hiphopopotamus vs. Rhymenocerus" -- where Jermaine goes, "my rhymes are bottomless" and then can't think of any. It also has the "Kiss Is Not a Contract" tune with one of my favorite lines, "Just because you've been exploring my mouth/ Doesn't mean you get to take an expedition further south." Plus there's that nod to Crocodile Dundee, where Jermaine says to the mugger, "That's not a knife," and Brett points out that actually it is.

They even slip little bits of political humor in there, like when Jermaine asks why his sneakers still cost as much when they're made by slave kids. Plus, they do the best French film spoof ever, "Foux De Fafa." If you haven't seen it, what the motherflippin' are you waiting for?

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Lush Lit

I know I'm coming to this late, but I just started watching The Wire. Wow, that's some good TV. Michelle S's been talking about its awesomeness forever, and apparently Eric has been too, but maybe more quietly because I can't remember him saying anything, but he swears he has, so, sorry, Eric, for not listening more closely. You guys were totally right on.

I just finished the first season. If you don't know what the show's about, here's a short synopis: It's about Baltimore. And intercities in general, how politics and people and drugs and modern society all blend together to make everyone pretty miserable. If that sounds too brainy or too depressing, don't worry. It's really about people -- in all their wonderful, frustrating complexness. The good, the bad, the facts of life (only there's no Toodie.) You end up caring about nearly everyone, from the teenage drug mules to the bonehead cops to the conflicted lawyers. (Well, there are some people you never care for, like the career cops who want to sweep all the corruption under the rug, and the unconflicted lawyers who just want to line their pockets with drug money.)

Each season focused on a different facet of the city. First one was about the drug trade in the projects, and the next ones apparently tackle the longshoremen culture, the political morass, the school system, and the way the media covers (or doesn't cover) news. Check out this letter the creator wrote, following the show's run. Sounds like the kind of guy who should be running for office. Or at least be invited to dinner.

Richard Price wrote for the show at some point, and I've got to recommend his new book, Lush Life. It's got some of the best dialogue I'd read in years, just so juicy that reading it is like biting into the most perfectly ripe fruit, and it has the same complex character development as The Wire. It's a "police procedural" in structure, which means that it's all about the cops trying to track down a murder suspect, but really it's about how the Lower East Side of Manhattan has changed over the past 20 years. Price gets in the heads of so many different kinds of people -- rich, poor, young, old, white, African American, Chinese, men, women -- mixing humor, sorrow, and insight into the human condition. Really one of the best books I've read in ages.

Also, have you seen the clip of John McCain on the Daily Show recently? God, how depressing. Please let us not have his bullshit-spewing dinosaur as our next president. There was a time when I thought he wasn't so bad, but that time is long gone. Watch here as he avoids all the tough questions Jon Stewart throws at him, like he were a drunk matador. And you'd think if he were going to make a sad attempt at humor using a pop cultural reference, he could at least memorize the details, instead of putting them on a cue card. How exactly will he remember the important things, like when to change his diaper?

Friday, May 2, 2008

April was rewrite month

I haven't been writing here much, mostly because I've been writing a lot elsewhere. In particular, I've been trying to rewrite a Young Adult novel that I first drafted during NaNoWriMo 2006.

In order to get focused, Chris thought up the idea of Manuscript Revision Month, in which we and a few other people would work extensively on a writing project, whether it be novel, non-fiction, or short story. We all came up with goals, and if we didn't finish we would have to place this horrific, battered Matisse print on our wall for three months. Also, we'd be trading manuscripts with each other at the end of the five weeks, so it'd suck if it still sucked.

Well, the deadline is Monday. And pretty much no one has finished. But I have gotten a lot more accomplished than I thought I would. And I can tell you a lot about the coffee shops of the Bay Area that we visited during that time. So, consider this my own little Yelp page:


Ritual Roasters. Hipster central. Well, you need a good battery here, because they covered up the wall sockets. And it's usually really loud, either with music or people making billion dollar internet deals. But the donuts are amazing, the energy is high, and I hear the coffee rules (although Chris says to stay away from the Ethiopian beans). Me, I like the chai.

Cocha, er, Socha. Outer Mission café, relatively new. On a lazy Sunday, they had this cute older jazz duo having a great time playing Monk covers. Very mellow, free internet, sure not to last so go now.

East Bay:

A'Cuppa Tea. Claremont. Site of the best chai I've ever had -- and the most expensive. Then, next time I went, it wasn't as good, but it was equally pricey. It's good and quiet and you can usually get a table, but the baked goods are old and stale and hard. I like the overstuffed chairs, but I've only enjoyed them from afar because they're always taken.

Far Leaves. College/Ashby. This place rules! All tea, all the time. No food, really, but they make you huge pots of tea that you heat up right at your table. Very studious, very meditative, plus the best iced tea ever.

The Beanery. Also College/Ashby. Everyone knows the Beanery is practically my second home. The perfect East Bay work café, with internet and outlets and a nice (if occasionally eccentric) staff. The best, soft chocolate chip cookies.

Espresso Roma. Same as above. Never been a big fan. The ice cubes, and thus the cold drinks, taste weird and metallic. Kind of stinky interior, so-so baked goods.

Café Milano. Bancroft/Telegraph. Big and open late with a somewhat cavernous vibe. All right cookies and brownies (you can see what makes a good café in my mind). Same staff for a decade, good turkey sandwiches, which used to be my meal du jour when I was KALX music director.

Café Strada. Up the street from Milano. Good snacks, outdoor seating with heat lamps. Nice vibe, if very studenty.

Whole Foods café. Near Grand Lake. Good: Free Internet, Kambucha. Bad: Loud '80s soundtrack, horribly overpriced food.

UC Berkeley Music Dept Library
. Verrrry quiet, nothing to distract you except for odd magazines like Oboe Monthly. Downside: no drinks/snacks.