Thursday, August 24, 2006

Random Ramblings

Random ramblings

  • Last time I checked, rear turn signals were required equipment (as is the active use of them) on motor vehicles in Wisconsin. Why is every third driver in the state not in jail for violating this?

  • I've blogged it once before, and I'll blog it again: the world would be a better place if fast food and other retail clerks would understand that the coins go in your hand first, instead of on top of the paper money/reciept where they can easily slide off your hand, onto the ground, and cause much gnashing of teeth. I know your register says the dollars and cents in change, but can you go off automatic pilot and think about your customer for just a wee minute.

  • I just read this morning that Pluto has been demoted. Its no longer a planet, and that the whole solar system has been downsized. That's right, the solar system has been downsized.

    From CNN:

    Leading astronomers declared Thursday that Pluto is no longer a planet under historic new guidelines that > downsize the solar system from nine planets to eight.

    What, is the intergalactic budget crisis really that bad? They'll be sorry they let Pluto go. Pluto will go off and start a whole new solar system, declare new baseline standards, and next thing you know, Pluto, without even so much as a bachelor's degree, will be the new planetary standard, rendering Earth, Mars and Jupiter obsolete. Way to go.

  • I'm convinced that raising a child would be altogether joyous if one didn't have to deal with back-to-school-and-activities administratia and school supply purchases. Really. Between getting immunization records faxed to me, dealing with signing up for soccer, ballet, gymnastics, trying to juggle all those schedules, oh, and school too, I'm ready to hire a professional scheduler for my kids. I do this stuff for a living. Do I have to do it on my down time too?

Friday, August 11, 2006

Beyond and Back

I'm bleary eyed writing this, because I didn't get in until midnight from the X show and still had to be up at 5:30 for work, so I had a word with the nice girls at Alterra Coffee in my building, and here I am.

Mixed crowd at the Rave last night: lots of people our age, some younguns, some parents bringing their teenagers as well: "Kid, this is what I was into when I was your age. And they still rock. That should tell you something." We ran into a lot of our friends, and I felt like I was at a high school reunion at a school I transferred into my senior year: this was my generation, my music, and a lot of my friends, but Milwaukee wasn't where I spent a majority of those years -- Champaign, IL was. Still, the commonalities were the same: the reminiscing about how you could actually hang off the stage in 1982, the amazement that they still rock as hard as they do, all the T-shirts from the era that people dug out of their closets. Besides X and Rollins and Black Flag shirts (last time I saw Rollins in person he WAS with Black Flag, that's how long it's been!) I spotted plenty of Misfits, Dead Kennedys, Clash, Circle Jerks, Fear, Replacements, all the great midwest and west coast late 70s early 80s punk americana. How comfortable it all felt.

Evening started out with The Riverboat Gamblers, a high-energy, power punk (let's go so far as to say glam, not in appearance, but in musical sensibility) but with plenty of Raw Power to it. The lead singer has obviously taken a few lessons from the Iggy Pop Manual of songwriting and stage presence -- but filtered from their Texas home, instead of Iggy's Motor City. Like the Riveters I saw two weeks back, they gave me a nice warm fuzzy, that young loud and snotty still has a place in the amerikan musical landscape, and the future of good moshpit inducing music is bright. I liked them: tight four piece band, guitars slung low below their waistlines for that hunched, always looking over my shoulder punk stance, and the lead singer jacked up on his own internal amphetamines. Ran all over the stage, climbed on anything he could get a perch on, and -- in a wonderful flashback to the first time I saw X -- was held up carefully as he scaled the fence between the stage and the stage itself. Flashback: remember back in the early 80s, when moshing was still called slam dancing, and if anybody fell down, everybody stopped, helped the person get up, and made sure all was cool before slam dancing again? Remember when the security guards were there not to stop the moshing, but just to make sure it didn't get onto the stage? Remember when there was only one or two security guards, instead of the 7 we had tonight? That's what it felt like with this band: not the assholes who just beat each other up in the moshpit, thus bringing out the bouncers who demand we just mill about, but the fun slam dancing that required you wear your gnarly thrash boots, tuck your shirt in, and not be surprised if some punk managed to cop a feel.

Then Rollins. WTF can I say? He delivered everything we expected: no mike stand, black shorts, barefoot, still in magnificent shape (albeit the hair is getting a bit gray, but you don't notice it with the military haircut), no new tattoos (but does he really need any more?), Liar, a few spoken word rants, his shouting disguised as singing, Low Self Opinion, great tight band who can play like nobody's business, no light show, just bright white lights that highlighted every drop of the buckets and buckets of sweat. Buckets. By halfway through the show, he was drenched in his own sweat, as evidenced by the stream of it flowing from his shorts to the puddle on the stage floor he kept wiping up with the bath-sized towel. Rollins, man. Henry Fucking Rollins. Fuck. Fuckin' Henry Rollins. [shaking my head]. Fuck. I got a workout just watching him in his deep knee bends, neck presses, lower back bends. No wonder he's in such great shape. Henry Fucking Rollins, maaaaaaaaannnnn. Fuck. Just one thing, Henry. Fucking white Nike logo on your trademark black shorts. How could you? Doesn't somebody backstage have a sharpie you could black it out with? Its bad enough you gave Phil Knight support for his sweatshops by buying them. Did you have to sport the ad for it? (at least I spotted a New Balance logo on the black liner shorts, they're not so bad. And I grudgingly admit that while Nike's shoes suck, they're making good workout sports gear. But email me Henry, I'll point you in the direction of some great companies making quick-dry workout togs that don't leave such a yecchy taste in your -- by definition -- politically charged fans' mouths.) Then again, only if you were upfront like me would anybody have necessarily noticed it, but still. Henry, Henry, Henry. Kickass show overall so I'll forgive you, especially since I was wearing a black T-shirt I think I got at the goddamn Gap. Fuckin' Henry Rollins, maaaaaaaaan.

Then X. Between sets, I had a nice chat with some 30 -something fellas who commented that we'd see more girls toward the front of the stage after Rollins, and they were probably right, but at the same time, among my age group, it didn't make a difference. If you were into X back in '82, you were likely (girl or guy) into the Flag, the Kennedys, all those Decline of Western Civilization california hardcore and punk acts. And you might have also been into Devo. "Oh, they were mainstream," one of the guys shrugged off. Oh, no, honeys, not in 1978 when they played "Satisfaction" on SNL to the horror of mainstream pop fans and to the fascination of the few of us who ran out an bought their album instead of cursing their name. No, things were gloriously mixed up then, no so factionized like today.

Billy Zoom, I swear to God, has not stopped smiling in 25 years. Same sparkly gretch, same slicked back blonde (now graying) hair. DJ Bonebrake is still solid on the drums. John Doe's been around the block but is wearin' those years well. And Exene. She's been Beyond and Back, and looks it. She looks OK for her age, but damn good for her life. They jumped straight into The Hungry Wolf and we're all settled in for a night of wonderful nostalgia.

Thing is, as much as it pains me to write this, for I loved X, and I love Exene, but girlfriend seemed to be phoning it it. Sure, she wailed, and she danced about, and I danced about and sang along and closed my eyes and felt like I was back at Chicago's Park West in 1983, but there was something missing. Maybe it's because back in the 80s, Exene and Doe were married, were having classic relationship issues which they wore on their sleeves and wrote their songs about, and last night they were singing songs that didn't apply to each other anymore. Exene's been married twice since she and John divorced, and part of X's ferocity was the onstage duality of tension and love between the two of them that made their JeffAirplane harmonizing that much more harrowingly beautiful. Now its like, "OK, its been 20 years, we're still on good enough terms to be in a band together, the kids still love us, let's hit the road and sing the old sets." Fine with me, the songs themselves still hold up, but if anybody was looking to see the old X, they weren't there. And deep down, I didn't expect them to be (although John Doe still plays like he has to earn every penny), I expected -- and got -- the College Underground Music Class of 82-84 Reunion, and had a great time.

I think the thing was, Rollins went out there like he still has something to prove. Exene didn't. That's why X left me happy and satisfied, but Rollins left me exhilerated.

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Have a Swig!

I’m just going to have to start a photoblog, because I don’t want to clutter up this one with all the pictures of classic old motel signs from Wisconsin Dells I took this weekend. Yes, we went to the wallet-suck world of Wisconsin Dells this weekend with the kids, and I have to admit, the whole family had a great time.

The whole aura of the place is such a nice respite from Six Flags. Six Flags is so uptight about so many things. They have a waterpark, but you can’t wear your swimsuits in the regular part of Six Flags, so when I took Stella and her friend Kayla there last month, we got sent back to the car for Stella to put a T-shirt on over her 2 piece swimsuit top. I did not have to put a shirt over my swimsuit top, because it covered my belly button, even though, as a halter top, my national endowments for the humanities were ready to spill out. But at least you couldn’t see mine or Stella’s belly buttons! WhatEVER. This whole business therefore guarantees we’ll pay $8 for an all day locker in the waterpark portion, in addition to the $8 I paid for the driest grilled chicken sandwich I ever had (and the $15 for parking, like what, we were going to walk there?)

Wisconsin Dells is totally different. Check in time at the Four Seasons Motel (which featured not only indoor and outdoors pools, but as you can see, the availability of Shauna’s services!) wasn’t until 3, so we killed some time and $$$ with the pope of Wisconsin Dells, Tommy Bartlett. First, we did the “Exploratorium” which started out lame with stupid robots which were just different enough from C3PO and R2D2 to avoid having to pay royalties. Fortunately as one goes down each level the “hands on fun for the whole family” (with a little science educational value snuck in there) improves with all the great science museum stuff: van der graff generators, optical illusions (and the reasons they work), a step inside the MIR space station, a Tesla coil, a jacob’s ladder, virtual sports games, la de da. Then a ride on the Original Wisconsin Ducks, with a tour guide who was appropriately enthusiastic about the local trivia, and perfectly deadpan delivering the requisite bad puns and jokes. He turned out to be a college student (aren’t the all in the Dells?) majoring in secondary education, and I could just picture him being the great, cool history teacher who knows when to joke around and when to get serious with the kids.

But we had kids with us, so off to the theme parks. Mt Olympus does it right. Instead of trying to have a dozen little themes from section to section, EVERYTHING at Mt Olympus is Greek gods themed, right down to the Trojan Horse go cart ride that brought to mind Monty Python’s Trojan Rabbit, in both construction and sheer enormity. Hades is a rollercoaster that takes major dive from the highest point in the park to underneath the parking lot – if underneath a parking lot in the Dells isn’t Hades, I don’t know what is. Zeus is as fast as lightning bolts. Of course I had a gyro (for something like $4.50, very reasonable for a theme park) and the kids ate chicken tenders that were actually juicy and tender. Stella worked her way up the various rollercoasters, and Sammy just enjoyed the kiddie rollercoaster which (I can tell you since I rode with him) actually pulls its share of Gs. Only downer was we gave up doing the Pegasus Go Cart track, since some idiot who didn’t know that the brake is on the left didn’t brake at the end, slammed into somebody, and some kid got hurt as a result. Getting that awfulness wrapped up guaranteed we’d be standing in line forever, and we’d been spoiled by the relatively short waits for rides, so we just decided to do the Cyclops a few more times.

Noah’s Ark was more of the same, except it’s exclusively water rides. And more of that same, we’re-all-on-vacation here feel, no weird dress codes, reasonable food and drink prices (well, reasonable for a tourist attraction), reasonably tasty food, friendly laid back employees, many of whom, like the Mt Olympus crew, were foreign college students working the Dells for the summer. Stella had this pornographically huge hot dog which we all helped her eat, after we all stopped laughing about the size. (Honestly, I don’t think she picked up on the Freudian aspect of it, just its size prompted her to say “I’m so not going to be able to eat this whole thing.” )Sammy had a blast, and even enjoyed the water slides, though the ones that started out like a black hole were a bit too scary for him. Grudingly, I had to respect that, even though it meant going down several flights of stairs we waited 45 minutes to go up. So we just did some regular fun water slides and that made up for it.

Las night we did dinner at a place called Marley’s, where the kids did standard chicken tenders and hamburgers. Brian got a Jamaican jerk BBQ pork sandwich, which I tried and loved. They have a nice jerk seasoning there, and it actually worked in a BBQ sauce. I did the jerk mahi-mahi, which was more classic jerk flavor, accompanied by some terrific Caribbean greens and garlic mashed potatoes that had exactly the right amount of garlic in them. It had the ambience of a chain place, but I’d never heard of it before. Too bad we missed the previous evening’s karaoke, I can only imagine what Karaoke in the Dells is like.

Today we went for a walk up and down the old strip, accompanied by mixed feelings. I’ve never been to the Dells before, but you can see by the for sale signs on some of the classic old motels, and the condition of many of the locally, independently owned shops on the strip, that the big, all-in-one guns are moving in and taking over. I’m certain there will always be a market for the small, cheap motels that have a pool and Shauna, for families like us that want to take it all in and don’t mind leaving our flop, especially since the only reason we needed a motel was a place to sleep. A co-worker commented that there’s a lot of people who come to one of these giant hotel complexes, and yet have never seen the actual Dells! I believe it; and sadly so. There’s a piece of cheesehead nostaligia that will be lost if we let this fade. Part of the attraction to the Dells, like I said earlier, is this laid back feel, this, “here it is, just be cool and have a good time” vibe that you just don’t get at Six Flags or even Disney World. This isn’t Orlando, and it shouldn’t try to be. Orlando is manufactured; Wisconsin Dells just sort of grew into this vacation destination and thus is organic. The giant, everything-on-site complexes do indeed have a place here – they’re necessary to compete with similar destinations, but I hope they and their manufactured fun don’t take over. While we were stopping to take a picture of the Sandman Motel sign, a manager type who happened to be in the parking lot asked us if we wanted to buy it. “What, the motel or just the sign?” Brian asked, as the guy just shrugged. If we had that kind of money, we’d consider it, if only to preserve it. C'mon, can anything ever really give you the same I-Don’t-Think-We’re-In-Milwaukee-Anymore fuzzy as the feeling you get when you Have a Swig With Nig?

Friday, August 04, 2006

A crazy mofo called E

About a year ago, Stella and I heard a tune on WMSE that really caught our ears. “Quick, get out the cell phone and call 799-1917 and ask the DJ who we’re listening to and what album is it from,” I told her as I negotiated traffic. She did, and the next day I was taking advantage of my amazon Prime trial membership to get the Eels’ “Souljacker” in our CD player in two days. I’ve since collected ‘em all – almost.

So earlier this week, although “Blinking Lights and Other Revelations” has been sitting on the dining room table for a month now, we finally popped it into the car CD player so we could learn all the songs in anticipation of tonight. “See, hon, they may not do all our favorite songs from Souljacker, because they’ve got a new album out, and usually when you’re on tour, they do songs from that. So we need to find our favorite songs from the new one. Then again, from what’ I’ve been reading, anything could happen.” And it did.

Stella listens to lots of different music, and it may be odd for an almost 8 year old to be into Eels, as some of the lyrical content may be a bit of a downer, and kids that age tend to like upbeat happy music. (Yes, we are going to take in American Idols Live next week.) But I’ve made it a point to play her interesting music so she’ll develop a taste for the good stuff and I won’t have to listen to Britney Spears (or whatever Prince/Princess of Pop Dreck is ruling the waves when she starts getting her period). It works. I had a cool big brother who played the Beatles and Led Zeppelin and everything in between, so that after reading Tiger Beat for months and finally running out and buying the “Fabulous New Donny and the Osmonds Album” and putting it on the turntable. I really really really wanted to like it, but, well, it was dreck. I put it back in the sleeve, rubbed out the scratch on “Being for the Benefit of Mr Kite” and listened to Sgt Pepper for the umpteenth time and never looked back. (I still have the Osmonds “Homemade” if only for the kitchy fun of listening to five white guys in jumpsuits singing a tune called “Shuckin’ and Jivin’.”) The point being, a steady diet of the good stuff pretty much keeps mediocrity out of kids’ lives, and the fact that Stella lists the Twinemen, Jimi Hendrix, Blue Oyster Cult, Rasputina, David Bowie (all kids love Bowie, I’ve found!), Frank Black and of course, the Eels among her favorites, bears this out.

“Who’s this? I came to see the Eels,” she said, when two pre-teen girls took the stage at the Pabst theatre tonight. I explained that this was the opening act (she seems to have forgotten about how this opening act thing works) and that she might as well listen and see if she likes them. The two girls turned out to be Smoosh, a 14 year old on keyboards/synths, and her younger sister on drums. I bought their CD – they’re from Seattle, they’ve clearly got money behind them (hot legal agency listed in their credits) and they’re good. They’ll be even better when singer Avya’s voice matures, because after about 6 songs it got grating, but they write great little songs, they’re not afraid to experiment with unconventional rhythm and melodic arrangements, and at times, they flat out rock. Stella wasn’t too impressed, though: nothing reached out and grabbed her. Then again, she wasn’t evaluating them through the “and look how great they are for their age” filter. She was just evaluating them at face value. So I’m really trying to decide if they’re really good, and weren’t Stella’s cup of tea, or if they’re just impressive for their age. The CD argues for the latter: they’re definitely better live, because one does get sucked in by their enthusiasm and stage presence. (One note here, girls. Wait for the audience to applaud BEFORE you say the obligatory “thank you” after your songs. You’re not thanking them for putting up with your songs, you’re thanking them for their appreciation, which in this case was genuine.)

So then the Eels are up. There’s a strobe light in darkness, and Brian Wilson’s “Our Prayer” is playing to get us all warmed up. A guy built like a brick shithouse wearing a T Shirt with SECURITY in block letters struts out and surveys the audience (who turned out to be “Krazy Al” a member of the band) and then there’s this seemingly neverending guitar noise delivered by our man E, Mark Oliver Everett.

Trying to cram in Blinking Lights and Other Revelations turned out to be unnecessary, as two songs into the set I realized that Eels are one of those rare, great acts that you could go in totally deaf to their work and still enjoy the show. They did so some of Stella’s (and mine) favorites like “Dog Faced Boy” and “Souljacker Pt 1.” (Souljacker was jacked up to about 5 times its recorded speed…) They didn’t do the song that hooked us in that fateful night on WMSE, “That’s Not Really Funny”) but that’s how good they are: we didn’t care. There was enough great stuff going on stage, both musically and visually, that we were rapt. Stella took a little rest during some of the quieter songs. There was one tune that went on for some 20 minutes from the one Eels album we don’t have, and it’s probably the song that the hardcore fans love, so that probably justified it going on that long. I enjoyed it, but then again, I find value in 20 minute drum solos, but Stella got bored. Toward the end, Krazy Al introduced the front man as "A Crazy Motherfucker Called E" and my advice to him was to take the following words and arrange them in a sentence, adding verbs and prepositions where appropriate: kettle, pot, calling, black, look.

Everett, (or should I just be one of the groovy people who refers to him constantly as “E”) dressed in a black mechanic’s jumpsuit, with dark biker’s goggles on his eyes and avaitor’s goggles on his forehead, didn’t say a word all night, as the stage fans blew his hair about, keeping him physically cool, and looking cool, like he was flying some two seater singing his songs to the clouds. He left all the talking to that Krazy Al dude, who deadpanned such pronouncements as “If I weren’t so emotionally unavailable, I could really go for you,” and when not playing an instrument, would either lift weights, or perform some super xiolin kung fu choreography, or squirt whipped cream into eager fans’ mouths at E’s direction, as though it were some kind of Alternative Communion of the Eels’ Faithful.

Boy, I don’t know what blew me away more, the strong originals, or when E came out and belted out “I Put A Spell On You,” Screaming Jay Hawkins style, (his voice was tailor-made for it), sung as the old saying goes, “like he hated the bitch,” followed up by a nod to Sinatra, convincingly shrugging off “That’s Life.” Its been a long time since I went to see a band that kept my attention all night, and they did. I’ll be back and I’m sure Stella will be too.


One huge regret, ( (and it’s the second time in as many weeks that I’m expressing this), I wish I’d brought the camera. This show cried out for my Nikon and a couple of rolls of HP5 pushed to 1600. The announcement at the beginning called for no FLASH photography, but there was plenty of non-flash shooting going on. I’d all but given up being able to shoot shows, what with bands and management getting all bent out of shape by people “stealing an artists’ image.” I suspect that with all the camera phones and such the industry is giving up trying to enforce no camera policies, which is just another of the benefits of increased technology. Its nice to see that its not just aurally that the industry is being forced to re-think and re-tool how it interacts with fans. I think I need to call the Rave and see what the camera policy will be for X and Rollins next Thursday night. I have shots of both of them from the early 80s – it will be nice for this to come full circle after 20+ years. BTW, I’m in the process of totally redesigning this blog, so I will indeed put up all my old 80s clubbing shots for your viewing pleasure, back from the days where all it took was some good strong shoulders and the patience to wait at the end of the stage all night to get a shot of beads of sweat dripping off of Tom Verlaine or Henry Rollins.