Friday, April 30, 2010

KFJC, APRIL FOOL’S DAY AND THE “MONTH OF MAYHEM”

I spent large chunks of my junior high and high school experience circa 1981-85 alone in my bedroom, awash in the sounds of an life-changing college radio station from Los Altos Hills, California called KFJC coming out of my clock radio. I had previously been a young music freak who tuned into America’s Top 40 every Sunday, as well as a budding “new waver” discovering Devo, The B-52s and Adam and the Ants; and to some extent, I remained (and possibly still remain) something of a new waver. Through KFJC, and through KPFA’s “Maximum Rock and Roll Radio Show”, I discovered punk rock, which was then in the throes of branching into its full-on, light-speed hardcore phase. I discovered English DIY and dark/gothy stuff, and some early favorites of mine were Siouxsie & The Banshees, Bauhaus, The Delta 5 and the Au Pairs. The station helped turn me from a music fan into a music obsessive, and to think that I’d be joining my DJ idols there in a few years was unfathomable at the time.

After four years DJing in college at KCSB in Santa Barbara, I moved back to the San Francisco Bay Area in 1989 with enough confidence to approach my formative heroes at KFJC with a proposal for my own show. It wasn’t that difficult – after a few weeks of toil in the 2-6am time slot, I landed first a decent morning show and then a fantastic Monday night gig from 6-10pm. KFJC was among the most creative of radio stations, drawing upon yearly traditions started by long-retired DJs. Two of their best traditions, both of which continue to this day, are the annual “format change” on April Fool’s Day and the subsequent “Month of Mayhem”, where DJs put together hours-long overviews of particular artists, neglected genres of music, and all manner of musical ephemera, strung together in a manner not conducive for a typical radio slot.

April Fool’s was always a blast, and I remember being a stung listener several times during my teenage years when I forgot what day it was. There was the time that the format change was reduced to a rotation of only six songs, played back-to-back in sets, then started over again – an exaggerated version of some awful Top 40 station programmed by a corporation. Except the two songs I remember from this particular day of mirth were pretty cool - “Start!” by The Jam and “Watching The Detectives” by Elvis Costello – placing it around 1982 or so. There was another time where the format changed to all reggae, and all the DJs talked in a bogus Jamaican patois. More recently, KFJC switched frequencies with New Jersey’s WFMU for the day, which must have been absolutely baffling for listeners on both coasts.

In my brief time at KFJC from 1989-1990, I got in on one April Fool’s day. We decided to change the station’s format on 4/1/1990 to an “oldies” station, except the oldies here would be alternative/college rock songs that were no more than ten years old. I got a key slot on Sunday night from 6-9pm this particular day, taking the place of a wacked-out radical left/conspiracy theory show hosted by a guy named Dave Emory. (I believe this show was later syndicated, though Emory worked out of our Los Altos Hills studio). I totally hammed up the format, announcing in my most weasely of milquetoast DJ voices after a song would end, “Ohhhh yeah, don’t that just make you feel so GOOD hearing that again? Going allllllllllll the way back to 1984, that was a real golden classic from the Meat Puppets”.

Then I’d do a fake “traffic report”, where I’d spin a sound effects record of a helicopter in the air and then play a pre-recorded tape we’d made of some phony, deliberately wrong traffic update. It would start off talking about local freeways (“problems in the MacArthur Maze, heavy backup at the Bay Bridge, metering lights are on”), and then would segue matter-of-factly into Los Angeles freeways that were seven hours away from us (“Injury-accident on the 405”) – keeping in mind, of course, that it was Sunday night at 7pm and there was likely no one on any freeways.

The best part of this particular prank was that I got to make up new time slots for all the popular DJs our new format was displacing. I acted like this was now my new slot, and that these were the songs I was going to play every week in this slot. I then would announce stuff in my stupid hack DJ voice like, “Don’t worry, Dave Emory fans, Dave’s still got a home on KFJC. You can now catch his show each and every Sunday morning from 4:45-5am, only here on ‘The Wave of The West’”. I invented new slots for every show that day, all at preposterous times like 1:30-2am and the like – and then the calls started coming in. The lines just lit up like a Christmas tree after the “Emory timeslot change”. And then I realized how unhinged some of Emory’s listeners were. They called me one after the other, totally freaked out, asking for clarification, begging KFJC to reconsider, completely not in on the joke.

This went on for about an hour before I got a call from Emory himself, who told me I needed to cut it out for my own safety – “You don’t know how dangerous some of these people can be – they’ll come down to the station”. Based on my previous calls that hour from modern-day birther types (the big controversies/obsessions of the day were Reagan’s “October Surprise” and still, 27 years later, JFK’s assassination). I decided he was probably right, and cut this part of my shtick as my show was winding down. Of course, the station reverted to its normal free-form format the next morning.

I also only got one “Month of Mayhem” special in, because I quit the station in July 1990, fed up with the depressed, insular frathouse of lost souls that seemed to make up station personnel. Oh – that, and the commute from my new apartment in San Francisco. Yet I did get to do a three-hour special on THE FLESH EATERS, no mean feat when the band only put out four forty-minute albums in the 1980s and one single in 1978, and whom I never saw live and only heard for the first time a year after they’d broken up. My four years in college in the late 80s, however, turned me into a rabid, posthumously worshipping fan of the band and their genius singer, Chris Desjardins, who I was by then seeing play in his new bands The Divine Horsemen and Stone By Stone.

At that point in my life The Flesh Eaters were easily “my favorite band of all time”. When I conceived of doing this special back in March 1990, I wrote a letter to Chris D (we didn’t have email back then, you kids) and asked him if I could interview him on the show. I gave him my work phone number so we could work out the details (we didn’t have cell phones back then, you kids). Well, two months went by and I’d heard nothing from him, and figured that the lack of interest from him was in keeping with his publicity-shy, disinterested persona.

One hour before I was to leave my job at Monster Cable and drive down to KFJC and do the special, I got a call on my work line, and whoa - it was Chris D himself. He’d love to do an interview. Uhhh…..OK. So I hustled down to the station, corralled an engineer to help me figure out how to patch him in, took Chris’s call live on the air, and proceeded to do what I remember as the most botched, hurried, unprepared, nervous interview I’ve ever done – with my idol, no less. And of course – I didn’t tape it, so there’s no historical record for me to check and assure myself that “it wasn’t so bad after all”. In my mind it was a friggin’ disaster – but Chris DID break the news on our call that he was re-forming the Flesh Eaters that year, which was totally exciting until I realized that all it meant was that he had a new band put together, and he just slapped on his old, more reknown band’s name on top of it. (As it turned out, this new Flesh Eaters were actually really good for a few years, and played live and recorded albums up into the 21st Century).

When I quit the station in shame and disgust on July 4th, 1990, I remember driving back to San Francisco, straight to a FLIPPER reunion show at the Covered Wagon Saloon, totally angry and bummed about the circumstances surrounding my decision. I drank fairly heavily at the club. That day I’d done my final show, and as it turned out, it was my final show anywhere as a behind-the-glass, guy with 2-3 turntables disk jockey. To this day I still have anxiety dreams where the song on Turntable 1 is about to end, and there’s nothing queued up on Turntable 2 – and gasp – we’re about to have some “dead air”!!! I still love KFJC and the ethos behind KFJC, and there’s a whole new generation at the station now who are keeping it among America’s most vital musical institutions. Sometimes I still wish I was there, just so I could cook up more pranks and Month of Mayhem musical OCD specials – then I wonder if anyone even listens to the radio at all anymore. Anyway, that’s enough blog reminiscing for now. If anyone taped that May 14th, 1990 KFJC Flesh Eaters special - or the April 1st, 1990 6-9pm show - please do get in touch.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

OMG THAT BURRITO WAS AMAZING

My wife’s now got a subscription of SUNSET magazine coming to our house – yeah, the same Sunset magazine I was sooo embarrassed to have in my parents’ house when I was a kid. Backyard gardening, beach vacations, wicker furniture – and WAITTAMINUTE – “The Hunt For The Best Burrito”?? “Food writer Jan Newberry travels up and down California to find out who makes the best burrito”!!?!. Now that’s my kind of must-read journalism. The magazine hadn’t left the postman’s fingertips for five minutes before I’d devoured Newberry’s article, and had a new list of taquerias – that’s what we correctly call them here in Northern California - to conquer. And while Newberry did give voice to the oft-hashed out Northern vs. Southern California burrito debate/firestorm, in my eyes it’s not even a contest. Refried beans my ass. Northern California - more specifically, the San Francisco Bay Area – even more specifically, the taquerias of the Inner Mission District in San Francisco, from roughly 16th through 30th Street – makes some of the world’s greatest sub-$6 meals, and they’re so far above and beyond those wussy, stomach-churning cheesy frijole cylinders they call “burritos” in LA and San Diego that it’s like comparing filet mignon to rump roast.

So anyway, Newberry raved in particular about a place called LA CALLE ASADERO in downtown Oakland. I looked it up, and I’ve probably driven by it a hundred times without noticing it. “Prettiest burrito place I’ve ever been to”, she said, and check it out – the table pictured here is the exact same one I parked my burrito-lovin’ carcass at. Their Burrito Gringo (hey, if the shoe fits..) with pollo asado was everything I’d hoped for and more. WOW. What was the secret sauce? Well, the easiest way to unpack the vagaries of a given burrito are to highlight its subtle differences from the mean. In La Calle Asadero’s case, they slap the flour tortilla on the grill first, instead of steaming it. Yeah, I know a lot of folks do that, but theirs somehow seemed to have a lot more heft and crunch to it, which still being “supple” and “flexible”. Sexy, right?

They also throw in a total curveball among the big juicy pintos and the perfectly melted cheese: red onion. That’s right, I said red onion. Fresh and packed with flavor, like it was grown in the garden plot out the back exit and sliced right as I was coming in the door. Oh – and there’s this: fresh tomato. Not watery chunks, but meaty squares obviously chopped with the sharpest of knives. Put it all together, and I’ve got a new favorite burrito to nearly supplant the firm hold PAPALOTE in San Francisco has had on my burrito-buying wallet the past decade.

ALPINE’S “DUET” – A TRIP THROUGH MY TONSILS

ALPINE BREWING, a tiny microbrewer from the San Diego exurbs, are slowly gathering stream among beer-drinking cognoscenti as truly world-class, style-defining makers of IPAs, aka India Pale Ales – the hoppy, citrus-packed ale that’s typically a beer dork’s favorite or second-favorite beer style. And while they make other beers, these folks from Alpine, you rarely read about ‘em. The kids continue to clamor for PURE HOPPINESS and its ugly unruly brother, EXPONENTIAL HOPPINESS – to say nothing of their more refined, pinky-in-the-air IPAs, NELSON and DUET. Now I’d only gulped a few sips of DUET at a beer festival before, and while I loved it as much as one can love their fifteenth glass of beer in a day, I needed to spend some “alone time” truly contemplating it. I’d just enjoyed a 22-ounce bottle of NELSON a few weeks previous, and declared it to be fantastic on my beer blog, an opinion that was seconded, thirded and fourthed by others who’ve had the good fortune to come across this amazing (and amazingly rare) brew.

My bottles of NELSON and DUET were obtained solely because someone associated with San Francisco’s CITY BEER went on a SoCal beer run and brought some back to the store. Otherwise, it’s something the rest of us not in San Diego county need to trade for or order from an online merchant like South Bay Drugs. In both cases, I can’t recommend highly enough that you do. Duet is more restrained than Nelson is. While it has the citrus juiciness and intense hoppiness one associates with the style, it’s like the meters have been dialed down a bit to allow for full-bodied malts to rise to the fore, giving the beer a real creamy body that’s fairly atypical. DUET is a light, floral ale – there’s just no other way of putting it – albeit one that trades mouth-puckering bitterness for a well-rounded je ne sais quoi. For a beer style that tends to have only subtle differences in qualitative factors, the IPAs from ALPINE BREWING each stand alone and apart from each other, and they’re all delicious. I scored this DUET a 9/10 if you need any more convincing.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

ON THE BANNING OF VEILS

So veil-banning’s been in the news in Europe for a few years, and it was well past time I weighed in the matter from my distant vantage point in San Francisco, California. Here we don’t typically see women sloughing around in burqas and hijabs with a wary-eyed husband in tow, and when we do it’s something of a shock. Like the pre-9/11 feminists who were aggressively agitating for the United States to get rid of the Taliban in Afghanistan before George W. Bush and the neocons (tried to do) did just that, this whole burqa/hijab thing is one confusing muddle that unites strange sections of the left and the right, while tearing other sections of both asunder – when they’re even thinking about it at all.

Yet over in Europe, when Muslim populations have skyrocketed in the past decade and continue to grow, fear appears to reign across the spectrum. You’ve now got countries like France, Holland and Belgium that have been relatively homogenous for millennia, with shared (if evolving) religious and cultural values, now confronting an exploding minority that does not desire assimilation, nor acquiescence to cultural norms. And that freaks many tolerant, liberal-minded Europeans out. It’s how people of the left soon, on shifting accusational grounds of misogyny, anti-Semitism or sometimes even safety ("they might get in car accidents with those headscarves on"), soon become the intolerant ones. The result is a new plethora of hotly-debated laws that ban the wearing of head coverings or, allah forbid, the full-body covering burqa. Every time I read about a new law going up in Switzerland, France or Belgium along these lines, it’s a real head-scratcher. While I do not condone the recent anti-illegal immigrant laws passed in Arizona (I’m an open-the-borders kind of guy), it’s a total complete trifle compared to laws that keep law-abiding citizens from following their religion and customs.

It’s a cliché that’s probably a little bit offensive to bring up, but parts of Europe have been down this road before. The Belgians and the French and the Germans all have a duty to live out their ideals when faced with those in their midst who oppose those ideals – or they must ban immigration altogether. It’s really an either/or proposition to me. Muslims who come to a new country and who wish to follow Islam in their own manner, even if they cloak their women in these preposterous veils of shame, should in no way be restricted from doing so. The burden of a free society, and all that. This tinkering around the margins, where certain ancient customs and religions are said to be less-than-equal, is wrong-headed and flat-out discriminatory. I heartily applaud the nervous Europeans who oppose it, even while they keep an eye cocked on any real jihadis who may be in their midst.

DIG MY TWITTER STREAM

Could there be anything more fascinating than someone's Twitter updates? Sure there is - MY Twitter updates. You can see here at The Hedonist Jive that we've added a real-time stream of our twitting activity, so it's sorta like two blogs for the price of one - with the price being FREE, of course! Talk about value. If you'd like to follow the chirping activity the old-fashioned way, come on over to my Twitter page and send me a Friendster or whatever it is you call it. I'm @jayhinman for now and for eternity.

GASTRO INTESTELINI'S '96 RESTAURANT ROUNDUP

I've never been as proud of a piece of writing as I am of this one, which I hope you can actually read once you click on it to go "full screen". It was written under my culinary writing nom de plume, Gastro Intestelini, for the Cellular One company newsletter sometime in 1996. I was toiling in the Revenue Retention Department as a low-level supervisor when I was tapped on the shoulder to compose a compendium of South San Francisco restaurant reviews. Some may still exist if you're willing to weave through the biotech companies and fogbanks to scout 'em out.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

RECORD REVIEWS, FEATURING FEMALES IN A LEADING ROLE

My three favorite musical releases of this new decade so far share the distinction of all sporting females in a leading role – either as frontwoman and prime mover, or as part of a greater whole of a band made up entirely of the fairer sex. I also bought all three on iTunes with real virtual cash money. Illegal file-sharing and physical musical goods purchases are totally last decade, right? All three belong to an underground well of throwback rock and roll of various forms; then again, “throwback rock and roll” comes straight outta the department of redundancy department. I’ll walk you through each of these releases, try to get you psyched beyond belief, and then provide you with a convenient link for purchase.

WHITE MYSTERY - "White Mystery"
I’ve been solidly in MISS ALEX WHITE’s corner ever since I first heard her dusky, bluesified soul mama voice belting out punk rock tunes behind acres of guitar screech several years back. She’s worked her magic in the Hot Machines, Miss Alex White & The Red Orchestra, Candy Apple Killings and now WHITE MYSTERY, a duo with her equally fire-tressed brother Francis, and the two must cut quite a sight kicking out the jams together, orange locks flapping hither and yon. This 14-song LP/CD clocks in at about 27 minutes by my count, and they’re melted the majority of the two-minute scorchers together like a “Stars on 45” medley of high-energy distortion. It’s a great record top to bottom. Miss White’s taking a page from the heaviest, dirtiest 60s revival bands that came out 20 years later – THE MORLOCKS spring immediately to mind – and when her guitar’s not set to fuzz-stun, it’s tuned to a sort of reverbed-out jangle that one hears in the best of the 1966 teen garage bands. Francis White’s a total animal on the skins, too, and his pounding adds a real chaotic layer to his sister’s steady singing, which navigates a successful middle ground between “crooning” and “belting”. Going to be hard to keep this one off the shuffler the next few months. Buy it on iTunes.

DUM DUM GIRLS – “I Will Be”

This new LA band and their label, Sub Pop, leaked their retro-pop song “Jail La La” before this was released and that was all she wrote. “I Will Be” became my most eagerly-awaited record of the year, and when it hit and was promptly ingested last month, my enthusiasm never flagged. Better and more well-rounded that her early 45s (until recently the DUM DUM GIRLS were more or less a solo act of one Kristen Gundred), “I Will Be” mashes classic girl group moves onto a super low-fidelity recording ethos, then speeds up the tapes so the whole thing moves like a harmonic fireball. People flipped out about that band The Vivian Girls, but I’ve yet to hear a single song they’ve created that matches even the worst one on this disc. The Dum Dum Girls won’t get famous off of it – too gutter-seeking and raw to really become worldwide indie darlings, I believe – but I’ll definitely be signing myself up for Dum Dum Girls Army when they send out the form letter. Buy it on iTunes.

YELLOW FEVER – “Yellow Fever”

Finally, from Austin comes a duo whom I discovered via the digital baited hook of free mp3 downloads. They appear to be a 2-gal, 1-guy outfit – a ”trio”, I believe you call them – and while they’re no rote UK DIY throwback, there are definite John Peel show elements going on here, if you know what I mean. Sparse, minimal and free of window dressing, YELLOW FEVER play a sort of chiming, bass-driven churn that sticks one foot into the twee, harmonizing 60s and another into a foggy 1979 murk characteristic of low-budget UK bedroom 45s. This excellent CD collects their recordings starting from 2006, as I understand it, and takes us up to the current day in 2010 – so at a mere 11 songs, it’s a level of quality control that must be applauded. Tracks like “Donald” and “Metarie” are pure pop gems and among the half of “buoyant” songs on the disc, songs that complement the quieter, more contemplative numbers like “Culver City”. This deserves a wide audience and I hope they get on the Pony Express & hightail it to California so I can see ‘em live. Buy it on iTunes.

Monday, April 26, 2010

“HOT KNIVES’ GREATEST SIPS”

This thing's not a book per se, and is more a cherry-picked collection of blog posts from the outstanding HOT KNIVES site. These two fellas - Evan & Alex - have been wordsmithing purveyors of vegetarian cuisine, jujitsu-style veggie cooking, and most importantly, craft beer drinking for some time now. I discovered their Hot Knives blog a while back, and it has been a favorite read for years – again, tickling my pleasure centers primarily when they write about the world’s great beers in their quote-unquote inimitable style. They did one of these DIY publishing deals recently, where they gather their best writings on beer, throw in some Xeroxed photos of said beer, hit the “publish” button – and voila: an instabook. I just read it this weekend, and boy did it make me want to get my beer on.

It’s called “GREATEST SIPS" and before we get too far, I should let you know it’s available for purchase here for a mere $10. It is without hyperbole that I can proclaim it’s the best writing on beer – a subject littered with some of the most abominable, hackneyed writing imaginable – that I have ever read (or for that matter, contributed to). Alex Brown and Evan George are kings of metaphorical forays into the heart of beer, and when they want to tell you something is delicious, it’s not simply going to be a rote recitation about hops, malts nor lacing on the glass. It’s all about context, location, and extemporaneous things that might be only vaguely related to the get-down matter at hand – and yet all the while, they’re able to give a note-perfect rendering of what, say, a DUCHESSE DE BOURGOGNE tastes like. The writing is truly fun, somewhat breezy and upbeat, while possessing more than a few five-dollar words. And they claim to listen to some pretty rad music while doing their sampling and reportage, ranging from Augustus Pablo to Psychic TV to Black Flag. I was on a self-imposed 7-day beer hiatus that was shattered not even 2 days into it, thanks to this fine little book. That’s how good these guys are, and that's how crucial it is that you pick a copy of this up posthaste.

WHAT IS THIS "HEDONIST JIVE”?

Well, it’s a song – an ultra-obscure 1980 track from a UK group called THE MIDNIGHT CIRCUS, found on a compilation EP of raw, minimalist DIY bands of the day called “Angst In My Pants”. As soon as I saw the song title (and heard the shambling paean to booze and carnal pleasure), I knew I’d have to appropriate the name somehow, some way. So in 2006 I decided to start a new blog about beer, and couldn’t think of a good name for it. I wasn’t going to lower myself to any sort of beer-related pun like “Good For What Ales You” – I’d sooner commit seppuku - nor did I want the blog to be ridiculously generic, like “The Beer Report” or “Beer Reviews By Jay’. So I forced the proverbial square peg of my desired name into the round hole of my new blog, and came up with HEDONIST BEER JIVE.

For four years and change, I lived with this dumb-ass name that made no sense. Now I’ve decided to consolidate all the laser-focused topical blogs I’ve been penning all these years and go big, writing about whatever – with no shackles, baby, I’m totally free! So here’s the original song that inspired the name of this blog, “The Hedonist Jive” by The Midnight Circus.



Download The Midnight Circus - "The Hedonist Jive"

Saturday, April 24, 2010

"NYMPH" - A SUPERNATURAL BRAIN ERASER

Every year my wife & I buy tickets to at least 2-4 different films at the San Francisco International Film Festival - almost without fail foreign films we'd never see otherwise - and yet we usually only hit about .300 when it comes to hit/fail ratio. That's great for ballplayers, pretty soul-crushing when you're paying a babysitter for a big night out, time and again, year after year. So watching Pen-ek Ratanaruang's creeped-out 2009 Thai film "NYMPH" last night, and being just shy of blown away by it, was a pretty joyous event. Let's talk about it. And oh yeah, welcome to my new blog, which I'm keeping low-profile for now as I define just what it is I want to do with it.

"NYMPH" is one of those films where you need to sit on your hands and accept that you won't really know what's going on, but will be still questioning in your head for hours afterward. There's a plot, sort of, but really the movie is 90 minutes of constant foreboding and dread, punctuated by amazing cinematography, an ominous (but perfect) musical score, and strange flashes of horror, sexual tension and utter confusion. It concerns an adulterous woman named May married to a bohemian photographer named Nop. Both go on a camping trip that leads Nop to essentially lose himself both literally and spiritually in the jungle-like woods, at the foot of a mysterious giant tree that he tries to embrace and quite literally make love to. (This after being sexually spurned, for what appears to be the billionth time, by May). He comes back, eventually, but things aren't quite the same to put it mildly - even though for a good 20 minutes one believes they will be, despite strange bloody happenings in the jungle/woods.

I'm the guy who falls asleep during subtitled films on Friday nights, no matter how much we're paying the babysitter nor how much I've been wanting to see a particular film. This one kept me absolutely riveted, puzzled and - oh, OK - fully pumped with scared adrenaline as I waited for things to pop out of the screen and tear the protagonists apart. "NYMPH" can be enjoyed on multiple levels - as a piece of spiritual theater; as a bizarre horror film; as a commentary on decaying marriage; as a film dork's perfect storm of image & sound; and as a good old-fashioned mind-flayer. I recommend it without reservation to the adventurous filmgoer.