Wednesday, June 30, 2010

GRASS WIDOW/SONNY & THE SUNSETS/ROYAL BATHS live, 6/27/10

Here’s a real rarity on the ‘Jive – a live show review. The last time I tried to see local DIY/minimalist harmony-trio GRASS WIDOW here in town at the Amnesia Bar, I was stymied by my curmudgeonly lack of tolerance for insufferable opening bands “Wet Illustrated” and “The German Measles” – oh, and by the fact that the clock was ticking midnight, and on what we used to call a school night at that. Can’t do it anymore – I just can’t gut it out through bad openers the way I used to. Beer used to get me through any and all musical calamities, but now anything even approaching drunkenness just makes me even more uncomfortable, woozy and unable to bear the cross in silence. So when they did the unthinkable, and shuffled Grass Widow from their penultimate position in the order to “headliners” at the 11th hour, I beat a hasty retreat from the club, cursing my age, my lost $7, youth in general, President Obama, Bush and his fascist wars, the growing police state and the unfairness of the  income tax. I presently made a vow to see Grass Widow again, yet on terms of my choosing.

Since they wouldn’t play a 5pm backyard barbeque at my house, I resigned myself to last Sunday’s “all ages” show at the Bottom of the Hill – which commenced at the Hedonist Jive-friendly hour of 8pm (yes!). The first opener, THE BATHS (whom I’ve read may now be called the ROYAL BATHS, and who are pictured above) were outstanding. This is another San Francisco trio who trend in a more primitive psychedelia direction, with really simple thumping drum/rhythm patterns a la The Cramps or Birthday Party giving way to an expansive, shoegaze-like sprawl of noise and reverb. Each member had a look at odds with the other, with a 60s mod-shag guitarist, a cablinasian college kid guitarist, and a Woman Who Runs With The Wolves on drums. They would lock in at the same time on some 5-minute screamer they were riding, and take it all the way up into the astral plane. Great band, and one I’m definitely pleased to now be marginally acquainted with.

SONNY & THE SUNSETS, also from San Francisco, wrote one of my favorite songs of last year, “Death Cream”. Everything else I’d heard by them failed to move me much, but they’re actually a hoot live. They’re led by a charismatic Mark E. Smith-like frontman (Sonny!) who spits out stretches of verse in a sort of party-rock atmosphere backed by an exceptionally tight and garagy band (The Sunsets!). There’s a lady with a tambourine and a nice set of backing pipes, a drummer and bassist who know their way around layin’ it down, and a general “positive” feel that I couldn’t help liking. Positive rock. Get on board now.

Finally, and without any last-minute lineup shenanigans (TY SEGALL headlined – I’ve seen him twice recently and chose to go home to sleep instead), GRASS WIDOW materialized and knocked out thirty minutes of tightly-wound chug, right out of the 1979 English all-girl-band playbook, leavened with a dash of URINALS as well, even starting the set with their note-perfect version of “Black Hole”. They’ve got a new record coming out any minute now, and they played a few from it, all of which seemed more or less in line with their previous two records and worthy of some vinyl contemplation when the time is right. Not that I’m fully on top of the scene right now, but if they’re not one of the best four or five bands going right about now, I’d like to meet the one or two that might be better. All local, all great, and I was home snoring by 11pm. “A magical evening of music and song”.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

“CYRUS”

I have a new film-going motto: “If it’s Duplass, I’m In”. That’s due to my admiration for the three films I’ve seen by directors Mark and Jay Duplass to date: “Baghead”, “The Puffy Chair” and now “Cyrus”, as well as Mark’s acting skills in the underrated and not-seen-enough comedy “Humpday” from last year. “CYRUS” is their newest, and it’s their tentative medium-budget bid for the multiplex – and coincidentally enough, I saw it at a multiplex (I think). It concerns a middle-aged average white male named John. played by John C. Reilly, who’s riding a bit of a personal 7-year losing streak after being left by his wife, played by Catherine Keener. She and her fiancé work to get him set up with another woman, and amazingly enough, the nearly equally-hot-middle-ager Marisa Tomei** takes a quick interest in lovable loser John, and they start an improbable fling that escalates quickly.

Trouble is, she has a live-in 21-year old son named Cyrus who has “mommy issues”, shall we say – though this isn’t readily apparent at first. Through a subtle series of events, these two men essentially do battle over who will live with her and win the honor to cling to her the tightest. And really, that’s about it – and it’s hilarious and often cringingly real the whole way through. I love the way these guys make films and get the most out of their actors. Young Jonah Hill – yeah, the potty mouth from “Superbad” – is probably the best part of this excellent film, and really, it’s all in the eyes. When he stares at John or silently mouths “fuck you” to him when his mom’s not looking, one is unsure whether he’ll quickly turn into a homicidal maniac, or if he’s simply a sniveling snot-nosed kid in need of more attention from mommy. He doesn’t have to say much – nor does anyone.

The Duplass Bros are great at winding a simple domestic situation extremely tight and filling it with comedic tension. It’s the same approach Lynn Shelton used in her “Humpday”, with Mark Duplass in the leading acting role. There looks to be forming quite an impressive little indie cadre right now on the margins of American film. See this one by all means. While it’s one of only 3 or 4 films I’ve seen in the theaters in 2010, it’s absolutely the best.

** I wanted to make a small observation about Hollywood actresses who allow themselves to age naturally, as the stunningly beautiful Keener and Tomei have. First, it’s depressingly rare. Second, and I’ll say this only once – plastic surgery horrifies far more men than society might have you believe. I feel for any woman who thinks it’s attractive to lift, pull and yank her skin into something that every one of us can see from forty paces is fake, fake, fake. I instantly lose respect for her, and find her less attractive than I might otherwise have. No one enjoys getting older and losing their visible youth and vitality, yet those women who show comfort, acceptance and peace with the aging process have a certain radiance that is readily visible. I was shocked at seeing both these women in this film actually looking like the 51 (Keener) and 45 (Tomei) that they are, because it seems that in Hollywood that’s really not allowed any more.

Friday, June 25, 2010

“BIG FAN” – TAXI DRIVER FOR OUR TIMES

Robert Siegel’s 2009 film “BIG FAN” is an exceptionally impressive debut and a cringe-inducing trip into the mind of a never-grow-up sports obsessive. One thing about my own sometime-addiction to sports (baseball most of the time; often NBA and NHL as well) that keeps me clinically sane, I believe, is my realization that they are, at the end of the day, games for children – and should therefore be treated with the proper distance when necessary. And we’re all overgrown children at some level, aren’t we? That’s really a key message of “BIG FAN”, that the overgrown man-children roam about us everywhere, and perhaps are us when we’re herded into the pack mentality that is our collective nationwide adoration of professional sports. I loved the film, and felt like it was an excellent heir to the depressing black comedies of the 1970s.

Patton Oswalt – the most loveable fat guy on the planet, and one of the best stand-up comedians I’ve ever seen – is a note-perfect star for the film. He plays a late thirtysomething Staten Island parking garage attendant named Paul who lives with his mom in a dingy old house, and whose entire life and psyche revolves around the New York Giants football team. When he calls into his favorite sports radio show every night, he plans out his scripted calls as meticulously as a head coach crafts scrimmage-line plays in the late fourth quarter. Usually these calls are “we’re gonna win” insults thrown at “Philly Frank” or whatever it is they dubbed the Philadelphia Eagles fan who calls the New York sports-talk shows every night to taunt the local fans. Though we think at first that we’re supposed to feel sorry for Paul, in truth he’s actually a pretty happy guy until people in his family start questioning his obsessions. He simply wants to live his life around his love of football, and he doesn’t want a girlfriend, a meaningful job, or anything else that gets in the way of this Sunday’s Giants game.

Alas, Paul’s obsession takes him into the reality that is professional sports athletes, their egos and their drug problems, and his child-like enthusiasm when he sees his favorite player Quantrell Bishop in his neighborhood results in him getting his ass severely kicked by that same Quantrell Bishop. This sets in motion the choice that Paul must make – work to prosecute and sue the suspended and disgraced Quantrell and seek the justice that virtually anyone would, or do everything to deny what actually happened to him, so that the Giants might have a better chance of winning with Quantrell back in the lineup?

Because this film takes place in the blue-collar borough of Staten Island, in a New York that is unglamorous and dirty, it reminds me greatly of “Taxi Driver” and other 70s films full of loners, misfits and freaks – back when ALL of New York was that dirty and seemingly depressed. There are some excellent little touches that I noticed that really showed me that Siegel knows what he’s doing with this character and the world he exists in. There’s one scene where Paul’s goombah brother, who has made a newly-rich life for himself as one of those annoying injury lawyers who advertises on TV, tries to start his new DVD player and gets the “spinning DVD wheel graphic” for a minute while everyone impatiently waits for the show to start. It’s a little thing, but it highlighted just how newly this very recently working-class guy came into his wealth, so much so that his big-screen TV and DVD player barely work together and he’s still trying to figure out what it means to be a big shot. Then there’s the Eagles fan Paul confronts in a bar near the end of the film – with his tam-o-shanter and ridiculous accent, this guy is about as “Philadelphia” as it gets, and I laughed every time he opened his mouth. I‘ve met this guy, and if you’ve been in sports bars on the east coast, you have too.

When Paul finally intones to his hectoring mother, who’s trying to get him to be more like his brother and sister, “But I LIKE my life! I don’t WANT their lives!”, it tells you all you need to know about Paul and his obsessions. He just wants to be left alone to be a big fan and a big child. Like I said, there are a lot of us that certainly know the feeling.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

GRANDMA’S POSTCARDS – PART TWO

A few weeks back I started sharing some of the best finds from my recently-deceased grandmother’s decades-long postcard collection, which she started cobbling together as a young girl in Whitehall, Montana and Orifino, Idaho in the 1920s and 30s. Most of the postcards that I was bequeathed upon her passing are dated from this era, and up into the 1960s. Like I said last time, most are site-specific snapshots from tourist attractions, churches and buildings, with very little in the way of creepy kitsch, sexist relics nor jaw-dropping absurdity. There are some great ones, though. Click here to take a look at my first batch that I posted. Here are some more.

First up is this grotesque pair of postcards from Dusseldorf, Germany from what I believe to be the 1950s – making these weird bear lovers and bizarre bear family shots native to “West Germany”:


Next up is a 1961 snap from “Desert Christ Park” in California’s Yucca Valley, a hideous gingerbread-and-gumdrop church that “Anton Marton, a retired pattern maker, has with limited funds erected this great monument to religious unity and world peace”. I googled this place to see if it’s still around, and while Desert Christ Park’s sculpture garden is still extant, unfortunately this ‘lil chapel is no longer with us:


Many of Grandma’s postcards are actually drawings (made to look like photos) of tourist attractions, like this one from Dinosaur Park in Rapid City, SD:


Then there was the big one – WWII. Here’s a cool postcard showing all the Axis Allied powers going “All Out For Victory” in the early 1940s:


I’ve been in antique and collectable stores with sizeable postcard collections and have seen other military-themed cards from whomever drew this one, also from the WWII era:


This one’s absolutely ancient, a 1920s view of Billings, Montana complete with horses and buggies:

I’m totally imagining the partying that went down at The Inn at Buck Hill Falls in Pennsylvania, apparently a getaway place for Pennsylvania Quakers when they needed to let their hair down for some raging bible study:


Finally, this one was sent from Butte, Montana by my Great-Grandmother Dale Houx on February 14th, 1931 to her daughter, Marvel – my grandmother - with a 1-cent stamp on it. I cannot make a snarky comment, because it is impossible in the face of such goodness and warmth.

More to come.

Monday, June 21, 2010

BOULEVARD BREWING’S “RYE-ON-RYE”

Whenever I find myself in Overland Park, Kansas – which is more often than you’d think, thanks to some fairly frequent business work out thataway – I make a beeline for that liquor store off of Metcalf over by the Whole Foods; you know, the one that always has the brand new numbered bottles from the BOULEVARD BREWING SMOKESTACK SERIES. The Smokestack Series, for those not yet hip to it, is this premier Midwestern brewer’s limited-run, high-gravity, specialty beer line - usually featuring Belgian styles, funky beers or big, bad IPAs. Last trip I pulled down a bottle of something called BOULEVARD RYE-ON-RYE, which given my generally excellent experience with the Smokestack stuff, had me pretty ready to do battle with it at once.

And when I say limited, I mean it – though not in the Black Tuesday/Darklord sense of the word. Mine was numbered #2710 out of a total of 12,148 bottles ever created. So if you really wanted that particular number, I’m sorry, but I have already completed my contemplation of said bottle. RYE-ON-RYE is aged in charred oak rye whiskey casks, and it’s made with three different hops, two of which I’ve never heard of: perle magnum and saphir. You think they maybe made those up? This beer hits hard with thick malts, molasses and light oak. The rye is indeed there if you look for it, but I didn’t find it to be dominant, just present in the aftertaste. This beer’s good at concealing its 11% alcohol, and it also keeps the hops fairly low (I could have used a few more, honestly). As it warmed it started to taste a little sweeter in a toffee sorta way. Or something. Solid stuff, but a little boring for such a jumbo ale. I had a better time with the SAISON-BRETT, the Smokestack surprise I quaffed a few months before this one. 6.5/10.

Friday, June 18, 2010

SUPERDOPE 1.0 – WHERE WE TRIED TO CONQUER NEW MEDIA

A few weeks ago I posted the first issue of my 90s music fanzine SUPERDOPE from 1991, and made a promise that eventually I’d get all eight issues that I’d published scanned and posted here. I will keep that promise. Yet there was an “issue” of the magazine that virtually no one ever saw, and that I plum forgot about until I unearthed it from a keepsakes box last month. In 1999 I was a grad student in Seattle, and had published Superdope #8 – a print issue – a few months previous. I was on the fence about actually painstakingly putting together another issue (and paying for it), and thought that maybe I’d reconfigure things a bit and publish an “email newsletter” instead. You know why? There were no blogs. That’s right – no blogs. You don’t remember, do you?

So my “SUPERDOPE 1.0” idea lasted all of one “issue”. I only had about 30 email addresses to send it to; I remember going into the alt-banana-truffle newsgroup and spamming everyone there with this as well, to little effect. The long and short of it was that I still wanted to review records & CDs I liked, I just didn’t want to have to do any heavy lifting. Luckily a few years later Blogger and Wordpress and all that started up, so I shifted these energies to a blog called AGONY SHORTHAND. In the meantime, here’s a scanned Word document containing the reviews I emailed to an uncaring world back in Spring 1999. I still like these records, too. Click on it to make it larger and more readable:





Thursday, June 17, 2010

WHO ARE YOU, “ALE INDUSTRIES”?

I haven’t had much to rave about beer-wise in this space since I converted over from my old Hedonist Beer Jive blog. Sure, there’ve been some decent beers reported on here, but nothing that made me say “What in the Sam Hill is going on here??!?”. Until two days ago, that is. I was "kicking it", as we say, at City Beer Store in San Francisco, and they had something on tap called RYE’D PIPER from an outfit called ALE INDUSTRIES. Ale Industries? Sounded to me like someone’s bogus beer spy name, in the “Acme Beer Company” vein. But a hoppy, red rye ale sounded pretty all right to me – and oh – oh, it was. This is a world-class imperial red ale without the imperial. Weighing in at just 5% ABV, ALE INDUSTRIES RYE’D PIPER is just a wonderfully tingling swirl of malts and hops. It has a dry taste to it while still remaining juicy and fresh, and a pinch of spicing that I’m assuming is the rye. Excellent dosage of hops presented in a really full-class manner, in perfect concert with the roasted malts. It all works, my friends.

So I had to find out who these folks were. Turns out that Ale Industries have gone and put up a web site and everything. They’re even talking about anniversary beers, and I didn’t even know they’d been born yet til a couple days ago. And they’re based in Concord, California, only 45 minutes from my home on a good traffic day, and famously home to the Sleep Train Pavilion, where I saw my first live concert back in the 70s – Arthur Fielder and the Boston Pops. (That show was off the hook, by the way). Anyway, these guys are off to a roaring start in my book and I’m going to investigate everything they put out, starting right this second. 9/10.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

A FULL MEASURE OF BREAKING BAD, SEASON 3

There was an article in my wife’s Entertainment Weekly mag bemoaning the current state of American film, with the money quote from an executive being something along the lines of “Five years ago it was questionable when people would claim that modern TV was just as creative and interesting as movies; now there’s simply no doubt”. Seconded and thirded. Starting with the best show on TV right now, “BREAKING BAD” , we’re in a golden age of television, where the best writers, directors and actors are working together to create the best small-screen entertainment ever produced. Thanks to HBO for kick-starting the process with “The Sopranos”, and then furthering it with the amazing trifecta of “Six Feet Under”, “The Wire” and “Curb Your Enthusiasm” – all told, possibly the other 3 finest TV shows I’ve ever seen. To say nothing of “Extras”, “Lost”, “Peep Show”, “Mad Men” and “Battlestar Gallactica”. Nor “Parks and Recreation”, “30 Rock” and both versions of “The Office”, before the US version jumped the shark.

Yet it’s BREAKING BAD that has me the most captivated, and which truly passed a new creative milestone with the 13-episode season that wrapped up this past Sunday. The show has all the main characters spinning out of control and into a vortex of badness, centered around one very confused, mixed-up, yet driven man: Walter White, played by Bryan Cranston. In case you’re only reading about the show for the first time, here’s my 4-sentence synopsis: Walter White is a milquetoast chemistry teacher with not a lot of money who learns he has terminal cancer. To provide money for his family after he dies, he decides to make and sell crystal meth with one of his students (Jesse, played by Aaron Paul) in the here and now, using his advanced chemistry skills, setting off a rapid, dangerous and violent unwinding of the normal, suburban family life he’d cultivated over 50 boring years. As he moves out of near-death and into remission, Walter comes to be intoxicated by the danger and power his new life has provided, and also becomes a fantastic liar who’s always one step ahead of everyone else (the law, his family, the Mexican cartels) by guile, luck and trickery. He begins to drag everyone down with him, and at the end of Season 3, it’s clear that he’ll do everything and anything to not only stay alive, but to keep his power and new self-image.

I loved the ending of Season 3, in which (spoiler!) Walter has Jesse murder an assistant chemist named Gale whom the American cartel would like to have replace Walt. This is the murder of a sympathetic character done in cold blood, and it’s even worse in terms of morality than when Walt let Jesse’s girlfriend Jane OD in front of him, in order to help save his own skin from the law. That was passive murder of a junkie – this is active murder of a quote-unquote “good guy”, albeit one who cooks crystal meth for a living. Not like we didn’t know crazy Walt was sliding toward the abyss very rapidly (in the previous show he murdered two heroin dealers who were about to kill Jesse), but this cements Walt & Jesse as the guys who are going to have to bring down the very powerful American drug cartel in Season 4 just to stay alive. It’s going to be a blast. I can’t think of another show this gripping from the past twenty years, outside of “The Wire”. I think they might be the two best TV dramas of all time.

I have only one bone to pick with this show, and it’s a fairly small one – it’s actually more with critics who keep writing that Jesse, played by Aaron Paul, should be drowning in Emmys for his “searing performances”. Am I the only one to find Jesse the most inconsistent and least believable person on this show? Jesse is infused with moral clarity and ethics in one moment, and then he’s the worst hedonistic, dumb-ass, faux hip-hop “wigger” imaginable the next. I don’t buy it. Jesse is mostly incredibly annoying, and acts so ridiculously stupid and reckless for the majority of the show that when he’s all of a sudden having flashes of insight, talking in a somber voice, filling his beautiful blue eyes with tears over his gorgeous, smart, dead girlfriend Jane (who would never in a million years have been with the clown we see in the rest of the show, outside of their mutual love of heroin) – it strikes me as somewhat hollow. I like Aaron Paul and I think he does what they tell him to do extremely well – I just don’t like the howling inconsistencies in his character. I hope they sober him up a bit after this last bombshell shocker of a season ending, and help him grow up a little bit. Enough with all the “yo yo yo”s, you know what I mean?

I could go on and one about some of the other incredible performances – Anna Gunn, who plays Walt’s wife Skyler, in particular. She’s amazing, and I hope we see more of her in Season 4 than we did this year. I suspect that we will, since she’s now signing on to help Walt launder his drug money using her advanced bookkeeping training (!). In short, BREAKING BAD is a landmark TV event every week, and I’m heartened to see more and more people signing on. The show just got renewed as well, so get the DVD player fired up this summer and/or start Tivo’ing the AMC Breaking Bad marathons they’ll be having all year. I promise you won’t regret getting going with this one.

Monday, June 14, 2010

AFROBEAT EXPLOSION IN MY CAR

I’ve been digging deep into the 1970s African musical phenomenon commonly called “Afrobeat”, thanks to a burgeoning series of reissue CDs that have been pouring forth from record labels like Analog Africa, Soundway and Knitting Factory Records. Where Afrobeat begins and ends is certainly open to interpretation, so I’ll give you mine: if it features moderate-to-heavy amounts of funk, rhythmic African drumming, and is in any way influenced by the late 60s-and-beyond recording of FELA KUTI, it’s probably Afrobeat. Then again, it could be highlife, juju, cavacha, afro-funk or agbadja. Or something else. It’s not like I’m an expert here or anything. Let me run down the four CDs that have been blowing out my car stereo speakers the past month as I’ve been investigating the distinctions between Africa’s music of a generation ago.

FELA KUTI – “Open & Close/Afrodisiac”

While I wasn’t looking, Knitting Factory Records went and digitized a huge portion of FELA KUTI’s back catalog, and put them in these cool gatefold digipacks with good liner notes and original album artwork. I won’t go into too much detail lionizing Fela Kuti, since he’s the acknowledged master of Afrobeat and really the continent of Africa’s biggest and most renown contribution to music over the past 50 years. I started my Fela journey a few years ago with a double CD of his greatest hits, and tracks like “Zombie” and “Roforofo Fight” are among the most sizzling and syncopated rhythm monsters ever created. Now I’m going to proceed into the LPs Fela was creating with his Africa ’70 band, including these two from the early 70s.

“Open & Close” was a proper LP from 1971, while “Afrodisiac” was an LP collection of singles spanning three years (1970-1972). Both are terrific, especially the title track on “Open & Close” – some of the most joyous, full-band, uplifting dance music I’ve heard. One thing I love about afrobeat and Fela’s stewardship of it is that most tracks clock in at well greater than 10 minutes, so you lock onto a groove and you don’t let go until you've blown past your freeway exits. I chose this disc pretty much at random and it was a "hella" strong first choice.

FELA KUTI – “Roforofo Fight/The Fela Singles”

Another stomping disc of form-defining afrobeat here, with the fast and subtle scorcher “Roforofo Fight” being the lead dog. This one drags a little bit on the later LP tracks, only to be vaulted back up again by the looong singles “Shenshema” and “Ariya” that end the disc. (When they say singles, I mean – were these 45rpm 7-inch singles? Because I didn’t think any 12” maxi-groove singles were being made until well into the disco era). Right when I bought this CD I also bought the WAX POETICS magazine Africa issue with Fela on the cover. I learned what a dictatorial egomaniacal bastard he was in the course of several interviews with his bandmates and compatriots, and then I’d put this CD on, listen to it three times straight on a commute, and all was forgiven.

“NIGERIA AFROBEAT SPECIAL”

This collection doesn’t quite have the oomph of the aforementioned Fela stuff but it’s not for lack of variation nor the crazy jambalaya of sound coming out of this disc. There’s a strong tinge of psychedelia that crops up in several numbers, including the awesome “We Dey Find Money” from ERIC SHOWBOY AKAEZE & HIS ROYAL ERICOS, which I’m posting for you to listen to here. This collection is from Soundway, who are master crate diggers devoted to bringing long-lost records from around the globe back to the people. They’ve got a growing series of discs just like this one, including a “Ghana Special” that I also have that’s probably a little more even, and which I'll review later sometime. That said, this thing’s a great listen before it devolves into easy listening “danceable mellowness” about two-thirds through. Oh – and there’s a raucous Fela track on here, too, called “Who’re You (Original 45 version)”, and it’s a total bodyfat-melter.

"LEGENDS OF BENIN"

Picked this up totally on a whim, perhaps hoping to have the same sort of shock of discovery I got when I heard the original “GHANA SOUNDZ” compilation way back in 2003. Benin? Yeah, that’s right – sandwiched right next to Togo and Nigeria in Western Africa. This is subtitled “Afro-Funk – Cavacha – Agbadja – Afro-Beat 1969-1981”, and it makes for a varied and very impressive overview of ethnic dance sounds from this tiny country during the 70s. It has a super-detailed book of liner notes with incredible old photos of the band in action, sporting the best in 1970s African musician-wear. As on “Nigeria Afrobeat Special”, there’s one clear winner – the tracks from ANTOINE DOUGBÉ. This guy led a totally smoking band – not in the James Brown/Fela sense of loud percussive sound, but a band who operated as a tight, propulsive unit that most assuredly could fill a dancehall floor from the word go. I’m posting my fave track on this excellent collection, “Honton Soukpo Gnon”, and it’s one of 4 tracks from DOUGBÉ, including one with ORCHESTRE POLY-RYTHMO, whom Wax Poetics wrote about in that Africa issue I was tellin’ you about and who I want to hear more from. I say if you’ve got $35 to spare, pick this one up and the Fela “Open & Close” disc and you’re off to the races, Afrobeat style.


Play “We Dey Find Money” - ERIC SHOWBOY AKAEZE & HIS ROYAL ERICOS


Download “We Dey Find Money” - ERIC SHOWBOY AKAEZE & HIS ROYAL ERICOS (from “Nigeria Afrobeat Special” compilation CD)

Play “Honton Soukpo Gnon” - ANTOINE DOUGBÉ


Download “Honton Soukpo Gnon” - ANTOINE DOUGBÉ (from “Legends of Benin” compilation CD)

Friday, June 11, 2010

PLEASED TO MEET YA, GUBNA

Last time I got involved with a hoppy, “imperial” beer from Colorado’s OSKAR BLUES BREWERY I pretty much busted a nut over it – so of course I was going to pick up a can of one of these first chance I got. First chance I got was last night, and it’s already been “retired” and laid down in its final resting place, if you know what I mean. The previously-adored hoppy imperial beer from these guys is GORDON – a wonderful red ale that I can’t get enough of. GUBNA may not quite rise to that exalted state, but it’s a really fine Double IPA and perfect for this sweltering stretch of weather we’ve been having and will continue to have. Let’s investigate.

First of all, OSKAR BLUES GUBNA is a transparent, see-though sort of IPA. Lookee there – you can see the wall of our stairwell, right through my beer. Another thing about this one – wow, it is creamy. Not a word typically associated with intense, bitter India Pale Ales – but there it is. It’s really a thick, luscious sort of imperial IPA, translucency notwithstanding. Gives off a rich, musky sort of hop smell, and comes on a little strong in the alcohol department once you get into it. It’s neither pine nor fruit – it’s kind of its own beast, but well within “style guidelines” if you’re keeping score. In short, one of the bigger asskickers on the market. 7.5/10.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

“THIS AMERICAN LIFE” SNAGS A NEW CONVERT

For years I sneered at NPR’s hugely popular “This American Life” radio show, and shrugged when people would implore me to listen: “ohmygod howcouldyounotLOVE that show????!?”. I don’t know. I think it was host Ira Glass himself. His cadence, his tone. Glass is effeminate, precious and snarky, even when he’s only muttering a few syllables, and for years he epitomized for me one of those NPR demigods that people with Volvos and mini-SUVs and mortgages and 2.5 kids looked up to. Oh – and for the record – I have a mortgage and a Suburu Foerster, in which we tote our 1.0 children to school every day, and I do enjoy some of the NPR programming from time to time. But I still didn’t like the show. Maybe it’s because I wasn’t truly listening, and because I cast a grossly unfair critical judgment based upon the flimsiest of evidence. Hey, it’s what we do over here at the Hedonist Jive!

So some friends of ours had extra tickets to a “This American Life” live performance/lecture thing in Berkeley a few months ago, and asked us to come along. My wife likes the show, and while I considered staying home and alphabetizing my CDs instead, I came along – and totally dug it. It all clicked for me – the passion these interviewers put into spinning a gripping story; the evenhandedness that Glass and his cohorts employ in telling tales that they could otherwise cast summary judgment upon; and just how fun an hour-long show of true tales from ordinary people can actually be. I decided to get on board, about 10 years after everyone else did, and now I’m – well maybe not a fanatic, but I’m most definitely a fan.

“THIS AMERICAN LIFE” typically unleashes a new podcast of their show each week, and rather than listen to it on the radio during its allotted timeslot (who does that anymore, right?), I’ve been listening to them this way. Some of these episodes lately have been whoppers. They’re so good at taking the most simple of precepts and blowing them out into these dramatic, seat-gripping sagas. Recent favorites of mine include this one episode called “My Pen Pal”, about a dorky pre-teen girl in Michigan in the early 80s who inexplicably developed a deep pen-pal relationship with General Manuel Noriega of Panama, right before the US went to “war” with the country in the 80s and Noriega was jailed on drug trafficking charges. I swear, “This American Life” told this story so beautifully through interviews, voiceover and snippets of TV coverage from back in the day that I had to just sit in the parking lot at work for 20 minutes after I got in just so I could finish it. Another superb episode was an hour-long recollection by a guy who found an old abandoned house with his friends when he was a kid, and the weirdness they discovered inside. It led to a years-long fascination with piecing together the strange story of the people who lived there, and to a ton of regret once he did. I was riveted, and you could tell from Glass’s introduction that he knew they had a remarkable story to tell, and gave up the entire hour to tell it.

This is the sort of charge people got out of old-time radio, in the days when the whole family would gather around the living room radio for ghost stories or “Amos & Andy”, now updated for the podcast generation. Now that I’ve consumed a couple dozen episodes of this show, some dating back to their early days a decade ago, I obviously can see what I was missing. It’s rare for them to misfire, too – a story will start out on the most mundane of topics and you think, “Aw, I’ll just skip this one” – and then wham, you’re in. The only stuff they do that I just can’t stand is from their friends at another audio-production house called RADIO LAB. Full of cut-ups, sound effects and general “look at us, we’re wacky” sort of tomfoolery, the Radio Lab stuff is easily the worst part of any This American Life show, and thankfully they’re only on a handful of recent episodes. I’m hoping I’ve heard the last of them.

And Ira? Well, Ira’s now one of my favorite things about the show. You just gotta get to know him the way I finally did. Not only does his sensibility, such that it is, inform the entire show, he’s probably their best interviewer - and when he leads a particular story, it’s a pretty good bet that it’s going to be the finest piece in any given hour. I’ve not seen the TV show these guys put together on Showtime a few years back, but it’s now “on the list”. Meanwhile, if you’ve been resisting “This American Life” for the reasons I was, I’m humbly recommending that you fight your prejudice and give it a go.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

BEER CACHE CLEANSE

I may have ceased publishing a blog exclusively dedicated to reviewing craft & artisinal beer - but it don't mean I've stopped drinkin' 'em! I made a habit over the years of collecting notes on new ones I've tried, and even have continued through the years to assign a rating to each of them. It's a disease, a curse - and a cross I must bear for the people. Here are some micro-reviews of some of the things I've tried since HBJ bit the dust:

DRAKE'S IPA - This Bay Area brewer is under the radar to most folks, but I've found that they make a mean, bitter, intense set of IPAs. This is no exception - strong piney hop taste and a smell that'll knock the socks off yr ass. Great non-double Double IPA. 8/10.

MAD RIVER "THE MAD BELGIAN" - From a Humblodt County brewer who conitnues to impress, this Belgian-style ale has a light sweetness with a strong taste of honey. Really fragrant and medum-bodied and good. Close your eyes and you're not surrounded by hippies in Arcata - you're in Brussels, baby. 7.5/10.

DE RANKE BITTER XX - Whoa. Hoppy and acidic, with a big 'ol kick of tanginess. This is a real Belgian ale, unfiltered and unpasteurized and big big big. It's like drinking a sour ale to prove your beer-drinking mettle - this is the "bitter" corrollary. Good luck to you. 6/10.

MARIN BREWING "BRASS KNUCKLES" - Draft only, this is a boozy, still-as-Walden Pond double IPA from just over the Golden Gate Bridge near San Francisco. Neither citrus nor piney, but a different hungry beast entirely. I really enjoyed it and will seek it out, presently. 8/10.

RUSSIAN RIVER "SUPPLICATION" - I'll win no points with the Beer Advocate crowd, but I really think there's such a thing as too sour.  Hardcore puckering cherry action that's delicious at times,. totally unstomachable at others. A chore. 6/10.

LAGUNITAS "THE HAIRY EYEBALL" - A sweet, malty brown ale with a sticky mouthfeel. Not a whole lot of hops, but a nice mouth-warming taste nonetheless. If you dumped a bottle of this on your hands let's just say you'd be washing up 'til tomorrow morning. 7/10.

SANTA CRUZ MOUNTAIN BREWING IPA - My notes simply say that this organic IPA was "bitter and fruity - good for lunch". Yep, had it for lunch out of a mason jar. Picture right here. I'd do it again, too. 7/10.

OAK CREEK BREWING - THREE BEERS - I recently took a vacation to Sedona, Arizona and tried not one, not two but three beers from the local brewery there, Oak Creek Brewing. We hung out at the pub itself and imbided their beers in other locations as well. Not a ton to say about the, except that their HEFEWEIZEN was buttery, lemony and full of yeast - a lot sharper than most. 7/10. Their SAISON is also a 7/10 and washes down pizza quite well; and I can't remember what I thought about the PORTER at all.

LAGUNITAS WILCO TANGO FOXTROT - Another copper-colored malty brown ale from these guys, this time with some definite hops and light sweetness. It made the "Lost" finale just a little less painful. Yet another 7/10.

Monday, June 7, 2010

WHY I REFLEXIVELY BACK ISRAEL, EVERY TIME


It’s difficult to write anything about Israel that hasn’t been said better somewhere else. I nonetheless feel the need to get my thoughts in order and out to any readers I might have, since there’s a huge chorus of ninnies moaning and bellowing worldwide – as they always do when Israel does anything the least bit controversial – about genocide, racism and “unbalanced power differential”. Without putting too mawkish of a point on it, it’s something of a burden to be a 21st Century Israeli, isn’t it? Here you are, 60+ years and two generations after your forebears declared independence long before you were born, and you’ve got to live with the burden of being the world’s whipping boy for helping to protect a people – your people - who’d never been protected nor respected by others in the whole of history. While I in no way sanction everything this country does, particularly their messianic settlement expansions that pop up and then spring back every few years, I side with Israel against the world’s collective bad judgment and inane internal narrative just about every time something like last week’s Gaza flotilla incident pops up.

It’s that narrative that so many radical left pantywaists spout that infuriates me so – the whole “powerful vs. the powerless” thing that they apply to Israel. This is what seems to motivate so many Europeans and misguided campus leftists again the Jewish people’s defense of its sliver of territory. Israel strong, therefore Israel bad. Palestine people weak, therefore Palestinians good. The amount of Western denial and selective ignorance that goes into apologizing for Palestinian and Islamic behavior vis-à-vis the Jews is appalling to me. I don’t need to enumerate it; just read a little deeper into the news every day, and the examples are everywhere. This morning I read that two Egyptian men who married Israelis were just stripped of their citizenship and expelled from Egypt. They didn’t do anything else – they just fell in love with Jews. Had they been in a country that didn't have a peace treaty with Israel, they might have been labeled collaborators (as so many others have), and been castrated, burned or murdered.

The ideologies that underlie Hamas, the elected representatives of Gaza, are centered around hatred of Jews and the destruction of Israel. Given the chance, suicide bombers from Gaza would without question be blowing up Israelis in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem as they were several years back – before Israel built the much-condemned wall that stopped these atrocities. Oh, and with the full backing of the Palestinian people, I might add. Do Israelis do such things in the “occupied territories”? Of course not. They’d prefer to be left alone to grow their democratic, educated, entrepreneurial, female-respecting society while the hostile nations around them self-implode or thrive – preferably the latter, as long as thriving means that Israel can live in peace and not be perpetually threatened with extermination.

It’s simplistic, but the next time you want to lash out at Israel, think about if you apply the same standard to your own state or country. I live in California. Let’s say Oregon, Nevada, Arizona and Baja, Mexico denied my state’s right to exist and would gladly kill and destroy me and all the residents in my state, given the chance, due to religious fanaticism and events that happened in 1948, long before my birth. If any lobbed missiles into California, sent in suicide bombers into nightclubs and pizza places in my town, or took in shipments of long-range arms from other powerful states that could hit my house or city – well I reckon I’d be in a perpetual state of jumpy nervousness, and I’d probably want leaders who did everything possible to make sure that didn’t happen.

So if we had a blockade around California that kept such arms out and let me sleep at night, I’d be pretty furious if a group of boating “defend the oppressed people of Oregon” doofuses from Eugene or Portland or, I don’t know, Turkey, tried to break the blockade. I’d understand that in a state of war – because that’s what it is – people get jumpy, scared and aggressive. It happens. It’s war. And if these soldiers who represent me aggressively tried to repel the boat, I’d be pretty thankful if they succeeded, and OK with some collateral damage that might occur. I might not agree with all of these soldiers’ tactics, but in no way would I disagree with the principles and motives behind their behavior.

Why isn’t the powerful vs. powerless narrative applied in ways that can actually help the world – like to the lower-than-dogs status of women in Middle Eastern countries? Or against truly oppressive mind-control regimes like those in North Korea? I disagree with a lot of American Jews who say the singling out of Israel at the U.N. and in the editorial columns of the world’s newspapers in pure Anti-Semitism. I instead think that misguided people simply need a bad guy, and the bad guy is the one who wins with overwhelming force. Except in Israel’s case, they haven’t even “won”. They are still in a nerve-wracking battle that will play out for years, helped along by clueless apologists and idealistic “progressive” idiots the world over.

So forgive me if my first reaction to whatever next week’s news happens to be in this ongoing drama will be to defend Israel. I’ll keep doing so as long as they hold their the bulk of their Orthodox religious fervor in check and simply go about the business of life. The Jews – and any people – deserve that much. I’ll even defend the people of Gaza and the West Bank just as fervently if they choose to follow Israel’s good example in the years to come. That's when all of this finally ends. I'm not holding my breath.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

GRANDMA'S POSTCARDS, PART 1

When my Grandmother passed away somewhat unexpectedly in 2005 at the age of 81, my Grandfather had a lot of cleaning & purging to do before he moved up to a retirement home near Tacoma, Washington. One of the upshots of all that closet-clearing was that I was bequeathed an enormous box full of my Grandma's 2,000+-strong postcard collection. They were gathered throughout her entire life, primarily through her childhood and young adulthood - so most are from the 1920s, 30s and 40s. Many are addressed as well to my Grandfather, who unfortunately left this astral plane himself late last year (a saint! a saint he was!). For whatever reason, the box just sort of sat in my garage until this morning, when I decided to go through the whole thing and pull out the gems. Click directly on any of them for a better view. Let's start with the #1 ringer right here, and in the course of this and future posts I'll tell you about the rest of the collection and about these two people:


Not only do I love that there's a postcard commemorating "The Largest Institution in the World Devoted Exclusively to the Treatment of Rectal and Colonic Diseases", but that it was actually sent by a patient ("Dorothy") at the "sanitarium" to my Great-Grandmother, Dale Houx, on April 22nd, 1937. It says, in part, "Well I have been down here for a little going on, but I feel fine today...". So much for the generation that kept their problems to themselves, right?

Next is a postcard shot of Orofino, Idaho, where my Grandmother grew up in the 20s and 30s. Marvel Walter was raised a very pious Christian woman, about as midwest/northwest "salt of the earth" as they came. She barely possessed a ironic bone in her body, so unfortunately a good majority of the postcards are of churches, windmills and landscapes, and not the wacked-out motels, sexual double-entendre cartoons, alcoholic "joke" postcards and the like that I was hoping to find. I mean, just look at Orofino:


But hey, here's a pretty good one. Check out the bellman carrying the golf clubs and purple suitcase. Mammy!:


Here's an old feller going gung-ho after the big ones at the Yellowstone "Fish Pot", circa 1930s:


Continuing the "race relations in the 30s" theme, here's an army of railway car waiters carrying enormous potatoes during the 1939 St. Paul Winter Sports Carnival Pageant:


Finally, take a gander at the glories of early 1960s air travel with this pair of bad-ass propeller jets from 1961. My Grandparents were frequent world travelers, and I got to experience international travel to China and Eastern Europe with them, along with several trips up to the Pacific Northwest and Canada.


I'll have many more of these to share in coming months.

Friday, June 4, 2010

HERE’S A MONOSHOCK AD I MADE

I’ve written in other forums about the record label I ran – Womb Records – for a few months. I only put out one and ½ singles – this MONOSHOCK 45 plus a joint-label release I did with Anthony Bedard’s PAST IT Records of the first DEMOLITION DOLL RODS single. I decided to pimp the first one in the fanzine I was writing at the time (1994), and gave myself the back page ad space to try and move some more units. I even did something incredibly vain and ridiculously “meta”; I quoted my own writing in the ad, from a review I did in the very issue of the magazine the ad was placed in. I took some well-deserved flak for that one.

Here’s the first and only advertisement I ever designed. (click on it to view it much larger and to make it readable). Fantastic record, by the way – you can here all the songs on the band's posthumous "Runnin' Ape-Like From The Backwards Superman" CD.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

“THE TREASURES OF LONG GONE JOHN”

This played a local documentary festival a year ago and I was sorta kicking myself for not going. It’s not that the “outsider art”/JUXTAPOZ scene’s all that interesting to me – though I do like some of that stuff, especially the Mark Ryden “meat” paintings (I guess that’s all of them?) – but it was the prospect of a documentary on the uber-obsessive collector/fetish mentality that appealed to me. See, I’ve actually been to Long Gone John Mermis’ place – his collector’s vault of a home that holds all his kitschy treasures and artwork. We’re not really pals or anything, but he was an early and enthusiastic supporter/advertiser in my SUPERDOPE magazine back in the day, and he’s a good friend of some of my friends. One day one of those friends took me by his Long Beach home when I was visiting Southern California, and I was pretty floored by the collection of Keene eyes paintings, weird 1950s dolls, flashback toys, etc. This was probably 1993 or 1994, so it was even before Robert Williams and others even started to document quote-unquote lowbrow art in JUXTAPOZ. It’s fair to say his collection – and obsessions – have only magnified and grown in the intervening years.

“THE TREASURES OF LONG GONE JOHN” careens around a few topics during its 90 or so minutes. There’s Long Gone John himself, and what drives him to collect this stuff. He is a true, and very unlikely, patron of the arts. Mermis is a guy who had everything stacked against him for a pretty rotten life – bad parenting, aimless sense of life direction, drugs etc. – and yet I can attest that he’s what you’d call a “lovable guy”. You will too, after watching the film. He actually commissions work by these painters and sculptors for his own use and enjoyment, and this is not a guy with a ton of money or who has run a ridiculously successful record label. Sure, his Sympathy For The Record Industry label had the first two WHITE STRIPES albums – I’m sure that’s put a few meals on the table – but you really get a sense in this doc that hoarding this strange, colorful lowbrow art is a passion that pretty much all of his money is poured into.

The film’s also about that art “scene” and how people like Robert Williams and Mark Ryden brought it to life, and how Mermis then furthered the cause. One thing that really bugged me was the cutesy way the directors “animated” the paintings themselves and made them spring to life when showing them off. Apparently a simple scan of these ridiculously ornate and eye-grabbing canvas was too boring? The film also sets up a little bit of discussion about living and rich & rewarding life well outside of the mainstream, and I thought they could’ve gone a little deeper here. Overall it was a solid way to spend an hour and a half, despite some drag, and I’d recommend it to any folks with collector/hoarder/anal retentive blood running through their veins.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

ON INTERNATIONAL BITTERING UNITS AND MIKKELLER 1000 IBU

In case you haven’t heard, the amount of bittering hops in a beer can actually be measured in a metric called “International Bittering Units” (IBU). Let me give you an example of how this works. A light, boring American macro-lager like oh I don’t knowBudweiser – checks in at about 10-15 IBU. A tame India Pale Ale like the LAGUNITAS IPA raises the dose to about 45 IBU’s – and that’s already a bridge too far for people who don’t like hops, which fortunately includes very few of us (right?). Conversely, a big, hardcore IPA like the MOYLAN’S HOPSICKLE – one of my all-time favorites – hits the triple digits at over 100 IBU’s. And yes, you definitely taste it.

This whole IBU hoo-ha has set off something akin to an arms race to ensure that a brewer’s extreme, hoppy beers crack the triple digits – hence the immense popularity of the “Double IPA” and sometimes “Triple IPA” over the past five years or so. American brewers have gone all out to ensure that customers are promised a miserable, tongue-scorching experience with beers called “Hop Wallop”, “Tongue Buckler” and the like – except that for some of us, the experience is anything but miserable. Nay, the palate-scraping, tongue-tingling hop “bite” is among the finest sensory pleasures on god’s green earth, when rendered by the small handful of brewing masters. The best brewers are able to retain the juicy, citrus characteristics of the hop batch, while still stinging the skin of the mouth with an overload of IBUs. Which brings us to MIKKELLER 1000 IBU, which I braved the other evening. If 100 IBUs is intensely flavorific when crafted with the right set of hands, what will those wacky itinerant brewers from Denmark cook up in pursuit of quadruple-digit IBUs? Let’s find out.

First off, I’m not even sold on the whole concept of measurable IBUs, but I'm still a sucker like the rest of all y'all. Now that that’s out of the way, can we truly enjoy a beer that supposedly has 1,000 units of international bittering? Why yes, yes we can. MIKKELLER 1000 IBU is Insanely hoppy but remains drinkable. It certainly qualifies as an, ahem, “hop monster”. It pours a dark orange/brown with loads of foam. Some luscious caramel malts are indeed discernable deep within the scorch. There’s really no citrus action at all – it’s all about the pucker and the glory of the pine resin. It’s as intense experience as HOPSICKLE, and yet no, it’s not ten times as intense. I’m glad I buckled in for this wild ride, and even paid $13 for the pleasure of doing so. If I were to rate it on my previous blog’s ten point-scale, I’d settle in on a better-than-respectable 7.5/10.