Friday, March 31, 2006

Electric Company

I've inflamed my chest and back very, very badly through an overzealous attempt to bench-press everything in the world at once. I've been reduced to lying flat on my back on the hardwood floor and watching 'Lost' at arm's length on my laptop, held above my face.

The good news is that it only hurts half the time. The bad news is that half the time is the time I spend inhaling.

In lieu of any written content, here's some clips from my favorite tv show of all time: The Electric Company. Between my parents' hard work, comic books, and the Electric Company, I could read by the time I entered kindergarten.

Australians, take note -- this is what I have been hollering about. It's so funny, so psychedelic, and so, so, FUNKY.

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

The Lesson of the Moth

So Close
Originally uploaded by chinese_fashion.
The only tattoo I have is by a guy named Chris O'Donnell, currently working out of New York Adorned on Saint Mark's Place, NYC. It is of a gigantic moth, covering my entire back. Its wingspan goes from one shoulder to the other, and all the way down to my waist.

In order to understand why I would choose to have a giant moth tattooed on my back, you will need to understand a few things:

1) I was 22 and living in Richmond, Virginia in 1999. Tattoos were huge in the under-culture then, and practically standard-issue for artsy types in Richmond. It was really either a tattoo or a pitbull with nuts the size of peaches, and I could barely afford to feed myself at the time. I could, however, afford a $1500 tattoo. Ah, youth.

2) Chris O'Donnell was one of the greatest working tattoo artists alive, and his shop was literally around the corner from my apartment.

3) Don Marquis' 'the lesson of the moth' touched me in this incredibly deep, resonant way when I was fourteen, and I still feel that poem every day.

This last one may take a bit of explaining. In essence, Marquis was a columnist for the New York Sun in the '20s, and wrote a brilliant series of free verse poems about life, beauty, art and passion. He claimed that the poems themselves were actually written by a cockroach named Archy who was posessed by the soul of a reincarnated poet. Each night, Archy would body-slam one key at a time on a typewriter, slowly, painfully banging out his life, one line at a time.

I admire that kind of passion. Always have.

Mehitabel was his best friend, an alley cat possessed by the reincarnated soul of Cleopatra. You can learn much more about Marquis, Archy, and Mehitabel here, and here.

The poem that changed my life at fourteen reads like this:

the lesson of the moth
By Don Marquis, in "archy and mehitabel," 1927

i was talking to a moth
the other evening
he was trying to break into
an electric light bulb
and fry himself on the wires

why do you fellows
pull this stunt i asked him
because it is the conventional
thing for moths or why
if that had been an uncovered
candle instead of an electric
light bulb you would
now be a small unsightly cinder
have you no sense

plenty of it he answered
but at times we get tired
of using it
we get bored with the routine
and crave beauty
and excitement
fire is beautiful
and we know that if we get
too close it will kill us
but what does that matter
it is better to be happy
for a moment
and be burned up with beauty
than to live a long time
and be bored all the while
so we wad all our life up
into one little roll
and then we shoot the roll
that is what life is for
it is better to be a part of beauty
for one instant and then cease to
exist than to exist forever
and never be a part of beauty
our attitude toward life
is come easy go easy
we are like human beings
used to be before they became
too civilized to enjoy themselves

and before i could argue him
out of his philosophy
he went and immolated himself
on a patent cigar lighter
i do not agree with him
myself i would rather have
half the happiness and twice
the longevity

but at the same time i wish
there was something i wanted
as badly as he wanted to fry himself


I can own the fact that I sort of got the tattoo to be cool. If it hadn't been cool and convenient to get what is inarguably an incredible piece of artwork, it probably wouldn't have happened. However, I like thinking that there's something more real underneath that.

Sorta Like This

Here's the realness: I want something as badly as that moth. It changes from time to time, but man, I want it, whatever it is at the time. That thing and the whole rest of the world knows it, too. I'm intensely passionate and pretty transparent about it. I went through a period of real depressing creative dryness a few months ago, and one of the things that pulled me back was this thing I got to be cool.

I looked in the mirror and thought "well, are you going to bring that passion back to writing like you thought you could, or is that big moth just gonna flutter around the world glued to a lifeless poser?"

So many people have so many lame tattoos, just moments of youthful indiscretion, like bluish stickers on a permanent bumper that fattens at every birthday. I wanted this thing to mean something when I got it.

I wanted to have the energy to make something creative, beautiful and lasting, and the passion to see it through. And I wanted to want something, bad, every day, like Archy did. I can do without the flaming self-destruction that comes from hitting the flame, though. But the important thing here is that this big, inky indiscretion that is already fading serves a deeper purpose-- it pulls me back when I weaken, and if that only cost me $1500 and let me feel like a cool guy for a couple years in my early 20's, isn't that a bargain in disguise?

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Cry, Baby

Erma Franklin

Songs, man. Sometimes you have to pull the car right over onto the side of the road and just let a song finish tossing your heart around like a tired old played-out sock that somebody flushed into the ocean. Since the breakup, I have done a pretty good job of holding it together by a)not having a car and b) not having an iPod. However, I still have my moments.

Masculinity may be mutating faster than the poles are melting, but it still stands that the only way straight dudes can cry is alone, with a soundtrack. I think. We don't actually talk about it, ever.

Janis Joplin's "Cry, Baby" and "Piece of My Heart" used to straight-up negate my whole entire drivers' license, just reducing me to a big hairy heap covered in salt water. I say "used to," because I have since discovered that Janis was covering those songs. When I hear the originals, it is all that I can do not to throw my window open and shout "JANIS JOPLIN WAS A BULLSHITTER!" and then call in sick to work.

Here are the original tracks:

Cry Baby, by Garnet Mimms
Piece of My Heart, by Erma Franklin

As it turns out, Soft Cell was covering "Tainted Love," too. Their version is so different as to be incomparable to the original, but ain't it just the damnedest thing that that, too was an incredible soul song?

Here it is:

Tainted Love, by Gloria Jones

What do you think? Do these tracks not completely blow your mind? Or am I alone here, a guy with his computer in the dark, a guy that once again has stayed up way past his bedtime?

Monday, March 27, 2006

Touch the Holy Snake

I am too disappointed in humanity tonight for its contribution to global warming to be able to write something scintillating, timeless and original for this blog in my usual fashion. Instead, I'm treating you people to one of my own re-runs. The following piece was published in Student Traveler Magazine in (I think) March, 2004. Almost everything about my life has changed since then. All the blue and yellow cartoon illustrations are by a fine young man named William Matelski, and the Photoshopped one is by yours truly.


Once everything that is currently frozen melts, the incredible island of Bali will be the size of a largish mini-golf course...

Touch the Snake -- the Real Rock and Roll Bali

I went to Bali kicking and screaming. I had to leave Australia to renew my visa, but I was too broke to do anything at all. I had zero desire to spend money I didn’t have to go to a recently terrorized country where the only thing more dangerous than the crooked cops is a glass of tap water.

What I nearly forgot in all my penniless angst was that attitude makes all the difference on the road. My rotten attitude lasted all the way through the plane ride and into Customs. If I hadn’t shaken it, I’d have wandered through the whole trip grumpy, irked, wanting to get back to my favorite Aussie beach, not seeing the humid green paradise in front of my frowning face. Bali is a steaming island full of fresh fruit and floral offerings, a rich pop/religious culture, and tremendously warm people. If I hadn’t chilled out and cheered up, I wouldn’t have gotten over my own sense of Yankee imperialism, past the curtain of cute mystery surrounding monkeys, or understood the meaning of the holy snake, and I certainly wouldn’t have beat time to the heart of rock and roll.

what every local knows about monkeys
I never thought I would say this, but I am absolutely sick and tired of monkeys jumping on my head. Bali has a number of forested public parks where tourists can feed crowds of wild macaques. The Balinese know that visitors love to feed the monkeys, and have conveniently set up card tables where they sell bananas and bits of sweet potato—monkey treats which cost three or four times what you’d pay for an American-sized plateful of suckling pig, rice, greens, and red-hot chili in the same village. The monkeys themselves are accustomed to eating food from the hands of tourists, and it’s made them even cheekier than the banana salesmen.

Cussing Monkey
Originally uploaded by chinese_fashion.

At Uluwatu, I watched one monkey casually masturbate while another male monkey picked his body for nits, nibbling away as he found them. They caught me observing their little homoerotic escapade and decided it would be more fun to have a go at my bag. I took a bit more pleasure than I should have in kicking them away. Once the masturbator stopped skidding across the pavement (propelled by my foot), he picked himself up and told me to fuck off. For real. He leaped right in my face, mouth opened wide so I could see all his teeth and a little bit of his appendix, clapped twice and barked quick two times, and I swear it sounded like “fuck off.” So I did . . . You can’t waste all your time in the temple at Uluwatu fighting with monkeys. I started the long hike up Uluwatu’s crumbling mossy concrete path along the cliff by the sea.

As I traversed the hilly cliff, the ocean booming hundreds of yards below, a squadron of vengeful monkeys followed me through the trees at just about head level. I sped up into a sort of trot, but they were gaining. As I bent to take the camera out of my bag, one soldier attacked. All I heard was a whooshing rustle as he leapt from the trees squarely onto my shoulders. He ran several laps around my head and shoulders, clawing my temple and screaming the whole time. This simian soldier managed to knock my glasses onto the edge of the walkway (which was on an exposed cliff dropping into the ocean). I thought one of his homeboys was going to steal my glasses or toss them thousands of feet down into the crashing waves, and I got mad. I nearly threw that furry little bastard into the ocean right in front of his whole rotten monkey family, but he just laughed and vanished into the trees. I thought that the monkeys were having a lot of fun with that, even for monkeys, by the sound of the tittering laughter, until I heard clicking, turned around, and saw a horde of Japanese tourists photographing the whole escapade.

After I settled into my hotel, I hit the throbbing streets of Kuta to look for dinner and got clobbered with my first lesson in Balinese commerce. Clusters of men squat in the nighttime alleys of Kuta, Bali’s tourist mecca by the beach, racing up to Westerners, grabbing them by the arm, and asking, “You want a girlfriend tonight? Teenage girl, veeerry sexy,” while making the hourglass-shape motion with their hands. Packs of prostitutes flood Kuta’s nightclubs looking for johns and free drinks, and it makes it real difficult to have a decent conversation with a local at a bar. He’s either trying to sell you a woman, or she’s trying to sell herself to you.

Cussing Monkey
Originally uploaded by chinese_fashion.

Indonesia is in total economic ruin right now. Westerners could get by cheaply before, but now we are all royal pimps of commerce. Instead of blowing Indonesia away from its dependence on the dollar, the Bali bombing has crippled the economy and made the dollar even more precious. Walking down the street in more heavily touristed areas like Kuta and Denpasar can be deeply annoying. All you have to do is look someone in the eye, and he tries to sell you a ride somewhere, a teenage girl for the night, 20 crappy postcards, a coconut with a straw in it, or some seriously low-rent surf gear. Before you start passing judgement on the pimps, keep in mind that they wouldn’t do it if it didn’t work. I saw dozens of English, Australian, Canadian, and American men out shopping with teenage girls in tow. I doubt this was a big-brother program at work.

It’s hard to overlook, and it makes it tough to make real friends. I really hated when someone was being genuinely nice to me there and I caught myself thinking, “What does he want? Will he still be my friend if I don’t want to buy his cousin’s batik, or his friend’s silver?” It makes you cynical when you shouldn’t be, and you catch yourself getting mad at someone over what amounts to 50 cents.

One night I started talking to a Balinese guy in the street about rock music. As it turns out, he’d heard the Cramps a time or two and loved American punk rock. “Alright,” I thought, “this is cool.” We talked about music, drums, how good it is to hear something nice and loud where the bass thuds your groin and stomach. Then there was a lull in the conversation. He asked, “You traveling alone?” I said, “Yeah.”

“You have a girlfriend?”

“Yeah, in Perth.”

“You want one here for tonight?”

comfort and transport
Rains fall biblically at least once, maybe twice a day during the rainy season in Bali. Public transportation means nothing more than riding on the back of a hired guide’s scooter, and that means you get drenched.

I spent two hours on a scooter in a blinding rainstorm, huddled under the back of my guide’s poncho in a pathetic (yet popular) attempt to stay dry. The streets flooded deep with garbage and cast-away Hindu offerings floating downstream to drainage ditches. My driver wasn’t concerned with staying dry, just cursing his way through the waterlogged roads. In general, traffic in Bali is like blood platelets gushing through an artery, with scooters for red blood cells. When the streets are flooded, all those scooters splash.

Bali reeks of clothing that has been left wet for too long—because everything has. You look around and smell your shoes and yourself and other people—whose clothes are gently moldering and mixing with the ripe odor of fresh fruit and flowers, incense and omnipresent offerings to the gods that litter the streets—and you think, “Screw dryers. These people are onto something good.”

the true meaning of life
The clouds were gray and low when we rocked up to the temple at Tanah Lot. The air felt nine months pregnant with a hot rain and the sweat of a thousand merchants condensed on my glasses. Tourists lurched about listlessly clicking and walking and grunting like tired animatronic robots. The temple itself is a massive stone edifice sitting off a beach of jet-black sand and surrounded by the crashing sea. It was kind of a letdown to see it, to be honest. I’d been stumbling through temples all day, and after a while I had kind of gotten over it. It’s a little embarrassing to admit, but at this point I was pretty much like, “Yeah, great, ancient temple: check. Stunning ocean view. Gotcha. Sure, I’ll walk up to it, but then can I please get a Coke?” Uluwatu, Tanah Lot, Tabanan, they were blending together into a big pile of crumbling blocks of mossy stone and unpronounceable syllables. My crankiness from the airplane was coming back with all its homeboys, and I was getting ready to sit down and demand a slice of pizza, followed by a nap.

Then it all happened, faster than I lost my virginity but with just as much impact. When my life is made into a movie, the sky in this scene will part and blast my face with sun, but in reality everything stayed an anticlimactic shade of gray. However, time itself slowed down and echoed the exact moment a tiny old man with skin like blackened leather croaked “Don’t you want to touch the Holy Snake?”

Let me tell you something about life, people. I don’t know much, but I know this: When you are at Tanah Lot, the temple of the sea, and waves are crashing around and an old man in a loincloth and headband asks you if you want to touch the Holy Snake, you best believe you touch that Holy Snake. Even if you do want some pizza and a cold Coke. The old man took my hand in his hot palm and jammed it straight into the Holy Snake’s house. The holy snake is the god of the temple, a surly and tired god with black and white stripes who lives in a hole off the side of a small cave made of black sand. I touched this snake-god, a living freaking snake, and the old man closed his red-hot hand over mine and I felt the cool, dry scales of the snake on my palm, and he said a prayer for my blessing. Then he turned right around, shoved a cigar box full of bills into my gut, and asked for a donation.

Cussing Monkey
Originally uploaded by chinese_fashion.

When the keeper of the Holy Snake asks for a donation, you give it, quick, and don’t be a jerk and ask for change like the Germans did.

I spent my first 24 hours in Bali telling everyone I was Canadian. Then my conscience got the best of me. Every local I met, Muslim, Hindu, or otherwise, was thrilled to meet a genuine American, and they all took great pains to explain in broken English that we have all got to stick together and fight Al Qaeda. The Bali bombing is what shoved Bali’s dangling economy off a cliff. It’s ruined a lot of families and created the financial desperation I mentioned earlier. My favorite guide claimed that Americans and Balinese are brothers in spirit and adversity . . . and he’s right.

Think about it. You wouldn’t be at all frightened to visit D.C. or Manhattan, even post-9/11. Everything I was afraid of didn’t happen. Just be cool.

real rock ‘n roll
It was my last night in Bali, and I was ambling down the street, yawning and getting ready for an early bedtime. And then:

I heard the most spazzed-out, funky live version of James Brown’s “I Feel Good.” Across the street, by the poolside bar at a serious tourist trap of a hotel was this electrified Balinese rock band, kicking out the jams. The singer might have burst into flames if he wasn’t covered in sweat. He was shaking and grinding like Mick Jagger on fast-forward. He kept leaping off the stage and running up to quiet English guests who were just trying to politely eat. He’d shake sweat on them and howl into the mike right at their table, vigorously humping the air by the guests’ ears, then climb the empty chair and jump off, yowling his way through the dining area.

Some insanely feral Greek neo-locals jumped on the stage, pushing the smiling djembe player aside and grabbed all the other djembes and bongos and just tore it up right along with the band, playing Stones and Beatles hits with heavy jungle drums.

This one Greek guy who looked like a cross between Charles Manson and Animal from the Muppets did this shaking, terrifyingly sexual dance with these two undulating Indonesian women. Sweat flew everywhere. It was rock and roll at its hottest, rawest, and most primal, and these English fools just kept eating and clapping politely.

I’ll tell you this: The Strokes need to fly over here just to wipe this band’s ass. They’re trying to be a garage rock revival, but these guys are the real deal.

If there’s one thing I learned from punk rock, it’s that you should never be afraid to talk to the band. My God, was the band ever nice. Alfan, the singer, works by day in a traditional Indonesian gamelan band, and soaks his jeans with sweat three nights a week at the Hotel Camplung Mas. I told him I was American and a huge fan already. He was tremendously impressed and invited me to the table, introduced me to the rest of the band, hunkered over Chinese food and bottles of Bintang, and put me on the band’s bar tab immediately.

Booze and rock and roll are the two other international languages. There was a brief, awkward silence, and then the drummer leaned over and said, “So which songs by the Rolling Stones are your favorites?”

Conversation rolled on a tide of Indonesian rice wine, and I mentioned that I play the drums. The guys all got really excited to be hanging out with an American rock drummer, and one asked me, hopefully, “You play the drums with us?” I joked, “Well, I have to go tomorrow, I don’t think I’ll be able to make it to practice.” They all laughed a little too hard, and I wondered what was going on. I had some more Bintang to chase the awkwardness away.

The band, whose name I never got, pushed out some more strange, island sweat-drenched rock classics, then Alfan said, “Now, all the way from America, our new friend and drummer . . . Jeff!” The Greeks and the band all clapped and chanted and hooted, and I took the stage.

Azhar, the guitarist, launched into a heavy wandering version of Clapton’s “Cocaine.” I’m pretty far from the best drummer in the world, and it’d been awhile. I was crammed behind a shabby drum kit that had been set up to accommodate a small Balinese drummer. I am 6’2”. I had to adjust the kit while finding the beat with the kick pedal, and I was afraid I was dropping the whole thing. But I looked up, and they were all smiling so broadly, and so was I. The guitarist launched into the most amazingly tropically stretchy guitar solo and then the jam devolved into this thudding orgy of rhythm. American culture teaches us to sit back and watch, but I was part of it, holding the backbeat down while the djembe players just went apeshit. Alfan began crooning in Balinese a traditional Hindu prayer and chant over everything. Alfan’s mother got on the stage and started grinding with two Greek girls and Animal Manson, then every man and woman in the place was on the stage in between the musicians, furiously gyrating. Finally it all thumped to a halt.

That’s when the birthday cakes came out. Turns out it was Animal Manson’s 34th. The band rocked a version of “Happy Birthday,” and the dancing resumed, people smearing their faces with cake. It was easily the best birthday party I’d ever been to, and I didn’t know anyone there.

American neo-hippies with clean dreadlocks and SUVs need to get on that plane with the Strokes and come wipe my ass right now, because this drum circle was the real deal, Holyfield.

I stayed up till 3 a.m. drinking Bintang and arak with the band and the singer’s mom. They, and most Indonesians, are the warmest and most genuinely friendly people you can meet. If you hang for ten minutes with an Indonesian guy, you’re friends for life. We talked about religious intolerance, how Muslims get a lot of heat unfairly now after 9/11. They asked about playing rock music in America, and about my girlfriend in Perth, and we talked about everything but money.

I nursed a stinker of a headache on the plane the next morning, watching the sweaty, rain-soaked island recede into a smear of clouds. I’d felt every emotion I could feel about a place in the space of four days, but it all gets filed under Love. I said it before and I’ll say it again: When you get a chance to touch the holy snake, you touch that damn snake, and don’t ask for change from the donation box.

The Gene Simmons of the Hilton Village Presbyterian Church has Officially Retired

After looking back at the past week's posts, I'm noticing a somewhat seedy trend. Between the semi-erotic swordplay, the eyeball in the anus, and the thug in tha club, you could be forgiven for thinking I was some kind of creep.

Everyone knows that the wrongest thing in the world is also the funniest, and who doesn't love Pink Flamingoes? As John Waters himself maintains, best thing about bad taste is its juxtaposition with good taste and family values.

So in order to restore the balance a bit, here's some good old-fashioned Southern family photos, taken when I went home for a visit this weekend.

If I am a creep, I am a schizophrenic one, with a loving family...

Here's my dad, flipping pancakes under Sandy the dog's close supervision:

Fred, Sandy, Pancakes
Originally uploaded by chinese_fashion.

It was my mother's 60th birthday this Sunday, which was totally eclipsed by my grandmother's retirement ceremony from her church. She has provided floral arrangements to her church for nearly 30 years, and is retiring from service at 92 years of age. She talks about her flower arrangements in much the same way that Gene Simmons discusses his musical career. As a good friend once said
"she's got the healthiest self-esteem I've ever seen in all my life."

Here's a photo of her in action last Easter:

Originally uploaded by chinese_fashion.

Daro does not have a drivers' license, and has never been behind the wheel of a car. For thirty years my grandpa has dutifully and lovingly carried my grandma to the floral store, the church, and various people's yards in a tireless, loving dedication to her craft. He's hauled thousands of pounds of flowers, oasis, wire, and god knows what else in and out of that church, all so she can shine and crow each Sunday. That's real love, if you ask me.

Both of my grandparents are standing here in front of what, if you ask me, is a really sharp-looking floral arrangement. I asked my grandmother if she did it herself, and she said,
"Oh heavens no, honey, I wouldn't do a tired old thing like that. They outsourced the flowers to Harris Teeter's!"

Daro and Pop-Pop

Here's the whole family, in front of my grandmothers' ceremonial factory-made sheet cake:

Whole Entire Family

I'm sure Daro will come springing out of retirement as early as Easter, much like the Kiss "farewell tour" that never quite ends. God, I hope so. I know she needs to retire and give herself a break. But if she keeps doing flowers at the church, and my grandpa keeps driving her around town to get supplies, then that means that they are in a Twilight-Zone feedback loop where they have more birthdays but never actually get old and die. And I think I can speak for my whole family when I say that we really, really need that to be true.

Friday, March 24, 2006

'Self-Portrait, In Brown'

Tim, Guitar
Originally uploaded by chinese_fashion.
Tim played bass and guitar, simultaneously. He stood on a couple of milk crates behind a giant wooden chicken we had built to hold both instruments and furiously strummed power chords on the guitar and accent notes on the bass while the chords still reverbed across the room.

We were roommates for three years in college, and for six doomed months after graduation. In all the time we lived together, I can't recall a single argument or falling out --or even getting tired of each others' company.

He was an art major like me, but way more dangerous. In what we would now see as the twilight of print photography, he was a wizard in the darkroom and behind a lens. He was dangerous with a camera.

The tattoo, seen here on his leg, is based on a snapshot Tim took of a cowboy on a road trip in Texas. The photo was taken seconds before the cowboy attacked Tim's car with a baseball bat -- because Tim just wouldn't stop taking pictures of him.

Originally uploaded by chinese_fashion.

Tim got to Texas from Virginia with this kind of planning. He and a friend bought an old lunchbox from a flea market, and drove up onto the interstate. They followed the very first car that they saw with an out-of-state license plate to its final destination, and then got out and asked the driver if they had left the lunchbox at the rest stop.

That's a sense of adventure.

Knowing how to use a camera is dangerous enough. But when you mix it with an exhibitionist streak, a vicious sense of humor and a serious anal fetish, you've got a near-deadly combination.

The photo below is Tim's personal 'Pink Flamingoes'. Take a good long look:

Self-Portrait in Brown

What do you think it is? Have you got it yet? Give up?

It's a self-portrait. Tim took this photo of himself with a glass eye inserted into his anus. He got the eye from one of my mannequin's heads. He did not ask if he could borrow my mannequin's eye, and certainly didn't ask if he could jam it up his ass for art's sake.

From what I am told, something slick and semi-spherical like a glass eye is either in or out. It does not linger over the threshold. I was in the room adjoining Tim's bedroom when the shoot took place. I could hear the sound of something hard bouncing across the hardwood floor, and hear him go "shit, shit, SHIT" over and over again, followed by muffled rinsing sounds.

We used to just hang out in the galleries where he showed this piece and wait. Eventually people would come along and say "Well, what do you think that is? Is it an elephant or something? What's happening with its eyebrow OH NO OH GOD NOOOooo!!!" We'd have to fight not to spit cheap wine on the walls. If the people had a good sense of humor about it, they'd join us. Sometimes there would be this huge group of people pointedly not looking at the photo and the whole hallway would erupt once a new person came along and figured it out.

So when Tim said "you know, we should start a band, dude," I HAD to say yes...

Thursday, March 23, 2006

How's the Music Working?

Just a quick pause for feedback here --

How's the music working for you on here? I'm experimenting with it not only as a way to illustrate posts, but experimenting with delivery methods as well. Is YouSendIt working for you? Are you able to download songs okay? Do you find that when you go to get them, they are gone?

Currently, when I upload a song, it stays available for a week or until 25 people download it. Is that enough?

Or: do you even download the music in the first place? Is it worth the trouble?

I'm entertaining myself by entertaining y'all, so please use the comments section to let me know what works.


Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Royal Quiet Deluxe (the Chicken Band)

Although Royal Quiet Deluxe never officially broke up, it is highly unlikely that we will return to stage and studio. Many would argue that our position as performance art legends in the Central Virginia region is cemented and unassailable, and they may be correct. The best way to preserve a legend is to never, ever do anything to tarnish it – even if that means never doing anything at all.

For now and the foreseeable future, Royal Quiet Deluxe is a dead concern. My writing is confined to laptops and percussion to drum sets – I no longer provide the rhythm for our music from a highly amplified antique typewriter.

Tim, Bird, Lawn

Tim’s musical efforts are similarly constrained. The thin walls of his crumbling, cluttered trailer will forever protect the world from Tim’s idle noodlings, which only happen on an unplugged electric guitar or bass. Americans will put a Frenchman in the White House before they see Tim Gordon return to the spotlight to play guitar and bass simultaneously.

The chickens are no different than any of the scores of shiftless session musicians in musical history. They were brilliant, impossible, and dumb as a sack of hammers, caring only about fighting, feeding, and fucking, and not necessarily in that order. They ruined as many rehearsals as they bothered to attend and slept through the first few minutes of every performance but never failed to move crowds to their feet, shouting and clapping for more.

Take 5, Girls

Both chickens exhibited a primal brilliance on the keyboards, pounding out primitive abstract lines at the speed of avian thought that would confound Coltrane and put Sun Ra to shame. But again, like so many anonymous genius session musicians, the birds stole the show, took their paychecks and vanished into obscurity. I can guarantee that they spent the remainder of their short, wretched lives scratching a living out of the dirt, dying anonymously in a ditch or the jaws of a marauding fox.

You think I’m kidding, but I’m not. I am not lying. For real. I had a highly experimental, much-loved series of performance art bands in my early twenties, and the most infamous of all was NOT the one that poisoned an audience with toxic smoke from burning aluminum. It wasn’t the one where the homemade pyrotechnics spattered on the guitarist and I shouted into a toilet I was doing a handstand over while wearing a mummy costume, high as a kite and roaring with fever.

At the Keys

The band was Royal Quiet Deluxe, featuring Tim Gordon on the bass and guitar, yours truly on an antique typewriter (pictured in pink up in my profile there) and several small chickens on the keyboards. We played to packed galleries in Richmond and had a tour lined up in Japan, and it all turned into powder the week of September 11th, 2001.

To the extent that my meager attention span can support it, I’ll spend the next few days giving you the story – the rise, the fall, and the bitter, empty present.

The following songs best exemplify our musical influences at that time. If you were to mash these three songs together somehow and have chickens perform part of them, then you'd have what we were shooting for.

Moon Dance -- Sun Ra and his Arkestra
Satan is Real -- The Louvin Brothers
Sister Ray -- The Velvet Underground

We Are the Vermin of the Universe

Originally uploaded by chinese_fashion.
My man NASA Jim tipped me off to this incredible video of a spacecraft that is launching tomorrow. Essentially what is going to happen is that a rocket powered missile will deploy from a large airplane and then zoom upwards into the magnetosphere.

Thanks to several exquisitely timed and priceless explosives, various bits of the missile will peel off and thrust the missile's guts ever skyward. Once in orbit, the missile's guts will turn out to be a sort of mother spaceship, fat with satellites suckling at her belly. She will roll over onto her back and release these satellites, which will hurtle through space like frisbees until they are position over the polar ice caps. They will then unleash powerful laser beams that will melt the poles even faster than we are doing it ourselves.

That may not be precisely what happens, but watch this clip and see if my description doesn't seem a little more plausible. The animation is taken straight from NASA's website, I added the Radiohead soundtrack myself.

Click here for an official, hi-def, soundless version.

Here's a computer-rendered image of the craft, and some info about the mission.


This brings me to the burning question nerds and non-nerds alike are dying to shout: what if there really is life in outer space?

My question lately is: what if there's life on other worlds, but it's kind of dumb? Like relatively intelligent, but not a patch on us? What if the life on other planets is like a race of brilliant sponges or incredibly trainable squirrels? My God, what if the aliens' Gandhi, their Thomas Aquinas or Malcolm X is like our Lassie?

Those things are fucked, that's what if. Scientists are already trying to create remote-controlled sharks and cockroaches. If we get our nasty little mitts on a race that doesn't even have the emotional home-court advantage, who know what kinds of little green slaves we'll make.

I really think that most of the science fiction about superintelligent, technologically superior and violent beings is actually just projection. Those things in Independence Day, the Visitors in 'V', they're us. Except the creatures from 'Aliens'. Those are rednecks -- they breed in nasty, dark conditions, they're impossible to get rid of and tough as hell.

We're rapacious creatures that have no regard for our own people or environment, It's only a matter of time before we render earth's continents a series of Mad-Max-like islands and have to start terraforming.

I don't want a bar of it, myself.

I don't care how fucked it gets down here, I'm staying. If you see an old guy with glasses and a giant moth tattoo on his back, wearing a loincloth made out of an old Misfits t-shirt, be sure and say hi.

Monday, March 20, 2006

Woman Breaks Chopsticks With Her Own Butt

As any blogger who's been at it a while can tell you, coming up with a solid post is a freaking grind, man. That's why so many blogs are relentlessy self-centered and introspective to the atomic level: good content doesn't come along all that often. If you don't write about dating (and you probably shouldn't), it gets even tougher.

Thank god for YouTube. Not only do they have incredible amounts of content available for bloggers that are having a slow night, but they can provide reams of evidence to prove a thesis I have been proclaiming for quite some time:

The Japanese are out of their minds. Every last one of them.

It sounds terrible, I know, but it made you sit up and take notice, didn't it? That's the other cheap trick bloggers use when their dating isn't even decent material: making a great big old fucked-up statement just to get some attention.

But have a look at exhibit A: Woman Breaking Chopsticks With Her Own Butt. I think you'll concede that I have a point.

Here's some 70's Yakuza-themed trailer that is as awesome as it is unsafe for work. Unless you happen to work in a topless sword factory, in which case it may serve as a safety precaution: Don't let the chick with the shoulder tattoo near the product, and DEFINITELY keep her away from the umbrellas:

Sometime between tonight and tomorrow night I will either have had an actual experience worth writing about, or strip-mined my past for something poignant and meaningful. Until then, have a great day at work...

Sunday, March 19, 2006

No Parking on the Dancefloor

Originally uploaded by eggrollboy.
I've actively resisted dancing and learning how to do it for 29 years and about 9 months. This weekend, I decided to get over my big white self and just try it already.

Me and two old college friends went to Georgetown's Modern this weekend and I gave it (ahem) the old college try. The bar itself is a sort of 60's-retro vision of the future with a sunken, hexagonal bar and one of those plastic bubble-chair dealies that hangs from the ceiling. The music was a pretty predictable blend of old-school and contemporary hip-hop, but it got the asses moving.

While I didn't cure my three-decade-long bout with whitieisitis, I had a pretty good time thanks to my patient friends. They didn't seem to mind at all that I was a big oaf scaring potential suitors away with his arrhythmic lumbering -- and that's the sign of good friends.

As I was making my way through the crowd to leave the dance floor, two women blocked the exit. Don't get me wrong -- it's not that they wanted to stop me from leaving. They were way too enmeshed rhythmically smearing their bits together to care who wanted to go where at all. I just sort of stood there awkwardly, trying to figure out if I should push around them or leave a tip, or what, when this guy poked me in the ribs. HARD.

Here's the conversation, in interview form:

Him: Them hoes, man...

Me: What?

Him: You got tell them hoes...

Me: Tell them what?

Him: Those bitches been knockin' into me all night, yo, and that shit is bullshit. I mean, I appreciate what they doin' and all that...

Here, he paused and looked me right in the eye, swaying gently against what must have been a turbulent concrete floor.

Him: ... I APPRE-CI-ATE it and shit. But I'm gonna punch them bitches in they face if they don't quit bumping me.

Me: I see. Isn't that a little much?

Him: Fuck you. I don't let a man touch me but once, know what I'm saying, and these bitched been bumping me like at least four times.

Me: Yeah, that's real shame.

Him: So I'mma punch them bitches right in they face, and you should tell 'em. You touch them hoes on the shoulder and tell 'em this motherfucker right here is gonna ball his fist up if they don't cool out one time.

Me: ...

Then the song ended, and he sat down. Once again, I refer you to the title of this blog.

Here's a few songs I wish they'd played at the club:

These two are from a compilation entitled "The Rough Guide to Brazilian Hip-Hop."

Onde É Que Tu Tá by Stereo Maracanã
Roda Rodete Rodiano [Zambo Mix] by Bid/Chico Science

This one's from "The Rough Guide to African Rap."
Eye Mo de Anaa by Reggie Rockstone

This mashup was harvested from the wilds of the Internet:
Satisfaction Vs. Up In Da Club by Benny Benassi/50 Cent

Thursday, March 16, 2006

DC Blog Happy Hour

You can't turn around in this town without someone having a happy hour about it. It's inevitable that in a town with a thriving blog scene, someone would put together a happy hour for people who by their very definition spend too much time alone: bloggers. We need the interaction, but man, the gears might be a bit rusty.

It seemed like a really great idea to me -- a chance to meet people with the same obsessive hobby I have, a chance to learn about a lot of people's blogs and a chance to tell them about mine. Most times I feel like I'm writing in a vacuum, so the chance to tell some people that I'm out there and really into it seemed like a great chance to me.

Kathryn and I-66 put together this month's affair in a nice little Cuban joint on 18th Street. I dragged my friend Kenny out to check it out, and we had a pretty good time.

In what appears to be an established tradition, I will now list the names of all the people who I had an exceptionally good time talking to. This is a blog tradition not unlike "slam books" which fell out of vogue with fifth grade girls, oh, in the nineties, I'd guess. Now "slam books" are online, and nobody is too old or male to get in on the action.

It was great meeting the real people behind KassyK, KathrynOn, I-66, GhettoDev, RoarSavage, CountdownofV, DCCookie, Diet Coke of Evil, I'm a Girl, Not Yet a Wino, Land Shark, DCBachelor, Harmany Music, EJTakesLife, WonL, and No Pasa Nada.

However -- I took exceptional pleasure in speaking with Barbara of Looking2Live and Chris Abraham. Barbara, you are incredibly accessible, down-to-earth, and open-minded, and I suspect you have passed those traits on to your son through either his nature or your nurture.

I read a lot of gay blogs as part of my job, and Chris Abraham is a man who was able to sensitively zero in on the weaknesses and strengths of the gay blogosphere far better that I could have as a semi-outsider. He did this in like ten seconds, and left me and Kenny smiling, but open-mouthed.

In other, related news, I've created a stamp to promote this blog. Since I love a DIY art project, I (mostly) hand-made some business cards as well. A small and vocal minority of last night's attendees seem to have a problem with this. I would surmise that those people enjoy writing their hearts out to the sound of crickets and the laughter of people that already know them. These folks are probably not at all tired of fumbling for a cocktail napkin and a borrowed pen to scribble down their blog name for somebody.

Check 'em out:

The last time I checked, self-promotion was what you did to direct attention to your hard work. What would KISS be without makeup? Or Muhammad Ali without mouth? These cards aren't meant to tell people that my blog is good. And I'm not saying that my blog is better than anyone else's. All I'm doing is giving someone a small piece of paper that lets them draw that conclusion on their own.

I'll see you sweethearts and shitbirds next month.

Queen Bitch


The Miss Adams-Morgan Pageant is probably DC's largest private event, and it's definitely the most fabulous. And when I say fabulous, I mean all that fabulous implies. . You can't buy tickets to it publicly, and it sells out every year... and no amount of money or love can help you score a ticket if you've displeased the glittery goddesses in charge.

It's a drag pageant held every Halloween, roughly, and beats the dog-shit out of any costume party I've ever been to. My friend from work got me two passes and I represented the hetero community that evening. I am told that quite a few straight people attended, but I met none of them, possibly because all the queens kept shoving them out of the way when they caught sight of my camera. They say that one should never stand between a mother grizzly bear and her cub. The same can be said about drunken drag queens and digital cameras.

I wrote about it in more depth here, but have just come across some pretty awesome pictures on a friend's hard drive. She and I took these last fall.

"But why would you post photos from last Halloween on your blog in March, Jeff?" is what you may well be asking. The answer, dozen readers, is because I went to a local blog happy hour tonight and kept having to tell people what my blog is about.

And to be honest, I have no idea at all. But I'm hoping all you sweet people I met last night read this post and look at all the pictures, read the post below about the Florida Avenue Grill and the Black Man With a Pistol Hand and just kinda triangulate a thread that ties it all together.

This link will take you to last fall's photoset from the Miss Adams-Morgan Pageant. This one is the current, newest set. The photos below are from the set I just uploaded. Take a look, tell your friends, and above all else: please link to me, bitches.

And if you're wondering about the title of this's also this incredible Bowie song about bitchy, savage drag queens. Listen to it while you look at the photos and wish you had balls big enough to tuck back into pink sequined tights.



Monday, March 13, 2006

Why the Florida Avenue Grill Is My Weekend Home

You’ve got to be pretty fanatical about your diet and exercise if you’re a person who spends most of his life attached to a glowing, rectangular teat.

If something doesn’t happen soon, I’m going to turn out like this guy I always see in the cafeteria in the mornings: so big my knees have chins, work ID hanging around the neck, holding a plateful of sausage and wearing a t-shirt that says “Bacon is a Vegetable.” I’m fine as it is, but over all this synthetic gym-created muscle is a thick sweater of solid fat that seems baggier and baggier as my 30th birthday approaches.

If a career spent behind a screen is the pin that pops my dream of fitness, the hand that jabs the balloon is my deep, abiding love of soul food. It flicks the drug switches deep in the brain, giving one this glazed, mellow smile after a meal. You get all fucked up and happy as hell. After a good load of fried chicken and collards with ham hocks and sweet tea, all you can do is lay around, and you even have a hangover later.

The problem with healthy food is that there’s no love that goes with it. Nobody in their right mind has ever sat in the middle of a foreign desert and pined for their mother’s wheatgrass smoothies. Green tea and spinach salad are great for the abs and heart, but I swear that diet turns you into one of those annoying people that gets way too into "spinning" if it’s not ballasted with cornbread at least.

Florida Avenue Grill
Originally uploaded by chinese_fashion.
My friend Janey had walked five steps into the Grill to take this first photo. While she was lining the shot up, a waitress was so curious to see what was on the screen that she bumped into Jane, making everyone around them laugh. The guy behind the counter said “Here, give me the camera,” and took a picture of the two of them together, the waitress hugging Jane tight and grinning so wide her ears got wet.

Janey, Waitress

Does that ever happen to you at Whole Foods’ smoothie bar?
I meant to photograph my food for this post, but I was really, really hung over and my body was screaming for eggs, sausage, cheese grits and biscuits with a side of fried apples. Halfway through I thought about photographing my half-eaten plate, but I was really hitting my stride and watching the grill cook do a complex pancake dance, cracking eggs, flipping flapjacks and ladling pure liquid butter onto each serving of grits. Then somebody else served up this massive plateful of chitlins’ and I had to get the rest of my breakfast down before everything came back up.

I love me some soul food, but chitlins’ are fucking revolting. Lots of people love them, but they’ve been marinating in (and processing) pig shit for the pig’s entire lifespan – you can’t clean that flavor out.

So here’s Janey’s plate:

Diner Leavings

I first tasted chitlins’ at the Florida Avenue Grill. I made it through the smell okay, but I couldn’t bring myself to swallow them, racing to the bathroom to spit them out. When I returned, our waitress and my friend were holding hands over the counter and screaming with laughter. Now she elbows someone, points at me and says “that’s my baby right there” every time I come back, even if she’s up to her neck in orders.

Here she is:

Best Waitress on Earth

Let’s have a close-up on those nails:

Elegant Talons

Janey was admiring her nails. She heard Jane’s accent and said “you gonna be around for awhile? Hang on, then, baby,” and rummaged in her purse. She produced a copy of the nail salon’s business card. Is that service or what?

So yeah, I know that you can eat healthier, live longer and look better. And five or six days a week, I practice what I preach. I can make grits and fried eggs at home and I’d like to think that I love myself, so technically the food would be made with love.

But really, how can you make up for someone calling you baby a couple dozen times and serving you narcotic coma-inducing comfort food when your feelings hurt as bad as your liver? You can’t. And that, my dozen readers, is why they say that food has soul.

James Brown and the J.B.s have written most of the funkiest songs on earth, including this gem about the joys of eating soul food with family:
'Breakin' Bread', by the J.B.'s

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Black Man With a Pistol Hand

Moonlight after an ice storm
Originally uploaded by Periapt.
Is it as easy to kill a man with your bare hands as movies and television have led me to believe? Can you really just slip around someone and put them in a half-nelson, then grab their chin and just yank REAL hard and twist their neck 'till it breaks with a million tiny wet crunches and one big snap?

I was out for a run tonight, thoughts rolling like gravel in a rock tumbler, mind racing racing racing like it always does -- fertilizing a giant forest of fragile trees growing, growing growing until their roots snarled together and they choked themselves and died only to grow up all over again a million times -- as my body thudded sideways through a school of late commuters all moving in lockstep, talking furiously into cell phones and ignoring each other -- and then I just phased out of everything altogether.

It got dark, real dark, and I was away from people and cars and lights especially, just me, a giant panting guy with a baobab forest full of screaming monkeys growing up out of his scalp.

A lanky black man lurked towards me, morphing out of the black body of a tree trunk. When I say black I do mean that yes, he may have been of African descent, but his skin, eyes, teeth, head and pants were all the same precise absence of color. His head was elongated somehow, tall like that fucked-up looking Jedi in the bad Star Wars movies and both of his hand were massive, like gorilla hands.

One hand was actually not a glove, but a pistol. That black man had a pistol for a hand. Something in the way he lurched as I came up on him too fast to stop made me think he was going to use it.

I noticed his pistol hand RIGHT as my torso brushed past his and I was terrfiied for a second. The forest in my head vanished and all that was left was a flat disk of scorched earth/scalp.

If I needed to, could I have snaped his neck, then calmly stepped into t he road and hailed a cop car?

I didn't kill him, in case you were wondering. I've never killed a man before, and I have GOT to get my apartment clean tonight. I can see how killing a man would fuck up your whole entire night.

Plus, I think that pistol was a handicap. He can't help the way his hand is shaped anymore than I can help the fact that a deciduous forest grows out of my brain every ten minutes or so. I just said hi to him and he said "Alright now" to me, and then we were brothers, two men with strange and crippling mutations passing at night.

Monday, March 06, 2006

Velvet Underground, Live in 1969

Originally uploaded by arimoore.
According to movies and television, rock was once electric and not electronic. It was this stuff, this uncontrollable substance that lived up to its own hype in every way.

Everything everyone said about rock was true.

If you listened to it enough, you did start skipping school and making out in cars, heading down a dirt road to destruction while finding your own soul. There was no punk, no post-punk and no post-rock for damn sure -- just rock itself, loud, bold and mighty.

These three tracks from the Velvet Underground take me into those days that died long before I was born. Not the day in 1976 that I was removed from my mother's womb -- but born into rock and roll's influence, with dizzying passions and low lows of my own for rock to come along and play with.

Recorded at a Velvet Underground show in 1969, these three tracks showcase the Underground at the height of their raw, elegant powers. The tape recorder was stored inside Lou Reed's guitar amp, so the mix is a little distorted to say the least. 'What Goes On' is exuberant and ecstatic -- it's a rapid-fire psychedelic explosion, the audio equivalent of pressing on your eyeballs really really hard.

'Sister Ray' is 24 minutes long if it's a second, and a bit of an endurance contest, to tell the truth. It's raucous and brilliant, and the part where the guitar drops away completely is stunning ... but you can be forgiven if you don't make it all the way through. My apologies for the Real Audio format here. It's the best I could find.

Here they are for your downloading pleasure:

Candy Says
What Goes On
Sister Ray

I'd Like to Thank the Academy

Originally uploaded by chinese_fashion.
First of all, I ‘d like to thank the Academy for this award tonight – the Academy and, of course, Professor Reginald Washington of Martin University for his wonderful, wonderful invention which has ushered a new age of creativity and celebrity-making, making it possible for more amazing stories to be told than ever before.

Before Dr. Washington’s invention, ordinary, average-looking people had to spend hours alone, sequestered away in dark little rooms behind keyboards and monitors, obsessively writing and rewriting their lives into stories that mirrored classic story arcs and the three-act screenplay.

Back in those primeval days, people used to sacrifices great swaths of their lives to glowing electronic gods, furtively burning their time on earth alone to create their life’s work. Ordinary schlubs with slow metabolisms cursed the sunshine for making them wish they were outdoors as they gulped sandwiches over the sink in their all-too brief breaks from the only work that fulfilled them.

There were two kinds of work back then – work we did for money, and the work we did for our own creative peace. The work we did for creative peace was usually harder than the work we did for money, although that was no walk in the park either.

Creative work was more demanding because it seeped into our own moments of pleasure, forcing us to obsessively document our every experience for “source material.” You’d be unwrapping a Christmas present or snipping your firstborn’s umbilicus and think “I should be writing this down. I could be writing right now.”

That was before Dr Washington’s miracle machine. Thanks to Washington and his team of tireless, brilliant researchers who lobotomized entire species of primates to make the cerebral story extractor possible, none of us need ever miss a sunset or type a weekend away ever again.

Now all we need to do is strap the device snugly around our temples, making sure the cable is plugged into our laptops and the appropriate software is open. By merely selecting the appropriate story filter (album, blog, screenplay, novel) and saying “I should really write this down” while visualizing a key scene from the story, the Cerebral Story Extractor will actually translate your subconscious desires into a palatable, exciting story that can thrill the world – but is nevertheless unique and very much your own.

We can all relax now – and our economy itself is changing to reflect that. We are all fat and happy off of royalties from our own stories, and have all the time in the world to relax and consume the stories of others. There is but one danger: now that we are a nation of simultaneous story creators and producers, we risk reaching a creative event-horizon… where all stories are told by people who have only consumed stories all day long themselves without ever living.

This seems dangerous, but is of little importance now. Once we get closer to the unified story feedback loop, we’ll figure out what to do and do it in a timely fashion. If we did it with the polar icecaps, certainly we can do it with other, more important aspects of our lives.

Thank you all again, good night, and please row safely on your way home.

Thursday, March 02, 2006

"Crappy": It's More Adjective Than Euphemism

In its continuing efforts to get me to stay inside it, my apartment is apparently resorting to demonic conjuring and precision-targeted posession. That is really the only explanation for my current state -- while I was sleeping the other night, the apartment drew a pentagram over its floor, summoned a violent, fire-belching demon and ordered it to occupy my stomach, upside-down.

Or, the Korean place up the road is due for a visit from either Public Health or Homeland Security. Jesus.

In this clip from a Japanese tv show, a man straps several large bottles full of water and compressed air to his back and rockets himself out over a lake. Every last one of those people in Japan is out of their minds, I tell you.

Not only is the video cool and hilarous, but it may serve as a rough analogy to my current state.