Sunday, June 18, 2006

Rocky Mountain Rescue

I spent last night at a genuine tiki bar in Great Falls, Montana. Live mermaids swam in a pool with a window facing out over the bar. We sat there till 2 am, watching the mermaids and hanging out with actual cowboys, grizzled, leathery old coots who talked about roping technique until last call. There's a rodeo in town tonight and there was a rhubarb festival yesterday, so excitement's running high.

Somebody's guts exploded in the men's room, and most of it made it into the bowl. The mess was not of this earth, as though someone had painted a pentagram on the men's room floor and conjured an invisible demon. Still, it made for a pretty good icebreaker and really made for a great bonding experience between cowboys and a city slicker like me.

Yesterday morning a black bear shuffled right up to out car and gobbled grass and flowers like a team of wild sheep. A real black bear, not the kind you see in Dupont Circle.

I've just downed a boiled egg sandwich at a video slot machine, sitting next to a woman who is paying her tab "berfore I spend all my money on the Keno." It is 9:30 AM. I'm sipping some watery watery espresso sloooowly so as not to upset the delicate balance in my stomach. We did not stay up until closing time playing Go Fish with those cowboys.

I've been out of cell phone and internet range since Thursday, and it's fantastic. Won't be back 'til Wednesday, either. Call your families -- cook a nice dinner, go for a walk -- I'll be back soon enough.

Monday, June 12, 2006

Overcome With Wonder At Life's Beautiful Synchronicity

Yes, Yes, YES!!!

Have you ever experienced a coincidence so stunning and profound that your pores actually widen and accept in more of the world's beauty than you'd ever thought possible? Doesn't it make your ribcage just ACHE as your heart expands to encompass even more joy and love at a world so cruel, insane, hilarious and beautiful, even as your face stretches into a painful, ecstatic rictus?

If this video mashup of Prodigy's 'Smack My Bitch Up' and Tommy Seebach's 'Apache' doesn't do just that, you might as well just pull an Ian Curtis and stand on a block of ice with your neck in a noose. Jesus Pete this cracks me up...

Friday, June 09, 2006

"If This Love Is Wrong, Then I Don't Want To Be Right"

Hey, Good-Looking ...
Originally uploaded by chinese_fashion.
My man Clarence used to teach history at a juvenile correctional facility in Richmond, VA. He's got all kinds of stories and all kinds of weird connection all over the state now. He's definitely the only white guy I can think of who looks exactly like the Dude and is unilaterally down with both Crips and Bloods in Norfolk, VA.

One of his more gifted students was smart, motivated, not swayed by gangs or prone to any sort of violence at all. He just spent his time in jail reading and doing pushups when he could. The other guys, rapists, murderers, drug dealers and senior-level gangsters left this guy to mind his own business, too. Nobody wanted much to do with him.

Turns out this kid was an unrepentant dog-fucker. He'd been locked up for a good while on multiple charges of repeated bestiality. Not just any animals either. This guy was into dogs, and dogs only.

He'd just been denied parole an hour before, and was humming to himself and reading 'Macbeth' at a picnic table in the exercise yard when Clarence caught up with him.

"Damn, son, you got denied AGAIN?" Clarence asked. "In case you haven't noticed, this is jail, man. What are you saying in these hearings that's keeping you here?"

It's not like the people that have parole hearings in the juvenile justice system want to keep kids locked up. They're tossing them a bunch of basic, softball questions so they can get out and try to start their lives up. They ask stuff like:

"So, Mister Dog-Fucker, what's your long-term plan when you get out?"

To which Mister D-F replies "Well, I'm gonna go stay with my aunt for a while, try and get a steady job, just have some kind of structure in my life for a while."

This is good. It shows that the guy values stability, balance, wants to earn a normal income.

"What kind of job, son?"

"Well," Mister D-F replies, "something with animals. I really love being around them. Maybe at an animal shelter or a vet's office, but I think a doggie grooming business would be great. I'd get to give those dogs baths and brush 'em all day..." Here he trailed off. He's pretty much back to square one, if not several squares behind it. Still, the board wants to give him a chance.

"Uhm, okay. What about your short-term plan? What do you want to do the day you walk out of these gates? Are you going to celebrate? How?"

"Well," D-F says, "I just can't wait to get home and play with my dog."

"What, like take him for a big long walk, or a game of frisbee," the board asks, all silently thinking PLEASE FOR GOD'S SAKE.

"Not especially. I just want to wrestle him. you know, just get my shirt off and get right down there on the floor with him and really roughhouse..." Again, the trailing off.

The stamp drops a red DENIED on D-F's papers with lightning speed. D-F grabs a copy of Macbeth and hits the exercise yard, where Clarence found him.

"Dude, it's bad enough that you like fucking dogs, but what really concerns me is that you can't even lie about it for twenty minutes so you can have your freedom," Clarence said.

"Well, Mister Clarence," D-F explained, "It's like this. There's nothing really wrong with me at all. This is me, it's who I am. It's how I love. Any problem society has with it is society's problem. If I can't be free to express my love and desire the way I want, then I might as well be in prison anyway."

As perverse and disgusting as this is, I admire this kid's convictions. He has an internal compass, and although the needle is bent like a French curve, he's following that thing due North. It's his compass and his needle, and his concept of North, but he's going there no matter what, even if he is going it alone.

I really, really think he's wrong, but I like that confidence. Unfortunately, this guy's hard drive is going to have to be totally wiped clean for him to ever interact with the world, which may take that ridiculous, ass-backward nobility with it.

I like the phrase "unrepentant dog-fucker" too. It's someone who is so wrong, so utterly, completely and totally a four-flushing puckered asshole ... who's totally convinced that he's not. He thinks he's just fine, and everyone else need to deal with it.

I can't wait to call someone an unrepentant dog-fucker. It's such a final, finishing, burn-the-bridge-then-blow-it-up phrase. Once you deploy that sucker, the show's over.

I may not call anyone an unrepentant dog-fucker at tonight's DC Blogger happy hour at Eyebar, but that doesn't mean there won't be any contenders in the crowd. Then again, once I get enough drinks in me in the company of the bloggers I do like, I may well get to test this sucker out on a blogger I don't. And with that, I can honestly say that I'm looking forward to seeing every last one of you tonight ...

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

Wolfmother at the Black Cat: Hot Damn

Originally uploaded by amauriaguiar.
A few weeks ago, one of my Australian friends called. She'd read that I was going to see Wolfmother at the Black Cat tonight and had a few words to say about it.

"Listen, this isn't just some fucking pissweak indie band like you see at the fucking Black Cat, right? These fuckas, they don't stand there in their high-water pants and just you know, look at their fucking shoes and sort of apologize for having a sex drive in between their songs about their ex fucking girlfriends. This is a rehearsed band, like Led fucking Zeppelin or Sabbath -- this is real rock music, right, so get yourself ready!"

She may have cursed a little more, but you get the point. And as it turns out, she wasn't exaggerating at all. Wolfmother rocked like no band I've ever seen before, and doubt I'll see again. Their music is thundering, trippy, and completely lacking any sort of self-conscious irony.

I had to buy tickets from a Craigslist scalper. He ran the price of the sold-out show up to $30 per ticket, which stung -- but not so bad that I wanted to miss the show. But still: why only raise a ticket price 15 bucks?

Is it a jerk move to buy tickets for resale? And at such a tiny profit margin? I mean, I paid it willingly, so I can't blame him too much ... I was part of the supply and demand equation. And I got an AWESOME experience out of it. The next time Wolfmother comes to DC, they'll be packing out the 930 club for two shows in a row. Or playing the Nissan Pavilion. They're heading up there, and fast.

They have moves, real moves onstage that don't feel like pre-rehearsed moves, moves that heighten the drama and FUN of big, HUGE loud rock music. Lingering arms in the air, giant handclaps, beckoning the crowd to give it up with applause and shouts right before the band slams back in from a pseudo-Floyd instrumental break -- these moves aren't just showbiz -- they're the real rock stuff, heightened for maximum effect.

Wolfmother does what Aussie bands do best: they don't innovate anything at all, just take pre-existing sounds and ideas and max them out, making them more bad-ass than you can imagine. Look at AC/DC, INXS, the Vines: not inventors -- just refiners of serious badassery. Wolfmother plays music reminiscent of the first wave of heavy metal -- Sabbath, Zeppelin, Cream, Deep Purple -- with a bit of Pink Floyd in there for measure. But the thing is, all those bands showed their blues influences. Wolfmother is definitely in line with that awesome musical lineage -- but shows no direct influence of the blues whatsoever.

The crowd was perfect. Everyone was there, including That Dude and all his homeboys. You know That Dude. He goes to all the metal shows, stands up near the front and hits on at least eight of the ten women that ever go to metal shows. He throws his rap until one of his boys show up and they both transform into the That Dude's alter ego: Shirts Off.

That Dude and Shirts Off sure did start a good old-fashioned mosh pit, too. I haven't seen one of those in years, and haven't cared to be in one for even longer -- but knowing that I was at a show with a real live mosh pit and clapping and kids getting passed around... YES.

I think Wolfmother played their whole freaking album, and then some. They did it all so perfectly -- the claps, the big finishes, the encore, and got us out by midnight. Hot damn.

Here's a few videos to tide you over: Woman, and White Unicorn.

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

F-U-N: the DC Spelling Bee

Nick and Juhi at the DC Bee
Originally uploaded by chinese_fashion.
I just got back from the grand final round of the DCBee, a local spelling bee for grown people. Mostly hipsters delaying or denying their adulthood, but grown people all the same. Unlike the Scripps-Howard spelling bee, the first ever DCBee at the Warehouse theater boasts live musical entertainment and access to a full bar.

The DCBee's organizers, Nick and Juhi (pictured) crack a lot of jokes. They modify existing example sentences for comic effect, and pronounce spelling words correctly about half the time. In between rounds, an eliminated speller gets out of his chair (a hot commodity in the cramped, packed theater) and takes drink orders from Nick and Juhi, the contestants, and anyone in the front few rows who offers up money for their drink. One of the final rounds was delayed because a speller was in the bathroom. "I have to pee," she announced right after her word, and hopped right off the stage to presumably do just that. A woman performed a well-rehearsed and FUNNY rap about the spelling bee... the crowd got right into the call-and response.

Narky naysayers and spelling bee highbrows might take umbrage at the relaxed goofing in the room, but this bee is about much more than spelling. It's about community -- celebrating the nerdy, the obsessive, the silly and the fun. It would be easy to dismiss the DCBee as an event for twenty and thirtysomething hipsters, although there were a number of fresh faces who showed up out of a love of spelling and language.

But look at who current hipsters are: they're culturally critical, savvy, intellectual people who like using their brains. Sure, the clothes can be obvious and the music pretentious -- but using you brain is FUN, and doing it around a bunch of friendly new people is even more fun.

One Belushi-built guy of Indian descent wore a massive pair of sunglasses a la Bobby Fischer in his heyday. He took a cocky stance, posing for photos onstage and frequently swigging from a beer. When one of the audience's hecklers nailed him, he dramatically removed his giant shades, saying "who said that!" to reveal another pair underneath.

There was an abundance of heckling at the Bee tonight, actually. Some of it was actually funny, but mostly it was an attempt to outshine the people in the spotlight. It's tough to pull off, and for every laugh a heckler gets five people quietly think he's an asshole.

Such was the case when one gentleman jumped up and shouted "I have a note to pass to the judges concerning the integrity of this competition." My friend Nate was on the mike at the time. Full disclosure: I was pulling for Nate pretty hard. I was actually holding flowers to throw at his feet when he got his next word right.

It seems that Nate spelled a word incorrectly, and the judges missed it. Fair game, I say -- when a ref misses a call, them's the breaks. These guys felt differently. They wanted to go so far as to have one of the evening's videographers run a tape back for proof. Nat got flustered. He's a shy man, and standing behind a mike under hot lights and spelling already had him at his threshold. This pushed him over.

Nate got his next word wrong on a clumsy flub, mistaking a critical 'c' for a commonplace 'k'. Everyone cheered for him anyway. Somebody shouted "Spell 'WHAT A BUNCH OF DICKHEADS" Nate!"

At another point in the show, a woman with pink streaks through her blond hair shouted "THIRD GRADE VOCAB!" right as a finalist was spelling. That finalist was none other than the eventual third place winner, Michelle Robison. Michelle stopped for a second, pulled it together, and got the word right anyway.

I asked Michelle how she felt about heckling.
"I know I had some hecklers. I just try not to listen to haters. I was just up there to spell... that's all I wanted. People just heckle because they are just mad they're not on stage anyway. Or they're drunk. Or both."

Ryan Kailath, the grand prize winner, was just there to spell, too. "I love spelling," he said. "I'm a big word nerd."

"I got into the Bee on a lightning round a few weeks ago," Kailath says. "I hadn't officially entered, but I just jumped up on stage and elbowed in. You had to have some kind of talent to share to participate in the lightning round, and I couldn't think of anything. Juhi made me take my shirt off. She said that would be enough for her. So I had only lived in DC for a month and I was standing there in a room full of strangers with my shirt off, and I got real, real nervous. I had been drinking. Then I spelled 'deciduous' wrong, but I got to stay in anyway. Now I'm here, and I won!"

Owls and Crows took the stage after the Bee closed and ripped it up with some dirty, loud classic rock. Man, I love that stuff. It's nothing new, and it's not technically difficult -- but it's like soul food -- it looks easy but it's hard to do just right.

So yeah: spelling, heckling, some loud rock music and home by twelve on a Monday night -- tell me, what's not awesome about that?

Thursday, June 01, 2006

Turning Thirty Did Not Kill Me

Originally uploaded by kanngard.
All my friends over thirty have always seemed really cool, but I always felt like there was some invisible doorway they had passed through that had conferred them a certain painful wisdom.

Like: nobody ever tells you this, but on the exact moment that you turn thirty, your entire skeleton comes out through one nostril and your skin collapses in a heap on the floor. As soon as the pain subsides, the skeleton puts itself right back into place, entering through the other nostril. Or: you fall deeply in love the morning of your thirtieth, and are cruelly dumped right after bedtime. Neither of those things happened to me on Tuesday, I am pleased to report.

I definitely feel like I squandered a lot of my twenties. There's nothing I regret doing, but a lot of things I regret not doing. I feel like I spent a lot of time waiting for permission to live my life while I scraped by on nothin' with no hope for much more in sight.

I beat myself up a lot, if you haven't noticed, particularly creatively. I read like whales eat plankton. I usually devour music the same way. If I had a quarter for every amazing book/album by an under-30 wunderkind who's made a shit-ton and gotten a movie deal/place in the annals of pop history while fulfilling himself creatively, I sure as hell wouldn't have had to play my little trick on the soda machine in the laundry room tonight to dry my bedsheets.

But that's just the dark whinging part of it. The weekend preceding the day itself was like a commercial for birthday weekends. It was that fantastic. I flew to Boston to hang out with two of my best friends and spent most of my waking hours with a drink in one hand and a superlative sandwich in the other.

We went to Mike's Pastry in North End, which sells weapons-grade cannoli. My god, such pastry. The following morning, my best friend since kindergarten, his wife (also an incredibly close friend) and I all sat on the porch drinking espresso, eating these heavenly death-dealing cannoli and talking about the fact that getting waxed by a sniper right then would not be but so bad, really.

After a weekend spent marinating in Boston's book shops, record stores, and comic book shops (the three lenses through which I view all places), I flew home, feeling loved and went out to have a massive Italian meal with fifteen or so great friends, chased it with a Grand Marnier and awoke the next day with breath full of sulfites, garlic, and basil byproducts. That's a man's breath, right there.

So yeah -- this whole being a grownup thing, it's not without its benefits. I feel like I've identified a lot of things that are complete bullshit, and decided not to put up with them -- freeing up a lot more time to make my life exactly what the funk I want it to be. Youth, as they say, is wasted on the young. Specifically young people with money.