Archive for the ‘Arts & letters’ Category

Not insane! (Well, maybe a little)

February 13, 2018

A Firesign sampler.

Thanks to Steve O’ for sending me on a little trip down Dr. Memory Lane with his mention in comments of a KCRW podcast that looked forward, into the past, at the Firesign Theatre.

I first stumbled across the Firesigns in high school. The source of the contagion may have been my friend Bruce Gibson, who was something of an audiophile, or perhaps Dan Stephanian, who was an actual disc jockey.

The Firesigns struck me like the hot kiss at the end of a wet fist, and if I hadn’t planned to be a cartoonist I might have gone into radio instead of newspapering. Their skit “The Further Adventures of Nick Danger, Third Eye,” and far too many impromptu amateur performances of same, would provide an entrée into friendships that, like herpes, have proven impossible to eradicate.

We saw “Martian Space Party” at the Rialto Theatre in Alamosa way back in 1972, and even the actual Firesigns themselves in concert at the old Ebbets Field in Denver, circa 1977 or thereabouts.

One of our college hovels bore the sign “Ed Siegelman’s Ground Zero Equal Opportunity Apartments,” a FT reference from “Dear Friends.” And when I was assigned to build an actual show as part of a radio-production class I created an all-Firesign homage. Music, news, weather, sports and commercials, all were pulled from their tattered casebook.

Phil “Nick Danger” Austin himself even popped around the blog to try, Python-like, to squeeze a dollar or two out of the Bozos and Bozoettes who loiter around my drugstore, drinking chocolate malted falcons and giving away free high schools.

Phil’s gone now, dear friends, as is Peter Bergman. But last fall the surviving Firesigns, Philip Proctor and David Ossman, got together at the Library of Congress to perform and discuss the troupe’s work.

The Library has all their albums. I only have most of them, an oversight I intend to correct.

 

En pointe

January 9, 2018

Let’s dance.

Blogging is a sort of ballet, a piece of performance art originally done largely by amateurs.

But what if you don’t feel like keeping yourself on your toes?

Happily for me, I have you to keep me hopping. But my man Hal Walter has a smaller, less boisterous audience over at Hardscrabble Times, and he’s been wondering whether the game is worth the candle.

We have similar professional backgrounds, Hal and I. And we both dove headlong into the so-called “gig economy” long before it was cool and as a consequence have wives who outearn us six ways from Sunday.

But we find ourselves in wildly different situations at the moment.

Hal rattles around the rarified boondocks of Crusty County, Colo., whilst I reside in the tony suburbs of the Duke City. Hal keeps burros; I keep cats and what Herself claims is a dog. Hal mostly runs, and occasionally rides; I do it the other way around.

And Hal has an autistic son, while I do not.

That may be the kicker right there. A kid “on the spectrum” can be a real time-suck, and something of an unexpected and ongoing expense, and so Hal naturally feels compelled to devote the bulk of his attention to (a) his son, and (2) feeding the beast that dollars up fastest on the hoof.

This would not be his blog, in case you were wondering.

I hate to see it lying fallow, and say so now and again. But Hal replies that feeding the beast and shoveling up the mess afterward turns his brain to mush and leaves him with little left to say for free at Hardscrabble Times.

Where little is said, there are few to listen, and if the house is full of empty seats when the lights come up, well, shit, why bother to put on your red shoes and dance the blues?

So here’s my question: What brings you to a blog like mine or Hal’s? How many of these shops do you visit while making your daily rounds and what do they have on tap? Is it all about the words or do some folks do compelling photos, audio and video as well?

And if you like something you see on this blog or any other, do you comment, and then spread the word elsewhere?

Holler back at me in comments.

Brown shoes don’t make it

December 5, 2017

Roy Moore? Nope. Roy Less, thanks all the same.

She’s my teen-age baby
She turns me on
I’d like to make her do a nasty
On the White House lawn

It’s Day Two of Zappadan 2017.

Nickel and dimed

December 3, 2017

Bare trees, gray light; oh yeah, it was a cold night.

We’ve a cold front moving in, dagnabit. The Lord must be punishing us for voting Democrat.

Well, never fear. The Republicans will keep us warm by rooting through our pockets, looking for spare change to lay on real-estate developers, oil and gas operators, multinational corporations, banks making payments to offshore subsidiaries, and religious schools.

You’ll recognize the headline as having been lifted from Barbara Ehrenreich’s 2001 book of the same name, which took an extended look at the millions of Americans slaving away full time for poverty-level dough.

Jessica Bruder has done something similar with “Nomadland: Surviving America in the Twenty-First Century.” She follows a cadre of rootless neo-Joads, 21st-century tinkers and gypsies crisscrossing the country in their “wheel estates” — beater RVs, vans and cars that also serve as their homes — in search of grueling, low-paying jobs.

It’s a fascinating read about Americans who are literally struggling to make a go of it. “A man who couldn’t make things go right could at least go,” as William Least Heat-Moon wrote in “Blue Highways: A Journey Into America.”

And another quote about going: “There but for the grace of God go I.” Our “leaders” would be well served by a little more meditation on interdependence and a little less study of the Book of I’ve Got Mine, Get Yours.

R.I.P., Tom Petty

October 3, 2017

Adios, TP.

Yesterday was a sad day in so many ways, not least because of the departure of Tom Petty. He was just 66.

The fake news was a wee bit early in declaring that he had left the stage; Tom managed one more short encore before taking his final bow. He always seemed like a regular dude to me, a craftsman devoted to doing his best in a culture that often settles for much, much less. And he just kept on doing it, right through a massive U.S. tour to celebrate his 40th anniversary as frontman for the Heartbreakers.

His music, so clearly influenced by The Byrds, has been part of my mental playlist for the better part of quite some time, starting with “Damn the Torpedoes.” And I expect that he’ll get a warm greeting from Roy Orbison, George Harrison and the rest of that ever-growing, ever-better Next World Orchestra.

Here’s one of my favorites — “Louisiana Rain.” Damn the torpedoes — full speed ahead.

Hugh Hefner hits the silk

September 28, 2017

Do they have silk pajamas in heaven?

No matter. Hugh Hefner pretty much built his own heaven right here on earth. He died Wednesday at 91.

Say what you will about Playboy — and people said plenty, fans and detractors alike — Hef’ gave a home to one helluva lot of top-shelf cartoonists. Gahan Wilson, Bobby London, Shel Silverstein, Jack Cole, B. Kliban, Jules Feiffer, Will Elder, Harvey Kurtzman — the list goes on, and on, and on. He even had the distinct honor of being mocked alongside Peter Max in Bijou Funnies by Robert Crumb, Jay Lynch and Skip Williamson.

Playboy paid well when everyone else paid for shit. For cartoonists it was The New Yorker, but with a centerfold. R.I.P., Hef’.

Monsoon season

April 25, 2017

My bucket runneth over.

It rained all day, which is a good thing, and not just because we live in a desert, either.

Nope, I had things to do, and still have, among them a column and cartoon for Bicycle Retailer and Industry News and a bicycle review for Adventure Cyclist.

Thus it was best that I be confined to quarters and required to pay attention.

Elsewhere, the deluge — no, not the rain, but the shit monsoon that is the reign of King Donald the Short-fingered — continues unabated. His family crest should be a tiny hand stirring a golden toilet with the motto, “L’merde, c’est moi.”

So we’ll ignore that fool and link instead to an interesting read from Cormac McCarthy on the unconscious and its distrust of language. Hardly anyone gets killed horribly in it, but I’ll tell you, he makes me feel like a haunted house.

R.I.P., J. Geils

April 12, 2017

I don’t want the blog to turn into an obit column, but I felt compelled to note the passing of John Warren Geils Jr., the guitarist behind the J. Geils Band.

You may recall the band’s Eighties hits — “Centerfold,” “Love Stinks,” and “Freeze-Frame” — but I stumbled across them in the Seventies, my initiation likely being the live album “Full House,” which I still have on vinyl.

There were a bunch of keepers on that one, my favorites being “First I Look At the Purse,” “Pack Fair and Square,” and “Whammer Jammer.” Magic Dick could do magic for real — dude could make a harp sound like a sax.

Charles P. Pierce, who has his own recollection of the band, found another keeper online, “Floyd Hotel,” from 1973. As usual Peter Wolf and Magic Dick play starring roles, but Geils contributes a few worthy licks on slide. And keyboard player-songwriter Seth Justman tinkles them ivories right nice too.

“Take out your false teeth, mama, I want to suck on your gums.” With lines like that you can almost excuse the stagewear and hairdos. Hey, it was the Seventies, what can I tell you?

Rock ‘n’ rage

March 19, 2017

Jaysis. What a weekend. First we lose Chuck Berry and then Jimmy Breslin.

Berry remains on tour extraterrestrially — “Johnny B. Goode” is on golden records aboard the Voyager I and II spacecraft, launched in 1977.

One of my favorite Breslin books is “The Gang That Couldn’t Shoot Straight.”  What could I tell you? There are so many keepers in there, like this graf:

The Baccala Family runs all organized crime in Brooklyn. The gang has been in Brooklyn longer than the Ferris Wheel at Coney Island. It was formed in 1890 under the leadership of Raymond the Wolf. He ate babies. Raymond the Wolf passed away one night from natural causes: his heart stopped beating when three men who slipped into his bedroom stuck knives in it. Joe the Wop, who had sent the three men, took over the mob. Joe the Wop shot nuns. A year later he dropped dead while being strangled.

I didn’t know this quote until I read it in his obit, but it works for me, too:

“Rage is the only quality which has kept me, or anybody I have ever studied, writing columns for newspapers.”

I’ve never raged as well as Breslin or Berry, but I keep on trying. If only they hadn’t set the bar so damn’ high.

The music a’Waits

March 14, 2017

OK, apropos of nothing in particular, check out this interview with Tom Waits at The New York Times Style Magazine.

Beck and Kendrick Lamar are in there, too, if that’s how you roll.

The money quote for me — from Waits, of course — is about inspiration and how it strikes:

If you want to catch songs you gotta start thinking like one, and making yourself an interesting place for them to land like birds or insects.