What do Boston's More Than A Feeling, Pixies' U-Mass and Nirvana's Smells Like Teen Spirit have in common?
Instructions: Play a few seconds, pause, play the next one. I've timecoded the individual videos.
Thanks to Andrew for noting the Boston one the first time I brought this up.
I can honestly say that I am not a member of that fraternity of sad folks who feel genuine grief over the death of someone they had never met, nor were ever likely to establish a genuine relationship with. Celebrity deaths do not usually trigger any sort of emotional response in me, outside of “well, ain’t that a shame.” There have been two exceptions to this rule. Both involved entertainers who I had seen at the prime of their abilities.
(Note: I changed the video to this one from the original, which, now that I have audio, wasn't that funny. Here is the original, just in case.)
I saw Mitch Hedberg live during my senior year of high school. I found myself going to comedy clubs at a regular basis around that time, for reason I can’t specifically recall. Maybe it was an unconscious attempt to relieve the pressures of 9/11, which started off the school year, and my own, unrelated, depression, which was coming to a head. I was there with a few friends, including whom I met that night and would later date for a few brief moments. She would later live in a dorm room that was, at one point, Lenny Bruce’s old hotel room, if you wish to bring this around full-circle.
Mitch was fantastic. Just as good as the one CD he had out at the time, or any of his specials. He took joke requests and was, generally, totally on the ball. Two years and change later he was dead. I was living upstate at the time, not doing too hot as far as living a reasonable life goes, and it hit me harder than I wanted it to. I had seen the man do his thing, and clearly enjoy doing his thing, and now he was gone forever. The haunting didn’t help…
I had been working at a Jimmy John's franchise in Ithaca, New York. Jimmy John's is a slightly-“classier”-than-Subway sandwich shop, found primarily in college towns. Mitch Hedberg did their radio ads. One night, a few days after his death, I was working the graveyard shift. It must have been a little past one in the morning when the ad came on. I froze. You’d think someone would have bothered taking the ads out of rotation, but I guess a contract is a contract.
That’s the Mitch Hedberg story. Here’s the second one: Gerhardt “Jerry” Fuchs, 34 years old, died in Brooklyn on Sunday. I’m not going to get into the details of his death because I do not feel like I have the right to comment on them. Here is where I found out (there are more links inside to tributes, etc.) What I can say is that Jerry Fuchs was probably one of the greatest drummers I had ever seen live. I saw the latest band he was in, Maserati, open for Mono a few months before I started this blog. Here’s a photo from the show:
Notice something odd? Jerry, the drummer, is right up front with the band. Most bands I see push the drummer right behind the other members, or way in the back. This was a gesture of palpable respect that I appreciated, as someone watching the band, considering his abilities.
When I found out that he had died, I, again, felt pangs of pain. Not because I had lost a “friend” or someone I respected as a person, but simply because the light of a man of extraordinary ability was put out way before its time. It wasn’t drugs or suicide, but a stupid twist of fate that robbed us of him. I doubt I’d have felt anything at all had I not seen him blasting away at those cans like he was truly, genuinely, born to do it.
Well. So long, Jerry.
I am an immigrant. A naturalized citizen of these United States. I consider myself an American (unless I have to tell someone abroad where I'm from, in which case the answer is a quick-shot “New York.”) My family came, escaped here from the Soviet Union. My fascination with that fallen empire exists only through the visors/blinders of nostalgia. I can't deny where I came from, where I had my formative experiences, where my love for art and culture sprouted. However, I also can't deny that it was a quagmire of a country, started on genuinely valiant terms and eventually run into the ground by a psychotic despot. I don't love the USSR (or Russia, for that matter,) but it is my homeland, just as America is my home. I cannot claim my grasp of history is anything but cursory, so everything I write from hereon may very well be inaccurate, but it is the way things went down in my head. I invite, welcome and cherish corrections.
I am an unabashed member of the left, and a radical one at that. My politics did not come from an even-handed observations of the two sides and a conscious choice, but rather my personal convictions thrusting me into the lefthand wall at 88 miles per hour. You could say I started climbing the damn thing just as I hit it, to see what was on the other side. I can honestly say that every individual within the legislature can agree on some bill, the ends of which result in my imprisonment. I'm being a bit hyperbolic, but you can see my point.
Twenty years ago today the Berlin Wall fell, and a good part of that fall revolved around Ronald Reagan. Between heated proxy fighting (my old tennis coach used to fly planes for the Soviet forces in Afghanistan) and increased worry over the “assured” part of “Mutually Assured Destruction” (not to mention the USSR's inability to feed their populace) the great symbol of superpower division was toppled. The fall wasn't nearly as spontaneous as history makes it out to be, but there is precious little truly spontaneous history. I'll admit to this being a facile treatment of the issue, but I'm no historian.
Ronald Reagan, whether you think of him as figurehead or mastermind, is partially responsible for who I am. Without the Gipper's nominal efforts, without his administration taking a step back from the brink of nuclear annihilation, my family may have never been able to emigrate to the United States. This leaves me conflicted.
One the one hand, Reagan holds a lion's share of responsibility for the mess our country is in right now. The co-opting of the GOP by hardline conservatism is inextricably linked to his bringing Nixon's “Silent Majority” campaign tactic to a fever pitch, molding it into a veritable religion of intolerant Christian extremism, anti-intellectualism and the very denouncement of reason itself. The 43rd presidential administration, riding Reagan's coattails and stealing an election, dropped us to a nadir as a culture. I never thought I'd see the day where issues settled by the Scopes trial in 1925 would be brought up for questioning. Also: Iran-Contra? The president committed treason. Plain and simple. Our fightin' boys in the Middle East are getting blown to shit with the veritable armory he sold them. How did it all end, you ask? Ollie North, the grand co-conspirator, has a show on Fox. And Reagan himself received a sending-off I can only compare to this Russian joke I found on Wikipedia:
Seeing a pompous and lavish burial of a member of the Politburo, Rabinovich sadly shakes his head: "What a waste! I could have buried the whole Politburo with this kind of money!"
...oh did that felt good to get out. Now here's the other side: I can say all that I just said without fear. I can say that President Ronald Reagan was a treasonous blight upon the citizens of the United States of America. I can say that instead of a funeral procession, they should have dumped him in a potter's field. And you know what? I'm not going to get “disappeared.” I was rescued from a life of poverty and anti-Semitism in the shithole that became of Russia after its turnover to “democracy.” I live in a country where the only reason I am waiting on line for a loaf of bread is because I decided to shop at Trader Joe's. My voice, no matter how insignificant in the grand scheme of things, can be heard by anyone willing to listen, and all the while my teapot remain unsullied by Polonium-210.
Ronald Reagan helped me live the life I do today -- and I love this life because I'm free to spit on his grave regardless.
Today is a very special day, dear readers.
My friend Andrew, proprietor of the always-awesome Armagideon Time and COLG's biggest inspiration (both style-wise and getting-up-off-my-ass-and-actually-making-AND-regularly-updating-a-blog-wise) has let me publicly embarrass myself on his home turf.
So click through and read...
Woody Allen is, occasionally, my favorite director and for a few years Play It Again, Sam was my favorite of his films. This was mainly due to the fact that I had not yet seen Manhattan, which I consider to be one of the greatest cinematic works of all time. While it has become my favorite Woody Allen's movies, this remains my favorite of his scenes. I always found it inspiring, still do, even, how an optimism born of sheer desperation burns a hole right through through one of the most (intentionally) overwrought descriptions of bleakness on film.
(P.S.: The entirety of Manhattan is on YouTube. The quality, for YouTube, is fantastic. Give it a go, and if you regret it I'll personally take you to the film of your choice. Offer only good in New York and includes the price of one Sunday matinee ticket and a small soft drink.) Scratch that, only a few of the sections actually work. It comes up on Netflix Instant Watch occasionally, though.
Patrick Farley wrote and drew The Guy I Almost Was in 1998. Webcomics were still fetal then; it was long before the medium could sustain giant charity cons and make Time Magazine. I don't remember the first time I encountered the comic, although it must have been at least five or six years after being published. I was, at the time, younger than the protagonist and safe in my own dreams about how Fucking Awesome the future is going to be.
I clearly remember reading William Gibson's seminal cyberpunk novel Neuromancer for the first time. I downloaded a copy off IRC, stuck it on my Palm Pilot and read a few chunks during one particular cybergoth night at the Pyramid. It was too early for the crowd, so we were just lounging around, all blaring music and club-smoke on an empty dancefloor. It was great – reading about the Panther Modern punks while intermittently peeking up to see if anyone interesting had showed up. My hearing was probably as bad then as it is now, so having a conversation with my friends without screaming “WHAT?!” every few seconds did not enthuse me. I'd play game after game of Yar's Revenge on the all-in-the-joystick Atari console at the bar (not being old enough to drink or slick enough to chalk my ID yet) and eventually, enough people would make the dancefloor tolerable and I'd finally hit it, grooving to the sweet sounds of And One and Wolfsheim. It was the closest to /feeling/ cyberpunk I'd ever encountered in my life. Whether the inherent isolation (reading books and playing video games at a nightclub) reflects poorer on my life or the concept itself is up for decision. I had fun.
Anyhow, back to the comic. TGIAW isn't just about cyberpunk, or a simple indictment of it. It's a personal story, kicked off by the protagonist's fleeing some angry housemates:
When school ended last month, I had to live somewhere. Of course, with a terrible credit rating like mine, (that trail of busted credit cards littering my passage through an "academic career") and no money for a deposit, it wouldn't be easy to find a place. My current housemates, fortunately, didn't check my credit or ask for anything upfront... they naively assumed that since I was in college, I must be a solvent young bourgeois like themselves.
I did nothing to disabuse them of this illusion.
It is about failed escapism from the dregs of being 20-something and not having a god damned clue. About the realization that people who share your dreams and fantasies aren't necessarily going to be your best buddies, or even tolerable human beings, for that matter. There's even a few dense pages of counterculture/media-theory rambling in there, but hell if it wasn't planted with the seeds of truth. And who can't love the irony of not having enough money to fund a neo-luddite lifestyle?
Anyhow, just read the damn comic. The illustration is a bit rough, but keep in mind this guy was carving out new territory as he was writing and drawing it. If you like it, make sure the give the author a shout.
(Thanks to Francis for reminding me it existed.)
I find a whole lot of weird objects, orphaned on the streets. Well, not “weird” exactly, but in some way out of context with the asphalt. There’s just a load of beauty in the consumer products we throw out. The things I find on the street are used-up, present only in form and declared, by some individual, to no longer maintain any function. And, yet, the objects still persist; we cannot wish away our trash.
When I was a kid, I found a stack of a half-dozen board games, tied up with twine, next to some garbage cans across from my grandmother’s apartment. It was like hitting the jackpot. I don’t remember most of them, but there was a Special Edition of Clue in there, with extra rooms and characters and weapons. After realizing that these were, in fact, trash (as opposed to someone’s moving-out pile,) I quickly absconded with them. They didn’t get a lot of play -- I never liked having houseguests, still do not -- but I appreciated the hell out of them as artifacts. That moment may also have been the starting point for my recurring dreams of material gain. During Waking Life, I try to avoid owning things of any sort of value. Due to my obsessive and misplaced thrift, most of my possessions are worn to near-uselessness, easily replaceable, or worthless outside of sentimental value or peculiarity (apologies in advance to any burglars who happen to end up in my room.) In my dreams, I stumble across giant, free piles of toys and candy (as a kid) and clothing and consumer electronics (as an adult.) This violently, carelessly discarded Scrabble set makes me feel terrible. I didn’t examine it to see if something was genuinely broken – perhaps some blood on the board from a particularly violent disagreement over the abomination that is the Official Scrabble Dictionary. It is, simply, the idea that some working-class-raised kid couldn’t have picked it up out of the trash and had a perfectly serviceable board game reminds me of all those times I’ve woke up and realized the stash of Awesome Things didn’t make it with me, out of the dream.
This wasn’t on the street, but inside a subway car around 9 PM on a weekday. That empty bottle was someone’s night. Maybe teenagers left it behind, maybe a faded old drunk, but either way there were hours of de-restrained emotion drained out of it and into someone. Like a spent shell or an empty dime-bag, we’re looking at neither cause, nor effect, but the remains of the midway point between the two.
I once watched a disheveled early-middle-aged woman carrying down the block a large cardboard box full of various household objects. It was obvious she was moving out of someone’s apartment in enough haste that she did not even call a cab. I asked if she needed some help and she very briefly and sternly told me she did not, as if asserting her independence not just from me, but also from wherever and whomever she was departing. The box was cumbersome; I wouldn’t have been surprised if she were leaking personal possessions on her march to, hopefully, another home. This spoon did not fall out of it (in fact, the photo was taken in an entirely different neighborhood, months later,) but who knows what she dropped behind her, fleeing from her now-past.
There’s nothing much to say about this one. It is a Poland Spring bottle full of urine (friends have mentioned the proper nomenclature is “trucker bomb”) I found walking to work. The only surprise is that I found it at 8:30 AM on 42nd Street and Lexington, around the corner from a rather posh hotel. I’m also fond of the fact that the label is telling me that the contents are Pure Quality.
If you shake a concrete-mounted metal signpost for long enough, in just the right manner, you may be able to seriously damage it via the magic of resonant frequency. I’ve always been too chicken or sober to attempt it, so the actual effects are theoretical. Considering phone stands are bolted into the ground with a lot more care, and there were no signs of a car crash nearby, I am still fascinated and confused as to how the hell this happened. Seriously, I haven’t a single logical explanation.
As far as generalized statements go, people tend to have hobbies. Amateur taxidermy, the Society for Creative Anachronism, and arts and culture blogging all fit in that special category. The category that lets you know you’ve really accomplished something that doesn’t immediately involve formal schooling or your current occupation.
…and then there are the individuals, g’bless ‘em, who take precious time, Herculean effort (assuming Hercules’ thirteenth labor involved the Nintendo Entertainment System) and specialized software to see how quickly they can beat a videogame. You’ve probably seen (or attempted!) speedruns in the past. During our early teenage years, my cousin and I spent an afternoon attempting to beat the first level of Sonic the Hedgehog in under a minute. We had a blast doing it and watching the super-extra-humungo-bonus rack up after getting in at 0:5X felt like getting the gold in the Lazy Sunday Olympics. These sorts of amateur affairs are not at all what I am speakign (writing?) about. Dig on this and note the fluidity. Nearly every move is flawless and any idle time is used for to attain goals that aren’t central to advancing the level, but look damn cool (e.g.: the chained 1ups):