Sunday, October 30, 2011

Call Me

I first heard Naked Raygun in my friend Curt's parent's car. I remember him slaloming around the curves on Riverview Boulevard as he played "Throb Throb." I can't remember if it was the end of high school or early college, but I do remember being blown away by the tape. We both had extensive punk music collections, but Raygun were something different. A super catchy band with a singer who could actually, you know, sing, with songs that stayed away from the simplistic politics most of our favorites were screaming about, instead focusing on post-apocalyptic comic book ...stuff with a sense of humor.

Naked Raygun were never that big, and when you found another fan, you generally found a friend. This was music for wise-ass nerds, people who were willing to dig just a little deeper, and who generally shared your same outlook and interests. I'm sure they had meathead fans as well, but living in Florida we never ran into them.

Curt and I remained Naked Raygun fans throughout the years, finally getting to see them about 4 years ago at a reunion show in Chicago. It was awesome. I figured that was the pinnacle of our Raygun experience.

Then in Gainesville this weekend (don't worry, I'll have a full story soon), I saw The Bomb, singer Jeff Pezatti's post-Raygun band bust out "Soldier's Requiem," one of my favorite songs of all time and one they didn't play at the reunion. That was pretty awesome.

And then Jeff Pezatti walked into the bar where I was with a big group of my friends. A lot of them have met him before (hell, he stays at my friend Shane's house when he's in Gainesville), but this was a first for me. He was super nice, even after having to hear loud drunken explanations of his own songs. They say you should never meet your heroes, but you know, maybe most people have shitty heroes.

Then he started prank calling his friends. Naked Raygun members, Steve Albini, I can't remember who all right now, but they all got a rendition of a group of us singing "Vanilla Blue" to them.

If you had told me in 1988 that I would be in a bar singing "Vanilla Blue" with the singer of Naked Raygun to his friends, I probably would have been able to get through some of my shitty years easier. "Just a few more years," I'd think. "Then I'll be singing Naked Raygun songs with Jeff Pezatti in a bar on a futuristic telephone machine with a bunch of drunks I haven't met yet."

Speaking of telephone machines, I had a SIM card replaced on mine a week ago. Since I didn't save all my addresses and numbers to the card, a lot of people got wiped out and I was only left with their email address, something I didn't discover until this weekend. This is the only downside to the whole experience, because through the whole thing, all I was thinking was, "I have to let Curt hear this."

So Curt, I'm sorry technology beat me again. I promise to save your info on the card ASAP, just in case I run into someone else famous.

Here's some proof. I call this one "Three Men and a Little Lady." And no, my neck is not that fat in real life.

The Power of Positive Drinking

It's been a bad month. For a variety of reasons I've been feeling like a failure both professionally and personally. I sleep like I'm on watch - sleep two hours and stay awake two, all through the night. The hours I'm awake I catalog a litany of mistakes and missteps and future problems that snowball until I either fall back asleep or wake up and trudge through another day.

So I've been getting out of town on the weekends, which has been pretty great. Went to Chapel Hill two weekends ago, which was amazing. Lots of beer drinking, man talk and pork eating in one of the greatest little cities I've ever been in. I don't understand why all of America isn't trying to move up there.

Gainesville, Florida was up next in my tour of our nation's finest college towns for this big music festival thing. I didn't really care too much about seeing the bands, I was mostly in it for another big Gainesville group meet up.

As both of my readers might remember, these tend to happen once a year or so, when a group of about 20 or so ex-Gainesvillians gather for a wedding or music festival or whatever. A few have them have also magically lined up when I've been in the middle of some tough times, and have managed to pick me up and recharge my batteries for at least a little while.

I'm not really comfortable around a lot of people. I tend to hide different aspects of my revolting personality around different groups, and I generally stay quiet, feeling that people wouldn't want to hear whatever I would say, so it was nice to be around a group where I could be completely comfortable. Judging from the memories that flash through, perhaps I was a little too comfortable.

And the weekend seems to have worked its magic. Three days and nights surrounded by some of my favorite people in the world, full of eating, drinking, music and laffs, which naturally, I didn't get a single photo of. Official photographer Leila Campisi did get some pretty awesome photos, including this one of me eating some money. It made sense at the time.

How am I still single?

You could say that this is all a bunch of middle-aged Big Chill-type nostalgia, and I might agree, except that none of us were really bringing up the past at all - we were focusing on what we were doing now, catching up with each other, that sort of thing. I don't mean to make this sound like some therapy session or something, I was frequently laughing so hard at some nonsense that I felt I had ruptured my appendix or something.

As loaded as I was through the weekend I still had trouble sleeping until Saturday night. I slept like a log and woke up at 7:30 feeling more refreshed than I had in a long time. I went ahead and packed up and drove back to Jacksonville, feeling...I dunno, peaceful somehow, knowing that all my problems (which would be ridiculous to 90 percent of the world) can be dealt with or ignored. The sun was still rising and looked beautiful, every song that came up on the ipod sounded amazing, and I was on the road.

Sure, I might be a single middle aged guy who is frequently broke and has a lack of both marketable talents and social skills, but I've able to pick some goddamn amazing friends, and I'll be able to take whatever life dishes out, as long as I can keep in touch with them to remind me that I'm not as weird and out of place as I sometimes think I am.

And I can still eat the hell out of some money.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Rate the Vampires

I read "Dracula" for the first time for a book club I'm doing at work. Strangely enough, I never read it before. I've read a hundred different abridged versions of it and seen even more of the movies, so I thought I knew the basic story.

Except the basic story is pretty different from the original. First of all, Dracula drops out after page 50 or so and it shifts to Lucy and Mina and their suitors, like someone snuck a copy of "Pride and Prejudice" into my vampire book. Dracula's death is strange, too. It's the last page and they just behead him and that's pretty much it. And Dracula has a mustache? Come on.

So I decided to rate the movie vampires. I was going to just rate the Draculas, but I expanded it a bit to create a completely arbitrary guide to movie vampires, just what the world has been crying out for.

Some of these I've seen recently in my run up to Halloween watching, some I haven't seen in years, but since this is the internet, I still feel that my halfway remembered version of a movie is absolutely correct.

Nosferatu (1922) and (1972)
The first time I saw the original I was at my Great Uncle Norwood and Aunt Tiny's house. Uncle Norwood was watching it on the TV in the Florida Room. I was about 7 and wasn't allowed to see it, which made me want to watch all the more. I read all sorts of books on monsters and ghosts and whatnot, so I figured I was old enough to watch some ancient black and white movie. I caught a glimpse of Nosferatu creeping up the stairs with his long claws and rat face and immediately started bawling. Sometimes the adults are right. Rewatched recently as a grown up, Nosferatu is still creepy and manages to create an overall sense of fear and unease. Sure, other German stuff at the time was more visually arresting with all those crazy angles, but man, that makeup job on Nosferatu is still aces.
Rating: 5 bats

Warner Herzog's remake with Klaus Kinski already has 3 points to recommend it. Klaus Kinski, Warner Herzog, and Nosferatu. From what I remember, this Nosferatu is more closely linked with the plague, but Kinski's Nosferatu is strangely able to become a sympathetic character.
Rating: 5 bats

Dracula (1931)
Dracula has it's problems. It's really stagey and you can see how movies were still trying to work out a style away from the florid silent tropes. There's a couple characters who either don't register at all or who spend way too much time on the screen. But when Bela Lugosi gets a scene, you're riveted. With his Hungarian accent and courtly manners that seem just a touch off, you can totally see how the Count was droppin' panties and stabbin' jugulars all across Europe. While nowhere near as scary as Nosferatu, Lugosi so completely owned the role that to this day if you grab someone at random and ask them to give a vampire, they're gonna do Bela Lugosi.
Rating: 4 bats as a whole, 5 bats for Lugosi

Christopher Lee's Hammer Draculas (1958 - 1974)

Christopher Lee's Dracula combined both the earlier approaches. In the beginning he could be smooth, but once he saw an unprotected neck or someone finally figured out he was a vampire, he'd become a feral, hissing fiend with the strength to toss people around his castle. You know what you're getting into in each movie; there's gonna be a visitor going to Draculaland who gets warned off by the natives, Van Helsing shows up, a bunch of pretty ladies in low cut gowns vampire around, there are some debates about science and religion where someone says, "Vampires? Why it's the 19th (or 20th) century," Dracula is eventually killed and then resurrected in the next movie. That's not to say that's a bad thing, even the ones where Dracula is running around in mod London are worth watching, and with Peter Cushing as Van Helsing, the Dracula movies finally have someone equal to the Count on screen.
Rating: oh what the hell. 4 bats

Bram Stoker's Dracula (1992)
I remembered not liking this one when I saw it in the theater, but I've warmed to it a bit more from constant rotation on TV. The Vlad the Impaler stuff is pretty cool, and Dracula as an old man is interesting, but seeing him walking around London with long hair and Lennon glasses and a wispy beard and mustache just doesn't jibe with my idea of a Dracula. Plus, this started the trend of vampires who whine about how terrible it is to be a vampire. Or maybe that was Lost Boys. It also loses a bat for there being no gratuitous Winona Ryder nudity.
Rating: 3 bats

Interview with a Vampire (1994)
This started the transformation of vampires from courtly Europeans or hissing beasts into college sophomores after a bad breakup, only with more frilly clothes and an urge to theatrically exclaim every emotion they are feeling. Really, how terrible is it to be a vampire? You get to sleep in cool old castles, turn into a bat, seduce ladies and you even get a cool-ass cape. If I were a vampire, you'd never hear me complaining about it.
Rating: 2 bats

Twilight (2008)
Obviously, I'm completely the wrong market for this, but come on. Vampires that don't turn into bats? That hang out in the daytime and don't drink blood? That go to school?
Rating: 1 bat, and that's generous.

The winner, and still champion

Thursday, October 13, 2011

I Never Kissed a Bear, I Never Kissed a Goon, But I Can Shake a Chicken in the Middle of the Room

I remember the first time I heard Wanda Jackson. I was living in Atlanta, delivering food, walking out each night with at least 30-40 bucks in cash on top of my regular paycheck. Most of this cash went with me to Wax n Facts every Wednesday where I would exchange it for stacks of vinyl. One day I found a couple of the Born Bad bootlegs. These were full of songs that the Cramps either covered, were inspired by or borrowed pieces from. Jackson's "Funnel of Love" was the last song on Volume One.

As you could imagine, these comps were full of weird, unhinged music, but Jackson's song was something else. A catchy, tuneful song with a singer who had a voice like a wildcat. I played that song over and over.

Flash forward to 2011. After a particularly bad couple of weeks, I decided to go see her perform to lift my spirits.

Things did not start promisingly. My friend Matthew and I have some of the worst directional skills known to man and were stuck with a non-working GPS. He was navigating directions from my phone, which worked about as well as you would imagine. The concert was in Ponte Vedra, which we later discovered was about 30 minutes away. We took about an hour and a half, full of conversations like this:

"I think we're going in the wrong direction."

"Are you sure?"

"Not really. Hey. Those barricades up there? Does that mean the road is closed?"

This also required a lot of U turns in the dark, as well as turning and merging on to roads where I wasn't quite sure what was road and what was median. I should probably get my eyes checked again.

Jackson was playing at a place that looked like a church from the '80s, and it was full of ...well, it wasn't actually full, and there was a strange group there. A couple rockabilly revivalists, some middle aged parents (wait, I guess I'm middle aged now. Well, older-than-me parents) and some people that looked like they donated to the place so had season tickets.

It is also the only event where I've had an usher tell me, "You know, it's not full, so if you want you can get up closer."

Despite all that, she was amazing. She had a good backing band who had the sense not to get in the way or fill the music up with a bunch of unnecessary fills and showboating. Her voice still has that weird, otherworldly quality, but it's aged a bit. She told stories from the stage about her life, which avoided sounding corny or showbizzy.

And she has a right to be showbizzy - she toured and went out with Elvis. She played some covers, some songs from her new album which sounded great, and played every song I wanted to hear, even "Fujiyama Mama," which was a hit in Japan, even with the lyrics, "I've been to Nagasaki/ Hiroshima too/ The same I did to them, baby I can do to you."

Altogether a great night, and another example of how you should really get out and see the old-timers while you can. And call your grandma this weekend too.