Saturday, March 31, 2012

Watt's Up?

You gotta love Mike Watt. Co-founder of genre-confounding punk band the Minutemen, fIREHOSE, and a gazillion other projects including a long-running stint with the Stooges, he's always seemed a down-to-earth guy; humble, yet constantly trying to push his music further.

I was able to get a review copy of his new book of photographs through one of the sites I occasionally write for. Watt would take these as he rode his bike or kayaked early in the morning around his hometown of San Pedro. There's lots of cool shots of huge shipping cranes contrasted with the natural beauty of the bay that are pretty spectacular, even to a guy who can't really judge photography, like myself.

As I was trying to think of smart stuff to say to cover up that fact, I noticed that there was an opportunity to interview Watt. I haven't done an interview in years, but what the hell. We set up a phone interview.

I borrowed some recording equipment from my friend Matthew who does this sort of thing on the regular. It was this huge tape recorder like the one I used to record The Dukes of Hazard on when I was a kid (I don't know why I felt I needed audio of the Dukes, but it made sense in pre VCR days) that you would plug into the phone then record onto an actual audio tape.  I think they recorded the Watergate tapes on this thing.
Awesome. Without having to take notes, this interview would flow a lot smoother.

Then I realized something. I was doing this on my lunch break, and I was calling him from work. I couldn't use my office phone to make a 30 minute long distance call. I'd have put my cell on speaker and record him with the tape recorder.

I did a test that morning. Test went pefect. This was going to be great. I would take notes anyway, just in case.

So I called Mike Watt. Was I nervous? Yeah, a little bit. This was a guy responsible for "Double Nickels on the Dime," one of my desert island albums. The performance of "Contemplating the Engine Room" I caught in Gainesville on a whim still ranks as one of my top concert experiences ever. And hell, the guy has been interviewed in just about every music documentary ever made, and by real journalists in like, Rolling Stone and Spin and stuff. What was I going to bring to the table?

But I got over it. I've interviewed people, even famous people before, and from the interviews I've seen and read, I didn't think getting him to speak would be a problem, and he seemed like a genuinely nice guy.

So let's do this.

He was great - super friendly and ready to talk. Man, was he ready to talk. About a quarter through the interview I gave up taking notes because I couldn't keep up. It was like riding a mechanical bull while surfing on a word tsunami.

I mostly asked him about the book, since that was his newest project. It was great hearing him talk about his daily bike/kayak routes and his theories on how art has to bounce off other people,  his hesitation in presenting his photographs in the first place, and how he feels he is still just learning the bass, even after over 30 years of playing. I only asked two music questions - one about the reformed fIREHOSE, and another about his most memorable gig ever. To tell the truth, although I remained professional, I was sort of in awe of his language - while a regular guy, he has a unique way of phrasing and his own vocabulary that just sort of washes over and hypnotizes you.

When the interview was over, I told him what I knew about the publishing schedule (which reminds me, I really need to finish that review), and he actually thanked me for not asking the same questions he always got. He could have just been saying that to be nice, but holy crap. Mike Watt complimented my interview! That was totally going to be my new ringtone!

I sat in my office for a while, then took a walk around the building before listening to the interview.

I will now transcribe our conversation, as recorded on the tape:


Yep, I must have moved the phone too close or something, but the tape is completely unlistenable.

Normally I would be pretty bummed, and I do feel bad that I wasted a half hour of his time, but I have enough in my notes that I can salvage a review, even if it isn't the Q&A I wanted. Plus, I realize that while it was an embarassing screw-up, it's not like Ernest Hemingway losing year's worth of stories in a Paris train station or anything.

It was awesome talking to one of my musical idols about life, middle aged fitness, music and art, and if the results fall short of what I wanted, at least in the moment there everything went great. Plus, we're totally best friends now. We're going waterskiing next weekend with Iggy. I'll let you know how it goes.

Friday, March 30, 2012

A Pale and Sensitive Lad

Got a blood test early Tuesday morning. This morning I happened to glance down at my forearm and it's all yellow and purple. I think I can also detect a faint throbbing as the poison works its way through my veins. I knew Nurse Ratched was being a little jabby with the needles, now I'm wondering if she didn't slip some ebola in me just out of evil. I'd post a picture, but my no flash camera phone makes my whole arm look a lovely jaundiced yellow anyway, so you wouldn't get the full horror.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Mixed Media

Once people find I'm a librarian and they use up their Dewey Decimal jokes, they tend ask me about books. Here's some of the stuff I've been reading/recommending lately. Not too interesting, I know, but I'm sure I'll have more awkward tales next week or so. Trust me, that well ain't running dry anytime soon.

"What It Is" – It’s always a treat to find a new George Pelecanos book, and this one sort of snuck in. I didn’t see any reviews, the library didn’t get a copy, and hell, his last book came out about six months ago so I didn’t really expect another new book for a while. “What it Is” brings back private investigator Derek Strange, I believe for the first time since “Hard Revolution,” the excellent book focused on the 1968 DC riots.  This time the year is 1972 (well, actually it’s 2012 and Strange is recounting a story in a bar) and DC ex-con Red Fury is determined to go out in a blaze of glory, hoping his exploits live on after him. Characters from previous books pop in now and then, muscle cars and funk music are discussed, and the final chapter, where Strange wraps up his story in a rainy bar to a skeptical friend, is one of the best examples of male friendship put on the page.

"The Cover Art of Studio One Records" - If you like books but wish there weren’t all those pesky words cluttering up the pages, this is for you. Another amazing book by Souljazz Records focusing on Studio One Records, the major recording studio in Jamaica. Covering all the way back from Calypso, and focusing on the dozens of great Jamaican pop music mutations, from ska, rocksteady, dub and roots reggae (along with a surprisingly large gospel section), this is a gorgeously reproduced sampling of album art. Some of the covers look hand drawn and colored, some were repurposed later (sort of like dub) and some had awesome photos, like this one:

Or this one:

I’m partial to the earlier ones, with guys wearing cool suits as opposed to track suits, but for record nerds or people who appreciate awesomeness, this will be flipped through constantly, just like their previous book “Freedom, Rhythm and Sound” which focused on free jazz, and featured more graphics with black fists, Egyptian symbols and skulls.

"Satan is Real: The Ballad of the Louvin Brothers"
One of the best music books I’ve ever read. Brothers Charlie and Ira Louvin performed breathtaking harmonies as the Louvin Brothers. Offstage there wasn’t as much harmony. Co-writer Benjamin Whitmer wisely takes a backseat to Charlie Louvin, who tells stories about whiskey, fighting, mandolin smashing, country music, music in general, sex, Elvis, hard times, touring stories, Hank Williams, anger, brotherhood, and love. The book is basically chronological, with short chapters each based on a certain topic. If you grew up in the South, this will be like having an old relative sit you down and tell you stories. 

As for DVDs, lately I enjoyed "Thunder Soul," a great documentary on the Kashmere Stage Band, a Texas high school stage band whose bandleader/teacher Prof Johnson encouraged to play funk and soul, rather than the big-band influenced songs the other high school bands were playing. Soon they were winning national competitions, flying to Europe and inspiring a sense of pride in their school and themselves. The kids were amazing musicians – the stuff they were playing could easily stand up against the giants of ‘70s funk, and the records they put out would become highly prized among DJs and beatdiggers years later. Special points go to the documentary for not taking the easy way out – it would have been easy for them to show the other band’s performances as hopelessly square, but the filmmakers take the high road – there are clips for comparison, but the other kids were talented as well. They just weren’t as funky. The second part of the film focuses on a reunion show by the band for Prof around his 92nd birthday. I have a soft spot for old people, the concept of touching people without even knowing it (as anyone who’s been around me watching “It’s A Wonderful Life” over Christmas can tell you), and the idea that there are thousands of inspirational people around us every day, toiling in middle and working class jobs. If these happen to be your weaknesses, the final 20 minutes or so will have you sniffing like a little kid in a pollen storm. But not me, I took that stuff like a trooper.

 Music-wise, I'm old, so lots of reissues, including that Bitch Magnet 3 CD set. Got another one of the Thin Lizzy reissues, "Black Rose," which has some good slowed down versions on the extra disc. Waiting til payday to pick up the Feedtime boxset. A friend recommended Terry Malts "Killing Time" which he compared to Jesus and Mary Chain and the Ramones. Yep, sounds like that to me. Other than that I've been listening to Funkadelic over and over again. It keeps me happy.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Diver Down

I did a google search for googoomuck the other day. Oh, like you've never googled yourself. The first result after a few awesome Youtube clips was an Urban Dictionary definition. Let's see what it says, shall we?

Oh, my.

If you couldn't be bothered to use the link, the definition reads:

"A double entendre meaning a vampire or a muff diver. Famously used in a Cramps songs bearing the same name."

Couple things.

First, I was mildly shocked to see the term "muff diver" all written out there on the internet. Has anyone used that phrase since 1982? In a place that wasn't a middle school cafeteria or schoolbus? I think as soon as you utter the phrase "muff diver" you automatically grow a wispy mustache and notice you're wearing a 3/4 sleeve 95YNF or Lightning Bolt T-shirt.

Hey! That could be my new superhero! A mild-mannered kid in the '80s who uses the secret phrase to become MUFF DIVER, a fighter for justice, Get the Led Out radio weekends and ...I dunno... world peace or something. It still needs work.

Where was I? Oh yeah, "The Goo Goo Muck." I've heard that song for what, over 20 years now and yeah, that reading makes a lot of sense. Let's take a look at some of those lyrics:

"I cruise through the city and I roam the streets
Lookin for something that is nice to eat."

"I'm the night headhunter looking for some head
With a way-out body underneath that head."

How could I have missed that? And the Cramps were covering a song from 1962. Could people really sing about oral sex back then? Didn't they send Lenny Bruce to the electric chair for saying "damn" on stage? How did that song slip by? Was everyone in 1962 was as dumb as me?

Was this phrase common knowledge back then? I'm picturing guys in leather jackets on street corners saying stuff like, "Nah, we didn't really have sex, we just googoomucked." Or "You know me, fellas, I'm a real googoomuck."

Actually, that sounds sort of gross. Nowhere near as pleasing to the ear as "muff diver."

And you know, if I did inadvertently name my blog after a sex act, that's not a bad one to pick. It's a funny term, something I endorse, and it's way better than my first choice, Santorum's Laff Factory.

Oh, just google it.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

I'm the Night Headhunter Searching for Some Head

I've never had sympathy for the bored. Maybe because I grew up knowing that uttering the words, "We're bored" would sentence me and my sister to never ending yardwork or cleaning, I learned to amuse myself, or at least not let my parents know how dull things really were around the house.

This attitude carried over through high school. While other kids were complaining that the lack of teen dance clubs made our city as boring as a doctor's waiting room, I was amusing myself by skating, fishing, hanging out in the woods, driving to Tampa, and all sorts of other stuff. And who really wants to hang out at a teen dance club anyway?

Once we got older, my friends and I still managed to amuse ourselves, even in the old folk's home that is Bradenton. As punk rockers, we knew that nobody was going to provide a teen club we'd be comfortable in; it was up to us to create, to entertain ourselves, to make the most out of our surroundings. Plus, we just really liked playing pranks.

One Christmas break my friend Curt brought down a styrofoam head he found somewhere in Tallahassee. We took it to my parent's garage and went to work - my dad had this spray that advertised how it would eat through a styrofoam cup (that's how you knew it was working). We used that to make realistic looking eye sockets and a nose hole. We sprayed the head a couple different shades of whatever spray paint we could find, giving it a somewhat realistic decayed flesh tone. For the final touch, Curt had saved some hair from a recent haircut which we glued on the head in different places.

The final result looked better than we anticipated. Hell, it creeped me out, and I helped make the thing. We hid it in the garage and forgot about it until my sister went out to get some ice cream, saw it, and let out a scream that shattered glass throughout the neighborhood. If we could pass the crucial 15 year old girl test, we had it made.

Now that we had this grotesque head, the only problem was what to do with it. Where would our artwork get the attention it so richly deserved?

Why not Wal Mart?

The next morning we mixed up a gallon of fake blood. We also found some weird plaster and chicken wire cylinder in the garage which we decided to hide under a tarp as a fake leg, sort of a bonus horror. The plaster "leg" was about 4 feet long, so it didn't really work, unless you thought Manute Bol got dismembered in a Bradenton parking lot, but hey, this was an extra, so it was good enough.

We drove to Wal-Mart and set up the leg behind the store, pouring fake blood liberally around our crime scene. Since the leg was our lesser artwork, we gave it a less prominent billing, figuring the head would be found first.

The head went into a plastic bag soaked with fake blood which was placed into a shopping cart. Then like cops on a stakeout, we waited.

And waited.

And waited.

Hey, how long was it gonna take for someone to notice a blood-dripping plastic bag in a parking lot, anyway? These unobservant people were totally messing up our opening.

After a while we figured we should make our own publicity and call the cops on ourselves.

In the days of payphones this was easy. I called the non-emergency number and tried to disguise my voice.

"Uh...yes, officer? I'm here at the Wal-Mart on Cortez and there's this...this thing. It looks like it's bleeding."


"Yeah, it's in a shopping cart and it looks like there's a lot of blood around it. I mean, it's probably nothing and all, butmaybeyoushouldtakealookatitOKbye."

Then we settled back to wait.

We didn't have to wait too long. Actually, let me quote the Bradenton Herald from the article titled "Prankster Hits Bradenton Store:"

...When an officer opened the bag, Watkins said, "He turned his head and said, "I think it's real."

It wasn't. The head, it turned out, was made of plastic foam.

"They did a pretty good job as far as making it look like a decapitated head," Watkins said.

The practical joker apparently took a mannequin head, painted and molded it so that it would appear to be decomposed and put a wig on it, Watkins said.

So there you have it, our first review. The leg was found later, and just as we expected it was sort of anticlimactic.

Who says artists aren't appreciated in their own hometown? As a bonus, since Curt was in art school at FSU, he could count our juvenile prank as actual school work, so it was a win-win for everyone involved.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Runnin' with the Devil

Ran that race I was talking about. My only goal was to not walk, stop or pass out. I did way better than I expected, a new experience for me.

The thing was packed - over 18,000 people. Like everyone said, I spent the first mile or so dodging crowds and pretty much power walking while getting more and more frustrated. I didn't bring my ipod, so I had no idea how far or how fast I was going until I'd make it to a station, and even then I was lost since I would frequently lose track of how many miles I had run.

There were old people, little kids, people dressed up like Darth Vader, and some dude that would stop and do pushups every mile. Showoff.

I hadn't run a race since high school, and those were only 3 miles. Plus, high school was a long time ago. Here's a photo of our track team:

I didn't think I had trained enough. I only started a few months ago, and only made it up to 7 miles once, and this was 2.3 miles more than that. Plus, when I'd pass the stations, the digital readouts said my pace was much slower than what I should be doing to qualify for next year.

Through the race, Husker Du's "What's Going On" kept repeating in my head, along with the intro "Professor, what's another word for pirate treasure?" from some Beastie Boys song. I have no idea why that was in there, or why my mind wouldn't actually play the rest of the song. Other than that I worried if I could find my group after the race, since I didn't bring my phone. Was I going to have to walk home after this? Also, I was concentrating on not dying.

The bridge killed me, as I expected, and while technically I didn't walk it, I came pretty close. I also noticed my chest was stinging a little. No big deal, just sweat. After that it was pretty much done. I even had enough juice in me to sprint to the finish line, at least for a little while.

My time crossing the line was one hour and 32 minutes, two minutes away from qualifying, so I was kind of bummed. Plus, when I found my neighbor/coach he pointed out that I was bleeding.

He was right. I thought that red was just a design on the shirt. But no, that was from my nipples. Nobody warned me about that.

Later that day when the official results were posted, I found I actually finished in 84 minutes, which is pretty good, and I got a medal, which I can use to reenact the end of "Star Wars."

I've been pretty psyched since, even though it feels like someone transplanted the legs of a 90 year old man on me overnight. I actually set a goal, accomplished it, and did better than expected. This sensation of actually feeling good about myself is very strange and will take some getting used to. Do normal people feel like this every day? How do they get things done without constant self-doubt and low self esteem spurning them on to accomplish stuff?

I'm going to keep running, especially since the scales tell me I've lost about 15 pounds, even if I can't really tell, except my shirts don't feel as tight. Which is helpful, since my nipples still really hurt.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Sneaky Treats

We didn't have a lot of junk food in our house growing up. I don't remember if this was an actual rule or if my parents had some reason behind it or they didn't want us to grow up fat or if I'm just remembering the whole thing 100 percent wrong.

Our next door neighbors always had tons of junk food. Always. Man, did we love hanging out over there. Not only could we watch "Love Boat" and "Three's Company" reruns during the day which was forbidden at home, but we could eat Pringles and Twinkies while doing it. And their parents didn't mind at all!

Not to say that our parents didn't ever have treats, you just had to know where and when to look. Usually around payday you could find candy bars hidden under the vegetables in the refrigerator. If you got up on a chair and looked way, way in the back of the highest cabinet, you might find a bag of Tootsie Rolls. Sort of a last resort, candy-wise, but hey, it was chocolate.

This is how my sister and I learned how to bake. We started with Rice Krispie Treats, which were pretty easy. This brought up a new problem. We knew that if our dad found them, he'd eat most of our hard work (hey, maybe that's why there wasn't a lot of junk food in the house). So we'd clean everything up and hide the pan in my closet. For the next couple days we'd eat like kings. We'd also store pizza in there once we got older. It's a wonder we never caught salmonella.

We graduated into actual cakes soon after. We'd be up early on a Saturday waiting for cartoons to come on and end up baking a cake. Since we couldn't actually hide that in my closet, we had to begrudgingly share it with the parents who provided us with shelter, clothes, and the stuff to make the cake in the first place.

But sometimes we were either too lazy or didn't have the necessary ingredients to bake.

This led to my sister and I becoming very resourceful. On teacher work days when we were bored and hungry, we'd ransack the house looking for anything sweet. Cough drops would work in a pinch. We ate chocolate chips, boring old vanilla wafers, anything with sugar in it was fair game.

Then we stumbled upon a delicacy. Frozen chocolate frosting. My mom would buy containers of frosting and store them in the freezer until she needed them, unless we got to them first. We'd eat it straight from the freezer with a spoon - bending many spoons this way. After being frozen the frosting was chewy - sort of a cross between ice cream and candy. It was so awesome. We would finish up a frosting container in about a half hour (you'd have to eat it quickly because you didn't want it to unfreeze), watching TV and putting off our chore list until minutes before our parents would pull into the driveway.

Years later I heard a rumor that Prince was rushed to the hospital because he only ate containers of frosting for like six months. I do not know if this was true, but if so, Prince has quite a refined palate.

Looking back, I'm astonished that we didn't get up to 500 pounds in our reaction to our parent's no TV and no junk food rules. I mean, the second our parents left the house we were busting out the frozen frosting and turning on the TV. Maybe we had good genes or something.

Friday, March 2, 2012

All Hit Radio

I went on a date a few months ago. You guys wouldn't know her, she's a model from Canada.

It seemed like things were going pretty good, although I'm always the last to know about stuff like that. At one point however, she dropped the question every music nerd paradoxically fears and desires (sort of like how we feel about women).

"So what's your favorite song?"

I froze up like a fourth grader in a school play. Favorite song? I knew this. My life has been a series of making lists of favorite songs, revising and editing them as circumstances change.

But now I was on the spot and couldn't think of a single song. Hell, I couldn't even think of a single note. Not a commercial jingle, ice cream truck horn, novelty ringtone, nothing. It's as if hundreds of years of recorded music had suddenly been erased from my brain. The Beatles, Beethoven, GG Allin, MC Hammer - all of these had been wiped clean from history and my consciousness.

I stumbled around for a while but never really came up with an answer. If there's one thing the ladies love, it's an indecisive man who can't answer a simple question
(Although I think I was able to salvage things a bit due to my shining wit, sparkling personality and innate sexiness).

Later, when it didn't matter, I was able to come up with some of my favorites, which brought up another whole series of problems. A favorite song has to be something that has staying power, so it can't be anything too recent. It also has to be something that you can listen to over and over again, no matter who does it. This is no easy task. I mean, sure, there are songs I like, but having to pick a favorite is like picking a favorite friend, or child, to actual grown-up, mature adults.

But I came up with a few anyway. "I'm So Lonesome I Could Cry" - by anyone, any version, "She Thinks I Still Care" - George Jones, "The Mercy Seat" - Nick Cave "Troglodyte" - Jimmy Castor, "These Arms of Mine," - Otis Redding, "Old Time Loving" - Al Green, "September Gurls" - Big Star, "Soldier's Requiem" - Naked Raygun, "Ex Lion Tamer" - Wire, The Theme to "The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly," just about any version of "Amazing Grace."

Even after narrowing things down that far, I felt this list would change if I thought about it for a second longer. Hell, what about all the jams on my "Reggae/Ska/Rocksteady/Dub Summer Cookout Mix?" Those should be on there somewhere. And I'm a fairly happy guy, what's with all those depressing songs? Was I going to have to edit this list again? No, better just to keep it like it is and memorize it. Oh crap, I don't have any rock on there. What about "Jailbreak" by Thin Lizzy, or "Southern Girls" by Cheap Trick? Hell, what sort of list has no Buzzcocks? Or Husker Du? No "Freakazoid?"

I can see now why I froze up. This was just too much information for my mind to handle. At least she didn't ask me about movies. Aw crap, now I should start making and memorizing a movie list. I hope nobody wants any work out of me for the next two weeks.