Friday, July 27, 2007

Minneapolis, 2007 #1

The Espresso Royale coffee shop in the Dinkytown neighborhood of Minneapolis still hasn't changed much since 2002. In 2002, it hadn't changed much since 1997. The back half-booth, green upholstered and slightly bumpy, still provides the best spot for laptop writing, with its view of the front door and the sun outside, with its easy access to electrical outlets.

They have added free internet access. I applaud them for that.

I woke up on a friend's spare futon in south Minneapolis this morning. I've known John since the spring of 1985, since that first day we worked together at Southdale Cinema in Edina, Minnesota. I was a veteran of the movie theater, having worked there since the fall of 1984, weathering storms and telling tales of the time that Ghostbusters and Purple Rain played at the same time ("the parking lots were so full, people had to park by the Galleria and pray they could find two seats together, my son.")

More than two decades have passed. A lot has happened to me since then - game shows (2), marriage (1) , divorce (0.99), non-compilation non-live non-cover Springsteen albums (5), Twins world championships (2), cats (3), and apartments (17). A lot has happened to John too - children (1), game consoles (at least 3), and jobs (only 3 I think, the last of which he's had for 16 years!). Still, we've remained friends, and at the risk of turning this into a Kenny Loggins/Stevie Nicks duet, I'll just say I'm thankful for that.

It's humid in Minneapolis today. I'm here for fun. I'm here for work. I'm here for cleansing an attic of my archives.

They're playing I Want A New Drug by Huey Lewis. The mop-haired dude that's been working here since 1999 is singing along in falsetto.

I have somewhere important to be in 27 minutes. More to come.

Monday, July 23, 2007

Law Of Large Numbers

First of all, there's something new at the poetry site: The Family.

As an advanced-degreed statistician, I am aware of the concept of randomness. I understand how the concept is used or misused. I see how it is ignored - for example, the entire industry of astrology is built upon the assignation of pattern to what is essentially a patternless phenomenon (human life).

Then there are times when I think what appears random really has a pattern. Or, if it does, does it really matter? Those last two sentences almost rhymed.

This past weekend was a normal one, for the most part. But if you took a series of "snapshots" (mental or physical) of moments during the weekend and laid them out end-to-end on an unmade bed (or perhaps viewed them with a slide projector), this is what you'd find:

Turn It On Again and Abacab by Genesis are great songs.
Root beer is a color.
Glass bottles of Perrier are volatile.
The "window booth."
Milk sells blue cakes.
A clothing store can give you cupcakes.
Patience isn't necessary.
Vices are mostly interesting in that they are vices.
Rosemary and goat cheese go well together.
There is such a thing as too much Gatorade rain.
Semisonic should have been as big as The Beatles.
Numbered, mounted.
I didn't finish a crossword puzzle all weekend and I was okay with it.
My unrelaxing vacation starts soon.
Sometimes I get so tired I can't stay awake.
Other times I'm not so tired.
Someone I know was on a reality show that aired Friday.
Snoop Dogg was on Monk.
It's too hot here.
What's the weather like in Seattle?
69 and cloudy.
How about Minneapolis?
83 and sunny?
Los Angeles?
86 and sunny bit it rained yesterday for 30 seconds.
What is this list all about?

It's about nothing, you see. Events and situations are just sometimes temporally related. Like that Elvis Costello song The Only Flame In Town? In my mind, it triggers the smacking of a half-consumed Wendy's Frosty against a suburban Pennsylvania mailbox, on a street that's neither street nor road nor avenue nor highway... on a street that's a "pike."

Or it's about the way Garbage's Only Happy When It Rains reminds me of two hours ago when I thought of the song for the first time in years and it never reminded me of anything ever before. Now it reminds me of my blog. It's endless.

If you really want to know what this is (and I am) about, go to Wikipedia for an explanation of the Law of Large Numbers. Which reminds me of downtown Minneapolis. Winter of 1985-86. They tore it all down. Now it's a Target.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Analysis Of A Mix CD, Part 4 (the final chapter): Been To Georgia And California

Parts 1, 2, and 3 can be found by scrolling down. Keep scrolling. There you go.

So, after a too-long delay, I will continue the analysis:

14. Me Gustas Tu - Manu Chao

Nice song.

15. Streets Of Laredo - Prefab Sprout

You would think it takes a lot of gall for an intellectual soft-voiced Brit like Paddy Macaloon to cover a classic American cowboy song and change the lyrics "As I walked out, on the streets of Laredo" to the more "proper" English-y sounding "As I walked out, in the streets of Laredo." But when you consider that this is what Paddy looked like when the song came out, you realize two things:

He's come a long way (perhaps too long) from Appetite.

Dude's a cowboy. He can do what he wants.

16. Get Myself Arrested - Gomez

The best (and catchiest) song of the 1990s. Enough time has passed since that most interesting of decades for me to be able to make this seemingly outlandish statement. It might seem strange that I would champion a song that follows up the brilliance of these lines
Got a haircut, got a silver tooth
Gonna get myself arrested
with this
Got some friends in my BMW
Gonna get themselves arrested
Still, how can you not get chills when the otherwise slightly above-average British literate bluesy jam band hits the chorus for the third time? How?

(I can't find an actual video of the song, except for some drunken live versions. But you can listen to it as you view this Brazilian's lovely photo essay)

17. Rhiannon - Langley Schools Music Project

Canadian schoolchildren from 1977 cover a Fleetwood Mac song. An otherwise smoothly flowing mix CD has its momentum destroyed.

18. Kyle Took A Bullet - Tenacious D

An unreleased gem from the comedy-and-music legends. It's 66 seconds long. And it's perfect.
Just remember what you said
The medallion's made of bulletproof lead
19 through 21:
You're Sexy / Moons In June / An Accident - Lock Up Your Daughters

Whatever happened to these guys?

They were a pretty cool twee-core band out of Minneapolis around the turn of the century.

Listening to it now, I realize they had some chops.

(Disclaimer: I write screenplays with the singer of the first song. I was once married to the singer of the 2nd song. I'm a friend and was once the roommate of the singer of the 3rd song.)

But this isn't about my personal connections. This is about the music.

This is about these three songs, all taken from their unreleased second album I Am The Orange Prince.

You're Sexy is a swing-out sassy dance romp, with breathy vocals from a guy named Mike and a bouncy sound that wouldn't sound out of place in a large dance hall festooned with streamers and populated by men in hats and women in puffy clothes.

Moons In June was written at LaGuardia Airport on the day after Halloween 2000. Laurel wrote the verses. Despite NEVER being invited to be part of the band, I wrote the chorus. And, though I had not written about crossdressers in the Greenwich Village Halloween Parade before (or since), I'm proud of what I came up with as I sat in the Starbucks seating area:
Like stars in May or moons in June
That boy will be a woman soon

And all the waves will rip and curl

And make the boy a little girl
Finally, An Accident starts out with one of the best couplets ever written:
I was an accident and I can never run from that
My older brother told me as he tied me to the track
Holy crap, John, that's good! The rest of the song rocks (in a gentle rocking chair way) too.

The band was eventually crushed by the weight of expectations, the move of one member to Santa Monica, and the tenuous roommate situation of the other two (male) members. Their fan base eagerly awaits a reunion.

22. Never Been To Me - Charlene

Wow. Just listen. You'll thank me.

Shaking my mind like an etch-a-sketch erasing

First, the mix CD analysis will continue once I find the missing CD.

Second - I'll need to discuss this in more detail later but Ed O'Neill's performance on John From Cincinnati just might be the greatest thing I've ever seen. His monologues blow my mind - just as much for the acting as the admittedly great writing. Yes, he was groundbreaking as Al Bundy but this is ridiculous.

Finally... yesterday was a good day. I'm not at liberty to say why. However, if I post a series of seemingly unrelated photos, perhaps some of you may be able to solve the puzzle.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Analysis Of A Mix CD, Part 3: Ali Thought About His Destiny

Go here for Part 1 and here for Part 2. There will be one more part.

6. I See A Darkness - Johnny Cash Now we're getting dark. Now we're reaching depths. It's Johnny Cash covering a Will Oldham (aka Bonnie "Prince" Billy, aka Palace) song, with Will himself appearing to back Johnny up on the chorus. This is analogous to the Lawnmower Man helping John Deere fix up[ the yard. In other words, it's poetic. I put this songs a lot of mixes. I don't know what I was trying to convey with lines like this:
Well, you're my friend
And can you see

Many times we've been out drinking

Many times we've shared our thoughts

Did you ever, ever notice, the kind of thoughts I got
Dude. Johnny of course takes ownership of this song and makes it

7. Tennessee - Silver Jews

I've written about this song before. Here, I'll just quote David Berman's apt description of Tennessee and why it's better than Kentucky:
We're off to the land of club soda unbridled
We're off to the land of hot middle-aged women

Off to the land whose blood runneth orange
I've never been to Tennessee but I know what he means.

8. Dr. Cat - Mary Timony You don't want to know how much research I had to do to find the title of this song. It took me more than 10 minutes. It's one of Mary's gentle rolling mystical songs. It's about cats and falling snow. You wouldn't know it from this particular song or her album but Mary Timony is the greatest live guitarist I've ever seen (in her band Helium, at First Avenue in Minneapolis, on a cold night in early 1998). She got into a groove. I was alone that night.

9. Let The Music Play - Mercury Rev

I put this song on ever mix I made between 2002 and 2007. I never want to hear it again. It's beautiful but I think I'm finished with it now.

10. I'm Waking Up To Us - Belle & Sebastian

Possibly the greatest song of the '00s by the best band of the past 12 years. I could say so much about this song. In fact, I once called it the third greatest song of all time (the Boogie Nights of music). Anyway, any song that starts out with the line "She was the one love of my life and I let her go" is alright by me. Stuart Murdoch makes the important stuff known right away and then backs it up.

11. Tribute - Tenacious D

"It was the best song in the world." Nothing more to say.

12. Pocketbook - Me'Shell Ndegeocello

Whatever happened to Me'Shell? What purpose does the apostrophe in her first name serve? I miss her. Still, this song doesn't give me insight into my soul, heart, etc., which is what I promised you. So on to...

12. Shams - Brazzaville

This song doesn't start out being my life story (I'm not a sailor, never done heroin.) Then, the second verse nails my 1998-2002 life, except for the sailor part:
As the years rolled by, it seems
Ali thought about his destiny
Tired of the sailor's life

Ali thought he's find himself a wife
Then, after the only recorded sax solo in a pop song this millennium and another verse that doesn't pertain to me, the song ends with:
When the typhoon struck at dawn
Ali had his finest civvies on
All the crew were cramped below
With a smile, into the sea he goes
Sad ending. But I like the sea.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Analysis Of A Mix CD, Part 2: We Fit Together Walking

Now, to the songs. (note: the stories will get more interesting as the mix progresses.)

1. This Song - Ron Sexsmith

For a while (2000-2002), I bought everything this guy put out, impressed with his seamless songwriting and skilled - if chirpy - singing. I still like his music but I'm not as much into the winsome/sweet-but-mopey stuff as I used to be (as you'll soon see). This song, though, is a masterpiece. It's a simple idea - a song about a song, filled with metaphor and stretched phrasing:

I brought a song into this world
Just a melody of words

And so on. It provides a good - slightly obvious - introduction to what follows - i.e., songs.

(Oh yeah - as you may have guessed, he's Canadian. And yeah there are better pictures of him out there. )

2. Love Is Coming Through The Door - Stew

This irresistably happy and poppy song needs to be on this mix because the listener needs to be prepared for the mopefest that will follow. Back then, I liked everything Stew did. I still do. If you're in New York, go see his play. For now, enjoy this perfect sunny verse:

There will be a time for everything
When all distractions fall away
But at this time I would give anything

For an endless summer day

3. La Serenita - Plasticina Mosh

Oops. Now I know why I didn't send this CD to Kansas City. There's a mistake on this song. It suddenly ends mid-song, right before the soaring second verse. This is a freakishly catchy song off the Y Tu Mama Tambien soundtrack. Nothing more to say here, soul-baring-wise.

4. Gentle On My Mind - Mark Eitzel

This is a lovely song about friendship. It gets me here (points to chest) every time. The original by Glen Campbell is nice but Mark Eitzel nails this song. Even though he's one of my favorite songwriters, this cover of someone else's song is my favorite of his. And I love these words:

It's not clinging to the rocks and ivy
Planted on their columns now that bind me
Or something that somebody said because
They thought we fit together walking

5. Exercise - Clem Snide

This is a love song. I was married then. This song reminds me of that time. Going to the gym... twisting ankles ... moving furniture ...caring ...caring too much

Take it easy or you'll hurt yourself
Dance that couch across the floor

It's rollicking. It's slow. It has a stand-up bass solo that sounds better live.

It's also not a love song

There's no way love will help
Your twisted ankle when you fall

Analysis Of A Mix CD: Part 1

This will be a long one. But I promise you - it's worth it. I've tried to break it up into manageable bloggy pieces. Enjoy

In the recent purging of stuff in my closet, I came across one of perhaps 50+ unlabeled CDs. On many of these are aborted attempts to (legally) burn now-forgotten albums (did I really want that entire Kanye West album? Kinky? Bad Tom Waits? Live Ween?). On many other discs, however, there are admirable and interesting mixes, some intended for (but not delivered to) others and some solely for my own enjoyment (as well as whoever was riding along with me in a the Honda or Toyota I happened to be driving).

I listened to a few of these years-old CDs (and cassettes) recently. One in particular is worthy of a detailed multi-part analysis here on BpB. Others may follow.

I chose this particular mix because it contains a few surprises and it resonates with me - emotionally, intellectually, and musically. Did I just write that?

In constructing the mix, I made some understandable-to-me-now decisions, some obvious-to-me-then choices, and a few (only a few) regrettable choices.

I also chose this disc because it's from an interesting time in my life: June of 2002. I could write in detail about my life then, giving you a window to my soul, heart, and mind. Or I could just make bullet points:
  • I was married and living in a house in Minneapolis
  • We were moving to California the following month
  • I was relatively happy
  • I was writing a lot of fiction
  • It was a year after the game show but that money was gone
  • The World Cup was going on
  • I seemed to have many many friends (not that quantity is always a substitute for quality)
  • I owned a lot of music

I have a vague memory of making this CD for a friend of mine - Rebecca - then living in Kansas City. I think I sent her a slightly different version of this disc. It was shortly after she sent me a mix CD. Prior to this past February, I had received only four mixes from other people in my entire life. I had probably given 50 of them away. Since February, I have been given five more, all from someone who is also from Kansas City.

Anyway, the disc is mine now. I played it in my car over the weekend and yesterday. I'm listening to it right now. I want to tell you about it. And I will do just that when I get to Part 2.

Monday, July 09, 2007

Jazz / Not Jazz

In March of 2006, it was pretty much irrefutably determined by freedarko that BASKETBALL IS NOT JAZZ, with a few exceptions.

In a brilliant essay in yesterday's New York Times, Haruki Murakami convinced me that WRITING IS JAZZ, or at least it's music. My favorite part:
Whether in music or in fiction, the most basic thing is rhythm. Your style needs to have good, natural, steady rhythm, or people won’t keep reading your work. I learned the importance of rhythm from music — and mainly from jazz. Next comes melody — which, in literature, means the appropriate arrangement of the words to match the rhythm. If the way the words fit the rhythm is smooth and beautiful, you can’t ask for anything more. Next is harmony — the internal mental sounds that support the words. Then comes the part I like best: free improvisation. Through some special channel, the story comes welling out freely from inside. All I have to do is get into the flow. Finally comes what may be the most important thing: that high you experience upon completing a work — upon ending your “performance” and feeling you have succeeded in reaching a place that is new and meaningful. And if all goes well, you get to share that sense of elevation with your readers (your audience). That is a marvelous culmination that can be achieved in no other way.
Now if I could only get through one of his books.

Sunday, July 08, 2007


I hate July.

It's endless. Too hot. The sun comes up at the wrong time and sticks around too long.

The air conditioning gets to my brain. The fruit spoils too soon.

Traffic jams take longer. Walks become more arduous.


Movies and TV are lame. Music doesn't sound like music. Poetry is more labored and screenplays plots seem meaningless because who would want to think about making a movie in July.

There must be something good about July. Maybe the Wahoo's will taste especially good on the patio tonight. Maybe the new office construction will be done and I begin the transition.

Maybe August will come.

23 days more.

The 29th through 31st will be fun.

The 20th will be fun.

That leaves 19 insufferable days.

I can do it.

I've lived through worse. Remember the summer of 1993? Remember the whole first half of the 90s when I was heavily into folk music?

Remember OCTOBER 1990, the cruelest month ever?... Pam and her mysticism and that awful take-out pasta in that stupid apartment.

Okay, I'm happier now. That was therapeutic.

Thursday, July 05, 2007

They're The Donut People

Yesterday was my favorite Fourth of July. Here are some reasons (not in order):
  • fireworks from the balcony
  • Henry Fool
  • facing my past on Bryn Mawr Drive in Ventura
  • Los Angeles Farmer's Market
  • Alex
  • the new good book I'm reading
  • Santa Monica by Everclear
  • the ocean
  • The Busy Bee
  • honey-almond cream cheese
  • fortuitous parking spaces
  • peace

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Things Are Good On The West Coast

My legs are tired from the TreadClimber.

My eyes are chalky from the smog.

My arms are itchy from the flea(s).

My head is filled with songs and facts (in word and number form).

July. I'm not alone in considering it my least favorite month.

But don't mistake these sentences for unhappiness. A good July beats a bad November.

My stomach is sick of the Red Vines.

My feet miss the floor.

My iPod(s) battery(ies) suck(s).

Sometimes I'm underestimated. Sometimes they get it just right.

I'm taking the bus downtown on my lunch break. Nothing like rice and beans and tofu and lemonade on the hottest day of the year. Let's hope the air conditioning works on the bus. It's bad enough I have to walk up the hilly part of Hill Street at midday, waiting for the government's own lunch break to end.

2:30 Update: I eschewed the tofu bowl and got the "West Coast Burrito" instead. It did have beans in it. The buses - all three of them - had air conditioning.

Monday, July 02, 2007

The Copper Door

I stood in Pan Pacific Park yesterday, waiting for equipment to be set up and settings to be recorded. From my vantage point, I had seemingly all of Los Angeles in my vision. To the north, I saw the hills, through an almost completely clear sky, the haze reduced to what's left over when a written question doesn't end with a question mark. To the east, there was a flat expanse of trees and low buildings and, far enough away, tall buildings. To the south, there was more of the east but, in the immediate foreground, I saw people playing soccer on dirt. They seemed joyous, if resigned to being kept from the grass. To the west, I saw The Grove.

There's a lot missing from my picture, I know. The complexities are all obvious in their simplicity.

It's not easy to run in soccer shoes. But I didn't have to run too far.

It's easy to get tired when you stay up until close to sunrise for the first time you can remember... well, the first time since the first time you thought driving down the 5 freeway in the middle of the night was the most beautiful thing imaginable. So, I was tired. Steps were taken and untaken. Plans, antics - changed. Then, the next day...

I've been thinking a lot about this place recently. I never wrote much poetry about it. I hardly touched it in my fiction. And my blog entries about the place have been rare. But it's where I grew up and where most of the stories (those meant for children and the other ones) were told.

I think about the restaurants in the town, at least the ones that were there between '75 and '84. I think about the fancy one, down the street from the Burger King where I worked my first job. There, they had garlic butter bowls and separate plates for the shrimp tails. My sister liked salad. My mom liked the bacon. Dad... I don't remember what he would eat at that restaurant but I know he liked the steak.

There was the pizza place where it would just be the three of us - me, sister, and mom - when the patriarch worked late and the sun set early and we were hungry. They served greasy pizza there. And they made a good version of the regional delicacy - the Philly cheese steak. We always sat in booths, me alone on one side. I don't even know if they had tables. I don't remember the name of the place.

I went to the pizza place one other time, with my friend Jim (he's a Republican now) and our non-friend Tim. We were all back from college on our Thanksgiving break in our freshman year. I wasn't really "back" because my school was just down Route 611, close to the city. It was the last time I saw Tim. I still see Jim every 6 years or so. I know I've mentioned him before.

"What's left over when a written question doesn't end with a question mark." Hmm.

I think about my hometown a lot these days because when there's a story to tell and you know the middle and ending (so far), it's good to figure out the beginning. Because, it's been told to me, you need to grab the audience's attention right away. The, you could map it all out and you begin to understand. Or, it's just another way of figuring out the family story.

My aunt (the one who's not speaking to my her son (my cousin) or her sister-in-law (my mother)) would send her two sons (one of whom she's not speaking to) to Doylestown every summer, sometimes for the entire summer. I have vivid memories of drives to and from airports to pick up and drop off the cousins. It's why I dream of airports these days. A lot. I dream of space-age airports, hovering in the sky...groundless, lifeless black sky around them. The opposite of beautiful Pan Pacific Park. I dream I'm always going some place, never staying anywhere. Sure, I was never going anywhere on those airport drives with the cousins. But it would only be a matter of time.