Friday, July 31, 2009


These squares are having a great beach party but soon a giant squid will pull them into the sea and the REAL party can get started! Here are some strange summer songs from off the beaten path.

"Summer Cannibals" by Patti Smith, film by the legendary Robert Frank

"Summertime" by Janis Joplin--Cheap Thrills recording session. Janis never had the band she deserved, but she was a blues goddess.

"Summer Days" by Bob Dylan at Madison Square Garden. This worn-out riverboat gambler is as good as he's ever been, and that's saying a lot. His band is killer.

Thursday, July 30, 2009


Son House was one of the greatest blues singers. Some people don't like the blues, or feel it's too rough and down-home for their sophisticated tastes, but these people are insensitive swine. The blues is feeling, pure and simple, and unless you plan on being an inanimate object like a chair or endtable you'd better start feeling, and the blues is a good place to start. Son House had a hell of a life--spent time in Parchman Farm prison in the 1920s, had serious illnesses, and five wives--at different times, of course. All that bad luck and hard times--all that feeling--went into his music. Listen to Death Letter Blues. Can you feel that?

I got a letter this mornin, how do you reckon it read?
It said, "Hurry, hurry, yeah, your love is dead."
I got a letter this mornin, I say how do you reckon it read?
You know, it said, "Hurry, hurry, how come the gal you love is dead?"

So, I grabbed up my suitcase, and took off down the road.
When I got there she was layin on a coolin board.
I grabbed up my suitcase, and I said and I took off down the road.
I said, but when I got there she was already layin on a coolin board.

Well, I walked up right close, looked down in her face.
Said, the good ole gal got to lay here til the Judgment Day.
I walked up right close, and I said I looked down in her face.
I said the good ole gal, she got to lay here til the Judgment Day.

Looked like there was 10,000 people standin round the buryin ground.
I didn't know I loved her til they laid her down.
Looked like 10,000 were standin round the buryin ground.
You know I didn't know I loved her til they damn laid her down.

Lord, have mercy on my wicked soul.
I wouldn't mistreat you baby, for my weight in gold.
I said, Lord, have mercy on my wicked soul.
You know I wouldn't mistreat nobody, baby, not for my weight in gold.

Well, I folded up my arms and I slowly walked away.
I said, "Farewell honey, I'll see you on Judgment Day."
Ah, yeah, oh, yes, I slowly walked away.
I said, "Farewell, farewell, I'll see you on the Judgment Day."

You know I went in my room, I bowed down to pray.
The blues came along and drove my spirit away.
I went in my room, I said I bowed down to pray.
I said the blues came along and drove my spirit away.

You know I didn't feel so bad, til the good ole sun went down.
I didn't have a soul to throw my arms around...

Wednesday, July 29, 2009


The Huffington Post picked the top ten U.S. cities for local food--a decidedly green look at great restaurants. Foodies won't be surprised that Portland, Oregon ranked number one.

According to the article, "It is no surprise that Portland, the first city to adopt legislation to combat climate change, is serving up some of the greenest and tastiest food in the United States." They singled out Three Square Grill and Higgens for their use of fresh and sustainable local produce. Good job, PDX!

I prefer small, imaginative restaurants far more than the standard warhorses with white tablecloths that frequently get mentioned in the "best of" lists. One of my favorite places in Portland is Pok Pok and Whiskey Soda Lounge (at 3226 se division, pdx). I've mentioned it before (and so has the New York Times, GQ, Food and Wine, and a slew of others) so it's not exactly undiscovered, but it may be new to you. Pok Pok offers a brilliant take on Southeast Asian street food. Order Ike's Vietnamese Fish Sauce Wings. Sticky and sweet, and tossed in caramelized Phu Quoc fish sauce and garlic, this is amazing. Or try the Kaeng Hung Leh--"Classic Northern Thai sweet pork belly and pork shoulder curry with ginger, palm sugar, tamarind, turmeric, Burmese curry powder and pickled garlic."

Jumping to city number two on the list, San Francisco, here's another favorite--an unassuming spot in a city of great places to eat, Cafe Claude is a perfect little bistro in an alley (off Union Square, at 7 Claude Lane) that serves the best french onion soup in town and features jazz at night. By day, sit under an outside umbrella.

My town, Seattle, is a great place to eat and scored a number 5 on the green list. They singled out Cafe Flora, "an eco-conscious vegan, vegetarian, and gluten-free restaurant that serves local produce and herbs from Washington farms." Blah. I'm sure it's quite good, but we skipped the vegan food for la Medusa, a big favorite of ours. This hip Sicilian restaurant is a lively creative spot with a knowledgeable and friendly staff, and a chef that is a tattooed wizard of the culinary arts. A ten minute drive from downtown, this out of the way place is worth the trip (it's in the Columbia City neighborhood at the south end, at 4857 Rainier Avenue South) to taste their "Sicilian inspired food for the soul."

My parents are excellent Italian cooks and they vouch for the place. Mom is Calabrese, and Dad is Sicilian from New York City (also quite a food town) and he said the Perciatelli con le Sarde (the signature dish of Sicily: perciatelli pasta and sardines in caramelized fennel & onions, saffron, pine nuts, olives, raisins) is better than the same dish he'd eaten in Sicily. A recommendation doesn't get any better than that! The apps are great, too, so try the homemade eggplant caponata and the bacala--fried cod fritters. By the way, you may know that Sicilian food is different than Italian food--Italy is highly regional and wasn't even a united country until the 19th century. Try la Medusa.

There is an old Sicilian saying: Cui va 'n Seattle e 'un vidi la Medusa, si nni parti sceccu e torna armali. (English translation: Whoever goes to Seattle and doesn't see la Medusa, goes there a jackass and returns a fool.)

The Huff Post Top Ten Cities for Local Food

1. Portland
2. San Francisco/Berkeley
3. New Orleans
4. Albuquerque
5. Seattle
6. Chapel Hil, NC
7. New York
8. Minneapolis
9. Denver
10. Washington, DC

Hungry? Check out these amazing out of the way places:

Pok Pok
is located at 3226 se division, pdx. Check out their website here.
Cafe Claude is located at 7 Claude Lane, in SF. Website is here.
La Medusa is located at 4857 Rainer Avenue South in Columbia City. Their website is here. Divider

Monday, July 27, 2009


Good morning, America, how are ya? In this jet engine age we look back wistfully to the time of trains with some of the best train songs we could find. Sure, we missed a few great ones (and probably your favorite) but for now here are some songs about the mighty locomotives that criss-crossed our nation in days of yore. All aboard!

"Waiting for a Train" - Jimmie Rodgers

"Driver 8" by REM

"Born on a Train" - Arcade Fire covering Magnetic Fields

"Folsum Prison Blues" - Johnny Cash, live at San Quentin

"Train of Love" by Bob Dylan at Johnny Cash tribute

Sunday, July 26, 2009


Who the hell is this guy? Why didn't anyone tell me about Benji Hughes? I keep up with contemporary sounds as best I can, trade musical tips with fellow obsessives, read the music rags, but I totally missed this oddball character from North Carolina who looks like the offspring of some unholy union between a long lost beer hippie and Sasquatch. Benji is one scary looking dude, but just when you think he'll ride his Harley through your flowerbed to kill the family dog, he turns into a heartsick troubadour who brings a tear to your eye. Benji writes the hell out of a song. He maps the human heart and not like some dopey singer-songwriter--this guy has soul.

I first heard about Benji this week in the Believer Magazine Music Issue, something that comes out ever year about this time, and a great article by Joe Hagen. Esquire, StarNews Online, and Encore, "Your Alternative Voice in Wilmington, NC," have also been sources for this piece, if you're curious about that sort of thing. Track down more info if you can. Some day he may be a common household name, but I just hope he gets one billionth the attention your brand name pop stars enjoy every day.

One of the best Benji Hughes' songs I've heard came out in 2003, in which Hughes sings about his old man in the joint.


It’s been a long time since you dropped me a line
I just had a birthday and Mom’s doing fine
The last time I heard you were still doing time
I heard about the sentence, never got the details of the crime

“Benji captures heartache much in the same way Hank Williams did back in his day," said Fred Champion, local musician and the owner of CD Alley, in Wilmington, NC (where tickets were on sale for Benji's shows at the East Coast Opera House, July 24 and 25). "He expresses in a song his thoughts and feelings on just what it means to be human: to love, to have heartache, to pine for someone, and about regular everyday life things like annoying neighbors or the experience of going to see a favorite band with some friends.”

Chuck Klosterman wrote a great article about Benji in Esquire back in March. "A Love Extreme is twenty-five songs of pure, enthusiastic songwriting from a man who clearly does not care what I think about his work. It's an ambitious, solipsistic project...But he's amazingly good at fitting every musical idea into whatever worldview is best suited to hold it. There's something effortless about his ability. It often seems as if Hughes can listen to any rival artist, immediately deduce what element defines the work, and then synthesize the vibe without seeming derivative. It's almost like A Love Extreme is a project: At various fleeting moments, he sings a little like Julian Casablancas, Joe Pernice, Leonard Cohen, Jarvis Cocker, Rivers Cuomo, Chet Baker, Mark Oliver Everett, and Mark Sandman."

Listen to his song about a road trip to see the Flaming Lips, called, appropriately enough, "I Went with Some Friends to See The Flaming Lips":

It was raining just a little but we didn’t mind
We had some drinks in the bar at the Haywood Park
Sent Mark and Jason on a beer run, ’cause it was getting dark
Then we checked into our rooms and started eating mushrooms
Jessica and Elle dropped by...

The music changes, shifts, and whoa, the drugs kick in.

Standing in a line we realized
Mark had taken too much...
taken way too much MDMA...

He elucidates his world in stunning detail, and the music beautifully reinforces the mood. He'd probably yell obscenities if he heard this, but he's really a short story writer. His stories wouldn't be out of place in a collection of great contemporary writers working in the short form, George Saunders, say, or Deborah Eisenberg--writers who chronicle this strange modern world in all its glorious and strange detail.

"You Stood Me Up" is about a fight Benji had with a date. He brings in some soulful sounds and telling details to paint a picture of a small town misunderstanding that is bleak and absolutely real:

You had a date with me
On April 17th
I showed up at the Dairy Queen
where we were 'sposed to meet
I got there at 4:53
We were 'sposed to meet at 5
I had a Butterfinger Blizzard and some fries

According to Hagen in the Believer, Benji grew up in a crazy family with a strict Jehovah's Witness mother and a "hard-fisted drunk man" for a father, but he finally squeezed out of there. He played gigs in Charlotte and became something of a legend among local teenagers. This hillbilly beardo would show up and blow everyone away with his songs, then he'd smile and pop a beer. Hughes recorded some, too, and was roundly ignored by everyone. He co-wrote one of the songs from "The Dewey Cox Story" called "Let's Duet," a Johnny Cash/June Carter parody that has more double entendres than anything I can remember.

Benji Hughes came out with another record, "A Love Extreme," a glancing reference to the Coltrane spiritual classic. NYTimes music critic Jon Pareles loved it, and a few more folks, but it didn't really take off. Too bad. Not enough people read George Saunders, either. Still, it's a great album and worth your time, especially if you're just hanging around the Dairy Queen doing nothing.

Benji Hughes is not for everyone, and he doesn't want to be. If you're looking for standard pop confection look elsewhere. His voice can be mournful at times, kind of in the Beck ballpark, but he can dazzle you if you love true stories and real music.

"The Mummy"

The committee, they asked me to be the one to pick the band to play the prom
I said I wanted Frankenstein
They said that Frankenstein was not a band
Could you get Dracula?
Whatever you do, don't get the mummy

Don't get the mummy, when the mummy gets drunk he unravels...

Saturday, July 25, 2009


What's the deal with computers? Why are they so damn frustrating? If you've ever encountered an unsolvable problem with your hardware or software (and who hasn't?) or if you've ever tried to coach a family member through a computer problem over the phone (which is like flying a passenger jet through a snowstorm from the control tower) you might appreciate a little comic relief. Laughter is key. Remember that as the tears stream down your face and you hurl heavy objects at the wall. Remember that as you scan your hard drive for the umpteenth time, and run up your long distance phone bill grilling the one guy in the family who is slightly computer savvy, and who turns out not to be so helpful after all. Before your blood pressure skyrockets, stop a moment. Breathe. Pop a chill pill. Enjoy this computer comedy.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009


John Yoo, formerly of the Department of Justice, played a key role in the Bush administration's justification of torture. He authored the infamous "torture memo," and for his trouble he got "punked."

A man dressed as an Abu Ghraib prisoner disrupted John Yoo's class (he currently lectures at Berkeley and Chapman University). The actor climbed on a desk while Yoo was discussing constitutionality and said, "I've got one question: How long can I be required to stand here 'til it counts as torture?"

Yoo was flustered, but not as much as if he had his balls wired to an army field telephone. When Yoo ended the class, a student yelled at the actor to leave. The actor replied, "I'd love to move but every time I do my balls get buzzed."

Yoo's interview with human rights scholar Doug Cassel is a horrifying moment of candor:

Cassel: If the president deems that he's got to torture somebody, including by crushing the testicles of the person's child, there is no law that can stop him?

Yoo: No treaty

Cassel: Also no law by Congress -- that is what you wrote in the August 2002 memo...

Yoo: I think it depends on why the President thinks he needs to do that.

- John Yoo, interviewed December 1, 2005


Superstition is alive and well. People believe in UFOs and Bigfoot, Santa Claus and Satan, heaven and hell, and global conspiracies of Jewish bankers. They swear they saw Christ on a pizza, or the skunk ape on a camping trip. Skeptic Magazine founder Michael Shermer takes us through some strange things people believe - from alien encounters to hidden messages revealed while playing "Stairway to Heaven" backwards. He explains the evolutionary and cognitive basis for these lapses in reason. Shermer is the author of "Why People Believe Weird Things."

Led Zeppelin: Satanic messengers from Hell or classic rock band?

Monday, July 20, 2009


Is there intelligent life on Earth?


Sunday, July 19, 2009


1960s advertisements reflected the empire at the crossroads. Pop and Op Art and Carnaby Street fashions entered the living room, and grabbed the eyes of younger consumers. While oldsters chuckled to Alan King on Sullivan, the kids waited for the new pop groups, and the ads straddled this split. Did you drink Sanka or Tang? Did you wear a polka dot plastic mac? Or maybe a leopard skin pillbox hat?

Tang, we were assured, was the breakfast of astronauts. If we hoped to beat the Russians to the moon we'd better start drinking it by the boatload! Lots of powdered foods could survive the trip to outer space, or an extended stay in a fallout shelter. Tang, and Kool-ade and Pixie Stix and Fizzies were the food of the future! Especially if we were forced to live underground for any period of time.

Volkswagen changed everything. Their advertisements stood apart from the hard sell, old school commercials. They welcomed a new sensibility that included irony, self-deprecation and a "cool" sense of humor. "Think Small," they said, and "Live Below Your Means." One ad caught our attention with a single word, "Lemon." Oldsters were puzzled.

Old fashioned ads still existed, of course. This soul-killing suburban coffee problem begged for satire. What did Harvey want? Would the wife ever satisfy his gray flannel dreams? God forbid, would the wife ever satisfy her own? We heard she later ran off to a commune in New Mexico to eat peyote and seek the perfect orgasm. Maybe Harvey learned to make his own damn coffee.

Alka Seltzer pummeled our solar plexus with a cool ad featuring the T-Bones performing the slinky rock hit "No Matter What Shape Your Stomach's In." This was new and different--and miles from Madge with the dishwater hands. Catchy, it anticipated MTV jump cuts.

Sexy stewardesses in mod gear promised trips to exotic locales with a "coffee, tea, or me?" insouciance and long, long legs. They were assembled in secret factories run by James Bond, or possibly Hugh Hefner, whose seedy mid-western version of sexual freedom meant wearing a bathrobe all day long. At this point, women's liberation was still a distant land with no direct flights. Fasten your seatbelts!

These were the men flying those planes. They were weekend swingers, and they wanted to look cool. Bell bottoms were cool, right? Right? Just look at these squares.

Vietnam was raging, the cities were in flames, and wife-beating was just a punch-line (pun intended) in Alan King's stand-up comedy routine. Battered wives had yet to make it to the movie-of-the-week. Subliminal advertising was a reality that hadn't yet been exposed. People were too busy fighting over cigarettes and keeping up with the Joneses. America was invincible, an empire on a power ride that included the cold war and the space race, Cadillacs and martini lunches served by black guys in white jackets. We'd rather fight than switch!

No comment.

Sexist? So what's wrong with sexy? An unforgettable ad for...who cares? Take it off. Take it all off!

But the empire needed defending, and that meant training the little ones ahead of time. We would have to police the world and keep it safe for democracy and capitalism. Hearts and minds, right? The cornucopia of endless products would keep us fat and happy as long as we all pitched in and defended our borders from the Vietnamese, the Latin Americans, and those nasty and godless superpowers.

The barbarians were at the gate, but we could stave them off with the help of Mattel and Hasbro--toy manufacturers who kept our wits sharp and our senses battle-ready. All we needed was our GI Joe dolls, er, "action figures." That, and a little napalm.

Twiggy had "the Look." She was the quintessential frail bird of the sixties with an anorexic boyish body and eyes that could shame a Keene painting. She was the English waif, the woman-as-child, the fragile super model whose eyes followed you around the room. Or did they? Were they, like television itself, glittering with potential but more often just vacuous portals to nothingness? Did they see the changes on the horizon? Let's end on a mystery.

Friday, July 17, 2009


Walter Cronkite, legendary broadcast journalist and news anchor, died today at the age of 92. He was a trusted voice in turbulent times, and brought us the daily news and the historic events, the moon landings and political conventions, the assassinations and wars. His broadcast after the Tet Offensive is often credited with turning the American public against the Vietnam war. Long before television news deteriorated to around-the-clock infotainment, Cronkite earned our trust without super graphics or computer generated flash, without ranting or teasing or pandering to popular taste.

They don't make 'em like Walter anymore. Nowadays, news anchors are better looking and less informed, pretty faces without a trace of understanding in their eyes, mere teleprompter readers with studio tans and perfect smiles. These days, the job seems closer to modeling than reportage. We're going to miss Cronkite.

Cronkite reports the assassination of President John F Kennedy.

Cronkite's reports from Vietnam challenged the hawks and swayed public opinion.

Update: a good note from Salon's Glenn Greenwald, "Celebrating Cronkite While Ignoring What He Did." Click here for the story.

Thursday, July 16, 2009


photo by Jaime Martorano

Levon Helm is still alive and kicking out great music. After a bout with throat cancer in the late 90s, his soulful voice was reduced to a whisper. But he fought his way back and fully recovered. In the past couple years he released two great albums, "Dirt Farmer" and the recent release, "Electric Dirt." His music boils over from the melting pot of the Mississippi Delta and Deep South, and Levon serves up a spicy stew of blues, country, jazz and rock and roll.

He was born in Elaine, Arkansas in 1940 to Nell and Diamond Helm, a cotton farmer. The Helm family played music for entertainment, and they listened to The Grand Ole Opry and Sonny Boy Williamson and His King Biscuit Entertainers regularly on the radio.

Levon, in 1959

Levon was fourteen when he saw Johnny Cash and Carl Perkins do a show at Helena in 1954. Also performing was a young Elvis Presley with Scotty Moore on guitar, and Bill Black on stand-up bass. No drummer. The music was early rockabilly and the audience went wild. Levon saw Elvis again a year later--this time D.J. Fontana was on drums and Bill Black was playing electric bass. Levon couldn't believe the difference, how the added instruments filled out the sound. It was the greatest thing he had ever seen. As a junior in High school he formed a rock and roll band, "The Jungle Bush Beaters." In 1957 he met Ronnie Hawkins, a show biz entertainer with an eye for talent, and formed "The Hawks." They recruited four more musicians, all Canadians, Richard Manuel, Rick Danko, Robbie Robertson and Garth Hudson--all of whom would later form "The Band."

Levon and the Hawks, New York, 1964.
From left. Jerry Penfound, Rick Danko, Levon Helm, Richard Manuel, Garth Hudson and Robbie Robertson.

Bob Dylan was enjoying an unparalleled creative surge that produced Bringing it All Back Home, Highway 61 Revisited, and Blonde on Blonde in just eighteen months. He needed a back-up band, and he hired The Hawks, who accompanied him on a world tour--Levon left after the first leg in 1965.

After the tour, licking wounds and recovering, Dylan and the band retired to Big Pink, a big pink house in Woodstock, New York, and recorded in the basement. "The Basement Tapes" were nearly mythical, and bootlegs of the unreleased recordings soon circulated among diehard fans, including what may have well been the very first bootleg, "Great White Wonder."

The backing band--now rechristened "The Band"--soon released an excellent album called Music from Big Pink, which featured some of this new music they were playing in the basement, and an original painting by Dylan on the cover.

The album was released when most rock was heavily psychedelic, but this was very different and old-timey, echoing the American past with voices and instruments mixing folk, blues, gospel, R&B, classical, and rock & roll. The record included such soon-to-be classics as "Chest Fever" and "The Weight," and a number of Dylan compositions "I Shall Be Released," "Tears of Rage," and "This Wheel's on Fire."

The next album was a masterpiece. Released in 1969, the eponymously titled The Band, showcased Robbie Robertson's songwriting skills, which had improved since the first album. The band was even more focused and cohesive. "Up on Cripple Creek" was released as a single (and became the Band's first and only Top 30 release) and other favorites were "Rag Mama Rag," "King Harvest," and "The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down." The world stopped and listened.

The Band made seven albums total,
and influenced a wide range of musicians, encouraging people to get back to roots, and inspired the and Americana movements of today.

After the Band broke up, Levon continued playing music. He released The RCO All Stars in 1977, and reunited with good friend and former Band-member Rick Danko to make music. They eventually reformed the Band with some former members, and played until Richard Manuel's tragic death in 1986. Sadly, Danko himself died in 1999, a day after his 54th birthday.

Levon played on, and even acted in movies--He portrayed Loretta
Lynn's father in the Coal Miner's Daughter. He was in The Right Stuff, and The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada.

More recently, Levon conceived The Midnight Ramble Sessions, a series of live performances at Levon Helm Studios in Woodstock. Named for the traveling minstrel shows of his youth, the first Midnight Ramble was held in January, 2004. Since then, people have scrambled to the ramble to hear Levon tell his great stories and perform with a wide variety of musicians in an informal setting.

We're happy Levon Helm is still making such great music
and recommend you buy his latest album, Electric Dirt.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009


This summer is the fortieth anniversary of two pivotal 1960s events--the moon landing and Woodstock. I was too young to go to either, but I watched the film and video of each in a state of rapture and awe, thrilled we'd made it to another world, and convinced that the music and arts festival was a shining glimpse of our utopian future. Naive? Perhaps. Utopia didn't come to pass, in any case. The war in Vietnam dragged on, and we still had Nixon and the hawks to get rid of, and since that golden season history has repeated itself so many times I can't keep track if this round is tragedy or farce.

That same summer, on July 20th, Apollo 11 landed on the moon and American spacemen ambled onto another world. They planted a stiff flag that would forever wave in a vacuum, and beamed back pictures of Earth, which looked nothing like the dusty brown globes in our social studies classes that were mapped and marked by man-made boundaries. Our home planet was sparkling and blue. There was a global recognition that this was a small boat indeed, and we were all on it. There was hope. If worse came to worse, some reasoned, good old American technology could save us. Mankind could shoot its silver seed into the cosmos and escape our war-torn planet to build a sci-fi fan's dream of an antiseptic orderly future a la Star Trek. That was also naive, I suppose, a utopian fantasy of a different sort.

Woodstock didn't commence the Aquarian Age, but the three day rock festival at Max Yasgur's dairy farm in upstate New York was a gathering of the tribes. This was "youth culture" in full freaky fruition, and a joyous celebration of the hippie message of peace, pot, nudity and music. Fantastic music. Sure, it didn't stop the war machine, but it spit in its eye. This was art and whimsy on a mass scale, and people looked up from every uptight button-down small town to think, maybe I'll grow a mustache. Wear a peace button. Get the hell out of Dodge.

Woodstock inspired countless rock festivals, but this was the milestone. The country was violently divided. It was less than a year to the Kent State shootings, when National Guardsmen opened fire on protesters Nixon referred to as bums. It was less than a year til progressives like Bobby Kennedy and Martin Luther King were assassinated. The counterculture was driven underground. Soft drugs, once considered a ticket to expanded consciousness, were replaced by hard drugs that left people strung out and hopeless. The anti-war movement and the black power movement were harassed and wiretapped and infiltrated by various secret police forces and red squads. Body bags kept coming home from Nam. Nixon went down, sure, but history provided even more Nixons, more greedy Republican war hawks who invoked Jesus while robbing the treasury and incinerating peasants. Change is impossible, you might think. Stupidity is hard-wired into our DNA. Maybe so.

But for one brief shining moment there was a festival--no more, no less--where a possible future played out in a few rolling hills and cow pastures, a future that was crowded and muddy and crazy and stoned and for a brief moment also stardust and golden before it got sucked back into the devil's bargain.

The last morning of the festival, Jimi Hendrix played the Star Spangled Banner and Purple Haze to the tired huddled masses

Monday, July 13, 2009


Marcy Wheeler appeared on MSNBC Monday to argue for an investigation of secret CIA operations under President Bush. Instead of concentrating on the content, the anchors focused on--and even apologized for--Wheeler's use of the word "blow job."

Have we all gone crazy? Obscenity may reside in the eye of the beholder, but as far as I'm concerned CIA torture and violence against unarmed prisoners ranks higher on the obscenity scale than a common term describing oral sex. Get real, America. Grow up!

According to ABC News, the CIA sources described a list of six "Enhanced Interrogation Techniques" that were practiced on prisoners. Bear in mind, this is what they will admit to, so actual practices are most likely far worse:

1. The Attention Grab: The interrogator forcefully grabs the shirt front of the prisoner and shakes him.

2. Attention Slap: An open-handed slap aimed at causing pain and triggering fear.

3. The Belly Slap: A hard open-handed slap to the stomach. The aim is to cause pain, but not internal injury. Doctors consulted advised against using a punch, which could cause lasting internal damage.

4. Long Time Standing: This technique is described as among the most effective. Prisoners are forced to stand, handcuffed and with their feet shackled to an eye bolt in the floor for more than 40 hours. Exhaustion and sleep deprivation are effective in yielding confessions.

5. The Cold Cell: The prisoner is left to stand naked in a cell kept near 50 degrees. Throughout the time in the cell the prisoner is doused with cold water.

6. Water Boarding: The prisoner is bound to an inclined board, feet raised and head slightly below the feet. Cellophane is wrapped over the prisoner's face and water is poured over him. Unavoidably, the gag reflex kicks in and a terrifying fear of drowning leads to almost instant pleas to bring the treatment to a halt.

This is obscene.

Friday, July 10, 2009


Sigmund Freud (1856-1939), physiologist, medical doctor, psychologist and father of psychoanalysis, pictured here with phallic symbol. Freud articulated the concepts of the unconscious, of infantile sexuality, of repression, and proposed a tri-partite model of the mind's structure, all as part of a radically new conceptual and therapeutic frame of reference for the understanding of human psychological development, based on a limited sample of unhappy Viennese housewives.

Eventually a frequent cocaine user, Freud started with the purchase of a gram for fatigue. After all, he reasoned, the German army used it to fight off exhaustion so maybe it would help some of his patients. First, he took a dose himself. And then another. Before long, he was tooting on a regular basis. He even sent some to friends, including his fiancee, Martha Bernays, accompanied with this note on June 2, 1884:

"I will kiss you quite red and feed you till you are plump. And if you are forward you shall see who is the stronger, a little girl who doesn't eat enough or a big strong man with cocaine in his body. In my last serious depression I took cocaine again and a small dose lifted me to the heights in a wonderful fashion. I am just now collecting the literature for a song of praise to this magical substance."

Clearly, Freud was coked out of his gourd.

John Styth Pemberton, plucky entreprenuer and dope pusher

Along came Pemberton. Back then, one could buy cocaine lozenges and pastilles, elixirs and pills. Cocaine wine, first sold in Europe under the name of Vin Mariani, was a raging success. There were many imitations. In the United States, John Styth Pemberton brought out his own version in 1881. He hit the jackpot when Atlanta banned the sale of alcohol in 1885, and he tweaked the recipe, removing the alcohol but keeping the cocaine, and sold his drink under the name Coca-Cola.

This was the true "Classic Coke." Of course, the coke was eventually removed from the Coke (in 1913) but the company has remained successful. It turned out it was even cheaper to sell colored sugar water without the cocaine!

In the spirit of psychiatry, we present a wonderful expressionistic portrait of madness by The Avalanches, entitled "Frontier Psychiatrist:"

Thursday, July 9, 2009


Brian Kilmeade is an ignorant assclown. Kilmeade, the host of Fox and Friends, laments the loss of racial purity in the American people because people aren't marrying their own ethnic group. Is he running for some Nazi journalism award? Clearly, Kilmeade hasn't read a book on race or ethnicity since the turn of the last century when ethnic stereotypes and racial quotas had the thinnest veneer of academic approval. Of course, that view was swept aside by modern science, but apparently nobody told Kilmeade.

Don't confuse him with the facts. He's got his job at Fox. What happened?

The conversation concerned recent scientific data that suggests people in long term marriages tend to experience less Alzheimer's Disease then those in short term marriages. An interesting notion that could provoke an intelligent repsonse. Not from Kilmeade. Never at a loss for ignorance, he leaps into nostalgia for the pure (master?) race.

"We keep marrying other species and other ethnics," he says. "The problem is the Swedes have pure genes. They marry other Swedes, that's the rule. Finns marry other Finns; they have a pure society. In America we marry everybody. We will marry Italians and Irish."

Reminds me of the latest Nixon tapes to be released, wherein the ex-president says abortion is generally wrong, but it's okay if it concerns a mixed race couple.


Call me an old geezer, but something new from the Beatles is a cause for celebration, innit? The new song, Now and Then, will delight Beatle people, but mystery shrouds the project like potsmoke on St. Mark's Place. Some call it a hoax.

Not so, says Paul McCartney, and he is anxious to release it.

According to MOG, "It was rumored that when Yoko gave Paul the demos of "Free As A Bird" and "Real Love" that were polished up later by Paul, George and Ringo for The Beatles Anthology sets in the mid-90's, she also gave Paul a third demo."

That demo was a Lennon composition called "Now and Then." After some work by the remaining bandmembers, here is the polished result.

What do you think? Is it real, or something to get hung about? Have a spot of tea and give it a listen:

Paul also wanted to release the unheard ‘Carnival of Light’, a 14-minute composition, but Harrison was against the plans.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Monday, July 6, 2009


a clip from a rare documentary on reclusive writer Thomas Pynchon

A screaming comes across the desk. It's happened before but there is nothing to compare to it now. The rumors circulating in weirdo literary cults are true: Pynchon is back. He has a new book. Voices echo the news and shoes clatter on cobblestones. Newsboys run, weaving through traffic, waving the extra edition, shouting, Extra! Extra! Read all about it! Publishers' Weekly confirms an August 16th release date for Inherent Vice:

"Part noir, part psychedelic romp, all Thomas Pynchon — private eye Doc Sportello comes, occasionally, out of a marijuana haze to watch the end of an era as free love slips away and paranoia creeps in with the L.A. fog."

Oh, come on. What's the big deal? Another sad sack shut-in burning the midnight oil? Dime a dozen, you say. You don't see his books at the airport with shiny, embossed covers, so how good could he be? I've never heard him chatting with Terri Gross on Fresh Air. He's never shot the bull with Conan, with Dave, with Jay, with Jon...

A rare shot of P, many years ago

Nope, he wouldn't do that. Pynchon writes well-regarded award-winning books nobody reads. OK, a few people read them, but mostly trainspotters and writers and drifters and edge dwellers; most civilians catch a whiff of all that sulfur and the sickening sweet smell of burning leaves and steer clear. Pynchon doesn't care. He's holed up somewhere in Tangier or Mexico City, a recluse, a shut in, a genius. This guy makes Salinger look like a social butterfly. Our old friend Amy Hungerford sheds some light on this man of mystery, but first here is the opening of Inherent Vice:

She came along the alley and up the back steps the way she always used to. Doc hadn't seen her for over a year. Nobody had. Back then it was always sandals, bottom half a flower-print bikini, faded Country Joe & the Fish t-shirt. Tonight she was all in flatland gear, hair a lot shorter than he remembered, looking just like she swore she'd never look."

Professor Hungerford teaches The American Novel Since 1945 (ENGL 291) at Yale. She's whip smart and looking for trouble. Gotta love her. Here she places Thomas Pynchon firmly in the context of the political upheaval of the 1960s, and argues that Pynchon "is deeply invested in questions of meaning and emotional response." The Crying of Lot 49 is "a sincere call for connection, and a lament for loss, as much as it is an ironic, playful puzzle."

For more Pynchon, check this previous post.