Wednesday, December 29, 2004

The Baby Jesus Remix

Me has composed twelve point plan for good happy success. I’ve only made it to step five, so sue me if your results vary. In step one, the patient is required to return to their hometown for the holidays. In my case, that town is Keokuk, Iowa. You may have read about it in my previous post entitled “Merry X-Max.” It’s a wonderful place and it’s a wonderful life starring Jimmy Stewart as the General Manager for the steel castings plant. Step two consists of hooking up with an old high school “dude,” preferably one who is as cynical as you are regarding the former stomping grounds. In my own example, we will now refer to the “dude” as Bob Weir. In fact, at one time the dude actually looked a little like Bob Weir, even though he enjoyed the Phil Lesh material more. After all, Ratdog is just a step higher than your local Grateful Dead tribute band. Step three requires smoking marijuana. You cannot proceed to step four without completing step three. And as the hometown Bob Weir stated on Christmas Eve: “As long as I can smoke something, I’ll be alright.”
For step four, you’ll need to visit Keokuk’s annual “City Of Christmas.” If you’re not familiar with Keokuk’s “City Of Christmas,” you probably have something similar in your own hometown. Essentially, it’s a bunch of Christmas lights, Christmas themed displays, and a low-wattage radio station that cranks out 24 hours of non-stop Christmas gansta rap. You now understand why you need to complete step three before progressing on to step four.

One drives through the City Of Christmas at a low speed. Speeders and vandals have to contend with the City Of Christmas Police Department. The offices of the City Of Christmas Police Department are a camper next to the bandstand. They wear Kevlar parkas and have their own candy cane swat team. It’s just like an episode of “Hill Street Blues” except all the characters here dress in green and red. When you leave the City Of Christmas, blue neon deer jump over your vehicle. Once again, you really should finish step three before step four. Trust me.
Step five requires you to look for your hometown’s toughest tavern, bar, or honky tonk. This part is tricky, as years may have passed since you’ve actually visited a local watering hole and, as The Byrds song goes “I was so much older then, I’m younger than that now.” What?
Luckily, I just moved from my beloved hometown, so I knew that former violent nightspots like “Dirty Harry’s,” “The Glass Rail,” and “Tweaker’s Shank*” were now closed. Hell, the real violent spots, like the infamous “four corners” bars** (a stabbing every weekend!) were closed even when I was in high school, so there really hasn‘t been a truly scary bar in Keokuk in almost twenty years. I knew that some shady undertakings were taking place in a place called “T.J.’s House Of Music.***” I’m not sure who T.J. is, but I’m pretty sure that the only music there is the sound of people grinding their teeth after doing a line of crystal in the bathroom. It’s now Christmas, so a lot of bars are closed. T.J.’s doesn’t have any external signage, but a glimpse through the tinted windows showed a faint light over the bar. The door was locked and, despite our promise to pay in cash, the bartender refused to let us in, even though two men were still seated at the bar enjoying their Miller High Life and Meth. Bob Weir and I moved on to the ever-reliable Tee Pee Lounge.
There is no draft beer at the Tee Pee Lounge. Pleasure comes your way in twelve ounce cans and there’s nothing fancier than well drinks if’n your in the mood for a cocktail. Surprisingly, everyone was under the age of 30 (’cept for me and Bob Weir) at the Tee Pee Lounge, and even the bartender was pretty hot. I say this with amazement because a friend’s mother used to bartend there and she was at least 65 at the time. The fact that the Tee Pee found 1.) someone under the age of 30 to dish out cans of beer and 2.) that she was fairly attractive means the Tee Pee has made incredible improvements since they first opened in 1943. A drunk dude present that night told Bob Weir all about it. We had bet a round that the bartender wouldn’t know shit about the Tee Pee’s history. She didn’t. I won.
The local Coast Guard was present in the form of a drunk twenty-something guy that sat next to me and told me all about his work. He was very proud of what he did, oftentimes using a military vernacular to try and impress me. What did not impress me was his confession that he had to go to work in four short hours. Thank God the river is frozen over this time of year; this Marine wanna-be really needed to be put to bed and was in no shape ready to deal with The Wreck Of The Edmund Fitzgerald.
The jukebox played the obligatory Lynyrd Skynyrd, AC/DC, and today’s best country. “Papa Was A Rollin’ Stone” played which brought the dozen patrons into a reflective mood. Daddy don’t like to be tied down in Keokuk; hell, even the condom machine at the Tee Pee states “For refund insert baby.” I thought it was kind of clever myself.
Then Gloria Gaynor came on the jukebox and the bartender started to dance. Below is a picture of her dancing, but it’s too dark to see anything. She was hot. Trust me.

Like I said, I only made it to step five because me and Bob Weir totally shut down the Tee Pee Lounge. And even though it wasn’t the most surly bar in Keokuk, it probably was the most fun. And isn’t that what we’re really seeking during the holidays anyway? I got home at 3:30am and crashed the folk's refrigerator for some pickled herring before going to bed to let Santa do his business. Santa. Jesus. They're the same thing, according to Master Shake.

*Not a real bar

**The Four Corners were essentially four bars, each on facing the other on the corner in a neighborhood in West K. Only two of the four remained standing when I was in high school. Now, only one building remains and it's closed for business.

***Supposedly, Styx played there. I don't believe it.

Monday, December 27, 2004

Jesus Died For Somebody's Sins

Jesus is the reason for the season. So forgive me if my worship doesn’t include spending a certain amount of bones on living in a manger. Let me explain. I arrive home on Saturday night to find the driveway filled with vehicles. Inside, my roommate (the owner of this lovely suburban cookie cutter) has essentially asked his older brother to move in with us. Did I mention his brother is married? Did I mention the two have an infant daughter? Did I mention they also have a two year old son? Did I mention they have a five year old daughter? Did I mention that this family of five is now living in our three bedroom house with the two of us? I guess I don’t need to mention that I’m now going insane.
The roommate/landlord did run into some trouble with the law a few months ago that will probably result in him losing his license. His job requires him to travel quite a bit and he was in line for a promotion with his company. The fear was that if his employer found out if he had lost his license that they wouldn’t give him the promotion and, worse yet, may fire him for his actions. Of course, that wasn’t going to happen but it was going to pose a problem with the increased amount of traveling his new position required. He asked me to become his “driver” but that really wasn’t part of my own career goals. He then asked his older sister to undertake the position. She was going through a divorce, or considering one, but eventually she declined as well. Next family member. His older brother was not happy with his own position in Dallas, TX and was considering moving to Iowa to raise his family. Nice plan, or was it. Typically, people have a resemblance of a plan before moving across country and especially if they have four other mouths singing “99 Bottles Of Beer On The Wall” all the way to the Hawkeye state. Now I understand that Latino culture places a high priority on family and the bond between them is incredibly strong. But isn’t the notion of, oh I dunno, logistics also considered when family’s stick together during times of strife. Jesus Fucking Christ. I never want to be married to someone who acquiesces to an idea of moving across country into a younger brother’s house when said house isn’t big enough to hold more than four people. Again, if you’re keeping score, the number of living humans in this home is now up to seven. Jesus wept.

So he runs the idea by me without much time, effort, or thought beforehand. I mean, it’s just another example of selfishness and how he can manage to overcome a life lesson without negatively impacting a career advancement that will provide him with more cash to blow on fucking toys he’ll never use. As if he hasn’t learned already that all the cash in the world won’t by him happiness and resolve some deep rooted issues caused by, newsfuckingflash, his family. Jesus Christ on the cross.
So the brother is going to become his driver. His wife will stay home (here) and raise the kids until….Well that’s about all I know. I seriously thought this would be a retarded idea that would soon pass, but the situation has proven to be the reality of my surroundings. Jeezee Peezee.
The family is relatively nice and extremely quiet. They refer to me as “the guy who speaks English.” The wife cooks and cleans and I am included in the nightly dinner menu, which is strange as I kind of enjoy doing my own cooking. Added to this, it is an extreme Mexican diet, which isn’t bad with the exception of some low nutritional value ingredients. This works well with the roomies’ revelation that he has diabetes and high blood pressure. And if you’ve ever tasted authentic Mexican food, you’ll understand that it’s a culture that considers beef tripe as a meat. I’m fairly certain that his doctor did not recommend he increase his lard and grease intake during his last bloodwork session. Jeese Louise.
So I have no idea what the plan is, other than there is no plan and that the two year old likes to start screaming for his Daddy at early hours. I know this has to be taking a toll on the roommate, so I’m anticipating that the situation will change around the same time I’ll be actively looking for a new place to live. Jesus H. Christ.
As for now, I’ve got to get the fuck away for the holidays, so I’ve pushed up my schedule and now want to be on the road as early as tomorrow night. I don’t give a shit that it’s bitterly cold outside, the Honda will be loaded up with gifts and Christmas fucking joy after work as I run away from this diverse “Eight Is Enough” episode staring me as Adam Rich. The eighth character, by the way, is the baby Jesus.

Saturday, December 25, 2004

A Sourmash Christmas Carol

Get yr. Snow license, it’s wintertime. It sucks being a largehearted boy in Iowa with long-distance relationship tendencies. You’re always driving towards fulfillment and then, eventually, driving back to reality. In my case, reality meant missing work entirely and not giving a rat’s ass about it or the repercussions. The funny thing was, I didn’t get a chance to demonstrate my ambivalence towards it; the manager who hates me was totally apologetic about it. In some manner it was her fault but ultimately the responsibility falls on me. Fuck responsibility up it’s tight ass.
So these wintertime travels remind me that I’m driving without insurance. Like I said: “Fuck responsibility.” But the cold air brings me back to other winter nights in a previous life. And while I don’t want to do a “u-ie” and return to that previous life, I do think it’s time for me to finally throw the whole thing in park. Is it the clarity of being sober that’s brought me to this understanding? Probably not, as I feel it has always been in me and drugs have a tendency to do wonders like mask pain and stifle initiative. And to this day, I’d rather enjoy the company of a spliff than a shot of Maker’s Mark. But a shot every now and then certainly does hit the spot.
Now on to one last memory of Christmas past…

In high school, I was moderately involved in theatre. By “moderately” I mean that if it happened to be a production that I was interested in, I would audition. On occasion, I would get a part. There were a few productions that I had no interest in. For some reason, “South Pacific” comes to mind. In some odd rationale, I felt the play was “racist” and signed up for the lighting crew instead of an acting or chorus part.
I can’t remember why I thought “South Pacific” was racist, but I do remember that it has nothing to do with the story that I set out to tell.
Mr. Anderson, our cigarette smoking drama teacher at the high school, approached me and a friend during the fall of my Freshman year. He stated that the community theatre group needed some volunteers for their yearly production of “A Christmas Carol.” Specifically, they needed some help with sound and lighting. Now the other dude had done a killer job running lights for the summer musical production of “Pippin” so I knew he’d be a shoe-in for the lighting chores of the Dickens production. That left me with a chance at doing sound.
As it turns out, they had picked another volunteer to run sound, so that left me with the boring duty of running sound effects for the production. Essentially, all I had to do was make sure there were a bunch of chain sounds for the Ghost of Christmas Past and some wind noises for the Ghost of Christmas Future. Pretty mundane stuff, but as any drama fag will tell you, there are more chances to get laid in school plays than any other extracurricular activity. Having dabbled in both sports and drama, I can tell you there is ten times more sexual activity resulting from the drama camp than any sport can provide. Some of the spoils can also fall on to members of the lighting and sound crew, and the community theatre presented an opportunity to have a go at some of the Catholic school girls. It goes without saying, I could live through the boredom of sound effects if there was a chance at getting a little after the cast party on closing night.
The sound guy they picked up was probably in his late twenties and far to old to be ogling the seventeen year olds in the production. Of course, that didn’t stop him just like the cold winter air didn’t stop him from retreating to his vehicle during intermission to snort cocaine. I’ll never forget him talking into the headsets during the performance how there was a “100% chance of a snowstorm” every night.
So while the sound guy was keeping himself entertained, there was little for me and the lighting dude to really do. I was also dismayed how everyone, particularly the director, always seemed to be too uptight to be really feeling the Christmas spirit. All of this prompted me to bring a fifth of Jack Daniels to the last night of the performance.
I devised a practical joke that would take place on stage in front of a live audience. At the end of the play, where Tiny Tim utters the whole “God bless us everyone” line, the Cratchit family toasts a glass and has a quick drink of wine. Up until that point, the “wine” was nothing more than grape juice or some other Shirley Temple elixir. On the final night, I poured Jack Daniels into the glasses and saved the rest for the cast party after the show.
The lighting dude, cocaine soundman, and myself were all aware of what was about to take place. When the line approached, the three of us turned up the headphones to the stage microphone to hear the reaction. Tiny Tim, a kid who couldn’t have been more than 9 years old said his immortal line and took a big gulp of his grape juice. Now, it’s a scientific fact that most 9 year old boys aren’t used to their first taste of Tennessee whiskey and most will probably immediately become violently ill afterwards. That is exactly what Tiny Tim did on this night. Although no vomit came up, the whiskey did. It came back out of his mouth and through his nose, causing the crippled boy to cough uncontrollably for the remaining five minutes of the play. All three of us backstage rolled with laughter as we heard Tiny Tim trying to expel the last remnants of the smuggled whiskey. All other cast members didn’t seem to notice or care about the new wine. Bob Cratchit actually seemed to enjoy his drink, finishing the nip entirely while on stage. .

During the curtain call, Tiny Tim looked white as a ghost before quickly exiting the stage to look for a drinking fountain.
The director was not too pleased with my practical joke and made it a point to tell me and the lighting guy that we would not be invited back to volunteer for the Great River Players. My heart broke and then my mind noticed the oxymoron of the words “volunteer“ and “invited.” The mind quickly refocused as it remembered the words “cast party” and the reason for attending: “Catholic girls.”
Unfortunately, the lighting dude decided to keep up with Tiny Tim in the whiskey department and had almost the same results. By midnight, he was too loaded to walk and he was late for his graveyard shift at the radio station. I had to leave the Catholic girls in the capable hands of other cast members and drive the lighting dude to work, which led me to a brief career in radio. But that’s another Christmas story for another time.

Thursday, December 16, 2004

The Fall-The Real New Fall L.P.

Most people probably hate to be known as an asshole. Pablo Picasso was never called one, but I'd bet that The Fall's Mark E. Smith has heard it a few times during the band's 27 year existence. After all, when Mark started out, he originally auditioned for some heavy metal bands only for them to discover that Mark was 1.) tone deaf, and 2.) an asshole. So what's an asshole to do but form his own band and piss off 49 former band members (including 1 ex-wife) to the point where "The Fall" is merely "Mark E. Smith's band this time." Mark, perhaps one of music's greatest songwriters, of course worded it best with a song once that admitted "My friends don't amount to one hand."
Originally called "Country On The Clink," the album was planned for release in April 2003. Somehow, a promotional copy was leaked on the internet, even though the promotional material was clearly labeled: "For promotional use only - anyone abusing this will have Mark E Smith to contend with and may God have mercy on your soul!!!". Being an asshole, MES scrapped the album and remixed the entire project because he said so. To be an even bigger asshole, MES provided English fans with a slightly different version of the album last year before releasing it in America in 2004.
There have been some great Fall albums. There have been some really bad Fall albums. And if you believe that bands typically get a little soft after their first quarter century, you'd probably have a number of examples to back up your hypothesis. But you wouldn't have Mark E. Smith fronting any one of them. He's an asshole like that.
"The Real New Fall LP" is a great Fall album. After a few years of surprising silence, Mark comes across positively renewed and the "new" Fall line-up sounds exactly like they did twenty seven years ago: unlike anything else. The music, the lyrics, it's all remarkable. Proof that even at 46 (he looks much older) Mark has got more left in him than England's newest hitmaker. What keeps him both relevant and off the radio is his satirical rants and uncommon delivery. As John Peel said "They are always different. They are always the same."
Six years ago, it did look like the end. Mark had managed to piss off his (then) band enough to the point where a drunken on-stage fistfight broke out between him and...the rest of the band. The performance continued with Mark's shirt stained with his own blood. After the performance, Mark fired everyone except one individual and continued on the road. Mark even went a step further, perhaps salt on the wound, with the album's song "Portugal" which sounds like the reading an angry letter directed to him, essentially chastising Mr. Smith for his abusive treatment of band members and the crew ("You were abusive, way beyond what anybody should have to reasonably deal with. Words fail me how offensive a human being you are. Treat people as you want to be treated!").

"I hate the countryside so much/ I hate the country folk so much" he barks on "Contraflow," but Smith has always been more of an urban poet rather than some Hibbings, Minnesota troubadour. In 1965, Dylan let out a collective sneer asking a generation "How does it feel?, while MES has made a living with a sneer that seldom asks, yet instead demands that you "Open the goddamn box!" on "Boxoctosis," perhaps the album's most memorable track. And I've yet to hear Dylan rhyme "Dolly Parton" with "Lord Byron."
The coupling comes from the standout track "Mountain," which ranks as one of the greatest Fall songs ever recorded. Nobody in music could come up with a lyric like "So I went fishing, and a note from a fish said: 'Dear Dope: If you want to catch us, you need a rod and a line. Signed, The Fish.'" and make it work. Read the line aloud. Now sing it. Now explain how a guy with, at the most, two monotonic notes in his voice has managed to make a career out of it. Not that MES has gotten rich from his original vision of forming a band with "raw music with really weird vocals over it," but if I could, I'd pay him a King's sum to never change from being different.

Monday, December 6, 2004

Too Fast For Larry King Live

The question that appears to be on everyone's mind is "I wonder how the new job is going with Todd?" Well, in a nutshell, the job allows me to drive to a place to do absolutely nothing and get paid for it. I wanted something with low stress, but this is utterly retarded. And it seems that those involved or somewhat responsible for this new career of nothingness, are nothing but apologetic. They then offer me a Wiggles guitar for Christmas.
Which reminds me of past jobs that paid shit but provided me with ample amounts of entertainment. Gone are the days in which I can suggest to a co-worker to urinate in the boss' office and actually witness him doing it. People then ask "Didn't that stink up the place?" but then these people don't know anything about the river cities music leader. This was a place that allowed a cat to drag in the half-eaten carcass of a bunny rabbit, smearing the blood and entrails of the rodent throughout the break area. There were so many health violations present that a little human pee might have actually cleaned the place up somewhat.
Which brings me to Mick Mars and the recent news of a full-fledged Motley Crue reunion. To me, the only thing more exciting than a Motley Crue reunion are actually photos of Mick Mars just weeks after hip replacement surgery. Like I give a shit about a last cash-in attempt by a slightly higher than mediocre Sunset Strip band. They did one halfway decent album overproduced/remixed by the former producer of The Cars ("Too Fast For Love") and one relatively enjoyable album that seemed quite awesome after five beers and several bong hits ("Shout At The Devil"). Then the girls started buying their albums. Then Motley Crue became irrelevant in my world.
Which reminds me that I wanted to mention how absolutely dead Mick Mars looks now. The fucker was old before, but now he looks older than even my Dad and probably walks slower than my Grandfather. It appears that the reason why Motley Crue broke up to begin with was because Mick died. Since there have been remarkable achievements in the world of science, doctors have suddenly been able to resurrect Mick Mars from the dead and the only way to pay for these doctors is to force The Crue to reunite and tour once more.

Which reminds me that Motley Crue was on Larry King tonight. Let me repeat: Motley Crue was on Larry King tonight. Is there not enough news in the world that Larry Fucking King has to report on yet another Motley Crue reunion?! And in case your wondering, Mick Mars looked like he was going to pass out in pain throughout the entire interview, which mainly consisted of Larry getting Mick Mars mixed up with Nikki Sixx.
Which reminds me that today's kids have no fucking idea who Motley Crue is. Instead, they know them as "The band with that big dick drummer."
Which reminds me that I've spent way too much time dwelling on Motley Crue for one night.