BLOG THIS! Highly Suspect Wisdom for the Widely Disinterested Masses
I'm fairly sure I know who stole this record. It was just posted in a vinyl forum I'm in. Look closely at what's stamped beneath the title. Freshman year there was a dude in my dorm who lugged his entire stereo, speakers, and many milk crates of records all the way to campus, while most of us just brought a duffle bag of clothes, a couple pretentious books (Kafka, Camus, maybe a rando Fyodor) and a toothbrush. I used to go to Stereo Guy's room, partake of a little Greater Ohio Area Ditchweed, and spin records. Most of his stuff was meat-n-taters classic rock, but he was also into fusion. Which is to say we listened to a ton of Mahavishnu Orchestra. At any rate, one day I swung by for another round of John McLaughlin solos and the dude had a stack of new records. All jazz. Mostly be-bop. I had a radio show at WYSO then (2-4am, everyone's favorite time slot). All of Stereo Guy's new records had WYSO written on the covers in black marker. You could get away with pretty much anything at that school. In fact, most of our parent's hard-earned and grudgingly forked over tuition went not toward academics, but the maintenance of an illusory, consequence-free bubble. However, taking records from the radio station was not covered. "You're gonna get nailed for that," I said. "Nah," he laughed, tamping down the business-end of the cigarette he'd just rolled with the stem of the silver mushroom he always wore on a chain around his neck. A few weeks later, he got nailed. And was immediately banned from the station. Not too long after, there was talk around the music department that someone was pilfering albums from the Listening Room. Could have been a coincidence. Stereo Guy dropped out before the end of the year, and I never saw or heard from him again. This, of course, is pure conjecture on my part, but I would bet my body weight in gold coins captured during the Second Punic War that the same dude waltzed off campus for the last time with this 1968 stereo copy of John Coltrane's "Giant Steps" under his arm. How fascinating that someone in the heartland just bought it, three decades later, in their local record store.
Today is Charley's birthday. She is four years old. Later we are having a cake made of veal and also something that sort of looks like veal, before tearing apart a celebratory pile of empty boxes with our teeth. After a dinner of additional veal with some carroty-looking chunks, we will have a few post-prandial waters in lappable steel bowls and tell stories about the old days on the Kansas City Marrow & Mailman circuit. Simultaneously the best and most disquieting thing about Charley is the human-ness of her eyes, a widely remarked upon quality inherent in this particular breed. Her stare speaks volumes. It is tempting to read a complexity there, a higher philosophical understanding of the world and its people, their purposes and flaws. Despite the fact that she regularly displays an unusual intelligence, I have come to believe, like a 1932 ticker tape machine, what she actually has is an endless furl of paper spinning through her head that contains four repeated phrases:
1. "Is that by any chance food, food-adjacent, food related, food-remnant, briefly food-contacted, something inedible I will eat and throw up later anyway, or food?"
2. "Physics and canine physiognomy aside, is there a way that I can get even one increment closer than the already sweaty closeness I am currently enjoying curled like a donut on your lap?
3. Can you open the door for the seventeenth time this hour so I can madly and barkingly chase that non-existent thing again, a quixotic backyard trot which always ends with a resigned piss upon the newly planted?
4. If I could dig a bone-hole large enough to bury this whole goddamned clown show of a world in, covering the existential fallacy of meaning let alone the verifiable meaninglessness with paw after paw of moist dirt, and then tamp it all down with a single dismissive sniff, I'd be on that toot-suite. Oh, you better believe it."
I realize there's little point in imparting this thought, and that it breaks zero emotional or intellectual ground, but, as everyone's favorite pixel obdurate, I'm plowing ahead anyway. I love going into my office early Sunday mornings. I get up while the girls, and seemingly most of the world, happily slumbers. On the way in I've been passing the same ramshackle Sherman Williams store, long boarded up, for years. Recently some enterprising type bought the place and instead of a tear-down turned it into a retro coffee spot. No big deal - new sign, fresh paint, bright awning. It's basically the Airstream Camper version of your local spot. There are tables outside and every time I come flying around that corner (it's at the end of a long straightaway with no parking or sidewalks, the main reason, aside from toxic Sherman Williams primer fumes, that it's been empty for so long) I see people enjoying an early latte. Here's the problem (you already know the problem): There are ten fresh, white tables. Nine are occupied. Eight by young couples. The couples are not cracking wise about last night's The Good Wife, or holding forth on phallic imagery in Vonnegut, or relaying work details that the other (...and then, the new guy? He just marches into the meeting and...") gamely pretends to care about. Or even mid-argument, one more accusation and half a bear claw away from breaking the lease. Nope. They're both staring at their phones. Together. Mutually. Proximally. Necks bent. Thumbs primed. Wheel-spinning tandem bikes of absorption. Every time. Coffee wafts between and pigeons peck around, but as medium was once message, environment is now afterthought. Sure, maybe they're just bored or knocking out emails or something important really does have to be handled right then. I get it. No judgment. Technology is inexorable and those who rail against it are either Ted Kaczynski, insufferably retrograde, or insufferable Ted Kaczynski. But here's my (one, small) point: every time I come zooming around that corner it's a snapshot that reminds me, in a jarringly visceral way, of Edward Hopper's diner. The painterly isolation. A sallow, forlorn light. Two people, two phones, an emptiness that renders attempts to describe the existential existentially moot. Or hey, maybe it's just me. But there is, if nothing else, a fleeting nose swab of sadness. And then I downshift through the final string of yellow lights and careen sideways into my parking spot, forgetting all about it. But this thing, this feeling, exists. No cranking the tunes and pretending it away. For that one second the flash recoils, BANG, and an image is exposed, already submerged in the chemistry bath of my mind, ready for a mixture of red light and silver halide to bring it forth once again, every time.
I’m sorry, but I’m just a flat-out sucker for late 70s private label homemade soulful garage funk, and I’m not going to apologize for it. OK, fine, I will apologize if asked nicely, but I’m still going to boogie to the groove. And do it at such neighbor-enmity volumes that the dog will be forced to flee beneath the red couch once again, the low-slung mid-century one that it has to flatten its spine in a skeletally improbable fashion to fit beneath, but which also must possess frequency-dampening properties, since there are easier and closer retreats. Just how hot is Charles Pryor & Kream Band's 1979 Detroit funk opus "Skin Hot"? Well, my friends, it is scorching. Now hold on, just hold on a minute here, you might say, what is its degree of relative hotness again? Skin Effing Hot. Wait a minute, wait a minute, you could reasonably interject, are you telling me it’s as overheated as any random exposed thigh or neck or décolletage rolling down a city sidewalk on a really very unpleasantly piping summer afternoon? Yes. It’s that hot. But how can I be certain, you’ll no doubt want know. It's like, exactly what court-admissible proof is on offer here? Well, just turn your gaze to the bottom of the cover itself, where, in verbiage legally binding in over forty countries, sub-regions, territories, and protectorates, it says, "This Album Is Hot. Skin Hot." Are we done here? Of course, the record owes a lot to Funkadelic, and in many ways its karmic wah is entirely beholden to the many nasty basslines (minus Bootsy‘s ever-present warble) beneath the otherwise fairly pedestrian post-disco pre-Sugar Hill Gang tropes, but it more than holds its own. Febrile. Flushed. Pyretic. Oh, yes.
Roll down the window. Hands on the wheel. That’s right, ten o’clock and two o’clock. Engine off, car in gear. Not reverse! Jesus, you almost ran over my foot. Had anything to drink ? Did I ask what time it was? So you’re trying to tell me you’ve never had a four martini breakfast? On the way to work? Doesn't look to me like you’ve got a job. I’ll tell you how I know, you’re driving a yellow Tercel. A car, let's be honest here, suggests you might want to check the classifieds, upgrade to a dishwashing gig. Did I ask if it was funny? Hey, what’s that under the seat. No, I can’t see for myself. A Kleenex? Sorry, hotshot, but that looks like a concealed….oh, okay, so it’s a Kleenex. Fine. No, I don’t want to hold it. Listen, you keep this up, we’re working our way toward a major 10-26. What do you mean, what’s a 10-26? Don’t you watch TV? It’s a very serious infraction. No, I did not just make that number up. Who has time to stand on the side of the road making up numbers? So who’s that in the back seat? Doesn’t look like your daughter. She in a gang? Did I ask how old she was? No way that kid is six. I mean, yeah, I guess she is in a car seat. And I guess she is eating Chex Mix out of a Ziplock snack-size baggie. Wait, did that little lady just give me the finger? I could swear your kid just gave me the finger. Either that, or it was some kind of east coast/west coast gang sign. What do you mean you’re going to be late? Daycare’s not going anywhere. Shit, it’s hot out, you know it? And look at all these cars just streaming by, people texting, picking their noses. No one pays any attention any more. It’s all phone, app, phone, text, phone. I mean, half the accidents I get dispatched to are some chick too busy with the selfies to realize she’s about to drive up the back bumper of a meat truck. My old man always told me I should go to film school, but did I listen? Of course, he was a mean bastard who didn’t know his elbow from a can of creamed corn, so why would I listen to him? But still. I could be on set right now, bossing around Scarlett Johansen, yelling “that’s a wrap” every eight seconds, which would be pretty cool. I have a script. I mean, I haven’t written it yet, but I have this killer idea for a script. See, there’s this guy…no, it’s not about a cop. I mean yeah, okay, it is about a cop, but that’s total profiling. For all you know, my script could be one of those Meg Ryan love things where she meets a cop on top of the Empire State Building at the end. Which I guess is still about a cop, but whatever. I suppose you have a better idea? You do? Hey, that’s actually not half bad. No, I like the narrative build, although I think the third act probably needs some work, but I see it as being very high concept. Thing is, it would need just the right person to direct. No, I’m not talking about me. I mean, okay I am. What do you mean why do I keep talking about me? Listen, do you have any idea why I pulled you over today?”
Well, friends, the apocalypse is upon us. Does this have anything to do with Matt Gaetz's forehead, you might ask? Another methane-releasing ice shelf collapse? A gleeful nationwide return to Jim Crow-era voter restriction laws? Nah. As it turns out, it's the fact that a Japanese CD of Pink Floyd's "Wish You Were Here" just sold on Discogs (eBay for music) for $2,493. How much better does that same group of songs that powered every Twofer Tuesday on your local classic rock station for all of universal teendom sound than, say, a Columbia House Record Club CD you got along with 16 others for .1 cent in 1987? Not much. Still, hardly the end of the world. After all, the fake democracy we pretend to live in that is in fact a kleptocratic class system based almost entirely on a combination of random melanin and unearned cash, was brought about expressly to facilitate just this sort of unabashed waste of lucre. But the Wish You Were (soon to be impoverished) Here sale only saddled up the four horses of being Welcomed To The Machine. No, what sent them galloping off into our collective Chester Bennigan of Doom is that a demo CASSETTE by the band Xero likewise just sold for $2,662. Who is Xero, you may be wondering? Well, they were the scruffy, as yet un-genre'd quartet that would go on to become Nu Metal heroes Linkin Park. I'm fairly sure I would pay you $5,324 not to have to listen to Nu Metal in any context, on any format, and am further certain I would again double that amount to never, ever hear another Linkin Park song again for the rest of my life. Ah, well. As every society and culture throughout history has learned, from the gardens of Babylonia to the Court of Versailles, when wealth disparity is finally pushed past the neon mark of the genuinely absurd, machetes, mobs, barricades, and guillotines are soon to follow. I'm too old to run in the streets with anarchists, arsonists and bulls at this point, so I will be on the porch safely in the Pamplona of my mind, watching with a mug of tea and probably Billie Holiday static-ing out of the 1941 transistor radio in my lap, taking in the demise of empire like the parade it will surely be.
Oh, just that day at that pizza place when someone ordered two slices of Instant Karma with extra sausage, and then proceeded to dismantle my endorsement of a certain Liverpudlian crooner, pointing out the execrable "Walls And Bridges" album, and in particular the proto-disco Elton John duet "Whatever Gets You Through The Night", since even cocaine could not get you through that song. Plus his barely veiled misogyny, dimwitted hippie Love-In philosophy, and almost single-handed ruination of the fantastic Harry Nilsson, who only managed to produce one and one-half good records primarily due to his prolonged exposure to the breadth and width of Mr. Ono Conduit's vices. I said, "Sure, but the world would be a vastly worse place without "Don't Let Me Down," not to mention his contribution to the Mean Mr. Mustard/Polythene Pam/She Came In Through The Bathroom Window medley." A certain purple-jacketed girl sprinkled oregano on her last bite of crust and shook her head with derision. "For one thing, that band is nothing without Billy Preston, let alone Bernard Purdie. They played all the best parts on those songs." Some tough-looking bikers at the next booth had started to listen in, and appeared none too happy with the tenor of the conversation. "What about Sgt. Pepper's?" I said. "Please," she said. "Have you ever heard those demos? It's all George Martin studio wizardry. The boys were too busy dropping acid with the Maharaja to know an F-sharp from a G-flat." I bought the bikers a round of Ballard Bitter and they seemed to calm down a bit. "Dad," she said, "Nostalgia isn't music, okay? It's a dangerous intellectual trap. You have to find a way to rise above your most comforting inclinations. You have to branch out and really HEAR what's happening now, in 2021. Otherwise you're just a repository of tropes and gimmicks forever in search of a context."
I nodded, wiped the marinara off her face, got her back in the minivan and gave her a juice box, and then we drove slowly and carefully in the right lane at exactly the speed limit all the way home.
My father has undertaken a project to go through all his old photo albums one at a time and some gems have definitely cropped up. This is a picture of an actual picture. My mother is so beautiful and happy. Hard to remember exactly what I was so angry about. Moments after this we probably had a really nice dinner and watched Monty Python on VHS. The fact that I was clearly attempting to look like a more intellectually anguished version of the bass player for Jason and the Scorchers excuses nothing.
A while back I was ruining the six-foot strip of grass in front of our house with my rotary push mower, when a young guy selling magazine subscriptions came down the sidewalk. There's nothing worse than being caught out in the open with a rotary mower, especially by a dude with a clipboard. But he was sharp and funny, his pitch mainly about tuition fees and some relatively plausible charity, so we joked around while I wrote him a $26 check for a subscription to Mother Jones I didn't want. Of course, the magazine never came. Six months later another guy knocks on my door, this one older and not nearly as charming. I told him I wasn't falling for that routine again, but instead of arguing he looked like he was about to cry, so I gave him ten bucks for the effort. Last night yet another guy came to my door, this time with a big diamond earring in each lobe, and even though I'd vowed I would never get subscription-scammed again, as soon as he told me his name was "Fabrice", while standing there wearing a jaunty purple beret in the pouring rain, I knew I was doomed. Turns out a subscription to the New Yorker that I will never receive goes for $34. Fabrice also got a juice box and a string cheese my daughter left by her backpack. He was casually checking them out. "You thirsty?" I said. "It's possible," he said. "Later, Fabrice," I said. "Later, baby," he said, creasing my check neatly down the middle and sliding it with the cheese into his back pocket.
Today In Massively Fat Wax: orig 1970 press Sun Ra and His Intergalactic Infinity Arkestra "Night Of The Purple Moon" on El Saturn Records. Where to even start? Here we have a flickering calliope of a chased rabbit, the reception of badly-needed insulin in a Philly tenement, all of airless space compressed into a single organ chord, a hungover morning in Tunisia, an artifact from a history that didn't exist, a blast of comet dust held in a frozen palm, the way and the waylessness. Also, it's really good. Do I love this record? I love this record. It's more than music.