Sunday, October 31, 2010

Rally to Restore Sanity

I spent Friday flying during a terror alert. For some reason or other, it was the easiest and most pleasant pair of flights I've had in years. Limo to the airport (I splashed out), two hours waiting for a flight while I watched OMG TERROR WE'RE DOOMED ARREST ALL THE BROWN PEOPLE reports on the airport monitors, then whisked on to planes where I was able to consume $56 of vodka due to the ease with which credit card transactions now go down on flights. No food - food seems to be verboten on flights these days. I asked for some at some point and was offered a cookie or potato chips for some large number of dollars. These aren't actually food in my book, so I just drank the equivalent in vodka instead.

I was on my way to the Million Moderate March in Washington. I got into Dulles at midnight thirty (as advertised) and snored until about 9 am. We got up and headed slowly for the Springfield Metro station and realized, all of a sudden, that this thing was big and we were in for a special day.

The crowds at the Metro were out of the door. It literally took 40 minutes to buy a ticket. And this is way out in Springfield. Getting out of the Metro again at L'Enfant was like trying to evacuate a facility. It took more than thirty minutes to get from the platform to the bottom of the (non functional as usual) escalators and start making phone calls. Most of which got dropped due the sheer number of cellular callers in the area. Despite all this, we did manage to meet up with our third person, and walked into The National Mall.

Which was like walking into a free festival. There were hundreds of thousands of people there. Professional estimates seem to center around 215,000. That's the size of one to two days of the really big festivals in the West. Think New Year's Eve in Times Square or Trafalgar Square. Packed with no room to move. We couldn't actually see the stage, or even the Jumbotrons, from where we were further down The Mall. Apparently they'd set up for 60K rather than 215K, so we were well out the viewing area. But it didn't really matter that we couldn't see the official stuff. The rally goers were such fun, with their costumes and clever signs, that the thrill of the day was being with other like-minded people, not watching Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert.

Ozzy and Yusuf Islam and the O'Jays dueled (trieled?) Peace Train and Crazy Train and Love Train. Colbert argued to Keep Fear Alive. Jon Stewart argued (mildly and sensibly) for moderation. Good times (and funnel cakes with sugar and whipped cream) were had by all.

On a serious note: I'm all for moderation, in the sense of not screaming at opponents, or lying to support my cause, or spinning wildly to make my side look good. In that I supported the march and Jon Stewart and enjoyed the day. But I want to point out that I'm not for 'moderation' in the sense of compromise. Republicans have succeeded in bringing the Overton Window far enough over that to be a 'moderate' is to be a patsy.

Happy well-fed squirrel on the National Mall

Thursday, October 28, 2010

I Voted

I voted.
Of course, when I boasted about it, everybody I saw said they'd voted too. The outcome of the election must be like Schroedinger's Cat - the fate only to be determined when we open the box.

I voted today because my absentee ballot hadn't arrived and I won't be home on Tuesday. The helpful lady at the County registrar's office said I should just come up and fill in a ballot. I did. I turned up, said, "Hi, I'm me," filled in my name and address on a form and got given my ballot, which I filled in, put in an envelope and signed the outside.

Nobody asked me to prove I'm me. No driver's license, no nothing. I get that any intimidation at the polls is a bad thing know, when you get on an airplane to the next city you almost have to hand in all four of your grandparents' birth certificates and a DNA sample, but when I voted who I wanted in government today I didn't even have to flash my ID.

Now, good question - why won't I be home on Tuesday to vote? Well, because I'm going on Jon Stewart's Million Moderate March, that's why. Yes, I'm going to Washington DC to march on the government. In the name of not making waves.

I marched on Grosvenor Square in London a few times in the past, I have to say, and not in the interests of the status quo (although I always enjoyed Paper Plane). Someone asked me what I'd do on Saturday and I thought about it and said, "Well, I probably won't be throwing ball bearings under the police horses' hooves."

And I won't. I'll be going to the Smithsonian and seeing a couple of art galleries, and we have a Halloween night lined up. I'm not sure whether to be ashamed or proud of the changes I've made since I was a young adult. For what it's worth, I was listening to Zane Lowe's program on BBC Radio 1 about the Kings of Leon today, and one point emphatically made was that the father of the Followills was a Pentecostal Fire and Brimstone preacher...who used to be an acid-dropping hippy.

It's hard to get my head around a hippy who then became a traditionalist whose sons became rock and rollers (which I'll tentatively believe is hippy). I may have mislaid the hippy ideals that informed my childhood, but at least I'm not a revivalist preacher. (And Kings of Leon sounded quite nice on the program.)

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

20th Century Boy

Time for a critical reappraisal...oh, all right. I mean it's just time to listen to it again. T. Rex's 20th Century Boy, a great piece composed entirely of pop hooks and rock riffs like a stone porcupine. I heard it again recently when the PowerPop blog said, "Marc Bolan's critical reassessment pretty much began when this obscure T-Rex b-side started showing up on the tube. And with good reason - - it's an absolutely killer rock'n'roll track."

Which is all, y'know, true, except it's not an obscure b-side. It's an a-side that went to number 3 in the UK charts.

Anyway, here it is, featuring Brad Pitt and some equally gorgeous woman in a 1990 Levi's commercial. Shame Marky-babes wasn't around to profit from the attention.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Ari Up, RIP

Ari Up of the Slits is dead. I'm a bit late with that, so it's not news. She died on October 20th, 2010 at age 48, which is too young for anyone.

Let me tell you a bit about The Slits. First, I'll tell you a bit about me. Growing up, rock music seemed to be a progression (no prog pun intended). It started, as far as I could tell, with people playing washboards and tea-chest bass, and went on to Wipe Out and Louie Louie, and the Beatles went from I Wanna Hold Your Hand to Paul Buckmaster string arrangements. We went from You Really Got Me to Queen II, from three chords to carefully splicing tape of literally a thousand sounds into one track. Music went from Chris Montez' Let's Dance to Yes.

Yes. They were prog and had Mellotrons and suspended chords.

I actually bought Yes records. Listening to them - and listening to the other prog bands of the day back then, one thought predominated. It was, "How can anyone coming into music today surpass this? It's pretty fucking clever. No new band can ever have more Mellotrons or Moogs than this. No one can know more augmented or suspended chords. Where can we, and I mean this sincerely, where can we go after this?"

And no, the answer wasn't Ari Up, at least not at first. Just as I arrived at university in 1976, I started hearing about the Ramones, and shortly afterwards the Sex Pistols. These guys played three chord rock, very loud, very fast and would, one learned, be quite happy to wipe their asses on Rick Wakeman's glittery cape. I listened, and it was refreshing.

Instead of trying to beat the current dinosaurs at their own game, to be more clever, to be better musicians and have more gear, the Punk bands did what nature does, which is, when in doubt, go for neoteny. The fully-featured adult body of a metazoan is hard to improve or beat, so nature instead works on the embryonic form, where small tweaks lead to large changes in the adult. It's impossible to restructure and improve on Tales From The Topographic Oceans to come up with The Next Big Thing, but it's relatively easy to re-engineer Be-Bop-A-Lula or Johnny B. Goode - and come up with a great pop track that leads to riots among the youth and general happiness.

Which is what the Sex Pistols did. I saw them, and the Ramones, and the Clash and all the other Punk bands of the era as hacking off 20 years of twigs from Briar Rose's hedge, and leading us back to the main trunk, rock and roll. The light this pruning let in was dazzling. What I hadn't seen at first was the gender biases inherent in that assumption. To get back to Scotty Moore or Cliff Gallup from Steve Howe or Robert Fripp was an amazing leap that energized me no end.

But it was The Slits that showed me that even the females, even the birds, the chicks, could play rock music and mean it. In an era when Blondie had male instrumentalists, and the exemplary bassist was Jah Wobble (despite the example of Tina Weymouth), The Slits were the ones who put it out there that women could rock. And their take on it, the queasy, slippery dub where they excelled, which would never, ever need a Mellotron to progress.

And so I salute Ari Up. Thanks for the music and thanks for the wrench you gave the dopey, major-oriented music of 1979. I wouldn't be the person I am without you.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Half Price Drinks with Mick Farren

We drove up to what one SF-dweller of my acquaintance called the Seventh Circle of Hell yesterday - otherwise known as LA. The major reason for the excursion was the imminent emigration of my mate Mick Farren, who is heading back to Blighty. However, he promises he will keep up with his blog and his live performances from his new digs in Brighton.

Mick Farren

The Citadel, an Assyrian outlet on the I-5

We ambled up the I5 at such a leisurely rate (stopping at a CPK for a Thai Pizza or two, plus starters) that we only got to our first destination, the Museum of Jurassic Technology, a couple of hours before it closed for the day. I hadn't been for a few years, and it's expanded greatly, with some major new displays which I can only describe as 'of the kind that the MJT is famous for'. You really have to, like, go, to get the flavor of it. They now have a tea room, in which I had some very nice tea from a samovar, served by a young lady who appeared and disappeared mysteriously behind a curtain and in some respects resembled some of the exhibits. Outside the tea room we particularly admired the oil paintings of the heroic canines of the Soviet space program.

LA from the freeway

In the shop I bought a musical box operated by a punched roll, like a player piano, except that the rolls are blank and it's sold with a hand punch, so you can make your own music. I also got the first non-diabetes inducing set of rubber stamps I've seen in quite some time, the Pictorial Webster's set, with snails and shells and seahorses and swallows and stags and some things that don't only begin with S.

Historic Route 66 - in LA, it's festooned with poles like an R Crumb cartoon

On to the bar, then, to see Mick. He was already well-lubricated and quite a supporting cast had gathered, so we talked extensively to him and to a few new people. As a parting gift, he'd brought along a table-full of his own books which we could pick up and he'd sign, so now I have a collection of them. I should have thought to bring along my copy of Give The Anarchist a Cigarette, but it didn't occur to me he'd be signing. We all then had a nice piece of cake and shared a fond farewell. Most of my friends are electric. I rarely saw Mick in real life, so a few extra thousand miles won't make a significant difference...but still it's sad when someone leaves. Though not, of course, for them.

Afterwards, STB and I followed the disembodied voice of his Android to the Viet Noodle Bar, where I had fish noodle soup and, from their extensive collection of books, a good read of several Oscar Wilde stories, which I will now rip off. I also got to listen to a bunch of conservatives at the end of the communal table struggling to understand sexual harassment, as defined by liberals. One of them had noticed that liberals were in favor of sexual freedom and was completely stumped by Anita Hill's testimony against Clarence Thomas. The person appeared to be grappling with the concept that, if Clarence Thomas was talking about sex to Anita Hill, that was a liberated and liberal and sort of left-wingy thing to be doing, wasn't it? So what was the problem?

Well, it works like this. If someone in a position of power over you makes sexual remarks in the workplace, the implication is that you will not do well at work unless you go along with that person- which in some cases means giving sexual favors to stay employed. This is a bad thing. Even if a person who is only a peer makes sexually charged remarks - or for instance puts up a nude calendar - that can lead to what the law calls a Hostile Work Environment. Outside the work place, yeah, liberals are pretty much in favor of sex. That people can get to fifty or so in California without knowing these basics is either a sad indictment of Liberals, who haven't explained it, or a sad indictment of Republicans, who are stupid. Or both, I guess.

But the noodles were nice.

On the way back down south we saw the closing fireworks of Disneyland, which start around 9:30 pm. We were laughing about something we'd heard, that some residents had clubbed together to complain to Disneyland about the noise (as if they hadn't known about the noise when they moved in!) and pulled off on Ball to get gas.

Gas Station Disney fireworks

Man those fireworks sounded like WWII. Loud as all get out. I think the residents may have a case. Pretty though.

And so to Orange County and bed.


(Removed original Half Price Drinks as the link broke and substituted a 2009 version.)

Monday, October 18, 2010

Busking, 2010

People tell me the past was just like the present, but with less Hello Kitty and fewer Facebook status updates. I can buy that.

But I have to admit to a slight thrill as I watch these musicians, Atomic Tom, sing their song Take Me Out on the subway.

Yes, playing all their instruments on iPhones is different and new. Now you don't only not need to buy a guitar, you don't even need to make a diddly bow in a cow pasture to get into the act. Jack White may not approve of their solution, but it's a nice video of a bunch of kids making music out of the first thing that comes to hand.

(Caveat: possible iPhone product placement viral ad - who could tell?)

Sunday, October 10, 2010


I went out to a scrapbooking supply sale today. No, I haven't lost my mind. A friend at work recommended the warehouse sale on the grounds that a bunch of stuff would be sold off below cost.

Now, I've never actually 'scrapbooked' as in made a scrapbook album according to the generally accepted rules. I've made an altered book, in which I've replaced references to, and pages of, forensic science with pictures and animations, texts and maps that relate to the Dead Weather's first album, Horehound, or to their first tour.

But making a good altered book depends on knowing what embellishments, tags and stamps are out there, so I went to this sale. I had a ball. The costs really were low, and there were grab-bags that promised "over $100 value - just $10", one of which I bought. As I was classifying it this evening, though, it occurred to me that 75% will be thrown out, leaving me with a bare positive margin. (Unless, of course, I can negotiate a s swap.) The backgrounds and alphabets and beads are beautiful, but there are the annoying other 'themes' I'll never use. "I do." "My mother's the best." "Under the Sea." "It's a Girl!"

I guess I'll put all those into the garage sale box. In the meantime this has taught me something. Not everyone is like me. In fact, most women in Orange County are thinking about kids, marriage and how great their parents and alma mater are.

My company, for reasons best known to it, in what is otherwise a belt-tightening time, chose to have the Senior Leadership Team, including me, assessed by a personality profile (so far so common) which they are then following up with a two-hour interview by a licensed psychotherapist in order to discuss the results. What am I going to say to this guy - paid for by my company, not me? Am I going to ask him for help and advice? I don't think so. He's a minion of my boss. I'm going to keep very quiet about health, stress, alcohol and all the other performance factors one might name. And hope he goes away.

And this is where the scrapbook sale came in useful. Now I know that the pages I habitually discard are the 'normal' ones, the ones I should emphasize. When Mr. oops I mean Dr. Psychotherapy gets on the line, I'm going to talk to him about marriage, how great my parents are, what a blessing infant boys (and girls) are and what I did at my High School Prom. (I didn't go to a High School Prom, but he may not know that.)

That was worth $35, wasn't it? And the backgrounds are actually useful.


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