My October Symphony

Welcome to autumn. The leaves have changed and the weather is getting cooler. It has been lovely to take boring walks in this brisk weather. As the temperature drops I will miss reading outside and feeling the sunshine on my face.

It is boots and long jacket weather. I would enjoy the autumn much more however, if I didn’t know that winter was, literally, coming. This would not normally bother me, however, with now so many more allergies, bugs and icky maladies going around one doesn’t want to go out very much.

Everyone with half a brain is on edge, a little worried and kind of frustrated. This could all lead to a really annoying and tough winter. My fear is that the cold weather, fear of a flu outbreak and the continuation of Covid will not be enough to keep the ignorant from wanting to tear down all the precautions and get back to the world that was.

In summary: I am really fed up with these halfwits who don’t understand that the old way of doing things is not coming back anytime soon, if at all. Why are people so reckless and apathetic?

I voted.

I got my flu shot.

I got my pneumonia shot.

I am staying hydrated.

I am not fighting with the stupid.

I went to the DMV on my birthday. It was scary it was Hell. You might as well just pull out a kidney and plop down on the clerk’s desk at this point. DMV offices are some of the drabbest places on Earth.

Tom Yum soup is the best.

It is great for a cold day and for cleaning out congested sinuses. I like mine form Thai 202 in the Central West End.

As a way to not get throttled by the madness of today I have been listening to more jazz and classical music. Lately it has been a lot of Shostakovich, particularly his Symphony No 2 ‘To October’ in B major op 14. The strings in it are exquisite. I also like how it is big and grandiose.

Listening to this made to a bit of thinking about the work and how it fits within the context of the current mood of the world in relation to the October Revolution that Shostakovich’s textured work celebrates.

With that in mind, I decided to dig back into Sheila Fitzpatrick’s seminal The Russian Revolution. Diving back in seemed appropriate. Particularly at a time when the separation of haves and have nots widens and the public discourse over issues of the day is filled with more and more shouting.

Fitzpatrick’s quick and concise narrative takes no sides and presents the complicated story of how those nasty Bolsheviks led Russia down a path to totalitarianism.

Now, as the clock slowly ticks off till the end of the month, the historian in me pauses with an anxious breath. Like the madness of 1917, we are seeing angry masses of people who are fed up and looking for change. Then, the old world was going away and a new one was coming. It wasn’t pleasant or fair or even remotely peaceful. This has not changed much.

As you may have guessed I read books that are dull to most folks. However, recently I have been reading more fiction, mainly the new books by Roddy Doyle and Nick Hornby with intentions of getting to Steinbeck again.

Over the last few weeks, before I got all brooding and serious, I plunged back into some graphic novels. I got caught up with the most recent batch of Moon Knight comics and a return to the Infinity Gauntlet series. I also am revisiting Warren Ellis’ excellent Transmetropolitan series, which also is incredibly timely right now.

With Halloween nearly here, I also returned to Batman: The Long Halloween, a 13 part epic that I like a lot.

In addition to restoring some noir oomph to the series, the story manages to collect all the usual suspects in Batman’s pantheon of baddies into a compelling arc.

There is a lot of bullying and emotional abuse in It’s the Great Pumpkin Charlie Brown. Just sayin.’

Despite the fact that it has retained its charm, humor and melancholy, when you peel back the layers there’s a lot wrong with those kids. Charlie Brown is depressed, Lucy is a psychopath, Sally needs to become more liberated and Linus has a whole mess of tings going on with him. Plus, Snoopy is a classic narcissist. I also love how it celebrates bucking the system and finding your own path on your own terms. Linus may be nuts he’s his own man and sticks to his guns.

But maybe the most overlooked aspect of the special is Vince Guaraldi’s score. People tend to think that his work in A Charlie Brown Christmas is his best but I will argue that the music in this special does much more for setting the tone of the piece. It also creates more ambiance that breathes life into the characters.

Covering the five boroughs, art galleries, bars, parks and restaurants it’s a book that explores every facet of the city, from its founding until now.

Knowing all the ins and outs of the city is hard work and this book serves as a nice guide to stuff you don’t get in tourbooks. New York is best when you avoid the beaten path and explore on your own.

The Big Apple has so many things about to learn and now that it is daunting. it is nice t have a concise thing that breaks it down. My other NYC encyclopedia is his mammoth thing that weighs a ton.

The sections on the city’s musical history are particular tight and there’s some neat stuff on the birth of the fountain pen and stuff like that too. There’s a lot to chew on.

I have started Dylan Jones mammoth book on the New Romantic movement. Covering 1975-1985, Sweet Dreams documents the New Romantic movement with a broad palate that includes ska, goth and electronic music.

Jones argues that the movement helped spawn electronic music and I am not sure I agree since there was also house music and Kraftwerk. Ditto for goth which could be argued as a bi-product of punk happening. Again, Jones offers an interesting premise that I had not thought of.

Jones is bold in navigating this time in British pop history. there was a lot happening. Growing out of post-punk (which is still happening concurrently) Jones chronicles the movement’s history from sleazy and glammy clubs o the shores of North America where many artists of this period found success on MTV, leading the so-called “New British Invasion.”

Fortunately, he’s got some big personalities in here, Bowie, Visage, Sade, Ultravox, Adam Ant, Culture Club, Duran Duran and loads more. It is well researched and there’s some great stuff in it. My only problem is that I think he’s overreaching in places.

As we get nearer to the election I have found Lou Reed’s New York to be very prescient.

Released in 1989 and recently reissued in an expanded edition, Reed’s 15th album is full of references to Oliver North, the NRA, Rudy Giuliani, Jesse Jackson and more.

Political but still entrenched in rock n’ roll, Reed’s album is filmic as it sprawls out for nearly a full hour. There’s some harsh criticism of corporate greed, poverty, corrupt politicians and poverty, all things that still resonate today.

Halloween Parade remains one of the most important songs about the AIDS crisis ever recorded. Sick of You name checks the great villains of the city during that period, many of which are still kicking around today.

Taken as a rock album, it fires on every cylinder. It’s a basic rock record with some nice nods ot should and blues in the mix. Even as a concept project it retains the grit that makes Reed’s records so intriguing.

Why are they playing sports? I get it, there’s a lot of scholarships and boredom to appease and TV money to make, but really, to me, it seems insane to even try to put people at risk.

I know that many other cities have a Greekfest and that writing about the one in St. Louis isn’t necessarily a big deal, but I wold be remiss if I did not. I went to the one held in St. Louis County at Assumption Greek Orthodox Church.

Lasting full weekend, it normally is filled with dancing, crafts and music. However, this year’s feta fête, was in the same boat as almost everything else as it pivoted to no entertainment programming but plenty of curbside food.

In the past I have loved to hear the different musicians playing as I wandered the stalls with stuff was being sold. But as good as all of that was, the food was the thing everyone wants.

Pandemic be damned this years festival didn’t disappoint. I could literally eat the dolmades for months. The grape leaves are tightly wrapped nothing inside gets out. The rice was not bland and they didn’t go cheap on giving put taziki sauce. I had a beef and lamb gyro and it was not overcooked. The pita bread was not too try or doughy. The Baklava was also pretty damn good.

As I wind this down I want to send a final note out to support your local indie bookshops. I did a story on this last month and it was really interesting to see everything they are going through right now. Literally every dollar matters. So even if you buy a gift certificate you are helping.

I am trying to keep this shorter than last time. hope that is okay.

Of Masks and Men

It has been way too long I know. I have been woefully negligent with posting anything but this is mainly because of a combination of going back to work and tackling this crazy series of articles I have due for a magazine.

The articles are fairly intensive with talking to sources, researching and editing. But the tricky bit is that both big assignments are back to back and due on the same day.

Add Zoom calls, my other job and some decluttering and my time has rapidly been filling up. It has been kind of annoying to be so busy during a time when folks are still on lockdown.

Another thing that has kept me frazzled is the way people are casting aside sage advice in favor of listening to morons. Somewhere out there, in the weirdest parts of America, Carol and Stanley Idiot are just hanging around, selfishly refusing to wear a mask, social distance or show any sense of compassion for their fellow man.

Carol and Stanley Idiot are the dumbest form of sheep. Inconvenienced by wearing a mask to help flatten the curve but exuberantly happy to wear a hunting mask when they out to kill some squirrel or whatever it is they eat. For all I know it could be possum. Sadly they are part of the new normal.

But the point being is that when John Steinbeck created a really interesting character named Lennie Small he had no idea that over eight decades there would be thousands of people walking the planet who were just as mentally challenged. Unlike Lennie though, their mental challenges are self-inflicted and their big hearts are nonexistent.

I also have had a pileup of stuff to transcribe and edit and fiddle with and it is time consuming. I also have been interviewing folks for the KDHX website which has been fun. So far I have interviewed Kathy Valentine of The Go-Go’s, John Doe of X, Hazel English, Tim Burgess of The Charlatans and Chris Frantz of Talking Heads. All of that has kept me busy.

Both Valentine and Frantz have books out which is why I talked to them. Remain in Love is Frantz’s new book. It covers a lot of ground and is a great oral history of New York in the 1970s, a time when so much was happening. There’s a lot of ground covered, Lou Reed, Andy Warhol, The Ramones, the Bowery etc..

But the really interesting stuff is about David Byrne and his relationship with the rest of Talking Heads. It was not rosy.

It is not pretty. I won’t ruin anything but as someone who is a fan of his music it put me in a weird spot emotionally. He was kind of a jerk back then and I sincerely hope he has mellowed with age.

Frantz also has managed to have an amazing love affair with Tina Weymouth and the book goes into that as well. It is very heartwarming in these crappy times.

Here is a link to my interview with Tim Burgess. his Twitter listening parties have been a great time occupier during all of this.

https://kdhx.org/articles/music-news/2051-telling-stories-with-tim-burgess

After talking to Burgess, which I might add was pretty cool, I got his first book. Going into the interview I was expecting him to be aloof and kind of distant. instead he was jovial, although serious, and very nice. He’s lived a real rock star life and his band is still under appreciated in the States in my opinion.

The first time I heard The Only One I Know was in 1990. My friend Jennifer took me to Wax Trax Records in Chicago and I was scouring the imports bin. The guy at the counter threw the 12″ single on and it began to play. I was in a different row from her but we could see each other. There we were, her with wildly black disheveled hair and I with a short mop, both decked out in leather jackets trying to just not stick out.

The record started and we both did that cool head bob thing you do when you her a record that hits like a delicacy on the tongue or good whiskey. it was pretty cool. I somehow managed to get one of the last codes of the damn thing and spent the rest of the day grasping it like a nun with a rosary.

From that point on I have checked in on them now and then. I think they are a great singles band with a few great albums smattered in-between. Burgess knows how to take his influences and pour them back into his music which is harder to do than it may appear.

As for his book, Telling Stories is pretty straightforward. It is a quick read and Burgess does indeed have stories that are informative, funny and insightful. Burgess has a new book, One Two Another coming out over here soon. it is a collection of lyrics accompanied by lyrics and annotations.

Now onto The Wants. They are from Brooklyn. they have a new record out called Container that is rad. They have this Interpol/Gang of Four thing going on and it totally works. They are grimy and dark and murky and they have great chords.

Their new ‘single’ is The Motor.

Fear My Society is also really good.

Beneath the surface is a serious sense for pop sensibility that also plugs into a minimal techno vibe in a few places. These guys sound like all the dark underbelly of New York places that I used to go to when New York still had such things. If you want more info on these guys check them out on social media or here: https://thewantsnyc.bandcamp.com

IDLES have a new record coming out called Ultra Mono. I love IDLES. they make great musical hissyfits and Joe Talbot has a distinctive voice. I also love that they are mostly angry. Grounds is their latest single and it does not disappoint. It flails uncontrollably in a wash of snarls and abrasive guitars.

IDLES are the perfect band for the disenfranchised minority. In this case that minority are people who appreciate the awesomeness of loud, angry post-punk and want to punch Nickelback in the face. Their songs are intense, crunchy and filled with lyrics that are clever and sly. They are the real deal.

I started watching The Mandalorian which has been a nice break from the hell we are living in. I am that guy too, the one guy that thinks there is too much Baby Yoda. But it is not that big of a deal. Beyond that there is some real character development going on. And I love that it is a Western.

I also started watching Derry Girls which has been fun. I have not needed subtitles. I have heard some Americans “don’t understand” the accents. If you are American and cannot understand an Irish accent by now I can’t help you. Just saying.

Schitt’s Creek is still great and I never want it to end.

I have taken the plunge and started watching The Expanse. There is a lot going on and they just throw you in feet first.

Nonetheless, it is just gritty enough to keep me curious. It isn’t shiny or cute either which is good. At first I thought the premise was a bit hokey but it grew on me.

Edward Hopper has kept me sane during the pandemic. So many of his paintings feature figures that are in isolation despite being in a large city. His elegant landscapes of urban areas are beautiful but desolate.

As this thing goes on I find myself looking at his work and finding comfort. If there are people in his paintings they look burdened or miserable or just tired. People can relate to that. If they are landscapes or houses or gas stations they are appear desolate and abandoned. the tis another thing that resonates today. They drip of melancholy and that makes me oddly calm.

Appliance news for this month……

There is a spiffy new rotating fan that has really helped cut down on running the AC. We also got some new hospital grade air filters. Hopefully that will help keep germs and viruses at bay, or at least slow things down.

Not quite an appliance but there is a new kitchen table. It has opened up some space in way too small kitchen which is fantastic. It is nice to have the extra space.

There has been workmen outside the apartment playing terrible classic rock for the better part of two weeks now. It is like an obstacle course trying to get around them because they are of the ilk that doesn’t social distance, even outside. They are nice but….

  • 1. They have crap taste in music
  • 2. I do not know what form of English they speak
  • 3. They love to litter
  • 4. They don’t clean up after themselves
  • 5. See social distancing complaint above.

Anyway, the poor bastards have bene out in the heat taking down hornets nest and walking on roofs so I can cut them some slack. They have a cherry picker that has been out in front for a while and they love it. They go up and down all day like giddy school kids.

Randomness…

I need to see that damn comet.

They should not be playing sports.

Selfish & stupid people are going to be the end of us.

On some mornings I find myself watching old timey steam trains in North Wales. They are on webcam and you can see them as they come and go. Everyone is socially distant and wearing masks. They run mostly from Porthmadog and Tan y Bwlch.

You can see the mountains of Snowdonia in the background too which is also calming. My dad worked for a railroad and I remember when he took me to the roundhouse and it was pretty cool.

Link: https://www.festrail.co.uk

I miss being able to travel. I still have no desire to eat inside a restaurant or go bowling. I wish I could say this is all going away, but nope it is not.

I just want one day where it does;t feel like 2020 is piling on. Just one. Ok, maybe a few. Like the rest of the year.