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.

Insert Title Here

So the longish days of April have turned into May. It is May Day, and I cannot help but think of working and how hard most people have it by working underpaying jobs where they have to deal with incredibly annoying people.

Before any of this started I had my doubts on how working people could make ends meet, but now the system has been nearly destroyed and I am not sure what is next.

I do know that I am not keen on going back to the way it was unless there are some real opportunities. I am fine with making the trade off of working with people I like and taking less pay for personal happiness. I mean happiness is way better in the long run. But, that pay must be fair and at least remain sustainable.

However, now the arduous task of sniffing around and networking is afoot. Like Sherlock Holmes solving a mystery, I am sniffing out my next gig and hustling to solve thing sand sort it all out.

I am working a bit at my job and still applying for other things which has been nice. I know this much, I am done with having to deal with large groups of people if at all possible.

I love how St. Louis has come together to help small businesses whenever possible. There is a nifty new farmer’s market that has popped up down the street. They have pretty much everything and it is affordable. I am avoiding the grocery store if I can and making do with ordering from local stores when I can. The international grocery store down the street is still open so if I need anything in a pinch there is that.

One nice thing about our city is that it, for the most part, has decent citizens who actually respect other people. As a result, this thing has seen folks come together and help others. Whether it is making masks, checking in on folks, shopping local or supporting the local arts. It is nice to not be divisive.

A lot the museums and arts organizations are working to provide some interesting content right now. I think just getting their name out in the public consciousness really helps a lot.

In appliance news, the food processor is kaput. There’s still some scratch left on the Target gift card so I guess shopping could sort there. But I would rather buy local.

Everything I was looking forward to has been canceled. I was supposed to be in Chicago this week. I miss Chicago. I have a monthly planner but it is pretty useless at this point. Unless I write in ‘stay at home’ each day. I am trying to watch some theater stuff that is being offered and a few concerts etc… So I could put that all in there but it seems pointless since I find I am not looking at it much.

I am taking a few online classes and that has surprisingly eaten into a lot of my time. Yale has a happiness class that apparently is all the rage and the most popular one offered on campus. I am taking a free version of it and it has been interesting. Part Psychology, part mindfulness and part ‘get your shit together,’ The Science of Well Being has been a good way to declutter mentally and sort of assess where things are it.

I also am taking two classes through MoMA in New York. One is Modern Art & Ideas and the other is Seeing Through Photographs. I just started the former this week and the latter about two weeks ago. They both have been pretty great. As someone who likes art and often has to write doubt it for various outlets, it has bene informative. I had a so so art history teacher in college so this has been great. I have always liked photography and am enjoying learning a lot more about it.

I did an online lecture last night for their current exhibition, Dorothea Lange: Words & Pictures.

You can take the virtual tour of the exhibition and see some interactive content on the MoMA website. I have always loved her work and it was really cool getting some context about it.

The next class I start isThe Modern World, Part One: Global History from 1760 to 1910. It is through Miller Center of Public Affairs at the University of Virginia. I have studied a lot of this before in school but I wanted a deep dive.

These are all mostly 5-6 weeks long so after this I can move on to some other stuff. I also have been studying up on analytics, marketing trends and doing as much writing as I can.

I have also been watching some movies, I saw Tokyo Joe early this morning.

It is a Humphrey Bogart flick from 1949 and finds him in postwar Tokyo. It is not as good as some of his other stuff but I had not seen it before.

I also am watching. SXSW films on Amazon. some are shorts, some are docs and feature lengths. I enjoyed My Darling Vivian, a documentary about Johnny Cash’s first wife Vivian Liberto. It was really interesting.

I also started watching Schitt’s Creek which has been fun. Dead To me is starting next week and I am looking forward to that. I am behind in watching a lot of stuff I wanted to see, but it is not like I am going out dancing anytime soon or anything.

The worst thing is trying to sort out sleep. it has been frustrating.

I did interview Kathy Valentine of The Go-Go’s about her new book, All I Ever Wanted. It is a very interesting read.

I still have a stack of magazines and books to get to so next time I may have more interesting things to write about.

I have been listening to a lot of music. I have made an effort to listen to the new albums by Fiona Apple and Hazel English. There also is Alphabetland, the new record from X. It is loud and fun! I also like this band called Catholic Action. They are from Glasgow and really have good melodies.

The Magnetic Fields have a new album coming out called Quickies. That should be fun too.

RIP to the great Tony Allen. His latest album, Rejoice is amazing. He was an amazing drummer and will be missed. This album is fantastic.

Well that is it for now. sorry for the delay. Stay inside. Please stay inside.

Lenny Bruce Is Not Afraid

Ok, if I hear “in these uncertain times,” or “in these difficult times,” or “with these changing times” anymore, I am going to yell loudly. The English language has loads of other words and phrases that people can use to describe all of this. Stop being lazy and obvious!

Also, those phrases don’t give people warm and fuzzy feelings. It’s like telling people The Beatles are out there to listen to but they have to listen to Third Eye Blind for awhile. Do your damn job marketing people and think of something else. It is just lazy and, frankly, sort of annoying.

So things now are all about routines. I try to have a set task for each day with a few other things to clean up. There’s webinars, job searching, the St. Louis art Museum’s object of the day and loads of zoo webcams. At night, I listen to Patrick Stewart reading a sonnet. He has a different one each day.

I also am trying to find time to laugh. This is why I am listening to a Lenny Bruce bit each day as often as possible. It’s not overdone or cute or simple. it is raw, honest and funny in a way where your brain is engaged.

As an extrovert I am surprised I am ok being separated from people. I am checking in on folks and saying hello to old friends now and then, but really I am ok social distancing. People are idiots and I am fine with not talking to strangers. I am of a generation where our formative years were spent trying not to get our ass kicked in high school for having a weird haircut and a jacket with buttons and badges all over it. So, for me, avoiding people is kind of old hat.

It reminds me of all of the terrors of Catholic school and social status and all that nonsense. What all this means is that those years of being a ‘weirdo’ in high school are paying off. I sure am glad I learned how to read.

I am really bummed about Bill Withers passing. I really loved his records. There was never a time when I ‘wasn’t in the mood’ to hear Bill Withers. he had a terrific catalog of songs and I think it is sad he didn’t get more mainstream attention. He really didn’t make a bad record.

John Prine’s passing is really sad. It was nice to see him get more notoriety over the last few years. he was one of our country’s best storyteller and his music was moving, fun, spirited and emotional.

Not much on the movie front. I have been watching some old films from the 1970’s and some film noir. The Taking o f Pelham One Two Three is not only a great movie, but an interesting slice of life of America in 1974. Walter Mathau is great in it. I want to be him when I grow up.

I also saw an indie film called Phoenix, Oregon. it was streamed nationally as part of film Festival Day. It is about these guys who buy a bowling alley becsuase there regular job sucks. Here is a link: https://phoenixoregonmovie.com.

I have discovered a band called Deutsche Ashram. They have a new album out called Whisper Om that has been calming and catchy.

They are very dead poppy but also have some textures and density to their music. https://deutscheashram.bandcamp.com

There also is a new album out from The Strokes but I haven’t dug too deep into it yet.

I did listen to Felt for the first time in ages yesterday. I forgot how much I liked their records. They formed in 1979 in Water Orton, Warwickshire and have this jangly sound that matures into more adventurous terrain. They are pretty obscure in certain circles, but the kids in the know appreciate the harmonies and nuanced songwriting.

I am still hustling. I finished a freelance technical writing project and have move onto a full on magazine piece. But “in these trying times” you have to take whatever you can get. I do know that I am never going back to any sort of frontline retail if I can help it. Especially since people are rude and uncaring and selfish.

I do miss baseball.

Sadly, I am not expecting to see any live music for the foreseeable future. it is a shame too since there was a lot of shows I was looking forward to seeing. In the meantime, I have books and music and word puzzles to keep me busy.

In appliance news, the dishwasher and washing machine are getting good workouts. I wish I had a freezer too.

I am plowing through All I Ever Wanted, the memoir from The Go-Go’s Kathy Valentine.

There’s a lot of interesting stuff in there. From Austin to the heyday of LA’s punk underground and the rise of new wave pop, she has pretty much seen it all. The narrative is pretty straightforward and no nonsense. It also is candid and honest and free of sugar coating.

This would be a good time to read The American People in the Great Depression by David M. Kennedy.

It is part of the Oxford History of the United States series and is very good. There is some pretty scary and stark stuff in there but it is something people should know anyway. My grandmother always told me stories about the Great Depression and it was pretty sad stuff.

Well I guess you didn’t read this to be cheered up did you?