Monday, April 20, 2009

Listening Party, April '09

While I await Amazon's delivery of the new Pet Shop Boys album, here are some quickie reviews of what I've been listening to over the last few weeks thanks to a recent influx of new music CDs at the library...

Sound of KONK: Tales of the New York Underground 1981-88
Soul Jazz Records, 2005

KONK answer Wild Cherry's entreaty and the (mostly) white boys do indeed play that funky music. Though I loathe the much-lauded (underservedly for the most part except for James Chance) post-punk No Wave period in '80s New York City, I was pleasantly surprised by this compilation. Most of those No Wave guys were avant-garde (i.e., "bullshit") artists who made noise as opposed to music, but the tunes here are afrobeat dance-friendly instead of headache-inducing. Some interesting pop cultural tidbits via Wikepdia: KONK's Richard Edson (Lounge Lizards) played drums on the first Sonic Youth record and had acting roles in Spike Lee's Do the Right Thing and Jim Jarmusch's Stranger Than Paradise, while trumpeter Shannon Dawson not only played in Jean-Michel Basquiat's band Gray but is the Uncle of uber-hottie Rosario Dawson. (Oh, and Konk is not to be confused with the sophomore album by The Kooks or with The Kinks' record label, though I made both those mistakes when I saw this on the New CDs rack!)

An Amazing Dream
Rainbox Quartz, 2006

Great star/shoe-gazer psychedelia for a rainy day by Philly-based indie rockers who sound like San Francisco's melodious Sneetches on chemical enhancement. Bonus points for covering a Church song ("To Be In Your Eyes," from 1982's dreamy The Blurred Crusade) and for a psychedelic rewrite of "Hey Joe" called "Into the Meadow." I think the name refers to Vesta 4, the biggest 'roid in the asteroid belt. If you like The Church, Brian Jonestown Massacre (they opened for BJM) or just mellow music to fall asleep to, this one's for you. I'd probably buy this if I did heroin. No I wouldn't - I'd steal it!

The Mande Variations
Nonesuch, 2008

My musicologist (and filmmaker) friend Michael Lawrence turned me on to this guy. Apparently, Mali's Kutta Toumani Diabate is the world's greatest player of the kora, a 21-string harp-lute that looks like a cross between a gourd and a sitar and is used extensively by peoples in West Africa. This is very relaxing background music, very zithery, like something you'd hear in a Mideastern restaurant, possibly while watching a belly dancer. Somehow it makes me yearn for grape leaves and hummus.

THE BAD PLUS joined by Wendy Lewis
For All I Care
Heads Up, 2009

The Bad Plus is a collective made up of bassist Reid Anderson, pianist Ethan Iverson, and drummer David King that Rolling Stone has called "as badass as highbrow gets." Here they are joined by vocalist Wendy Lewis, a former bandmate of King's in The Happy Apples. Basically, the highbrow part of the band's description refers to the fact that they're classically trained musicians (smarties who can read music) and the badass part means they cover rock songs (typically written by dummies who can't read music), like Nirvana's "Lithium," Pink Floyd's "Comfortably Numb," the Flaming Lips' "Feeling Yourself Disintegrate," Heart's "Barracuda," Wilco's "Radio Cure," Mission of Burma's "Lock, Stock and Teardrops," Yes's "Long Distance Runaround," the Bee Gees' "How Deep Is Your Love," and so on. Worth a listen as a curio (I have to admit I really like the dissonant bebop intro on "Long Distance Runaround" but Wendy Lewis' cocktail drone soon grates on the nerves), but this strikes me as strictly an academic exercise for the hipster crowd. Besides, this idea's been done to death. Didn't Tori Amos cover Nirvana like 17 years ago? (And the Bad Plus themselves covered "Teen Spirit" on their previous release!) That said, the best track on this CD is an Iggy cover - Iggy Stravinsky, that is (Igor's 1947 classic "Variation d'Apollon"). Personally, I think this album would have worked better as The Bad Plus Minus Wendy Lewis - For All I Care.

Years of Refusal
Attack Records, 2009

I haven't had listened deeply enough to deconstruct the lyrics in their entirety, but after a couple of run-throughs in the car CD player, I'm toasting this as the best Morrissey album since 1992's standard-bearer Your Arsenal (which was the best since Moz's fab 1988 debut Viva Hate) - and arguably his best ever. Morrissey certainly thinks his 9th solo record is his "strongest" work to date. One thing's beyond discussion: Mozzer's voice has never sounded better or more confident and his backing band (new guitarist Jesse Tobias - who replaced Alain Whyte, guitarist Boz Boorer, bassist Solomon Walker and drummer Matt Walker) totally rocks out from the opening anti-meds salvo "Something Is Squeezing My Skull" to the final chords of Moz's status update "I'm OK On My Own." There's not a bad song on the 12-track CD, this depite losing guitarist Alain Whyte who still contributes five the 12 songs here ("Something Is Squeezing My Skull," "Mama Lay Softly on the Riverbed," "When Last I Spoke To Carol," "It's Not Your Birthday Anymore," and "You Were Good In Your Time"). Fortunately, Boorer still supplies tunage ("Black Cloud," "I'm Throwing My Arms Around Paris," "That's How People Grow Up," and "One Day Will Be Farewell") and new boy Jesse Tobias pens three strong compositions in "All You Need Is Me," "Sorry Doesn't Help," and "I'm OK By Myself."

Once again produced by Jerry Finn (You Are the Quarry), Years of Refusal was recorded "live," which gives it a great, poppin' fresh energy to the sound, with "Black Cloud" especially lively thanks to guest guitarist Jeff Beck's licks.

Despite the usual aesthetic laments (no one loves him except "stone and steel" so he's "throwing his arms around Paris"), I suspect Morrissey is actually - dare I say it? - having fun. After years of refusal. Sure, he taunts his critics with "You don't like me but you love me/Either way you're wrong/You're gonna miss me when I'm gone" and "You hiss and groan and you constantly moan but you never go away/And that's because all you need is me" but he seems to be reveling in his arsenal of hiss, groan & moan rather than complaining about it. Good grief, the man even sings "Whoopee!" at one point.

Good times, all around.

Oh, and about the cover: the baby in Morrissey's arms is Sebastien Pesel-Browne, son of Morrissey's assistant tour manager Charlie Browne. At first I thought maybe Moz was going through a Madonna-Angelina Jollie baby adoption mid-life crisis phase. We can rest assured.

Oracular Spectacular

I'll probably hate these guys in a month or so, but for now I love the song "Time To Pretend"...maybe probably cuzz I've heard it a million times as the theme song of cable TV's Sundance Channel. I've read and seen band interviews that didn't wow me as far as them being geniuses (or fashion plates: one guy dresses all gypsy-rocker like Steven Tyler/Jimi Hendrix and the other is nondescript with non-commital facial hair and dumb hats) but the one singer sounds exactly like Marc Bolan (always a good thing) and they seem to have listened to a lot of T. Rex, Sparks and early Ultravox (never a bad thing) and to have watched some good movies (the "Time To Pretend" music video contains references to Alejandro Jodorowsky's 1973 cult film The Holy Mountain), and on this one song have captured the essence of the Rock Star Dream; along with the Byrds' "So You Wanna Be a Rock and Roll Star," this should be part of the Rock Star 101 curriculum for any aspiring musician:
"I'm feeling rough, I'm feeling raw, I'm in the prime of my life.
Let's make some music, make some money, find some models for wives.
I'll move to Paris, shoot some heroin, and fuck with the stars.
You man the island and the cocaine and the elegant cars.

This is our decision, to live fast and die young.
We've got the vision, now let's have some fun.
Yeah, it's overwhelming, but what else can we do?
Get jobs in offices, and wake up for the morning commute?"

I think these guys are a duo (I can't tell them apart - all these skinny young indie rock guys look the same to me with their funky fedoras and Aerosmith head bandanas and tight-fitting black jeans), but the band's real tight and I especially love the drum sound - good drummer whoever he is. The other standout tracks on the CD NME named Best New Album of 2008 include: "Weekend Wars," which starts off like Tyranorsuarus Rex before the middle eight morphs into a Sparks song...The funky "Electric Feel" sounds like it would fit in nicely on Beck's Midnight Vultures, which is to say it sounds just like early '70s Sly & The Family Stone...and "The Youth," which starts off like John Lennon circa the New York City years (guess it the other dude singing, the one who doesn't sound like all fey like Bolan), then goes into a dreamy chant...and "Kids" is an infectiously catchy singalong set to a simplistic Fischer-Price keyboard riff...whole CD kinda reminded me of Hot Chip if they listened to less Kraftwerk and more Sparks. Speaking of which, I read somewhere that since they're a duo, they studied the music of other famous duos, like Hall & Oates, early (pre-electric) T. Rex, Sparks and, well, Kraftwerk is basically Ralf and Florian. It all makes sense.

Seduction: Sinatra Sings of Love
Frank Sinatra Enterprises, 2009

As the BBC's Michael Quinn observed, "Few popular music catalogues have been re-worked so rapaciously as that belonging to Francis Albert Sinatra. His 50-odd albums – from 1946 Columbia debut, The Voice of Frank Sinatra, to the second volume of Duets on Capitol nearly five decades later – have spawned well over 2,200 compilations, with barely a handful of them worthy of serious attention." That last comment certainly applies to this compilation, which was compiled by Sinatra family archivist Charles Pignone for Rhino Records just in time for Valentine's Day 2009 and features glib liner notes by The Way You Wear Your Hat: Frank Sinatra and the Lost Art of Living author Bill Zehme, one of those latter-day Frankie-Come-Lately hipsters who laud Sinatra for his surface bling (broads, booze, '60s Schwing) - everything, in fact, but his artistry. God I hate shallow too-cool-for-school drivel like it too much to put out a compilation with actual information about the music, like who what or where played the song and what album or session it was from?

Listening to this CD, I surmised that it's mostly from his '60s period at Reprise - though "It Had To Be You" dates from 1979's Trilogy LP - with the bulk of these versions available on the excellent 1963 release Sinatra's Sinatra ("Witchcraft," "All the Way," "Young At Heart," "The Second Time Around," "They Can't Take That Away From Me," and "How Little We Know" - all keepers). 12 of the songs were arranged by Nelson Riddle, six by Don (father of pop star Nikki) Costa, three by Billy May and Neal Hefti, and two by Quincy Jones.

Of course, as a Sinatraphile, I fell for it and checked out this latest entry in the never-ending Sinatra reissues catalog from the library because it had some songs I was unfamiliar with, namely "Prisoner of Love," an alternate version of "My Funny Valentine" and "This Happy Madness." Well, "Prisoner of Love" is fantastic - I had never heard it before and it's the pick of the litter here...
"For one command I stand and wait now
From one who's master of my fate now . . .
She's in my dreams, awake or sleeping
Upon my knees to her I'm creeping,
My very life is in her keeping . . .
I'm just a prisoner of love."

Written by Leo Robin and Russ Columbo and originally recorded in 1932 by Russ Columbo, "Prisoner of Love" appeared on Sinatra's very underrated 1962 Reprise LP Sinatra and Strings (recorded with arranger Don Costa). It was a big hit for Perry Como in 1945 and later was covered by - of all people - James Brown and His Famous Flames in 1963 (The Godfather of Soul always had excellent taste; I recall an interview in which he cited Sinatra as one of his favorite singers). Though, like Sting's "Every Breath You Take" "Prisoner of Love" is kind of a scary sell as a "seduction" song as it's really a borderline stalking tale of obsessive love.

The lovely "This Happy Madness" is actually from the 1967 Sinatra album he did with the Brazilian Cole Porter, Antonio Carlos Jobim (which I should have picked up on by the song's parenthetical title Estrada Branca) and arranger Claus Olgerman - an album that proved he could handle legitimate bossa nova/jazz stylings just as comfortably as his popular singing and swinging.

The alternate "My Happy Valentine," features the bel canto singer's textbook glissando near the end whereby he shows off what he learned about breath control all those years ago watching Tommy Dorsey. Singing "Stay little valentine, stay - " he holds the note for what seems like an eternity before effortlessly gliding into the finale " - each day is Valentine's Day." He first recorded this song at a 1953 Capitol Records session with Nelson Riddle that was released on the album Songs for Young Lovers (1954), so I'm guessing this is from those sessions; given the lack of liner notes, we'll never know. It was a staple of Sinatra's live performances and can be heard in that context on 1962's excellent Sinatra & Sextet: Live in Paris album. But if you want a great alternate version of a Sinatra song, how about the lesser known "Night and Day" ballad version Sinatra cut with Don Costa from Sinatra and Strings? Though Frank recorded the Cole Porter gem five times, most famously as an uptempo number with Nelson Riddle on 1956's A Swingin' Affair, some consider this to be his best interpretation.

I guess this is a fine intro to Sinatra for the kind of people who buy these kind of compilations at the Starbucks checkout counter, but for Sinatra lovers, it's frustrating to encounter a release of songs with a tenuous connection to "seduction" (I mean, what else did Sinatra sing but love songs?) that seem rushed to market. And, as far as songs that seduce, how can you leave out Cole Porter's "You're Sensation" from the High Society soundtrack? ("Making love is quite an art/What you require is the perfect squire, to fire your heart!") I'd even drop trou for Old Blue Eyes if he serenaded me with that! Still, in these end times of soul-less, show-off-y American Idol singers, it's refreshing to hear what a singer with passion, command and respect for The Song can do when he borrows a tune from the songsmith and artistically interprets it. Sinatra was the best, even if this compilation isn't always.

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Sunday, April 19, 2009

Still Katatonic After All These Years

Thanks Hon: Thee Katatonix 30th Anniversary
Thee Katatonix
UK Spud, 2009

Excellent singles compilation highlighting local band's glorious mid-'80s neo-psychedelic period.

Forward into the past...

Adolf Kowalski just mailed me this latest "new" Katatonix CD - a collection of choice singles (and one new "bonus" track) by my old band's best lineup of Kowalski and Mr. Urbanity and various bass players and drummers (but mostly "Beautiful" Tony Belle on bass and "Big" Andy Small on the skins) - in honor of the 30th anniversary of the group's founding in 1979...(though the groundwork for the band was set in motion, amidst puffs of hemp and gulps of Blackberry brandy, in the fall of 1978 in Towson State University's wooded "Glen" - where freshman Ross "Adolf Kowalski" Haupt, freshwoman Katie "Katatonic" Glancy, and jaded junior Tommy "Gunn" Warner decided Punk Rock was the answer to their dying-of-boredom-in-the-'burbs collegiate blues - we didn't start playing out until our debut/debacle at Towson's Oddfellows Hall in April 1979.) Katie Katatonic and I (Tommy Gunn) are not on this CD at all, and that's why I like fact, though Adolf probably didn't appreciate it at the time, Katie and I did him a big favor by quitting Thee Katatonix at the end (literally, as it was New Year's Eve) of 1980. When we stopped playing music, that's when the band really started to play music. (I'd like to think the Thanks Hon title is a subconcious salute to the Tom and Katie bailout. If so, you're welcome - we did it all for you!)

That Year's Model: Katie Katatonic, Tommy Gunn and Adolf K. in 1979

Adolf, for one, grew as a songwriter when he started playing with real musicians. And he started playing with a real good one named Charlie Gatewood (pictured right), a Peabody-trained guitarist who had been playing in rockabilly and reggae bands before he started going to see punk shows (like the Katatonix) at the Marble Bar and succumbed to Adolf's considerable charms (we all did - that's why Katie and I ultimately had to leave; otherwise, we'd still be driving around in Adolf's station wagon playing gigs well into our 50s! Adolf was a born fact, the first time I met him in the TSU Glen he was dressed in his afterschool Macy's salesclerk duds - I'll never forget he wore a navy blazer with green plaid pants!).

Goodtime Charlie became "Mr. Urbanity" - Charlie claims I gave him this nickname based on his urbane culture vulture background (he read French Symbolist poets and knew how to tune guitars, which made him a Rhode Scholar in my eyes) - and initially played bass (a little Hofner, like McCartney) with the new "The Name But Not As Lame Kats." I honestly wish I had stuck around the Kats to be in that lineup, because I would have liked to have been one of the boys in this edition, but Katie and I were a package deal and, personally, I was frustrated with not recording; I wanted something to show for all the gigging; ironically, our 1979-1980 Edition Kats tunes would not make it onto vinyl until we moved on. It was as a trio (Charlie, Adolf and new drummer "Big" Andy Small) that the Kats released their first EP in 1983, which featured two Original Edition Kowalski-penned tunes "Valentines Day" and "Basket Case" as well as the new "Joie de Vivre." I dunno what started the French song title kick (see also "Maison le Rock"), but I liked it.

Then, in 1984 the new Kats, with Charlie firmly entrenched as lead guitarist and augmented by new bass player St. Anthony (he cured a ham), released Phase 1 of their psychedelic-makeover mission statement: Divine Mission. Though the sound was still predominantly punk during this transitional period (songs like "Beltway Beat" would have fit in our set lists from 1980), you could feel Mr. Urbanity's influence. His blistering lead guitar work refurbished the old Kowalski-Gunn chestnut "Fungus" as a psychedelic rave-up while the Urbanity-Kowalski two-guitar attack and vocal harmonies on "End of An Era" recalled the Pete Shelley and Steve Diggle formula circa the Buzzcocks' most progressive pop record, 1980's A Different Kind of Tension. Though credited to Kowalski/Urbanity/Small, I suspect Adolf was the driving force behind the album's best cut (and my 2nd all-time Kats fave song), "Maison le Rock," especially lyrically ("She's a junked-out girl/Like shoveled snow/But she was something to eat/She spent all my dough" - love it!). Still, Urbanity's "Shake Shake" and "Chain Letter" signaled a new sound and lyrical direction; small wonder they were the lead-off tunes on both sides of the album, establishing a precedent that would be hard to shake (or shake shake).

By 1985, the punk-to-neo-psychedelic transformation was complete and singles like Charlie's A-side "Daisy Chain" were getting heavy rotation on WCVT, no doubt benefitting from a nationwide psych revival spearheaded by LA "Paisley Underground" bands like The Dream Syndicate, Three O'Clock, and Rain Parade. This was the band's Golden Era, with national tours, TV appearances and regular radio airplay and...I hate to say it, but the fact is, it was Charlie's songs ("Daisy Chain," "We Need a House," "Book of Love") that led the way and propelled The Great Leap Forward musically. Good as Adolf's songs were ("Not Excited," "Something For You") - and they were now incorporating retro-sounding keyboard parts as well as guitar power chords - they still seemed rooted in the old cock-rock punk 'tude; maybe this was because to these ears, it sounded too much like what I was familiar with the first go-round '79-'80. Adolf was a frontman and showman par excellence and this was always his band, so it took someone special to make him share the spotlight; Charlie was that person, and to Adolf's credit he let him shine. The result was a more perfect union of songwriting.

Thanks Hon: 30th Anniversary

Which brings us to the 30th anniversary platter on UK Spud which, just like 1984's Divine Mission, is "produced by money and Thee Katatonix."

Once again Mr. Urbanity bats leadoff, opening with the best song Thee Katatonix ever recorded, "Ordinary Sunday"; it also sets the track template as, from this point, Urbanity and Kowalski alternate songs until Adolf's 11th "bonus" track at the end.

1. "Ordinary Sunday" (Urbanity) *****

"Ordinary Sunday" was the tune with which they made their TV debut on Baltimore's latenight dance show Shakedown - I can still recall going to the TV party over at WCVT DJ Rod Misey's apartment (this was in the days before Tivo, when you actually had to stay up late to see shows on in the wee small hours) to watch Charlie and Adolf rock out in with their matching Gibson SG guitars, their faces hidden by cascading hair and their skinny-ass torsos draped in beads and psychedelic shirts. Charlie especially was the picture of cool, looking like Cramps voodoo guitarist Bryan Gregory as he blew the hair away from his face to deliver his biting opening refrain "I was coming undone, because of an experience..."

"Ordinary Sunday" on Shakedown TV show

Charlie's poetic imagery is delivered in stream-of-conscious shotgun blasts - "Late afternoon by receding shoreline, near the scene of an accident, Perfumed bedroom/ black shoes/you're doomed, keep in mind it was an ordinary Sunday...late afternoon by imposing skyline, industrial forefront of our hometown, smokestack/water black/black pool/we're cool ...keep in mind it was an ordinary Sunday..." Bathe yourself in local color; you may never pass this way again.

2. "Crown" (Kowalski) ***
Nice intro and great soloing between the verses highlight this bitter love song in which Adolf laments that he's the King of Sorrow Tomorrowland and wears a crown of thorns around his heart (ouch!). I like the lines "Oriental schoolgirl flash a smile at me, while she holds her boyfriend tight, she knows I think of her at night, but she crossed me out because I'm white" (double ouch!).

3. "We Need A House" (Urbanity) ***
A long, layered guitars-and-synths intro leads into a song about alienation that continues to mount tension, like Led Zep's "Kashmir," as Charlie explains to his daughter Eleanor, "...we need a house with a little room outside the rooms inside, one that we could hide away in a day or two..." Home fires burn while the world passes outside.

4. "Something For You" (Kowalksi) ***
Adolf's Farfisa-sounding organ dominates this mid-tempo ballad...

5. "Mexican Hat" (Urbanity) ***
Peppy oddity with interesting bridge.

6. "Not Excited" (Kowalksi) ****
Once again Charlie and Adolf's guitars evoke the pop-punk Buzzcocks sound (always a good thing) on this non-stop rocker that's interlaced with organ riffing.

7. "Book of Love" (Urbanity) *****
"I want to read the book of love/I want to know the things you've done between the covers/I don't want to read the story between the lines..." Great psych anthem with Charlie even throwing in a teasing reggae riff on the bridge (it reminds me of Jonathan Richman and The Modern Lovers' "Egyptian Reggae") and a kick-ass middle eight leading into Adolf's organ solo. Along with "Daisy Chain," perhaps the band's greatest uptempo tune, driven along nicely by Andy Small's big beat. Infectiously catchy.

"Book of Love" live on SFTV

8. "Home Alone" (Kowalski) ** 1/2
"Don't go home alone, we gotta have a bone..." Cock-rock bragadaccio ("You know we like them, we like the little girls...") about the boys in the band getting take-out. Nice work if you can get it. Redeemed by the dueling guitars slugfest. Originally appeared as B-side of the "Daisy Chain" single.

9. "Daisy Chain" (Urbanity) ****
"People come and go, there's some things we may never know/We all sleep, but no two dream the same..." Perfect pop, peppily-paced, with cool solo and backing chorus - all clocking in at 2 minutes and eleven seconds. Deceptively flower-powery until the "Hope you choke on your beautiful daisy chain" end.

10. "F*** You" (Kowalski, 2008) ***
Adolf takes the old Kowalksi-Gunn number "Stretch Marx," beefs up the guitars and disposes of my disposable lyrics (no loss there!), replacing them with this fricative-friendly snarling retort to any and all Kats kritics. A rose by any other name, still smells as sweet...

11. Super Groovy Bonus Track (Kowalksi, 2009) **
Interesting guitar motif anchors this introspective brooder that finds Adolf moaning like Ghost Host. "I'm a changer rearranger...I've been observed, I've been observed..." Far from super groovy, but then again, as Adolf K.'s previous ditty advised, if youse don't like it: "F*** You"!

Related Links:
Thee Katatonix website


Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Sex, Death and the Gripes of Roth

Consume my heart away; sick with desire
And fastened to a dying animal
It knows not what it is

- W. B. Yeats
The Dying Animal
by Philip Roth
Houghton Mifflin, 2001, 156 pages

I watched Isabel Coixet's film Elegy, starring Sir Ben Kingsley as 62-year-old professor David Kepesh and Penelope Cruz as his 24-year-old student lover Consuela Castillo, and liked it so much, I started reading the Philip Roth novella it was based on, The Dying Animal (Houghton Mifflin, 2001). They're two very different animals; though Coixet caught the feel of the novella, she brought the teacher-student affair with the two stars front and center, whereas the book concentrates more on the sex in the overall context of death - and as an existential rebellion against our repressive Puritan heritage (Roth even name-checks Nathanial Hawthorne's "The May-Pole of Merry Mount" - a short story based on pagan pilgrim Thomas Morton 's real-life Colonial Club Med that partook of revelries and merriments with the natives (giving us May Day and the Maypole in the process) in Merrymount, Massachusetts (near Quincy) before John Endicott's Puritan prudes spoiled the party and ushered in generations of sexual repression that wouldn't end until the Pill and the "Merry Mount" hippies of the "Free Love" Sixties turned the beat around). Most people I talk to who've seen the movie either found it digusting (women turned off by the lecher seducing lamb angle) or rife for commenting on Penelope's bodacious breasts (yes, fellas, they're very nice), which doesn't begin to appreciate what the film's really about. (But they are very, very nice.)

I'm in the autumn of my years and, while there may have been no stellar rise to offset my Fall, I can totally relate to what is basically Roth's reflection on aging and what it means as far as raison d'etre. Metaphors for time's passage abound, from the metronome that sits atop the narrator's piano to ruminations about the meaning of New Year's celebrations and entering a new millenium (the book's events transpire between the early '90s and 2000).

Much of that meditation on aging centers around sex, the one thing Roth claims gives us a tiny victory, however fleeting, against the ticking of the clock towards the inevitable end-game:
"No matter how much you know, no matter how much you think, no matter how much you plot and you connive and you plan, you're not superior to sex. It's a very risky game. A man wouldn't have two-thirds of the problems he has if he didn't venture off to get fucked. It's sex that disorders our normally ordered lives. I know this as well as anyone. Every last vanity will come back to mock you. Read Byron's Don Juan...Sex isn't just friction and and shallow fun. Sex is also the revenge on death. Don't forget death. Don't ever forget it. Yes, sex too is limited in its power. I know very well how limited. But tell me, what power is greater?...Because only when you fuck is everything that you dislike in life purely, if momentarily, revenged. Only then are you most cleanly alive and most cleanly yourself."

Roth's David Kepesh abandoned his marriage to take advantage of the '60s sexual liberation, leading to this soliloquy on the state (with built-in expiration date) of connubial bliss:
"Yes, I understand that sooner or later I'm going to relinquish sex in this marriage, but it's in order to have other, more valuable things. But do they understand what they're forsaking? To be chaste, to live without sex, well, how do you take the defeats, the compromises, the frustrations? By making more money, by making all the money you can? By making all the children you can? That helps, but it's nothing like the other thing. Because the other thing is based in your physical being, in the flesh that is born and the flesh that dies.

Great book.

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Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Louis Fowler

Atomic TV's Adopted Son Visits Bawmer

East Meets Golden West

OK, so maybe the timing was off - both Scott Huffines and I were suffering from colds and sinisitus, Melissa and I had to work the next day, and Scott and his wife were taking off for NYC the next morning - but when our Wayward Western pal Louis Fowler - he of the legendary Damaged magazine, Damaged 2.0 blog, Damaged Hearing radio show and Not Lame Records fame - survived a 12-hour bus trip to stop by Baltimore on April Fools Day (no foolin'), we had to suck it up and meet our greatest and coolest fan, the impressionable lad who once called Atomic TV "probably the greatest TV show I have ever seen in my life." We were Lou fans as well; after all, he's a great writer, a Rod Lott (Hitch Magazine)-mentored Oklahomie who hit the nail on the head when he brilliantly described singer Bjork as a "Chinese-looking elf with Down's Syndrome."

Damaged goods Louis was stopping in Charm City as part of his East Coast "Devastator Tour '09" (sponsored, in his words, by "by Midori Brand Liquors! All the queer, and none of the rear!"), a Greyhound bus station-to-station tour book-ended with stops in Indianapolis for the Horrorhound Weekend (March 27-29 and Cleveland for the Cinema Wasteland Movie and Memorabilia "Spring Spectacular" Expo (April 3-5).

It's shame we didn't have more time to show Louis the real Baltimore (like the Tyson and Read Street corner where Divine ate dog shit in Pink Flamingos, Al Capone's Syphillis Tree outside Union Memorial Hospital, and so on), so we settled on meeting up at the Golden West Cafe "On the Avenue" in Hampden, our Hipster Mecca.

Louis, Tom and Scott on The Avenue

Melissa and I were the first to arrive, as Scott was supposed to pick up Lou at the bus station but somehow his iPhone GPS went awry and it took him an hour to get there. While we waited, Melissa - a veteran thespian not only of Atomic TV but several John Waters movies and a recurring role on The Wire - showed me her brand new Screen Actor's Guild card:

Melissa shows off her new SAG card.
(She let me snap this photo without paying union scale!)

Louis was elated to see Melissa, who in her starring role as savvy bachelorette "Chastity Darling" on Atomic TV's "Dating Do's and Don't's" episode captured the smitten young Okie's heart. In Damaged #6 (Spring 2000), he decribed her as "one of the most beautiful women I have ever seen in my life...Jesus, is she hot. I think I am in love."

Louis and the girl of his dreams, Melissa.

Thank goodness for Melissa putting together a last-minute Welcome Wagon while Scott and I sneezed, snorted,and post-nasally dripped. She had the foresight to put together a "Baltimore Goodies" bag for Louis that included a crab lollipop, Goetz caramels cremes, and a Mary Sue Easter Egg. I forget if a Berger's Cookie was in there.

Melissa gave Louis a Baltimore goodies bag.

Louis opens his goodies bag

Louis with a Mary Sue Easter Egg.

Louis waves his Crab lollipop.

More culinary delights lay in store for Louis the next day, when he planned to meet up with The Hungover Gourmet zine editor Dan Taylor and visit Baltimore's legendary downtown soul food emporium, The Lexington Market. Wish I had known that next week's City Paper cover story ("Gun Market," CP 4/6/2009)would be about the guy who was selling guns out of the market's Utz Potato Chip stand - I'm sure Louis and Dan would have loved to visit that stall!

When it came time to order drinks, Louis asked to try Baltimore's iconic swill Natty Boh, which he politely ordered as "that Bohemian beer."

Louis says "Yo!" to Natty Boh, the perfect crab lollipop chaser.

He really liked the taste of Boh, but grew green with envy when he saw what Scott ordered, the artery-clogging Bacon Bullet Bourbon Shooter, a drink concocted of Bullet bourbon, molasses and a stick of bacon.

The Bacon Bullet Bourbon Shot

Scott says Grace before ingesting his Bacon Bourbon Shot

"Mmmm that's good!" slurps Scott.

Aftertaste: "Hmmmm, bacon and bourbon?
What God hath joined together, let no man tear asunder!"

"Eww," looks like the missing half of John Wayne Bobbitt's willy!"
Tom observed of the drink's bacon twist.

Undeterred by my observation that the slab of bacon looked like the missing half of John Wayne Bobbitt's willy dipped in the drink, Louis ordered one himself.

He was in Heaven!

Scott ordered a second.

The Bacon Brothers: Scott and Louis bond over bourbon and pork products

"Magoo" Warner uses digital zoom to read his menu.

Finishing up, I had to ask Louis about a masturbation euphemism I had come across in one of my zines. I thought I had heard 'em all, from "shaking hands with the unemployed" to "pounding the one-eyed bishop," but "Oklahoma Karate" was a new one to my ears. Louis chuckled and said he had never heard it either, but that he liked it - "Thanks, I'm gonna use that one!" he promised.

Before we headed down the street to for nightcaps at Rocket To Venus, Scott popped the hood and trunk of his car to show us how prankster mechanic Chris Campbell (former Modern Music Mogul and current Hillbilly Drive-In Programming Director) pimped his ride to prepare it to pass inspection. As you can see below, Chris added extra "rack" to the rack-and-steering...

Some of Chris Campbell's custom detailing for the Huffmobile well as additional junk in the trunk:

At Rocket To Venus we ordered more beers and talked about getting old. Scott and I mentioned that we hardly ever went out anymore and admitted changing into our pajamas the minute we got home from work.

PJs: Change we can believe in.

Louis said he could relate. When we asked him how old he was, he said "30." What a kid!

"You gotta remember, when I discovered you guys I was in high school," Louis said, "So it really blew my mind!" Wow, all those years ago. That would have been like 1997, so yeah, he must have been a teen.

As we looked at the people sitting around the bar and played a mental round of Hipster Bingo ("Hey look, there's a guy with a Fedora," "There's a chick with a bad tattoo," "Lookey, guy with Elvis Costello glasses and sideburns"), I bonded with Louis over my hatred of overly smug pop singer Jason Mraz.

"I hate all these good-looking guys who sing about their troubles getting laid," Louis said.

"I hate that stupid fucking hat he always wears," I added.

Wot a Mraz-hole!

We finished our beers and headed out the door, but not before I ran into my friend (and former co-worker and fellow soccer nut) Kevin Hall, freshly duded out in his Washington Capitals hockey jersey.

Kevin Hall returning from Caps game.

When we stepped outside, we introduced Louis to Rocket To Venus owner Jeff, who was skipping out for a smoke.

Louis, Jeff and Scott outside Rocket To Venus.

Louis with Jeff, Commander of Rocket To Venus.

Out on Chestnut Avenue, Scott ran into some friends and we stood around trying to explain the concepts of of Dundalk and Essex to Louis, including two infamous native sons from those working class Baltimore 'hoods, naughty teacher/sex offender John Merzbacher (an Essex homie whose house was nearby Scott's) and psycho crime-of-passion killer Joby Palcynski (Dundalk). We also tried to explain the Middle River's "Golden Eggs" and why Dundalk and Essex compete in the annual "Toilet Bowl" football game to see which community gets to lay claim to the Back River Waste Water Treatment Plant (aka "The Shit Plant").

The Golden Eggs

It's hard to explain in one night.

Alas, the old men had to get to bed to travel and go to work the next day...despite Louis once lauding us in an Atomic TV review with the bon mots "Tom and Scott do and see more in a collective eight hours than I have done in my 21 years of existence," we were sick deadbeats who had to get up early and work for the man and hit the road, jack. Lightweight swingers on the mend.

"Peace out!" Tom and Scott bid Lou adieu.

Louis needed a place to crash, so we drove back to La Casa Clutter in Towson where I apologized profusely as I showed Lou my "guest room," the house's official clutter dumping ground. Spying the big bed and multiple pillows, Louis replied, "Oh man, after riding a Greyhound bus for 12 hours, this is great. I feel like I'm laying down with the angels."

I must say Louis was the perfect house guest. You'd never know he was there. Didn't make a peep (though he claimed he snores!) and left the place immaculate. I just hope he wasn't weirded out by some of the odder artifacts in my far-from-spare spare room/dumping ground, like the kid's "Spinner Toy" promo display ("Stress Reliever!" "Can't Put It Down!") I salvaged when they were throwing it away at the library; I forgot that I replaced the spinner toy with a dildo so that when you activated it, the hands mechanically performed "Oklahoma Karate" (that great "stress reliever")!

A Favorite with Kids: No stress, some mess.

What must Louis have thought?

Next time, I hope he's in town for a weekend when we have more time to spend with him. And we could add to his Baltimore goodies bag with some more essentials, like (Atomic TV cameraman) Chris "The Plumber" Jensen's "Your Poop Is My Bread & Butter" and Scott's "Pirates of Essex" t-shirts.

Or maybe we can take an Atomic TV field trip to Ft. Collins, Colorado. Louis, if you're reading this, it was good meeting you finally in the flesh - and you're welcome back anytime!

(Oh, included below is my all-time fave Atomic TV review; naturally it's by Mr. Fowler.)

Damaged #6 Spring 2000
ATOMIC TV, Volumes 10-13

In the last issue of DAMAGED, I said that I have seen a revelation and that it was Atomic TV. I was wrong.

Atomic TV is probably the greatest TV show I have ever seen in my life. It has everything that a great TV show should: the crass humor of a good episode of Mama's Family, more guest stars than Love Boat and Fantasy Island combined and more T&A than five episodes of VIP. Add to the mix only the best videos that you will never find on MTV, interviews with people who will never be on Jay, and real-life adventures that even the Croc-Hunter couldn't even imagine.

In the last four episodes of Atomic TV, our hosts Tom and Scott do and see more in a collective eight hours than I have done in my 21 years of existence.

Are you a big fan of pornography? If you are the average DAMAGED reader, then that will be a big yes. Check out Volume 10, "The East Cost Video Show Porn Convention Episode." It is filled with wall-to-wall silicone enhancements and wall-to-wall Ron Jeremy. Porn starlet Rayveness show us how to work and clean her artificial vagina, ex-porn actor Jerry Butler shows us how he prepares his Thanksgiving meal in a disgusting scene that literally has to be seen to be believed. Hot as hell Rebecca Lord is interviewed and drooled over. To top it off, a long lost film with Jean Claude Van Damme as a ball-grabbing Tae Kwan Do testicle tickler.

Volume Eleven is a special episode designed to teach us backwards Oklahomans how they do arty stuff up north. In "Artscape," the boys go under the dress of a gigantic Mrs. Buttersworth, we meet the Thunderbirds Are Go! outcast Bud and see a nun do some crazy ass-kicking for the Lord. Also included are videos from the gorgeous Francoise Hardy, the incredible Air and the banned from MTV video "Smack My Bitch Up" from Prodigy. The second half is from the "Cones and Rods Art Show": people urinating, music by Garage Sale and the Put Outs and lazy hipper-than-thou twenty- somethings shun free prizes from the Atomic Bookstore!

What is this crazy J-Pop that I am always talking about? Well, use Volume Twelve as a textbook and learn for yourself. The extremely hot publisher of Cha Cha Charming, Sheila B., co-hosts with Tom as they give us a run through in the best of Japanese pop, which puts our American shit to shame. Judy and Mary, Puffy, My Little Lover, and best of all, Emmanuel "Webster" Lewis singing in Japanese! That alone is worth the price.

You want to know why I want to move to Baltimore? To be at the next Atomic TV Labor Day Cookout. In Volume Thirteen, we are invited to watch all the insanity and hilarity that ensues. So grab some big- ass hot dogs, put in the microwave and pop this episode in the VCR. Not only do we get to be part of the festivities, we also get to see videos from They Might Be Giants and The Ramones. To top that off, one of the most beautiful women I have ever seen in my life, Chastity Darling, is in attendance. Jesus, is she hot. I think I am in love. Oh yeah, and Tom sucks on some feet. It's pretty nasty to watch. But, in the next hour, we are also invited to Atomic TV's 200th Episode Parry, where more "what the hell are we doing here" fun is had. The incredible short films Worst of Public Access and High Tech Noon are also here, as well as videos by J-Poppers Puffy.

Order episodes at Atomic Books' website at or see the ad in this issue. Do it now and tell `em that Louis sent you.

--Louis Fowler

Oh, and click here to read Louis' take on his visit to Baltimore.

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