Friday, September 26, 2008

D.A.C., O.G.

     I can't help thinking that David Allan Coe has more in common with some hip-hop artists than he does with, say, Keith Urban.  It's that hard-core attitude with the bordering-on-ridiculous insistence on one's authenticity.  I mean, yeah, he spent some time in prison, etc., etc., but the more he makes his claim the less believable it seems.  But that don't mean the music ain't any good.  I love the way he opens "Longhaired Redneck" with the line "Country d.j.s knows that I'm an outlaw".  That's some bold grammatical territory--sounds like an outlaw to me!  The song is pretty damn funny... and "Revenge" is about as bleak as you can get.  "Laid Back and Wasted" is somewhere(s) in between.  (Great title, by the way).  It's a shame that he didn't refrain from utilizing the cornball harmonica and '70s phase-shifter guitar on these songs.  It'd be nice to be able to listen to them without cringing so much.  
     D.A.C. has definitely got the Merle Haggard/Ernest Tubb sound down pat, but does he really need to do so much name-checking?

Longhaired Redneck--David Allan Coe
  (from the album Longhaired Redneck)
  (from David Allan Coe Rides Again)

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Shriveled and Bundled

There’s a saying in Japanese – “atama ga piiman” – which translates roughly to “my head is like a pepper.” It used to be slang for something like “I’m baked.” I always loved the explanation for the saying, which related to the hollow dried-out insides of a pepper, with the little seeds kind of shriveled and bundled in the center, clinging to themselves by that pale stringy flesh; it evokes an image of a puckered and used-up brain.

My head has been like a pepper for a while. Not in the baked sense, but in the desiccated way. My whole scene is parched. Been taking Nyquil. It’s the end-of-summer start-of-fall thing. The frost hasn’t come here yet, but they’ve been talking about it on the radio, for the hill towns at least. The leaves of the walnut trees are taking the hint. Dropping in the wind. Going green to yellow, with dark black spots. Like a banana peel.

I’m in the final stages of getting my vinyl-conversion system back up and running, after a hard-drive fry out. And since September is also the season of loads of new music releases – Okkervil River, TV on the Radio and lots more. Here are a few more of the free new and recent releases that I’ve gotten hooked on lately.

“Places Visions the Sea” – High Places

“From Stardust” – High Places

“Hologram Buffalo” – Brightblack Morning Light

“Trust to Lose” – South San Gabriel

“Here With Me” – Jennifer O’Connor

Sunday, September 14, 2008

David Foster Wallace, RIP*

It was shocking and terrible to read the three-paragraph AP report when it popped online Saturday night near 11 PM. Dead at 46. When I read Michiko Kakutani's moving elegy to David Foster Wallace today, it reminded me of that huge, 20,000-foot view of American life that so few brass-ring-grabbing savant literary egotists even attempt any longer, the one that once seemed possible and today less so. It must have been so overwhelming and solitary to attempt to capture it in the 1990s, at the end of the 20th Century -- to capture, as Kakutani writes, "in the words of the musician Robert Plant, the myriad 'deep and meaningless' facets of contemporary life."

You could see it in Foster Wallace's face and manner, the way he wore the ten-ton weight on his shoulders so delicately, how shy and funny and precise his personality when he was interviewed, how he seemed like a POW who'd spent a decade imprisoned in a library. Here he is talking about his failures at understanding Italian while at an overseas conference:

Like so many of my generation, I didn't quite finish "Infinite Jest," but just hefting it around on subways in the 1990s was a rite of passage, not to mention a bicep-builder. But DFW's literary spike in the ground announced the arrival of our 1970s-baked consciousness to the national conversation, all screwy and tortured and long-winded and air-quoted in triplicate, and everybody had to listen. That was a huge moment. He opened the door and added footnotes with other tinier doors. We needed them all to get through and be understood. Could there have been a Dave Eggers without DFW? I once quoted him quoting someone else in a floridly overwrought newspaper article I wrote about Stephen Malkmus, the shadow of DFW's arguments hovering over my review.

But as David Foster Wallace, quoting the writer Lewis Hyde, wrote: ''Irony has only emergency use. Carried over time, it is the voice of the trapped who have come to enjoy their cage.'' That Stephen Malkmus still traffics in winky references like Underdog signifies that he has grown comfortable with his sound and with his coterie of critic-fans who reflexively buy and praise his music.

His nonfiction, it turned out, was his true and righteous talent, maybe because his infinite smarts were harnessed by magazine length limits. His tennis profile in Esquire, 'String Theory', was the first one I read and still stays with me, how four dimensional and meta-magazine profile it was. Tennis was beside the point, even though he really did love tennis. His brainy explorations were as deep and map-like as an ant farm. In some ways it's not terribly surprising that he couldn't live with his own mind and all its dark sub-basements. But I'm just so upset that he killed himself. I wish he could have rallied and tied all those kinky strings together and unified our story, finally, especially now as our cultural fissures threaten to widen and bleak Palin-esque clouds darken our horizons. But that's too much to ask of anyone. Still, that he couldn't bear living any longer is itself hard to bear, especially considering what he knew about our collective souls in America.

In response to a question about what being an American was like for him at the end of the 20th century, he told the online magazine Salon in 1996 that there was something sad about it, but not as a reaction to the news or current events. “It’s more like a stomach-level sadness,” he said. “I see it in myself and my friends in different ways. It manifests itself as a kind of lostness.”

* February 21, 1962 – September 12, 2008

Saturday, September 06, 2008

Room #8

A few days ago, Dewey Dell, Rosa and I stayed in room #8 at the Joshua Tree Inn, where Gram Parsons died on September 19, 1973 of a drug overdose. The establishment is now dubbed the "Cosmic American Hotel" by its proprietor, a reed-thin and sun-baked young man with faded green tattoos, dusty cowboy boots and a weather-beaten straw hat. It's located in the arid and alien desert near Joshua Tree National Park, where if per chance a brontosaurus were to come ambling out from behind the boulders you wouldn't really be surprised given how amazing and magical everything is, the lizards darting in the shadows under the heavy, penetrating silence that saturates the sky. Coz. Mick. The room where Parsons died (#8) has been lovingly un-refurbished, looking just as it did in the early 1970s, complete with the smell of grandma's house and vaguely Navajo bed sheets that have probably been washed 4 million times (or maybe only four times?). In a courtyard outside the room is a shrine of booze bottles and various tokens and tchotchkes arranged in worshipful order a few feet from a turquoise swimming pool lined with cracked tiles and shimmering in the middle of Joshua trees and cactus. A distant church has a giant "Jesus" sign in the sky.

On the bed stand is a guest book signed by visitors from all over the world (see top photo above) espousing all manner of broken-heartfelt, world-weary and vision-quested sentiments. You probably already have the song "Love Hurts" in your collection, but not this particular and exact mp3: it's ripped from the homemade CD compilation on the same bed stand in the room where Parsons died, hand-labeled by the proprietor "Room #8." (The third picture in the above set is the view of the courtyard from inside the room.)

Love Hurts - Gram Parsons (with Emmy Lou Harris)

Over in nearby Pioneertown, a 1950s Hollywood set built for shooting Westerns, there's Pappy & Harriet's Pioneertown Palace, an old road house as dusty and drunken as it sounds, its walls lined with pictures of all the famous musical guests who've passed through, from Lucinda Williams and Robert Plant to the Solace Bros. (on the night we were in town) and Camper Van Beethoven. Tales of boozy nights under the sweep of stars and peyote-chewing jaw sessions around crackling fires are legend. While in town, we met a mellow stoner fella named Dave who took us into his glass-blowing workshop in his timber-frame Old West house where he makes glass beads and marbles with psychedelic swirls inside them. Cosmic? You bet.

Wheels - Gram Parsons (from Room #8)

But that was only the start. We spent an afternoon visiting the "Integratron," a giant domed building that looks like a cross between a community playhouse and a planetarium. It was built by George Van Tassel, who claimed to have been visited by a UFO from Venus in the 1950s. He downloaded from a Venusian fellow named "Solgando" all the interplanetary knowledge afforded space peoples (Solgando was photographed and looks strikingly like a dapper human man in a three-piece suit) . Based in part on the scientific ideas of cult inventor Nikola Tesla, the edifice was operated as a UFO buff's palace of wonder and many years after Van Tassel's death in the late 70s people still come from far and wide to enjoy a "sound bath" in the domed room inside, where if you stand in the center you hear your own voice in triplicate vibrating inside your skull. When people lay under the dome in this acoustically perfect tabernacle and energy machine" and listen to Mozart or New Age music they apparently connect just so with all kinds of mystical cosmic vibrations (apparently the circumference of the Integratron is exactly that of a single person's magnetic field -- 55 feet -- but Von Tassel didn't know that when he built it). You can't help but believe.

Hot Burrito #1 - Gram Parsons (from Room #8)

That's not all we did. We also ate heaps of cheese-covered and lard-based Mexican food in Palm Springs (not far from Gene Autry Trail), roamed about the desert snapping photos of rock formations and gigantic wind farms with lazily turned against massive mountain ranges and eyed temperature gages that read 100 degrees and higher. We radiated in the sun and breathed the pure, dry air and gazed over vast, Mars-like horizons and moonscapes seemingly untouched by humans. On the flight home, it was hard not to notice that the world was winking at us a little more than it had before. Things were changing. Or so it seemed. Perhaps they hadn't changed at all.

100 Years from Now - Gram Parsons (from Room #8)

Call of the Wild

This new Blitzen Trapper record is splendid.
Love the feral vulpine Jack London theme.
They’ve shaved off some of the more prickly Beefheartisms from their last record.
I can’t get Stealers Wheel out of my mind when I listen to this one.
The classic folk-rock surface married to the dubbed-out echo-chamber studio wig-wammery makes Furr go nicely with the Rodriguez from a little while back. It’s like Teenage Fanclub with root magic instead of booze. Makes you want to put on the buckskin coat and polish the rifle, go round up the dog team. Sell some eggs to the miners.

“Furr” – Blitzen Trapper

Monday, September 01, 2008


Well, somebody was bound to do it. With every other mossy stone of 70s rock turned over and dug out under, it’s just a surprise that it took this long for some band of counter-intuitive hipsters to arrive at the shocking truth: the Doobie Brothers, Joe Cocker, Blood Sweat and Tears. We’re not ready, but it’s the place we need to go to.

“Set in Stone” – Catfish Haven