Music and more
From someone who connects with all genres of music

Drawing was my thing

I started in grade school, first copying pictures out of comic books, then making up my own. But even after I began to draw my own figures, I didn't stop copying - meticulous re-creation appealed to me for reasons I still can't articulate, and photorealistic drawing became my primary creative outlet through middle school and high school. I worked in many different media in art class, but given my druthers, I always worked in pencil or ink; I loved sharp contrasts of light and dark, and I loved the level of control over line and weight these media allowed. In high school, visual art was something I constantly received praise for, and, having been reared on achievement-based praise and thus addicted to it, I pursued it with all the fervor that a rebellious and prematurely world-weary teen could muster. There was an annual contest staged by the public library in which art students drew different hisotiric buildings around town, and the winner would received one hundred dollars. (My first architectural drawing effort, which I drew in 1995 or 1996, as a sophomore or junior in high school, is pictured at the top of this post.) I won this contest multiple times, and it began my first "freelance" career, as people who had emotional investments in various houses and buildings began to hire me to draw them. This petered out pretty quickly, as I was too invested in "partying" to handle a bunch of commissions. But I remember being in art class, often stoned, and spending the entire period assiduously stippling a shadow or etching a branch, displaying a dedication to something beyond hedonism that was uncommon for me at the time, and presaging a systematic sensibility that would come to define my later artistic output. Riding a wave of praise and really not knowing what else to do with myself, I enrolled in art school after I graduated from high school, and made it through one year before dropping out and beginning a career as a writer. Even as I was getting into writing, I never dreamed it would come to so fully supplant my drawing, which had been so crucial to my identity and self-esteem throughout my formative years. Now, I paint, and sometimes I doodle abstractly, but it's been a decade or so since I've tried to create one of my old, meticulously shaded, photorealistic drawings. This is a talent I was given and have let go to waste. At least, this is what I tell myself when I'm feeling blue in general, about lost things in general. In better humors I assure myself that as long as I'm expressing creatively, the form that energy takes is beside the point - that nothing is wasted - and I tell myself that my drawing skills are simply latent, waiting to be engaged. In this I feel rather like a smoker who says he could quit at any time, but doesn't want to. That these skills may just be latent, not gone, is not much of a comfort to me when I consider that I've let them slide into latency for years. Today won't be the day I reclaim them - as usual, I've got to write. When I think about my drawing, I find myself thinking about other skills I've acquired, then let languish - what they were worth, whether they're lost or simply lapsed, what is wasted, whether or not this is sad.


Losing my taste for the nightlife

I worked full, then part-time as a projectionist at mainstream movie theater. This was actually a fantastic job for a writer: every couple hours, there was a half-hour window where I had to start the various shows on our six screens, and then, barring any technical problems, I would have a long block of free time, alone in the cozy projection booth (which was not the squalid closet we see in movies but a big ring-shaped hallway around the entire top of the building, with a hatch leading up to the theater's roof which was perfect for cigarette breaks). I loved it in that booth, it was dim and quiet and somehow amniotic - the low whirr of the projectors, the hovering beams of light - and best of all, totally private. Sometimes I would work a 12 hour shift, and at first, I spent all my down time devouring jasminlive books (this was after I dropped out of college and began to reclaim myself from the deep mesmerism of suburbia and public education, and also reclaimed my childhood love of reading). Later, after I began to write for zines and local papers, I would spend that time writing my reviews, making money from newspapers while I was on the clock at the theater. It was pretty ideal for me at the time. But beyond the privacy and the good workspace, I loved interacting with the machines themselves. I liked having all this arcane knowledge. I knew how to build a movie, which arrived on six to eight reels and had to be assembled onto a horizontal platter with end splices. I knew about cue tape and aspect ratios and maskings and film gates and lenses and emulsions and maltese crosses. I liked presiding over the moviegoers seated in the darkness below, liked that they were waiting for me to create a world for them, sometimes looking up toward the booth, anxiously trying to catch a glimpse of the man behind the curtain. There is an undeniable feeling of power in being a projectionist, of presiding over this very private experience, of being the only one in the building capable of putting the picture on the screen. I loved threading the film through the projector, which involved running a Rube Goldburg-complex series of loops through pulleys and sprockets and rollers, and it got to the point where I could do this in one minute and sixteen seconds. But I don't do projection any more. I wonder if I'll ever get to use this skill again, and why every innate talent or learned skill I possess feels at once like a blessing and a demand. What am I losing right now? I need to play the guitar more. I need to draw more. I need to write more fiction, and play basketball. I need to get back to my old blog that's been dormant forever, and I need to start making masks. I need to finish this one video and I need to brush up on my Spanish before I forget it all. I need to get a thumb in every hole in the dike, but I don't have enough thumbs


Orange Mountain Music

As I got out of the movie theater business, I got into the barista business. At this point, I write for most of my living, but I still work once or twice per week as a barista - I like working with and being around coffee, it's good for me to make a little of my money with my hands instead of my brain, and having yuppies talk down to me keeps me humble. I also think it feeds my self-image as something of an outsider - the whole romance of the "contributing editor at national magazine by day, lowly prole by night" thing. It keeps me in touch with the impotent rage of the service class. And if threading a projector sounds complicated, it's got nothing on making good espresso. Projection is a stable algorithm, you complete certains steps and the magic happens. Espresso-making is unstable, every variable - tamping pressure, grind consistency, atmospheric quality, extraction time, etc etc etc - interacts complexly with every other variable. There's tons of room for human error and if one variable shifts, you have to shift them all, so making espresso is less an algorithm than a series of negotiations and compromises as you try to find the sweet spot where it's chalky and bitter but not too chalky and bitter, with a nice blonde color and a nice thick crema on top, at a good volume and with smooth composition. It's something you start learning with your brain but finish learning with your hands, and like writing, you never perfect it - it's a lifelong learning process. Or it can be. There's going to come a time, probably sooner than later, when I'm not a barista any more. And I wonder what it means to me to be a "good writer" if that means writing has to gradually overtake all of my other interests and skills. These skills may have sifted out of my life, and my fondest hope is that even if my brain forgets, my hands will remember, that all of this is latent but not lost


Gift horse, mouth

I bitched about spring in my last post and got a week of rain and chill in return. But now the weather may be turning. There's a chance that it'll be the springest spring that every sprang, as the homeless guy muttered to himself as I passed by him this morning. In that spirit I offer two happy pop songs, as befits the springiest spring etc. Though they are quite different--one is Canadian, for godsake--here are five things that the two songs have in common.

1. Both are relatively recent. This is intentional. Last week's selections were all from jazz and popular singers of thirties, forties, and fifties. When my wife read that earlier post, she said, "People will think you're 70," which hurt my feelings as I am only sixty-seven.

2. Both are songs by artists who have gone on to bigger and excellent-but-not-necessarily better things. Stew created the Off- and then On- Broadway musical "Passing Strange," which ensures that more people will know that he is one of the most accomplished (this is a fancy way of saying "best") psychedelic/soul songwriters of the century. Carl Newman, Zumpano's lead singer and main songwriter, went on to form New Pornographers. As it turns out, I prefer the old pornography.

3. Both are indie. I guess. Or are they? See Alex's long, excellent post of earlier this week to resolve the issue. He did the heavy lifting; this post hides behind uplift and light. But if you want to consider the question "What is pop?" to go along with "What is indie?" feel free. Or, better, yet, return to Alex's post and take part in the ongoing colloquy. It is a highly demanding adult conversation that I will not replicate, even in part, here. It seems like the wrong setting. (A friend who read a draft of this post hinted--and then came right out and said--that the process of gushing about pop songs is inherently juvenile. "Teenagery," she said. Maybe. Sourpuss!)

4. Both are perfect. That's why you may find yourself experiencing pleasure when you hear them, or (if you already know them) experiencing both pleasure and the memory of pleasure. They are like girls who are so beautiful that they don't have a bad angle. In fact, I will now irresponsibly and teenagerishly declare that they are the only two songs of the last fifteen years where I wouldn't change a note.


An undercover NARC with a bark

There are two kinds of crazy. There's crazy as in lacking some degree of sanity. This is crazy like Courtney Love. Then there is crazy as in possessing some degree of special livejasmin madness. This is The Good Crazy.Think Crispin Glover, LRon Hubbard (-cmon you gotta love LRon, he makes Scientologists dress like sailors!-). This is George CLinton crazy.

At the time of "Dope Dogs" CLinton was nearly 60 years old, and , like a dog, I reckon a George CLinton year on this planet is probably worth 7 in human time.

But on this song you hear an energetic old mutt, with an amazingly acute sense of humor and a confident delivery. The song tackles the dual themes of substance abuse and the US war on drugs, by stepping inside the nose of a strung out, over worked drug sniffing dog


West Coast Rap All-Stars

I assumed that this little nugget must have been blogged by now, but my search didn't turn anything up. If it has, my apologies for covering old ground.

Everyone here at moistworks was thrilled to see 50 Cent and The Game settle their differences last week. Increase the peace!

This truce also reminds us of how manufactured rap beefs tend to be. They are great for the industry and confirm bigtime street cred to the participants. And they are for the most part a simulation. Not to get all Baudrillard on your ass but the rap trade at large is all about simulation. MCs invoke the "culture" defense whenever they are criticized for extolling violence, or for degrading the ladies.

"We are just talking about life on the streets", "this is what it is to be a black man in America".

But rap these days doesn't waste much breath engaging politics, the welfare state, police brutality, the war on drugs, the real. Its all about being a Chaturbate player. And if the whole Pimps Up, Hoes Down code is in fact a culture, then it is a self fulfilling one. Young rappers aren't so much interested about finding their own voice or finding a way out, as they are finding a way into the big game. Rap personalities have become impressions; the New Jacks talk GATs and chrome and hustling because thats what G Unit and Ja Rule are talking. Rap music has always been the lingua franca of a certain community, but its narrative has become less of a comment on life in this community, as it has become the life itself. And just because bullets may really fly doesn't make it any more real, it just makes the big dressup really high stakes.

OK enough of this stodge... what was I saying.... oh Rap beefs...

Now these feuds have been around since day one.

It started off with crew bashing crew. These battles tended to be fairly comical, 'specially the ones that were about who danced better.

As MCs emerged in the 80s it became a solo affair. All the bluster and ball grapping was narcissistic and vain, but for the most part remained a sporting affair.

But by the late 80s, rap had its first real heavyweight bout: the East Coast-West Coast rivalry.

(Boo-Yah Tribes "Somoa vs the World" rivalry never quite got of the ground.)

The East Coast had probably never considered itself a gang, until some new kids showed up on the block and these new kids were more crazy than a motherfucker. The West Coasters had black denim, steely stares. They had basslines and tempers and nothing to lose. They talked about killing a brother just for the hell of it. They were armed and stoned.

So when The East initiated the Stop the Violence Movement and released the all-star charity single "Self-Destruction," in 1989, of course The West had to step up with a peace plan of its own.

Stop The Violence was founded by Edutainer KRS-One after a fan was killed at a PE/BDP show earlier in the year. The song is earnest but pretty wretched, but has great novelty value for its eclectic lineup, which included PE, DOug Fresh, Heavy D, Kool Moe Dee, Stetsasonic, Just-Ice and many many more.

The single was pretty successful and raised half a million dollars for the National Urban League.