Friday, January 13, 2017

∞∞ B y T e S *n* b O b S ⚄ ⚄ [UPDATED]

all images by ge stinson
the main stem, an original dramatic script focusing on a young jazz saxophonist
who escapes denton, tx for l.a.'s central avenue in the 1940s is now making its way past some pretty big eyes in the movie-making industry, including a prominent showrunner-writer for at least two influential cable dramas of the 00s.

also: there is also word of a new central avenue documentary that has just wrapped production; the soundtrack includes local musicians from horace tapscott's fold, including jesse sharps and bobby west.

bobby bradford, roberto miranda, vinny golia + william roper comprise the silverscreen sextet, who will be playing monday, 1/16 @ the vortex dome. info here

also: bradford + golia will be going to europe at the end of the month.

the beast is working on a preview for the la weekly about horace tapscott: musical griot, a new documentary by l.a. rebellion filmmaker barbara mccullough, who just moved back to socal after six years teaching in savannah, georgia. the film premieres next month 2/12 at the 25th annual pan african film festival. check out the trailer here.

this saturday at the central library's mark taper auditorium will be a screening of jane cantillion's the other side: a queer history's last call, a documentary about the gay history of los angeles from the 1940s and centered around a legendary silverlake piano bar.

aman kufuhamu was one of the most influential underground jazz djs of the 1960s, introducing hungry ears all over the l.a basin to the avant-garde of the radical-chic era. the beast spoke with him recently and he told us he's thinking of bringing back his classic kusc show greg's refresher course for the satellite-radio era. 😃

nels cline and yuka honda have a new new project called "cup"...and they already have a gig.

also: nels is a contributor to the new thurston moore oral discography out in march.

writer/dj michael davis, all-about-town gadfly of l.a.'s new music scene for the last 40
years, now has a website. check out his interviews with with nels cline and jim mcauley here.

jazz violinist michael white, who collaborated with john coltrane, rahsaan roland kirk, pharoah sanders and sun ra among many others, passed away last month. his widow, vocalist leisei chen, has written this moving tribute for the la weekly. there's also a tribute page if you'd like to add any memories or condolences.

kudos to bassist jeff schwartz, who just received new funding for soundwaves, his new music concert series at the santa monica library. the first show is this wednesday 1/18 with flautist emily hay and contrabassist steuart liebig.

also: schwartz also has a killer new cd with ellen burr and andreas centazzo

prolific nyc pianist matthew shipp has been on a roll lately with his facebook takedowns of the current political climate. he waxes further in a new aaj interview.

also: shipp has just announced his retirement from recording (!!!)

breakin' 'n' enterin' an obscure 1983 documentary about the burgeoning west coast hip hop scene (it wound up inspiring the breakin' films) has just resurfaced online.

Saturday, December 31, 2016

The First and Last Death of 2016

HAPPY NEW YEAR, AMERICA AND THE WORLD. In a few hours, 2016 -- which, rightly or wrongly, people started cursing around the time of the death of a musical prodigy from North Minneapolis -- will be no more, and no one the Beast knows has come out unscathed. Yes, the TIME cover below is fake; we all know who's the real POTY as much as we cannot stomach it.


At least with past historical events such as Columbine or 9/11, the ornate grisliness was live and televised (followed by the endless Moebius-strip replays) and could not be avoided. But there was a sort of catharsis there -- there was no Matrix-like veil. We saw the worst we possibly could see and were awash in the direct and decisive complications. On 11/9, the profound sense of switcheroo was so violent that is nearly caused air bubbles in the blood -- if these indeed were the "bubbles" people kept talking about. Only this time, the slowly dawning horror was recorded not in scenes of collapsing buildings or bodies being pulled out of classroom windows but in a decidedly different kind of graphic imagery: cable-news chyrons, virtual-reality pie charts and wonky ballot tallies. It was a slow and stealthy choke for those of us who did not adequately prepare ourselves for the fact that their fellow countrymen could give the collective Republic such a decisive shotgun blast to the face. Not to resort to hyperbole or anything, but this it was cultural, moral and civic suicide on a Biblical level.

America in its immediate aftermath was like someone once described Eastern Europe before 1989: "One giant, dimly lit prison yard." The Beast lives in a Mediterranean climate and even the golden sun looked baleful and sickening. (Shouldn't the weather at least CHANGE to suit the mood?) Of course there was jubilation, but not not the pleasant kind. Quite the opposite, actually.

In the last two months, a deranged and violent kind of retribution has coalesced like an army massing beyond the trees: 1,094 reported incidents of hate crimes and counting. (And this doesn't even include post-holiday mall violence.) Sure, some of them might even be fake but so what? It's their meaning -- that they are even in the air and part of our sloppy under/overground discourse, like the rumors after the Twin Towers fell that all Jewish employees at the WTC had received phone calls warning them to "stay away" that day. It was bunk of course, but the rumor made it into a poem by Amiri Baraka. The poet was heavily condemned for this, but the Beast always felt that his point was this: Such hearsay was part of the paranoid ether of post-9/11, and its very presence -- even if on the fringes -- boded the question: Why is this still here? Why is it even being thought, much less said so flagrantly and cruelly? Of what acrid residue of our collective past was this and why does it keep bubbling to the surface?

And then came Election Day. Now, what was on the fringes has turned jarringly mainstream. Now, to paraphrase Gust Avrakotos in Charlie Wilson's War, "the crazies are rolling into D.C. like it's a fuckin' bathtub drain."

Not soon after the election, the Beast traveled to a family outpost in the middle of Doug Ducey's dog-dick Red State of Arizona -- Maricopa County to be exact, until recently Joe Arpaio's racial-profiling gulag. Our mood was quietly foul, emotions rolling around like ball bearings, wanting to be festive but guardedly so. One had the sense of having tripped on an edge of carpet and tumbled face-first through the looking glass. Five minutes after we crossed the border, we caught sight of a biker in the next lane with 'FUCK ISLAM' emblazoned (oddly, in the old-timey script of a saloon sign) on the back of his leather jacket. We stopped at a Waffle House for lunch and overheard adjacent bloviating from guys in trucker caps about California's new "plastic bag tax" as if that proved all their sneaking suspicions about their neighbor to the west. We rode up the US-101 outside of Phoenix which turns out is festooned with and endless parade of for-profit colleges, all lined up by the interstate like a main drag of used-car lots.

Not helpful. You cannot escape the zeitgeist, and its color is the smeared orange of a smog-choked L.A. sunset in the '70s and it will be on all screens for at least the next four years.

You prayed that there would be some sort of band-aid for all this free-floating bad juju, and there was. Actually, there was a lot of them, and they had been ripped off at once, and someone was not being gentle about it. It was ugly and it was everywhere and it was inescapable. Things were speeding up and slowing down simultaneously. Reality was hyper- and hypo- and post- and meta-. It couldn't get any worse than if the entire nation was a bunch of junkies watching each other nod out. The new regime wasn't in for another two months and the menace was already snuffling its dragon-breath on our doorstep. It was bad but it was going to get much, much worse. The exhaustion of the endless, cancerous campaign made us feel like we had already been through four years of Suck -- but those four years hadn't even started yet. Nope, it quite simply could not get any worse.

And then, like a methhead with an elephant gun, my sister made it worse.

image courtesy of Tsoku Maela

It started around the open kitchen island as the holiday meal was coming together, with me noting the small immigrant communities of Bulgarians and Romanians that had nestled themselves in the Southwest. The retirement community our family matriarch lives in is run and staffed almost entirely by those who fled the insanity of the Ceausescu regime. "They grew up under a Communist dictator and they know about the repression of the Left," Mom explained without elaborating on why they thought of the current president-elect would be any better.

As for the Bulgarians, I had met only one, at a Christmas party in Santa Fe several years ago. My sister introduced us to a friend of her nicknamed Tedi. She was a six-foot tall, vivacious, fiercely smart brunette with a bewitching Eastern European accent and rocking a shimmering long black cocktail dress and hefting a goblet of wine without an ounce of pretension. (Think Charlize Theron mixed with Marion Cotillard -- both in exuberant and unguarded moods.) The Beast doesn't remember how long our conversation lasted, because we walked away from it in a bewildered, head-spinning fog. "I think I have a crush on Tedi," I confessed to my sister, who laughed and touched my shoulder: "Everyone has a crush on Tedi."

More so when we learned about her: associate professor of internal medicine at the UNM School of Medicine; internist at both the UNM Health Sciences Center and the Raymond G. Murphy VA Medical Center in Albuquerque. Tedi began her career at UNM in 2003 as one of the pioneering members of the New Mexico VA Hospitalist Group. According to a local newspaper profile, she "dedicated her professional life to the care and education of our veterans." She was kind and patient with them -- even when they were hostile to her. It must have worked. My sister told me that when Tedi was doing her rounds, they would line up eagerly to see her. Her very presence, just entering a room, was a temporary balm for some truly damaged souls.

But now, just after the ascendancy of a Gangster Capitalist and His Cabinet of 'Orribles, my sister sits at the marble kitchen island amid the smells of roasting turkey and tells me that Tedi did not even made it 48 hours into 2016.

It was early morning on a Saturday in downtown Albuquerque. Tedi was on her way to the medical center. Miles away at a local diner, a 29-year-old waitress showed up for her shift, argued with her manager and abruptly quit. She then proceeded to get into a red Ford Ranger pickup truck and sped off. Sometime after this, she picked up two men. Or maybe the men were already in the truck when she left the diner. Or maybe there was just one man. Nobody really knows. What is known is that minutes later, as Tedi was waiting at a stoplight, the red truck plowed into the back of her Mercedes Sedan at over 70 miles an hour, demolishing its rear-end into a gaping wound.

image courtesy of Jim Thompson

Tedi's neck was broken instantly. But she was not killed outright. In the OR they deployed the countermeasures of trauma. "They had to open up her skull," my sister cried.

Later that day, Tedi died. This literally happened January 2, 2016. She was 51 years old.

But there's more to the story -- disturbing tendrils that don't quite connect.

After the collision, the young waitress emerged alive from the wreckage. Dazed and hysterical, her shirt covered in blood, she ran a couple of blocks to a dialysis center, whose staff immediately called 911. Whomever else was in the truck with her also made it out alive. And ran. They have since fled the state. Witnesses to the crash have also vanished.

The driver's name was released earlier this month. It took almost a year for a grand jury to reach an indictment of vehicular homicide and leaving the scene of an accident. During that time, Tedi's grieving friends were asking questions and not getting much from the local cops -- they wanted to know if the woman was texting, if she was on drugs or intoxicated. "How dare you call me this late?" seethed the press spokesman for the ABQ PD to a retired and respected veteran reporter (remember those?) who had phoned him at his house. Tedi's coworkers were dumbfounded when they were informed that the young woman had not been charged, that she had been released pending trial and -- inexplicably -- had been permitted to keep driving the streets for the next 10 months.

There was the whiff of conspiracy -- although the who/what/why of it all remained maddeningly murky. In the absence of any tangible or logical flow of information from official sources, the grieving inevitably turned to innuendo and rumor. One of Tedi's friends told me that "some sort of high level intervention" occurred in the case, although exactly what this meant they could not elaborate. The accused is from a family without means, but a high-profile defense attorney stepped in to take her case. Whisper, whisper. Tedi's case is being handled by a public prosecutor who has no prior experience in a courtroom. Whisper, whisper.

But the true cause may have been more prosaic. "The Bernalillo County District Attorney's office says missing evidence and court backlog are the reasons why it took nearly a year to indict a woman accused of killing a doctor," KQRE recently reported.

Absorbing all of this in less than ten minutes after we arrived, and already shaky because of the current national mood, the Beast never felt so frozen in the helplessness of fate and utterly indifferent violence. To quote the writer Denis Johnson: "It made God look like a senseless maniac."

It was now open season to be senseless maniacs for God and mortals alike. Usually it's one or the other, not both. Now it's both. The body politic does not fall apart piece by piece; it fails all at once after rotting in plain sight.

But what is the rot here? Someone on the bottom of our socioeconomic ladder wipes out an immigrant doctor beloved by veterans, many of them from the very same rung of that ladder. You know, the same mensches who volunteered as human shields for First American protesters in the brutal North Dakota cold; who have had to clean maggots out of their wounds in shabby VA hospitals; who have landed in homeless shelters as addicts. There is no irony or satire to wring from this. This is America eating itself.

At Tedi's memorial, her shattered husband, also a doctor and professor, told the assembled that when he first spotted Tedi as one of his students, sitting in the lecture hall at the University of Medicine in Sofia, it was "like being hit by an asteroid."

"Every day, I have seen people's lives end, or changed by tragedy in one day," Tedi once told my sister. "That's why you have to make the most of every moment you are alive. You don't know when it will end."

Tedi wasn't supposed to be working at the hospital that day. She had a bag of fresh bagels on the passenger seat next to her. They were for her staff.

When you write for a living (or at least convince yourself that you do) you can't help but court pretension. You can't help but seeing the random occurrences in life as metaphors. It can be dangerous and counterproductive -- you feel battered by hidden meanings with no solutions, you feel oppressed by portents and symbols. But sometimes, even as you know it is just a coincidence, tiny things crystallize, and this sad tale really had it all: the triumphs and tragedies of our immigrant population; war trauma and veterans' rights; the grinding plight of the working poor; alcohol and drug abuse (alleged); institutional neglect and overwhelmed public servants; the dangers of technology and social media, even the whiff of "fake news" when there is no other option, or when governmental bodies build informational firewalls. And sudden violent death with no winners. It was the face of America 3.0, Year Zero.

Tedi's life ended on a street called Constitution.

Saturday, December 3, 2016

THE 50 BEST MUSIC BOOKS OF 2016


Q: "Will two-aught-sixteen -- already being referred to as either a Year in Disappointment or a Year We Got Everything Wrong that will haunt us for decades -- come to affect our judgment of its music books?"

A: "Are you kidding? What kind of stupid question is that? Who gives a %$*&? DRAIN THE SWAMP! BUILD THE WALL!! LOCK HER UP!!!"

But is it a stupid question really? In many cases the picks on this year's list can enhance one's understanding of this new upside-down-funhouse-mirror mortal coil in which we now find ourselves entwined.

Yes, out of the 200+ music books released in 2016, there are the pervasive trends from previous years: Splashy memoirs from music-industry insiders (Carole Bayer Sager, L.A. Reid), the recently departed (Maurice White) and unemployed MTV VJs (Matt Pinfield); the scruffy struggles of failed-but-ahead-of-their-time bands (The Hollywood Brats) and punk-rock survivors (Dave Dictor, Keith Morris); inspirational narratives from rappers you've either never heard of (Lecrae Moore?, Jensen Carp??) or who have been incarcerated (Lil Wayne); the packaging of underground D.I.Y. punk culture into glossy and expensive coffee-table art books; these persistent mixtape-and-Spotify inspired "Listicle Books" (spurred by that overripe "A History of [INSERT TOPIC] in [INSERT # OF EXAMPLES]" trend) that use the almighty playlist as a narrative device (or a replacement for lack thereof); continuing excavations of regional jazz scenes (Portland, Boston) and yes, more goddamn "Boomer Books" on Dylan, the Beatles, Grateful Dead, NYC in the '70s, the Doors and the Rolling Stones.

On the other hand, anyone concerned or at least academically interested in music as protest, satire or just plain defiance will find plenty to enjoy here. To whit: Woody Guthrie, nearly a half-century dead, had a very good year. (You think Dave Eggers invented the anti-Trump "30 Songs in 30 Days"? Think again.) You will find not one but two nominees from what possibly is the hippest and scrappiest little press out there: the Minnesota Historical Society. Despite the white riots going on in electoral campaigns in Europe and America, one might find the vitality of Afrofuturism and Post-millennial Feminism surprising and uplifting. Ditto to anyone interested in the tangled racial roots of America, or the global impact of the punk and rap on civil-rights movements. There's even a book here about HATING music -- if that indeed is your thing. Because after all, we really loved to hate in 2016, didn't we?

And of course, if none of this matters to you, a lot of these books are simply a hell of a lot of fun. Like the tour diary written entirely on the back of airplane vomit bags. The Christmas story written by a stoner country legend. The speculative novel about the many children of an obscure and bizarre voodoo-soul singer. The anthropological comparison of the tribes of Trump supporters to the fans of the Insane Clown Posse.

Yeah, right?

So let's get to the list:

WHO KNEW?
Topics Obscure Yet Fascinating
X-Ray Audio: The Strange Story of Soviet Music 'On the Bone' by Stephen Coates
Kīkā Kila: How the Hawaiian Steel Guitar Changed Modern Music by John W. Troutman

FIRE MUSIK
Jazz in the '70s
Beyond Jazz: Plink, Plonk and Scratch: The Golden Age of Free Music in London 1966-72 by Trevor Barre
Loft Jazz: Improvising New York in the 1970s by Michael C. Heller

GREY MATTERS
Stuff That, Like, Makes You Think
The Hatred of Music by Pascal Quignard

LA-LA LAND
For a City That Can't Stop Reading About Itself
Under the Big Black Sun: A Personal History of L.A. Punk by John Doe w/ Tom DeSavia
Slash: A History of the Legendary L.A. Punk Magazine: 1977-1980 ed. by J.C. Gabel & Brian Roettinger
Woody Guthrie L.A.: 1937 to 1941 by Darryl Holter & William F. Deverell
Original Gangstas: The Untold Story of Dr. Dre, Eazy-E, Ice Cube, Tupac Shakur, and the Birth of West Coast Rap by Ben Westhoff

HELLO AGAIN
The Year's Best Reprints
SON OF HELLO AGAIN
The Year's Best Collections
Music in the Air: The Selected Writings of Ralph J. Gleason ed. by Toby Gleason
Murray Talks Music: Albert Murray on Jazz and Blues ed. by Paul Devlin
Flyboy 2: The Greg Tate Reader by Greg Tate
Virgil Thomson: The State of Music & Other Writings ed. by Tim Page
Jazz on My Mind: Liner Notes, Anecdotes and Conversations from the 1940s to the 2000s by Dr. Herb Wong & Paul Simeon Fingerote

"MIPPLES, MINN"
Books About the Minneapolis Music Scene of the '80s To Tide Us Over Until Someone Writes the Defintive Bio of His Purpleness
Heyday: 35 Years of Music in Minneapolis by Daniel Corrigan w/ Danny Sigelman
I Live Inside: Memoirs of a Babe in Toyland by Michelle Leon
Trouble Boys: The True Story of the Replacements by Bob Mehr

GROK U
The Continuing Excavation of the '60s
Bear: The Life and Times of Augustus Owsley Stanley III by Robert Greenfield
Small Town Talk: Bob Dylan, The Band, Van Morrison, Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix and Friends in the Wild Years of Woodstock by Barney Hoskyns
1966: The Year the Decade Exploded by Jon Savage
Altamont: The Rolling Stones, the Hells Angels, and the Inside Story of Rock's Darkest Day
by Joel Selvin
Music + Sex + Race
Sing for Your Life: A Story of Race, Music, and Family by Daniel Bergner
The Spitboy Rule: Tales of a Xicana in a Female Punk Band by Michelle Cruz Gonzales
Just around Midnight: Rock and Roll and the Racial Imagination by Jack Hamilton
Tranny: Confessions of Punk Rock's Most Infamous Anarchist Sellout by Laura Jane Grace w/ Dan Ozzi
The Humorless Ladies of Border Control: Touring the Punk Underground from Belgrade to Ulaanbaatar by Franz Nicholay

ARCHITECTS
Best Books About Pioneers

DISPOSABLE HEROES
Music 'n' Politics
7 Days In Ohio: Trump, The Gathering Of The Juggalos And The Summer Everything Went Insane by Nathan Rabin & Danny Hellman
26 Songs in 30 Days: Woody Guthrie's Columbia River Songs and the Planned Promised Land in the Pacific Northwest by Greg Vandy & Daniel Person

FICTION + COMIX
The Noise of Time by Julian Barnes
Screamin' Jay Hawkins' All-Time Greatest Hits by Mark Binelli
The Incantations of Daniel Johnston by Scott McClanahan & Ricardo Cavolo

OVERSIZED 'N' OVERPRICED
The Best Art Books For Conspicuous Display on Faux-Rustic Glass Coffee Table in Hipster Airbnb in Your Liberal Sanctuary State

OH DEAR ME
The Year's Best Memoirs
The Sick Bag Song by Nick Cave w/ Andrea Joyce
Porcelain: NYC, 1989-1999 by Moby
Born to Run by Bruce Springsteen
I Am Brian Wilson by Brian Wilson w/ Ben Greenman

ROLLING PAPERS
Best Christmas Books Written by Willie Nelson
Pretty Paper: A Christmas Tale by Willie Nelson w/ David Ritz

HONORABLE MENTIONS
The Great American Songbook by Sam Allingham
Jazz Diasporas: Race, Music, and Migration in Post-World War II Paris by Rashida K. Braggs
The Banjo: America's African Instrument by Laurent Dubois
Shit People at Gigs by Olivia Grbac
Sticking It Out: From Juilliard to the Orchestra Pit, A Percussionist's Memoir by Patti Niemi

Friday, November 18, 2016

'OUR NEXT VISIT WILL NOT BE SOCIAL'

The following is a work of fiction inspired in part by a true-life incident.

It was originally written in 2005 to come to terms with racial dischord,
violence and the effects of the Iraq War on our Midwestern hometown.

We posted this in 2012 to address mass-casualty gun violence 
following the murderous rampage in Newtown, Connecticut.

We are reprinting it for obvious reasons.


The grit-grey industrial city on the shores of Lake Michigan was known for the peculiar orneriness of its people. John Dillinger found that out when he drove into downtown on a windy day in 1933 to rob the American Bank and Trust and was told, If you didn’t have that gun you wouldn't have that much guts.

The prickly dispositions had something to do with drinking, which also made for lousy and remorseful witnesses. People die in bars here, generations of Racine, Wisconsin homicide detectives advised their successors. Double- and triple-check everything—and even then you won’t get everything.

This became painfully clear after the massacre at Rev’s Place on Wisconsin Avenue. None of the survivors were able to confirm exactly when the shooter first entered the corner tavern. They left investigators with a murky composite: dark-hooded jacket over blue worker’s overalls and scuffed crème-colored boots. One patron who sat next to him at the bar before he retreated to a corner pinball machine noticed a tattoo on the web of his left hand and a yellow lighter with the Green Bay Packers logo. Another insisted the Packers logo was the tattoo and the lighter was merely smudged.



As it was constructed later with great difficulty and waste of time in witness interviews, the trouble started with the arrival of “the Mexicans”—five! No, three! No, twenty! Some said they sat at a table near the door; others insisted they stood near the back. The regulars were collectively well-oiled, particularly a bull-necked Army recruiter with a fade-shave haircut named Harry J. Gelding, who wore white tennis shoes with no socks and long tan shorts advertising knees crisscrossed with surgery scars. Gelding kept stumbling into others in a friendly but aggressive way and nearly falling to the floor; like a cranked-up Russian he wanted everything around him to be as drunk and unruly as he and damn the cost.

Harry had a mouth and the Mexicans were not happy. They were part of a new influx that had seen many taquerías and carnicerías—signs hand-painted in blotchy deformed red and green lettering—appear on forgotten wet stretches of the rust-brown and cream-brick beige city where many of the old factories had moved south or east. Indeed, a few Latin-themed records had crept into the jukeboxes of the local taverns; they had just introduced a giant Chorizo to the grand costumed sausage race at Miller Park. But Gelding and his friends—the majority of people in the bar—were the remnants of the German and Danish sectors, the Slavs and the Poles and the Armenians, undemonstrative drinkers whose necks sunk into their collars as the night wore itself down and smeared halos grew around the beer lights. Gelding—charming some women nearby and laughing ar-har-har—was the only exception. As it turned out, the Mexicans thought so, too.

The next day, the Journal Times landed outside his second floor apartment, its front page showing the gaping ruins of Rev’s Place. Harry J. Gelding opened the paper, fuzzily rescreening the large brown women, two of them, strolling over in winter coats that swished like insect wings; oily ringlet hair and dark lines around their silver mouths; flat noses like bulbs of mushrooms and moles rat-a-tatted on their jowled cheeks; dangerously long nails just waiting to be stuck right in your eyes.

They chose their moment when he was in mid-swig: “Hey, choo spell my friend’s dreenk.”

Harry knew their men were pulling some sort of asymmetrical warfare: sending their women over to test the waters, to nudge him with the implicit knowledge that he was being nudged. The drink? Who knows? He might have spilled it, not the first time mind you. But he knew the drill: Every scrap-iron oldster in town was his friend for life after one beer spilled and rebought five years ago. It was shorthand that most of the city understood.

Harry told them, “Sure, sure I’ll buy you a dreenk, no problem.”

The hot radio-tube taste was already in his mouth, and he heard the downward chop of fate as the air became cold and hot and the Schlitz lamp above the pool table jumped to a heartbeat rhythm. Down the bar, Rev had fallen off his stool and was being picked up by the hands of his laughing friends, who were slapping him on the cheeks. Gelding saw then it was the Wild West. No police would even come into this neighborhood at this hour. If they did, someone would already have to be dead.
It had the queer slo-mo logic of gutter confrontations. It spun Gelding’s head around. These gorditas and their phoney-tough esses. They swaggered into this place and expected los gringos to shrink away to the shadows, trembling, backs against the pull-tab machines. Oh, oh no. No. Gelding knew crazy white boys. He considered himself one—of the Don’t Tread Here variety. And there was Guy.

Guy. One of the first to re-enlist when the country was attacked. Even before he left for the desert he was fond of saying, If this is going to be a death struggle I say we get down to it for once and forever, toe to toe, just slam away at each other until there’s only one side left standing. “And I wanna be there to kill ‘em on contact!” he’d add with a whoop, smacking his knees together and thumping his breastplate, unaware how much he sounded like a pesticide commercial. “Hell yeah we’re gonna come and take your oil!”


Gelding had never seen combat in twenty-three years in the military—only its edges in Germany and South Korea—while Guy rocked the Mog, Asscrackistan and Eye-Rag II. The only story Harry had to match ten of his was the Sergeant at the Eau Claire Recruiting Station who popped himself through the mouth a few weeks ago—sitting at his desk, no less—just as Harry was jumping in the car to go up to give him a review. Couldn’t handle the pressure of keeping his quota during such a hot time for the Company. Maybe the poor fuck had food spoiling at home. Gelding didn’t think much of it, really.

With the sickly-sweet light of the sun poking though the broken blinds and the sparkled dust floating over the tops of the beer bottles on his abraded coffee table, Gelding read on in stunned hungover silence,. A survivor, questioned by a young reporter for the Racine Journal Times, explained that “an Army-looking guy” had held up his hands to the Mexican women and offered to replace the drinks everyone watching and listening knew never existed. That was the first checkpoint, Gelding thought, absently touching the top of his head.

The second arrived less than five minutes later when, explaining to someone about how an Army quack botched his snip job, he was tapped on the shoulder and informed, “Yeah our men want drinks, too.”

That was it. Gelding wheeled his body full around on the stool and was about to lay into this burrito grande in a Raiders parka (Raiders?!) when Gelding’s Army girlfriend, a fireplug of a woman with pointed-up tits named Kelly-Lynn, stepped up and curled a sneer out along with her cig smoke: “Get your asses back to the ghetto where you belong.”

The whole line at the bar went hooaahh and there was the chittering sound of breaths being drawn into rib cages and held tight like rubber bands.

Bam. The gorditas were on Gelding’s lady like hot thrown tar. They surrounded her and pushed her back nearly halfway across the room, flattening her against the rail of the pool table, drowning her face in their palms, raking it red as pigmeat, upsetting the billiard placement. No one was prepared for the ferocity of the attack—even Gelding was taken aback. When Kelly-Lynn was pulled out of the twin wall of black parkas she had a piece of scalp missing from the top of her head and both her eyes were closed and glistening. Gelding could not believe it: she was crying.

Kelly-Lynn was sexy in that sturdy tomboyish way: carrying Viagra in her purse and dropping it in his drink without warning; fucking him right through a flimsy shower stall wall in Bamberg wearing her combat boots; playing topless golf at Camp Bonifas and blowing kisses towards Pyongyang and the snipers of the Supreme Leader. Why couldn’t she use that moxie now, in this fine moment of step-up street theater?

Rev, awoken from his brown-liquor stupor, promptly ejected her from the bar. That pit-faced old redneck—how many beers bought for him?—was siding with the Mexicans. Gelding didn’t know what made his ankles wobbly at that moment but he hoped it wasn’t fear. (He wouldn’t know what that felt like anyway!) He managed to grab his coat and Kelly-Lynn in the same hand and backed them out of the front door into the whiplash cold. It sobered him up and Kelly-Lynn’s shrieking woke him up even more—except, wait, she was angry at him! Grabbing—no, pawing—his jacket and coughing up words like Harry Harry Harry oh god fuckin Harry I always stand up for you and you let them do that to me Harry. That made Gelding hot, and he turned and unleashed on Rev, who himself stood unsteadily in the open doorway and yelled, “Yer barred for life! Both o’ ye! Barred for life!” Behind him, behind the hands holding him back, behind the formless faces at the bar looking on in soused shock, Gelding heard the jukebox start up on a Selena tune.

That’s when the nausea started—every punch he had taken in every fight since he was five years old came back to him in one horrid whollop of gut pain like his stomach was being pan-fried. And lo, Army Staff Sergeant First Class Harry J. Gelding actually backed off the second time that night, grabbing Kelly-Lynn with her ropes of snot and wrestling the car door open and stuffing his wet mewling lady in the passenger side like she was a suit bag. It was an exquisite and agonizing opera on the cold dark street corner. Turns out, leaving at that moment saved their lives.
What happened next: The kid who had wandered into the bar two hours earlier with his face drowned in the shadows of his hooded jacket save for a single orange glow of a cigarette came to life. No one saw him until he loomed like a Golem out from the corner with the pinball machine, already wielding a pool cue he had snatched up from the floor. Swinging it in an arc, he landed the lead handle against the side of the Mexican girl’s skull, making a large thok sound, snapping her head back and bouncing the cue so it hit the lamp over the pool table, vaporizing it in a grenade blast of colored glass and plunging the whole room into a harsh white light. Dead black specks of insects trapped inside the exposed bulbs threw tall deformed shadows against the black windows and imitation wood paneling of the pool room. A return-arc of the cue brought the big girl down, her body jack-knifing as she went to the floor.

Seeing this from next room, the Mexican men were as ready as cobras, launching off their chairs, spinning the tall bar table until it fell over with a crash. The assailant had made his way to the back hallway right off the pool room, where the second girl was emerging from the ladies’ room, wiping the corners of her mouth with a piece of toilet paper. He came straight at her and used the pool cue like a spear and made a perfectly ruthless jab of the pointy blue end straight into the girl’s cheekbone, popping the eye socket. She made a sort of huhhnnhh sound and covered her face, sinking to one knee against the wall, the eye hanging at an odd angle like a tiny onion between her bloody fingers, iris furiously focusing and refocusing to the swinging pool lamp.

By this time, the esses were jamming their truck frames into the tiny hallway. The Men’s Room door was already bolted. Rev had passed out again and people were trying to raise him up off his oaken, USMC-tatted forearm to get him to pay attention to what was unfolding in the next room, where the bathroom door rumbled from the men’s hammering fists. One pulled something short and curled from his back pocket and started punching the door with its tip, making long ugly streaks of yellow woodgrain. Behind them, along with the shrieks of their one-eyed gordita whom they had passed without bending to help, pool players cradled the dented head of her partner, who had a queer clear fluid collecting under her nose.

The one witness in the tiny bathroom, a retired custodian at St. Catherine’s High School named Bob Steak, had emerged from the single shit stall to see an extremely skinny kid, stalk of his neck sticking out of mounds of clothing, newly shaved head, whole body resting against the door as he listened to the pounding and cries of Muerto! coming from the other side. Steak was hard of hearing and therefore didn’t appreciate the situation. “Everything okay there son,” was his gentlemanly way of trying to get the kid to move to the side so he could wash his hands in the white sink with the orange rust ring.

The kid didn’t move. He heard the kid say, “Get back if you know what’s good for you.” His voice vibrated slightly from the drum beats against the door. Steak did as he was told. He didn’t like the egg-yolk color of the kid’s eyes, nor that his teeth had braces. Streak stood in the stall as the toilet calmed down behind his knees. It was from there he saw everything.

He saw the kid wrap a blue bandanna around his bald dome and step back from the door and turn towards it as if he were about to start an argument. Up in his hand came something Steak immediately identified as a 9mm semiautomatic. He heard the kid say something very carefully and slowly to him, nodding to make sure it had sunk in, before he fired three rounds through the door, two at waist level and then one straight ahead. He saw the kid daintily unlock the door and crouch as he opened it, springing off one boot into the hallway. Steak knew a 9mm pistol could hold up to 24 rounds but heard so many overlapping shots and screams he lost count.

Steak peered his head out of the bathroom to try to listen to the kid deliver some sort of speech to the now-emptied bar. He couldn’t hear it all so Steak came slowly out of the bathroom. He averted his eyes from the bodies lying in the hallway and walked carefully towards where the kid was pointing the pistol straight down into the face of a large woman in a dark parka who lay half-under the pool table with one leg twisted outwards at an intolerable angle. As he edged closer, he heard the kid speaking to the head beneath the gun’s sights:

“What happened to those tough guys, huh? What happened to them? Was it worth it? Where are they now?”


Steak was wrenched by this scene, his stomach filling up with acid soup and his knee quivering and threatening to give out. It was pornographic, made ridiculous by the movie quality of it all. In Korea, you didn’t make speeches, you just shot them. There wasn’t that much intrigue about it except for what you went through in the dark in the maddeningly quiet nights back home. This kid seemed to roll off his revenge scroll as if he had been practicing before a mirror, with such a robotic quality that it led Steak to believe someone had taught it to him, drilled it into him, had him repeat it over and over until the kid was parroting the voice of the teacher, not his own.

Steak stepped up and said, “Okay son, okay. She’s dying, okay, can’t you see her pupils? Let her alone, alright? See that on her face? That ain’t snot—it’s spinal fluid. Okay?” When Steak added “You won,” the kid shot the woman three times in the face, the chamber snapping itself empty. Steak dropped his hand and stepped back.

The bar was quiet and reeked of liquor, urine, sweat and cordite. Broken glass lay in pools of blood and beer mashed by panicked boot prints into a rancid tapestry. A forest of glasses and bottles sat abandoned on the bar, lit by the beer lights and the fading red pulses of cigarettes dying in separate ashtrays. The swinging bulbs from the broken pool-table lamp had stabilized but their queasiness was replaced by the rotating splashes of red coming from the squad cars that were just beginning to pull up in the cold outside.

Steak did not even think of clocking the kid or grabbing the gun. He was an old man now and he did no such things. Steak watched the kid fasten another clip and stalk into the next room where he found Rev trying to access an old Cold War bomb shelter that opened out of the floor. “For not protecting your people,” the kid hissed after he shot Rev four times.

Steak had heard the pops like the kid had fired the chambers just inches from his ears. His head still rang as the kid then stalked to the front of the bar, crouching and squinting past the red glowing ‘Come On In, Partner!’ sign at the three, four, now five squad cars with their shimmying gumballs throwing funhouse light into the dead tavern.

The kid flipped up his hood, hefted the 9mm and jammed his other hand so deep into his other pocket that it looked as if he was stabbing himself. He looked back at Steak and grinned, the braces on his teeth black and oily. Steak heard the kid as clean and as clear as each single dew drop off a wet twig:
“I’m doing this for you, brother. I’m doing this for us.”

The kid kicked open the front door, shattering it against the side of the building as he walked forward hollering, “Light it up you shitasses, light it up now.” Then the metallic echo of a loudspeaker—“put the gun down put the gun down put it down put the goddamn thing down now now now”—as the kid exploded. The concussion blew out all the windows of the bar and threw the death scene into blackness and caused Steak’s knee to pop as he sank to the floor, passing out from the pain and the
drink and the shockwave and his third and final heart attack.


The next morning, the man who had inadvertently started all of this finished the article in the Racine Journal-Times and promptly stumbled to his tiny bathroom to vomit, replaying the factoids he could not get out of his mind: the Neighborhood Bar Bomber, as he was now being called, was wearing a vest made of the powerful explosive RDX and had packed it full of ball bearings to kill as many people as possible. In his car parked one block down the street they found 35 rounds of ammo in the back seat—plus more explosives in the trunk. Wrapped in a plastic Econoprint sack under the front seat was a box of business cards with crimson lettering: ‘Our Next Visit Will Not Be Social’.

In that instant, Guy came back to Harry Gelding in a sick rush.

When Guy came home from his second tour his hair had turned a salt-and-pepper color and his teeth seemed permanently browned. He kept talking about parasites and how it took him two days to eat half a sandwich. Mixing and matching his Remeron and Depakote with Zoloft, washing them down with beer, his friend of thirty-two years had concluded: They came from all over the world to kill us.
Harry knew enough not to ask him about the war, just to wait until he was ready. You just knew it was an intimate thing. When Guy Cunniver spoke of it at all, it was with little teasing shreds, not any direct remembrance of what he had seen or inflicted but odd, small facts with no context. He spoke of dreams of smoking meth with his dead mother and the puffs of smoke coming out of her mouth in perfect round black balls, shiny like the beads he saw in a straw basket in some filthy market in Haditha. He referenced the phrase “skull orchard” as he rubbed his neck tattoos red. Since he returned to Racine, he’d walk down the street and a small fox’s head—just the head—would be following him, floating in the air over his right shoulder. Other times, he saw black flags flapping in trees or from the tops of houses. At night he would be pursued by giant camel spiders—shitloads of them, Harry—who snuck in perfect attack formation across lawns and down the sides of his bedroom walls and even up through the cracks in his floor. Whenever he sensed them coming, his ears would cease giving him sound and he would become deathly afraid of smells. I think I was supposed to buy it, Guy said. I just kept missing it.

Later that day, Harry J. Gelding cleaned himself up and went to his bartending shift at the Ice Box, all the while expecting the cops to call him downtown to make a statement. Kelly hadn’t called him; she probably wouldn’t after last night, when he simply dropped her off at her place after she had gotten nasty and turned on him, berating him for his snipped balls and the fact that he would never be able to give her a child. He let her go without saying anything and went back to the horrid black alone of his apartment.

The massacre was all over the local news—Good lord, they couldn't get over it!—and Harry switched all the screens in the bar to the Badgers game. Strangely, they played to a dead room and Gelding was unnerved by the lack of customers—not one of his friends came in or called to ask, Dude what happened last night? It left him alone with his thoughts. Right before dusk, a guy wobbled up to the bar and handed him back a plastic Bud Lite bucket full of empty shorties and icewater: “Hey guy, take care of these dead soldiers.”

Memories came flooding through Harry’s head again. Lately, Guy had been making cracks that on the surface sounded like his usual sick jokes: Your recruiting station with all those shiny new government vehicles, Harry, I could hit that place so easily. “88th Regional Readiness Command”?—Shit, I could kill every Fobbit in there if I wanted. I could even go to the cop station downtown and rain a little Najaf or Ramadi on their sleepy fat asses. I could make them tapdance and moonwalk.

I know you could, Harry would tell him. As if it were enough that someone knew this.

Only once his friend had slipped and said, I think I left Guy back there.

It hit Gelding like a crab’s claw crushing his chest. Gelding wondered if that kid last night was the part Guy had been talking about—the part he left behind in the desert that somehow had followed him back home and walked uninvited into the bar last night to deliver death like Halloween candy. He and Katie had just missed the Reaper by minutes—no, seconds. Gelding’s knee felt like something was chewing on it from the inside as he unloaded a case of Leinenkugel’s from the walk-in freezer. The notion began growing in his head that bad things were going to start breaking out like blood flowers all over this reedy, unfettered place at the center of the continent.

Gelding shivered in the cold smoke. His ears plugged themselves and left him vulnerable to voices he had never heard before. Everything that has not yet exploded will now, they said. You didn’t see any of it coming. And you should have.


Thursday, November 3, 2016

SOUNDPRINTS (Nov/Dec edition)


NEW MUSIC BOOKS FOR NOVEMBER + DECEMBER

Nominally a jazz writer-blogger, Marc Myers collects some of his Wall Street Journal columns in Anatomy of a Song: The Oral History of 45 Iconic Hits That Changed Rock, R&B and Pop. (Read this interview with Myers about the Clash's "London Calling.") The sad departure of the Purple One this year coincides with a wave of nostalgia for the scruffy but hugely influential Minnesota music scene: photographer Daniel Corrigan collects his favorite images in Heyday: 35 Years of Music in Minneapolis (check out this Pitchfork profile) and veteran Twin Cities music scribe Jim Walsh collects his own Bar Yarns and Manic-Depressive Mixtapes. Pittsburgh U music prof Michael C. Heller delved into the personal collections of many of New York's finest jazz masters to tell the story of Loft Jazz: Improvising New York in the 1970s. As they always do towards the end of the year, bios and memoirs are coming fast and furious: Tool/Puscifer frontman Maynard James Keenan's A Perfect Union of Contrary Things (watch the book trailer here); former enigmatic guitar whiz for the Smiths Johnny Marr's Set the Boy Free by Johnny Marr (go here for a recent interview); Testimony by Robbie Robertson (read an excerpt here); and Against Me! frontperson Laura Jane Grace's Tranny: Confessions of Punk Rock's Most Infamous Anarchist Sellout (go here for an excerpt). But probably the most out-of-the-box choice for a music bio would be a famed LSD chemist, but in Bear: The Life and Times of Augustus Owsley Stanley IIIRobert Greenfield makes the case for the man Steely Dan once dubbed "Kid Charlemagne." (Go here for Greenfield's Rolling Stone profile of Stanley.) The handsome oral-history volume No Half Steppin' also collects photographer Claude "Paradise" Gray's documenting of the pioneering hip hop scene at NYC's Latin Quarter club. Those who loved 1Q84 and The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle by the Japanese novelist Haruki Murakami know that music often plays subtle but pivotal roles in his novel; his new collection Absolutely on Music: Conversations should not disappoint. And for Ed Ward's first volume of The History of Rock & Roll, Volume I: 1920-1963, we pray that its fascinating epic scope (part 1 starts in 1920) will not render it as virtually unreadable as Ward's 1986 tome Rock of Ages: The Rolling Stone History of Rock & Roll. FINGERS CROSSED.

Thursday, October 6, 2016

SOUNDPRINTS (Oct. edition)


NEW MUSIC BOOKS IN OCTOBER:

First Third Books unveils the photo album Big Star: Isolated in the Light while, to the immense consternation of its control-freak subject, writer Nick Hasted unveils Citizen Jack: How Jack White Built an Empire From the Blues. Amend these volumes with Michael Buffalo Smith's Capricorn Rising: Conversations in Southern RockThe life of the great soul auteur Curtis Mayfield is remembered by his son Todd in Traveling Soul while roots-Americana auteur T-Bone Burnett is given the same treatment in Lloyd Sach's A Life in Pursuit. Emily Lordi adds to Bloomsbury's 33 1/3 series with Donny Hathaway Live. A month after Beach Boys blowhard Mike Love's bitter autobiography comes bandmate Brian Wilson's long-awaited (and thrillingly titled) memoir I Am Brian Wilson. Coinciding with Jim Jarmusch's eagerly awaited documentary Gimme Danger comes the Jon Savage/Jeff Gold-edited Total Chaos: The Story of the Stooges. Historian Toby Mott curates Oh So Pretty! Punk in Print, 1976-1980. With the rise of interest in Afrofuturism, Paul Youngquist illuminates one of its architects -- the mercurial "Space Jazz" bandleader Sun Ra -- in A Pure Solar World. Another kind of futurism rears its mascaraed eyes in Simon Reynolds' Shock and Awe: Glam Rock and Its Legacy, from the Seventies to the Twenty-first Century. David Hadju gives his own "personal and idiosyncratic" memoir of pop music in Love for Sale. The bowler hat-wearing Rice Miller was actually the second blues harpist known as "Sonny Boy" Williamson; author
Mitsutoshi Inaba searches for the life of the first in John Lee "Sonny Boy" Williamson: The Blues Harmonica of Chicago's Bronzeville. Now that it's October and the weather's getting shittier, why not load up on the pleth of books about Great Britain -- Rizzoli's deluxe $160 doorstop God Save Sex Pistols, Lol Tolhurst's Cured: A Tale of Two Imaginary Boys, Jenn Pelly's The Raincoats, and synth wizard Thomas Dolby's memoir The Speed of Sound -- and New York -- Steven Blush's New York Rock, Lil Wayne's Riker's Island memoir Gone 'Til November and Peter Ames Carlin's Paul Simon bio Homeward Bound. And just the title of dark Americana prince Nick Cave's new tour memoir seals the deal: The Sick Bag Song -- essentially, a diary written entirely on airplane vomit bags. Awesome.