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Washtenaw Flaneurade
31 July 2005
You Can Stop Me, But You'll Never Stop Rock 'n' Roll (?)
Now Playing: Aimee Mann--"Going Through The Motions"
After wavering a little, I decided to go to the Sari Brown show at Espresso Royale on Main last night. I had come close to not going, but then changed my mind again. This habitual indecision seems to be working out very well as a strategy for having a great time, as that was what eventually transpired. Privileged to witness one of the four or five best shows I've seen since I moved here, I also got to thinking about how important music and art are to me.

It was the partial culmination of a highly musical weekend. Friday night, I toddled along to the Dreamland Theater for Jess Rowland's latest play, So Long, Differently Thinking Persons. On arrival, I learned from Misha that it was actually live-action and not puppets, which certainly made for a change. "Surprise!" The play itself featured Naia Venturi as an experimental composer trying to evade the clutches of the increasingly dominant corporate world. Lots of weird tunes, ending with an unparalleled tableau of Deadre (Kate Ritter) using a staple gun to hold at bay a host of corporate stooges (including Tom Barton in drag as "Janet," the former Lithuanian basketball phenomenon). Like most of the Dreamland repertoire, it was a mix of imaginative whimsy and left-wing sentiment, the latter of which, I have to admit, veers dangerously near cliche. It's important for me to remember, though, that it probably seems cliched only because I live in Ann Arbor. Also, the "powers that be" don't seem to be paying attention to satire these days, and there's really nothing else to be done than to keep repeating these messages of sanity in the hope that they'll be heard.

ERC that Saturday night was packed--I'd never seen it that full, although in fairness, I'm usually there at about seven in the morning. Familes and friends, parents and children, clergy and laypeople, all had come for the show. Sari's pastor Tracy led the opening act, usually called "Mannafest," but tonight, due to a missing band member, dubbed "Bob, Tracy and Kyle's Band of Awesomeness," and quite excellent they were too, mixing covers from Sheryl Crow (good Sheryl Crow) and Norah Jones with original material. Sari, with her friend Andrea on cello, took the stage afterward and just rocked the place down, belting out song after song, talking with the kids in the kind of nursery-school mosh pit that came into being before the stage, talking about her music... the girl knows how to put on a show, no doubt about it. The ambience was startlingly different to my usual show attendances (generally the Blind Pig or the Madison), reminiscent in many ways of Cafe Momus back in Akron. Sari played a lot of tunes from her CD, For What Is The Journey (excellent, I've found), which she unhesitatingly identified as "spirituals" (one of which, "Jesus' Waltz", made me think of when John Donne wrote occasionally creepy love poems to the Almighty). As many of you know, my feelings on Christianity and organized religion in general are a little complicated (partially explained here), but I think it's very admirable that she isn't afraid to put her beliefs out there in such a manner. Something about association with Methodism, I think, is very appealing and congenial to the arts, maybe having to do with its grass-roots origins. When I think of Sari and her music, and my Methodist pastor half-aunt who's turned into a major progressive badass, doing spiritual work among Latino service workers in Chicago, barely a hundred miles away, I've got to think John Wesley's smiling down from heaven. Awesome work, all of you.

I've had a lot of opportunity, too, to think about how I relate to music. The shows I've recently attended in this town have been primarily (a) garage or 60s-influenced music, (b) folk or alt-country, or (c) both. This weekend reminded me that it's good to break the mold once in a while, and that musical or artistic taste have little to do with genuine personal worth. It also has to do with what's playing at various local venues, too, but the issue of personal choice comes into it as well. Never, for instance, did I believe that I'd be listening to anything this weekend that could be considered "Christian" (although those parameters can stretch pretty thin, if you look at U2 or Marvin Gaye). Case in point: At Karen's wedding reception, the wretched DJ somehow managed to avoid playing something on which both Karen and I strongly disagreed (which, now that I look back on it, was quite a feat--he should be congratulated for that, if nothing else). Now, Karen's one of the people I love and admire more than anything else in the world, but she likes Nickelback!!* In sum, I think that the value I place on artistic taste can sometimes get a little exaggerated, and I need to watch that.

Sorry about the post title, though, but it was allegedly uttered by Tim McIntire in American Hot Wax (1978), the Alan Freed cult biopic I've never seen. That made me think of human speech and dialogue, and the possibility that there have been sentences uttered that will never come forth again. Overheard in the Old Town Bar at approximately 6:45--"I don't like alligators with swords." Classic.


Posted by Charles J. Microphone at 12:29 PM EDT
Updated: 31 July 2005 6:42 PM EDT
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27 July 2005
Who Is This "Dracula" You Speak Of?
Now Playing: The Ides of March--"Vehicle"
I feel listless and drained, uninterested in doing much of anything, especially writing. I think part of it is the toll leveled by the intense activities of the past weekend, part due to the heat and humidity that have fallen on this town like a stinking, moldy shroud. Even after nearly three years of living here, I still don't think that I've gotten used to Michigan as anything but a snowy waste. I should be more used to this kind of weather than anyone else, but somehow it doesn't feel that way.

People from my past keep popping up around town. Levent, with whom I used to work at Don Carlos, said hi the other day before my train journey while taking his dog to the vet. Yesterday, I found my scrummy former co-worker Jenee outside of Red Hawk with her fiancee Fred. A terrific pair of characters--when I had my crush on her, I used to get pissed off that I couldn't hate Fred because he was so cool. Jenee, incidentally, does the best impression of Jennifer Coolidge I've ever heard. We talked for a while and I'll probably be hopping along to her bailiwick at the Earle Uptown kitchen one of these days. I also got an email from my friend Elaina in Akron, who seems to be doing very well in her "new" job (she's had it now for a couple of years, I think, but it still seems new to me) and is tremendously happy with her motorcycle.

Due to a rather appalling family tragedy, my boss has been out of the restaurant an awful lot, leaving me in nominal charge. I don't see it that way myself, more of a "first among equals" situation. Things have run pretty smoothly considering, and I'm enjoying the feeling of being in control in the kitchen. I've always resisted the notion of wanting to be a "boss" (being a professor really doesn't count, as I'm sure practically all of them will attest), especially with my feelings towards capitalism as it exists in this country, but I have to say it didn't feel too bad. At the very least, life at the cafe this week has been a little less constrictive. Sara popped by for a bowl of gazpacho, which I think I slightly overfilled. They say learning how to fill bowls of gazpacho is like learning how to ride a bike. Well, I'd like to see "them" go through what I've done--then "they" can "see" how "they" like "it." Hrmph.

I just wish my refrigerator still worked. Bastard.

On a lighter note, I can't really count the number of ways in which this is hilarious.

This morning made me feel giddy and weird--it was raining outside and the temperature dropped below 60 F at one point. My window was open at 4:30 and I just watched the rain fall while listening to Debussy. Completely surreal, and I still felt that way as I walked into downtown.

I just hope the rest of the day goes as well.

Posted by Charles J. Microphone at 7:10 AM EDT
Updated: 27 July 2005 4:05 PM EDT
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26 July 2005
Toes of Valor
Now Playing: The Psychedelic Furs--"Into You Like A Train"
I returned to Ann Arbor yesterday to find an unexpected sirocco blowing through the streets of the town. I don't think it was actually a sirocco, but then I've never been to Algeria. I walked to the Madison for that evening's show feeling like I was in a spaghetti western.

Jim Roll was playing that evening, and I'd been hearing great things about him for a while, with an especially enthusiastic recommendation at DylanFest. I was tired, though. After everything I'd been through that weekend, I was done in, and the weather wasn't helping any.

Sara and I talked for a while about the various abuses our bodies had taken over the years from minor accidents, and I learned that I should probably catch a Wanderjahr show at some point to find what all the fuss is about.

Actual Birds played again (and I ran into him at the library next day, so was finally in a position to introduce myself), with another fun little set of satirical songs about Ann Arbor and elsewhere, this time focusing on the colossal street-gridded turd that is Art Fair. "Ian," who I'd sort of met at the first couple of shows, provided hilarious vocal percussion and commentary. The Great Fiction, who I'd never heard before, played next, and it was a little odd, as they sounded so incredibly polished. I usually expect acts at the Madison to have an appealingly rough-hewn sound (see my post on "The Larry Brown Press Conference" for the reasons why), and these guys sounded like they were actually recording in a studio, double-guitar songs of heartbreak, loss, personal experiences, etc. They were good, don't get me wrong, but for reasons all my own, a little off-putting. The Victrolas, a side-project of Great Lakes Myth Society guitarist Greg McIntosh and the great Mr. Josh Tillinghast, who'd played before, came next and were excellent, delivering miniature ballads and love-stories with a wiry, muscular voice and a badass accordion, closing with a cover of one of my favorite songs, "Just My Imagination," by the Temptations. Jim Roll was magnificent, and I feel doubly guilty for leaving before he finished (as I had to work at six the next morning). Jim's considerably older (something tells me he'd be the first to admit this) than most of the other past performers, and it showed somehow in the experiences he brought to his songs, one of the best being "Gun At Her Side," referencing Faye Dunaway as Bonnie Parker (and explaining those intriguing Madison concert posters). One of the best stories he had involved his courting a German girl through a series of windows (a long one but a good one).

I tried to get some sleep that night, but the heat and humidity made it difficult.

Posted by Charles J. Microphone at 7:47 AM EDT
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25 July 2005
Tales of Plucky Lazaro
Now Playing: Serge Gainsbourg and Jane Birkin--"Soixante-Neuf (Annee Erotique)"
Saturday, the day Karen Frank and Erik Smith celebrated their March wedding in Hawaii amid the duller pastures of Shelby Township, Michigan, saw me reach said wedding reception by foot, by bus, by rail, by bus again, and then once more by foot, all the while dolled up to the sevens.

After getting some lunch at Casey's, I waited at the Ann Arbor Amtrak station for the train to Royal Oak, which was coming by way of Battle Creek and Kalamazoo and had been reported late at both locations. It was, all in all, twenty minutes tardy, but I didn't mind all that much. My earlier prediction that the nice, relatively cool weather wouldn't last proved beautifully wrong, and I sat by the tracks, read my Observer, and waited until the arrival of the 1:45 (I love typing that).

It was cool and comfortable inside the coach, with ample space for legs and feet betwen the rows, a welcome change from the cattle-car conditions of most American inter-city buses. It was something of a thrill, too, watching familiar places slide past. I'd walked the entire route from the station to Gallup Park, and it was fun to watch the countryside go by, the Huron River and the congruent paved walkway its only constants. Better yet was passing through Depot Town in Ypsi, which seemed to be having a perfectly delicious Saturday afternoon. Every time a train passes by Aubree's without hitting, everyone at the bar gets a free drink. I've been a beneficiary of this rail-based largesse more than once, and it made me smile to think some other lucky character got a test tube full of fruit-flavored booze just because I passed by.

"From Detroit we continued our course westward across the State of Michigan through a country that was absolutely wild till the railway pierced it. Very much of it is still absolutely wild. For miles and miles the road passes the untouched forest, showing that even in Michigan the great work of civilization has hardly more than been commenced."
--Anthony Trollope, North America (1862)

I was going the other way, of course, but it's still interesting to think about. I've never read any Trollope before, and he comes across in North America as a rather engaging character. After early success as a novelist (The Barsetshire Chronicles and all that) he'd decided to write a book about the United States and Canada, a pretty typical bit of reportage for an educated English writer of his era, only to have the Civil War complicate and enrich his plans. So it's sort of like I Am Trying To Break Your Heart, but... sort of not. It's actually a brisk little read--Trollope liked the United States and, unlike many of his contemporaries, was a firm supporter of the Federal cause. He makes his positions clear with an honesty I think recommends him even to twenty-first century readers. It's funny, though, to find him going on about freedom and liberty and then start bitching about the inferior quality of American servants.

Going through Detroit on the train was pretty interesting. When approaching by bus, you do so primarily via the freeway, your only genuine glimpse of "urban blight" being Lincoln Park. Detroit proper lies behind the freeway's concrete walls until you arrive at the bus station downtown, dead close to the water and catty-corner from one of the greatest bookstores on the planet (although you can also see "Hotel Yorba," presumably the subject of one of the only White Stripes songs I still like). Approaching by train, though, takes you through an urban wasteland of gravel, junk, disused rail track and fences--the kind so easily romanticized by soi-disant academic intellectuals. We went slower when inside the city, I imagine due to safety issues or city statutes. Arriving at the Detroit station was genuinely touching, as one got to see a remarkable number of emotional reunions.

I received a message from Karen on my voicemail (still accessible from pay phones even though my cell is dead). She hadn't received my emailed itinerary and so there was nobody to pick me up at the station. I'd heard that Royal Oak was a fitfully tidy little place, the kind that many want to make Ann Arbor, but the place seemed rather wan and deserted. The station office was closed and so there was no way of getting a return ticket in any event. I knew that the reception was on Van Dyke in Shelby Township (I should have brought the address with me, but no matter), so I'd just take the 740 eastbound on Twelve Mile to Van Dyke, and thence the 510 northbound along Van Dyke either to the reception or as far as it would go. The day looked to be shaping into quite an adventure, and I got an "I like what I see" look from a clerk in a nearby McDonald's. It was a guy, but still.

My plan worked, for the most part. I was worried for a bit (during which I walked a mile up Van Dyke) that the 510 didn't run on Saturdays, but I learned different, happily enough. The 510, though, only ran to Eighteen Mile, and I slogged it out on foot, in my nice black pants, blue shirt and tie, up Van Dyke through Sterling Heights, through Utica, and into Shelby Township (I think that's right). This is nothing new to me, and the weather was actually rather nice, but it's one thing to do it in pretty little neighborhoods with lots to see, and another to do it in a straight line past a moribund world of used car dealerships and real-estate offices. My aesthetic stamina needs work, that's for sure.

I finally arrived at my destination after one false turn at "The Gathering Place," where I had a beer and a glass of water to fortify me for the next sally. The reception was at the Club Montecarlo, where I was reunited with Karen and the members of her family I'd met (and ones I hadn't, like her lovely, vivacious, and very cool cousin Holly). The rest of the night saw me dance my tail off (for the second week in a row), subject to the whims of the worst DJ ever, an unpleasant, arrogant jerk who managed to piss off about everyone over the course of the evening. He especially enraged Karen--as our musical tastes diverge so often, it's surprising he failed to play something I liked and she didn't. I also drank way too much Bud Light (not one of my favorites, as many know). Afterwards, some of us ended up at Karen's mom's house, where we pissed on oenophiles everywhere by "accidentally" drinking a wedding present, a ten-year-old bottle of Italian red, in between rapidly warming cans of Bud Light. Now that I think on it, they probably could have bought another kind of beer. It dwindled down to Karen, Holly and I talking in the wee hours of the morning, and then... and then to bed. Just beautiful.

Karen drove me back to Ann Arbor the next day, after a delightful brunch with some of her family, who are wonderful and at the same time interesting to observe. My large-scale family gatherings are from the New Orleans Irish cultural orbit, and it was fascinating and heartwarming to see the Detroit Polish equivalent. As we were underway afterwards, I only then realized how much I missed her. She was one of my best friends in Akron, and we had a lot of great conversations and great times. It was a little heart-tugging to say goodbye, but I did. I wish those two all the luck in the world, because they deserve it.

Best Saturday in memory.

I'll post about the Madison House show later--I need more sleep first.

Posted by Charles J. Microphone at 4:26 PM EDT
Updated: 26 July 2005 4:13 PM EDT
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23 July 2005
The Man Ain't Got No Culture! (Art Fair, Volume Two)
Now Playing: Piero Umiliani--Five Dolls For An August Moon (1970) soundtrack
"When I was at sleepaway camp, my favorite thing was always arts and crafts. Or as we liked to call them, arts and farts! I'm so old, that when I was at camp, it was the Stone Age! We didn't have Easter eggs, we had pterodactyl eggs!!"

--The godawful comic from the Catskills (Michael Showalter) during the climactic scene of Wet Hot American Summer (2001), a snatch of dialogue that's been coursing through my brain all through Art Fair and probably won't stop.

It threatened to rain Thursday night, so my shift at the Planned Parenthood booth was cancelled. I'll have to wait until next year for more Art Fair stories to tell my imaginary grandchildren (who'll probably have claws and fangs by that point, so I expect I'll be too busy fending them off).

I went to the Blind Pig to hear DylanFest, a celebration of the man, his spirit, and his music. I've always run a little hot and cold regarding Dylan, to be honest. I'll think on occasion, "oh, Bob Dylan--whatever," and then I'll hear "Positively Fourth Street," "Lay Lady Lay," "Knockin' On Heaven's Door," "Tangled Up In Blue," or anything from John Wesley Harding (1968) and I'll remember how awesome the guy was, despite his occasionally abusive off-stage behavior and his indirect responsibility for the Wallflowers. He did, however, manage to piss off Alan Lomax beyond human endurance at Newport '65, for which he'll remain eternally lovable.

DylanFest opened much earlier than other shows at the Pig, a whopping 8 pm, which probably threw me off a little. The signs were good and interesting. The crowd was substantially older than usual, a great many I suspected from out of town, and everyone seemed relieved to get away from Art Fair. I also noticed on the TV screen that (a) either Turner Classic Movies was running a noir night, or (b) someone had found a noir station on satellite TV, as both Kiss Me Deadly (1955) and Detour (1946) were playing throughout. "Never mind the evil--what's in it?"

Opening the show was none other than Sari Brown, excellent as always, who chatted with me a little before I left, and delivered a phenomenal cover of "Don't Think Twice (It's All Right)." I don't know where the hell she gets that voice, but I'm not complaining. Several acoustic artists followed, including Derek Daniel, Jen Sygit, and several members of Delta 88, a roots rock band I believe played later in the evening after I'd left. The time definitely played tricks on me, as I skedaddled around ten-thirty, which is often the time I get there at other shows. I went out on a high note, though, hearing the wonderful Paul's Big Radio play "Mountain Girl," a wonderful song I'd actually never heard before (but I don't pretend to be a Dylan aficionado).

I returned home and passed out only to wake at two to hear a party of the kind I thought the neighboring houses didn't have, fully-armed bass lines shaking the walls and vibrating into my bedroom. I accepted defeat and listened to Saturday Looks Good To Me and Roxy Music at pretty high volume until some mysterious tragedy--a fight, perhaps, as I heard shouting and crying--broke the whole thing up, sending scattered voices up one side of Geddes Ave. and down the other, knocking the ghosts in the graveyard out of their well-earned lethargy. I, on the other hand, woke up well-rested in a way I haven't been in a while. The weather was gorgeously cool outside as I went walking, although I'm sure that won't last long.

Today I take the train for Royal Oak to go to my grad school friend Karen's wedding reception. I confess to a degree of trepidation about this. Not the train, to which I'm looking forward like the Michigan's big-screen showing of The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly (1966) next weekend.* Karen'll be there (obviously), and possibly a couple of others who took the professional path I effectively declined. It's generally best not to think of the road not taken, but I just hope I don't have my face rubbed in it. They wouldn't even think of that, of course, but I've been known to make my own trouble. It'll be nice to see everyone, anyway.

*At the University of Akron around the turn of the milennium, it was common practice among certain doctoral students specializing in American transportation history, when asked why they decided to enter their chosen field, to adopt glazed eyes and say in a hypnotized moan, "choo-choo trains."

Posted by Charles J. Microphone at 9:47 AM EDT
Updated: 23 July 2005 10:14 AM EDT
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21 July 2005
What's Wrong With Sandwiches? (Art Fair, Volume One)
Now Playing: The Impressions--"Keep On Pushing"
"Like, there's nothing to eat in our house at all. We actually have to eat sandwiches!!!" I overheard this from a pair of young ladies while buying a Coke at Subway on Main last night before showing up for my shift at the Planned Parenthood booth. Try as I might, I'll never, ever be able to replicate the frisson of horror with which she said "sandwiches."

I guess it wouldn't be much of an Ann Arbor blog if I didn't mention my experiences at Art Fair (we all have them, even if we're only trying to avoid the thing). I've described it a little before, but nothing can quite do justice to the truth. Most medium-sized cities seem to have an art fair of their own--Baton Rouge has the "Fest-for-All," for example, but the "Ann Arbor Street Art Fair"--do they put "street" in the title to make it seem cooler, as with "cool" in "Cool Cities"?--has a national reputation I don't quite understand (although when I think that, back home, Paul Rodrigue made a million fucking dollars or whatever painting blue dogs, it makes a lot more sense).

I don't really have to understand it, since all I have to do is sit in a booth and tell people about "contraceptive equity."

One of the good things about Ann Arbor is that you never, ever have to worry about looking weird--or stupid, for that matter, for instance, if you're carrying an umbrella on a partly cloudy day.* I consulted the weather reports, though, and was "rewarded" when the heavens opened later that evening. I'd rather not think about the probable smugness of my expression. It turned out that I was the only one there for an hour, but people showed enough interest--the mammoth jar of condoms is always an attention-getter.

People are usually pretty friendly--giggling teenagers grabbing for fistfuls of condoms, pairs of mothers and daughters, just random passersby... I always wonder what would happen if someone tried to mess with us--"what's a man doin' in a Planned Parenthood booth?" That'd be a good one, since I could answer "if you were one, you'd be in here, too." My interlocutor would have to be male for it to work, but I think it's still cute. Or "do you love your wife/girlfriend/partner?" I like that one.

Nobody messed with me, it turns out. I went home and remembered I had the Buffy musical episode, "Once More With Feeling," on tape, and watched Amber Benson singing "You Make Me Complete" to Alyson Hannigan, and... I'd better stop now.

And now I find that London's been bombed again. Phhh. Off to see if everyone's okay...

*At least, I hope that's true.

Posted by Charles J. Microphone at 4:43 PM EDT
Updated: 21 July 2005 4:51 PM EDT
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20 July 2005
Fortuna, You Degenerate Wanton! (Relics From The Print Age)
Now Playing: Sergei Prokofiev--"Lieutenant Kije Suite: The Birth of Kije"
I think I'm on a kick where I get off on insulting various minor Greco-Roman deities, even if I have to crib my jabs from A Confederacy of Dunces and Ignatius Reilly's Big Chief tablets. I braved a long, hard day Tuesday, and went straight home, even though there was a last-minute show at the Madison featuring the divine Kelly Caldwell. I figure if I'm not going to be good company around people, I won't go out. Simple as that.

I found my journal while cleaning my room. I stopped writing in it once I started this blog, only to record a particularly horrendous nightmare on 17 May. Most of it's pretty depressing, the kind of stuff I really wouldn't allow here. One really wouldn't picture such things inside, especially with the quote I put on the front from the classic 1967 Dean Martin "Matt Helm" vehicle The Ambushers:

"Matt, have you ever seen a flying saucer?"
"Is that your way of offering me a drink?"

It's not all doom and gloom, though. Some highlights:

1 Sep. 2003: "Chad, the misanthropic bartender at Don Carlos, just showed up outside our apartment, helping our upstairs neighbor, Lamotte, with... something. I wonder how long it'll be before rumors of my apparent affair with Sean start flying around that accursed place."

15 Sep. 2003: "For some considerable time I woke up with weird bruises on my upper thighs, and curious, inexplicable scratches on my arms. I used to wonder if succubi came to visit me while I slept, beating the shit out of my and calling it 'love.'"

6 Oct. 2004: "I've decided to try and be as outwardly cheerful as possible on the streets of Ann Arbor. So many people rush around here stone-faced and/or chattering into celphones (presumably to make it more like 'play New York' than it already is) that they hardly ever say 'hi.' A poster on the 'Ann Arbor Is Overrated' forum, to which I've become addicted, mentioned the 'robotic' attitude of many citizens. Since it's apparently uncool in Ann Arbor to smile and nod or say 'hi' to people, I intend to start doing it as much as possible, if only to piss people off."

20 Oct. 2004: "I dread trying to alter the margins of my thesis this evening. I do't want to do it and I don't want to think about it, and I can't believe I'm being this much of a dweeb about it. Tiffany produced a magical moment today with the look on her face when told (by me) that Linda had promised to remind her about the exposed chicken in the kitchen the previous afternoon. If anyone ever actually reads this, I'd like to apologize beforehand for the intensity of this entry's narrative power."

31 Oct. 2004: "I just finished Zola's Therese Raquin in an hour and a half--it was that gripping. I can see the ancient vampire, so confident and supreme in his ancient ancestral dominions, confronting the work with a mounting sense of discomfort and disgust. Used to heroic lays, his fathomlessly cruel mind actually rebels against the tawdry crimes and self-justifications of Therese and Laurent. A good scene, to be written later." It still hasn't, by the way.

2 Nov. 2004: I'm actually not going to print this one, just to say that I got drunker and drunker as the night went on, perhaps sensing what would happen, and my writing became more and more illegible as a result, ending in a barely decipherable "please kill me."

3 Nov. 2004: "'Planet of the Apes' just came several steps closer to docudrama."

28 Nov. 2004: "I turned thirty while watching 'Yor, Hunter From The Future.' Thought one should know."

15 Dec. 2004: "I just finished the latest 'Entertainment Weekly', and there's an article on Ursula LeGuin, commenting on the upcoming 'Earthsea' miniseries. The picture accompanying the relevant blurb reads 'Die, you otherworldly skank!' Maybe that'll be my new email signature."

11 Jan. 2005: "Wilkins went missing this morning, as did half the rations and three-quarters of our sled-dogs. It was bad enough, being equidistant on this icecap from the Pole and from base in Palmer Land. This new occurrence, however, is a disaster, and the strange howls and ghostly voices drifting across the frozen wastes don't help me sleep better at night. Ellen, if you ever read this, remember that I tried to do my best for you and the children, and that I have never loved my country so much as I do now." Okay, that isn't really mine.

15 Feb. 2005: "I dreamed last night that Chris [Wieder, my best friend in college] and I attended a special premiere of a multimillion-dollar movie about golf at the invitation of Rod Stewart, who was present at both the showing and the gala afterparty. What the fuck was that about? Watch that actually happen to us."

There are others, one of my favorites being my partially drunken write-up of the No Fun Records showcase on 17 Oct. 2004, but these serve as a pretty good cross-section. I'd write about Art Fair a bit, but will hold that for later, save for the following observations:

(1) Every time I forget how much I hate it... I remember again.

(2) The "Jews for Jesus" seem considerably more aggressive than usual.

(3) The most frightening thing thus far: the horde outside Urban Outfitters at State and Liberty. Yeesh.

Sleep well, everyone. I won't.

P.S. Hey, it's "Moon Landing Day." I forgot about that.

Posted by Charles J. Microphone at 6:46 PM EDT
Updated: 20 July 2005 7:05 PM EDT
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18 July 2005
Making Victory Love
Now Playing: T. Rex--"Metal Guru"
Sometimes, never mind why, I come to think that I don't really have a right to do anything--anything fun, that is. It's like I automatically feel guilty about enjoying myself and I should repair to my room and start lashing myself with nettles or some such nonsense for having fun or thinking of having fun. I hate feeling like that, as can surely be imagined.

I didn't feel that way last night, though.

I got to the Madison House later than usual. I'd been taking a stroll through the Old West Side (I really don't know what possesses me to do these things) and lost track of time. I decided to forgo the alcohol this time, and didn't find it so much different. I chatted with Annie a bit and Sara a good deal, and finally got to introduce myself to Sari Brown in person, as we somehow ended up exchanging a few emails. And then the music...

These are out of order, as I want to deal with my favorite last. Chris Bathgate opened the country-bluegrass-folk barrage with an intricately delivered set of songs, both in instrumental and vocal terms. His voice went very well with his guitar, and both matched the songs. I was seated towards the front, so it was a much different experience taking in the tunes this time. Alexander Robins, Matt Jones, and Emily Hilliard concluded the evening, playing solo and with each other. They're all in some band whose name I didn't catch, and as Emily Hilliard is leaving for Vermont, they won't be playing together again, I suppose. That's a pity, as they're very, very good. I was enjoying Robins' guitar alone anyhow, but once Jones and Hilliard joined in, on banjo/mandolin and violin respectively (with appearances from Rob Hoff on the trumpet and some guy whose name I didn't catch on drums), the night began to turn into something out of a fairy tale, the soft lighting and mellowing temperature making everything fuzzy and indistinct. I think a glockenspiel showed up at some stage. By the time Hilliard was joined by friends for a very lovely female vocal, I wondered if I'd strayed into a dream sequence from some artsy rustic horror movie (and if there are any out there I should see, please let me know).*

In between... "There are the known and there are the unknown," and then there's "The Larry Brown Press Conference," the solo project of Ryan Balderas, one of the Casionauts. I should state that I'm rather biased towards Ryan anyway, as he was one of the first people I ever met at the Madison House shows, and we somehow got to talking that day about how awesome early Yes was (an opinion not so controversial nowadays as it used to be--I think--but still a little sketchy according to some). A very nice guy, and as it turns out, an excellent musician.

As he observed in his introduction, most of the evening's music was as I described it before. Most of the shows that have played there before have come from the same musical backgrounds, although I'm certainly not complaining--the Madison House backyard isn't really set up, aesthetically or otherwise, for GWAR cover bands (and if there are any out there that I "should" see, I won't believe you). He trundled out a keyboard, and I wondered how deep his love of Yes went, if we would maybe see an imagined finish to Rick Wakeman's ambitions to render King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table on ice skates (I never get tired of remembering that it actually happened). Ryan played alternately on the guitar and the keyboard, experiencing technical problems on the latter that only added to the experience (there were also planned dissonances, from what I could tell). His playing was a mixture of the virtuosic and the deliberately erratic--he had a good deal of atonal fun on that keyboard (and I had fun listening; it was almost as fascinating to watch). As promised, it was a considerable divergence from anything I'd ever seen at the Madison, with songs that really appealed to me--songs about zombies, tree farms, and Rowdy Roddy Piper movies (I tried to make a joke about Hell Comes To Frogtown (1988) which I hope he didn't take the wrong way). One made some very clever references to 1984, casting Winston and Julia, of all people, as protagonists of a romantic ballad. Doomed lovers, to be sure, but I certainly wouldn't have thought about putting them in a love song if I wrote music. The title of one of his songs was "What Does God Want With A Starship?", which made me wish I'd been drinking milk so I could have made it come out of my nose. Not only does the guy have the finesse to use a Star Trek quote as a song title, but he uses one from FIVE (1989)!!! Classic, and an experience I don't think I'll ever forget.

I don't think I'll have any fun this evening, but I wasn't planning on it anyway.

*And now, after perusing the photos from the Madison, I realize I seem to have mixed up Chris Bathgate and Matt Jones. Maybe I really should flog myself with nettles.

Posted by Charles J. Microphone at 5:27 PM EDT
Updated: 19 July 2005 4:10 PM EDT
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17 July 2005
There But For The Grace Of God
Now Playing: Rocket From The Tombs---"Sonic Reducer"
This weekend's been quite the roiler, I must say.

I went to Brandon's party last night, having prepared a sort of scone-biscuit hybrid which I think everyone agreed should be called biscones.* I got a little drunk this time, which I hadn't really the night before. For some reason, I got all surly and withdrawn halfway through the night and left after having made an ass of myself on the dance floor.

While trudging home, I came upon a guy passed out in a very bad way in the street, which... I don't know. I flagged some passers-by and we got a cop, so they got him to the hospital. Watching other people just walking by and making fun of us... I was surly and withdrawn before, and by that point, I became thoroughly dissatisfied with just about everything.

Today was better. Cinema Guild showed The Purple Plain (1954), a long, grueling movie about pilots in 1945 Burma. The movie actually wasn't that great, but it did serve as yet another helpful case study in the sheer coolness of Gregory Peck. On my way home, I noticed a VHS sale at Campus Video, and discovered to my joy that they were selling every single VHS title in the store for $2.00 a pop. I came away with The Satanic Rites of Dracula (1973), Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956), and Shaun of the Dead (2004). No matter how bad things look, they always look better after Shaun. What a great movie.

Apparently, I resemble a "happy muppet" while dancing. I love this description.

*As in bi-SCON-ays. "Ciao bella! Biscones!" Try to imagine Marcello Mastroianni saying it.

Posted by Charles J. Microphone at 5:48 PM EDT
Updated: 17 July 2005 5:52 PM EDT
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16 July 2005
Terpsichore, You Punk-Ass Bitch
Now Playing: a ringing in my ears (see below), thankfully on its last legs
I arrived home yesterday, after posting "Deluge of Peas", after what I described as a "Happy Hour Meltdown", with the full intention of passing out. The Dirtbombs were playing the Blind Pig, and I had planned to go see "So Long, Differently Thinking Persons" at the Dreamland Theater. I hated to miss either, but I have rarely felt as done in as I did yesterday evening at about seven. Eight to nine saw a little nap at my house, and I woke, figured "what the hell?" and went to see the Dirtbombs.

This town can obviously grow tiresome, but strolling about, watching people on a Friday night, is usually very enjoyable, at least for me. Before going to the Pig, I also indulged in a favorite pre-show pastime, wandering the dimly-lit streets of the Old West Side, safeguarded from the industrial urban horrors of downtown Ann Arbor only by a ribbon-thin set of railway track. You never can tell what's going on in those pretty little houses, some of them, as on the rather secluded "Murray Avenue"--if that is its real name--painted all in different colors. The mind runs riot, especially on dark, humid summer nights. Former sixties radicals, aching for righteous vengeance, breeding colossal killer marmots bred for combat and fed on human flesh, exacting bloody payment for the ecological damage our species has wrought on our fragile little planet? I doubt it, but it would certainly break the monotony.

The Scars and 25 Suaves (from Adrian! I don't know what that means, but apparently it's important!) opened for the Dirtbombs. I arrived in the middle of the Scars' set, and eventually found Brandon and Annie seated towards the front, where I'd never been. In a weird coincidence, I'd run into each of them separately earlier in the day, walking along Liberty Street (and found that I'd actually seen Annie--very good, too--in a short play at the Blackbird Theatre about a woman with a creepy painting and creepier former uncle). The scene had many familiar features--lots of people in straw cowboy hats, and the drunk girl who occasionally asks me what I'm reading*. It happened this time in the hallway connecting the upstairs with the 8-Ball, where she loudly asked a nearby reader of The Ann Arbor Paper for her horoscope--Cancer, in case you were curious.

The Scars were pretty good, of the late-sixties influenced school that shows up so often at the Pig, and to be honest, I wasn't expecting much from the hilariously abusive 25 Suaves ("I can't fucking heeeear you! I mean, you may have forked over ten bucks to hear one band, and we're not it, and as a result, you may think you deserve a certain amount of deference from us, but I don't fucking caaaaaare!!!"). By their third song, though, I moved into the middle of the floor and started dancing. It seemed to happen gradually, although I don't think it looked that way to others. I'd gotten down a little the last time the Avatars played, but this was different. I was never a headbanger, not in high school or college, but... it just felt right, and I continued to thrash my merry way through the Dirtbombs' set, where I ended up in the "primo" tympanum-shredding corner next to Brandon and Annie. The Dirtbombs were magnificent, particularly during a cover of "I Wanna Be Your Dog" and my personal favorite, "Motor City Baby." It felt fantastic, and I haven't danced so hard since... hell, probably since Baton Rouge, and that was almost six years ago. My joints are pretty sore this morning, my head hurts (and not from booze), but it was so worth it.

This morning was quite something, too. I lay awake for about an hour listening to the rain with the windows open, and then came the thunder, during which I made my way to the library. I felt a weird feeling of exhilaration pass over me, as did the rolling thunder, varying its pattern from orthodox booms to sudden clumps that sounded like movie versions of shellblasts during the First World War. Watching the lightning in the distance made me feel alive yet curiously placid in a way I've never felt before.

*John Le Carre, The Honourable Schoolboy (1977). The second volume in the "Smiley Trilogy," this follows Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy (1974), and sees George Smiley try to repair British intelligence and get revenge on Karla, his Soviet counterpart, after the discovery of the high-placed "mole in the ministry" (now I can't separate John Le Carre from the Dukes of Stratosphear) at the conclusion of Tinker. It's pretty good so far, and I'm becoming quite the Le Carre devotee. People have mentioned elsewhere how his novels really aren't "spy novels" as such but cutting class analyses of an empire in decline. I fucking love those. This one's set largely in Hong Kong, and it's going very well so far. Smiley's one of my favorite literary characters, a successful attempt to recreate the "faceless bureaucrat" as a novelistic hero. If given the chance, check out Alec Guinness' rendition of Smiley in the 1978 British miniseries (it must have been a breath of fresh air for him, coming right after Star Wars--and no, I haven't seen the new one yet).

Posted by Charles J. Microphone at 10:23 AM EDT
Updated: 16 July 2005 10:51 AM EDT
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