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Washtenaw Flaneurade
27 September 2005
Arise and Walk
Now Playing: Willie Nelson--"Bonaparte's Retreat"
Summer officially ended last week--on the Gregorian calendar with the autumn equinox (I believe), and around here with the final show at the Madison house. It had been intended for the latter to be a "lantern-lit finale," which was accurate but unexpected in a way, as every previous Madison show had enjoyed singularly gorgeous weather. The night of the twenty-fifth, though, saw fits and starts of precipiation, forcing the show into the garage, with the audience gathered in and around, some with umbrellas, some without.

It arrived at the end of an odd weekend. I worked all day Friday, part of it catering the premiere of Dreammaker at the Michigan Theater. The movie was a local indie, starring, produced and directed by Christine Morales-Hemenway, a frequent customer of ours. It actually went pretty smoothly, and I briefly entertained the notion of checking out Tally Hall at the Blind Pig, but quailed when I saw the size of the line. The next stop was the Old Town, where I found Misty Lyn of Dabenport behind the bar, and I chatted a little from behind... I don't actually rememeber what I was drinking. I ran into Matt Jones on the way out, and could have sworn that Chris Bathgate was in the bar (discovering Sunday that I was right). Saturday, I tried to do what work was possible on the WRAP library--not much as everyone else was getting ready for OutFest, which took place that night. I helped set up a few tables and chairs with Danny, Jeremy, Richard, and the usual shower of people whose names I don't remember. I meant to make it back out there after dinner, but couldn't quite bring myself to move--a pity, as I'd quite enjoyed OutFest the year before.

The show Sunday night was wonderful, with a killer lineup: Actual Birds, Kelly Caldwell, Fred Thomas, and the Great Lakes Myth Society. There was some pretty distinguished accompaniment, too: Chris Bathgate, Aleise Barnett, Scott DeRoche, Greg McIntosh, Natania Monger... not to mention the occasional handclaps and singalongs from the audience. I took a couple of walks between sets and missed a couple of songs. The sets were great, though, all accentuated by the unusual setting. By the time we neared the end, the music and surroundings matched almost perfectly. Dustin, Kelly Caldwell, and Fred Thomas played in the center of the garage, its wooden interior illuminated with a number of lanterns scattered throughout, some as floodlights and some hung from the rafters, that came to resemble a Caravaggio--the singers bathed in a soft glow and the audience a mass of half-lit faces wreathed in shadow. The sight was sumptuous in a way that I'd never known at a show, at the Madison or elsewhere.

The music was first-class, and the climax, with the Great Lakes Myth Society, nothing short of sublime. I'd seen them twice, once at the Taste of Ann Arbor Festival, and once at the Blind Pig. As good as they were on those occasions, I can't easily imagine a better venue for their music and mystique than in the rainspattered twilight of the Madison House garage on a breezy, stormy Sunday night. It was child's play to picture the band as incredibly well-dressed strolling players in some shack in the Old Northwest, playing for dimes or whiskey (or the next flatboat fare), surrounded by curious onlookers. They held us spellbound with "Big Jim Hawkins," "Love Story," and "The Northern Lights Above Atlanta, Michigan," and then knocked us sideways and whichever with a cover of a little known E.L.O. song, "One Summer Dream."

After the smoke cleared, so to speak, I dithered and then decided to join the afterparty at Leopold Brothers, which fractured into about four separate gatherings. It was my first official visit to Leopold's since Election Night of last year, where my stumbling away in a suicidal mood left me with bad memories, all purged by last night. I chatted with Sara, Greg, and Amy, envied the robe worn by Starling Electric's Christian, and had a rather thought-provoking conversation on music with Christian's bandmate John and eventually everyone else. DJ Chuck Sipperley provided a wonderful finishing touch to the evening by granting a drunken request I'd made at one of the Madison House parties by playing "Through My Eyes" by the Creation. I also seem to remember trying to recreate some of the vocal pyrotechnics from Asia's "Heat of the Moment," for which I apologize to everyone affected. Thank you.

I didn't really get a good night's sleep last night, but I didn't care.

P.S. I forgot about Audra Kubat, recently returned New York denizen and lovely singer-songwriter. Her introspective hush made a kind of sawdust snowglobe of the garage, and made the strain to hear her, over the train, well worth it (not that it stopped me from running like a dog to watch the train, which turned out to be a single engine with a caboose). I accidentally surprised her as she practiced in Brandon's shower, by the way, turning on the wrong light to use the facilities. She was fantastic and I can only plead that it had been a long day when I wrote the previous entry. Thanks and God bless, as Red Skelton might say.

Posted by Charles J. Microphone at 4:29 PM EDT
Updated: 27 September 2005 10:05 PM EDT
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7 September 2005
Too Young To Know Better: Labor Day Weekend
Now Playing: Yes--"Sweetness"
It would seem that I have "ambition."

The New West Side Association was founded by Dale Winling earlier this year as a means for students and renters to gain a political voice in Ann Arbor municipal decision-making, much of which is arguably dominated by homeowners and landlords (click on most posts at Ann Arbor Is Overrated or Arbor Update and you'll find more information and some lively opinions).

Brandon, following the success of the Madison House shows, decided to put on a pair of monster gigs to publicize and benefit the fledgling NWSA--an all-day show at the Madison on Sunday dubbed "New West Fest," mostly showcasing local Washtenaw County talent, and the more Southeast Michigan-wide "Arbourfest," held the next night at Arbor Vitae Loft, an artists' collective nestled in a gigantic attic-like space above Wazoo Records on South State Street.

"Go Back To Russia!"

I arrived at the New West Fest early--the only people who preceded me were Mr. Josh Tillinghast and Annie, making her musical debut that afternoon. I brought Italian cheddar biscones and some cornbread I'd baked the night before (from what I hear, I'm getting rather good at it). The day was glorious and I felt pretty mellow. While New Orleans was never far from my mind, life had to go on. As did the show.

There were at least fifteen different artists playing that day--the show was scheduled to start at noon and last until around eleven at night. I'm afraid I was rather unadventurous musically, only lingering for the musicians with whom I was already familiar. And Annie, of course.

Annie is a local actress and stage director who plays guitar as well, and had been a little keyed up for the afternoon's performance. We all would have been supportive of her anyway, but she gave an excellent performance that removed any necessity for nervous gasps of "oh, your set was great!" accompanied by tight, unnatural grins. It was acoustic, accompanied by Matt Jones of Dabenport and "Matt Jones" fame, mostly country-folk (Will Oldham, etc.) with a few surprises thrown in, namely a Nick Cave cover, and representatives from the animal kingdom joining in (a stray crow and Misty's dog). Annie has an interesting voice--when sung, it can be high, light and prety at one moment but then descend (or ascend?) to a roguish, sexy feline snarl. It fit very well with the kind of music she played, and I found the applause pretty deafening for one-thirty in the afternoon (I contributed to it, so I probably shouldn't complain).

Just about everyone else I caught I'd seen before, with the exception of Matt Tamburo, who gave us a rousing yet bone-crushing barrage of electronica (I think), which I remember Kelly Caldwell likening to an atomic bomb. I could only stand it for a few minutes myself, to be honest.

Most of the lineup consisted of Madison House veterans (and are given out of order). The notable exception was Andrew Brown, who joined his sister on guitar, makeshift percussion, occasional singing, and the odd solo performance, as "i. Brown." They concluded with Andrew, resplendent in space camp uniform, delivering a sidesplitting series of professorial recommendations set to music ("Have some sex. Have some eggs.") I missed a few acts as I needed to go eat dinner and make some more cornbread. The Top Five impressed me this time, as I realized what a collective effort their music represented--no one stood out, yet each contributed to the total effect, with guitar, violin, and keyboard (I wondered if their residence at a U-M co-op had anything to do with their musical style). Matt Jones' pristine set was ruined/enhanced by someone (okay, me) yelling during the applause following "Hand Out The Drugs": "Go back to Russia!" Mr. Josh and Chris Bathgate were excellent as always. Eric Kelly and his friend Paul, neither of whom I'd never met or seen before, gave a rousing set towards the end of the night (and seemed to enjoy my Charles Nelson Reilly impression), followed by Jim Roll, who's never less than fantastic. I was especially pleased when he had Sari join him for a rendition of "Double-Time." I'd seen her cover it earlier at Espresso Royale, and to see them sing it together was pretty heart-tugging.

There was a lot of interaction between sets (we were there for nearly twelve hours, so it's hardly surprising). I chatted with Matt, Greg, Dug, Dustin, Misty, met Christian of Starling Electric, Dale, Kate, Molly-Jean, Rachel and probably some other people who I should remember. I also hung out an awful lot with "The Two Saras," which is always a pleasure. I thought it a huge success, even if I got a little tipsier than planned.

"God Bless The Casionauts!"

Brandon said that very late Monday night and I'm damned if I'll argue with him.

I'd been to Arbor Vitae Loft before, for a short film festival I'd found on a flyer, taped onto one of the many lampposts that feature such flyers. It's an interesting space, a large attic hung with decorations and bric-a-brac, and divided a little haphazardly into different rooms and indoor porches, etc. Tonight it was all music, except for a video projection against a large sheet which featured, among other things, Chris Bathgate's preying mantis doing in some innocent grasshopper.

I dared the fates a little. I had to work at seven that morning, but I was determined, come hell or high water, to hear the Casionauts, Ryan Balderas' band, whose CD is... great. Just great. I briefly entertained the notion of not going to bed, in the end decided against it. I stayed for the whole show (even if I was a trifle antisocial), heard what I wanted to hear, walked home, went to bed, slept for three hours, and woke up a pair of minutes before my alarm went off.

First up was Forest, who works at Wazoo Records, just downstairs. I've encountered Forest at the library (where he used to work the computer desk) and his main function in my life thus far has been to log me off a library terminal (when the "End of Session" icon wasn't working or was nonexistent), explain to me at Wazoo that he found The Wicker Man ridiculous (but loved the soundtrack) and then explain that they hadn't gotten in any blank tapes that week (sometimes I really feel like "The Omega Man" of mix tapes). Tonight, he performed as "Ghost Laws," which was fantastic, but I can't really classify it. Prog, hiphop, noise, some incredibly creative percussion... it was good, whatever it was. I need to track down his music (which shouldn't be hard as I know where to find him).

I sat out the Javelins and Pop Project, and wasn't too wild about Charlie Slick, although his showmanship was impeccable--bringing out the bubble-blowing robot was a masterstroke. El Boxeo was great; I'd never heard them before. In my view, the electric violin, along with the accordion, represents a base of automatic musical cool. It can rarely go wrong for me. The Satin Peaches worried me for a second. It was nearly one of those "oh, everyone likes the White Stripes except for me" moments. The lead singer's voice, though, resembled Julian Casablancas more than it did Wolfboy Jack, and the music was more to my liking; I was dancing at the end (and it's now been established by a few friends that I dance like a variety of beloved cartoon characters and/or puppets).

The Descent of the Holy Ghost Church had two unquestionable draws in Matt Jones and Chris Bathgate, and it was truly thrilling to hear "I Know How You're Gonna Die Tonight" on electric guitar. It was like the Madison House went electric (it's gone electric before, but not like that). I'm still smiling at the fact that there's a group out there called "Johnny Headband." Dressed in white jumpsuits that reminded me less of retro bands than, say, the autoworker cast of Gung Ho (1986), with Michael Keaton, these guys gave us a nearly fatal jolt of eighties-reverent dance-rock (as far as I could figure, anyway; it was eight jillion miles away from Otto Vector) including a dynamite singalong cover of Hall and Oates' "Maneater."

In my house, though, I'm afraid all was lagniappe with the Casionauts waiting in the wings. Brandon had caught them before (I overheard him talking them up to a few people during the evening), and I'd heard their CD, Bailamos Muriemos Juntos. Ryan's solo performances as "The Larry Brown Press Conference" had given me some idea of how they (also including Jon Cendrowski on guitar, Scott Mills on bass, and Scott Warrens on drums) might sound live. When I say "some idea," it was still a long way from accuracy. The night was growing old, and the crowd had thinned a little, and no one had any idea what to expect.

They're called the Casionauts for a reason. When anyone used to mention Casios, I'd think of those little nearly-Fisher-Price keyboards for kids I'd see on Saturday morning commercials (unless I'm lying). Ryan's Casio was and is a beast, and I've never seen him or anyone rip the shit out of one as he did that early Tuesday morning. The songs actually sound a little staid on the CD compared to their live show. Ryan, ready to kill in a Pistons jersey, thrashed and wailed at his keyboard, and Jon gave rockstar flourishes on his guitar and wandered out into the crowd with a cowbell (that's for you, Slater--"Cock of the walk, baby!"), hugging Dale and I at one point. And the Scotts. And everyone. I'd worked myself into a frenzy by the end of the show. It broke instantly into the top five; I've had few better musical experiences. The moment when I realized they were going to play "Or How I Learned To Love Mitosis" was almost spiritual.

I didn't hang out as much as I did Sunday--much of my time was spent sitting by the entrance and acting as self-appointed greeter (and my heart really wasn't in it). The usual suspects were all there, as was Andrea from the Alex Robins show, and I got to meet Murph, a frequent Ann Arbor urban politics commentator. I did hang out quite a bit with the tremendously cool and criminally adorable Sara Brickman (one of the aforementioned Saras--Sara "Golightly" Jackson, while tremendously cool and criminally adorable herself, had left earlier with her out-of-state friends Brandon and Jessie), who was preparing to leave for Florence, which, as I'm sure you'll agree, is just awful. First Alex Robins and now Sara--I want to leave for some place really cool so people can make similarly sarcastic comments about me.

It was so awesome that I actually got some sleep last night. I still can't quite believe it.

Posted by Charles J. Microphone at 5:15 PM EDT
Updated: 7 September 2005 5:38 PM EDT
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6 September 2005
After the Deluge
Now Playing: Erik Satie--"Gymnopedie No. 3"
Even a week later, I'm still not entirely sure I can believe what's happened to New Orleans. I can't even begin to comprehend how people are actually staying down there and trying to survive. Amid all the competing ideas on how--and if--New Orleans should be rebuilt (with an interesting discussion over here), the best I can do is to hope that its people are able to reconstruct their lives or create new ones.

As just about everyone who reads this blog or knows me can suss out, I strongly disapprove of this presidential administration and its policies. That said, I think there's also enough blame to go around the New Orleans municipal and Louisiana state governments. Nobody's going to survive this catastrophe unscathed (and I find such musings counterproductive only if they actually impede the rescue and reconstruction effort). The colossal nature of the disaster, though, leads me to focus my ire on the federal government (which some will find unsurprising).

It's arguable that the levee system, Mississippi River, and the South in general have been neglected in the past under administrations of all political stripes. I think, though, that the problem's grown especially acute under Bush, and not just because of Iraq. The administration's officials, after all, have largely dedicated themselves to cutting "big government" down to its bare essentials. Whether these include disaster relief is questionable, and if anyone's read John Barry's Rising Tide (on the flood of 1927), it's remarkable to look at the similarities between the national governments' respective attitudes of the time. I wouldn't be surprised at such a situation, as the administration's ideological dedication to "states' rights" (and, it would seem, responsibilities) might lie at the root of communications difficulties and resentments between local, state, and federal government that flared earlier in the week.

I understand that there are probably a host of logistical difficulties involved in diverting troops, delivering relief, etc., but a lot of people will want to know why TV crews were reporting from the Convention Center on Tuesday, when genuine relief and evacuation arrived a few days later (and why water trucks were turned away, and a host of other questions). The good news: it looks as if most of the local population has been evacuated by now. The bad news: if what we're hearing is true, we might be in for some truly horrific images from the receding waters.

"Tomorrow": Last weekend.

Posted by Charles J. Microphone at 12:01 AM EDT
Updated: 7 September 2005 5:24 PM EDT
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3 September 2005
Eye Of A Distant Storm
Now Playing: The Casionauts--"Or How I Learned To Love Mitosis"
Last Sunday, before the madness hit back home, I toddled over to the Madison House for that week's show. Stopping off at Jefferson Market, a twee yet scrummy neighborhood eatery and knickknack shop on the Old West Side, I tried the homemade fries with the garlic aioli, which weren't all that good, really. I was one of the first to arrive for the show; one of the musicians had apparently cancelled and several hadn't arrived yet. I chatted with "Mr." Josh Tillinghast for a while about culinary issues, drank some of my Labatt, and we were off.

Catch a Wave was a bit of a rarity--an almost completely vocal duo featuring Aleise Barnett and Patrick Elkins, both of whom had ably thrashed me aruond as part of Elkins' folk-punk ensemble some weeks back. It was almost unsettling in a way, listening to cute situational pop songs with nonfunctioning microphones and punctuated by little more than handclaps. The Salt Miners came next and instantly afforded me an object lesson in not judging people by appearances. From the crisp black suits they wore, I would have thought them one of those wretched Brian Setzer clone nouveau-swing bands. They proceeded to knock out a thoroughly wonderful set of rollicking bluegrass, the best song concerning a girl in a Grand Am. They managed to pry loose one of those "Dukes of Hazzard" rebel yells I'll occasionally let fly at an especially awesome show. They even got me dancing, if the word "dancing" can be used to describe a half-shake, half-shuffle done with great care not to damage someone's back porch. Dabenport, or "the band with Matt Jones and Misty Lyn in it," followed, and thrilled me with pristine alt-country livened up by an expert wall of sound laid across the back. Watching Vince fiddle around with his guitar was almost as fascinating as watching Ryan Balderas with the Casio. I should really learn to stick around for the end of these things, and realize that ten to fifteen extra minutes isn't going to make much difference in getting up for work the next morning. I missed Loretta Lucas, who probably had the most classically country-oriented set I've heard at the Madison--excellent stuff, but much of which I missed. Hobnobbing with Brandon, Annie, Jim Roll, Matt Jones, and others completed the picture.

Against my better judgement, but thankfully so, I went to the pre-Labor Day party at the same place last night, hoping to get my mind off things. I got a consoling hug from Sara, who's awesome, even if she left most of my left leg and side bruised and battered (never mind how). Met some people, including Chuck, Maggie, Bryce, the great Mariah Cherem, lovely lead singer for the Avatars, and last but not least, the mastermind behind Ann Arbor Is Overrated. In retrospect, it was pretty comical how shocked I was that someone had stolen my sixpack. Bob Fucking Saget!! It was good to get my mind off things for a bit, but it keeps returning to the flooded metropolis which afforded me so many wonderful youthful days.

I still have to fully articulate on what happened back home. It's just astonishing, both the natural cataclysm and the government's response.

Posted by Charles J. Microphone at 3:22 PM EDT
Updated: 3 September 2005 3:30 PM EDT
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2 September 2005
Internally Haggard
Now Playing: Alex Robins--"Annabelle"
Watching the news is really hard going for me these days, but BBC World probably has the most indepth and interesting coverage of the disaster currently taking place in New Orleans. I'm off to give right now, and if any of you find yourself in a position, please give to a charity that'll send money where it's needed if you haven't already.

I haven't read "Altercation" in a while, mostly due to post-election depression, but the recent discussion on Katrina and the New Orleans debacle is tremendously worth reading, especially the reader comments. And this is pretty appalling, though hardly surprising.

Good news: I got an email from my friend Monica, who lives in New Orleans and with whom I haven't corresponded in some time, and she was safely evacuated.

Posted by Charles J. Microphone at 10:41 AM EDT
Updated: 2 September 2005 11:06 AM EDT
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30 August 2005
Sex, Drugs, Rock'n'Roll, and Death: Memories of New Orleans
Now Playing: Artie Shaw and His Orchestra--"Carioca"
Well, it's already looking pretty bad in the Crescent City. I'm assuming my parents and immediate family are okay; Baton Rouge doesn't seem to have been hit too hard, although I saw some nasty video of Beauregard Town (of all places) on the BBC. A lot of relatives still live in Metairie and other outlying places, though--I can only hope that they managed to escape unharmed. I understandably haven't been able to get through on the phone. There don't seem to be a great many details online, so I'll definitely be watching the news tonight. This week's "Madison Post" will have to wait, as there's really no better time to share a few favorite memories of New Orleans.

Disclaimer: The following set of reminisces might contain evidence of certain misbehaviors which, however innocuous they may seem to the writer, might--oh, fuck it. Thhhhpppttth.

The Aldrich Family Funerals (1994 and 2003)

My great-grandfather and great-grandmother were a wonderful couple, and I had a great time piecing together the story of their tempestuous courtship from discussions and reminisces and general family folklore. Grandpa (Wendell Anthony "Red" Aldrich) was kind of a wild kid, playing minor league baseball all over the South in the late 1920s, allegedly striking out Babe Ruth at a spring training exhibition in Alabama (you may judge the latter's level of inebriation for yourselves), playing in the Panama Canal Zone for the Colon Silver Sprays, and then returning to New Orleans to marry Emelda Theresa Mullen, the precious and very, very cute daughter of a large, middle class Irish family. They were married for sixty-six years, and they were always my favorite relatives to visit. After Grandpa Aldrich's death, I visited "Nana" a lot, especially when I lived in downtown Baton Rouge, since she was then in a retirement home on North St. The funerals and wakes taught me a great deal on what it meant to be alive. I felt especially alive during the gathering before Grandpa's funeral, when I accidentally got my cousin Amanda in trouble for smoking. "I need a cigarette and a smoking partner," she said, and I followed, asking no questions. Five minutes later, her dad materialized outside and ordered, in a nasally threatening voice, "Amanda, put out the cigarette, and come with me." She complied, as I said to myself, "Oh, that's funny." Whatever anyone else says, there's part of Grandpa that totally would have appreciated that.

Kachina Trouble (Summer 1994)

My best friend in high school, Rob (mentioned later), and his girlfriend Jennifer went with me to the city on one of those jaunts one took when life in my hometown of Baton Rouge (memorably if inaccurately referred to by Ignatius Reilly in Toole's A Confederacy of Dunces at "that whirlpool of despair") grew too monotonous. During the course of our visit, we ended up at one of the occult shops designed to separate faithful Anne Rice readers from their money, this one on Dumaine Street. It was fun looking through the various crap on display, and the place had a collection of kachina dolls, the Hopi devotional figures that people must think look so absolutely darling in their homes. The owner, "Donn" (who, in retrospect, reminds me of Larry Cohen horror movie stalwart Fred J. Scollay), noticed me looking at them and engaged me in conversation, which veered terrifyingly into Druidism. "Why do I do that???" I asked myself after we left, somehow taking the whole thing seriously. Of the conversation itself, I remember nothing, except "Donn"'s whipcrack retort to some half-assed observation I must have made, "but who was the TEACHER????" On every subsequent visit to the Quarter, I've made damn sure to keep away from Dumaine. The Wicker Man was set in Scotland, but you can't be too careful.

Lollapalooza (17 Aug. 1994)

Lollapalooza '94 was the first genuine rock show I attended (having led a fairly low-key social life during high school). The Breeders, L7, the Beastie Boys, A Tribe Called Quest, and the Smashing Pumpkins were all there. I'd met a motley collection of people from work that summer, and we drove down in a not-very effective caravan, my brother Slater riding with me. The show was at UNO, which lay on the shores of Lake Pontchartrain, and we endured nightmare traffic up Elysian Fields. We all eventually dispersed and followed our own paths; I ran into some other friends of mine from Baton Rouge and was none too unhappy to listen to a few sets with the lovely Laurel riding atop my shoulders.

What made the day, though, was the ride back. Jordan and Brandon, two fellow caravaneers, somehow found me as I searched for Slater and begged me on their knees to take them back with me. They'd apparently had enough of Tony and Susannah's semi-erotic antics on the way down. "Dude, they were making out like squirrels!" I promised to do so, as soon as I'd found Slater. The latter soon showed up by my car with his friend Dave and Dave's friend Brad, who had "lost" their ride. Brad was allegedly wired on ecstasy (easily believable, but I had no concrete proof). My car was a 1984 Chevrolet Cavalier, and we found the fit correspondingly tight. Crammed into the "burro," we got lost near UNO, scraping the bottom on a number of roadbumps. Brad claimed to have "taken care of" the bill at a local gas station, and I'm still pretty certain that I drove away with ten bucks' worth of free unleaded. Nearing the interstate, we pulled up alongside an evil Domino's driver whose fraudulent directions put us on the wrong exit. As that vile bastard pulled away, cackling his accursed head off, too late for us to try and avenge ourselves on his car, Brad launched himself halfway out my front passenger window and started screaming at the guy. "If I ever see you again, I'm gonna fucking kill you, motherfucker!!" There was worse (or better, depending on one's standards), but we finally made it out of the city and back to Baton Rouge (a city itself, but you know what I mean). Brad bemoaned his lot--a wrestling scholarship to Kansas State, apparently a fate worse than death--and brayed loudly on how he'd have to take a shower and "be clean" before he could do more hard drugs. I accidentally flicked live cigarette embers on Jordan's knee and let Brad off at somebody's house on Chantilly. "Chantilllllyyyyy!!!" The end.

"Grownup" Mardi Gras (February or March 1997)

I went to Mardi Gras every year until I was sixteen, and then had to miss four years while going to school in Virginia. As a kid, I obviously couldn't appreciate the holiday to its full potential because I (a) thought girls were "stupid" (not really, but that's what boys were supposed to say, right?) and (b) couldn't drink. We also generally watched the parades on St. Charles, either uptown or downtown, southwest of Canal. Well, during those glory days known as the early 90s, I'd not only fallen in love or lust entirely too much, but I'd also discovered the more reliably tactile charms of alcohol and nicotine. It was Sunday (I think), so that meant the Krewe of Bacchus. I went down with some of my Barnes and Noble coworkers--James, Jill, Neal, Katie, Malinda, Bruce, Greg and his soon-to-be-ex-wife, and Monica and her soon-to-be-ex-boyfriend (so far as I know, neither impending breakup began the evening in question, and I certainly had nothing to do with either, although I wouldn't have minded having something to do with one of them). At this point, it's all a bit of a blur. Stopping at Jill's mom's house, parking in Algiers, taking the ferry across the river to Canal, drinking, wandering around, drinking some more, seeing open-faced Mardi Gras tits on Bourbon Street for the first time, hearing Bruce say he wanted to leave Bourbon Street because he didn't want to miss the parade, and staring him back with appalled and fascinated disbelief (and I refuse to accept the explanation--given by others later--that it was because he was Canadian; I find such an imprecation unworthy to level at the country that gave us Sarah McLachlan, Ziya Tong, and Shania Twain), drinking, smoking, drinking bourbon from a paper bag while watching the parade, zoning out to Pulp with Malinda on the way back... heavenly.

St. Patrick's Day Off (17 Mar. 1998)

Erin, at the time, was dating Rob, and was actually the first girlfriend of his to whom I was attracted. Rob had to work and couldn't go, so Erin invited me to accompany her, Jim, and Greg to the city for the day. They all spent most of the time trying to get the goods on Rob (my three companions had arrived at the conclusion that, whenever Rob finished a story with "I shit you not!", "You know he's lying"), and I came up with some entertaining high school stories. We hit the House of Blues for lunch and then some relatively generic Irish pub down towards Canal for Bushmill's and pool. Jim almost literally killed me on the way back by verbally imagining a Thundercats porno. "Cheetara! Drop your pants, you stupid bitch! Sword of Omens, give me sight beyond sight!"

Trips with James (Winter and Spring 1999)

I had a lot of friends at Barnes and Noble (and still keep in touch with two of them fairly regularly), but never got into so many entertaining scrapes with any of them as I did with James. On our first little jaunt to New Orleans, we somehow wangled an invitation to dinner with Jill and some of her family, the latter in the West Bank (across the Mississippi from New Orleans). James proposed a dastardly plan--he'd flirt with Jill while I kept Ms. Elaine (Jill's mom) busy. I thought he was joking (and he might have been), but that's exactly what ended up happening. Frankly, it wasn't hard to flirt with Ms. Elaine. We drank wine while I told her about Howard Zinn, and if that sounds like the worst kind of humanities-major cliche, she taught American history at a Catholic school, so it was somewhat relevant. Everyone had a great time (and nothing untoward happened, in case you were wondering).

At some point, a few months before or after, we went to visit James' parents, who lived in Marrero (also on the West Bank). I drove James down as his car didn't work and his large Filipino-American family was having some sort of mini-reunion. We cruised through the city, Eric Burdon and the Animals rasping out "When I Was Young" and "Sky Pilot" on my car stereo. James' family was great and tremendously welcoming. His mom, Ms. Cecile, actually tried to give me money as we took off for a jaunt to the Quarter with James' sister and her husband, an out-of-state sheriff's deputy who kept showing people his badge and getting into conversations with cops on street-corners. My most vivid memory is of us sitting in Pat O'Brien's drinking (strangely enough) hurricanes, James and I helplessly drooling over the gorgeous Liverpudlian tourists at the next table chatting with their boyfriends.

For some reason, James' presence unconsciously (I assume) attracted sexy British travelers. This, of course, is the same guy who asked the gift shop girl at some other generic Irish pub in the Quarter if they sold "IRA T-shirts." We were at Molly's on the Market in Decatur Street one night with some of the Barnes and Noble gang, and James and I found each other waiting in line for the bathrooms. The latter are worth describing in detail--they sat behind the restaurant in a lovely inner courtyard, dating from at least the early 1800s, with the Spanish colonial windows and balconies that made the French Quarter such a delight. The "ladies'" line was longer than the "gentlemen's", and we found out why when a miniskirted lovely with cartoonishly long legs and raven tresses stumbled out of the distaff can and explained in a boozy Home Counties screech: "Oh, I just had a little trouble in there! I'm British, don't you know! The British Empire! Say no more!" This was not an Anglophobic character study worthy of a Mel Gibson movie or a rogue Python sketch. She actually said it while stumbling away and, in doing so, was obscenely hot. That might be why I'm so into Sally Webster on "Coronation Street." Yeah, she's from a Manchester suburb, but still...

There were other beers, other friends, other events--I met my Roanoke friends Jen and Chris down there a couple of times, and we frequently ended up at the house in Metairie where Nana's sister, Aunt Sue, lived with her husband, Uncle Ray. Their house had my favorite housesmell ever--vaguely like cigars, but not quite. There was also the time I met my friend Jason at his aunt's house on Pontalba Street, smoked cigarettes of various kinds and woke up on the floor covered in his aunt's kittens (of which there were maybe twenty or so) and laughing hysterically. I've rarely had a bad time in New Orleans (thanks for nothing, all-night rave at the State Theatre), and I hope she recovers and that the damage to families and homes isn't too terrible.

I just got back from checking some news. "Unknown number of deaths"... that really doesn't look good.

Posted by Charles J. Microphone at 4:49 PM EDT
Updated: 30 August 2005 5:32 PM EDT
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28 August 2005
Crack Me A Smile, Pour Me A Drink
Now Playing: XTC--"Helicopter"
My brother came to visit me in town this weekend, braving the weather and harsh tolls on several of Pennsylvania and Ohio's interstates to hang out, walk around, and listen to music. It was great to see him again and reminisce, and a pleasure to show him around and introduce him to the local music, some of which I've been enjoying for a couple of years now.

Friday night we had dinner and beers at Dominick's, and then walked to Crazy Wisdom to hear Jim Roll. I've described hearing Jim earlier, but this was something entirely different. Accompanied by Sam Vail, "the Jimmer" just blew us away. On the surface, it's more of the folk/alt-country stuff I've been listening to a great deal in the past few months, but there's a bittersweet core in the music that haunts me for a while afterward. Despite the exhortations from some of our more fellow eccentric audience members to play "Muskrat Love" or even Jim Stafford, not to mention the occasional sound of breaking glass*, Jim kept things on an even keel throughout--the mournful "Peg and Awl," "Old Love," "Bonnie and Clyde" (some of which lies locked away in someone's memory, we just couldn't figure out whose), and of course, "Double-Time," which I'd already heard covered by Sari Brown at Espresso Royale. It sounds just as good on his first CD, "Ready To Hang," which I listened to the next morning.

Saturday, after getting doused with a rainstorm on our way to the Fleetwood, Slater and I went to see March of the Penguins (2005) at the State Theater. The last nature documentary I saw was on the octopus, the only animal that probably fascinates me more than the penguin. Penguins have it hard, man. Going for a hundred miles at a time to find food, watching the occasional cherished egg crack open and freeze, dodging seals and auks, huddling for warmth against unimaginably ferocious winds... they're cute as hell, but they're nobody's fools.

That night was Alex Robins' last show at the Madison House, as he would next day suffer the appalling fate of moving to San Francisco, which I'm sure you'll all agree is just awful. Alex had played before with Chris Bathgate and Emily Hilliard, in the night that resembled a country dream. Tonight he had some of the more diverse openers I'd seen at the Madison, including Ross Huff's full jazz set, Everyone A Pope. Alec Jensen opened, with Emily Powers (who was herself moving to Chicago). We got there half an hour late as the movie time had been wrongly posted at the State Theatre (not that I minded--the movie was great, and I got to discuss it a little with the lovely Andrea, who I met that night). Alec Jensen is amazing--everything he did with his guitar, accompanying or being accompanied by Emily Powers on guitar or violin (no mean artist herself), seemed to turn to gold, and I'd never even heard of the guy before. Everyone A Pope was just superb. Slater and I hadn't heard a good jazz band in a long time, and Ross Huff, who had played along with Chris Bathgate at the aforementioned country dream show, is a magnificent trumpeter. Chuck, who I've seen all over town (he used to work at Ashley's and occasionally filled in on drums for Into the Freylakh's Mike Gabelman), did a fantastic drum set, and the guys on bass and keyboard were great, too--I wish I remembered their names. I'm waiting for someone who sucks to show up at the Madison House so I can really let them have it. With both barrels, mind. Emily Powers came next, switching the order from the first set, the kind of wistful, confessional folk songs she'd played at the first Madison House show. All this set the stage for Alex Robins.

I'd met Alex at the show with Wanda and the Amoeba Kids, and he was instantly and tremendously friendly. Tonight, he seemed to have already prepared for his set by drinking heavily from a number of sources, and just loved the crowd to death throughout, frequently offering to take us all to San Francisco with him. He distributed lapel pins displaying himself looking all badass, and played an alternately somber and cheery set of fantastic country-folk numbers with a decided edge. "Crack A Smile" and "Michigan Year" were particular standouts. The spirit was helped along by Dustin on tambourine, some guy who was banging on a chair, and Ian of Seven Chakraz, who did his occasional set-crashing spoken-word number. This didn't harm the set for me so much as it provided an entertaining counterpoint, and Alex didn't seem to mind too much. I took my leave of him with a boozy hug and a free CD, which I listened to this morning--formidable. Slater left after the set as he had to leave for D.C. around seven the next morning.

I left shortly afterward due to a sharp and sudden depression. All the talk and songs about leaving, Alex's departure for San Francisco and the poignancy it slathered all over the Madison backyard, Slater coming and then leaving, our talking about the past through the weekend and what had happened to everybody, the natural disaster that was and is threatening my home state (and much of my family) and probably the effect of drinking at about four-hour intervals since two in the afternoon contributed to "The Mood" (where I want to leave the party because I don't want anyone to see me like that).

I walked home without a great deal of enthusiasm. I popped in at Espresso Royale, where one of the local bands that play there Saturday nights (Love Without Dreaming, maybe?) regaled people. I sent a few emails and checked on the Katrina situation (we've all known it was coming eventually, but it's still a bit of a shock), and then left. My mood improved considerably along Liberty Street. First, I received a completely unsolicited (and I feel a little bad about that now) smile from a cute girl, and then I ran into Andrew Brown and his friend Martyna outside of Borders. They were having such a good time and in such obvious good spirits that they helped to lift mine. Andrew remarked on how cool it was that I lived next to the Arboretum, and then I realized that I hadn't taken enough advantage of that in recent months. This morning I subsequently took off and wound up in Bandemer Park, traipsing up and down both sides of the Huron, as there's a pedestrian/biker walkway much like the one at Gallup that crosses the river. Kathy and Maggie at the Fleetwood commented on how nice I could be (of course, they'd just had to deal with one of the worst-mannered customers I'd ever seen there), and completed the picture. I'm in such a great mood now I could spit.

Hope for New Orleans, that's all I can say. More on that later, as that's where we went back in the Baton Rouge days when we wanted to have real fun.

*Nothing new to the Jimmer, of course. He'd had an impromptu accompaniment the night he played at the Madison from a Ryder truck that was pulling up in the carpet store parking lot next door. There is one man who knows how to work that shit.

Posted by Charles J. Microphone at 1:06 PM EDT
Updated: 28 August 2005 1:10 PM EDT
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24 August 2005
Let Your Fingers Do The Screaming
Now Playing: The Soft Machine--"Lullabye Letter"
Li Bo, greatest and most beloved poet of the Tang Chinese Empire, lolled back in his rowboat one glorious night in 762, his nerves warm and his mind fuzzy, the sweetness of wine still in his mouth. He saw the moon rise beneath his boat--a curious sight, to be sure--so bright and beautiful, it looked the very face of a goddess. It seemed even close enough to touch, to embrace, and Li Bo tried, falling in his drunkenness into the moon's reflection upon the water and drowning in the lake.

That's one of my favorite historical legends. I think of Li Bo (701-62) and how he went--in a dream of ultimate bliss, swallowed up by a vision of nature at the height of his own achievement--and I think, "that's the way to go." Every time I see a full moon, I think of that guy. One was out Monday night, wreathed by some of the cloud cover that dominated the sky amid cooler and cooler temperatures, a moon of astonishing beauty. It was a dandy coda to a great weekend.

The Madison House had a more than usually friendly and mellow feel, probably because half the audience was still feeling the effects of the acoustic/hiphop bacchanalia Saturday night at Black Elk (which sounds like a teenage-party/bloody Western flick--somebody should film it). Shows always luck out with the weather there, and Sunday was no exception. I arrived early, as is my wont, commiserated with Brandon over our mutual recovery, and watched the backyard slowly swell with people over the course of the evening.

The Top 5 came first, and pleasantly strange they were, too. I'm not quite sure how I felt about them, but I think I'll have a better handle once they play New West Fest on Labor Day weekend. Come to think of it, I was so determined to be relaxed and convalescent that I forgot to say "hello." They played with guitar, keyboard, and violin, and there were even a couple of songs in French, which was an interesting experience. The Larry Brown Press Conference came next, and even though I'd earlier praised Ryan Balderas to the skies, I found I'd genuinely forgotten the extent of his ability. My short explanation: "Anyone who can take a movie directed by William Shatner and turn it into a thing of beauty (in 'What Does God Want With A Starship?') is someone who instantly deserves my applause." It was a pleasant thrill to recognize many of the songs (especially the lovely "Or How I Learned To Love Mitosis") and tap the feet along. Others reacted differently--the zombie song with the long title elicited such hilarity from Sari and Andrew Brown that they collapsed the makeshift bench on which they were sitting. He came there to kick ass and chew bubblegum. Guess what happened afterward.

Brandon Kierdorf of Narwhals Collide then took the "stage" as "Safety Kit" with an appealingly stripped-down musical persona, just him and an electric guitar, jamming away to a darkening sky and a rapt audience, somehow managing to create his own percussion with the force of his strumming (that was my impression, anyway). It was straight-up rock, man against the elements, which was pretty good until the end when he gave us a delightfully folksy number about "loving your bottles" (and I should have asked him the title). Finally there was Misty Lyn, with Matt Jones from Saturday night (the latter attracting at an exponential rate a growing and lusty-lunged local cult*) lending able support. They occupied what I've termed the "songs of longing and heartbreak" slot of which there's usually one to four at a Madison House show, they and their two guitars lulling me into a state that Li Bo might have found a little too familiar. All told, an excellent show once again.

In between the music, too, events moved pretty quickly. I've been daring myself, while perched on the back porch with one leg crossed lengthwise over the other, to see how far my leg can fall asleep. It's an interesting sensation to feel like there's no foot there and then to nearly stumble when you finally get feeling back in the nerves. That's probably an unhealthy thing to do, so I'll look into other forms of amusement. I discussed They Live (1988) with Ryan (and got the Casionauts' CD, Bailamos Muriemos Juntos!), met Sari Brown's brother Andrew (as it turns out, quite an accomplished Polaroideer) and the great Jim Roll, whose superb "Double-Time" I finally got to hear performed by its writer on myspace. Someone accidentally stabbed my finger with their fingernail during an unexpectedly forceful hug (the only reason I'm disguising the name is because it looks funny). Last but not least, we got to watch the lovely Annie give an accomplished demonstration of "voguing."

Every weekend should turn out like that.


Posted by Charles J. Microphone at 4:28 PM EDT
Updated: 25 August 2005 4:11 PM EDT
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21 August 2005
Knife In My Head
Now Playing: Le Tigre--"Les and Ray"
My hangover is dying down, there's a beautiful day outside for me to grab by the tail, and I'm still not sure what "crunk" means.

Last night, Dustin Krcatovich, lord and master of Actual Birds, hosted a benefit for the famine in Darfur at Black Elk Co-op. I'd been looking forward to this show, mainly due to its killer lineup--Matt Jones and Chris Bathgate were playing, as was the divine Kelly Caldwell (all were fantastic--I have Banner of a Hundred Hearts to remind me of the latter, but I always forget how good the first two are until I hear them again). I'd heard them all before, but the hiphop group Seven Chakraz and Dustin's "crunk" act Brain Shake would be new to me.

For some reason, my usual method of recounting the events of that evening in a linear prose fashion seems like it won't fit.


(1) Hanging out and chatting with Annie, Brandon, and Dustin.

(2) Meeting and chatting with Matt Jones, Chris Bathgate, Ana, Alana, Andy, Sarah, Isaac, Jensen, Wes, and a couple of other people whose names escape me.

(3) Dancing my ass off, first to Seven Chakraz (and lifting a 40 when bidden), and then to a whole host of albums spun, I believe, by Dustin towards the end of the evening.

(4) Running into and dancing with Karen from the Fleetwood, who lives at the Co-op, and finally meeting Becca, the lovely Village Corner manager.

(5) Breaking down and smoking one of Matt's cigarettes.

(6) Laughing. A lot. Like I was high or something (which I wasn't).

(7) Discussing movies at some point--Bad Lieutenant (1992), Fingers (1977), and Fando and Lis (1967--?) all came up. I've never seen the last one, but it was apparently Alejandro Jodorowsky's first feature, and I've been told by more than one person that I need to see El Topo (1971).

(8) Getting lost in the green mansions north of Burns Park amid a delicious summer evening--I've suffered worse fates.

(9) Working a tambourine while on the couch (the first time I've ever done so with any intention of maintaining a beat) and yelling "dance, whores, dance!!" to Karen, Wes, and that guy I spoke with whose name I don't remember (if you're reading this, which I doubt, you have my apologies).

(10) Quaking in wonder at Black Elk's well-equipped kitchen.

(11) Affirming, with Brandon, Dustin, and others, the greatness of old Dylan (after I woke up this morning, I listened to WCSX on the radio and heard "Desolation Road").

(12) Telling Kelly Caldwell anew how much I love her music.

(13) Waking up this morning with a hangover, but with the windows open, an early breeze coursing down Geddes Ave., and Springsteen's "Meeting By The River" on my stereo. I didn't mind the pain one bit.

(14) Being unexpectedly impressed by Seven Chakraz--Ian's a born showman and Nikki's voice is amazing (and she looked strangely familiar--happens a lot in this town).

(15) Breathing a lot. And I mean that.

I hope everyone else's weekend is turning out as pleasantly as mine.

Posted by Charles J. Microphone at 1:23 PM EDT
Updated: 21 August 2005 1:27 PM EDT
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20 August 2005
Biblical Confrontations and Suicidal Puppets
Now Playing: The Waitresses--"No Guilt"
The city of Ypsilanti, Michigan, was named after Demetrios Ypsilantis (1793-1832), Greek freedom fighter of the early nineteenth century. Ypsilantis was one of many Greek intellectuals and mercenaries (fighting primarily for Russia during the Napoleonic Wars) who conspired to free Greece from Ottoman rule, beginning in Odessa (now in Ukraine) in 1814. Ypsilantis' older brother Alexander (1793-1828) led a disastrous failed invasion of Ottoman-ruled Moldavia and Wallachia (present-day Moldova and southern Romania) in 1821 and died after seven years of imprisonment by the Austrians (who captured him as he fled into Transylvania, then part of Hungary) in 1828. Demetrios was more successful, fighting in various capacities during the Greek War of Independence and ending the war as commander of Greek forces in Eastern Roumelia (Thessaly in present-day Greece), going on to become the first overall commander of the Greek army. That's my contribution to Ypsilanti Heritage Weekend, anyway.*

It was pleasant enough yesterday, waddling through Riverside Park and watching the arts and crafts people do their thing. The Ypsilanti Heritage Festival reminded me of a much less obtrusive, less obnoxious Art Fair. I didn't really do all that much--went to Aubree's, had a calzone, and finally got to hear the Ragbirds at the Michigan Ave. and Washington St. stage. I must say I was impressed, even if they played a few too many bland covers. One highlight was "Romanian Transom", a blazing gypsy tune knocked out by violinist and singer Erin Zindle. The evening was gorgeous, and everyone seemed to have a good time. I also visited the revived "Riverside Arts Center", where I saw many lovely watercolors and lithographs dealing with Ypsilanti, and somehow found myself regaling the docent with a version of this entry's first paragraph. Good times, good times.

I also finally got to hear Glori5, about whom I've been curious for about two years or so, at the Blind Pig later that night. Tight, focused, accomplished, and awesome--you'd think that the spectacle of so many bands working this 60s R&B-MC5-Stooges-early punk continuum in the same town might grow tiresome, but it doesn't, I'm happy to say. My stamina needs work, though. I made it through Wolfbait, who were amusing enough (I don't know how to do umlauts on this thing, since the "o" in "Wolfbait" carries one), but I was sadly unable to stay for Christpuncher (it's horrible, I know, but I have to giggle every time I see that name), who headlined. I counted myself lucky to have seen their sidesplitting trailer (which promised "Biblical Confrontations" and "MORE Substance Abuse"--respectively, some guy in sunglasses, a leisure suit and a mustache yelling things outside the Blind Pig, and one of the band members drinking from a can of Natural Light) and to have enjoyed a little of "The Gepetto Files," an entertaining if rudimentary puppet show that went on atop the dais in the back, next to the window--there didn't seem to be much plot, only a puppet pointing a gun at the audience and then at its own head. I was tremendously disappointed not to have nightmares.

One weird note--while visiting the facilties downstairs, I noticed a Ragbirds sticker stuck on the wall above the facility I was using at the time, with a scrawled "Oh my Gawd! Just kill yourselves!!" above, with an arrow pointing to the sticker. Whatever happened to manners, I ask?

Friday was all right.

*Interestingly enough, it looks as if Scio Township might also have a Greek War of Independence nominal pedigree. "Scio" was the name used during the 1820s for the Aegean island of Chios ("Scio" being the Italian name), the site of brutal Ottoman reprisals against the native Greek population. The massacres of Chios (commemorated that same year by Delacroix in... The Massacres of Chios) led to worldwide sympathy for the Greek rebels and may have been a turning point in the war.

Posted by Charles J. Microphone at 10:58 AM EDT
Updated: 20 August 2005 11:29 AM EDT
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