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Washtenaw Flaneurade
16 August 2005
Whitey's Gonna Set Dogs' Hair On Fire
Now Playing: The Kinks--"One of the Survivors"
Sunday afternoon, I accidentally nodded off after my little art-out and awoke to a Terry Gross interview with Iggy Pop, in which, among other things, he slagged off Traffic. It was a good interview, and they played "Raw Power" and "Gimme Danger," but slagging off Traffic?* Eh. Screw him--I still like 'em both, and frankly, I don't care if he was born in Ann Arbor or Ypsilanti.

I got to the Madison House on time (as I generally do) and was the only non-musician there for about half an hour, which was awfully amusing. The weather was more than a little odd, overcast and even a little cool (maybe in the upper 60s or low 70s--and let me state, if I haven't before, that I never thought I'd be using Louisiana temperature talk for Michigan). I chatted a little with Brandon, and found myself in a conversation out of nowhere with Wanda, a tremendously pleasant pair from Ferndale (north of Detroit) composed of Samantha Linn and Ben Mumma, the first on guitar and the second on percussion and harmonica. I mentioned in passing that I can whistle tolerably well, and before I knew it, I'd been signed to accompany them for a stretch of one of Wanda's songs (which I did later, to much amusement, after lubricating the pipes for the occasion with cans of Labatt). They came third, and create a fascinating yet somewhat unsettling impression--Samantha's voice is deceptively light, with concealed iron (I described Vashti Bunyan's sort of the same way on the British Horror Films forum, so I guess I'm plagiarizing myself, but it still applies). The guitar complements the voice well--it's like a tune out of a dream that gets louder and closer and perhaps a little more frightening. Ben's harmonica and occasional drumming lent able support throughout.

Interestingly, they were probably the most "typical" performers if one looks at the lineup in terms of acts that usually play the Madison House. Amoeba Kids opened up with a muted set of off-kilter folk songs that set the tone for the evening--songs with titles like "Robot Volcano", and an ode to their apartment that reminded me strangely of Lili Taylor singing "Joe Lies" in Say Anything (1989). Annie sat next to me through part of that set and it was hard for either of us to keep a straight face through some of the amusing lyrics. They were followed by Chicago's Within This Forest, who... I decided to describe them as a light, happy-go-lucky Godspeed, You Black Emperor! and I'm still not sure that makes any sense. They use guitars, percussion (including a xylophone), and electronic and audio samples of dialogue to create a bizarre yet exhilarating experience--I think they only played two songs, but it seemed like more. They, coupled with Wanda, ably set the stage for Patrick Elkins.

I'd heard of this fellow around town, seen the flyers, etc. I think whoever described his music as "punk-folk" was right on the money. Accompanied by a group of musicians (including Aleise Barnett, who'd played the Madison earlier), he gave us a series of absurd, whimsical songs like "Whitey's Gonna Pay" and "Set Dogs' Hair On Fire" (I'm making guesses as to the titles) that, halfway through the set, got me dancing. I'd decided to try out the chairs this time, and as I was all the way at the back, I think I felt less awkward and/or conspicuous. It was my first dance at the Madison, and it felt great (first time dancing to actual music since the Dirtbombs--I don't count Karen's reception because of the wretched DJ). Patrick Elkins rules. Towards the end, I met Alexander Robins, the guitarist and singer who'd played with Chris Bathgate and Emily Hilliard, and got to thank him for the music from that previous evening. In the course of our conversation, I found that he knew my Emily (from the restaurant, who I dated once, etc.--some of you may remember how I embarrassed myself earlier), which once more goes to show how friggin' small Ann Arbor can be sometimes. Such a wonderful evening, and now my weeks are beginning to pall in comparison (which isn't hard).

*Probably too much time spent on the British Horror Films forum has led to me writing things like "slagging off," if not actually saying them.

Posted by Charles J. Microphone at 4:45 PM EDT
Updated: 16 August 2005 5:44 PM EDT
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15 August 2005
Summer Cherry Madness
Now Playing: Blur--"Turn It Up"
Saturday afternoon and evening unfolded much the way I'd imagined at the end of my previous post. I went along to WRAP, through a typically ebullient Farmer's Market, to find Sam and Dan there manning the downstairs. For the next four hours, I continued to get the non-fiction section together in my capacity as WRAP librarian. WRAP maintains a small library on the second floor of the building, comprised almost exclusively of private donations and overflow from Common Language bookstore, an LGBT-themed shop also in Kerrytown's Braun Court. Over the past few months (as I'm usually only there on Saturday afternoons) I've alphabetized and labeled the fiction section, and am well on my way through non-fiction (general, history, coming out, transgender, queer studies, etc.). It's not all that tedious, as I'm becoming familiar with an area of literature with which I might not otherwise be acquainted. The idea is to have the place finished by OutFest, which comes in late September.

That night, I hit Crazy Wisdom Bookstore and Tea Room on Main Street, a New Age haven in which it's impossible for me to move for about five seconds without trying not to giggle. Their magazine section has Bitch and Mother Jones, and they've got interesting books on vegetarian/vegan cooking, but other than that it's pretty ridiculous, at least according to my own frightfully prejudiced worldview.

Tim Monger of the Great Lakes Myth Society was playing that evening, and after hearing how good Greg McIntosh was heading the Victrolas a few weeks ago, the Saturday night show was a must. Sara and Brandon were there, as was Sara's mom, Greg and Amy, and a few other Madison stalwarts whose names I didn't remember. The performance space of the "tea room" is actually pretty cool--it's got an old nineteenth-century vibe to it, with tarot card tablets on the wall and an incongruous fifties or sixties office facade on the other side of Main Street through the window. The walls and paneling look a light greenish-beige, but ought to be dark red, violet and green, staffed by hookers with like-colored hair wearing blood-crimson velvet wraps, offering to fetch patrons whiskies and light their cigarettes and saying things like "do you like what you see?" and "to serve the god is a privilege, Kevin." Memories of that place should be like a sweaty, vaguely-remembered, not entirely unpleasant nightmare. Oh, well.

Tim Monger is a terrific performer, encapsulating many of the features that make his band so good. A lot of songs were mutable--they seemed to change form during play, which I guess is where the prog-rock influence comes in handy. His pleasantly whimsical and upbeat attitude extended to an electric birdhouse as a stage prop, and made even songs about baseball enjoyable (and "Marquette County, 1959" sounds better live than it does on the album, in my opinion). By the time he launched into an encomium on Neil Diamond and played "Sweet Caroline" (during which I couldn't help but tap out some of the drumbeats on the table, as I consider the song somehow incomplete without them), we were all entranced. There was also a family-friendly vibe reminiscent of Sari Brown's show at Espresso Royale that lightened the mood, toddlers clapping their hands to the beat and nearly dancing on tables.

I went home (glad to have brought my umbrella, as the heavens had partially burst) and polished off the rest of my PBR sixpack while watching the "Mystery Science Theater 3000" Prince of Space episode (again). I am being in no way ironic when I say that it was the perfect conclusion to a wonderful evening.

Wandering around Sunday afternoon, a little disoriented by no Cinema Guild showing, I decided to check out the Jacob Lawrence exhibit in the University Art Museum--Lawrence (1917-2000) was apparently one of the best-known African-American painters of the twentieth century. The exhibit mainly featured screenprints in striking, somewhat fauvist colors reflecting various facets of African-American life (and life in general--there was one series on Hiroshima). I liked them--like a softer, gentler, possibly more evocative form of German Expressionism. While I was there, I decided, against my better judgment, to take in the Pop Art exhibit, even though I'm not really into Pop Art. I still essentially maintain that the only good thing Andy Warhol ever did was to make the Velvet Underground possible--that, and maybe Andy Warhol's Dracula (1974). I was eventually glad that I did, since some of the more "conservative" stuff--lithographs, prints, etc., by Robert Rauschenberg and Claes Oldenburg--really appealed to me. Annie recently posted this interesting site where you can "paint your own picture." It awakened the old "art lust" a little and actually makes me want to start cartooning again.

I'll talk about the wonderful Madison House show tomorrow--this entry's already way too long.

Posted by Charles J. Microphone at 4:43 PM EDT
Updated: 16 August 2005 5:50 PM EDT
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13 August 2005
Bored On The Bayou
Now Playing: Frederick Delius--"Summer Night On The River"
An uneventful week leads to an uneventful Friday evening, during which I drink a few bottles of Pabst Blue Ribbon and watch the first half of the rather engrossing 1985 British TV miniseries Edge of Darkness, featuring, of all people, Joe Don Baker (more on that when I get finished watching it, but I manfully resisted the urge to scream "Mitchell!" every time he appeared). This week has lasted forever.

I watched a couple of videos recently that I picked up from the Campus Video clearance sale, both of them, coincidentally, directed by Wes Craven. After watching them, I realized that I now can't stand Wes Craven.

Last House On The Left (1972) I've been postponing for some time. I'm not a fan of exploitative cinema for its own sake--my main reason for getting so pissed off at Vampyres (1974)--but I certainly don't mind violence and nudity so long as they have something to do with a plot that makes sense. Last House On The Left has long had a reputation as an incredibly nasty movie, one which Craven always claimed was some sort of comment on America's fascination with violence and the Vietnam War. The plot is loosely based on Ingmar Bergman's The Virgin Spring (1958)--a gang of criminals kidnap a pair of teenage girls, rape them, and murder them in a long, drawn-out sequence that's equal parts appalling and artless. Craven intercuts these scenes with shots (presumably meant to be satirical) of the typical American family of one of the girls fixing the cake for her seventeenth birthday--which happens to be the day she dies. The hunt for the killers falls on two incompetent cops (one of them played by future Karate Kid villain and "Cagney and Lacey" stalwart Martin Kove) who eventually find the criminals taking refuge in the murdered girl's parents' house (they've pretended to be a family whose car has broken down). The drugged-out ravings of one of the criminals reveal their guests' identity, and the parents kill the criminals just in time for the cops to arrive.

This movie sucks. There's one moment (when one of the girls realizes that, despite her resistance, she's about to die) that still haunts me, but other than that, this movie's a real wash. To be fair to Craven, I don't think he set out to make an exploitative mess--I think he honestly thought he was making a brilliant satirical horror film about violence in America. Like, say, David Lean with Lawrence of Arabia (1962)--probably the only time you'll ever see me or anyone else linking those two--the filmmaker's ambitions run against the viewer's conceptions in a way the former never conceived. Today, it's possible for me to see Lean trying to say something about Western imperialism in Lawrence while at the same time stereotyping Arabs as "wild men of the desert", incapable of participating in modern society. In a similar way, I can see how Craven thought cross-cutting between the parents fixing the cake and their daughter being horribly done to death would be a clever juxtaposition, likewise with the slapstick scenes involving the cops trying to find the killers--one of which actually did make me chuckle, and I'm still pissed about it. It doesn't work, though. It's clumsy and poorly done (the cheery sub-Dr. Hook music makes things so much worse), and the satirical intent is self-defeatingly obvious. I can't understand why Last House On The Left is thought a classic.

Swamp Thing (1981) is much better. It isn't really that good, but it's tremendously entertaining. Real quick--it's based on a DC Comics character, a brilliant scientist who's turned via an explosion into a Black Lagoon-style swamp creature who proceeds to fight his evil mad-scientist archnemesis. I think that was the deal, anyway. The cast is terrific, doing their best with some of Craven's awful dialogue (if memory serves, Wes bludgeons/kneads "Is the Pope Catholic?" into "Do you think that the Pope is Catholic?"). I'd forgotten about Adrienne Barbeau's coolness until I saw her machine-gunning bad guys. Watching her tied to a chair in archvillain "Arcane's" lair, I had the suspicion that she was just seconds away from gnawing through her bonds and strangling the latter with them. Ray Wise ("Bob" from "Twin Peaks") is the guy who turns into the Swamp Thing, and he's okay. Arcane is hilariously brought to life by super-smoothie (and real-life World War II French Resistance member) Louis Jourdan, who gleefully fires off cheesy Nietzsche quotes throughout the movie, the same way Ricardo Montalban does with Melville during Star Trek II. Those actually become rather grating when used by his henchmen--one beefy goon's "every man for himself and god against all" nearly made me try to jump into the screen (never mind how) and smack him (the fact that the same quote was Werner Herzog's best movie didn't help either). I think that was Craven's way of making Swamp Thing highbrow and literary.

There is one outstanding scene, though, which will live forever in the memory of coolness. The Swamp Thing manages to overpower a pair of his pursuers on one of those speedboats with a machine gun mounted in the prow, and commandeers it to take after Arcane's chief henchman. The sight of this huge green mutant piloting one of those things (and what happens afterward) elicited the always welcome "oh my God, this is so awesome!" comment from my lips. I'm sure the beer helped.

After watching those, I started thinking about how Craven had made Scream (1997) (which--in itself--I thought a clever movie in many ways), and how it kickstarted all those jokey, quasi-ironic horror flicks with various WB and UPN personnel filling the cookie-cutter roles and how horror movies all rather suck these days (at least in this country) and I realize that the man owes those of us who care about these things a colossal apology.

I also have to stop watching this--it's turning into an emotional crutch.

Today--more library overhaul over at WRAP, and then Tim Monger's playing at Crazy Wisdom Bookstore on Main Street. Good times, I think.

Posted by Charles J. Microphone at 11:24 AM EDT
Updated: 13 August 2005 1:20 PM EDT
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10 August 2005
Leonard Rossiter, Scene-Thief
Now Playing: Actual Birds--"Crooked Smile"
I went to see 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) at the Michigan Theater last night. The people over there are running a whole series of classic films in order to compensate for our not having an actual revival house, which is all for which we can really ask. I'm only going to see the ones that have to be seen on the big screen, which is why I'm probably not going to The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938) next week. I mean, it was nearly twenty years before CinemaScope!

The last time I saw 2001, it was while making homemade pesto at the Spring Street house before work one Saturday afternoon last year, on Turner Classic Movies. I'd seen it several times before that, and I can now say that seeing the movie in 70 mm on the big screen is the only way to properly see it. Sitting in the theater, listening to the organist run through Strausses (Johann and Richard) and then listening to the Gyorgy Ligeti orchestral-ambient drone signaling the movie's start, seeing the weird "futuristic" MGM credit at the beginning, and then the earth, the moon, and "Also Sprach Zarathrustra"--I consider myself a fairly jaded amateur cineaste, and one who finds Stanley Kubrick, for one, greatly overrated, but I couldn't resist the power of the movie.

The story and characters actually grow in importance when seen on the big screen--watching 2001 on TV, it can seem very remote, an academic "classic" the viewer is supposed to study and analyze. Watching it in the theater, the characters and situations were much more important to me--the growing paranoia on the parts of both HAL 9000 and David Bowman are palpable, and the climactic scenes just before the famous, mind-numbing visual sequence in the "stargate" are almost unbearably gripping. I rag on Kubrick a lot, but I think this is before he went off the deep end. The visuals and the story are superbly matched, and whatever megalomaniac foolishness he got up to later on, I think movies like Dr. Strangelove (1964) and this one should pretty much safeguard his reputation for decades to come.*

There were plenty of laughs, too. HAL's politeness and equanimity in the midst of madness--"You seem upset, Dave"; "I like working with people"--made me chuckle out loud, as did many of the audience. Anyone who's seen the "Mystery Science Theater 3000" renditions of "Riding With Death" and "Devil-Doll" will inwardly cheer when William Sylvester shows up as Heywood Floyd--"Leave Robert Denby alone!" His look of intense concentration as he studies the directions for the zero gravity toilet nearly killed me. I think I was the only one, though, who clapped when British comedy legend Leonard Rossiter showed up as Dr. Smislov, the Russian scientist who gets all nosy with Floyd over the alleged plague at the Clavius moonbase. Leonard Rossiter rules--he was in Kubrick's Barry Lyndon (1975), too, as the hapless Captain Quinn. Come to think of it, he was probably the best actor in the entire movie (apart from Douglas Rain, the voice of HAL). Does that mean he stole it? I wonder.

This week's been pretty uneventful--I finally got to listen to Actual Birds' The Sky Is Full Of Ghosts, half an hour of low-fi fun featuring the exquisite "Crooked Smile," which I can't quite get out of my mind. I also finally listened to the Dean Martin collection I got for $1 last Thanksgiving in DC--I was going to sell it, but now I can't. Damn you, Dino!

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

Arrivederci, Roma.

*While watching Full Metal Jacket (1987) with some Don Carlos chums a couple of years ago--and I can't believe it was that long either--we watched a scene where a helicopter landed at a firebase and I cracked, "You know, since this was Kubrick, they probably had to do two or three hundred takes of this scene." My friend replied, "Yeah! That's what makes him such a great director!" Whatever, dude.

Posted by Charles J. Microphone at 8:04 PM EDT
Updated: 10 August 2005 8:10 PM EDT
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8 August 2005
Invisible Hands
Now Playing: Zoltan Kodaly--"Song" from "Hary Janos Suite"
Saturday morning, I went to say hello to my friend and former coworker Jenee, now morning chef at the Earle Uptown. Jenee's someone I really admire, and not just because I used to have a crush on her. She has a fantastic attitude towards work and life that I'd do very well to emulate (and to be fair to myself--never difficult--I often do). She does what she does and she tries to be a good person and doesn't feel bad about it. Having recently overcome some serious health issues, she's back in the saddle at work, making the wheels turn and getting her life back on track. Jenee, if you ever read this, you're awesome and I think the world of you.

While at WRAP, I managed to get some work done on the library (finally starting to sort out the nonfiction section) and heard some nasty tales of homophobia and harassment at the local homeless shelter downtown. I've thought about volunteering there for a while, and wonder now whether I'd be welcome there if the people in charge knew I also worked at WRAP. Definitely a matter I'll have to explore further. I also made up for missing the all-day Adams House music show in Ypsilanti by investigating the local music scene via myspace. The computers at WRAP have sound capability and I was finally able to check out a number of wondered-about bands.

Wanderjahr: This widely talked-about Lansing band has a likably boozy early 70s feel, reminiscent of Grand Funk Railroad or the Allman Brothers (Friday at Aubree's, "Jessica" came on the music system, and I forgot how much I missed listening to them), although I can see how live performances might pose a danger of interminable Edgar Winter-style jamming. I like to think of Wanderjahr as the Nixon-era, burntout, post-Blow incarnation of
Starling Electric: These impeccably dressed Ann Arbor lads (one or more of whom always seem to be in the library computer lab when I arrive there--except, um, today) play the kind of sunshiny 60s-style psych-pop that someone once suggested should appear more on this blog (they've been mistaken for the Zombies, for instance). I'd actually heard them live, and they were rather good, even if the smoke from their stage show got in my eyes. Based on their sound samples, especially the delightful "Camp Fire," they sound well worth their CD, Clouded Staircase, not like those High Llamas (dear God, was I ever happy to sell Gideon Gaye).
Showdown at the Equator: Known in my house as "the band with Kelly Caldwell," but then I love her Banner of a Hundred Hearts to shreds, and I haven't seen them live either. Truth be told, I was expecting something a little "harder," but I loved the light, airy texture to the songs on display, which reminded me of a punkier, lower-fi Sing-Sing.
The Casionauts: Known in my house as "the band with Ryan Balderas," ditto, "The Larry Brown Press Conference," ditto. I was expecting something a little softer from these Lansing guys with outstanding cultural taste and delightfully unpredictable songwriting concerns; one of their song samples covers the 1941 suicide of German scientist Rudolph Schoenheimer--okay, maybe "delightfully" was a little off. I loved it nevertheless. Not only were the songs thoughtful and accomplished, but they were surprisingly danceable, which is apparently important to me now.

I kicked myself (well, not really) after leaving because I forgot to check out Porchsleeper or Dabenport (and probably lots of other people, too).

Passing by Encore Records that day, I finally picked up the Great Lakes Myth Society CD. It's definitely one of those that will take me a while to truly appreciate (nothing wrong with that, either--the same thing happened with Sufjan Stevens and Greetings From Michigan). I'm a "foreigner" in Michigan, of course, and the group's cultural concerns aren't as immediately familiar to me as they would be to native Michiganders. That's part of the appeal--it's like this music is a piece of a not-quite-vanished world. Some of the songs aren't instantly catchy, and a lot of the hooks are "hidden" (at least for me), but it's grown on me just in the space of a day's listening. The sound's a bracing dose of alt-country and folk mixed in with a little Appalachian music and a touch of hard rock. Highlights: "The Salt Tracks," "Love Story," "Big Jim Hawkins" (probably my favorite, as it's the hardest-rocking), "The Northern Lights Over Atlanta, Michigan," "Railway Ties," "Lake Effect" (which seems to double as the GLMS artistic manifesto), and, of course, "Marquette County, 1959." I actually didn't really like the song as such, but it's dealing with Otto Preminger's Anatomy of a Murder (1959), filmed in the Upper Peninsula--any song that's even tangentially related to Ben Gazzara gets points in my book.

Yesterday saw Cinema Guild's last showing for the summer season--for personal and administrative reasons, Lou probably won't start the series up again until at least September. The "final programme" (my Moorcock reference for the day) was based around Picasso, with relatively short films by Jean Cocteau, Alain Resnais, and Henri-Georges Clouzot, the last of which, The Mystery of Picasso (1956), was both fascinating and grueling. Picasso starred as himself, painting barechested throughout and looking strangely like Christopher Lloyd. The movie was almost entirely rear-projected shots of Picasso paintings coming together as he painted them, so that it looks as if his hand is invisible. For thirty minutes, this is utterly engrossing, but after an hour, it nearly put me to sleep. There's a hilarious moment when Picasso worries that one of his paintings isn't good enough, and Clouzot reassures him by saying the painting's "very impressive." Picasso, in that instant, looks as if he wants to smash Clouzot's head into a canvas and scream "very impressive? Who the fuck are you? I'm Picasso, bitch!" like a more macho Jon Lovitz. Even that didn't keep me awake.

Posted by Charles J. Microphone at 5:51 PM EDT
Updated: 8 August 2005 6:03 PM EDT
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6 August 2005
Evil's Way Too Cool To Lurk Here
Now Playing: The Roots--"Web"
Yesterday, I went into Grizzly Peak to say hi to Elizabeth and instantly became so depressed that I left without doing so. That place is awful and the beer's terrible. Stuffed animal heads everywhere...

The experience drove me all the way to Aubree's in Ypsilanti. I love Aubree's. If that's uncool, then it's your problem. I rode in on the #6 (Ellsworth), taking in a rather attractive part of the town I'd never seen before, along Michigan Avenue. The streets were lined with pretty old houses and tiny brick cornershops, with what looked like a couple of communal gardens interspersed between them. The evening was already stunning and the windows were partly open, so we got a cool rush of air as we passed "Recreation Park" (a bizarre generic name that sounded like something out of a Communist dictatorship, like "Happiness Generation Quadrant" or something). At Aubree's, I actually got the first-ever shoutout on my Don Carlos NTN tournament T-shirt (a relic of my April 2003 triumph when I won $100 at the Washtenaw Ave. location, now the apparently thriving "Coin Laundry"). Aubree's has NTN, of course, and I managed to win my first game there, while scarfing down a delicious (and cheap) calzone and a colossal (and cheap) mug of Molson. The view down the Huron as I walked the Cross St. Bridge was the prettiest I'd yet seen there.

Because I'm an idiot, however, I decided to go to the Friday show at the Blind Pig, which "featured" Otto Vector. I've described these people earlier (however incoherently), and I know at least one of you might wonder what possessed me to go this time. There were three other bands playing--The Nice Device, Novada, and The Fury--and the cover was pretty cheap, so I figured if they sucked, then I wouldn't be conned into going to another one of their shows. The place filled up surprisingly quickly with a mildly fratty crowd that brought the place down for me. It didn't help that the beer of the month was Miller High Life (I'd thought it would be Molson--cruelly disappointing).

One mildly not-unpleasant surprise: Brandon Wiard opened for everyone, and he was... all right. I'd heard a lot about him from various sources, and it would be interesting to find out for myself. Half the time I couldn't understand the lyrics, although I think that might have been due to the din from everyone else (obviously not a problem with bands like the Dirtbombs). Some of the songs were very pretty, melodically speaking, especially "Miss Michigan" (I think that was the title). In the end, though, I wouldn't call him one of my favorites. He left, and I decided I was out, too. Tired, a little moody from youthful yuppiedom all around, and in need of some fresh air, that was me.

The walk home restored my spirits. The weather was gorgeous. On the way to the Pig earlier, I'd seen the usual fundamentalist Baptist/Taliban/Cromm (?) demonstration on the corner of N. University and State St. besieged by a brand-new variety of religious fervor, on behalf of robots. A gaggle of people, most of them teenagers, I think (some of whom I recognized from the library computer labs), shouted down cars and waved signs urging people to "worship the robots" (I'm not sure if they actually said that, but the gist was there). A couple of passersby asked me to explain the thing to them and I did my best. My walk back met with weirdness as well. A couple of old ladies and younger male hippies were spraying words on the Diag near S. and E. University and I paused to see that they were commemorating today's sixtieth anniversary of the Hiroshima bombing.

This morning, I saw the same words and images sprayed all over State St., Main St., and Kerrytown. They must have been working through the night. My position on the whole thing, really quickly: "I believe, by and large, that the 1945 bombs were necessary to prevent the greater loss of life that would have resulted in a US invasion of the Japanese Home Islands. However, the present-day US government's hectoring of other countries to give up their bombs--even loathsome dictatorships like North Korea--while maintaining our own nuclear weapons, only serves to further alienate an already alienated world. There may be no way out of the present impasse, but this double standard's something to keep in mind." Okay, that wasn't "really quickly," but it could have been worse. The images were rather clever, too--cutouts of human figures had been laid on the ground and sprayed over with white paint, to remember the "shadows" left on the walls that were all too frequently the only remains of many of Hiroshima's residents. Well, they succeeded in one thing--they made me think, although I almost certainly would have done that without their help, thank you very much.

I laughed, though, to see that it must have gotten a little much for them towards the end. In front of Gratzi, an (I hear) overpriced Italian restaurant, one of three or four on that stretch of Main Street alone, among the somber shadows and lurid "HIROSHIMA--1945; ANN ARBOR--?????" stencils, someone had finally chalked "OLIVE GARDEN RULZ." Classic.

Posted by Charles J. Microphone at 9:53 AM EDT
Updated: 6 August 2005 10:23 AM EDT
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1 August 2005
Eli Wallach Is My Muse
Now Playing: Sweet--"Love Is Like Oxygen"
Continuing with the spiritual experiences, I saw The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly (1966) on the big screen yesterday. I'm coming to the tentative conclusion that it's my ever-elusive "favorite movie." Everyone always asks me what that is, and I never have an answer, simply telling them that I've a hundred of 'em. Sergio Leone's spaghetti western masterpiece, though (closely followed, of course, by 1972's Duck, You Sucker! with Rod Steiger and James Coburn), keeps showing up on hypothetical top ten lists (war flicks, westerns, opening shots, soundtracks, etc.), and I have to think that something's going on here.

I saw Casablanca (1942) on the big screen at the Michigan Theater, but it isn't a movie one really needs to see on the big screen. The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly, though, with its intense closeups and epic battle scenes, screams for the theater experience, especially the delicious opening shot. For those who've never seen it, it's basically the story of three gunslingers trying to find a missing hoard of gold in the Southwest during the Civil War. Clint Eastwood's slightly "better" than the other two (Lee Van Cleef* and Eli Wallach), but not by much, and Wallach steals the film and gets most of the best lines as the hilariously vulgar Mexican bandito "Tuco." So far as I can tell, it was his most iconic role, and one of the most lovable performances in movie history. I was on the edge of my seat throughout, laughing through most of it in affectionate recognition, but surprisingly morose during the battle that comes later in the movie. Ennio Morricone's beyond-classic score makes this a raucuous but strangely haunting experience, and easily puts this in the top ten (I'm still holding out on the number one position, but it's getting closer).

Later, I went to see the Victrolas play at the Old Town, the first time I've ever gone to hear music there. I finished more of "Attack of the Clowns," a story I promised someone I'd write, and then promised someone else (so I'm killing two birds with one stone). As with the Sari Brown show, I'd planned on not going, and then found my strategy vindicated again when I decided to go. I am one cunning bastard. I ran into Sara and her friend Dug there, and then Brandon, and then Sara and Dug's friend Jon and Nicole, and had a few beers, and chattered incessantly... you get the idea. It was a great time, though. The Victrolas were great, even though I had to leave early, and Chris Bathgate treated us to a virtuoso opening performance (I think Sara and I have decided by this point that he sounds like a much more hard-edged Nick Drake, although I still think he sounds like someone I can't quite place). That, for sure, will not be the last time I go hear a show there.

And then I worked today. Phhh. The boss came by and suggested I take a break for a couple of days at some point this month. "If you can't afford it, that's okay." Well, thanks anyhow. Phhh.

*If given the chance, check out the late Lee "Master Ninja" Van Cleef in the truly wretched Captain Apache (1971), where he's supposed to be an Apache cavalry captain (!) in the Army fighting... I don't know, corrupt railroad barons or something. Towards the end, after his courageous service for law and freedom, he's told that his people are being sent to a reservation in "Snake Valley." His reply:

"You can't do that!!!" Priceless pause. "It's full of SNAKES!!!"

Carroll Baker and Stuart Whitman are in it, too, and there's a hilarious fight scene, but there's really no other reason to watch it. Okay, I'm just showing off now.

Next day's note: One more reason to check out Captain Apache? The song over the closing credits is sung by none other than Van Cleef himself--badly. "Well, they don't call John Carradine 'The Voice' for nothin'."

Posted by Charles J. Microphone at 4:13 PM EDT
Updated: 2 August 2005 3:53 PM EDT
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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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