Sunday, November 30, 2008

My daughter, face-down on the face of a dead man



This picture, which I found while sorting out my basement archive tonight, would stop me cold under any circumstances: that's my daughter, when a toddler, face-down on the face of a dead man.

It was taken late in the summer of 2005. The dead man was Hunter Brumfield III. He killed himself that summer, on the same day our family moved into a new house in St. Louis County. The image of Hunter, and my slumbering daughter, are both flopped down on the kitchen table of that new house, where I sit as I remember these things, in a house no longer new to us.

The image particularly startled me, tonight, because of the events of the past week. I have actually been thinking my daughter has been interacting with Hunter's spirit!

As I have described in a long post, a friend working in my house on Monday disturbed a shrine I built for Hunter around the drumkit he left behind him. (This friend, Hunter, and myself were all in the band Three Fried Men at the time of Hunter's suicide.) This act of desecration seemed to loose Hunter's spirit on the world, or at least on my basement.

I wouldn't say I was possessed, but something happened that had something to do with Hunter. I got out my guitar (the same one Hunter and I had both played in Three Fried Men), which I had neglected for many months. For the first time in my life, I tuned the guitar by ear and heard the weird math in the songs I write - gifts Hunter had that I lack.

Then I started pulling apart the Hunter shrine, and some other crazy things in my basement, and building and reassembling them into sculptures, which involved other skills I lack that Hunter possessed - the eye of an artist and hands that can make shapes in three dimensions.

The sculptures are where Leyla got into the action. One is about her and the other is about Hunter, which added a weird zing to finding the picture of her sleeping on his face.

The one about Leyla, which we managed to finish while Hunter's spirit was still around, started with a broken tricycle that my wife has been bugging me to throw out. After the desecration of the Hunter shrine, I went out to the garage and got the tricycle, brought it down into the basement museum, and began to turn it into a portrait of my daughter.

"I'm a bicycle!" Leyla cried, in effect naming the piece, before she went to work on it, adding an old parka she outgrew to the sculpture's torso.

She also named the piece that is about Hunter. This one really gave me the creeps, but in good way.

The Hunter sculpture started with a gorgeous old NYC Garment District mannequin, which had been standing apart from the Hunter shrine, before the desecration. It was given to me by my friend Chuck Reinhardt as a form to display a string tie with a hipster country rocker clasp, which Hunter had given to him.

After the shrine was broken, I pulled out this mannequin, situated it more centrally, and began to adorn it with elements from Hunter's shrine and other shrines, without really knowing what I saw doing.

A tambourine Hunter had played was stuck on top for a face, clenching in its cymbals (=teeth) a corn cob pipe Pops Farrar once gave me. On top of the tambourine I placed "Madness put on a porkpie hat," a hat with a name made by Robert Van Dillen in response to the poem Blind Cat Black. From the string tie I hung the Blue Bead Against the Evil Eye that Jason Wallace Triefenbach made for a scene he played in the movie we made to Blind Cat Black.

Then Leyla came to me, holding up a pompous tie from an old tuxedo rental that never got returned.

"Daddy," she said, "can this go on The Clown?"

I snapped around. "On what?" She pointed at the Hunter sculpture.

I had not given this object a name. I had not talked about it in any way. I wasn't even thinking about what I was doing, I was just doing things. And my daughter called it "The Clown".

I have always thought about Hunter as a Trickster, a Coyote - a Clown, albeit a sacred one. My daughter, with her child's eyes, saw the childish variant of this eternal principle that Hunter had embodied, and that he brought back into our lives, this week - somehow - through his disembodied spirit.

Or, something.

Whatever it was, it's mostly gone, again.

I really did have some of Hunter's gifts for art and music, for awhile, though it has passed already. I once again can't hear notes well enough to tune my guitar by ear or hear rhythms well enough to notice the needless complexity in my song structures and fix them.

Nor do I know what to do with The Clown, which stands there in my basment, half-completed. That's just like Hunter - never to finish the job! Like his life, which none of us were finished with, least of all him.

Josh Weinstein swears to Baba Mike and the drum



Tonight (Sunday, Nov. 30) Josh Weinstein will host local performance ensemble Sworn to the Drum on his great KDHX show All Soul, No Borders that plays from 10:30 p.m. to midnight. That's 88.1 FM on the dial, online at kdhx.org and archived on the show's site for two weeks following the show.

Josh reports:

"The group bills themselves as a 'musical salute to the drum'. They play improvisational jazz, with a variety of world drumming infused. The group is led by Baba Mike Nelson. He plays trumpet, flügelhorn, conch shells and assorted percussion, including the bata drum. Sunday's lineup will include Aaron Parker on alto sax and flute, Mondel on congas, Ariel on bass, plus the poetry of K. Curtis Lyle and vocal/rhythmic accompaniment by David A.N. Jackson."

I have known Baba Mike a very long time, through many evolutions and incarnations. I first wrote about him some fifteen years, when he recently had had the halo unscrewed from his skull after breaking his neck falling backwards off a ladder. He hadn't slept, really slept, in years. Life was a daze to him, in many ways, but he forged forward, compelled by music and structured by his spiritual practice and friendships.

The healing process of his central nervous system was then advanced beyond the capacity of physical science's predictions and explanations by Mike's emergence as a sacred bata drummer in the Yoruba tradition. That's another story!

Much like the poet K. Curtis Lyle, his friend and collaborater, Mike is more committed to his art and its sacred traditions than he is to the drudgery of self-promotion. Few know that, in Curtis, St. Louis harbors a poet with a range and accomplishment that merits comparison to Derek Walcott, Les Murray or Paul Muldoon (and surpasses acclaimed lesser talents like Amiri Baraka).

And few who mourn the exodus from St. Louis of our many jazz geniuses realize that Mike is the strongest of a number of living links to that tradition, who are keeping the music alive right here. Mike studied jazz trumpet and arranging under Oliver Lake (World Saxophone Quartet), David Hines and Lester Bowie. He also studied West African drumming with the likes of Mor Thiam, whom Katherine Dunham brought to East St. Louis from Senegal and who sired a baby boy while here who grew up to be the international pop star Akon.

Persisting as a creative musician who respects and bridges multiple traditions in a town like St. Louis is trying, and I have seen Mike struggle to keep together a number of musical groupings. I pray for some stability for his music so that he can develop it, as he has always longed to do. When Josh saw the current lineup Tuesday at The Gramophone, he writes, "the sound was groove-oriented, exploratory, and trance-inducing at times."

That sounds like the right stuff.
Sworn to the Drum also performs 7-9 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 7 at The Regional Arts Commission, 6128 Delmar, which will be previewed this Thursday in The St. Louis American.

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Photos of Baba Mikes and Josh Weinstein from the Nailed Seraphim Art Invitational by Elaine Marschik.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Young family playing like a winning team


This morning our young friends Praiz' and Candace and their beautifully well behaved children left us to drive back home to Tallahassee. If all is going well, they should be home soon.

We had them in the house for three nights to celebrate Thanksgiving with us. It was restful and fun. What made it most fun was the even temperaments and good manners of their four children.

All the way down to the baby, Jefiah, never crying - never, in three days, crying even once - I have never had one child in my house who was less work or bother, let alone four.

Last night I caught a glimpse of why that might be so. Praiz' and I had tickets to see The Saint Louis Symphony Orchestra's Tricksters program. The children - Praiz's four kids, our Leyla, and we had accumulated our family friend Claire Eiler, as well - had been together a long time and were starting to get a little testy.

The fort they had built in a basement storage room had collapsed, and in the aftermath of the collapse, there was something of a void in their play. I observed the rumblings of bickering. I warned the mothers to check in on their babies while we were at the symphony.

Praiz' must have heard me give this warning, because when I looked for him to hit the road, I found him in the basement. I came upon him orchestrating all six children into a cleanup "team" with the task of tearing down the remnants of the fort.

One kid said to the other that they were "cleaning up," but Praiz' would hear none of it - "we're playing on a team," he said.

When all the large pieces of fort detritus had been formed into piles, sweepup was all that was left. Rather than assign tasks, which no doubt would have inspired shirking and arguments over why someone else didn't have to work as hard, he asked for "volunteers" to hold the scooper.

They all volunteered. They had to form a line - each taking a turn to hold the scooper for the "team" and clean up the basement before we left for the symphony.

Thanks for Curtis, Barack, Kim, Kevin, blogspot

I've taken it upon myself to maintain a poetry blog for the great K. Curtis Lyle, until someone sits down the poet and shows him the easy ways of the blogspot.

Today I uploaded a new long poem by Curtis, Barackutopia, which I won't pretend to be able to summarize, right off the bat.

It is and isn't about the Barack Obama phenomenon. Because it is, I'm illustrating this brief note with Kevin Belford's Thanksgiving cartoon for The St. Louis American; because it isn't, I illustrated the poem itself with a suggestive painting by local artist Kim Richardson.

Orli Shaham may or may not have large hands


I wouldn't want to suggest from this sketch of Orli Shaham performing last night with The Saint Louis Symphony Orchestra that she has especially large hands. I wouldn't know. I couldn't see her hands very well from our (excellent) seats, but I could see them better than her face, which was mostly turned away from us, toward the other musicians and conductor Marc Albrecht.

Deprived of the basic elements of what critic Stephen Lindsley has described as my "elementary visual vocabulary" - which I would specify as slightly Africanizing caricatures of people's faces - I just blew her hands up big and then spent most of the rest of the piece she performed approximating the detail in the pattern of her blouse.

I thought it was a tightly executed and exciting performance of Bartok's Piano Concerto No. 3 which, as Paul Schiavo's always artful program notes explain, the composer wrote and nearly completed on his deathbed as a posthumous meal ticket for his wife, who was a concert pianist.

Not appreciating the morbid overtones here, but our guest concert pianist last night also is the wife of a musical force, SLSO musical director David Robertson, who had the night off. The little old lady next to me (who spent the first half of intermission disparaging Orli's outfit, and the second half disparaging herself for having disparaged Orli) reported that Orli and David's twins were at the concert, so perhaps David was in attendance as well, in his role as happy father.

I did contrubute to the flagging consumer economy by buying one of the CDs of music performed by Orli and the other key musical man in her life, her brother Gil Shaham, but - doh! -I bought it after the concert, rather than during intermission, when she would have been there to sign CDs ... or, in my case, to sign my sketch of her. Having failed to exploit my connections at the orchestra to invite myself over to Orli and David's home to observe her rehearse for this performance, I will now see what I can do about securing a signature after the fact.

Orli performs the same program, themed "Tricksters," with the Symphony tonight (Saturday) at 8 p.m. The program is clever on several levels. On the weekend of an American holiday widely associatied with game fowl, it opens with a piece of music with another edible bird in its title, Ravel's Mother Goose Suite, which may lack the name magic of more famous family-friendly fare, but still would have held the attention of many children. The first half closed with the Bartok - a very dynamic set piece for a night of lighter fare.

The second half consisted of two Strauss tone poems, Don Juan and Till Eulenspiegel’s Merry Pranks. This was when the guest composer came alive and showed why he was up there on the stand. I don't usually have much to say either way about a guest composer working in David Robertson's house, but Albrecht lives these fanciful pieces by Strauss on his fingertips, along the edges of his eyelashes, deep in his guts. He was fun to watch, and he helped to make the orchestra a delight to hear!

And, then, there was the tryptophan factor - these four pieces clock in at 16, 23, 17 and 15 minutes, respectively. Not only is this the right way to program a Thanksgiving weekend concert, I'd take it just about any night of the year. Sometimes, that 50 minute symphony after the intermission has a narcoleptic power that is tough to shake.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Just not feeling as full of life this time around


My promised live blogging of Thomas Crone's Silver Tray show today would be impressive - for a dead person maybe. Guess I got sidetracked. Show's almost over.

The highlight for me thus far has been the track by The Imps, produced immaculately by Adam Long in his life before Broadway and before gangsta rap.

Uncle Tupelo's cover of "I Wanna Destroy You" isn't likely to be forgotten, but one can always hear that again. Wish I had a recording of them doing "Anarchy in the U.K." the night Enormous Richard opened for them at The Blue Note.

But I wasn't feeling a lot of this tracklist. A lot of it strikes me as a little more parochial and dated than the very high standards KDHX sets for rock music - in a way that the local show Crone did yesterday, standing in for Doug Morris, did not.

Still not thinking of turning it off. Happy Sweet Sixteen to Silver Tray. I hope all of the producers at KDHX are inspired to program locally.

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Image by Crone from Croneckr.

Crone emerges from tape vaults as towering champion


Pardon the clutter of posts on the KDHX blog aggregator, but I endeavor to live blog Thomas Crone's "Silver Tray" KDHX show today, so it's all insider play anyway.

This is part two of a local rock retrospective, since Doug Morgan of "The Record Sto'" yields the playlist and mic to Crone on Thanksgiving Thursday afternoon.

I hung on most every note yesterday afternoon amid a bustling, happy holiday party. Crone just killed it. It was like he had to make a local rock only show hard and cool enough to go up on Doug Morgan's archive, which is highly smart and elevated company.

I wrote to Crone told him he was like the veteran local palooka, as a rock curator, who just stayed on his hamfisted feet so long he gradually became manifest as the towering champion.

His best first cut rocked harder than my first best cut would have. He picked bands I had missed (The Red Squares) and cuts ("Ray's Shoes") by bands I do get (Lydia's Trumpet) that rock harder than their cuts I cling to. The bands he liked that once seemed too trendy or mainstream (Three Merry Widows) now sound luminescsent and timeless.

There is a great public service here, too, in the strong presence of obscenely talented bands that didn't find the right audience at the right time. This is the Athens scene or Louisville scene that didn't officially happen here, except it did happen here and nobody noticed. It's not too late to notice Aviation Club, Cub Zero, Dirt Cousin, Painkillers, Bunnygrunt ... Bent ... Bill Boll: Crone noticed.

Above all, and incredibly, nothing here needed a preface or begged an apology. If you like rock music, you would cherish this show, and if you don't cherish this show, there are some large gaps in your appreciation of rock music over the last few decades.

I'll spread this note and this playlist with this live link to the archive, up two weeks on KDHX after Thanksgiving - and surely transferable to a music blog thereafter, with permissions that would be gettable and followthrough that would be followthroughable.

Happy Sweet Sixteen to Silver Tray, now underway.

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Photo from the Crone Flickr, hereafter the Croneckr.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

On the desecration of Hunter's shrine


It happened in this order: Hunter Brumfield III killed himself, two days after our band had a gig that went well, and my family moved into a new house expecting Hunter's help with the move (on the same day).I began to feel generally spooked by Hunter's ghost and I began to notice a silent cricket always standing on one of the bottom basement steps whenever I went downstairs (over the same period of days and weeks).

At first crippled by grief, I started to form my thoughts about Hunter – a person who had been thrillingly alive and gifted in so many ways – killing himself. I wrote an essay about all of the people Hunter had been in his short life and probed myself and our band for any possible guilt in his suicide. This essay circulated widely in the St. Louis music scene and ended up, I was told, as a printout in the restroom at Bill Christman’s hipster hangout.

I endeavored to write a novel that starts with the premise of someone being haunted by the spirit of a dead drummer that comes back as a cricket because there is a cricket boom in the basement of one of his living friends and it's easier (as the ghost eventually explains) to come back to life in a place of becoming, in a place where much life is coming into being, even if it’s only crickets.

I struggled to write this novel and was made miserable, as only writing a novel about difficult things can make you miserable, and I began to develop a shrine for Hunter in my basement that I was turning into an amateur museum (over the same period of a year).

On and off, I discussed Hunter hauntings with a number of other people who had endured them. Hunter's best friend and gal pal at the time of his death, Lindy Woracheck, visiting from Spain, told me she had not been particularly haunted by him, other than on one day with one page on one book of poetry.

Barack Obama's campaign for president began to look ascendent and then trumphant. In a vast array of new feelings this made possible was a totally new regret that Hunter was gone, because Hunter had been the ultimate crossover white boy (if we want to label people with colors or absences of colors or simultaneous presence of all colors); Hunter would have worn an Obama tattoo across his chest and persuaded so many Nader dreamers and anarchist millenarians to believe in hope through the electoral process that Obama would have won Missouri by a tiny but decisive margin on Election Night.

Two weeks after the election, my arts group Poetry Scores put K. Curtis Lyle's poem about 9/11 into visual art and musical performance. One of the drummers in the performance indicated with a knowing nod the high-hat cymbal he was using, which he had inherited from me, which (as he knew – he had replaced the dead Hunter in our rock band) I had borrowed from Hunter.

Over the next two days, in anticipation of houseguests for Thanksgiving, I spent the weekend in my basement, cleaning up the clutter, rearranging stuff and putting up new artwork to make it look like a museum again, instead of a basement. In addition to artwork, I maintain and display shrines to various musician and poet friends who are dead – not only Hunter but also Pops Farrar, Rosco Gordon, Nymah Kumah, and Leo Connellan. There is some emotional cost to doing this, to harboring all of these relics of people who are gone.

Hunter was the only sucide and the only young man among these deaths and the only dead man I ever really felt impinging upon the living in any extraordinary way. Sorting things on the floor over the course of two days, I noticed a cricket silently watching me from his own perch on the floor. On the second day my daughter, thinking it a spider, smashed the cave cricket flat onto the carpet and killed it. I can’t explain why, but I left its carcass there.

The next day, another musician (who had been playing in our band with Hunter when Hunter killed himself) was working his day job as handyman in my basement. He was rerouting some heating ducts to do a better job of blowing heat upstairs into the family room above the part of the basement I had transformed into a museum. The job turned out to be more involved and time-consuming than Mike expected. He had to rearrange a lot of materials – including the Hunter shrine, built from his abandoned drumkit and other relics – and he didn't have time to put anything back together before he had to meet his children at home at the end of the school day. I came home to a desecrated Hunter shrine.

I was spooked and disturbed. It seemed so senseless to see all of these things that had been so important to Hunter, artifacts of his life and death, which had been assembled into a shrine, now strewn around a room in my basement. The magic and meaning of the shrine had been spoiled – these were suddenly just random things that had belonged to someone who was now gone. The most puzzling and upsetting thing was that the shrine had been desecrated by someone who had known and loved Hunter at the same time I did, in the same band, and who knew about the shrine and what it meant. I sent a message to the workman, my friend Mike, asking him why he had desecrated the Hunter shrine.

Then I called him too. He explained about his needing to get home to meet his son after school. I still fumbled, needing more of an explanation. The shrine had included the last bottle of beer Hunter had enjoyed before killing himself. The beer bottle usually stood up on a drum from his drumkit at the top of his shrine. I asked Mike why I just found the bottle laying abandoned on its side. “Chris, I was doing some heavy-duty construction work,” Mike said. “It’s a bottle. I laid it down on its side, so I wouldn’t knock it over. I didn’t want to break it.”

Still feeling spooked, not alone, over the next two days I found myself pulling elements of the desecrated shrine into the next room and making what began to look like an assemblage sculpture. I have never had any gift or imagination for building things or making art in three dimensions. That seemed odd. I pulled some elements off the Pops Farrar shrine – a cloth flower and a turkey feather I had found blown off the grave of Robert Johnson – and added them to the new Hunter tribute sculpture shrine.

I noticed something odd and upsetting. The Indian head pipe that Pops had made me also had been disturbed. Sitting on top of the bowl of the pipe, which is the top of the Indian’s head, were two objects that looked like felt washers. I wondered why in the world Mike would pull dirty junk out of a construction job and put it onto my sacred pipe. I couldn’t imagine that Mike would do that. Walking out of the desecrated shrine with a bad feeling, I saw that cricket my daughter had killed on the basement floor.

I picked up my guitar, which I had neglected for many months, and tried to play some songs I used to play with Hunter. I noticed the guitar was out of tune – not surprisingly – but then was greatly surprised to find myself tuning it by ear. My ear has never been good enough to tune a guitar without a tuner.

As I started to play my oddball songs, I found myself making simple changes in my strumming patterns to standardize the timing a little bit. I am a self-taught guitarist with rudimentary skills, and I have always had problems teaching my songs to better musicians (like Mike or Hunter) because little quirks in my strumming and picking patterns have a way of dropping or adding beats that is difficult to follow and has to be memorized. Many musicians have tried to show me simple changes I could make in my playing to eleminate the needlessly tricky math in my songs, but I always have reverted to my peculiar strumming and my weird math. I was now for the first time hearing the bad math in my songs, the way most musicians do, and making the same simple corrections I had been shown but never been able to follow.

I rushed to the phone to call Mike. I wanted to explain that maybe the desecration of the shrine wasn’t such a bad thing, that it seemed to have somehow loosed the spirit of Hunter, and so far all it was doing was improving my skills in making art and playing music, things Hunter always had done much better than I do.

Mike said, “It’s funny you calling me about Hunter, because that’s all I’ve been thinking about since you said I desecrated the shrine. I looked up the word ‘desecrate’ and I’ve been thinking about what it all means. I’ve been thinking about how Hunter desecrated things. That’s one of the things he did. Like, he used to piss on the stage! Here a musician does all this work just to get up on the stage, and when he gets up on the stage, he pisses on it! Even suicide itself – that’s the ultimate act of desecration; that’s the destruction of your own life. Maybe that’s what Hunter needs, for his shrine to be desecrated once a year. Maybe that’s how you maintain a shrine to a spirit like Hunter’s.”

I thought all that through and agreed with it. Then I remembered the little felt washer-type things that had been placed on top of the Pops Farrar pipe, the other act of desecration. I asked Mike why he did that. He said he didn’t do anything of the sort. He looked at Pops’ pipe and held it – “I always do that when I am down there, I look at everything and think about everybody’ – but he wouldn’t add anything dirty to something like Pops’ pipe.

He asked me to describe the felt washer-type items again. He thought about it. Nothing from his duct job bore any resemblence to what I had described. “I know what it is,” he said, when it finally clicked, “that’s part of the drum pedal. That came off of Hunter’s drumkit. But nothing like that was on the pipe when I looked at it, and I didn’t mess with the drumkit except to move the shrine away from where I was working.”

“If you didn’t mess with the drumkit,” I said, “and you didn’t put those things on top of Pops’ pipe, then who did?”

Hunter was always a traveler. I guess he is passing through here again.

Tyndale will meet Praiz' in Tallahassee



My buddy Praiz' and his family of six are in the house for a few days. Last night after the wives and kids all had gone to bed, we sat up late talking about the usual stuff, music, creativity, the spirit. He was talking about wanting to take his faith back to the ground and rebuild it right. I can always relate to that - that was the great gift of my education in philosophy: first principles come first.

I follow a faith I learned in Sun Dances and sweat lodges and in the woods and on the rivers, but I could connect with Praiz's Christian faith. I recently cracked back open my William Tyndale. Tyndale was the first writer to go back to the Hebrew and Greek primary sources to translate the ancient Jewish scriptures and the very early modern Greek gospels of Jesus Christ into English.

I always love to talk about Tyndale - his Bible was William Shakespeare's Bible, and his Bible was to a large extent the Bible of the King James translators, even though the king told them to work from the Latin, and they did - just enough to fool the king, or appease the pope, or both.

I'm not sure if it's known or not whether the king or pope were fooled by the consummate gesture of respect accorded Tyndale by the King James translators, who took advantage of a blank page between the Old Testatment and the New, in the first edition, to send to the printer a page with only two letters, "WT," the initials of Tyndale - Tyndale who did not work on salary from the king, Tyndale who fled England for his life because of his unauthorized translation, Tyndale who lost his life on the continent, also over his gall to bring Jesus' words into the plain language of the plowboy.

Praiz' took in the Tyndale story. He liked what Tyndale said to the papist, who warned him of the wrath of the pope, before the translator ever fled from England. Tyndale told the fearful papist, "When I am finished, the plowboy will know the truth of Jesus Christ better than you," or something close to that.

"I'm going to use that," Praiz' said. "I'm going to use that in my ministry."

Then we get online and I ordered Praiz' his own cheap used copy of Tyndale. It will meet him in Tallahassee when he gets back home.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Announcing: Local Indie Rock Schwag Swap Meet


Thomas Crone is onto something - and it's catching onto others of us.

It was Crone's idea to gather and share a history of local indie rock tomorrow (Thanksgiving) and Friday on KDHX Community Media, that's 88.1 FM on your dial in St. Louis and kdhx.org on your internet dial, which will keep alive an archive of the show for two weeks.

The call went out. The obscure local indie rock came in.

KDHX program board member and Schlafly grinder Brett Underwood's ears perked up. He had obscure local indie rockers The Lettuceheads on his calendar at The Schlafly Tap Room (21st and Locust) on Friday, January 9.

Brett tells the people to listen to The Lettuceheads on Crone's shows on Thursday and Friday, and then save the date for the Jan. 9 gig. This all makes me happy. And reminds me of something.

I used to muse about organizing a Local Indie Rock Schwag Swap Meet, where all those bands with a sleeve of shrinkwrapped CDs of a dead band in their basement could get together and trade stuff. This includes bands with a box of dead rock band T-shirts or scenesters with a stack of 'zines he or she spent more time writing than promoting.

I talked this up around town. Various old heads, Crone's included, said sure, I've got stuff and I'd do it.

So tonight I asked Brett and Crone about that Jan. 9 date at The Tap Room. How about a 6-9 p.m. happy hour back in The Eliot Room, where The Lettuceheads will hit at 9 p.m., devoted to my schwag fest? They said sure, and sure.

Save the date: Friday, Jan. 9, The Tap Room. Dig out the schwag. Tell the people. Details to come.

*

That's my drunken sketch of most of The Lettuceheads (Mike Burgett, Jon Ferber, Carl Pandolfi), signed by all three men, one recent night in Mike's garage, when I actually got to play with these amazing cats.

I have taken a passport photo for humanity


I can't blame you all for taking a pass on, or at least taking your time, with my challenge to choose the passport photo for humanity. It is quite an assignment.

I borrowed the idea from Parry Harnden, a member of the International Surrealist Group. In his short story "Windbago," which opens The Somnambulist Footprints: A Collection of Surrealist Tales , Councilwoman Nancy Grimes says that Goya's Disasters of War "could serve as mankind's passport photo."

I'm holding out for a different and more flattering passport photo than "puking into the pile of corpses as you join them," as I described one of Goya's images from his war series when I sketched it in New York City, years ago.

Well, here is my idea: La Chambre Jaun (or, The Yellow Room) by Marc Chagall.

There's a house, some drink, some company, an animal who feels at home (and will provide nourishment, when needed). There is a bright, moony night and an inviting village outside the open door. There is a woman with her head upside down, a reminder of startling difference, of outrageous imagination, of what Malinowski called "the coefficient of weirdness".

That is humanity.

Footloose carbon footprint pop-starting a car



Last week my car suddenly elected not to start anymore, and I required professional assurance that it was nothing more than a dead battery, which in the end resulted in costing me about $175 more to replace my battery than I remembered as a young hoosier in Granite City, who just went to K-Mart for the new one and threw the old one in the trash.

The only good thing about the experience was that brief window, after my car stopped starting and before the VW dealership replaced the battery, when I was starting my 2003 Golf by pushing the car toward a downhill slope and then popping the clutch once it got up some momentum.

Those who know me best (my wife fits that bill) know me to be hideously incompetent in physical space. As I have said - of course, defensively - to pool guys and handymen and repairmen of all sort (Shakespeare called them "rude mechanicals": rude as in rough, not as in impolite), "I can write you a poem or a song or an essay or a news piece or a feature or an opinion column or a film or a novel or the score to a long poem," but that pretty much finishes the list of things I can do for you.

This predicament of mine made me really proud to utilize and, I suppose, show off my ability to start a dead car by pushing it down a hill, jumping in, and popping the clutch. You can take the hoosier out of Granite City and the crumbling 1987 Cavalier and put him into a Volkswagen in the burbs, but if the VW has a standard transmission, the hoosier will still be pop-starting it when the battery or starter dies.

While I waIted for the rude mechanicals to charge me $200 to replace my battery and assure me nothing worse was wrong with the car, I sketched the little kitchenette in the dealership and the shoe of a Domino's delivery guy who was having his service vehicle worked on.

I enjoyed the pizza guy's stage patter as the eternal voice of the working class. They had offered to let him run the place, he was saying, but hell to the naw, he didn't want to be keeping track of other people on paper grids and counting money for the man; he wanted to be out there alone, a lone coyote with a hot box of pizza smoking beside him, listening to real rock radio, a footloose carbon footprint moving down the open road.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

I was going to look into the face paint of Ecuador



I suppose you could classify these little pieces as collaborations with my daughter that I can't quite claim as collaborations, since the texts I added to her images make it advisable that I deemphasize the fact that a small child also worked on them.

She can't yet read, but she hasn't seem these drawings since I had my way with them. Leyla made the drawings in a notebook (fashioned by Cat Pick, with a Tarot cover) that we took with us on one of our trips to West Africa. Leyla has visited twice, at age five, and is enviably nonchalant about her relationship with the mother continent.

That would be the mother of all of us, according to the fossil record, not just of Barack Obama and the folks who look like his daddy. Barack's mother, also, was (strictly speaking) an African American, though her kin must have left home a long, long time ago, judging by her skin tone and facial features (God bless the dead).

I found these pieces this week while cleaning up my basement. We are anticipating houseguests from Tallahassee, and I'm also jonesing for a Skuntry Museum mixer - which would require that I transform my basement, away from the junk drawer it becomes between mixers, back into a curated space.

I'm not sure what I was reaching for when I came up with these texts. I seem to have been attempting to be elliptical and mysterious, along the lines of Raymond Pettibon. I've not quit my day job; however; I will be taking a break from it to have a beer and read the other newspapers, right about now.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Prayer for a dead man's high-hat


On Friday night, at the Poetry Scores Art Invitational, David A.N. Jackson pulled me aside. He had played percussion in the poet K. Curtis Lyle's ensemble that performed with him that night, as part of an art show devoted to Curtis' poem Nailed Seraphim.

"Did you see the high-hat?" David asked, referring to a cymbal in his percussion kit.

He didn't even have to explain. "Damn," I said, "Hunter was on this gig, too?"

I had inherited that high-hat from Hunter Brumfield III. Hunter and I were playing together in Three Fried Men when he killed himself - we had done a gig on Friday, and he junked himself on Sunday. His drumkit was borrowed (of course). After Hunter was gone, I asked the owner of the kit, Richard Beckman, if I could hold onto it, and he said sure, he wasn't using it.

After a period of intense grief, David A.N. Jackson joined our band. David is (among many other things) a human beatbox - the world is his percussive instrument, and all of the things in it. David didn't need a drumkit, but I had one, so he played it - a drumkit was maybe the last thing he actually used as a drumkit.

Bands that survive a suicide, and the St. Louis scene has amassed a sad amount of evidence on this point, don't last long. After we split up, David (who knows the history of the drumkit) kept calling me to borrow parts of it, which has resulted in a number of exchanges in front of The St. Louis American, just another funky thing that happens there, trading a dead man's high-hat back and forth.

David's need for Hunter's high-hat has been so persistent, and my will to start another band without Hunter has been so weak, that the high-hat no longer changes places. It stays with David now. That's why this shiny golden fragment of my dead drummer was at the art show.

I told David, "I've been thinking about Hunter, you know? A lot. He should have lived to see Obama win, you know that? That would have meant so much to him. He would have been so active on that campaign. He should have been alive to celebrate that with us."

I have been thinking something much more specific about Hunter, in connection with Obama. Hunter was the quintessential white kid who mixed well - who clicked - with black folks. He once told me it bothered him, as he moved around, from Chicago to St. Louis to Indiana to Seattle back to St. Louis, that he always had to start all over again, with the local black folks, everywhere he went.

"I'm always just the white guy," Hunter said. His street cred never carried over - it always had to be earned, all over again, everywhere he went. It made him sad and wore him out. The night Obama won, Hunter would have been able to see a new way of being, at least for a moment, and if he were alive today, he could help us try to make that rare and exciting moment an enduring reality.

**

The painting of Hunter with a chicken is by Sandra Marchewa and is situated on my shrine to Hunter in my basement museum, which was disturbed today, but that's another story - I'll try to figure that one out later.

Pose here, humanity, for your passport photo



What deserves to be our passport photo? - our as in us, as in all of us, as in the species, the human animal?

One early verdict is in: from Parry Harnden, a member of the International Surrealist Group, expressed in his short story "Windbago," which opens The Somnambulist Footprints: A Collection of Surrealist Tales (Oyster Moon Press, 2008, a funky holiday present for thinkdreaming people).

The verdict is offered by a character in his (?) tale, one Councilwoman Nancy Grimes, who opines that Goya's Disasters of War "could serve as mankind's passport photo."

It's a clever suggestion, since Disasters of War is an extensive series of prints, in which (therefore) a large number of people could find their actual likeness. Of course, that's not what Councilwoman Grimes (or the Surrealist casting her shadow on the page) has in mind, really. It's more about the depravity.

When I made these sketches of Disasters of War in New York, many years ago, I summarized one of the many brutal and graphic images: "This is what you were born for (puking into the pile of corpses as you join them)." That sums up Disasters of War, pretty well. That's what Councilwoman Grimes (and, perhaps, Surrealist Harnden) thinks belongs on our passport photo.

I'd like to make an alternate suggestion for that passport photo, drawn from the history of art, something with a little lets guts (in the sense of spilled innards) and more courage (in the noble sense), more hope. Less in the spirit of Dick Cheney (a disaster of war), more along the lines of Barack Obama (a profile in courage).

Any ideas? You don't have to comment here - you can do your own blog and send me a link, or hit me up on BookFace or MySpaz, if you play any of that. I'll be thinking on it, too.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Sunday blogs the corn man


I've always been enthusiastic about Thanksgiving, as a guy who likes to eat and who grew up in a large family of people who really knew how to cook. My blood family has gradually dwindled through death and divided over hateful behavior, but thankfully I married a woman who also can "burn" (as they say of a skilled cook on the block in North St. Louis).

Also this year, the Eilers are coming out to the house for the holiday, which means John Eiler will be in the house, and as visitors to the 2008 Poetry Scores Art Invitational can attest, he, too, can burn.

So, I'm looking forward to the holiday, as much as is possible for a guy who grew up in a large, fascinating family that dwindled and then divided.
We'll also have houseguests from out of town, Candice and Praiz', who have four children. This would strike terror in the heart of many people, but not us. My wife and I both adore children, though for a number of (painful) reasons, we were able to have only one child. It overjoys us to have more children in the house, to keep Leyla company and to bring life to her parents, as children do for adults when they are properly appreciated and well behaved.

Praiz', also, is a special guy, a holy hip-hopper and music minister - yet another in a long line of St. Louis' (especially, black St. Louis') most gifted sons we were not able to keep. He lives and works and worships in Tallahassee now. I very much look forward to spending a few days on end with him and treating him Friday night to see The Saint Louis Symphony Orchestra, which (I am certain) will open up some new avenues in his own music.

My daughter, at age five, has a ceremonial touch, much more than her father has. She has been clamoring, for some time, for her family to have "sit-down dinner," rather than serve ourselves and eat at our various work and play stations. She also is a dedicated and serious maker of occasional cards. I drew these ears of corn at her insistence. She was making a Happy Thanksgiving card for the children of Praiz' and Candice, and insisted that I do the same for the parents. How does a daddy say no to that?

I drew this picture from my favorite coffee table book in the history of time, The Horizon Book of the Elizabethan World by Lacy Baldwin Smith (which is out there on Alibris for next to nothing). I was attempting to copy what may have been the first ever European sketches of corn. It's a trip for this armchair farmer, whose relationship to his food is (to say the least) alienated, to be reminded that corn was innovated on this continent and only spread elsewhere through sea-borne travelers. I know, I know - I, too, went to elementary school - that this is the fundamental lesson of the Thanksgiving myth, as it is handed down to us. Still a trip to me, all the same.

In Ghana, by the way, where half of my wife's family lives, white people are known as "Kwasi Buronyi." "Kwasi" is the name for a boy born on Sunday, which was given to European Christians because of their focus on Sunday as "the Lord's day," which was very strange in the eyes of people who were, at the time of contact, polytheistic animists; in the words of a wise man friend of mine, they had "to worship all of the gods, all of the time."

"Buronyi" can be translated as "corn-colored person." Of course, it describes the bright flesh and blonde hair of many Europeans. I combine these rough translations to think of myself, when in Ghana, as "Sunday Born the Corn Man," a name I mean to lend to a novel one day, if I ever get back the guts to face the wrenching loneliness of writing another novel, in a world of readers for whom even this blog post will be far too long to read to the end.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Early recorded evidence of STL indie rock


Meghan Gohil, now of Hollywood Recording Studios and once upon a time one of the Mitch Easters or Spots of the St. Louis indie rock scene, is answering the call issued by Thomas Crone to cough up those old obscure local musical marvels.

Crone is asking people to digitize old tapes for possible play next week on one of two shows he will be producing on KDHX FM 88.1: "The Record Sto'" (2 -4 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 27) and "Silver Tray" (noon - 2 p.m., Friday, Nov. 28). Both shows will stream live on the website for two weeks after they air.

Here is the first batch Meghan culled from his personal archive, all run through some old Neve preamps to fatten up the bottom end, he said.

We have four songs from the St. Louis Schoolhouse tape-only release that Joe Z. Armin produced, at my instigation, when we were living together on The Hill in the early-90s (a similar trubute to Schoolhouse Rock, with covers by national acts, came out a couple of years later, by the way). All of these song titles link to mp3s:

* Brian Hennemann - at the time, after Chicken Truck but before The Bottle Rockets - plays "Gravity" (by Lynn Ahrens).

* The Boorays do a mod and swinging take on "Verb" (by Bob Dorough).

* Judge Nothing yuks it up on "Conjunction Junction," with frontman Doug Raffety making use of his neglected saxophone chops (by Bob Dorough).

* The Cookiemonsters, fronted by the late Dave Moorman (R.I.P.) and featuring Meghan himself on bass, have some fun with "The Five Song" (by Bob Dorough).

He also has found and remastered two rarities of mine - two of the first songs I ever wrote and recorded:

* "Steel Blue Eyes" features a girl from the Wash. U. dorms named Cindy (who could really sing) on lead vocals. I don't foresee this making the cut for Crone's radio shows, but if it does I've no clue what artist name to use since we weren't a band, I don't perform on the track, and I've so thoughtfully forgotten Cindy's name. The writer credit is (Chris King, Jeff Rouder) and Rouder produced it in Tietjens, the studio at Washington University.

* And then you have my first-ever effort as a songwriter and (God help us) singer, a song that was once enormously popular in several circles (including the Navy ROTC unit back at Boston University), "Plastic Cup Nightcaps," an image drawn from hoosier nightlife in Granite City, Illinois, where they put you out on the street at the end of the night with the dregs of your last drink dumped into a plastic cup.

This is another (King, Rouder) cowrite and another Jeff Rouder production, with Jeff playing that funky bass line, of which I recall his being rather proud. Joe Z. Armin and another girl from the dorms (the name "Jen" seems to emerge from the mire of memory) pitched in on vocals to back me up and bail me out.

It occurs to me now, as I struggle to remember these distant names, that an aptitude for organic chemistry is basically responsible for a decade of my playing music more or less full-time - which included running away from graduate school and never going back - and another decade of devoted dabbling in songwriting and production.

I aced that first Organic test. The guy who happened to be sitting next to me when the tests were returned, who turned out to be Jeff Rouder, decidedly did not. He asked if he could study with me before the next test. I said sure - I was a lonely transfer student with a hopelessly uncool off-campus housing assignment and was starving for companionship.

We studied for the next test in his dorm room. Jeff put on some nice music with a female vocal to listen to while we worked. I asked if it was Richard and Linda Thompson. He said no, it was him and Cindy down the hall - he had just made the recording as a class project for his recording studio course.

My eyes bugged. A recording studio course? A guy who could write songs with me and record them for us? I leapt at the prospect of turning all of my notebook poems into songs and recording them a and that's what I've been doing ever since.

*

The picture is a recent shot of Joe Z. Armin, producer of St. Louis Schoolhouse and second lead vocalist on "Plastic Cup Nightcaps," from the MySpace page of his current band, The Areosols, who are great. Crone also has, from me, recordings of Joe's St. Louis band Dirt Cousin, which was much better than many bands from town that went much further (including mine).

In search of the lost local rock music


In a labyrinth of other storylines at last night's Poetry Scores Art Invitational was some rock and roll nostalgia.

The invitational was an assignation point for myself and a man named Mark who found me through a previous post about the Boston rock scene in the 1980s, which I encountered as a Navy squid at Boston University. I saw Let's Active at the Paradise on Commonwealth Avenue in 1985; Mark saw Let's Active at the Paradise in 1986 - and he taped it!

Last night, this guy showed up at Hoffman LaChance, found out who I was somehow, and slipped me a CD of that Let's Active set, paired with a 1986 set at the Paradise by Rain Parade. Today I have been competing for airspace with my daughter, who wanted to hear the new Miley Cyrus record (which is actually very good); but whenever I got my turn, I partied like it was 1986.

Then, one of the artists in the invitational, Keith Buchholz, suddenly drops it on me that he was a major fan of my first band, Enormous Richard. He certainly wasn't making it up - he remembered those days better than I do. Given that I'm a good fifteen years on from anything resembling a local rock star trip, it was really weird to be having that conversation. I made it worth Keith's while at the end of the night by giving him a CD that mixes the songs I like best (or, rather, regret least) from the first two ER CDs.

What was I doing driving around with a CD of the songs I regret the least from my first, long-dead rock band? Because of Thomas Crone, why else.

Crone recently wrote to several survivors of the local rock old guard:

*

On Thanksgiving day, I'll be filling in for Doug Morgan on his KDHX show, "The Record Sto'," which I've done for the past few years now. Scott Randall of Fragile Porcelain Mice will be my in-studio guest that afternoon (2 -4 p.m.) as FPM is playing the Lucas School House later that night. The day after T-day, I'll also be doing my usual show, "Silver Tray," on Friday, from noon - 2 p.m.

For both these shows, I'm wanting to play all STL tracks, from the '70s-today. I hope to highlight this on the new KDHX blog within the next couple days, and I'll also point towards that link on 52nd City, etc. Though I feel pretty good about my collection of old-school STL rock, I'm very open to the idea that some of you have MP3s, CDs, etc. of live tracks, unreleased tracks, alt.versions, what-have-you, which would work well for retrospective shows like this.

I'd love to play some A Perfect Fit, but only have music of theirs on cassette, and they're just one band along these tape-only lines. Thanks for any leads and thanks for making the music you have made. The act of typing these names up brings a smile to my face; playing the songs will only heighten that goodwill.

I hope you get to listen to the shows live; if not, please stream the shows for two weeks after, via kdhx.org.

*

Of course, I had to answer that bell. I have a decent archive of the sort Crone is looking for. For years I harbored the fantasy of producing a "Lost Rock Band" series of CDs, and got right up on the brink of doing volumes for Judge Nothing (Alton, Illinois), Soda (Milwaukee, Wisconsin), and The Lettuceheads (St. Louis) before various problems, most persistently poverty, intervened. Last night, Keith Buchholz was talking the same smack, so who knows, this too may yet come to pass.

As for Crone, last night I handed him some Club Zero (proto-Judge Nothing - the band that started the Cicero's Basement scene, for you history buffs), Lydia's Trumpet (such sweet, sublime music; also on the reissue list), and Dirt Cousin (whose leader, Joe Z. Armin, now fronts The Aerosols in San Francisco; essential indie rock). I'll certainly tune in next week to see what Crone plays from my stuff and whatever else he is amassing.

If you have what Crone needs, contact me, because I'm sure I'll want a copy, too.

*

The photo is of Big Toe, which I don't count as my first band, though its one gig did predate Enormous Richard. With the exception of me, who had never before taken the stage, Big Toe was a local supergroup, ca. 1989. From left: Joe Z. Armin (Dirt Cousin), me, David Gendelman (Bad TV), Andy Dykeman (Judge Nothing - and that's now Dr. Andy Dykeman to you), Eric Rose (Butt of Jokes, my racquetball companion who deprived me of the ending of the novel that continues to haunt me in its incompletion) and Marshall Boswell, who was not in Big Toe or any local band until he cofounded Enormous Richard; he is now an accomplished fiction writer (most recent title: Alternative Atlanta, a novel; good hipster Christmas present). Joe and Andy, by the way, are showing one another the big toes inked on their chests, and you can see the tip of my big toe peaking out the top of my torn T-Shirt.

Valiant acts of selfpromotion to a longed for kindred spirit


Last night was one of the nights when things happened the way one would have hoped. I am always grateful for that - we all know how it feels when it goes the other way.

So I woke up in a sensitive and generous mood. I started some coffee on the hob and checked all of the places where I receive word, image and sound from others. I often think of this in the spirit of checking crab traps in the morning (and I have, in fact, checked actual crab traps in the morning, in the state of Maine, in a bay opposite the Rockefeller mansion, or one of the Rockefeller mansions). Who knows what will have swum in.

Something had swum into my MySpace page. A letter. A kind of message in a bottle.

*

Hey there, Timo here,

First, sorry for the spam, please feel free to write back and yell at me if it doth offend.

Secondly, and much more importantly, I play in a band, we’re called Motel Motel.

We’re a bunch of kids living in New York City trying to play music as much as we can. And unfortunately, it’s really hard to get your music out there these days, so we have to resort to this kind of strange requesting.

Sorry about it, but I definitely wouldn’t waste your time if I didn’t think this music was worth something enough to solicit random people to listen in. So if you got the time go and listen. And if you like it tell us, or be our friend, because we all could use more friends.

So yeah, my name again is Timo. Feel free to yell if you like, and thanks for reading this far if you are.

Music is great - Timo

P.S.
I found you because of The Meat Puppets

*

Not only because I woke up in a sensitive and generous mood, the morning after a night things went the way one would have hoped, and sometimes it goes the other way, but I liked this message in the bottle of a MySpace page.

Timo was, I would expect, cutting and pasting the same message to everybody declared a "friend" of The Meat Puppets on their MySpace page, but you've got to start somewhere, Timo is a wonderful name, he knows and uses the word "doth," I like the band name "Motel Motel," and I recognize in the yearning tone of this sequence of sentences something I've tried to keep alive in myself that I cherish.

I visted the Motel Motel MySpace page. I gave this kid the chance he was asking for. I liked the music well enough. I wasn't transported, the way The Meat Puppets transported me, but that's not a trip everybody gets to take you, and who knows what's next for these kids, they probably will grow and get even better, they will get to take people places.

I wrote back to this Timo, figuring one valiant act of selfpromotion to a longed for kindred spirit deserves another.

*

Dear Timo,

This story includes the first person I ever knew who also knew the music of The Meat Puppets.
He and I later met Bostrom of The Meat Puppets in Phoenix. Perhaps inspired by you I'll tell that story today.

I once selfpromoted my music as you are doing now, though that was before the internet when things were hard in a different way that seems harder than it is now by comparison, but probably was only harder in a different way. Look for Skuntry Music on SpaceMy if'n you want that rock music.

Zed Naught in my friends, and he actually is my friend, has been so for years, books a good club here in St. Louis, should you tour, and you must tour, it profits the soul, and there is no other profit, in the end.

And it does end.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Jason Wallace Triefenbach writes from L.A.


This is St. Louis artist Jason Wallace Triefenbach and his beautiful paramour Julie on Venice Beach. They live in Los Angeles now, where they seem not to have burned to the ground yet and are grinding their teeth that their fellow Californians don't think gay couples should be allowed to marry like Jason and Julie did.

Jason writes:

*
It's quite unfortunate to move to a state where progressive values are supposedly the norm, only to be shown weeks later that there are just as many nosey rednecks here as anywhere else.

But such is the world we live in. Such are the times we... uhhh...

Still, I stand a pretty good chance of being eligible for a medical marijuana card soon, so I guess I shouldn't complain too much.

Flights around christmas time are through the fruggin roof, so we'll probably have to wait until Jan or Feb to visit y'all. And that's assuming we can befriend a dog sitter by then. Hopefully we'll make it back home in time to drink a year's worth of Schlafly Barleywine. Don't take it for granted, my brethren.

I've had to cut back quite a bit on my bar time, seeing as how PBR is about 4 dollars on average in these parts. Who gives a golden shit if FEAR used to drink at this table? Not I, for one.

Here's a link to an artist I'm going to check out this Saturday.

Tonight J and I will split a 12 pack of something cheap and then head to the Silverlake Lounge for their bi-monthly "performance art-ish nite". We're doing our thing there in January and want to see what the space is like.
*

A previous letter had a bit more content. Never posted it. Posting now. More Jason:

*

The L.A. Central Library is a huge affair - maybe vaguely art deco-ish? - I get my design eras flubbergated oftimes. It's six floors of books and books and books. Three floors are underground - connected by a huge open space, running down from the topmost level. Giant columns, "air and light and space". Very epic.

Yesterday I was perusing the georges bataille and ended up bringing home three books. One is a theoretical philosophy sorta text called The Unfinished System of Nonknowledge. One is a compendium of three erotic novellas (the one I'm reading now is called "My Mother"). The third book is Collected Poems. Here's an excerpt:

LAUGHING

To laugh and laugh
at the sun
at the nettles
at the pebbles
at the ducks

at the rain
at the pope's pee
at mommy
and a coffin full of shit.

I've also recently checked out the Kippenberger retrospective that's at MOCA til December I think? It takes up both of the museum's buildings and includes nearly 300 of K's works including the coffee table he made out of a Gerhard Richter painting, tons of his drawings (his most acute and psychologically charged work, in my opinion), books, posters (one of which I used as inspiration for the dyptich "animal sounds/ mk ultrasound" donated for auction to the ContemporarySTL in 2006), objects covered in oatmeal (including the car and the orgone chamber), many many paintings (my least favorite), some squirmy light posts and giant wooden pills and his opus "The Happy End To Franz Kafka's 'Amerika'".

I was going to go see some of Wolfgang Tillmans' fashionable photos at Regen Projects but at the last minute I decided to stay home with Bataille instead. Then me and the missuz watched the Leonard Cohen biopic "I'm Your Man," which we saw at the Tivoli a couple years ago and wanted to reboot into the ol Protein Softdrives.

Also I just bought yet another Boredoms album. Seems like all their work since Super Roots 6 or so is basically one huge drum freakout that they keep jammin on. Which is great, don't get me wrong, but I wouldn't mind if they'd throw in a few morsels of their earlier crunchyfunk throat spasm blips for the spazz in me and you.

I also got Crystal Rainbow Pyramid Under the Stars by Acid Mother's Temple and the Melting Paraiso UFO. The sticker said it's their slickest release to date, but I wouldn't know as this is my first album of theirs. The last of the three tracks, "Electric Psilocybin Flashback," is 40 minutes of buttery nuttery. Cross the burning bridge!

*

Finally, as a reminder of what we are missing when we lose a guy like Jason to a place like Los Angeles that doesn't need him (or any of us, for that matter), this is one of his last public art acts before he left town. Yet more Jason, from yet another email:

*

Hello friends and enemies, etc.

I have just installed an information kiosk in front of the building which was formerly a McDonalds, near the intersection of Grand and Chippewa. The piece is four-sided, and reads, respectively,

"THE COLLAPSE OF THE ST. LOUIS SCHOOL SYSTEM"

"A MICROCOSM OF THE FAILURE OF AMERICA"

third side is a map of St. Louis

and on the fourth side, in restroom graffiti style:

"CHAIN YOUR MAYOR TO A PIPE IN YOUR BASEMENT"
"BEAT HIM TIL HE SINGS"
"IT'S YOUR FAULT TOO"


As this is an uncommissioned gift to the city of St. Louis, I doubt it will be there for very long. If you wish to view it, please feel free to pass by. I would guess that someone will damage and/or remove it within the next day or two.

THANKS,
Jason Wallace Triefenbach

*

Please note: these references to the mayor were made by Jason in an email about a work of protest art. They should not be taken as incitements to violence, and Confluence City does not encourage or endorse violence against the mayor or anyone else. Cookie Thornton makes me want to say such things loud and clear.

First story ever told about pretty girls drinking beer


Most of us, in my experience, have some kind of craziness we carry around in our heads. Mine is that much of my life has happened to me in the process of figuring out the rest of a story that I interrupted long ago to go play a game of racquetball.

The game of racquetball seemed more important than a story at the time because I was so damn lonely. I had quit the Navy and lost my ROTC scholarship and ended up as a transfer student at Washington University, which treated transfer students - especially transfer students on a limited-means scholarship whose parents had never contributed a dime to the endowment - like red-headed, leprous stepchildren.

After wriggling out of a series of ludicrously terrible off-campus housing assignments, I ended up living with my mother in Granite City. She needed me around the house anyway, because she had burnt her hands to a crisp in a fusebox fire. The transfer student who went AWOL from the Navy and lived in a steel mill town across the river was more than a little lost on a campus of mostly rich kids from the East Coast. And then I started meeting musicians.

One of those musicians - the guitarist in a band called Butt of Jokes that provided the first evidence that The Meat Puppets existed outside of my own record collection - played racquetball. I played racquetball. He invited me to play racquetball in the campus gymnasium, where I had interviewed Paul Westerburg. I was on my way to becoming a little less lonely.

The day of the racquetball game, a voice popped into my head and started telling me a story. This was a brand new and very strange experience. I think I can understand, now, why it might have happened. My imagination was superheated at the time, because Bill Gass had me reading Robert Walser and Rainer Maria Rilke and Jorge Luis Borges. They had me wanting to write a novel, so I was trying to write a novel - no surprises here - about a lonely kid on a college campus.

Just as it was getting good, or so I thought, my mother interrupted me. It was the dead of winter. We lived in a poor part of a poor town. My grandmother's poor neighbor's pipes had frozen, because her heat had been shut off. The neighbor had paid to have her heat turned back on and now had no money to buy groceries. Her family was no longer cold, but now was hungry. My mother was giving me money and a list of food to buy and sending me shopping for the poor neighbor's family.

I stepped away from my novel to run this necessary errand, and that is when this other voice popped into my head, the one I have been chasing around for the rest of my life. The voice said, "Kentucky. That isn't her name, but the name of the state in which we live together. She moved down her for a job working with slow children, a sure case of the feeble teaching the feeble, take two on her crummy babyhood."

I took notes as I drove through the frozen streets of West Granite City. I shopped, scrawling notes as I walked through the aisle, looking for bread, milk, bananas, raisins. I scrawled notes on the way to the neighbor's house, then on the way back to my mother's house, and then back at home on my typewriter, until it was time to honor that racquetball appointment.

I really felt the need to honor that racquetball appointment. I really didn't want to be lonely anymore. So I scrawled notes as I drove across the river to the rich kid's campus. I actually remember walking through the snow to The Field House - the site, since, of the Palin-Biden vice presidential debate - still scrawling notes on a piece of paper held against my leg, taking dictation from the voice in my head, from the rough stranger who moved to Kentucky to be with his former caseworker at the halfway house in Alton, Illinois, who had moved to Kentucky for a job working with slow children and to get away from him.

I stopped taking notes to play racquetball. We played racquetball. We became friends, the guitar player from Butt of Jokes and I. When his band dissolved, I borrowed his drummer for "just one gig". Almost twenty years later, I am still writing songs and making records with his former drummer. We traveled the country together, playing gigs at CBGBs in New York City and a Mexican restaurant in Huntington, West Virginia and a dive bar in Louisville, Kentucky. I learned a lot about that rough stranger in my head, who grew up on the road with a father from Kentucky, and I fell in love with a girl I met at a gig and married her, in part, because she grew up on a farm in Kentucky, just like the daddy of the stranger in my head.

But I never got that voice back into my head to tell me the rest of the story. I've been on my own all these years, chasing traces from that original story he started telling me, that cold day when I interrupted a college novel to go buy groceries for my grandma's poor, hungry neighbors.

One of the many, many things I know something about only because that voice in my head knew something about it is an ancient artifact called a cylinder seal. His daddy, for reasons I have not yet figured out, had a thing for museums, and because as a boy he was small, he looked at things in museums that were small, like cylinder seals - tiny tubes about the size of the longest bone on an adult finger, made from a hard and often precious stone, into which an artist carved images that are printed, in reverse, on clay when you roll the cylinder across the clay.

The cylinder seal, I learned, was invented in ancient Mesopotamia, what is now Iraq, and whenever our government elects to bomb Iraq, which is more often than I would like, I worry (among other worries) about all of the ancient cylinder seals being bombed to bits or looted by thieves who don't even know what they are taking away from the rubble. When I was blessed to visit The Louvre in Paris, I stumbled upon what was then the largest collection of cylinder seals outside of Iraq (and what now may be the largest collection of cylinder seals anywhere in the world - we won't know until the war is finally over and a responsible art inventory in Iraq is possible again).

I spent hours in The Louvre, studying those cylinder seals, trying to understand why the stranger in my head found them important as a boy and remembered them well enough as a man to use them in a pickup line with a hippie girl he met in the street. I sketched a few of the images on them, like the sketch I have posted up here. Since the cylinder seal is, in some accounts of the history of language, the birth of writing, I will suggest that what you have here, on this ancient cylinder seal of women drinking beer, is the first ever written story about a very important and beautiful thing, pretty girls drinking beer.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Rachel Storch goes international wonk in Brazil


This is state Rep. Rachel Storch meeting last week with Unica, the Brazilian trade association for sugar cane, about sugar-based ethanol, which Rachel found "incredibly interesting" but (God bless her) she's a little wonky like that.

Rachel is in the bottom half of the Americas these days on a fellowship that sends 12 mid-career professionals abroad each year to seek out global partnerships and to bring the fruit of the fellowship back home to the community.

"We each choose our country and area of study," Storch writes from Brazil, after being nudged for an account of herself. "I will be primarily in Brazil, but also Uruguay and Argentina to study renewable energy and biotechnology. Brazil is considered energy-independent because of its use of sugar-based ethanol. My goal is to see where the U.S. can either partner with or learn from South America to stimulate the economy and support the environment."
She said in the past the Eisenhower fellowship program has drawn fellows from Philadelphia (where the foundation is based), Boston, and the Research Triangle in North Carolina. Last year, St. Louis was added, basically because John McDonnell founded an International Institute at Washington University, so there will be a local hub to receive multi-national fellows during their stay in the U.S.

Also in Rachel's fellowship class is Stephanie Pope from Boeing (Ireland), Albert Mitchell from Monsanto (South Africa), Mike Train from Emerson (Saudi Arabia), and Rob Freund from the Regional Health Commission (China). She is part of the 2007 fellowship group, though her participation was deferred by the election. Besides running for reelection as state rep, Rachel chaired the Democratic effort to take back the state House and posted some gains.

The 2008 class (she thinks) includes Michael McMillan, Michelle Sherod, Kevin Gunn, Missouri Treasurer-elect Clint Zweifel, and "a guy from Ameren".

Storch reports, "It is an introduction to an incredible network. The fellows I have met include a doctor from Kenya who started the first women and children's hospital in East Africa (treats people with HIV and AIDS as well as victims of domestic violence); the spokesperson for the EU on all issues of science and technology; a young Senator from Colombia, etc."

Though far from home and the (a'hem) Obama revolution, she is still feeling some Obama love. She writes, "It is very nice to see that Brazilians seem to universally support Barack Obama. They share our deep hope that he will lead the U.S. and the world in a new direction that will provide global peace and opportunity."

That would be, like, cool.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Maestro David Robertson talks about the passion





I spent one morning last week observing David Robertson rehearse The Saint Louis Symphony Orchestra through some rough spots in a program of modern music. I sketched David as he worked, and I jotted down some of his advice and observations on the sketches.

Although I was avid to see how perhaps the greatest working conductor leads his orchestra - telling the tuba player how to attack his last note, counting off beats with the sound "bup," and trying to conjure a feeling that is "the most elemental" - I also enjoyed the more simple human asides.

David admitted to being a little tired (though he didn't act it), because he had been up until midnight the night before, sitting in as one of the 100 guitarists in Glenn Branca's temporary St. Louis guitar orchestra. And he apologized for interrupting one run-through of a passage from Varese because his copy of the score to Arcana had been with him since 1977 and was becoming too wornout to cooperate on the conductor's stand anymore.

After rehearsal was concluded, I waited for my opportunity to approach him. David fluttered around with his musicians, chatting and enthusing like a guy who knows he has the best job in town and was in no hurry to leave work. Finally, I pulled his coat and asked him to sign one of my sketches (well, actually, two; I also had him sign one with Branca that Branca had signed). David is a gracious guy; he signed them for me.

He also is a generous artist and leader of artists. When I told him how much I had enjoyed rehearsal, he said, "I know! You get to see how (expletive) AMAZING they are! You ask for more passion - not a better note, not a more accurate count, but a specific kind of passion - and you run back through it, and there it is! The passion you had asked for. That's why they are the best orchestra in the states."

Talk about the passion. He was thoroughly worked up in saying all this to me.

Then he leaned toward me, a bit. He said, "It's like the Yankees. You can pay more money to get more stars on your team. But it doesn't make it a better team."