Saturday, February 28, 2009

I added a note to the public record on Joe Baiza

Like most of us these days, I know a little bit about a lot of things. This makes me fit in pretty well with the Wikipedia era, in which the critical community - construed as broadly as the bandwidth will allow - is free to range throughout the universal library, making marginal notes and revising the historical record on the spot.

I can't explain, then, why I never contributed to a Wikiepedia entry until today. But I know why I did today.

I was looking for information on Joe Baiza. The name rang a bell, as one of those suburban Los Angeles punk pioneers, but I couldn't make any sense out of that ring. Asking The Oracle, I came across a Wikipedia stub on the man.

And I thought, well, hell, as little as I know, I know something this stub doesn't know and it's worth telling the people about it.

Here was what the stub said:

Joe Baiza is a punk rock and jazz guitarist whom Eugene Chadbourne cites as one of the most noteworthy guitarists to emerge from the Southern California punk rock milieu. Baiza is a founding member of the bands Saccharine Trust, Universal
Congress Of
, and The Mecolodiacs. He also performed guest guitar spots on several Minutemen tracks and played alongside Black Flag's Greg Ginn and Chuck Dukowski in the SST all-star jam band October Faction, recording two albums with them. Baiza was also part of the musical side project Nastassya Filippovna which featured Bob Lee (drums), Devin Sarno (bass) and Mike Watt (bass). He substituted for Nels Cline during Mike Watt's European and American tours behind his second solo album, Contemplating the Engine Room, in 1997 and 1998. Currently, he is in the reunited Saccharine Trust as well as the improvisational unit Unknown Instructors with former Minutemen Mike Watt and George Hurley.
And here is what I knew and told the people, through the stub; it's the new penultimate sentence in the entry:

Also in 1997, he and Cline played (sometimes together) in the band Solo Career with Lee (drums), Richard Derrick (bass), Walter Zooi (trumpet) and Gustavo Aguilar (percussion); other guitarists in that rotating ensemble included Mario Lalli, Woody Aplanalp and Ken Rosser.
How do I know that? Because Richard Derrick has become a friend and collaborater of mine, though my persistence, love for the music, and thirst for archival musical sources to augment my own work.

I'll talk more about that soon - and post up some unreleased Solo Career with Joe Baiza and Nels Cline on dueling guitars, if they will let me. The one Solo Career record Richard has released on his Box-o-Plenty imprint has Nels Cline but not Joe Baiza; I am feeling, much more, the live set with them playing together with forever steady, inventive Richard Derrick. I hope to help get that music out into the world.


The picture of Joe Baiza with the late d. boon (Minutemen frontman; roommate of Richard Derrick) in 1980 is by Victor Sedillo and posted on a Mike Watt forum.

Friday, February 27, 2009

I imagine a different and a better world

Here are some details from my sketchbook and a shot of the page of sketches I did this morning at Powell Symphony Hall.

I posted them starting with what was most distinctive about the program: an organist (John Romeri) paired with two pianists (not credited; staff) in the Saint-Saens "Organ" symphony. It concludes the program with monstrous force. Under the direction of Jun Markl, the Saint Louis Symphony Orchestra was all about being equal to the task of this stirring composition this morning.

Then a double bassist, with that distracted, counting-the-math, can't-let-down-the-other-thirty-musicians-and-God look one expects in a working symphony musician on the bandstand.

Then guest conductor, Jun Markl. He was a joy to behold, leading the passionate bunch we are fortunate to have here in St. Louis.

As you scroll down, you see that his delighted grin faces, on my page, a woman violinist, but that is just an accident of the sketchbook, not the residue of a leer. Jun Markl looked like that every time I could see his face. He wasn't wasting one single moment up there in the midst of all that music.

This violinist, however, is extraordinarily beautiful, as a matter of fact. I have met her and asked her to sign a previous sketch I did of her when I caught a rehearsal of the Glenn Branca guitar symphony. I didn't draw her as being very beautiful, but she lives and plays that way.

The boot in the next sketch belongs to her. The sexier shoe belongs to another violinist, also beautiful. Sorry to be so superficial, but sitting through a symphony program, one has so much time to stare at the musicians, it would be less than human not to form an innocent crush or two.

The hand belongs to Garrick Ohlsson, who played a Dvorak piano concerto in the middle of the program. He played, pardon the gutter speech, the shit out of the piano. The composition itself lacks edge to my ear (as does the opening piece, a Liszt symphonic poem), but Garrick brought to it what edge he could. He hammered on the piano, just beat the gutter speech out of it.

The people loved it. He repaid our love with a bonus Liszt waltz as an encore. Garrick struck me as the kind of guy who would have played all afternoon without extra pay had we let him and such things been possible. I start to imagine a different and better world where there is a speakeasy after symphony concerts where the musicians jam all night, the way Irish musicians and jazz players do.

I imagine a different and a better world.


They do this program all over again Saturday at 8 p.m. and Sunday at 3 p.m. It is worth it for Garrick's hammering and the peculiar beauty of the Saint-Saens.

Just to remind, we really do have the best orchestra in the United States right here in St. Louis. David Robertson says so, and he doesn't lie about music or work anywhere he doesn't want to work. Jun Markl, by the way, has David's old job in Lyon now.

And don't skip the program notes by Paul Schiavo, who is unfailingly eloquent and informed.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Signed sketches of The Mayday Orchestra

We have here Tim, Matt, Brien, JJ and Joey of The Mayday Orchestra, sketched by me while performing last night at City Art Supply, and then chased down by me after their set so they each could sign their sketch.

Yeah, my computer with the scanner is on the fritz. Yeah, the photographing of the sketch is almost as lame as the sketches themselves. But I like doing it, it makes me happy.

This band is so incredibly good, even unrehearsed and laconic. I was so happy throughout their set and so proud of Tim Rakel's maturation. I have some reason to think of him as a little brother, a protege perhaps, though he long ago outgrew me.

I'll write more about the show and the music sometime when I have had some actual sleep. Maybe they will let me bootbloog a tune, as well. Tim was kind enough to bootleg their Haymarket record, which is scary good.

Whatopher is in a man's name?

I work for a man named "Donald M. Suggs". I have heard him introduce himself to a lot of people. He always introduces himself as "Donald Suggs".

I have heard a lot of people call him "Don Suggs". I have never heard him correct anyone. However, I am well aware of the scruple against calling a man "out of his name".

So, sometimes, I give someone the heads up, if I like the person.

"His name is 'Donald'," I say. "Not 'Don'. He will never correct you. But I can tell you, we all know. Anyone who calls him 'Don' is pretending to an intimacy that they are betraying by calling him 'Don'."

Amazingly, some of those people I correct actually look at me like I am a child and persist in calling the man "Don". There are arrogant fools walking around this town like masters of the universe. What can I say?

When I used to teach literature and history, I often would make this point. Read the autobiographical writings of Frederick Douglass. Note how the man signed his name. "Frederick".

When he is remembering dialogue, and someone calls him "Fred.", he always prints the abbreviated name with a period, "Fred.", to indicate his name is "Frederick," not "Fred", and therefore "Fred." is an abbreviation of his name.

Frederick Douglass did not appreciate being called out of his name.

Anyone who does not understand why this is so does not understand much about race and American history and power and names and who does and does not have the power or assume the right to call someone by any name other than the name by which he identifies himself.

As for me, a mixed blood "white" boy, it's all different. They named me "Christopher". I call myself "Chris". So, that's my name, not "Christopher" nor "Chris.", which would suggest that I consider "Christopher" to be my name and "Chris." to be an abbreviation of it.

So, when someone calls me "Christopher," after I have identified myself as "Chris", I tend to respond, "Whatopher?"


Image if of Frederick Douglass.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Dana Smith musician paintings going cheap

Self-taught St. Louis painter Dana Smith is trying to move some of his inventory. I'll try to help him out in a series of posts, starting with some really cheap paintings of musicians, including this one of Dr. Dog at Mississippi Nights (12x16, canvas board), which goes for $30 framed.

Here are some more, more or less in the order I dig them:

Kite Pilot at Radio Cherokee
10x14, canvas board
$25 framed

Say Panther at Radio Cherokee
9x12, canvas board
$20, framed

Jason at Penny Studios
10x14, canvas board
$25, framed

The Doxies in Their Living Room
12x16, canvas board
$30, framed

Andy and Brien at Lemmon's
10x14, canvas board
$25, framed

Chris and Gareth at Penny Studios
10x14, canvas board
$25, framed

Phonocaptors at the Hi-Pointe
(from their last show)
9x12, stretched canvas

You can contact Dana through his website if you're interested in getting one of these bargains. There are many more where they came from.

Also, you can probably make your deal tomorrow (Wednesday, Feb. 25) at his shop City Art Supply, which has an interesting live show at 8 p.m.: Robert Blake and The May Day Orchestra. I'm thinking to attend myself.

Mere being is three beers at The Famous Bar

Last night I sat for several hours with a couple that I consider to be my brother and sister, talking about changes in our lives and our work (major changes all around, in the world these days).

Thom had asked for the meeting, if you can call three beers at The Famous Bar a meeting, because though we see each other fairly often (by the socially-deprived standards of a devoted father with a five-year-old), we never really talk to each other when we see each other out.

As I said at the bar, its like the Yogi Berra conundrum: "Nobody goes there anymore; it's too crowded." We never really talk to each other, because we feel like we can always talk to each other.

Now, I am left wanting to do that again - meet Thom and Stefene for what he described as "unstructured play time," not defined by an art event or a project deadline - and I am left thinking of other people with whom I would like to spend this sort of time.

I guess I am craving more of an adult social life, but with the trappings of youth, when there was less we had to do, less we had set forth for ourselves to do, more time for what the poet Wallace Stevens called "mere being."

I also think of something I told another dear friend of mine yesterday. She is ten years younger than me, unmarried and without children. She has to work two jobs to make ends meet, and ends still don't meet, she isn't sure she will have even one job come summer, and she is a working artist in an art world that is vanishing in plain view, like most of the rest of the American economy.

But, still, she is unmarried without children. And I was trying to tell her, no matter how harried or deprived of the time she needs to do the things she wants and needs to do she might feel, I really didn't believe her. She has time.

For a parent of a small child to listen to a childless person complain about time is like a parent with a baby listening to a childless person complain about air travel.

Yes, it sucks to rush, undress for security, rush, squeeze, rush, squeeze, wait, fret, rush, squeeze; but now do that while shouldering a basket of baby and a big bag of baby fixings, with the discomforts of air travel further colored, scented, and scored by the opportunity to change a foul diaper and calm a squalling infant once or twice along the way, and you will never, ever, ever really fret over flying alone again.

I want time. I want time to drink three beers at The Famous Bar with you.


This photo of Thom as The Rotten Apple from his Monstromo Flickr has a funny caption.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Adolescent "Hamlet" at Wash. U.

I guess the best you can say of any new production of a familiar play is that it taught you something new about the text, and the Washington University Performing Arts Department Production of Hamlet made me consider, for the first time, what an adolescent the play's hero is.

Director Henry Schvey makes the point convincingly in his notes to the production. The evidence is everywhere in Shakespeare's text - Hamlet is a youth, a student, an adolescent. It's wrong to think of him as a man or stage him that way. I believe this is true and had not considered the point before.

Of course, this approach to the play also makes the most of a challenging situation: that the only players Schvey had at his disposal were undergraduates at an expensive private university where almost all of the undergraduates are "traditional students" - i.e., adolescents. However Schvey staged Hamlet, the actor playing him was bound to be a kid, because kids were all he had to work with.

I wouldn't envy anybody the task of playing Hamlet, let alone a college senior like St. Louis' own Sathya Sridharan. This kid had his moments last night, but Schvey evidently failed to teach him how to enact intensity by doing anything other than raising his voice. When Hamlet is quiet or devious, Sridharan is pretty good (sometimes, very good); when he is intense or agonized, the actor invariably shouts and screams and blows the role.

I blame the director for this, not the actor - I can't imagine why this couldn't have been caught and fixed in rehearsal. Granted, throwing a tantrum is a very adolescent thing to do, which fits the direction, but anyone can see it makes for annoying theater when nearly constant tantrum is matched with one of the longest and wordiest roles in theatrical history.

The actor I want to see more of, after seeing half of this production, is Iain Prendergast, who played Polonious with a dry and pompous wit that belied the youth of the actor. Prendergast is majoring in Religious Studies, according to the program notes. Maybe he'll grow up to be a pastor and lead a church through some lively community theater.

Speaking of the program notes, they bustle with the students' affection and respect for Henry Schvey. To say that the man couldn't coach a college kid to successfully play Hamlet is to say that he tried to teach a college kid to play Hamlet. There is no succeeding in that task, though it shows how much Schvey respects his young talent that he gave it a try.

Not that anyone knew me to notice, but I apologize to all of these young strivers and their teacher for bolting at intermission. I was falling asleep, Hamlet tantrums and all, after a week of guitar circles, gigs, and other forms of sleep deprivation. Though I would like to have stayed to applaud at the end, I am afraid I would have snored before then.


The bad sketch of Sathya Sridharan as Hamlet is mine.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Bootblogging #11: The Adversary Workers

So it was a Monday night, one of the only nights I still do any of the things I have always done, like sit at a tavern until it gets late, talking and drinking and listening to unusual music.

I was sitting at a tavern until it got late, talking and drinking and listening to unusual music. I was sitting at Eric Hall's bar - meaning, of course, the bar where he works. Ownership never really meant that much to me, unless it was the owner telling me I had better go.

Eric was playing unusual music. It sounded really good to me. Angry, shrill punk rock, but not malevolent or stupid, as punk rock can be. What words I could pick out of the din were interesting and suggestive. "Was it so good? Was it so good?"

I'm the guy who always calls the deejay or interrupts the bartender to ask what they are playing. I interrupted Eric (as usual) and asked what he was playing.

"Adversary Workers," he said. "Local band. Test pressing of their new e.p."

"Cool band name," I said.

Eric nodded. He went back to working the bar, and I went back to trying to pick lyrics out of the din.

At some point deeper into the night, Eric popped a CD out of the deck behind the bar and handed it to me. He may or may not have first conferred with one of The Adversary Workers sitting down the bar to get their permission to do so. Knowing Eric and his consummate respect for other artists, I will say he did so.

Thus, a homeburned CD of the new Adversary Workers e.p., Glenndonia, entered the morass of special recordings in my basement - special, in this case, because the band gave it to Eric, and then Eric gave it to me. I'm sentimental like that.

Then I accepted an invitation to read at Day of the Deadbeats last year. I was keeping a sketchbook at the time, so I drew the other readers on the program and chased them down, after they left the stage, so they could sign my sketch of them.

The guy who had read Kenneth Patchens was one of those young Get Born people, recently relocated to Chicago (for a girlfriend, I think). He was really engaging, and we swapped contact information and endeavored to keep in touch after he went back up to that cold Great Lakes city.

And so we did. He began to read Confluence City. He responded to a post inviting guest bloggers to read and review books I had acquired from a federal public defender in St. Louis who writes lesbian legal thrillers.

I mailed Joe a lesbian legal thriller. He offered to send me something in return, maybe a record by his band? "What band?" "The Adversary Workers." Ah, hah! Yes, of course!

So now I have vinyl of Glenndonia, along with vinyl of Vide Poche, another e.p. by The Adversary Workers, and permission from Joe to bootblog some free mp3s of the band. So, here you go, straight from that homeburned CD Joe must have given to Eric that Eric gave to me: my two favorite tracks from Glenndonia.

Free mp3s

"Goodman Brown"
The Adversary Workers

"In the middle of things"
The Adversary Workers

From Glenndonia
(No Wire Records)

Produced by The Adversary Workers
and Lee Harvey Gunpowder
Engineered and mixed by
Richard Beckman

I can't find any songwriting credits.

Band photo from their MySpace page.

Friday, February 20, 2009

I believe in Sunyatta Marshall

Here are a few looks at Sunyatta Marshall from the Guitar Circle we hosted Monday night in John Eiler's garage. That's my friend Dawn Majors from Old Hickory, Tennessee watching in the middle frame. The bottom picture is hopelessly blurred - I was shooting without a flash, to capture character and shade - though if you double-click on it to enlarge the image, there is a really cool hall-of-mirrors effect on her beautiful face.

Sunyatta is intertwined with the tradition of the Guitar Circle. It evolved out of the Hootenanny at the original Way Out Club location on Cherokee Street, where we would sit around and swap songs off of the stage if I could help it. One unforgettable night, Mark Stephens sang a song called "I Need a Girl" during his turn around the Hoot.

The second he was done singing, Bob Putnam called out, across the bar, "Mark, phone. It's a girl."

It was Sunyatta.

I don't know what Mark said to summon her to the bar, in addition to the shamanic powers of his song, but she came to the bar and joined the Hootenanny.

With the intervention of Michael Shannon Friedman, the Hoot became the Guitar Circle. Sunyatta stuck with it.

Different story between Sunyatta and Mark Stephens.

They danced one night, at a bar. Two young lovers. Chuck Reinhardt saw them dancing. He wrote a song about them, a song about believing in music and love, "I Believe."

Chuck sang "I Believe" at guitar circles. Chuck met Mark and Sunyatta at guitar circles and was surprised to see the lovers from his song.

Mark and Sunyatta got married. Chuck sang "I Believe".

Mark and Sunyatta got divorced. Chuck sang "I Believe".

Sunyatta still comes to guitar circles. No one seems to know how to find Mark to invite him to one. I invited Chuck to the circle on Monday night. He declined - he had an early Tuesday morning working as a janitor.

I believe.


Free mp3

"I Believe"
(Chuck Reinhardt)
Chuck Reinhardt

Thursday, February 19, 2009

The steel pan and the standup bass strike lightning

My photographs of the Guitar Circle we hosted Monday night in John Eiler's garage have a hazy quality that owes to my disinclination to use a flash (and apparent inability to hold perfectly still long enough for room light to stream into the camera). But some of the people who were in the garage for a long night of intense music and moonshine have pointed out that the haze shrouding the images is oddly fitting.

Here we have split images of the night's surprise collaboration, Josh Weinstein on upright bass and Baba Mike Nelson on steel pan.

Josh in performance was itself something of a surprise. He is best known as a producer of the innovative KDHX show All Soul, No Borders and, more recently, as an upstart oral historian who has been documenting living jazz legends.

What Josh doesn't broadcast, being a modest man, is that he has quietly been developing chops and instincts for improvisation on the double bass. If I am not mistaken, the great William Parker is one of his teachers.

In part because it was so unexpected and so different from the other performances, Josh's turns in the circle seemed to leave the strongest lasting impression among Guitar Circle regulars, including people who know and love Josh dearly but really had not pegged him as a musician. From now on, they surely will.

It speaks to his ability and instincts that Baba Mike joined in on his steel pan. Mike embodies the living history in St. Louis of the music Josh most cherishes. Mike has learned his crafts from the very best artists St. Louis has produced, including Clark Terry, Oliver Lake and Oswald Moses, who showed him how to tune and play the pans.

Unless he is teaching, Mike just doesn't mess with music that isn't ready. Josh was ready. Baba Mike was born that way. I would like to think the vein of crackly light you can see in his pan, here, is an image of the lighting that lit up the room for the brief time these two men were making music together in that dimly lit garage.


My photo of Josh includes an image of Thom Fletcher as spectator. In a cool reversal, Thom's shot of the same performance, posted on his Flickr site, shows me (and John Eiler, Sunyatta Marshall, Heather Corley and Jon Cournoyer) as spectator.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Fred Friction, Michael Friedman, Rough Shop tonight

We have here two-thirds of tonight's entertainment at The Tap Room, 2100 Locust, in a free show that should run from 9 p.m. to around midnight. This is Fred Friction and Michael Friedman, photographed fuzzily by me Monday at the Guitar Circle held in John Eiler's garage on South Grand, a psychically charged place for me - it served as the zombie green room when we made the movie Blind Cat Black, and it's where John and I sat out the storm of the first couple weeks of the worst of the worst news when he learned his daughter Sali had been killed in Oaxaca.

Rough Shop is the third group on the bill tonight. I would have expected John Wendland from Rough Shop to stop by the circle, he is a veteran of them, but he must have been busy being a grown man with a job, wife, and band, which leaves less and less time for staying up all night in a friend's garage on a Monday, drinking peach-infused moonshine and swapping songs with the boys and girls.

There were, indeed, girls at the circle (women, if you would like): Sunyatta Marshall, Heidi Dean, Jane Godfrey, Lyndsey Scott and some spectators - Stefene Russell (not in the mood to be a poet tonight), Dawn Majors, Pamela Raymond, Lauren Berger, Heather Corley. I tell you, the list of my female friends can beat up the list of anybody's female friends!

I am sure I will be carrying on about the Guitar Circle for awhile - after all, I have all of these new fuzzy photos of talented people I love - but this is just a quick post to get up here, fast, in the hope it brings some people out to the Tap Room tonight (Wednesday). I'll be there.

Though Rough Shop and Fred Friction are local, Fred's performance schedule is unpredictable (catch him when you can). As for Michael Friedman, though Roy Kasten made him two records with the best folk rock musicians in town, he is from West Virginia and now lives and teaches in North Carolina. Catch him when you can - tonight. Now.

I'll leave you with two lines by these two songsters I scrawled down Monday night when they sang them at the circle.

"I think the soul is an old junky. I think love is its smack." - Michael Friedman

"I'm only going through the motions til the oceans swallow me." - Fred Friction

Free mp3s

"Engaged to Get Divorced"
(Fred Friction)
Fred Friction
From his new album
(Michael Friedman)
Michael Friedman
From his album
Cool of the Coming Dark

Sunday, February 15, 2009

The song I borrowed from Lyndsey Scott

These aren't the drawings that gave me the song, they remain displaced, though in a world where one loses so much (in a basement where I bury so much), I am content to have retrieved the song.

I came up with the song by translating drawings by Lyndsey Scott into words. Here are the words:

I left a traffic cemetery, owls on my money
I left a traffic cemetery, elephants on my head

We don't know where we're going, though we're always growing
Every neck is a tendril, every head is a seed

She said, "You must come as a child.
Or come as a blanket when the winter is mild."

The highway is a serpent, every migrant is an alien
The highway is a servant, it's a river of dust

She said, "You must come as a child.
Or come as a blanket when the winter is mild.
Come in from the wild.
Baby, come as a child."
The drawings came in the mail unexpectedly, not long before New Year's Day 2007, as I found myself remembering on New Year's Day 2009. There were quite a lot of wonderful little things in that care package - this is a fecund artist.

These particular drawings, the ones that gave me the song, were fashioned into a little book, as I recall, and no doubt were curated into some microcollection of handmade books that has gone into hiding somewhere in my basement.

But the song is back, I taught it to my guitar again this weekend, and I will play it for Lyndsey tomorrow night at the guitar circle.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Bootblogging #10: More Michael Shannon Friedman

I'm excited that my old buddy Michael Shannon Friedman is coming back to St. Louis on Monday for a guitar circle that night at John Eiler's house and a gig Wednesday (8 p.m. to midnight) at The Tap Room, 21oo Locust St.

Also on the bill for the Tap Room gig: the inimitable Fred Friction and Rough Shop, who (last I heard) plans to back up both Michael and Fred - an admirable pledge to herd two very idiosyncratic musical cats.

I am not sure where in the performance mix, if anywhere, we will find Roy Francis Kasten, Michael's producer, cowriter, and longtime buddy. We have Roy to thank for Michael's two wonderful, warm, folksy records, Stories I have Stolen and Cool of the Coming Dark, which feature many of St. Louis' best musicians, including Rough Shop, then working under a different name.

Unfortunately, Roy partakes of the St. Louis music scene malaise of not knowing how or lacking the stomach to self-promote properly. So these two wonderful records have gone mostly unheard. Roy plans to bring stacks of both to the Tap Room gig (maybe to the guitar circle, too?). I hope folks pick them up. If you like roots music with literate lyrics and tasteful musicianship, this is it.

Previously, I posted up some favorites from Stories I have Stolen. Here are a few from Cool of the Coming Dark, a record with no stinkers.

Free mp3s

"Cool of the Coming Dark"
(Michael Friedman, Roy Kasten)
Michael Friedman

"When God Left Baton Rouge"
(Michael Friedman, Roy Kasten)
Michael Friedman

"Everything You Love Will Be Carried Away"
(Michael Friedman, Roy Kasten)
Michael Friedman

Friday, February 13, 2009

Chris is comparing Twitter to a faded old Polaroid

This photograph of me at work, once upon a time, reminds me, of all things, of Twitter, of why Twitter remains my final frontier in social networking sites, the last place I won't go.

Twitter, as I understand it, is an endless status update. While I have made my peace with the FaceBook status update, and can be relied upon at least once a day to toss one out there, it's difficult for me to imagine getting an entire social networking experience out of these things.

I explained why this week to my former colleagues in an elite journalism fellowship. We all clicked so much during our fellowship that the Association of Health Care Journalists kept our listserv active for us, and we used it this week to trade tips and thoughts on Twitter.

I suggested that I might not be the most exciting Twitter companion, given my current job as a newspaper editor. I suggested a possible string of status updates for me throughout the day.

Chris is crunching copy.

Chris is still crunching copy.

Chris is waiting for copy.

Chris is crunching copy.
And then I went back to crunching copy.

My day job does require me to dabble in power politics and do my very best to know what is going to happen before it happens. This does make for some very interesting meetings - some very interesting meetings that I'm not at liberty to prattle about in public, not if I want to keep having them. Most of the rest of the job is sitting at a desk, keeping track of assignments and trying to make prose more accurate, concise, and easier to read when copy arrives.

It didn't use to be this way. I remained footloose for far longer than most people get away with, all the way through my twenties. I traveled the country to play music and gather stories, and I made just enough money as a freelance writer and adjunct literature professor to keep my wheels on the road.

I even went several years without a fixed abode, welcome to stay in any number of places with any number of people in any number of states, never remaining in any one place for long. I think I would have made a pretty fascinating walking status update in those days.

For example, take this Polaroid above, which was snapped by my road dog Lij on a farm on the outskirts of Cheyenne, Wyoming, long before Twitter and slightly before I knew email existed. Calling it "a farm" is a form of shorthand. It also was a junkyard, a dogpound, a butcher's shop for a coyote bountyhunter, a goldminer's lair, and a clandestine breeding ground for fighting roosters.

A status update for that photo, if my Underwood had been routed through Twitter, might have went something like this:

Chris is in Cheyenne working on his book about the homeless Choctaw guy with the two-legged dog, typewriter perched on the flatbed of the old Mohawk ironworker's truck next to his oily old chainsaw, while Mohawk Al tinkers with something on the other end of the flatbed and James the homeless Choctaw guy stirs the elk stew he is cooking by sticking his filthy hands into the pot and flipping the chunks of elk around.

Twitter came along too late for all that.

It came along after I had moved to New York, where my penniless ways would have led to starvation. Now I am quite accustomed to having a day job that pays a living wage - and to having a child, which rules out the open road and its dangerous uncertainties.

I won't rule out Twitter, though. I got over my aversion to cell phones, email, MySpace and FaceBook, so I wouldn't put anything past me.

I also remember something once told to me by Ingrid Croce, widow of the great songster Jim Croce. I met her in San Diego, when I was working on a travel story - my life as a travel editor; those would have been good Twittering days. We kind of clicked, Ingrid and me. We talked personally, not only about her restaurant, which she was promoting. And she told me something I have never forgotten about photographs.

"Don't ever throw away a photograph of yourself," she said. "No matter how bad or old you think you look, trust me - ten years laters, you'll be struck by how fresh and young you looked and would do anything to look that way again."

I see what she means. I wouldn't mind looking again like the fresh young man in this photo, though I probably thought I looked pretty rough when I saw it. And I am sure ten years from now, I will look back on the life I am living now and think, "Damn! Those were good Twittering days! The life you led back then!"

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Jon Cournoyer will have a side order of everything

Jon Cournoyer had a dream.

He dreamt that he was flying through the night skies. He was flying through the night skies on a sleigh. He was flying though the night skies with Lyndsey Scott on a sleigh.

They peered down and saw, in the distance, in the darkness, the universe. They descended toward it in the darkness, on the sleigh. As they neared the universe, Jon and Lyndsey, on the sleigh, they saw more detail. They saw that a child was holding the universe in his childish hands and eating it.

Jon woke from this dream and he made this print in an effort to understand his dream and bring with him from the dream a souvenir. And, so, the viewer, the world, sees the boy, devouring the universe, shrouded by beautiful and incalculable little things.

But Jon, the dreamer, remembers visions from the dream that he did not fashion into tangible reality. He remembers Lyndsey in a velvet cape, with turquois hair, and silver eyes.

"What I think," he said, "I can't say."


Photographs of the print "A Side Order of Everything," a detail from the print, and the artist are by me yesterday evening at the new Hoffman LaChance Contemporary space, 2713 Sutton Blvd. in Maplewood.

Jon's piece is in the inaugural show in the new space which opens 6-10 p.m. tomorrow, Friday, Feb. 13. Also in the show:

Brian Kuhlmann/Joslyn Beta Lawrence,
Jerald Ieans
Gina Alvarez,
Jim Daniels,
Jeremy Rabus,
Sarah Giannobile,
William LaChance,
Alicia LaChance
and Michael Hoffman.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Advice in love for disturbingly beautiful women

I give a lot of advice to this little worldbeater, my only kid, and so far she mostly has been listening to it, though conventional wisdom suggests more trying times are ahead in her teens.

Yesterday over lunch, I gave some advice to a friend of mine that my kid may need one day. My friend Dawn is a beautiful woman. I mean, like, disturbingly beautiful. I have been fortunate to have many friends in this category, because beauty doesn't intimidate and I don't waste their time or mine trying to make it with them.

Over the years, I have watched my disturbingly beautiful women friends lead mostly miserable love lives. I have had a good vantage point to watch these love lives, because (as male buddy who appreciates their beauty but never tries to make it with them) I have earned the role of confidante. They tell me their troubles.

And, as a fellow human being and something of a natural troubleshooter, I have tried to understand their troubles and suggest a way out of them. Here is how I have it figured.

Really beautiful women never have to try very hard when it comes to options. Everywhere they go, someone wants to talk to them, take them out, take them home. A rational response to a situation like that would be to take into consideration all of the competing options and then choose the most attractive one, based upon whatever you want - looks, personality, prestige, money, humor, charm, (God forbid) a swank car.

The problem comes in with the candidate pool. When you only review the options that come to you, you are choosing from a self-selected candidate pool. Simply put, the men who self-select themselves as having a chance to make it with a disturbingly beautiful woman are usually ego trips from hell.

He may have learned to disguise his ego trip from the infernal regions in a garb of charm, but it's there, waiting to destroy your life (and, in the end, his) when you least expect it - and possibly after you have fallen in love with him and perhaps even procreated with him.

There is a way out of this pain, and it is a simple path. Really beautiful woman should make all the moves, and they should make their moves precisely on the guys who lack the guts to come to them. I can't tell you how many beautiful women friends of mine I have told, "Pick the shy guy."

Yes, conversation might be slow at first. He lacks the glib charm of the ego tripper from hell. You might have to do most of the work. He might be a slow bloomer - but that is better than a fast wilter!

And, yes, you incur the risk of rejection. The apparently shy guy with good but not dazzling looks may not, in fact, be shy - he may just not be taken with you and your disturbingly beautiful looks.

Then what? You go home alone. But isn't that better company than the fast-wilting ego tripper from hell?

Monday, February 9, 2009

Guitar circle at John Eiler's Monday, Feb. 16

This is either a timely reminder or late-breaking news: Mountain State songster and founder of the St. Louis guitar circle Michael Shannon Friedman is coming back to town for two special (and free) engagements: a guitar circle Monday, Feb. 16 (7 p.m. until midnight, at the home of John Eiler on South Grand; hit me up for directions) and a gig Wednesday, Feb. 18 at The Tap Room (8 p.m. until midnight, 21st and Locust) with Rough Shop and Fred Friction.

I'll link you to some of Michael's own recordings, exquisitely produced by Roy Francis Kasten, and I will bootblog some more of his material before he gets back to town, but right now I am talking up and bootblogging the guitar circle.

I've written about it before, but I'd like to reemphasize that the guitar circle's name is misleading and should not drive away creative types who don't play guitar. Michael borrowed the concept from Texas, where it's called a "guitar pool". Here, it came to be called the "guitar circle," and it did retain a strict circularity, though we welcomed all kinds of anybody: fiddlers, drummers, banjoists, cellists, a clogger, poets, a performance artist (or whatever it is that Kelsey does), a koto player, a capella singers, and any number of listeners that didn't feel up to doing anything other than listen that night.

As to circularity: that's the point. We sit in a circle, and we take turns, with the hot spot moving strictly around the circle (and someone keeping track of whose turn it is). It's not a jam session, unless the person whose turn it is encourages someone to play along. Not that we don't like jamming, it's just that those of us who put this thing together with Michael couldn't jam. So it became a listening circle, more than anything, since on a good night you might play four or five times but be in the circle for three or four hours.

About the sitting: bring your own chair, if you can, to John's, if you come on Monday, Feb. 16 (contact me for directions - it's right across the street from Tower Grove Park). John Eiler is short on few things, but chairs is one of them.

Here is a taste of the early guitar circle days, from a set of recordings that Roy made for Michael so he wouldn't forget us.

"Michael Friedman had left St. Louis, returning to Charleston, West Virginia, to care for his father, who was dying," Roy remembers. "When Michael called to say Jack had gone, I wanted to do something for him. So I rang up some of the guitar circle regulars and had them sing some of Michael’s favorite songs by each, as well as a few off-the-cuff numbers."

Free mp3s

"Sunset, Riverboat"
(David Loeb)
David Loeb

"Back to My Senses"
(Adam Reichmann)
Adam Reichmann

Chris King

(Bob Reuter)
Bob Reuter

Purple Heather
Mark Stephens


The image is the cover of the CD Roy made for Michael, with Roy's photography of the songsters.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

I dreamt of Obama and it was like Disney

Last night I dreamt I was in Washington to cover something relating to the new president.

At first, I was doing something familiar to anyone who has covered an official event - I was hanging around in an official building with a bunch of other reporters. Even then it was strange how Obama kept popping up, closer by far than he should have been.

We were watching some news on television - and there he was at a desk under the TV, going over some notes (his speech?) with a woman (an advisor?).

We were loitering in a hallway - and there he was, slouched down with some younger people, one of them a young woman suggesting the president must have risen with a hangover that morning.
Then, in another hallway - when the president burst past us out onto porch, looking magnificently muscled from behind in his business shirt with no jacket, saying, "Welcome onto the people's porch!" to encourage people to follow him and mix him.

Then I end up standing beside him on a bright lawn, and the president addresses me by name and passes on some news about an African-American lawyer in St. Louis he might have expected me to know.

Then I am chasing a flood of reporters and other people up the stairs in the official building, where there is news, an announcement that seems to regard the failing health of former President Jimmy Carter.

Here's where it gets really Disney.

I am back outside now, and it's night. We are still waiting for an announcement (the one persistent realistic touch). It is handled cinematically. An image of Obama's face comes flying into the crowd like an animated frisbee and lands on the ground, near me. Then it launches again, but now with a cartoon body of the president attached to it, something like an outsized parade balloon.

Then there are characters in somewhat elfin costumes, handpicking people from the crowd to go with them to check on Jimmy Carter. Once they have assembled their group, they scramble off up a little hill like hobbits and disappear.

This whole time everyone in the crowd, including me, is spellbound with wonder that politics in Washington is now conducted with such clever stagecraft and such professional production values.

Then I am driving and I have to show someone a pass, and the president is there with the people checking my pass. He doesn't seem to know me now but is recommending me for an honor, some privileged position to see part of a parade. I was thinking, he already forgot me, but then I thought, no, he's just savvy and generous and wants to give me a treat, without seeming to exert favoritism.

Then I get this amazing dress-down from the security officials, presumably because I will be in a privileged position of access (though, of course, all day and night I have been in arm's reach of the president repeatedly). The security guys are young slacker types that joke and jaw with me while they give me the once over thrice. I think of the phrase for workmen in Hamlet, "rude mechanicals."

I remark that it was nice of the president to give me this opportunity, and one of the rude mechanicals security guys says, "Yeah, but one thing you're not going to get is that interview you came for," and then it occurs to me that maybe Obama wasn't throwing me a bone, maybe he had forgotten me and my role as a member of the working press, or for some reason wanted to frustrate me, and I was now in some prized area of the public viewing space rather than with the press corps, so I wouldn't be getting the story I came to Washington to get.

And then I woke up.


Couple things.

I almost never remember my dreams, if anyone who dreams a lot and remembers their dreams is wondering why this is such a big deal to me. It's always a big deal to me when I remember a dream.

I have met Obama twice on the campaign trail, both times in small rooms, and I have interviewed him twice, one-on-one on the phone both times, and he does know the name of the paper I work for (The St. Louis American), though it's fanciful to imagine him remembering my name without being prompted or having a piece of St. Louis gossip to dish me on the spot.

This probably all came from last Thursday, when I emailed my contact in The White House, aksing if I could send him something to consider passing onto the president. He called me and said it sounded interesting, send it to him.

I asked for his address, and he laughed and said, "Got a pen? The White House, 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue ..."

I told this story to many people, because it does amaze me that I deal on a regular basis with someone who knows me and works there.

Then this same guy and I were in touch throughout that day regarding a news report on our website that was embarassing to one of their new cabinet members. My guy was anxious to get us updated information and see that the story got updated on our site. That also encouraged the feeling of a degree of intimacy with The White House that is unusual, maybe unprecedented, for the editor of a weekly newspaper in St. Louis.

As for the cartoony stuff, I do have a five-year-old ...


Cartoon from the blog of some j-school dude.

Saturday, February 7, 2009

The big red firetruck and big stinky firehouse politics

This is my little bitty skinny kid, in the blue smock, with her friend Chloe and another little girl, visiting a local firehouse with their Girl Scouts group.

The simple, goofy joy the girls obviously felt around the big red firetruck stands in stark contrast to the bitter politics of fire departments and fire districts in St. Louis.

I covered in great detail the politics in the St. Louis Fire Department surrounding the public harassment and eventual demotion of Fire Chief Sherman George. I had lunch with Sherman yesterday and saw him again later in the evening. As always, he had people lovingly mobbing him and picking his brain for insight into local politics. He learned that stuff the hard way.

You aught to see Sherman around people who support St. Louis Mayor Francis G. Slay, who signed off on the career hit job against the chief. He really doesn't want to be bothered with them. Sherman and Slay supporter Jeff Smith (the state senator) were both in The Royale at the same time last night. I didn't see Jeff get anywhere near him, though I kept waiting to see if it would become an awkward moment. I can't bear to be around Jeff Smith myself since he started arguing on the mayor's behalf one day. It all has a bad odor, to me.

It's hard to accept that firehouse politics are so rancorous, when you consider the people who do this job for the most part make a living saving lives. That awareness - and these childish visits to the big red firetruck - help to explain why it is so difficult to get any political traction out of the public regarding fire department politics. I've seen a lot of white people dismiss it all with a shrug.

One guy even said to me, "Yeah, when the bell rings, they have to be ready to risk their lives. But the bell mostly doesn't ring. These guys have way too much time to scheme and plot and connive. And it's not like police politics, where you are talking about men with guns." I had to admit he had a point.

But any time you are talking about decent-paying, well-respected jobs with pensions, you are talking about life and death, opportunity vs. deprivation. With the cronyism and nepotism at play - and the racism, though I think it's the less potent of these three corrupting influences, nowadays - firehouse politics in St. Louis are going to stink for a long time to come. Certainly they will stink as long as Slay and his cronies have any say in the city.

Friday, February 6, 2009

Let them love God and have sex

I was talking to a friend the other day about the economy. People are scared, and we have every reason to be scared.

On the other hand, I thought, what is it best about being a person, about being alive?

Spirituality and sexuality.

And both can be developed, pursued, and enjoyed in the absence of almost any other opportunity.

I am not saying some equivalent of "Let them eat cake" - let the poor love God and have sex and stay poor.

But, if you are poor, and there is no money going around to be anything other than poor, and you are left with nothing other than loving God and having sex, then you will be relegated to the very finest expressions of the human body and spirit.

(That is, of course, if you have enough to eat. We had this conversation after we had both eaten lunch!)


Photo by Thom Fletcher from his essential Monstromo photo blog is intended to suggest the sublime in a visual medium.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Adventures in amateur Egyptology (and my best friend's girl)

Yesterday I started a new praise series devoted to Heidi Dean on the Poetry Scores blog. I want to elaborate her many and beautiful contributions to our collective projects over the years, as an excuse to point people to her new blog, Married to the Masala.

I started with some notes on an ancient Egyptian hymn to Hathor that I scored (in English translation, of course) with the band Three Fried Men, when Heidi was the main vocalist in that band. That is, I sang the leads, but she was the singer people actually came to hear.

It occurred to me, as I was putting together those notes, that I must have had a thing for Hathor, once upon a time. One of the first songs I wrote alone on guitar for my previous band, Eleanor Roosevelt, was a setting of another hymn to the cow-headed goddess of fertility and beer, "O Hathor".

As I was Googling fragments of the lyrics, hoping to find the source I had used, I hit upon an essay by a bloke named David Whitwell that pointed to a much-thumbed and now out-of-print book in my collection, Music and Musicians in Ancient Egypt by Lise Manniche. I think she is responsible for the English translation of these hieroglyphics from the Tomb of Nebamun (whomever old Nebamun might have been) at Thebes.

The beauty of your face shines, you appear, you come in peace
One gets drunk by looking at you,
You who are as beautiful as gold, O Hathor
May I be given a fresh mouth with the water you have provided.
Those are grand love lyrics. I'll toot my own horn enough to enjoy the way I played with that last line, turning it into ...

May I be given a fresh mouth
To drink the water you provided me.

Not often I'll take anything of mine over the ancients, but I prefer the tweak.

As for the other lines in the song that dont appear in this hymn - "dance like the planets in the sky" - I'm sure they are adaptations of other amateur readings in Egyptology, which I was all about at the time (in the mid-'90s).

As for the Hathor thing, it must have helped (or hurt) that there was a girl named Heather in my life at the time whom I loved very much, but I couldn't have her, her having been my best friend's girl.

Yeah ... yeah. She was as beautiful as gold.

Free mp3
"O Hathor"
(Chris King)
Eleanor Roosevelt)

We recorded this song for Crumbling in the Rain but then left it off the record, so this is an unreleased rarity.


The image is a detail of the tomb painting where these hieroglyphics were inscribed, now British Museum 37984," Lise notes, leading me to the thing.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Bootblogging #9: Adam Long presents The Imps!

St. Louis sound wizard Adam Long finally wrapped up his mix job on his latest Broadway Show, Ain't Misbehavin', this week - just in time to celebrate his amazing double whammy.

As I tooted some time back, not one but two records he recorded and mixed are up for Grammys on Sunday! In such wildly divergent genres as pop gospel and Broadway show recording!

This Friday, Feb. 6, from 9 p.m. to midnight, The Royale (3132 Kingshighway) will host a deejay spin in Adam's honor, playing only records he has recorded, mixed or mastered - a list that includes thousands of records in just about any genre imaginable, from traditional gospel to gangsta rap to classical harp to poetry score to melodic rock and roll.

The deejays: Matt Fernandes, of the Rock Candy blog on the Post website, and Dino NiCastro, drummer of The Imps.

The Imps are important, because they made what I consider to be the best rock record Adam ever recorded and mixed: innocence is full of pleasure (1997). I think I am an authority on this subject, since I produced or played on most of the other rock records Adam has done!

The face of The Imps' was (and is) Dino's cousin, the photographer Frank Di Piazza, who sang and fronted the band. The bassist (Steve) and guitarist (Mike) are listed only by their first names in the album credits, which include a "thank you" to me (you're welcome!), though I no longer remember what it was I did to deserve it.

Well, I do seem to have reviewed the record in another era of The Riverfront Times. Back then, I was saying:

As for Frank's voice, welcome to the innocent pleasure dome of '80s overseas pop before Hutchence noosed up, Morrissey ditched Johnny Mars and Bono got lost in the TV zoo: This kid has some of those stars' respective strut, moan and clarion call, plus the verbosity of a bookworm on an adrenaline high. Not that he has Hutchence's sex appeal, or Morrissey's moody focus, or Bono's intensity - not that he always has all that much to say, no matter how many words he has to sing (or, indeed, say - for a genuine crooner, Frank does a fair amount of rambling apart from melody). But speaking as one who was a painful example of a familiar type - the local frontman who can't sing - I rejoice to find somebody scuttling the streets of St. Louis with his band's new CD under his arm and a voice that might inspire a swoon.

That still sounds about right. What do you think? Hear for yourself!
Free mp3s

"Innocence is full of pleasure"
(The Imps)
The Imps

(The Imps)
The Imps

Monday, February 2, 2009

Let us dream, or we will commit felony and treason

So, I'm with Thomas Nashe, the place for me to be. A shit disturber and truth teller from back in the day.

From back in the 1590s in Shakespeare's England. A dissolute father of that bastard rhetorical form that is journalism.

I'm reading Pierce Penilesse, His Svpplication to the Divell (1592). I'm quoting.

I'm remembering my friend who gets caught up by ye olde spellings and printer habits. Notes on thus.

The letters u and v often were interchanged, like, for example: I loue yov, rather than: I love you. Also, lots of the letter e popping up after words, like wordes rather than words.

Have fun with it.

My boy Thomas Nashe:

Nor so, nor so, good brother bottle-ale, for there are other places besides where money can bestow it selfe: the signe of the smock will wipe your mouth cleane; and yet I haue heard yee haue made her a tenant to your tap-houses. But what shall hee doo that hath spent himselfe? where shall hee haunt? Faith, when Dice, Lust, and Drunkennesse, and all haue dealt vpon him, if there be neuer a Playe for him to goe too for his pennie, he sits melancholie in his Chamber, deuising vpon felonie or treason, and howe he may best exalt himselfe by mischiefe.

What the hell is he talking about?

This is a defense of Twitter, of FaceBook, of YouTube, of email, of television, of radio, of playes. Of PLAYS.

Plays were the popular thing, then, like radio, or television, or email, or YouTube, or FaceBook, or Twitter.

The new thing coming down the pike. The new dream.

Nashe was saying to the people that didn't want artists to have their playes (their radio, or television, or email, or YouTube, or FaceBook, or Twitter) that you've got to do something other than get us drunk!

You've got to let us dream!

Or you can expect felony or treason.

A shit disturber and truth teller!


Image from some student webpage.

All the welth of the Land bunged vp in snapchaunce bags

These days, when I get a minute to myself to think, I party like it's 1592. I read a reprint from a pamphlet published in 1592.

It's 1592, and the scrappy British pamphleteer Thomas Nashe has just published Pierce Penilesse, His Svpplication to the Divell, an eloquent howl at the unregulated federal bailout of the financial sector - that's the least transparent and productive and the most wealthy sector of our wornout economy, spoonfed money taxed from working stiffs like you and me.

Oh. I've messed it up. Those are our problems, not his. Except they sort of look the same. Don't they?

Nashe lashes out with savage anger that "these stal-fed cormorants to damnation, must bung vp all the welth of the Land in their snapchaunce bags, and poore Scholers and Souldiers wander in backe lanes, and the out-shiftes of the Citie, with neuer a rag to their backes ..."

All the wealth of the land bunged up in a few locked vaults, while students, artists, and vets are frozen out of opportunity and left to wander? Sounds like our reality, as surely as his.

Nashe also makes a point about trivial pursuits - say, celebrity watching, or Superbowl advertisements - and their role in distracting the people from their real concerns. His example is borrowed from antiquity.

"... there happened a great Fraie in Rome abouot a Player, insomuch as all the Cittie was in an vprore: wherevpon, the Emperour (after the broyle was somewhat ouer-blowne) calde the Player before him, and askt what was the reason that a man of his qualitie, durst presume to make such a brawle about nothing. Hee smilinglye replyde, It is good for thesee O Caesar, that the peoples heads are troubled with brawles and quarrels about us and our light matters: for otherwise they would looke into thee and thy matters."
I'm squarely on the side of those who caution that President Barack Obama is a politician, rather than a prophet or a saviour. However, he is a politician who, when taking the oath of office, said we must "put away childish things." He is a leader who is welcoming the scrutiny and effort of the poeple devoted to what is real, not what is imaginary or trivial.

I think Thomas Nashe would have liked him as much as I do. Now, let's just see what if anything the president can to to hold those spendthrift bankers accountable for what they are doing with our money!


Image of a British beggar from Nashe's day from a Tudor website.