Thursday, December 31, 2009

Our oldest living composer

Revisit our oldest living American composer, Elliot Carter

Friday, December 25, 2009


Another holiday free of normalcy. Slept past noon. Ate a giant bowl of hearty soup (sweet potatoes, carrots, brocolli, celery, five-bean mix, garlic, onion and lots of rooster sauce, spicy mustard and basil boiled down in vegetable boullion and dumped over jalapeno pepper cheese and pumpernickel) while checking the news and comments of the day.
Had a good cry over the suicidal death of one of my favorites, Vic Chesnutt.

I heard this interview earlier this month and have been urging a friend or two to listen to it as our talking heads attempt to work out our issues with health care reform and all the rest.

That was enough to send me out the door. I promised myself a walk on this day free from work and all the rest. The temperature dropped 30 degrees overnight, so I layered myself in tee-shirts, a sweater and one of my Dad's coats and stepped out into a fierce Winter wind. Mindful of black ice on the sidewalk, I treaded lightly and slipped and slided my way over near Tower Grove Park, where I was surprised to find standing water on the sidewalk adjacent to the park. More surprisingly, there was standing water in some places and ice in others. I quickly tired of skating and tippy-toeing and moved to cross the park to find that mud was still splattering up on me from underneath a light dusting of snow.
I love the simple details of moving about in the world when I'm not in a hurry or having cause to worry if someone else is comfortable with the situation, so I put my chin down into my layers and beat it South towards a clearer path. I had it in my mind that I would have a meal while I was away and I did. I popped into The Vine
I've been eating their chicken shawarma, hummus, and falafel for years. One could order it from over a counter in back of their adjoining market. Only recently has this new space opened for sit-down dining and I hesitate to mention it, lest it be run over with idiots, until I realize that few will read this post, so...
Let me say, though, that this is one of the best restaurants in town. I ate there on Thanksgiving, amidst a much warmer walk, and found myself alone in the place. Not surprisingly, the service was quick and my food arrived before my freshly squeezed pineapple juice was ready. I had an incredible salad, the juice and two falafel sandwiches. The bill: $11.09!!
I've been since and the food always amazes, though the crowds have yet to appear. Only today were there other folks in the restaurant. When I shivered in the door this afternoon, there were two "dudes" chuckling over their food. They were not bothersome to me from my place amidst pillows and they seemed to know one of the family, a big guy who stood at their table and joked a bit about one of them having never eaten "anything but cheeseburgers". The young woman keeping the place clean and in order met me at a small table towards the front of the table and recommended some cardamon tea. I accepted. Soon, I ordered lentil soup and a tabouli salad, remembering all the Christmas Eve gorging from which I had not yet recovered.
The bill: $10:39
Amidst my dining, I watched street traffic come and go along South Grand Boulevard while dozens of folks came and went from Jay International Food (just across the street) and Wei Hong Bakery (next door), imagining what I would do if I saw my stolen car travel by as I sipped tea. Ha!
Yeah, I lost a car last weekend. Gone is the silver '99 Honda Accord I had purchased just last Spring. Stolen.
I don't feel the (what I hear is) normal sense of violation, though my wallet and license were in the car and are gone, too. I have done what I can to search for them and have a new driver's license, Visa card and library card. I was able to rent a car to get to my Mom's yesterday and will soon buy another sled. C'est la vie.
Ce n'est pas grave.
Stupid of me to leave things in my car and I probably won't do that in the future, but I can't honestly say that I am upset about another car gone away. I hope it made someone's days a bit easier.
To sit in a small place and eat delicious food while reflecting freely as another restaurant employee enters to dine alone on his day free of rushing about is what I recieved today. Give the streets back to me more often and who knows what will happen?
Return my days to me or shall I take them back?
Take them, fill them with anything as beautiful and fierce as those that a Georgian songwriter has done and stash them away?

...and after I read Vic's obituary on a blog, I noticed this Swigel gem...

...and if that's not enough for you, then explain to me what the hell is wrong?

Dutch TV Presenter Wont Stop Laughing - Click here for funny video clips

...while I'm pissing my pants in solitude, happy that I'm not Charlie Sheen

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

You're Gonna Die

At times, I entertain.
These times require an endurance of alcohol, usually.
Some nights, there are folks sleeping in my apartment when I wake up.
I have floor space and a futon, so it is not the worst place for them to crash.
I have extra pillows.
I can always offer them one of my (now dead) Aunt Zelma’s quilts if it is chilly in the sunroom, where the futon is; or on the floor near the inactive fireplace that still allows a draft in from the outside.
Mine is nothing better than a crash pad unless one is curious enough to land in my bed.
That’s another story.

Not too long ago, I awoke to hear another’s breathing in my place and remembered that an esteemed member of our St. Louis society had taken me up on an offer to sleep off a good session of drinking at the Royale, one of our favorite establishments. I snapped to for a bit and remembered the situation, got up to hit the can, splash some water on my father’s face (the one I see these days after such nights) and I went back to bed.
Eventually, we both were ready to move on and I drove him back to his car.
I don’t remember. Maybe we had breakfast. Regardless, I returned to the fabulous emptiness of my hovel to sleep some more and listen to nothingness on the radio but more NPR babble about the economy or some static-laden drivel about yesterday’s game or some long-forgotten AM pop-chart sing-songy. I did this as an attempt at sleep and probably drifted off for a few increments of 40-minute nods. Seems like I had to get up later that day and shower, get some errands done and then run off to work. At any rate, it wasn’t until a day-or-two later that I noticed that my Dad’s paperback copy of THE GODFATHER was sitting on a towel that I had placed on a flat space in my bathroom.

I have retrieved certain items from my Dad’s collection since he died a couple year’s ago.
Most of them are books that he referred me to when we were all younger. Some of them I have read and have captured my mind. Some of them, I gathered as a commemoration of his spirit and efforts as a teacher and historian. There are still other items that I took along because I wanted to revisit our times of watching television and studying the institution and religion that is Baseball. I have his VHS copy of GOLDFINGER, for instance. It is an interesting enough movie of its genre and I revisit it at times, but it is certainly not my favorite. I have it on the shelf because it reminds me of Dad and that time from which he emerged: that pre-Vietnam War era during which it still seemed possible to dash about the globe in a tuxedo to uncover some unruly details about some foreign cads before retiring with a cocktail later that night...and a honey to spill it on.
I don’t know. It is a comfortable place to reside, I might say. Seems less ugly than what the CIA was up to at the time or got involved with later, yes?
I see photographs of Dad from back then. He was a few years out of the Army with his Bachelor’s Degree and a new teaching job and my Mom, his wife…and then me.
He was sporting the slim ties and the suits. He had the short black haircut and as a young, but experienced teacher who stood six-foot-one, I’m sure he made an immediate impression on everyone at the secluded community in and around Brussels Community High School. He went on to teach high school for some 30 years, had two more kids, bought a house and eventually became a published author of American history.
As I grew older, our journey into the world of Baseball became more intense and he became the proud father of a kid with a lively fastball and a place on a very good junior-college team.
I had taken over writing high school basketball reports for the local paper and carried an interest in journalism into college and further to university, though never felt the final urge to commit myself to that style of writing, especially after moving to St. Louis and becoming interested in more, shall-I-say, exotic forms of writing and influences of punk rock, late-nights and politics outside of the press box parameters of a sports writer. Then I blew my elbow out and that was the end of organized athletics for me.
I could feel him wishing that I’d stay with the game, become a teacher and coach or a newspaperman, but it didn’t feel right to me. He would urge me to look towards the military for training and guidance and a doorway into society, but that surely did not feel right to me and I wriggled away from his urgings. We became more distant, with less common ground to bond our conversations. Eventually, I would become completely disenchanted with Major League Baseball and corporate journalism. I was downright grumpy about society and hesitant to become involved in its machinations. I struggled to pay the bills, but kept a simple, inexpensive lifestyle and simply hoped that he’d either come to some conclusion and suggestions for a better path for me. The rest of the time, I walked and ran and caught buses to nothing jobs and hoped that something better would appear on its own.
The verses of Jello Biafra sounded more truthful than anything I was reading in the newspapers, but did not hold sentiments I felt like I could discuss with my Dad.
He was diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease and survived ten frustrating and ugly years of a spiral to death: literally a mindfuck for him and the rest of the family. By the time the day of his funeral came, I was completely relieved that his suffering was over and happy that part of my Mom’s burden had been relieved. I had grieved long before his death. All the normal stuff passed through my mind, but the bitch of it all for me was that he had been chopped down early and had to endure the final decade of his life without really writing. One summer day, we drove down to Little Rock to visit with one of his mentor’s, Dee Brown, the author of BURY MY HEART AT WOUNDED KNEE.
It was a wonderful visit, but the gravity of the occasion was that that much older man had far more mental clarity than my Dad. Dad was still driving in those days, but would miss exit signs and it was a major relief to get home. His mind had gone.
Still, that did not light a fire under me to write. I have written much more since his death than I did while he was alive, but I attribute that to the people I have met, heard read and read. There seems to be only the urgency of an occasional inspiration.

Such an inspiration was the opening of the novel left there on the reservoir lid of my toilet. I have seen the movie a dozen times and the sequels at least half-as-many times, but have never read Mario Puzo’s novel, THE GODFATHER. The part of the book that grabbed me the other day is the story about Johnny Fontane, whose singing career had gone down the toilet after he left his wife—an act which deeply disturbed his Godfather, Don Corleone. Johnny had gone on to lead “a footloose and fancy-free” lifestyle and had eventually found that he was losing his singing voice due to the smoke, booze and lack of rest. He is scared to death that he is at his end and he knows only to come to the mercy of the Godfather to help him get a sought-after part in a Hollywood movie.
You know the rest. Yeah, you know: horse’s head in the bed of the unwilling director. Yep.
Much of the rest of Johnny’s story isn’t included in the movie, but it all boils down to the fact that he is coming to face the facts, he ain’t getting any younger and no matter how many “pieces of ass” he’s bagged (yeah, besides all the killing, there is lots of fucking going on in this book: it is as racy as all that…witness the joke on P. 181 about fucking Lassie!), he is feeling like he needs to clean up his act and set his course straight.

You come to these milestones or crossroads in life. They jump up and punch you right in the face. Sometimes they rip the world out from underneath you. The ankles, knees and shoulders bark with every movement. Even daily exercise doesn’t fix it back the way it used to be. Hangovers last a full day or two days. You don’t recognize the person in the mirror at first glance if you don’t look yourself in the eye.

I was fortunate to be gifted Cormac McCarthy’s Pulitzer Prize winning novel THE ROAD recently for my 46th birthday. I had thought of reading it, because I like to read the book before seeing the movie and I really wanted to see it at the Tivoli, so I was sure to finish that Percival Everett novel that I was reading, so that I could get through McCarthy’s book before the movie left the theater.
I love an apocalyptic tale where man is finally getting his ass handed back to him after having fucked everything up and the poetic prose of the book added to a feeling of late-night reverie as I glided through page-after-page. Finally Henry Miller’s prophecy that the air-conditioned nightmare would someday sputter to a stop had come true in this meditation. Sure I was reading the book while weary from bartending shifts, but the reading was so effortless and the verse flowed with such ease through the barren land of the father’s and son’s plight that I didn’t feel its force until late in the book.
I am not a parent, so I didn’t feel a biological kinship with the father and his need to guard his son, his lifeblood. I did however feel something change inside me when the father finally died on that cold beach. Something of my pain surfaced and I did miss my Dad again. It was a relief, and I’ll tell you why.

About a month ago, I was really struggling. I was at odds with my own plight and in doubt about how much longer I wanted to make my living on my feet and away from the possibilities of a more contemplative life. I had been drinking plenty and when one night, when I finally got a night free to stay home, I made a big pot of chili and ate far too much of it. It was quite late before I finally went to bed, but I had to go while I was still full and was too uncomfortable to sleep. I was tossing and turning for hours, but finally began dozing off for minutes at a time only to awake with a startle.
At some point I dreamt that my Dad was standing over me and lightly poking me in the shoulder. He was affected by Parkinson’s and I was asleep on the couch in the house in which I was raised. It was as if he missed me and just wanted me awake. But later that morning, while it was still very dark, I dreamt that he had come to me again. This time he was not alive in my dream. I could feel him as cold and black and standing over me in my bedroom.
Yeah, ya think?

I’ll go on to say that I did see the movie a couple days ago and if you haven’t and you want to, go do it and come back to this later or else it may be ruined for you.
Image Macall Polay.
© 2929/Dimension Films.

First off, Viggo Mortensen has been nominated for a Best Actor Oscar for his part in the movie.

Like I said before, I didn't relate to the novel for the "family ties" of the whole thing. I liked the ending of the book because it didn't end simply with the boy being "adopted" by another family. I suspected that somethings would be left out of the film and of course I was right. One of my FB friends was commenting that all the "good guys" were dressed like scummy street punks and all the "bad guys" looked like hillbillies. Except for that sole black man and the family that takes the boy in at the end, who looked like they wandered off the set of THE GRAPES OF WRATH and that their name was the Joads.I walked into the theater half expecting the still-intact nuclear family in the end to come walking up the beach in North Face apparel, though, so I'll take the bedraggled folks from the dust bowl family and allow for some sort of suspension of belief.
The NRA liked the scene, I'm sure. "Hey look, Bubba! Old boy got him some shotgun shells and him AND his kin is still alive and takin' in orphans. God Bless America!"

I almost busted out laughing when the cart thief turned out to be a black dude, but it was too unfortunately sad, especially since it calls for Viggo to go all Dirty Harry on him. I have NO idea why they made that choice. That was the only black character in the movie, right? Very odd choice.

I noticed that they didn't bother to depict the scene with the baby on the spit. Probably saved themselves a ratings slip there. I did notice that the trip to the ship, the loss of the gun and the theft of the cart was all consolidated into a few moments.
The most important part of the book to me is the poetic reflection of these people in such desperation to stay alive in a world that offers very little except the immediate and apparent knowledge that death is imminent and humanity is bound to rub itself out in climates of such fear. The sadly adoring scenes of lust for a can of Coca-Cola and Cheetos and Jack Daniels and vitamin water definitely cheapened the movie for me. Another friend was equally disturbed by the product placement. I thought to myself as I was driving home, "Why no Twinkies? Those things will never rot". But I think that was a scene from The Simpsons, wasn't it?

My favorite part of the book is the very end. Not the new, "stepmother" who is "so happy" to take the boy in after his papa has died, but the last paragraph:

"Once there was a brook trout in the streams in the mountains. You could seem them standing in the amber current where the white edges of their fins wimple softly in the flow. They smelled of moss in your hand. Polished and muscular and torsional. On their backs were vermiculate patterns that were maps of the world in its becoming. Maps and mazes.
Of a thing which could not be put back. Not be made right again. In the deep glens where they lived all things were older than man and they hummed of mystery."

That's the fucking book right there for me.

"Humanity, you never had it from the beginning."
Charles Bukowski from Notes of a Dirty Old Man (1969)

Lungs of the City: Thollem McDonas and Tsigoti hit ESP-Disk

Lungs of the City: Thollem McDonas and Tsigoti hit ESP-Disk

Thollem McDonas and Tsigoti hit ESP-Disk


My crazy and mad, globe-trotting friend, Thollem McDonas is in Italy right now playing with his group Tsigoti in celebration of the new release on ESP-Disk.
Read all about it below and look for them to be hitting the streets of Saint Louis with a show at the Schlafly Tap Room in May sometime.

See this page with all its fancy links at:

ESP 4057

TSIGOTI - Private Poverty Speaks to the People of the Party
ESP 4053

ESP-Disk' is proud to announce its newest artist, TSIGOTI (previously known as Waristerror Terroriswar), a collaborative and improvisational quazi-punk band dedicated to expressing their opposition of war, authoritarian regimes, and violent religious extremes. Combining revolutionary politics and intelligent avant-punk fervor, Private Poverty Speaks To The People Of The Party was recorded with a group of players that have run the gauntlet of life experience and musical exploration.

Private Poverty Speaks To The People Of The Party was created with patience and dedication, yet still holds the same raw improvisational qualities of their debut recording, The Brutal Reality of Modern Brutality. Straying from the typical notion of political commentary, TSIGOTI focus their approach from an insider's perspective, exploring people who suffer being attacked, imprisoned, terrorized, tortured, brainwashed, and tricked. By expanding their sonic territory and political repertoire, TSIGOTI deliver a clever, experimental, yet accessible work of art that is true to the ESP mission - forward thinking and forever changing.

Press Quotes

"The customary digital riddles characterizing the genius of this master pianist are all but forgotten here, for this sounds more as a semi-acoustic punk album. Beaten-up instruments, muttered vocals, rhythms and keys often disrespected; the exclusive wish is crying out loud that 'we can’t do this to ourselves anymore', as per one of the tracks titles. When we compare the fusion of these sensations to a sort of feverish pagan ritual and listen to this set with the same attitude of, say, looking at a shaman dressed like a young Joe Strummer, the honesty of intentions begins to clash (pun definitely intended) with our previous ideas pretty hard. Bizarrely frank stuff. - Massimo Ricci, TouchingExtremes, Italy

"Thollem Sickofwar revs up his beatup piano and throws down on war. The results are edgy, uneven and sometimes disquieting. All in all, a rollicking success." - J. Worley, Aiding & Abetting

Friday, December 11, 2009

That Damn Pie

I'm not sure where I heard this one; probably on the radio as a cleaned-up version as I drifted in-and-out of sleep:

A man and his two sons walk into a diner and have a seat at an empty counter that is being cleared and wiped down by a matronly waitress of large bosom and apple-red cheeks. The boys sit on either side of the father. Soon enough the waitress looks down at the 12-year old and asks what he'd like to have. The boy sits back a little and smirks while he looks past the waitress to a display case.
"I guess I'll have a piece of that damn pie."
Immediately, the father bats the son in the back of the head with his left hand and the son goes chest down on the counter. The waitress is taken aback and gasps a bit, but recovers soon. This time she turns to the five-year old boy, leans down on her elbows and says, "How 'bout you, Little Man? What are you gonna have today?"
The little boy just shrugs and says, "I don't know, but I sure as fuck ain't gonna order any of that damn pie."

Thursday, December 10, 2009


Get your car fixed

and then

crash it into your own butt.
If you don't understand,

take off your high-class dress

and masturbate while watching

or reading CRASH....or have

another lemondade and shirk responsibility.
Kill the poor.
Make wine with slave labor.
Lace dresses with little malnourished hands.
Fart in the faces of the midgets.
I'm going to watch THE DEER HUNTER

while I wait for my third pizza of the day.
Rick Ankiel sucks real good now that

his neck is bendy.

Were there a dash of hope

in bubbles

and curves

I’d be smoking different pipes

tearing the yes out of eyes

that sprout from faces such

as yours

I’d look at you with hope

in your faces

Those given me when you

take me for another that


But I’ve seen too many

and I’m not giving up

my sight

I’ll go on seeing

and that is all

you can expect of me.

Brett Lars Underwood, 2008