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Thursday, November 02, 2006

I Saw Bob Dylan In Black And White...

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...there ain't no color in my memories.*

A young Hootie, backed by a handful of Blowfish, once posed the question "Ain't Bobby so cool?" The sentiment rang true, even if it seemed like giving the teacher an apple while the crib notes were still fresh in his hand. The half dozen or so lines he lifted from "Idiot Wind" landed him in court faster than Ray Parker Jr. could ask who you were gonna call.

Said cool factor was the focus of a concert day (11/2) article in the Detroit Free Press. It went something like this:

Cast aside that hot cider and fleece blanket, drive to the Palace, park next to Jerseyesque marshlands, freeze your fandangos off, pray that some psycho who thinks he's Moses in the bullrushes doesn't leap out and demand the cash your parking attendant hasn't already stolen, and shoehorn your ass into your seat, Buster, because Dylan still has it.

Was he cool? I think so, but in my mind, after four Maggie Ritas with triple sec and triple tequila, Kelsey Grammer could morph into Brando. Far be it from me to analyze someone who's had wackos analyzing him since I was leaving teething biscuit trails on the linoleum. But it must be a drag, playing night after night for people expecting an epiphany with a side of nachos.

I began the evening ambling around the Palace perimeter, listening to the acoustic Foo Fighters from afar, and frankly they were a bore. Shame, because their acoustic version of "Everlong" from the Howard Stern show is priceless.

It seemed like several guys were hugging their women not with love, joy, or excitement, but with a kind of voyeuristic glee reminiscent of the corrupt hospital worker in "The Elephant Man." It was as if we were all lined up to see a circus freak worthy of a guaranteed sexual jackpot.

When the house lights went down, I learned that Bob Dylan was, in fact, not an animal. He's just a guy with an astonishingly tight band who sounds as if Owen Bradley just rearranged all of his classic songs and made them fun to perform again. It was a bit of a surprise to see him at the keyboard all night, but there was hardly a shortage of guitarists on stage.

There were generous doses of Blonde on Blonde, Modern Times, and some obvious choices for encores, but the wannabe arranger/guitarist in me was wishing for "Sweetheart Like You" to be dropped into the mix. It would have been a natural candidate for the Texas twang phase he's in at the moment.

On this night, no one's intelligence was insulted; there were no sledgehammer subtle video clips of Cambodia and Iraq synchronized to punchlines, no political banter (no banter at all, for that matter), no faux consciousness raising, no appeals to go and pick up a Greenpeace brochure on the way out in order to keep the parking lot cleanup crew employed. Absent these props, it was left to the musicians to create dramatic tension, and they succceeded. Radio killed the video star. U2 would do well to take notes.

I went to this show with Dylan's mortality in mind (he's 65), and left thinking about my own. Third acts are possible. The pursuit of true love is a treadmill, and therefore worthwile cardiovascular exercise. My heroes have always been cowboys. I need to find and drive Highway 61 in its entirety someday. I need to reevaluate Alicia Keys.

There are a handful of American greats still kicking, and it's best to see them before the great gig in the sky.


* Apologies to Pete Townshend for half lifting a line from "After The Fire."

Monday, October 30, 2006

We're All Devo...

I honestly don't care who wins. All I care about is that in one week, it's good riddance to commercials featuring Jennifer Granholm's strategically freeze framed pursed lips, sad old men playing checkers and having fake political conversations, sad young women who face the bleak prospect of cutting back to two visits to Saks per week, and most of all, FAT, PASTY-FACED JOBLESS PEOPLE WHO BLAME THE GOVERNMENT.

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Monday, October 09, 2006

Sorry Blue Cross, But My Boot in Your Ass is A Pre-Existing Condition

I once went to Austin, Texas with a gal who promptly ran off with a fiddle player. If this sounds suspiciously like a Buck Owens song, then truth is stranger than a Buck Owens song.

He was not a particularly good fiddle player, nor was he a particularly handsome fiddle player, as fiddle players go. He was in fact a Civil War-era tintype that had somehow sprung to life. He might have served at Antietam, I don't know.

She did, however, make one memorable gesture before disappearing into an anonymous white van straight out of "Almost Famous." She introduced me to Jon Dee Graham (pictured above, with his son Willie at the SXSW Music Conference held earlier this year).

We talked guitars and songwriting for five minutes or so, which was beyond generous given that I was probably on my fifth Shiner Bock and making next to no sense. That's Austin. You can't swing a dead cat without hitting four semi-famous guitar slingers who are all perfectly willing to back each other up with dollar store harmonicas if necessary. The brooms, pots and pans aren't safe in this town. If you've got two functional hands and a rubber band, you're in.

But this isn't about me or my brief peek inside the incubator that begat Stevie Ray.

This is about the intersection of love and tragedy and the kind of corporate greed that makes me want to dispatch a task force of icepick-wielding Soviets.

Witness the look on this child's face. Witness the look on his father's face. If it isn't apparent, look closer. Fathers are well acquainted with this exchange, one I can't decode for the uninitiated. Their bond is a given, but realize that they also share the following knowledge:

Jon Dee's son Willie has developed Legg Perthes, a rare childhood form of avascular necrosis of the hip. For reasons unknown, the head of the femur loses its blood circulation and dies. The Graham family lost insurance coverage when their insurance provider filed Chapter 11. Now Willie's condition is considered pre-existing by other companies, making him uninsurable. They may be looking at several years of treatment, physical therapy and surgery.

Jon isn't the first person to get fucked by an insurance company, and I suppose being a regionally renowned musician doesn't make him more special than the guy down the street getting the same treatment. But there is something terribly wrong when an honest working musician, an innovator who plugs away at the margins year in and year out, can't get his kid some help. These are good people. His posse is not going to get into a shootout. And I can pretty much guarantee he won't be caught with a pile of cocaine and an underage girl and go on to write a "hip hopera" about his woeful persecution.

This is a rant without answers, like most everything on the Internet. I could appeal to anyone reading this to head to iTunes and fork over 99 cents, but this is not about a stolen bicycle. Ultimately, it will be love, rage and brotherhood channeled through a six-string--make that several six strings--that will keep this young man out of a wheel chair. Here's hoping I can drop into the Continental Club in ten or fifteen years and catch his solo debut before Bowie steals him for his 50th Anniversary of Ziggy Tour.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Bird Lives

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The ghost of Charlie Parker wanders the catacombs beneath DaimlerChrysler Headquarters. He may even be alive (since he's universally recognized as immortal), but he's trapped behind a wall. I tried to locate him the other day when I heard a sax where no sax should be. I have witnesses.

It should have come as no surprise. Band instruments can be heard here with alarming frequency.

whirring fans, big boxes, and mad hookups at the house of blue lights

The following entry contains freakish synchronicity and was, I swear, saved to draft before seeing a commerical featuring Patti Labelle on the prowl for a midnight snack. It was also saved to draft before I heard a store PA the other day with a singer repeating what sounded like "I stubbed my toe" 40 times. Further evidence that the thought police have my number.

The unclever "I'm a Mac" and "I'm a PC" ads conveniently leave one important thing out--you have to be the old, stodgy dude from central accounting to afford the machine touted by the young scruffy dude from central shipping. Mac prices have always been high; today they're flat out insane.

I know this because I've spent the last month of my life chanting the words "No, thanks, I'm fine, really" to a legion of twenty-somethings in blue and red polo shirts. They have names like Chad and Jeremy. I'd add that Chad and Jeremy must have really got around back in the day, but these sideburned wonderkids could qualify as their grandchildren.

The mission? Procure and set up a kickass AAN (apartment area network) incorporating secure wireless, non-sucky(TM) printing, mothership and mobile workstations for me and (mini)me, and generous storage/backup. In short, a snappy rig that wouldn't consume my life. I've met people who name computers as if they were christening children. They fill me with melancholia.

Here at BestOfficeMartMaxClub, there is always a stereo with subsonic bass working steadily on my last nerve. Somewhere in a forgotten corner, behind a hidden rotating wall, maybe behind the hollywood facade masquerading as a refrigerator section, there is a discoteque where they relax on settees and marvel at the zombified masses from behind a one way mirror. "Hey, get a load of the rube in aisle 6 with a fistful of Fergie CDs."

Or maybe not. Usually it's just a boombox or five cranked way too loud. I've fallen into the habit of walking the entire portable audio aisle and turning them all off. Mostly it's the help shooting me the wounded looks. Screw it. I am customer, hear me...not roar.

Sometimes, I'm not so lucky and the bombast is hard wired to an overhead PA. In this case, it is without fail the programming product of some Arbitron refugee who wound up at chain store HQ with orders to take the sub out of suburban. Imagine a four-second loop of Patti Labelle stubbing her toe en route to a midnight snack. Now imagine it being played for 7:39. Come back, Perry Como, all is forgiven.

There is also a trend that involves providing giant plastic SUVs used to maneuver quiet, well-mannered children down various aisles filled with fragile, high-dollar electronic equipment. Actually, this doesn't bug me nearly as much as the people pushing empty carts down cramped aisles for no apparent reason. Other than to maybe lean on something, and occasionally raise their glasses to eye level by flexing their noses.

Chad and Jeremy, or their possible grandsons, were tired of my act by day 2 of this project. I can't blame them. What I want in a computer, or anything really, can't be put into English. Specs and branding don't even begin to approximate it. It's the seven pillars of unreason. You know yours when you see it. It's like opening the dryer and knowing within 1 second that the sock making its escape doesn't belong to you. You could witness a murder 10 feet away and not pick the culprit out of a lineup. Line up ten identical white socks, and you can pick yours out blindfolded.

They simply knew, somehow, not to whip out the car engine analogies on me. The ones they used on poor nightshift nurses from Howell and their compliant, clueless husbands. "Ya see your Sempron, that's like your 4 cylinder Ford, and the Core 2 Duo, you know that's a Ferrari. So, like, I picture you in at least a six cylinder." A thousand times I heard how their lack of a commission kept them neutral and unbiased. They didst protest too much.

Hang around one of these places long enough, and you can watch 3-4 salespeople break into a kind of vaudeville routine of inside jokes, pop culture yip-yap, and general slapstickery. They'll form up for an audience of one. One outsider makes the inside joke that much more...insidery. Humor them, I say! Computer inventory tracking or not, these people HORDE THE SALE MACHINES and dole them out to whomever they see fit. These things are like bottles of Moet in Moscow circa 1952.

I also found that display machines are mostly a mess. It simply didn't dawn on me until well into the bake-off that they are subject to only slightly less button mashing than an Xbox 360 display.

What boxes did I wind up with? I can't tell you what they are, but there are two initials involved. I had a blast digging in and configuring all the electrowidgets. It all works, it's all bright and snappy, and my place now has more blue lights than an overstocked K-Mart. TTFN, iMac....

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Petrol Emotions


I pull into a massive service station where US23 and M59 meet, but I'm not here to strike a deal with the devil to enhance my lousy guitar chops. I'm here to see a night clerk about a cup of coffee. Autumn is beginning to show itself, but it only comes out at night. It's leather jacket time again. Temperatures fluctuate in a sawtooth pattern as I wind past the several lakes in the area. This is a badly needed cup of coffee.


'Zat it?
Yeah.'re good.
Are you sure?
No charge.

[Tom Petty's "American Girl" plays on a crappy and thus theft-proof portable radio in the background]

Now that's where I wish I was right now, man. He's playing right this minute at DTE Theater. That's a show. Kids today...shit, they have no appreciation for good music, you know? You and me, us old guys, we know the good stuff...Allman Brothers, Zeppelin, Petty, am I right? These kids roll in here all night long with their windows rattling, playing their shit music.

Guitars and drums...

You know it, man, that's all it takes. Decent bass player. You get it, you're an
old guy like me.

Yeah, I guess.


This was rapidly becoming an expensive cup of free coffee. I'd been called "old" twice in the span of a minute, and had no intention of hanging around to discuss the finer points of "Frampton Comes Alive." I seize on some small diversion, maybe a paying customer, and exit stage left to sit on the curb and watch the wheels go round and round.

The sky is planetarium perfect. US23 whines away in the distance like a manic freight train. An employee comes out to empty several large trash cans. Who knows what's in this massive bounty. Break-up notes torn to confetti. Dollar store toys that lasted ten minutes and left junior bawling in the back seat. Forensic evidence. Non-working pens. Pennies coated in Cola slime.

There is a Taco Bell waitress on break, surveying the proceedings with a cigarette angled at 45 degrees off horizontal. It is the pose not of the cool, but of the all-knowing. She winces at each puff. In five years, she'll sound like Suzanne Pleshette gargling razorblades. Shame on me for not consulting this oracle. I have so many unanswered questions.

I wonder if this place can be seen from space, the light is so brilliant. I wonder if anyone will reminisce about its architecture in 2056. I think about gasoline promotion and pop culture. Does e-bay have a name for it, as they do for Disneyana and Breweriana? Is it Gasoliniana? Are Indiana collectibles Indianaiana? I recall the Hess tanker truck being the coolest toy ever. Years later, Shell gave away NFL books with collectible player stamps. We pestered the attendants to no end, our bicycles never quite requiring the mandatory fill-up. Franco Harris was just as elusive in stamp form.

I remember living two doors down from a Getty station (something that would probably violate a dozen zoning and EPA laws). Walking in at any time of the day, past cars on lifts and clanging wrenches, to the greasy Coke machine at the back of the shop (a move that would probably violate a dozen safety laws). I remember the sharp-edged metal cap and thick, green-tinted bottle that I'd have to yank from the machine with all my might. It was worth the effort. It was worth the Spirograph indentations on my hand. There is nothing like Coca Cola in a glass bottle a few degrees above freezing.

I'd think about J. Paul Getty Jr., and how this was somehow an outpost in his family empire. Tried to fathom Why a pack of Italian terrorists had lopped off his ear. Did the mechanics care? I guess it was then that terrorism and oil became inextricably linked in my mind. Later that year, Ariel Sharon and company stomped the living shit out of attacking Syrian and Egyptian armies and probably would have marched all the way to Tehran if a UN ceasefire hadn't gone into effect. Gas prices quadrupled, to (gasp) $12. Same shit, different year.


I fire up the bike and head back home. The sign says "Pontiac 26." The odometer reads 2626. I think I need a numerologist.

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Mel Gibson BrewHaHa

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There are a couple of things being overlooked by the hastily assembled court of wonderpundits weighing in on Mel Gibson's past, present, and future.

First, if you want a Gibson brush with anti-semitism, in this case the ever popular "run the media/world" theme, look no further than "The Million Dollar Hotel." Bankrolled by Gibson, starring Gibson as Detective Skinner, and written by Bono (who probably ought to be called onto the same carpet), it contains this exchange:

Goldkiss: Suicide is the lowest form of crime to a Jew. We don't have suicide. We never needed it. Hardly ever.

Skinner: You want a frame-up, get the CIA. You stick with me, you're gonna get the truth.

Goldkiss: The truth? My people decide the truth in 60 countries every morning. And in every one it's different. The truth is the explanation that most people want to buy. And what my rivals want to buy is any piece of shit they can get on me and flush me down the toilet.

Skinner: They won't find it before I do. Information, that's my game.

Goldkiss: This is Hollywood, my boy, we invented the game. They don't need much here. One ounce of shit, they make a shit souffle.

Skinner: Well, thanks for the advice.

Should have taken the advice. Now I guess he's finding out how souffles are made.

Secondly, I'm confused by the eulogies for a Hollywood career that is no longer necessary. I distinctly recall The Passion being turned down by every major studio/distributor/whatever, leaving him to fund it independently, a gamble that set up the cha-ching heard 'round the world.

I also recall that by day three of its release, these same wonderpundits acknowledged that Gibson would never have to work another day in his life--a significant chunk of the 600+ million it made belongs to him. That's three lifetimes of Sundance films about any injustice or conspiracy he would ever care to expose, employing whatever leaps of logic and Michael Moorish creative editing suited his vision.

Where is the tragedy here--that "What Women Want II" will never get made?

Sunday, July 23, 2006

Clerks 2 Review

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Miss Dawson, where have you been all half my life?