Tuesday, February 26, 2008

The Parts Left Out of the Seattle Book, pt I

I'm in a lousy mood today, for some reason. Not that it matters.

The newest edition of the Seattle guidebook hit shelves recently, I'm told (haven't seen it yet, can't be blamed, folks, especially not for any mistakes you might find while say casually flipping through the color map section for example, not that you'll find any mind you), and it includes a nifty new feature: "Local Voices." Interviews with people who actually live in the city the guide is about. Yep. Some of mine didn't make the cut -- too dull for the Mid-Life Global Nomad demographic, I reckon. Bit flimsy on the service-journalism angle, too -- where to shop and eat and so forth. No, that's mean; really they just re-did the page count, and some of my intarviews didn't fit. Anyway. Here is one. Technically it's owned by LP, since I sold it to them for cash money, but I don't think they'll mind if the four of you who read this blog get a look at it. Enjoy:

Teh Lord Teh, IT consultant

A mild-mannered tech consultant by day, the young computer genius and weapons collector known as Teh Lr0d Teh represents Seattle's fringe culture. He hangs out at Teh Wetspot (www.wetspot.org), a BDSM community center in Lower Queen Anne. He is also a compelling argument in the case against the stressful, mind-degrading nature of work in the tech industry.

This interview was conducted entirely online. Please excuse the prelude:

'i hear lonely plan8 iz totally luztig 4 j00r bl00t. if tehy dont tap teh l33t-language audience they will go out of business. so you must turn to l-r0d t3h 2 save teh publih8ion. have you written anything about teh prevalence of kink sess in seattlul? note to teh editors: PH33R MEIN WRATH.'

What do you do for a living? I’m starting a Megacorporation/Nonprofit/lulz gorganization called 1-800-GOT-MEAT. We collect roadkill and donate it to local hick bigots for only a nominal cost. I get to play with meat all day and watch hicks salivate at gore. And I get to help the children - always my primary motivation in lyfe.

How long have you lived in Seattle? It depends on your definition of 'lived.' A week ago I thought to unleash the unifying power of roadkill, and since then I’ve felt exhilarated, overflowing with constant spiritual and erectile arousal. I’d say that I hadn’t really lived since then. So, a week.

What neighborhood do you live in? i just moved 2 seattlul proper (i live on teh wetspot'z bondage bed)

What's the best thing about your neighborhood? An overabundance of Ewok meat

How has the city changed since you moved there, and what do you think it will be like in five years? There were less Slaytanic cults when I moved here in 2000 BCE, but now they openly lust for blood. This is good for business, and my capital coffers have been overflowing. In 5 years I predict that ALL LIFE ENDS.

Any tourist traps that are worthwhile? There are several traps in my backyard that would work on tourists just fine. And if by worthwhile you mean beneficial for the children, then yes.

Friday, February 22, 2008

Dylan Ropes a Wild Turkey

No, that's not some kind of advanced yoga move; it's a scene from the coolest movie I've seen recently, Pat Garrett & Billy the Kid. It came out when I was 2 and James Coburn was hot and Kris Kristofferson had chubby little baby cheeks, believe it or not. Sam Peckinpah directed it, so death pervades, of course, as well as rivers of blood in a color I like to call Raimi red. Bob Dylan did the soundtrack, and he plays a shifty, knife-wielding outlaw pup who calls himself Alias.

It's a story about getting old and going straight, selling out to the Man and feeling crappy about it but doing it anyway because the world is moving on and you're too worn out to keep fighting. Salty old gunslinger Pat Garrett takes a job as sheriff, and the first thing he has to do -- the thing they hired him for -- is to bring down his pal Billy the Kid. The whole movie's a vast, gorgeous, gritty, epic love poem to the crumbling myths and disappearing rawness of the west; if you don't believe me try watching Slim Pickens' slow, gutshot walk to die at creekside without getting choked up.

It also has one of the best mini-odes to a willing dame ever grunted by a greasy barkeep:
"She got a ass on her ... like a forty dollar cow ... and a tit ... I'd like to see that thing filled with tequila."

Like I said. Poetry.

Moving on...

Pet peeves for today:

I hate it when people say things like "one of our finest novelists," or "among our best young actors," as if they are part of some mysterious corporation that owns the talent and creativity of artistic types. Annoying.

John Graham hates it when, every time someone looks through binoculars in the movies or on TV, the edges of the screen are blacked in to form the shape of two conjoined circles, like the eyeholes in a pair of binoculars. Think about it. When you look through binoculars, do you see the view in two conjoined circles? No, you don't. Through the magic of technology, you see it just as you would without the binocs, only closer. Amazing! (I'm watching the Oscars right now and a goofy little montage just reminded me of that.)

Also, straight from the supermarket checkout-line tabloids: I hereby ban the suddenly ubiquitous and totally barfy use of the term "bump" for preggy bellies. So disgusting.

Speaking of checkout-line tabloids, another outrage:
Here's the cover of the Feb 21 issue of Rolling Stone. Headline: "Britney Spears: Inside an American Tragedy." Hmm. Is Britney tragic, really?

And then, in tiny print over to the side, stuck between SHERYL CROW and ZEP TOUR UPDATE: "Heath Ledger." Yes...ever so much less tragic a loss than Britney's pop starlet career. (I mean, I know it's a music magazine, but still.)

Well, getting back to the realm of the indisputable: A very smart fellow recently gave me a list of Dylan songs I need to get in order to further my enlightenment. Now I know this may sound crazy, but I'm told you can "download" songs of music from the World Wide Web these days. Can this be true? I've had no luck with it so far. If any of you clever young people out there can tell me how to do it, I'd be much obliged.

Sunday, February 17, 2008


Heard on the television yesterday:
"Ask your doctor if your heart is healthy enough for sex." I think that's good advice.

Today somehow I cut myself on the lid of a travel mug. See? I am fragile. I only seem tough.

This is old, but I love it (and it's relevant, in a way: cows, death). The website, Artliberated.org, is sort of a watchdog group defending art against the prudes of Scandinavia. It hasn't been doing much lately, though. Here's another pretty old case, probably only funny if you've seen the ubiquitous Kosta Boda glassware cramming every souvenir shop in Sweden and distributed equally among all citizens whether they like it or not. Fair's fair.

More later,

Thursday, February 14, 2008

On the other hand...

There are two things I love about Valentine's Day:

Margo and my grandma. :)

OK, three things: Mom, too.

Thanks, guys!

VD Special

I've always hated Valentine's Day, but until last year I never had a legitimate reason. Now that I do (thank you, former teenage boyfriend, who ditched me that night to seduce someone cooler, and even borrowed my camera to blog about it afterwards!), I can enjoy hating it unreservedly. For many years I marked the holiday with a bottle of Boone's Farm Strawberry Hill wine, because like Valentine's Day it was fake, cheap, pink, vile, bad-smelling and would rot your guts out. I am far too old for that now, and besides, the shop on the corner didn't have any. So this year I'm eating ramen (pink packet) and an apple (Pink Lady) while fantasizing about the long-dead PDX writer John Reed (pinko!). So far, so good.

Friday night was much worse. I watched a DVD (for research - swear), and when I ejected the disc, Bridget Jones's Diary was on TV. (The dorm dads hooked up my cable while I was away for Xmas, which required them to move the TV clear across the room and string up an elaborate series of wires, so I guess they mean it.) A more spineful person might've turned off the television and continued with her studies, but not me. I was sucked in. Bridget Jones. Too sick-making. Worst of all, it was the kind of all-American TV station that interrupts its movies with commercial breaks. Following are the types of products advertised on a Friday night to people watching Bridget Jones's Diary:
  • champagne
  • designer perfume
  • yeast-infection goo
  • vaginal lubricant
  • Doritos.
Okay, TV people. Here is a tip I will give to you free of charge. Women who are at home at 10pm on a Friday night watching Bridget Jones's Diary do not as a rule need vaginal lubricant. Not unless it comes in one of those fancy holiday gift packs with various interesting accessories.

The champagne is fine, of course, although if you really want to know, whiskey would be better. As for the Doritos, well, yes, obviously.

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

More of Becky's homework

I have a lot of homework to do tonight. So, by way of stalling, and to appease the slavering hordes of dedicated readers and fans (hi Karl!), here's a record review I did awhile back. It's about Richmond Fontaine. (Gasps of amazed disbelief from the audience.) Hush, you. Anyway, I think I've reverted, since writing this, to having The Fitzgerald be my favorite RF album -- but I still really love that mariachi song at the end of 13 Cities. The whole thing is great, really.

Also, for my legions of fans in the UK, Willy's new novel is out: it's called Northline, also the name of an early song he wrote, and the girl in it, Alison Johnson, is the name of another song he wrote. And there's a video, I just found:

Anyhow. Read on, legions of fans, and buy the record or the book or even both. You won't regret it.

Richmond Fontaine
13 Cities

Say you're hitchhiking. It's hot. You've been thumbing rides all day and not a bite. You're about to give up and throw yourself across the yellow line when an old guy in a pickup stops. You get in. He cracks you a beer, says "Relax, kid, let me tell you a story." He doesn't ask where you're going; he knows it doesn't matter. He tells you a story. When your beer's done, he hands you a fresh one. The story gets a little better, a little sadder.

That's how it feels to come home at the end of the day and put on Richmond Fontaine's 13 Cities. Somehow the record comforts and relieves you even if you don't have any beer. Maybe it's because things aren't ever likely to get as bad for you as they are for the people Willy Vlautin writes about. RF's singer-songwriter is a master of the sad portrait. The band's 2005 album, The Fitzgerald, featured Vlautin essentially alone with a guitar, telling quiet stories in his humble way, with the ragged voice of an old barfly and the intonation of a 6-year-old. On The Fitzgerald most of the stories end badly. It's a beautiful album, but no comfort to a fragile soul.

13 Cities is not so brutally sparse and grim. That's not to say it's cheerful. With one exception, Vlautin's songs are as melancholy as ever; but this time he's not alone with his sadness. The band—Vlautin (guitars, vocals), Sean Oldham (drums, vocals), Dave Harding (bass), Dan Eccles (guitars) and Paul Brainard (pedal steel, piano)—recorded this album in Arizona with the Tucson band Calexico. The expanded cast of musicians lightens the mood considerably. All the joy on the record comes from the music, which provides on most of the songs a heartening counterbalance to the vocals.

The record opens with "Moving Back Home #2," announced by a Mexicali-style trumpet flourish. It's a fast-paced tune; the drums push it along, and it sounds happy, at least until you catch what Vlautin is singing: "I'm living in my mom's basement again / I come in at 4 am / She gets pissed / Gotta be up at 6 / We get into a fight / So I go out again." For a different band, the juxtaposition of a jaunty tune with lyrics about a hopeless loser who gambles all night might be ironic. But Richmond Fontaine is never ironic. It's just that Vlautin can laugh at himself, or his former self, and at the mistakes he's made and keeps making.

But he doesn't laugh at the other characters who stumble through his songs: toward them he is always kind. Vlautin's people are gamblers, drunks and wrecks, immobilized by circumstance or crushed by the weight of bad luck. But they're not bad people, and the songwriter holds out hope for them. He leaves an escape hatch, a way to imagine that, if things go right, maybe one day the people he's singing about will be better off. But it won't be easy.

In the slow, shuffling third track, "$87 and a Guilty Conscience That Gets Worse the Longer I Go," the narrator turns his back on a friend who's holed up in a motel room with an underage hitchhiker. To rescue the girl, he calls the police, then feels terrible for betraying his friend. Nobility is seldom noticed or rewarded in a Vlautin song. Another example is the harmonica-laced ballad, "Fell Into Painting Houses in Phoenix, Arizona," about a young house painter whose crew picks up a Mexican day-laborer: "We worked five days straight, then we didn't pick him up / and I knew that the kid had never been paid... I didn't show up the next day / I ain't shit, but I ain't that way." The claustrophobia in the song has nothing to do with physical space: though wide horizons stretch all around him, the music closes in and the narrator repeats through clenched teeth, "Get me outta here, get me out get me out of here."

Relief comes in the instrumental interludes, like "El Tiradito," a relaxed and sprawling breather that lets the desert scenery roll gently by in your mind. Then its steady ka-thunk eases into the ominous next track, "A Ghost I Became," about a guy so disenchanted he vanishes into the landscape.

Near the end there's a break in the gloom. "Four Walls" is a tiny moment of pure romantic exuberance that reveals all the previous sorrows as mere artifacts of passing bad luck. We don't need anything, the singer tells his girl; nothing bad can find us here. "We'll just lay around," he says, and the guitar tones rise up like church bells. "And our hearts will sing," and the bells ring faster, louder, until at the peak of their clamor he finishes the sentence, "like mariachis" -- and it's like church just let out.

Granted, the album ends on its saddest note, with "Lost in the World," but by then you already know—the band has already told you—that things might turn out OK after all.