Sunday, December 13, 2009

New year; new location.

I've moved! The new deal's called Room Sound. Come check it.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Changes coming, Henshaw and everyone.
Just hold tight.

"The story ends. It was written for several reasons. Nine of them are secrets. The tenth is that one should never cease considering human love, which remains as grisly and golden as ever, no matter what is tattooed upon the warm tympanic page."
--Donald Barthelme

Saturday, March 07, 2009

“I crashed down on the crossbar
And the pain was enough to make
A shy, bald Buddhist reflect
And plan a mass murder.”
-“Stop Me If You Think You’ve Heard This One Before”
-The Smiths

We had come to see Morrissey at what seemed most non-corresponding venue in the world.

Myrtle Beach’s House of Blues is a compound. After passing five miniature golf courses and at least six versions of Wings, that family mart of all things beachy*, you come to a light where there’s a swampy, overgrown ex putt-putt course on your right. You then hang a right off the main road onto an access road and drive through a Siberia of parking lots. Past Dicks, that tourist restaurant chain where waiters are mean to you on purpose, a Florida-pink Hampton Inn and further in still, where you finally park, across another giant expanse of parking lot from the Alabama Theater, which I think is the rough equivalent of House of Blues for FM country music. You park and you walk and you are subsumed.

HOB is a fortress covered in a cosmetic varnish of folksy appeal so insistent it becomes its opposite. It’s advertising itself. Corporate folksy appeal. I’m telling you, The House of Blues sports more Howard Finster than Paradise Gardens in Georgia. It’s made to look like a tin jukejoint, only some of the folksy signs are painted with messages like, “No cameras inside. We will confiscate.” We sat and ate sweet potato fries and quesadillas at a table in the behemoth restaurant, because they told us if we ate there, we’d be let in earlier and get better seats. I had wanted to order the Blues Burger, but I was stopped by the price combined with the idea of Morrissey fans truer than I—which are most Morrissey fans, actually—shooting me “Meat is Murder” glances. It felt like the start of fan one-upsmanship that undergirds some element of the experience of seeing a show, or did to me, because my extent of knowledge of Morrissey and the Smiths runs to about fourteen of their billion-song oeuvre. To say you are a Morrissey fan feels to me like saying that you hated your mother in high school: It feels like a cliché just to say it even if it’s true, and it is true, to some extent, for many people within three decades of my age. In a way, dining at the restaurant was like a return to high school. Everyone stared at one another. Who were these other people, we all wondered, these Morrissey fans who were Morrissey fans enough to buy tickets and drive to this place and sit, now, here, and wait, sipping Cokes and bobbing their heads a little now, to the sounds of BB King and the Staple Singers?

The staff of HOB is legion, and they are not happy. Our waitress worked with the dull knowledge of a night of poor tips ahead. The man we asked the location of the bathroom when we first arrived pointed it out with a dutiful sigh. Workers in black-and-bright-yellow shirts stood around in unhappy clumps in the bar/courtyard between the entrance to the restaurant and the ticket window. My friend tells me there was an attendant in the other bathroom, and that she looked grim. A scowling woman directed us to the Special Restaurant Diners line. Then an older man, less unhappy, took our receipts and gave us special orange wristbands, for being restaurant diners.
Their misery was, of course, oddly fitting.

We got in line with everyone else, diners and non-. We stood for a long time as the line grew, winding around a log-cabinish ramp (here, the painted “No cameras/We will confiscate” sign). Minutes and more minutes passed. We shivered in the not-quite-spring-yet air. Several recorded announcements came on about what was and what wasn’t allowed inside. Two slightly cross men came and metal-detected everyone and endured the lame quasi-racist "We're not gangsters" jokes of the men in line ahead of us. For some reason, they collected people’s spare change too, which also was not allowed inside. At the door, two more workers confiscated drinks people had purchased outside. When we went to order more at the bar, the two bartenders were having a loud argument. The woman-bartender slammed the small fridge. “I don’t even wanna hear about it,” she said to the man-bartender before turning on her heel and facing me. “Yes?” she said.

My friend and I went and stood in the crowd before the stage. We were a mixed group, wristbandwise. It seemed the restaurant perk thing had been a ruse. Two more announcements came on, about emergency exits and proper behavior. There in that big crowd, my sympathies with cattle felt stronger than ever. It had been at least two hours of measured steps of submission. Despite this, it was beginning to feel more like a show. There was a crazy guy shouting things into the crowd. My friend, who loves Morrissey, bounced up and down on the balls of her feet in anticipation.

The man himself, when he came on, was, of course, just a man. His six-something frame was human flesh that scowled and preened across the stage, that flipped the long microphone cord dismissively again and again, strutting around, his band so far behind him and ignored by him completely, the players indistinguishable from one another in their jeans and tucked-in blue seersuckers, their shorn hair, their polite finesse with their instruments. He was just a man, but he shined. He frowned and he lamented; he beat his chest and pointed and leaned down to grasp the entreating hands from the front rows.

This crowd had paid not only to hear the songs they equated with huge parts of their lives; they had paid to be paid attention to in this precise way. To take part in a show in which the man pretended we were his private mirror. He sang his fictional trials to us--You understand, you understand, he was crying, because no one understood but us, of course; not these seersucker guys; no one. He was all strange sex appeal and raw egotistic need and gentlemanly aplomb; “Thank you so much,” he said quietly after each song, bowing at the ravenous applause.

All of this came down to the giant backdrop, a two-story black and white photo of a young, muscled man circa WWII, flexing his muscles and chomping a cigar. After the show, my friend said, “There was something really comforting in that photo. Something so Smiths about it, you know?” Yes, but blown up to the nth degree, revealed when another curtain in front of it fell with a dramatic flourish before the start of Morrissey’s set and flashing in different shades of foreboding with the colored lights of each song, the giant photo completed the feeling that we were truly at a rally of some sort. And I liked it. The parking lot wasteland and the militant lines, the guards, the timetables and wristbands; all of it had led up to this, so in this way, it seemed fitting as one of his blue-shirted minions swung and hit the heavy gong and the man sang the words, “Life is a pigsty/And if you don’t know this, Then what do you know?” before shifting into the final song, no encore, just the Big Lonely vacuum of “How Soon is Now?” with its strobelike guitar echoed in actual strobes, beating like the promise of violence against the giant face of the young son of war, against our small bodies as we swayed in ecstasy.

(*My friend once spotted what we agreed to be in the Top Five of Worst T-shirts Ever, at a Wings store in the Outer Banks. Beside an illustration of a stripper-pole, the shirt read, “I support single mothers.”)

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Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Three Small Stories from the Big Writing Conference

The writing conference, it was big.

Saturday Night: Dance Party. Third Floor Ballroom.

The music was terrible. And my friends danced anyway, and I tried, though the contemporary radio r&b that the dj mostly stuck to has no influence whatsoever on my hips. Which sucked, because I wanted to dance. I wanted, specifically, to dance. Even goofily. We all did. We had walked many blocks from a perfectly warm, comfortable bar, through falling snow to get here. This is a lot to say of people who make their homes in the South. This is a lot to say—believe me—of this group of friends.

The dancefloor was full of awkward, gyrating writers who were mostly Caucasian and mostly several sheets to the wind. It looked exactly like a cruise ship. I imagine. (Full disclosure: I have never been on a cruise ship.) When I dance, I myself am an awkward, gyrating writer. I could get with this. With a few tweaks.

We went up to the DJ, requested: OutKast? No. Missy Elliott? No. Even, maybe, Michael Jackson? Guy said he could download something for us, but he wouldn’t have it till the next day. Note: It’s 2009. We’d have happily given him the dollar. We walked back. The DJ launched into “Get On Up.” Surrounded by better songs, this old standby would have been fine. Only it wasn't, so it was somehow more disappointing.
“This," said one friend, "is, like, your cousin’s wedding. And you don’t even like your cousin.” Next up: Madonna. But not “Get into the Groove” Madonna. “Like a Prayer” Madonna. Bon Jovi. (?) At this point, I gave up, left the dance floor and moved to safety—before the opening bars of “Shout.” As in Kick your heels up and. Throw your head back and. It was worse than a cruise ship, or a lame wedding. Another friend nailed it. “I have been to 745 bar mitzvahs,” he said. “This is your 746th bar mitzvah,” I told him.

Sunday Afternoon: O’Hare.

In the long security line, a fortyish woman and a sixtyish man were just ahead of me, carrying official conference tote bags. As we serpentined our way back and forth and back again, they spoke in tones that were a bit loud, looking around with that weird sort of niche-famous pride between sentences. “I think it was a successful panel,” she announced. “Famous Poet A and Famous Poet C should definitely collaborate on that project. And your essay—fabulous! Now you just need to publish!”
“Yes, yes,” he nodded, all corduroy-patched sagacity. “It’s all right.” Back and forth they went about this essay. As we alternately stood and walked, I was reading from my school’s literary magazine—this, itself, admittedly, perhaps, my own version of flaunting the conference tote. The man kept saying, “But where to publish it?” And the woman kept saying, “Oh, there must be a place,” and both of them kept making eye contact with me—or maybe, I think now, I was just staring. I might have that problem. But instead of continuing on silently with the shoe and the coat doffing, I had to say something. Like a six-year-old who imagines maybe all teachers in the world know her mommy, I held up my literary journal and said to the academic poets, “What about this one?” They asked what the journal was, I told them: We took essays, short stories, poems. The sagacious man knit his eyebrows in offense. The woman smiled benignly, seemed to sigh a little. “His essay’s on critical poetic topics in Oobolean form,” she explained as he turned his back and harrumphed on. Damn kids. “Have you heard of Oobolean form?” I shook my head. She practically patted my hand. “He’s the former editor of Poets International,” she said. “He’s no slouch.”

I nodded and apologized as I bagged my slouchy lit mag and prepared to send everything I carried through the x-rays for real inspection.

Hopelessly Middlebrow.*

(aka: petty thoughts following the “No slouch” incident.)
The I-Pod is quickly dropping to lowbrow status. Maybe it’s there already. Real intellectuals do not sit on the subway nor at the airport gate, filling their ears with distracting chatter or catchy hooks. Their ears remain free of tacky white plastic knobs and the cheap, trendy status they imply, (These knobs, now, sort of the anti-tote: NPR or conference), their future, free of the absolute promise of tinnitus. Their advanced thoughts are allowed to soar, independent, unprogrammed, and unimpeded, to novel heights.
I tap my foot. This listening has absolutely nothing to do with anything but the sound.

*“Hopelessly middlebrow,” the term my old friend’s sister was tagged with by a snotty ex-classmate at a reunion, after making some ‘70s television reference. As in, “Sarah,” sigh, “you are hopelessly middlebrow.”

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Tuesday, February 03, 2009

Predictable Me.
So of course, unemployed and with dead car (yes, that, too) and with an uncertain future in Atlanta, a weekend visit to Beachtown to turn in my thesis and hang out with friends becomes one of the best weekends ever. It was Place-under-glass good. It was Awareness-that-this-is-a-golden-memory-in-the-making good, the way only fleeting moments can be. Moments lived under the weight of awareness of their finite nature. That we know we can’t keep.

During a Saturday morning sunny drive to the beach, a friend and I listened to Smog. Smog, as you may or may not know, is the alias of musician Bill Callahan, a man whom I’ve long assumed, from the sound of his seasoned voice and wise old lyrics, to be a creepily handsome but weathered old man, in the tradition of the Devil character from Oh Brother, Where Art Thou? I recently found out that he is not; this was disappointing. Rather than a figure of fable, he’s like, a completely normal thirtysomething dude who’s bedded both Joanna Newsom and Chan Marshall. (And yes, I am aware that the word “bedded” makes everything sound worse and makes me sound like a writer from freaking Star magazine.)

The album A River Ain’t Too Much to Love is so beautiful, I feel kind of unworthy to listen to it and claim it for my own, and then I realized that this is precisely why I never listen to it. Even though I’ve had it for several years, my one wish with this album is for it always to feel happened-upon and new. I don’t want to learn all the words. There is so much lurvely music out there in the world, and I fill as many free spaces as possible with it. But something about this album. It’s so good that I harbor this sneaking suspicion that it’s too good for me. That it’s too good for the rest of my records, even. That it will raise the bar and wreck the happy equilibrium I’ve cultivated in my current community of cds.

Basically, there’s a concern concerning balance, Henshaw. There’s a fear of seesaws. Luckily, on this geographical end there is Marshall, who is pretty damn heavy in terms of import, and at least one amazing friend here (you know who you are, Missy-sitting-next-to-me), too, but I’ve gotta shake a leg and I dunno, where to go with this metaphor? Toss some gold ingots down over here. I am looking forward to the day when contentedness is not accompanied by some necessary “Carpe diem” sting. Does this happen? I have created a bad, bad precedent of not staying anywhere long enough to find out.

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Saturday, January 24, 2009

But darling, there's a gun in the garland.
David Berman is calling it quits with the Silver Jews.

The story
("the son of a demon come to make good the damage") is fascinating and beyond fascinating, whether or not you are a big old devotee of this band. I don't know quite what to say about all this music has meant to me. I mean, this website's been riddled with it for years (see above). The lyrics are often the autopilot, archetypal answers-in-the-brain to any weird, new situation. And although I think DB is saddling himself too much with a sense of overwrought responsibility, I also get it, and it makes my heart soar in sympathy.

Oh, I've written too much. Just read the link, and the link's link.

"When I go downtown
I always wear a corduroy suit
cause it's made of a hundred gutters
that the rain can run right through"

Requiescat in pace.

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Thursday, January 22, 2009

I hope that you are proud of you, too.
Remember that Mr. Rogers song? “I’m Proud of You”? This was a song my family co-opted to sing to one another in moments of accomplishment large and small, and my sister remembers it as a sweet thing, and I remember it as an ironic, condescending thing. This is what happens in the course of a nine-year age difference.

Good morning, Henshaw. Now would be as good a time as any, I suppose, to admit that I walk around feeling distinctly un-proud, most of the time. Like a lot of people I know, my principle motivator in this life is dread. You know, (maybe you know): the stone in the pit of the stomach. The name I give to the stone changes, constantly: It becomes “all those papers to grade,” or “that phone call to make,” or a glance at the dwindling bank account, or, “What the hell will you do with yourself once you graduate?” (Effing boulder, that one.) There are also more abstract boulders, like “President Bush,” or “Environment,” but I’ll admit that those ones mostly get pushed by the wayside when faced with an imminent doozie, like, “You have to revise that horrid chapter.”

I’ll admit that waking up knowing that Double-You is no longer representing me to the world feels like a mitigation of this load; knowing that Obama is in feels even better. But it is not these things I credit for my unusual good mood this morning. The thesis is almost (gulp) done, and I know that this fact is just as likely to translate to panic for me as to a sense of accomplishment. Because, you know: Now, what?

But this morning, I feel good about it. I look up above my computer, at the insane chart of chapters crawling across the wall up there, see the red checkmarks next to very-nearly each, and feel like I actually deserve to spend some time out in the twenty-degree sun today.

And, inexplicably, I don’t feel imminently stressed out about anything right now. Sure, I have no job and no prospects for one, and sure, it looks like my car is dying, and sure, I’ve been subsisting on this secret, ridiculous notion that this book would pave the way, sort of magic-carpetlike, for the fancy career in writing I’ve wanted all my life, just like thousands of other people who are more talented than I—but, watching my friends and family members who’ve been taking such things as “I’ll find a job that satisfies me” on faith lately, inspires me. Moreover: relaxes me.

Plus, I get to play music with my Carolina friends when I go to visit next week, and plus, I get to play music with my friend here in Atlanta later this week, and plus, I’m teaching myself to play the Decemberists’ lovely, heartbreaking song “The Engine Driver.” Plus, Marshall and I will go for a long walk in the mountains this weekend. It’s just plain freaking good to be alive right now, damn it. It’s a neighborly day in this beauty wood.

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