Low Plays Anchorage, Alaska

We went to see Low play in Anchorage, Alaska, and hoped for the Northern Lights too. We had never been to The Last Frontier; neither had Low. P1000739The flight from New York was long – 14 hours with a change in Seattle – and we were verging on collapse by the 10 pm showtime (2 am our EDT). P1000703But the venue was great – an intimate bar, Taproot – and there with only a hundred others in attendance, all of whom were bushy and rough.

“We waited for twenty years!” Someone called out.

Allan Sparhawk gazed back. “Actually it’s been 22.” IMG_1100The band looked tired – or were we projecting? – starting slow with Gentle and other lullaby-like songs from their remarkably listenable 2015 release Ones and Sixes, before gradually picking up with Sparhawk’s characteristic distortion and intensity in No Comprehende and Pissing. IMG_1103The light show was understated – 90’s style mandalas blooming and transforming behind Mimi Parker, making her look like a weary Madonna – as was the sound, lilting in and amongst the non-stop chatter from all corners.

“Yeah, I saw you there, but I was talking with RJ!” His beard puffed out like a cartoon character’s. “I haven’t talked with him in months!”

The only exception to the swirl of drink-inspired banter was a young couple in front of us, she with short blonde hair, he with a blond streaked beard, sitting side by side at a wooden table, gazing into each other’s eyes every 15 seconds, talking quietly and mysteriously, consuming a beer with stoic regularity, not once looking at the stage.

A woman looked at my wife and asked if she was a mail order bride. “There’s a lot of them here!”

I imagined that many of these people had come in from distant logging camps and moose hunts for this magical night, and tried to forgive them their boisterous manner. P1000745The PA was louder the second night – although the feedback from some songs seemed at times beyond system’s capacity, enveloped in white noise. Sparhawk, Parker and bassist Steve Garrington were more upright and clear, and so was the crowd, almost twice as large as the night before, drunker, louder, crashing into one another, spinning my chair to and fro as they went back and forth to the bar.

“I’ve got four bands now, man!” A heavy man stroked down at his scraggly greying beard as he yelled out to his friend. “Our shortest song is seven minutes! We got one that goes over 40!”

“It was a family event!” The woman’s eyes were sharp, her hair wild. “What do you want from me?!”

I was more tired this night, so damned tired that I just stared stupidly at the spinning mandalas and let them coax me to sleep. mandalaI switched to water and then Coke, and counted the bearded men yell with their dates, while Low played on, their subtlety lost in the tumult, until Sparhawk played his guitar like Hendrix which quieted everyone for a moment.

Sparhawk announced that there would be no encore, just one more song. The band had a flight in four hours.

“Don’t wait another 20 years!” Someone pleaded.

We went out into the cold night, looking into the sky, deep and empty, searching the horizon, seeing nothing but the haze of the city lights, not knowing yet that the only Northern Lights we would see were those in Taproot, both they and Low at the center of the madding crowd.

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Me, Earl and the Dying Girl

Alfonso Gomez-Rejon’s Me, Earl and the Dying Girl is an awkward tale featuring an irritating high school senior who is compelled by his mother to spend time with a girl dying of cancer. 1288fe3341f2203c06c9ff64e559bb64The awkwardness is trite and purposeful, portraying the world of teenagers with some accuracy, and is wearing in the end. The exhausting atmosphere is best seen in the protagonist’s obsession with cinema, making countless references to art house films, featuring no less than three from Werner Herzog. MyBestFiend3As endearing as this element is intended, it falls flat, trying too hard, while pretending not to, and concluding with a shrug, despite a dramatic and emotional end.

Ice Friday: John C. Lilly’s “The Scientist”

John C. Lilly’s fantasy-autobiography The Scientist chronicles his life as a scientist, psychedelic explorer and Third Being from the outer reaches of the universe. His scientific work begins with messing around with monkeys brains:

It was found that in male monkeys there were separate systems for erection, for ejaculation and for orgasm. With an electrode in the separate orgasm system, the monkey would stimulate this region and go through a total orgasm without erection and without ejaculation.IMG_4592Given the apparatus by which he could stimulate himself once every three minutes for twenty-four hours a day, the monkey stimulated the site and had orgasms every three minutes for sixteen hours and then slept eight hours and started again the next day. (90)IMG_4629Lilly goes on to mess with his own brain:

John felt that he had not sufficiently explored all the parameters of K. (Ketamine is reputed to facilitate out-of-body experiences.) He decided to do additional experiments on its long-term effects. For a period of three weeks, he gave himself injections every hour of the twenty-four hours. He immersed himself in the inner realities created by K, projecting them onto his outer reality. He became convinced of the intervention in human affairs of the solid-state life forms (computer-based machines) elsewhere in the galaxy. He became convinced that it was necessary for him to the warn the government. (162) IMG_4568Mr. Lilly eventually loses all awareness of who, what and where he is:

I swing from contained to uncontained mind and back to contained mind. I swing from belief in the three Beings to the simulation of the three Beings as a convenient method of thought to free up my thinking. Is belief any truer than experience? (110)

David Bowie’s Death on Facebook

Social media – yes, like you are reading now – is fatuous and inane, worse than anything ever produced on radio or television – and that includes The Bachelor. getting aa roseFacebook posts on the death of David Bowie serve as sad exemplars.

Mark Pautz 06h30 this morning. I was awake. Strange, as I’d only got to bed four hours earlier. But it was then that the musical soundtrack of the first 55 years of my life came to an end.

Terry Boyd I am 43 and I have always known David Bowie to be singing he was an iconic singer, and there will never ever be another David Bowie of his kind.

William Lemos David Bowie a true hero

What is it about any of these people – indeed anyone, you or me – that makes one a David Bowie expert? Our facile love of his music? Our hyperbolic connection to his lyrics? Good god, even The New York Times sounded ridiculous in their piece on how Bowie “transcended” music and art. 20160112_BOWIE_HP-slide-DMXR-videoSixteenByNine1050-v2The truth is his music didn’t transcend anything. He was a great musician, and all of this  blather only acts as a depressing testament to how lonely everyone is too scared to admit. 20150820_162923While keeping up to date with each other’s life moments on social media can be a nice thing, as is watching cute red pandas, reflections on the importance of an artist for an individual is irrelevant and utterly pathetic.20151205_162003Someone to claim us, someone to follow
Someone to shame us, some brave Apollo
Someone to fool us, someone like you

We want you Big Brother, Big Brother

Sold: “Female Construction Crews of Myanmar”

I didn’t know I even had an agent. He was a nice guy, big and bald and told me happily that he thought he could sell my novella, The Female Construction Crews of Myanmar. $3200. I accepted and signed without a thought.

“There’s one thing I don’t understand.” He folded the contract and gave me a check. “Why doesn’t he know who he is?”

The truth was I didn’t remember writing the book; I didn’t remember anything about it. “It’s a reflection on his state of mind.” I scanned the text quickly. “He has the drinking problem too.”

“He does?”

“It’s implied.”

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I read a random selection: The roads in Myanmar are slow and narrow, spotted with gaping potholes and long stretches of dirt and gravel. As slow as the traffic slowed, this afforded him time to see the road construction crews, almost entirely of which were made of women.

I scanned ahead, through a long journey down a winding descent and then the character, “I”, boarding a horse cart, and suddenly, in front of his escort, trying to self-fellate. 20151228_075210I couldn’t understand how this worked, why this was being published, but was desperate to understand before I had to give it back, just so I might write more of it and sell something I might remember. 

Smashed rocks had been loaded into baskets and the women walked past, these baskets on their heads. The men minded the boiling tar in flaming drums, back-breaking work, as the horse cart jostled ahead and we headed on our three-day trip.

Overlooked NY: Downtown Chamber of Commerce

The Chamber of Commerce Building, at 65 Liberty Street, is one of many buildings in downtown Manhattan with doric columns.20151216_072906Built in 1900-01 to house New York State’s Chamber of Commerce, it was vacated eighty years later. The building was restored in 1990-91 and now houses a pair of banks: The Megabank of New York and Bank of China, Taipei. 20151203_163218

In contrast to the heavy finance going on inside, the front of the building is consistently lined with rows of bikes for a local food delivery service.

Ferry Rights in Loch Aw, Scotland

My ancestors were granted the ferrying rights across Loch Aw, Scotland in 1488. The (much abridged) document reads:

In the name of god amen… in the 7th year of Innocent, the 6th divine providence, Pope, in the presence of me, the notary public, the good and honest man, Moricius McFedran, handed over a certain letter written on a parchment about the ground as it appeared to be…lochaw1…containing word that it to me be clear to all that, given and to the honour and praise of Almighty God of the Blessed Virgin and all the saints for the safety of our soul and of the souls of all our ancestors and to the successors of the Lord of Lochaw, to have set and demitted to our faithful Dominicus McFedran by force of those present to his male heirs begotten or to be begotten the one mark of land of Sonachan near to the port extending to the river which is called Altbane and the river which is called Altynesperry lying in the Lordship of Lochaw, to be held and possessed all and the whole of the mark land along with the duty of ferrying …understanding that Dominicus and his heirs will carry all infirm, lame, poor and pilgrims without price or charge across the Loch.lochaw2The cost per year: 10 shillings of silver, two bolls of grain which are called barley and oats, one pound of cheese and a sheep.