Thursday, April 28, 2011

Chapter 53: In Which I Rendezvous with Old Socialist Men

It seems that every couple of years the Windsors stick their pasty faces into the news and dominate it for a while. I am always left to wonder: how do people in England really feel about them? Do they resent having to prop up these useless landowners? Do they simply accept them as a fact of life. Or do they see the whole family as living history, something to be proud of in its existence? I remember when Queen Elizabeth visited the States a few years ago, and all the rah-rah-rah about democracy could not stop thousands from lining up just to touch the hem of her garment. We fought a war so we wouldn't have to deal with the English monarchy, their tyranny and insanity. Didn't matter. There's something about it that goes beyond mere celebrity worship. A deeply human yearning for that unattainable ideal, the idea that perfection can be genetic (since it's sure as hell not something the average man can acquire). We (meaning humans) love the idea of the high class. The Windsors are defined by their meaninglessness, yet their glamor is such that the whole world stops when they get married. I don't exactly get it.

You know who hates the royal family? Old Socialist men. That's who I hung out with last weekend at the Bay Area Alternative Press. Got my fliers done! We have to cut lots of paper with their old-fashioned cutting machine, which was very cool. We got the plate done earlier in the week, then set it up in this thing.

Printing was not easy. The glossy paper I originally wanted to use kept sticking to the rollers because of all the heavy ink. We ended up having to use the cardstock, which does not roll up at all. Slightly more inconvenient to handle, and more expensive to mail than a roll, but it's what had to be done. There were a few more paper jams, and at one point we couldn't find a necessary tool to do adjustments, and some of the papers came out light because we were using SO MUCH INK. An older fellow named helped me, and said this was the most ink he ever used on a print job. Wow. What I like about this kind of printing is that you can never shut your brain off. You have to constantly fix jams, apply ink, apply fluid. And when you're done, clean all the rollers by hand.

Once the machine got rolling, it was rolling. I love the little melody the gears make as it spews out page after page. How many did we print? Oh, about 800.

That was on Saturday. On Sunday, we got the papers all lined up in this thing.

Then we cut the crap out of them.

We wrapped them up.

8 kilos of pure Colombian paper
Them we had dinner. BAAP has a dinner every night, including an awesome one for Easter Sunday. Nice pasta dishes. The only people there were old Socialist men. I love old Socialist men because all they ever do is talk history. It's their language. A conversation about the weather has to be phrased in relation to early 20th century labor struggles. Through sitting down and eating some flan, I learned about the corporate families that have been running China for the last 2000 years. These dudes talked with such familiarity about Chiang Kai-Shek you'd think he was some asshole they went to school with. I learned about the California railroad tycoons who founded Stanford University, how the university's progressive mission was jettisoned upon the death of the founder, and about recent gentrification around the school. All I did was ask if there were any good bookstores in Palo Alto. After dinner, one man washed dishes, one man rinsed, one man made coffee, one swept, one cleaned the table, one wrapped the leftovers. Marx would be proud of this efficiency. 

These fliers are gorgeous. Much thanks to BAAP, and especially Asa for designing it. Now I have to write dates and places on all the ones I am sending. Tour starts in a month. We just lost CultureWorks in Ashland because of some schedule rearrange, so I'm trying to find a new date. Just booked Redding. I'm still looking to do a stop on the 11th. All the pieces are coming together.

Book Sightings!

I am a small press writer. Seeing my book at stores excites me. Here's some.
At Pegasus trying to suck up to Charles Dickens, but these dudes keep getting in the way
Chillin' with Thomas Mann at Laurel Books

Friday, April 22, 2011

Chapter 51: In Which I Discuss Tour Preparations

So, what have I done lately? Saw Pretty in Pink and Labyrinth at the UA Shattuck nostalgia night. Did my taxes. Smoked no weed on 4/20 because, like all ethnic holidays that aren't mine, I feel disingenuous celebrating it. If I don't go green for St. Patrick's Day, I'm not going green for St. Cheech's Day. Other stuff has gone on, some of which is actually interesting, and maybe I'll tell about it someday. I figured, since this blog is primarily educational, I'd give some insight into how a DIY artist preps for tour on a budget.

I'm going on tour next month. 12 days, 11 dates, 10 cities. Last week, I got a California driver's license. I got the license so I could rent a car. I'm renting the car to go on tour. My original plan was to start in my tour partner's homestate of Louisiana and gig across the Southwest, but reality is the throttler of ambition. So we're starting in San Francisco. How much prep did I do for this driver's test? Not a lot. I figured it would be common sense, but they really ask some obscure questions. If you come to a T intersection and the lights are out, who gets the right of way: the guy driving straight or the guy turning? Fucked if I know. But mostly it's common sense. Can you smoke in the car with someone under 18 inside? This is California; you have to climb a mountain just to smoke in public. What is the penalty for ignoring a highway cop telling you to pull over? A fine? In California, they jail people for littering and kill them for being rowdy on the BART. Best believe you'd go to jail. My favorite part of the test was the old man who started talking all loud to someone on his Bluetooth during the middle of taking it. He seemed genuinely miffed when they told him to put it away.

The part I find funny is that, in spite of the test, nobody in this state knows how to drive. Someone might disagree vehemently, but I find the inability to master a turn signal to be somewhat pitiful. I have no clue why everyone drives so crazy.

For the record: renting a car. Do Budget. Prepay online. Pick up from the hole-in-the-wall office by the railroad tracks, not at the airport. It was a pretty good deal, all things considered.

So I passed my driver's test and am now a full-fledged citizen of the state. Next comes my medical cannabis card. For my allergies. Another order of business: the audiobook.

I last stepped into the studio on November 23rd, 2010. It's been that long. The fellow whose recording me is named Edan Mason, an ambient musician from LA who goes to Mills with me. Last week we found some time to reserve the Mills recording studio. I was rusty, as evidenced by the 30+ mistakes I made. I read "Brother Roy" and the first two chapters of "Assistant." The former went better than the latter. "Assistant" requires some accents, but is mostly straight reading. "Brother Roy" is all dialect, and I had trouble keeping the different character voices consistent. It was a Saturday, and I read until my voice couldn't go anymore. We could have gone longer because nobody else reserved the space. Even if I hadn't been vastly dehydrated, there's a psychological jump from one section of "Assistant" to another, at least for me. I wanted to reflect on it before recording again. I'm an artist like that. The plan is to have everything recorded in the next two sessions, then I'll edit it together with Audacity. Which, by the way, is an awesome program. I've also listened to the recordings I've made. Nothing beats doing vocals in a studio. Everything sounds so crisp.

One of the inhabitants of my hippie house is a fellow named Asa Jones. Biggest hippie on the planet. Asa's a wonderful guy, and is currently touring the southern US with his zine. He also designed my tour flier, through the power of Photoshop wizardry. I don't have a good picture of it right now, but I'll upload one soon. Let's just say, I went to him and said "I want a giant bottle of Jack Daniels floating through outer space." He delivered. Pouring whisky on the Milky Way Galaxy was totally his genius idea. It has a 50s scifi vibe to it and I love the poster to pieces.

Now, the last time I did fliers for tour, a friend of mine who worked at a copy place hooked us up. Getting things for free worked well into our promotional budget. On the west coast, I don't have such connections. So I went to the Bay Area Alternative Press.

They are the real deal. When I tell people about this place, they don't believe me. An entirely volunteer-run printing organization. Not a non-profit, so there is no government interest. You can walk in there and print anything for free. I know because I did it. The first night I came by, they gave me an orientation, then asked "What are you working on?" From there, I was designing my flier on Adobe InDesign with one of their experts.

The printing facilities has an ink printer, two working letterpresses that are 150 years old, and an old-fashioned cutting machine, among other gadgets. I don't think I saw any equipment in that room that was newer than the 1980s. Love it. After Asa designed the flier, I got to do the hands-on stuff. That meant cutting paper into 11x17 size, then transferring my Photoshop picture to the offset printer to make a negative. This took longer than I thought it would, as the printing guru and I had to keep going back to the computer room to make sure the image was rotated correctly, or it was in greyscale, or all colors except black and white were turned off. This process literally took hours. Photoshop was being an asshole to us that night. At one point, the little film canister wouldn't snap into place in the machine. The solution? Stick a styrofoam block behind it. We didn't get to print, but I've been learning hands-on and the whole thing's pretty exciting. Saturday's the day we bust out 700 fliers. I like literally working to put my tour together. it makes the accomplishments feel so concrete.

The BAAP does wonderful things for the community, is ran by some old school Socialists and is truly independent. People print some radical stuff out of there, but I also saw a middle school afterschool program doing a poetry anthology at the press, which was all kinds of heartwarming to me. Anything you want to print, they'll get you there. I encourage everyone to donate money to BAAP. Stop by and fix equipment, or cook a meal. Anything helps. I feel happy to have such an institution around.

Tour is coming along. More updates soon.

Oh yes, about Pretty in Pink. Seriously, one of the great swan songs between an artist and his muse. By that point, John Hughes was done with Molly Ringwald. She was getting older and the svengali wanted to move onto other things. How does he separate from her? By making a movie in which every male character is in love with her. The whole film is a poem to the greatness of Molly Ringwald. And that is how you end a relationship. Molly can go to her grave knowing Hughes loved her enough to make this cinematic ode as his parting gift.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Chapter 52: Tour dates!

The Jack Daniels Sessions EP Summer 2011 Book Tour!

This time around I'll be touring with Kim Vodicka, a lyric poet out of Baton Rouge. This will be my first time in the Pacific Northwest. I'm excited to tell some stories, as well as bring back new ones.


+ Fri, 5/20: New Orleans, LA - Mckeown's Books and Difficult Music
Vodicka (solo), others TBA
+ Fri, 5/27, 9:30pm: San Francisco, CA - Cafe International open mic
+ Sat, 5/28: Santa Clara, CA - Baycon Science Fiction Convention
Cotman (solo)
+ Sat, 5/28, 7:00pm: Santa Cruz, CA - SubRosa community space
w/Asa Jones, author of "Folk Tales for the Future," others TBA
+ Sun, 5/29, 7:00pm: Oakland, CA - Musick Box co-op
w/Diana Turken, Katie Menzies, others TBA
+ Wed, 6/1: Ashland, OR - CultureWorks
+ Thur, 6/2: Portland, OR - 1,000 Words Reading at The Waypost
Cotman (solo)
+ Fri, 6/3: Vancouver, OR - The Space Art Collective
+ Sat, 6/4: Portland, OR - Red and Black Cafe
+ Tue, 6/7: Boise, ID - Hyde Park Books
+ Thur, 6/9, 7:00pm: Seattle, WA - University Bookstore
Cotman (solo)
+ Fri, 6/10, 6:00pm: Olympia, WA - Last Word Books

Unfortunately, I can't make New Orleans, since I live in the Bay. Although it's in fucking NEW ORLEANS, and I'm tempted to Craigslist rideshare my butt the whole way from California to the deep South. Probably not gonna happen, but a boy can dream. Summer tour. Get hyped.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Chapter 50: In Which I Discuss Michael

Like most people on this planet, I love Michael Jackson music. Unlike most people, I am not only familiar with his latter period, but love much of it. Michael's adult career can be evenly split in half. There's Off the Wall, Thriller and Bad. On the other side, there's HIStory, Blood on the Dancefloor and Invincible. The amazing Dangerous serves as the exact middle between them. These albums might as well have been made by a completely different artist. The first three, the ones the casual fans will throw on at a college party, are extremely polished. Each song is crafted for maximum marketability, with heavy production and, lyrically, no trace of autobiography. When Michael sings "She's Out of My Life," he absolutely kills it, but I can tell he's singing about some stuff he has no personal background in. Everything is devoted to making enjoyable pop music that the whole world can listen to, by an artist whose only goal is the music itself. Not a personal demon in sight.

Dangerous marks the change. His pop sensibilities are stronger than ever. He was smart enough to jump full on the New Jack Swing bandwagon, a hybrid type of music that perfectly complimented his style and brought him swingin' into the 90s. He incorporated hard rock in there too, making legendary songs like "Heal the World," "Jam," "Black or White" and "Remember the Time." Also, no mention of politics, just general calls for world peace and an end to racism. Yet there's that sinister element. The femme fatale in "Dangerous." The paranoia in "Who is It."  Whatever kind of relationship he's singing about in "Give In To Me," it's not a healthy one. You may just give in to him (and it would be hard not to), but there will be consequences.

Now, Michael went into dark territory before, with a few songs on Bad. What separates them from his later work is their impersonal nature. "Dirty Diana" and "Smooth Criminal" are Michael as storyteller. He's telling stories about golddigging and assault the same way he told stories about drive-in movies and avoiding gang violence. It's all distanced from Michael as a person.

Then you get to the last three albums.

NIN-style electronic noise, screeching guitars, crying, enraged hatred at injustice, at politicians, at environmental devastation, diss records aimed at prosecutors and tabloids, greed, loneliness, hundred-foot proto-fascist-looking statues of himself, betrayal, jealousy, child murder, rainforests levelled, baby seals decapitated, hissing, growling, beatboxing, drug addiction, pain pain pain. And it's personal as fuck. When he sings "They don't really care about us," he's aiming not just at politicos and killer cops, but anyone who ever struck out at him. When he says "Are you the ghost of jealousy?" he's no longer just using cutesy horror movie imagery. "He's doing morphine!" Doesn't get more forward than that. His political messages are explicit, as are his targets. When he starts cursing the name of the guy who tried to prosecute him for child molestation, it's pretty clear that Michael's got a brand-new bag.

And that's the crux of this music. For a guy who became the standard bearer for innocuous pop, his later period is pure Id. I would challenge anyone to listen to those songs and say Michael didn't take the music to some dark places. More than most mainstream singers do. Even his collaborative work is enraged. What does he do when he finally gets together with Janet? He makes her scream with him. He squeezed the Beatles' "Come Together" for every drop of menace it has.

As when anybody goes to that dark place, the result is not always enjoyable. I don't get much enjoyment from those goopy Broadway-style ballads he recorded. As songs, they're half-cooked and sloppy. But I feel the passion. "Little Susie" and that what-the-fuck interlude about demorol in the middle of "Morphine" are scary songs. "Speechless" is also scary, simply for how naked the emotion is. He's putting it all out there, and doesn't care whether the music is solid. I'm not one of those delusional fans who, after having to justify their fandom for fifteen miserable years, simply chose to make excuses for everything he did. Michael underwent a massive mental breakdown during that period. It's all there in the music. No veils. When listening to Invincible, I'm taken aback by Top 40 songs like "You Rock My World." They seem out of place. Michael's niche was confessional, no-holds-barred pop music. It's interesting to note that, as he got older, he got into heavy metal, with Slash accompanying him on several of his scream sessions. It's like I said: metal is music without metaphor. There's something that magnetizes metal instrumentation to lyrical honesty. Even when I don't like his later period songs, I appreciate that he made them at all. I wish they could have been some kind of therapy for him, but his story went the way it went.

Very soon, like, tomorrow, I'm going to give a full rundown of my upcoming TOUR! It's going to be the shit. For real. Until then, here's some favorites.