In the spring of 2010, I and Cyberpunk Apocalypse founder Dan McCloskey embarked on a 7-state, 13, 14, maybe 15-city tour. I'm not sure off the top of my head. Some scheduled dates didn't really happen. My supervisors at Job Corps were kind enough to give me the time off. They even gave me a "Welcome back" cake when I returned, and I thanked them by quitting a few weeks later.
Tour started in Pittsburgh with The Jack Daniels Sessions EP book release. We made it as far north as Buffalo, NY, as far west as Madison, Wisconsin, as far south as Cincinnati, before returning to the Steel City. We drove my dad's Crown Victoria station wagon. The thing got such bad gas mileage I suspected it had an external combustion engine. For this old-fashioned iPod-less journey, one of Dan's friends supplied us with several cassette tapes, and I brought a few of my own.
I see two things in looking back at pictures from tour. One, I had a swell little troubador fedora that I wish I still had. Two, I was wearing the black-and-gray Champion track jacket that I wore pretty much every day for six years. It belonged to my college buddy Matt, who gave it to me on my 21st birthday after I said that I liked it. This was during 80s Nite at the sadly defunct Club Laga. My 21st birthday was, well, everything you'd expect of a 21st, with the jacket being one of the parts I'm not ashamed to write about online. I wore that jacket an awful lot, until I managed to lose it (and other articles of warm weather clothing) at the ConDor science fiction convention last year.
My editor Nathan got me copies of The Jack Daniels Sessions EP about two days before the release. Maybe the day before. I'd been planning the party itself for about a month. When doing any kind of event, I find it best to overdo things instead of underdo them, and I went all out with this one.
Rule #1 in organizing readings: gather together your friends and have a good time. Don't worry about who the hotshot writer is. For the book release at Artist Image Resource, I recruited a lot of old friends, which made it special for me.
The other readers were Bill Kirchener and Maddy Barnes. I've known Bill since I was a little boy. I was a camper at the University of Pittsburgh's Young Writers Institute; he was a graduate student at the time. This would have been the mid-90s. Later on I had Bill for Introduction to Fiction Writing. He's a good guy, extremely laidback and sardonic, has always been supportive of my writing, and is by far the longest relationship I've had with another writer. Madeleine Barnes is a young Pittsburgh poet who I'm pretty sure was 19 at the time. I knew her through my Cyberpunk housemate Di-Ay, who attended Carnegie Mellon with her, and we'd done an awesome house reading together a few months before. One of the cool things about Di-Ay is she knows so many amazing artists. Through hanging with her I met a ton of writers I wouldn't have met otherwise.
Anyway, Madeleine Barnes. I wish I had half of her skill at that age. Maddy's won a shelf full of awards, has been published everywhere, and I am intensely jealous of her. I like doing readings with her because I look more impressive through association.
I'm about to discuss party preparations. Feel free to play some 80s montage music. Preferably "Heart on Fire" from Rocky IV.
The party had DJs. All three of them were folks I cooked Food Not Bombs with back in the day. Sean MC spun jazz and funk music as people came in, and DJ Sideboob was more hip-hop, and DJ Sara Vicious was kind enough to play whatever I requested. That meant blasting Nightwish and Blind Guardian as people were leaving. They all played for free, which I appreciate.
My contact person at AIR was Jenn, an awesome graphic artist and fellow Food Not Bomber and all around lovely person. She's since gone off to graphic design school. AIR has always had a close relationship with Cyberpunk Apocalypse, hosting visiting writer events, and the anniversary party, and a few of Art Noose's zine releases. Naturally, it seemed the place to do my launch.
I also made a flier. I'd been trying my hand at fliers, and designed a few for different readings. Thankfully, I had a friend at Pitt who would let me use their computer account to do such things. This led to encounters with several ex-classmates at the Hillman Library, who would small-talk with me about their wives and whatnot, and ask me how my grad studies at Pitt were going, to which I would say, "Wonderful. Yeah, yeah, still doing English. Definitely." Anyway, for this flier, I took my cue from old rock'n'roll show posters, the kind you'd see to advertise Otis Redding or the Ike Turner Revue. To prove I was serious, I got all Kinko'd out and made color copies. Only the most serious people use color.
Pittsburgh's an interesting place for me because it's a place of habit. I have certain habits that I've maintained for ten years, like using the guest login computers at CMU, or eating at the food trucks there, or going dancing at Belveder's, or coffee at Kiva Han. Fifteen-year-old habits, like joyriding around Monroeville. Twenty-year-old habits, like Eat'N'Park or going through the comic books at my dad's place. The city changes, but the habits don't. If I went back today I'd probably find some reason to sit my ancient ass in Hillman or the Cathedral of Learning, because I can't imagine not visiting.
There was food at my party. Maybe more than was necessary. A few weeks prior, I won a Residence Employee of the Month at Job Corps, where I was a residential adviser on the dorms. Gift card to Red Lobster, the Olive Garden, or any affilliated chain. Seeing this for the blessing it was, I promptly got both seafood and Italian food. I wanted to go down in history as the guy who had seafood at his book launch, and, by god, I did it. Immediately put that fish on ice. As I got closer to the launch I realized I should have bought the fish and shrimp a day earlier, as now I'd have to reheat it and all of the initail flavor was probably gone. Shows what I know about about the culinary arts.
I ordered a cake from Giant Eagle with the name of the book on it. I wanted a dragon on the cake, and they told me the best they could do was a decorative toy from a then-current kids' movie about training dragons, so I just asked for the book's title in Jack Daniels colors. The lady at the cake counter found this amusing. Art Noose made some cupcakes, and Madeleine brought some cookies. Right before the reading, I bought a case of beer. Fearing that wasn't enough, I bought another case. Ultimately, that meant Pabst for breakfast at the Cyberpunk Apocalypse for the next two weeks. Got some wine. Beer and wine. I'm pretty sure there was a lot of other food, seeing as I was the guy who had to clean it all up at the end of the night. On that sunny summer day I loaded up the car, picked up Maddy from her apartment, and drove to the Northside in the Crown Vic. Oh, and I brought a typewriter for decoration.
One thing that came up between Maddy and I: Alanis Morrisette. I was blasting a recently-discovered cassette of Jagged Little Pill. Maddy said she loved the record, which surprised me, as it was a little before her time. She was more of the Jonas Brothers generation. She couldn't stand Morrisette's newer stuff.
Definitely the most emotional reading I've had. A lot of old friends (and new ones) came by. My editors were there, and Rachel Dorrett stopped by to pick up a copy of our book. Bill and Maddy teamed up to read "Dead Teenagers," which was all kinds of cool. All you writers: hearing your friends read your work at a book launch is the coolest thing that will ever happen to you. Pulitzer be damned. I loved how Bill stumbled over the word "prep," a high school term that grown men are just not used to saying. After the break, I read a little bit from "When the Law Come." Seemed like everyone was getting restless, so I bid them a good night. Cleaned up. Went to 80s Nite at Belvedere's.
Dan handled the door. I've always been reticent to charge for readings I do, and it's totally the fear that people won't come. Usually I pass a tip jar and split the money with the readers. The book launch was one of the few times I charged a cover, as I was trying to raise funds for tour. I can say that I've since gotten over the no-charging thing. Last year, during the IWL workshop, Brenda Wong Aoki told me something that still sticks with me: "As artists, we're used to thinking that our talents don't have meaning, and we need to get out of this thinking. It's a trade like any other. You should be compensated for it." Writing is a trade, a skill that I've mastered, and there's no problem charging a fee if you have something worth paying for. But back in those days, I was a tip jar kind of guy.
Highlight of the night (you know, other than my first book): Sean MC playing the Tetsuo theme from Akira on vinyl, and then scratching during the "Daaaaaa!" part. Just magic.
The darkness you find
In the back of your mind
I wish you could design book covers like old-school metal album covers. Now that I think about it, you can. Look at any first-print Clive Barker book. Pretty metal. But I digress. How awesome would it be to have Nightmarelands! by Elwin Cotman, and a picture of Satan standing at the mysteriously Gothic window of a little boy's room, while demons crawl out from under the bed and an absinthe fairy goads them on. It would tell the reader exactly what they're getting into, wouldn't it?
At this point I knew of Dio's contribution to metal, and had even seen him play with Sabbath two years prior (along with Motorhead! And Priest!). Guy was a hell of an entertainer and had one of the best voices in rock. Of course I'd heard "Holy Diver" and "Rainbow in the Dark," those monuments of Eighties cheese. Until Dan's friend Chris Coworker (they called him this to differentiate him from Chris Neighbor who lived up the street) loaned us Dream Evil, I'd never heard a Dio album start to finish.
Eighties metal is interesting in that it is both heavily literate (a remnant of prog rock) yet unselfconscious in the way it explores literature and myth. I read an article recently about how Iron Maiden is unique in taking dark subject matter and turning it to enjoyable anthems. It's complete theatre for them. Dio is different in that he takes it seriously. I think you're average 21st century metal bands know the ridiculousness inherent in the genre, but you would not say such a thing to Dio. He's working in the classical tradition here, supplying straightforward bombast. Wagner would be proud. From the first guitar lick, you are in Dio's world of demons, nightmares, and rainbows.
Dan and I listened to Dream Evil on the drive from Baltimore to Philly. We had spent the night at a friend of mine's, a coworker from my grad-school-at-College Park days. I caught up not only with her but with a friend from Pitt, as well. Over Indian food and wine, we discussed our lives, and the conversation got pretty heavy. I was in an introspective mood when we departed. It was a soggy day that would turn intolerably rainy, not much scenery besides nondescript trees. Eventually, Dan and I tired of listening to Phantom of the Opera, so Dio it was.
Dream Evil doesn't seem to be too famous among metal fans, other than being the namesake of a particular band. There's a reason why Dio is legend. Guy could sing. Lots to love on this album, a quick, no-frills LP that had me picturing long-haired teens in Sabbath shirts rocking out in a basement, geeking out over the album artwork. Oh, Dio.
"Night People" is just a great rocker to start off the album. "When A Woman Cries" is as ridiculous as it is enjoyable, and I'm not sure if the "Ah-aaaaah" noise Dio makes is what a woman crying actually sounds like. "All the Fools Sailed Away" is the obligatory 5+ minutes epic song. Pretty enough, but I get sort of lost in all the sonic noises toward the end. "Sunset Superman" is a fist-pumping anthem of metal sexual virility. "Faces in the Window" and "Dream Evil" are more baroque tales of darkness.
Dio sings all these songs with absolute passion, and the lyrics are typically unpretentious. Personal favorite: "I Could Have Been A Dreamer." This is the Eighties-est of all the songs, with keyboards forming the spine of it. It's about missing your destiny and becoming just "another number." I think we all can relate. Did I mention the lyrics are ridiculous? Gloriously so. Dan and I were especially fond of this classic:
Running with the wolfpack
Feel like I'm never coming back
But maybe that was sunshine
That I saw
I heard about a rainbow
I HEARD IT MAKES YA CRAZY
I THINK I'M GOING CRAZY!
He does not say "this rainbow" or "that rainbow." He implies that he's learned of the concepts of rainbows, being the ecological result of light refracting off water molecules in the air, and that they cause mental defect. Of all the natural wonders, the fact that he chose rainbows is awesome.
Dan and I pulled over to a rest stop. I'm not sure if we needed to pee or if we needed time to digest Dio's words.
I love you, Dio.
Jagged Little Pill
Our next stop was Philly. Dan and I, while friends, do not always see eye to eye. And not just because he's incredibly tall and I'm a halfling. He's more business-like, while I have an intrinsic goofiness. He's a pragmatist, I lose sight of reality sometimes. He's more about the art, I'm more into politics. He's very stubborn and outgoing. I like it that way. I respect a man who will tell me to my face that he disagrees with me, as Dan has done several times during our 5+ years of living and working together.
A compromise I made before the trip: I wanted to do two shows in Philly. A friend of mine's husband ran an art space, and we were talking about doing some kind of event, maybe with another poet or a musician. Dan said it would be redundant to do another Philly show besides our reading at the Wooden Shoe infoshop. I personally believe that it's fine to do more than one date in the same city, if these dates are geared to different audiences. An infoshop and an art space don't attract the same people. If anything, you maximize your efforts by readings to different audiences, IMO. But I didn't want to fight over it, so we did one Philly date.
The Wooden Shoe is located in what I can only conclude is the "hip" area of Philly. Very nice infoshop. We killed time eating cheesesteaks and perusing a comic book shop. We played a round of Street Fighter in which I button-mashed my way to victory. Also read the graphic novel of Warren Ellis' No Hero. I'm not usually freaked out by gore, but Juan Jose Ryp's illustrations are so detailed that, well, they scare the crap out of me. I haven't read that comic since.
Only two people showed up for the reading. I'm sure both of them were friends with my mom. Understandable. The torrential rain killed our chances. That was when I realized the importance of having a friendly venue. Not every reading will be awesome. In Baltimore it seemed like nobody would show up, but they did. In Philly it seemed like nobody would show up...and nobody showed up. But the staff at Wooden Shoe were very nice, and listened attentively, and gave us great feedback on "A Film About Billy" and "Assistant." One of the volunteers was a good friend of mine from DC Food Not Bombs who I had known for a long time, and she was a sophomore in college, and I was a 26-year-old social worker, and I had to make the mental connection that after all those years I had grown old and she hadn't. Anyway, she's an absolute sweetheart.
The best event organizers will do craploads of advertising, maybe even get local readers on the bill to attract people. Even then, there's no guarantee the event won't get rained out, or Kimya Dawson won't be playing somewhere that night, or whatever. I just enjoy reading. If my audience is comprised of awesome staffers, all the better. Dan and I were supposed to crash with a friend of his, who couldn't come to the reading because he was playing a capture the flag game, and I guess he got lost while playing it, because he never got back to Dan. Cue exhausted nighttime drive to Emmaus, PA. The DC-Baltimore-Philly leg of the trip was my "family reunion" part of tour. Our next stop was Dan's family reunion. Literally.
As I recall, we listened to Alanis Morrisette and Korn's self-titled debut on the way over. I got the Korn tape during high school, and I'll talk about it some other time. Jagged Little Pill belonged to my jagged little sister in elementary school. I'd fished it out from behind the back seat of my dad's station wagon during a shift at Job Corps. Everything that can be said about Alanis has already been said, but I'll make an attempt.
The third album by Alanis Morrisette (or "Annisette Morrissey," as my dad thought her name was back in the '90s) was a breakthrough album for many of my contemporaries, in transitioning from our parents' Simon & Garfunkle records to whatever we'd end up listening to. One thing I notice right at the start, on "What I Really Want": Alanis is not a great vocalist. Apparently inspired by her break-up with Dave "Least funny guy on the planet" Coulier, the pop princess completely reinvented herself as a snarling singer-songwriter, but her singing is still one step above Debbie Gibson. I've never heard the word "justice" shrieked in such an ear-bleeding way. I've been listening to The Gathering lately, and the control Anneke van Giersbergen has over her voice is amazing, illustrating just how uncontrolled so many others in that 1990s Shrieky Folky Indie-Rock Woman genre were. Alanis is no exception.
What it all comes down to, my friends, is that the vocals are just fine, fine, fine. This is because Alanis knows harmony. Songs like "Mary Jane" and "Not the Doctor" are infinitely singable, and that she spends half the time howling only makes them more fun to sing. Her unpolished voice actually adds to the feeling of vulnerability on the record. What I like is that the songs are all unique. Alanis sings and screams and growls and moans and wheezes, and tackles a range of personal subjects. She's as willing to take the optimistic "you learn" approach to life as she is to delve into depression.
Alanis gets a lot of credit as a songwriter, and it's deserved, but she's also great at composition. The jilted lover anthem "You Oughtta Know" starts out with percussion, then ramps up the guitar work with each verse until the chrous. There is no fancy instrumentation, it's all pretty restrained, but effective in conveying her anger. Listen to the next track, "Perfect." The quiet singing and instrumentation breaks at just the right moment into a sing-screaming section that feels liberating after the calm.
Of course, the lyrics carry the album. "Head Over Feet" is pretty much a perfect love song. "Forgiven" has some pretty dark storytelling to go with the impassioned vocals. "We sing hallelujah in the choir/I confess my darkest deeds to an envious man." God, fuck Catholic school. The desperation in the song perfectly evokes the feeling of being in that system. "If I jump in this fountain/Will I be forgiven?" She's a master of imagery. The idea of feeling so dirty that you need a fountain of holy water to wash your adolescent sins...My god. I find it a bit unfair that JLP gets classified as a "breakup" album, when there's only two breakup songs on it, and they're lyrically different.
There's no filler. No transitions, no crap, every piece is worked to perfection. That said, I can't listen to "Ironic." It's not a bad song. Far from it. I've just heard it too many times. It's jarring, as I can listen to the whole album straight, feeling that fire in my chest as "Mary Jane" ramps up, then the opening moans of "Ironic" dropkick me into boredom. Also, I feel the subject matter is the least compelling on the record.
Thankfully, things pick right back up. "Not the Doctor" was my favorite track for a long time, until recently I fell in love with the next one, "Wake Up." Alanis takes the concept of moral cowardice and makes it epic. The music starts off sinister and by the end you're in a sonic maelstrom. "You like snow but only if it's warm/You like rain but only if it's dry." This song can speak to everybody because we've all had those moments where we take the easy road. Imagine listening to "Wake Up" while driving on a flat highway. The sun is setting before you, muted fireworks of yellow and purple and pink. "What goes around never comes around to you." Imagine the windows are down. "Get up, get up, get up off of it." This is a confrontation song; a weary, winter song. With so little space left on the album, she wants to get out her definitive message before it's all over.
"And wake up."
Such storytelling. And speaking of storytelling, the bonus track. The idea of a woman going into her lover's house without permission, in order to get the sensation of being close to them, can be seen as romantic or creepy, depending on who you are. That ambiguity is what makes her music so good.
I burned your incense
I ran a bath
I noticed a letter that sat on your desk
It said "Hello love, I love you so love, meet me at midnight"
At this point I'm thinking, "Aww, he knew she would sneak in and left a note for her. What a nice twist." Then I'm thinking, "What if the letter's not for her?" Then,
It wasn't my writing!
Gut punch. Alanis finishes up the song, and the album, on a note of total sorrow. This is the cassette, so I don't have the alternate take of "You Oughtta Know." We blasted Alannis a few times on the trip, up until we touched down in Bloomington, and I was pretty sure Dan was sick of her.
I believe it was during the rainy trip to Kutztown that I first heard "All You Zombies" by the Hooters. I don't know whose read my story "Graveyard Shift," but that's the unofiicial theme song.
Kutztown was Dan's triumphant rock star return. We parked at his parents' handsome three-story house, took a walk up the street to the university. Dan knew everybody in the English department. If walking through Oakland is like a Super Mario game, walking through Kutztown is like the most intense Mario game--like, Super Mario World--with frat boys hurling water balloons from balconies like those annoying Lakitus hurling spiked turtles from clouds. As you get farther from the university it gets better, but around the school it's bro central.
But let's backtrack. Kutztown was having some type of festival, and seeing all the vendors and students on the small campus lawn was a pleasant greeting. Dan's dad, a longtime art professor, informed us that he'd put up several of our posters. Everyone thought the poster said "Eleven's Laughter." How dare they not understand my made-up word. It was pretty interesting to take a walk through Dan's past. To meet his family and friends. To bike the eastern Pennsylvania farmland on Dan's bike. He's a lucky guy getting to grow up in such a place. As he got a glimpse into my life, I got a glimpse into his. His family are all artists. I find the idea of an art legacy to be super cool.
In order to save gas, Dan's mom drove us to our reading in Emmaus. His friend Kyle runs a bookstore there, and was very hospitable. It was an intimate affair, the audience sitting crosslegged, all fireside-like. Emmaus was the only tour stop where I read "Dead Teenagers." There were some musical cues I wanted to try out, and Dan ably did the DJ work, clicking Youtube videos whenever certain parts came up. The part with Korn's "Falling Away from Me" at the end worked best. It's a blast to read, but I generally stayed away from "Dead Teenagers" because, thematically, it was too similar to Dan's story. Informal Q&A afterward.
Dan's mom: "Why do you both write so much about death?"
Dan pulled a quote from The Fall of Western Civilization, saying that when you talk about death you're really talking about life. I'm of the opinion that ALL writing is about death, because life is defined by its fleetingness. People spend their whole lives trying to cheat death, whether by raising children or joining religions that promise afterlives or various other things; it natural. With art, you either address it implicitly or explicitly, but it's always there.
Dan was good at scheduling pit stops. There was a release party/open mic for Kutztown's new lit mag. Another difference between me and Dan is he's naturally outgoing. He read at the open mic, I was too shy. I had no problem yelling and dancing my stories in a controlled environment, but spontaneity just wasn't (and isn't) my thing. It was a nice event in a pretty atrium, and the magazine was one of the more impressive-looking journals I'd seen. Being in that atmosphere made me feel good about my decision to return to school.
That Dan sold books at a college reading was impressive. I've suffised with the fact that I am only comfortable advertising onstage. I know I'm a good writer. It's just hard for me to self-promote; I always feel like I'm inconveniencing people by shoving my work in their face. I had a workshop instructor tell me that you will never get anywhere by being quiet and unassuming, that you have to yell to get people's attention in our ADD world. This was right before she had a meltdown in class, so take it for what it's worth.
We stayed with Dan's parents for what felt like a week, but was more like three days and three nights. Lovely people. They sent us off to New York City with some cash and snacks.
The Lost Boys
After our reading in Cleveland that no one showed up to I had a panic attack. Thought I was dying. After a while I had Dan pull over at a gas stop, where I found a familiar sedative: a 40 ounce of malt liquor. That calmed me down. It was one of those obscure brands that only seem to materialize on the shelves of Ohio truck stops. It's amazing how much of America is still rural, unmodern. Athens, Ohio, is full of farms and woodlands, and old bridges over creeks. The gas stations have those old-fashioned mechanical pumps that look like something from the '50s. I used to drive through southern Ohio all the time to staff anime conventions, and the feel of antiquity would put me in a dreamy mood. By the time I got to the actual convention, I was ready to indulge in fantasy.
I'll discuss Athens in another post. It was one of the Dan readings, scheduled by him, where we stayed with his friends. Dan is an interesting writer in the way he works with his influences. A Film About Billy is a strange piece, half-text, half-comic, addressing the personal through the lens of dystopic science fiction. Pretty interesting. I believe right now he's doing some anime-based work. For the Elvenslaughter, Dan was selling a zine he made about the origins and writing of his book. He was projecting images from the comic while reading the text parts. Another plus to touring with him was having the cover artist on-hand to take the accolades for his work. To this day, people always compliment me on the cover.
I'm pretty sure Dan was also selling the new issue of the Cyberpunk Apocalypse zine, the G20-themed issue that the editor was late on (G20 took place in '09). A fascinating time capsule. It had some political theory articles, and an article about how the cops raided Cyberpunk, part of their Keystone Cops-esque attempt to squash anarchy prior to the summit. Obama's crass exploitation of Pittsburgh's economic recovery had longterm effects, particularly for my friends who got arrested. And I'll never forget the sight of the Towers covered in tear gas, or the cops posing for photo ops over their arrestees. It's a scary country.
The G20 issue was, like, seven months late. I made a few cracks about its timeliness. It had a beautiful stencil cover. Dan told me that next issue would be his rap album. It would have him spitting against all his haters and include skits of him having gunfights with people calling him a "smelly motherfucker." I don't know if that ever came to fruition. Cyberpunk Apocalypse #3 was where I first published "Graveyard Shift." It was originally commissioned as liner notes for the Baby Killer Estelle album Awaken Necropolis, an album which was at that point stuck in limbo, so I ended up publishing a condensed version first. It's crazy to think I was hawking "Graveyard Shift" on that tour. It's Dan's personal favorite Elwin Cotman story.
I was on a book tour. Dan was on a book/music/tattoo tour. One way he supplemented income was testing out his new tattoo gun. Pretty sure he did a few in Columbus. I was onhand when he gave a friend a tattoo of the Pittsburgh Steelers insignia. That was the first of a few, that night. I distinctly remember, in my inebriated sleep, hearing the sounds of the drunk punks using the gun.
Punk: "Hey! IS IT SUPPOSED TO LOOK LIKE THAT?"
This was around the doldrums part of the tour. Buffalo and Cleveland were duds as far as sales and attendance. Dan wasn't selling as much merch as he would have liked, and was getting pretty worried, and I'd sold the bulk of my books during the first few stops. I offered to cover Dan's end of the gas, since I was making more money at the time, while secretly I wondered if this whole tour thing was going to work out. I asked Six Gallery if they could mail more books to a location on tour, say Dan's sister's place in Chicago. They told me to sell the books on receipt, and they'd handle mailing them after tour. Left with no options, that was what I did for the last four or five stops.
Around Columbus it was time to re-up on the tunes. I got a copy of The Lost Boys soundtrack, among other cassettes. Columbus is a screamingly drunk college town with a pretty campus library. I was listening to Phantom of the Opera at the time, and could imagine Eric running around in those shelves. While I was walking around campus or something, Dan got on the bill for a folk show. So, you can imagine my surprise when, the day we left Columbus, it turned out we'd acquired hitchhikers.
The girl was named Leaf. She was a very talented singer, and quite pretty. She liked that we had Phantom of the Opera. I forget her boyfriend's name, but he was cool, too. They were oogles. As the landscape got flatter, the guy oogle told us the finer points of shoplifting while traveling: going to the local chamber of commerce in any new town, finding the stores to mark, renting out a locker to store stolen goods. He was about 30, and this was his life.
A cop trailed us for a fucking mile. I slowed down to an obnoxiously low speed yet, for some reaon, he took his time putting on the lights. I am a working-class black man. I have no misunderstanding of who the cops are or what their purpose is, especially since I've been getting shit from them since I was ten years old. As such, I have the same mistrust for them I would have for anybody who hates me, and has the ability, directive, and desire to kill me. So, anyway, Officer Hayseed eventually pulls us over.
"You were going way below the speed limit," says this fat fuck. "Why is that?"
"That's because you were behind me," I say.
We produce IDs and he runs them. He asks me to go by his cruiser. We're on the edge of a corn field.
"Get in the car, please."
Since when do they ask you to get in the car? Does this guy want to rape me? I don't know. I get halfway in the car, and explain to him I don't want to get all the way in, because this whole situation is weird.
"What have you been drinking?"
"I don't smell alcohol on your breath?"
"No, you don't." Moron.
He wrote me a citation for driving too slow or something. Pulling over hippies in station wagons like it's still the Flower Power days or something. Any-fucking-way. Welcome to Indiana.
The oogles were pretty mad about getting harassed. I explained to them that it's something I've grown used to. That doesn't make it less scary, as these guys could certainly shoot me for wearing Nikes, or trying to get in my own house, or having the gall to write books. But I've been stopped by police so many times that I'm pretty clear on the protocol. Leaf told me she was sorry that's happened to me.
Already, our trip to Indiana was off to an auspicious start. People talk about how horrible the South is. When I go down South, all I see are black people everywhere. In Indiana I was the only person of color in sight and, frankly, it was scary. We dropped the oogles off at a friend's house, and Leaf spotted us some gas.
I asked Dan why so many Pittsburgh radicals loved this particular DJ friend of his. By all accounts, all she did was DJ and go to parties and do nothing political, yet had this giant cult of personality around her. I found it slightly obnoxious. Dan explained to me that the parties she held were often benefits, lately for G20 arrestees. I stood corrected.
So, The Lost Boys. I have always loved the movie, which is way better than it has to be. A hip movie that's actually hip, a horror movie that's actually scary, a movie stuffed with teen idols that's actually sexy. It's also the greatest demonstration of the late Corey Haim's squandered talent. That a kid that young was so funny and charming, while rocking that absurd wardrobe, is one of a kind. The parts where he's hanging out with the Frog Brothers seem like Goonies outtakes, and are fun for that same reason. I watched the movie recently, and was astounded by how genuinely scary it is.The part where the Lost Boys reveal their vampirism was shocking. There's a part in there where Keifer Sutherland bites into a skinhead's bald dome, issuing a geyser of blood right from his brain. Crazy.
It's also got some genuine pathos. The best thing a horror movie can do is make me care about the characters. There is a heartbreaking scene where Michael discovers his vampiric power of flying, and is absolutey terrified. Sam is terrified, too, thinking his brother's going to eat him. He tries to call his mom, but hangs up when he sees how scared Michael is, clinging helplessly to the window so he doesn't go flying off. This leads to a beautiful moment of brotherly love between the two. There is only one Lost Boys. I don't care how many shitty sequels Corey Feldman signs on for.
I hear the soundtrack in my head every time I go to Santa Cruz. (By the way, why did the movie refer to it as Santa Carla? It's obviously Santa Cruz). "Cryyyyy, little sister" is permanently embedded in my wiring. The soundtrack is way better than it has to be, an '80s time machine. When watching the movie I always noticed the background songs, and have owned the OST in varying cassette and CD forms. They run the '80s song gamut, between moody despair and synth-heavy self-affirmation. To add to the glory, it has not one, but two INXS songs. They both fall into the self-affirmation category. (For more INXS soundtracky goodness, check out "Do Wot You Do" off Pretty in Pink.)
I was never a huge fan of The Doors. There are individual songs I like, even love, but I attribute them almost entirely to the instrumentation. Echo and the Bunnymen's cover of "People are Strange" was the first version I heard, and still my favorite because it doesn't sound like it's being sung by somebody drunk off his gourd. This is the first of many covers on the album. It makes sense with the film; the teens in this movie are obsessed with pop culture, from the comic books the Frog Brothers read to the Jim Morrison shrine in the Lost Boys' lair, so it works that the OST is as referential as a teenager. "Beauty Has Her Way" by Mummy Calls is just a cool, smooth-as-ice synth ballad, and the singer has a syrupy English accent I dig.
INXS and Jimmy Barnes deliver a double whammy. "Good Times" is a straightforward rocker with some solid guitar work from Kirk Pengilly. Michael's trademark crone goes well with barnes' screaming man-voice. I prefer New Wave INXS, but it's always cool to hear them indulge their rocker side. "Laying Down the Law." Michael's laidback crooning sounds like improv, like he downed a scotch and is off in his own groove, shouting "listen!" over the saxophone like he's singing at a pub. "There's no need to tell you what I think is going wrong / Those gray clouds of dissention/ They show, they show a silver linin'." INXS is maybe my favorite band. I would rank Queen higher as far as talent, but acknowledge that they made some terrible songs. "Hammer to Fall," anyone? I have never heard a single INXS song that I haven't appreciated on some level.
Gotta love those fist-pumping anthems. "Say Hello To the Night" makes my flowing locks grow out, makes a mountain appear under my feet, tears my shirt off so I can yell to the heavens "I can't wait! I'm feelin' light in the shadows!" And yeah, things are hopeless with all this night and shadow creeping up, but ya gotta scream: "I keep movin' on til the darkest hour makes me want to drive these wings, yay-eah, yeah!"
Repeat after me: "Cryyyy, little sister!" Now do your own backup vocals: "Thou shalt not fallll." The song sticks to you. It starts off with that ominous drum machine, then the synth, and my mind is conjuring images of storm-tossed waters. The lyrics, with their incest overtones, actually make you sit up and listen. "I Still Believe." You remember the movie. The characters attend a concert where an oiled-up mullet-wearing barbarian is wielding his sax like a sword, like a mace, like a giant penis. The power of his sexual force is so great he's got metalheads headbanging to the saxophone. The song is pure self-affirmation, a roaring challenge to the darkness of this world. Tim Capello's version is very similar to the original 1974 song by The Call, but that version did not have sex-ophone. He's making love to that sax. He starts out teasing it, rubbing it. As the song goes on he's working it harder. By the end it's a full-blown explosion of ecstacy right into his sax, and now I want to shake my ass in purple spandex. On of my favorite songs ever, and not just because of the image of chains and spandex burned in my brain.
Daltrey's "Don't Let the Sun Go Down on Me" is, theoretically, cool, because it's a legend covering another legend. I just find it too bombastic, with all the Styx-like soaring synth and backing vocals and god knows what else. "Power Play," which has a title as energizing as "I Still Believe," is in fact a mellow love song with a great melody. "Take a chill pill, baby/Relax, go downstream." Lyrics, schmyrics. I can't get enough of jazzy '80s songs like this. They just chill me out. Leaf was digging them, too.
People complain about the record industry pushing artists to appear on soundtracks, like the recent feeding frenzy to get artists in the Twilight movies. Guess what? It was always like that. Not every OST is a cool mix tape like Pulp Fiction. But a savvy filmmaker (I am reticent to call Joel Schumacher good) will look at the options, choose the best ones, and incorporate them skillfully into the movie. These songs are just as important to the film as any other aspect, which is why I remember them.
Bloomington, IN is a pretty famous punk town, which was how it got on my radar. We read at Boxcar Books. A lovely woman named Genevieve organized the event, and read with us, as well. She also arranged for Tony Brewer and Matt Jackson of the Reservoir Dogwoods to read. The Reservoir Dogwoods are just brilliant, old-school poets who did some neat collaborative stuff. One thing I found interesting was their dedication to building a Midwestern brand of spoken word. On their own admission, they are not urban; the themes and inflections of hip-hop spoken word don't work for them. Tony Brewer and Matthew Jackson. So they do memorized poems in their own way. That tells you nothing. Check out their website.
Prettyy good turnout. Our new oogle friends showed up. Even better, it rained which means we had a captive audience. Dan did his zine, I read excerpts from "When the Law Come." After a while (neither of us had GPS) we located Genevieve's house in the suburbs. She'd spent most of her career teaching the disabled, and had recently gotten into writing and volunteering at the infoshop. She made us dinner and gave us wine. Leaf invited us to an oogle party, so that was where we went, listening to Dio on the way.
Do you like the dark?
Do you love the way it moves?
Do you come alive when neon kills the sun?
Yes, Mr. Dio. As a matter of fact, I do.
Crummy house in the middle of nowhere, with several crusty kids in the middle of an eternal party. I don't think I did much besides drink vodka out the bottle. Dan did a tattoo on Leaf's boyfriend's gums. Like, the meat behind his bottom lip. It didn't stick. I didn't even know a tattoo could wash off, but apparently the gums will do it.
In the morning, Bloomington looked more like a giant market than a town. All sorts of cozy stores and stores, a relaxing drive through the woods. Dan stopped by Microcosm Press to get distro for the zine. I have never seen that many zines in one place before, including at zine fairs. I went to the Salvation Army to try and find new cassettes. A lot of gospel. Not much else. I found some Wagner and considered myself successful.
Around the time we went on tour, Sonata Arctica put out their latest album, Days of Gray. This is a band that snuck up on me. I always thought them basically as Nightwish's little sister. Every once in a while I'd find a song of theirs on Youtube, then blast it twenty times in a row until it was permanently burned into my cortex. I also saw them when they were opening for Nightwish, but Annette Olzen got sick, so I ended up seeing Sonata Arctica for free. Such a fun live band, and all their music is so passionate. Slowly but surely, they became one of my favorites. They don't have a single bad album, and they still experiment with their songs. Every chance I got on tour to sit at a computer, I put on "In the Dark," the Japanese bonus song off Days of Gray. This band is an addiction.
On to Chicago. We stopped at a rest area, where, to my dismay, I saw The Lost Boys was warped and melted. Death by stereo?
Nope. Killed by the sun. just like a vampire.
Next: Korn, Wagner, The Beatles