Cue The Devilish Laughter.

And so, as I type this, we’re nine minutes into Halloween:

I went out to Bushwick tonight and sat for my friend Todd, who’s painting a portrait of me. He’s been petitioning friends to model for him, and I assented; actually it’s kind of enjoyable. Meditative. It’s not the most flattering portrait–he’s a real artist after all, not out to win me over via my vanity. But. He makes me a cheeseburger every session, and he has a way with cheeseburgers.
He dusts the cheeseburgers with an essence he got out of an Emeril cookbook. The essence is spectacular. I went to a bookstore last week, got the book off the shelf and covertly wrote the recipe for the essence in my notebook.
I came back on the L train. The Halloweeners started coming on in a trickle with each stop: the first, a Frida Kahlo, got on at Jefferson Street. A Steve Martin, with banjo, hair spray-painted silver, white suit, got on at Montrose Avenue. At Grand, there were a few more, and double that at Graham. By the Bedford stop the train was packed with costumed partiers.
It made me feel lonely. I don’t think I’ve worn a Halloween costume since I was a kid; you’d think I’d give it a shot, the way I look at them and feel a sense of yearning. At some point between Montrose and Grand, the Frida Kahlo looked over at the Steve Martin with a warm smirk. I wished I was a part of that.
I got off at First Avenue and walked downtown; there were revelers all over the place. The streets were really packed.
A fight broke out among a bunch of boys. I walked right into them. One tackled the other. One of them stomped off in a huff. They stood there, two cliques of friends (I couldn’t tell who was with whom), yelling at each other: WHY THE FUCK DID YOU TACKLE HIM?! FUCK YOU, WHY DID YOU HIT ME?! IT’S NOT YOUR FUCKING FIGHT, WHY THE FUCK DID YOU THROW THAT PUNCH?! They jabbed their fingers at each other.
One of them had had his shirt ripped off, and he stood there shirtless, with a big dirty pavement-mark on his back. They all seemed to have tears in their eyes, though nobody was weeping, just jacked-up to an emotional extreme. It occurred to me that maybe these boys jump into fights to access just the most modest hint of real feelings.
I may go to the Halloween parade tomorrow, and bring the camera. Although it will no doubt further this sense of melancholy.
Let me end this entry, in honor of the holiday, with my favorite Edward Gorey limerick:
A dreary young bank clerk named Fennis
Wished to foster an aura of menace.
To make people afraid,
He wore gloves of grey suede
And white footgear intended for tennis.

(That would actually make a good costume for me, wouldn’t it? I might have to xerox the limerick and tape it to my chest to make it look like a costume at all. Kind of like the Frankenstein costume I wore in kindergarten, which my Mom bought at Wal Mart–the prototypical 1970’s store-bought kid’s costume: a cheapo mask and a kind of plastic smock with a picture of Frankenstein on it. I was all like, What the hey?!)
Happy Halloween, everybody.

‘El Plan de Bush.’

“Spanish-language stations in Miami also jangle with clashing messages…

“…A Kerry commercial about ‘el plan de Bush’ says millions of people have lost their financial aid for higher education. A Bush one says Mr. Kerry will raise taxes. Mr. Bush delivers his ‘I approved this message’ tagline in Spanish, but the commercials that showed Mr. Kerry speaking good, if plodding, Spanish were not being shown much if at all this week.”

‘….With Technicolor Haloes of the Usual Around Them.’

At this precise moment, I’m optimistic about Kerry taking it. But. Even hearing mention of the Election makes my heart race. Anxiety.

Doug Schulkind, the WFMU Friday morning DJ, is cracking me up with black humor: “If you’re voting for the right guy, I would like to encourage you to vote. If you’re voting for the wrong guy, I would like to ask politely that you stay home on election day.”
I saw the Eminem video on ABC news last night–it’s amazing how galvanized previously apolitical artists are. Howard Stern’s site is nothing but anti-Bush links! Incredible.
I’ve been thinking about a lyric in that song I did for the Future Soundtrack compilation: “I can feel a change is coming on/Bloom like a flower in bluest night/Bloom like the sunlight in my song.”
I thought: what a sad bust that lyric may be on November 3rd. But then it occurred to me: There’s going to be a change, no matter what.
It may be 1968 all over again. Artistically, socially–there’ll be a tremendous groundswell of consciousness. Thank God, the Paris Hilton era may be done.
But then. I’ll take Paris Hilton and lipsynching teen idols over however many thousands of lives lost in Iraq. Any day. ANY day.

More on Shahzad.

While I was touring with Shahzad in June, there were innumerable times that he would walk into, say, a Subway in South Dakota barefoot, playing a Steinberger guitar–one of those little black 80’s guitars without a body or a headstock–as he ordered his sandwich.

He has a certain guilelessness in this behavior. Often after soundchecks, he’d wander around whatever town we were in, playing a banjo. And after a gig in Milwaukee, he went to a Monday night open mic, horned his way onto the performers’ list, and did Tom Waits’ “In The Colosseum” in a burly, mock Tom Waits voice.
I was talking on the phone with Jonathan Maron; he plays bass in the Groove Collective. He cowrote “Down On The River By The Sugar Plant” with me, and is an old school friend. We both met Shahzad at Simon’s Rock–we were on our way out of there as he was an incoming student.
He said that a while back he saw Shahzad for the first time in years; he was onstage at Wetlands, and he looked out at the crowd and saw a South Asian guy, taller than anybody standing around him, playing guitar soundlessly in the middle of the club.
He bumped into him recently, and Shahzad reminded him of this. “I almost didn’t remember it,” said Jonathan. “It was such a strange image–it was as if I filed it with my dreams.”

Ship ‘Em Back To Personnel.

I did a guest spot with Galactic last night, at Irving Plaza.

We did “Move On,” “Circles,” and a tune we wrote at a soundcheck in Memphis, “People Are Bad.” I wrote lyrics to their melody–they are, in their entirety:
People are bad
People are a bad lot
Ship ‘em back to personnel
And then there’s lots of rock and roll screaming, ad-libbing of in-jokes. Last night, among other topics covered, I yelled: Ben likes Gypsy bitches! He’s got six nipples, like a wolf! Bobby Mac’s got a hangover so bad I suspect him of being bulimic!
(I’m paraphrasing that last one, I phrased it in a much hipper way that I can’t recall precisely)
The good, good dudes: Galactic. So nice to see ‘em again.
JJ Grey from Mofro opened with a solo set. He’s phenomenal.
Their drummer, Stanton Moore (who is forward-crazy: he forwards me like three forwarded-joke-emails, or political-conspiracy-forward-emails, every other day) just had a daughter. He said: “I like women so much, I made me one!”
He’s a lovely, kind man, and drums in a frenzy, sometimes standing up behind the kit, bashing the cymbals, tongue stuck out.
They played Saturday night as well, of which I was unaware. I spent that night lazing on my couch, watching the marathon of the PBS series on Broadway musicals, eating chicken apple sausage and linguine.
I said to Stanton: I’m sorry I left you hanging on Saturday night. I would’ve come and done some tunes if I knew.
Stanton: “Oh, that’s OK.”
I asked: So how was the show?
Stanton: “It was good. Mavis Staples sat in with us.”
I said: So, uh, I guess I really didn’t leave you hanging. Yeah.

I Dine On Soy Cheese.

What happened to Ashlee Simpson on SNL last night? I missed it.

I was laying on the couch websurfing, with SNL in the background–I was filled with loathing by Ashlee’s initial tune–I mean, the tune was OK, but the lipsynching is an abomination, how can they let them do it on SNL? Is it not a litmus test, to be able to shine as a live act on national television?
Anyway, I wasn’t watching, and the song started, and then I noticed out of the corner of my eye that, not more than a minute into the song, they cut to a picture of Jude Law, which stayed there for an uncomfortably long time, with the Ashlee tune going on vocal-less behind it. And then they went to a commercial.
What happened? At the curtain call at the end of the show, Ashlee Simpson, tucked under Jude Law’s arm, said something like: I’m sorry! My band started playing the wrong song!
I suspect they accidentally played-back the same tune as the first time–a version of the old Milli Vanilli gaffe–leaving her holding the bag. But I didn’t see. What happened?


I lost a sheaf of particularly important photos when my hard drive died its terrible death.

I have a clique of friends with whom I meet at a park in midtown (it’s one of those mini-parks built by a developer–in New York one can circumvent some building ordinances by putting a little public space on your property) and have coffee and banana bread. The kiosk used to sell the coffee for fifty cents; we took to calling it Fiddy.
(The kiosk recently upped the price to 75 cents–I mean, $0.50 is just ridiculous, really–and we had a small crisis. What do we call the place now? But it occurred to us that the place’s name really never was Fiddy, it’s _______ Park. So it’s still Fiddy to us.)
I brought the camera out there a couple weeks ago–the whole contingent was there–the full coterie–and I took a series of photos–everyone having coffee, laughing, everybody’s smiling, and then going to a diner and eating eggs.
It was really beautiful, and I was hoping it would be the kind of thing where I could take out the computer if I was, say, blue in Omaha, and have a Virtua-Fiddy to soothe my homesickness.
So I’m pretty aggrieved at the loss.
But, it’s funny–I remember each of those photos so specifically–it’s almost like I actually did end up with my Virtua-Fiddy to keep in my pocket for a lonely day. Kind of like when you write a number down and it becomes etched in your memory.

See You On The Other Side.

I’ve developed this ritual before I go onstage.

There’s invariably someone I see right before the show starts, who says, Good luck, or Are you ready go on? A monitor engineer or guy that works at the club. And I say to them: See you on the other side.
Some think it’s funny. The lovely stoner stagehand with Galactic, John, always laughed. To some it seems like a non-sequitur.
I don’t really have an explanation of its significance. I only started doing it a couple years ago. I can’t even remember where I picked up the phrase.
See you on the other side.

‘What Rough Beast, Its Hour Come Round At Last…’

I bought a new computer yesterday; I bought it because on my old one, the hard drive ground itself to death, taking with it a bunch of photos I hadn’t backed up. Agony!

It’s covered under AppleCare, so they’ll fix it, and it’ll be back home in two weeks or so (wiped of my photos, my journal…agh). But I’ve been through the two weeks without a computer before, and I’m just doing too much work nowadays to spend two weeks computerless again.
I feel slightly weird, having dropped 1000 bones, and having basically the same damned iBook G4. I wanted a retail high! No such luck.
Hm, you know what–when I get the old thing back–anybody out there in TV Land want to buy it? It’s a 12 inch. It’s not even a year old. It’s got an AirPort card, and it’ll be covered under AppleCare for two years. (does that transfer if I sell the thing to somebody else? I wonder.)
I’ll sell it for, like, I don’t know, $700?
(with the AirPort card and the AppleCare I paid like $1500 for it.)
The only bad thing about it is it’s got those weird discolorations in the beautiful iBook whiteness, where my wrists sat.
About two years ago, some dude offered me $2000 to buy the guitar I used on Ruby Vroom. Now, that guitar is a cheap-shit Yamaha telecaster copy, and Lord knows what shape it’s in–as a matter of fact, at one point, when I still lived in Brooklyn, I took a screwdriver to it and attempted to scratch the purple paint off of it. (Yeah, OK, in a bit of a druggy haze)
Feeling weird about selling a guitar in such shitty condition for such big bucks, I turned him down. Now I regret it. Some dude, come back! I have reconsidered!

I Get A Feeling That I Should Have Been Home Yesterday.

The first music I ever owned was a cassette of John Denver’s Greatest Hits.

I had a mono cassette player of the type you used to find in school libraries. I would hold it to my ear, transfixed by “Country Roads,” riding around Leavenworth, Kansas, in the back of my Mom’s boat-like, green, 1976 Oldsmobile.
I remember as a six year old being mystified as to why anything would be so compelling as a song could be. It didn’t make sense to me.
By the time I was ten, even my Mom’s ABBA was hipper than John Denver; I was into Billy Joel’s Glass Houses, Christopher Cross, and the soundtrack to The Muppet Movie. By the time I was twelve, it was Led Zeppelin and AC/DC, and, until recently, that’s when I thought my musical existence began.
At 21, I was living in an apartment on Elizabeth and Spring Street in Manhattan. It was a shity neighborhood then. There was a crack spot down the street, a fake bodega with a severed pig’s head in the glass case. It wasn’t NoLIta then–it was nameless. It was no longer Little Italy, it wasn’t quite Chinatown or SoHo or the LES. It occurred to me that nearly everyone in the neighborhood would consider themselves to be in a different neighborhood than the next guy.
My stoner friends and I called it Laundrytown, because there were sacks of laundry stacked in the windows up and down Elizabeth Street–many of which had fake old-timey signs that said “Antonelli Musical Instruments,” or “Fine Meat Purveyor,” that the crew of Godfather III had put up when shooting in the neighborhood a year or two ago, which no one bothered to take down.
I lived with a 34 year old computer programmer. He would come home every night with two quarts of Olde English and a pesto slice from Ray’s on Prince Street. He had a giant collection of vinyl LP’s, of which I listened to two, obsessively: Elvis Costello’s My Aim Is True and Toots and the Maytals’ Funky Kingston, on which the Maytals cover “Country Roads.”
Somehow the hipness of Toots outweighed the “corniness” of my childish tastes. I listened to it, again, obsessively. I taped it and listened to it at work, driving around Manhattan in a van, delivering gourmet ice cream.
Sometime after I quit Soul Coughing, I went out and bought John Denver’s Greatest Hits on CD. I listened to it nearly non-stop on my first solo tour; I had a tour manager that drove the rental car on that one, while I sat shotgun, getting drunk the whole time.
I stopped the liquor, and ended up firing the tour manager in favor of driving myself, but I still went through obsessive periods of “Country Roads.” I still do, actually.
I wrote this in an earlier entry: in August of this year, on one of my last nights in Ethiopia, I went to a bar in the town of Bahar Dar with a bunch of waiters, drivers, and guides from my hotel. They got shitfaced and danced; I didn’t get shitfaced, but I danced with them, or watched them dance in the dim space walled with warped mirrors and lit with Christmas lights.
At one point, after an Aster Aweke song, or maybe R. Kelly’s “Step in the Name of Love” (a ubiquitous hit in Bahar Dar), a cheesy house version of “Country Roads” came over the soundsystem. The whole place surged out onto the dance floor with wild energy of abandon.
What an incredible tune, even in that weird Eurodisco version. All of those Ethiopians were shouting the lyrics, or syllabic approximations of the lyrics. I was sitting on the couches in a dark corner, with the only other guy in our group that wasn’t drinking, a guide named Genanew.
Mid-song, I turned to Genanew and sang along with every word of the bridge. Much to his astonishment. Because no one else in the whole fierce, crazy, drunken place seemed to know that part: “I hear her voice, in the morning hour she calls me–radio reminds me of my home, far away…”