Comfort and Joy.

I interviewed Eartha Kitt for a website a couple years back. Two guys interviewed me, and then told me how their next call was to Eartha Kitt and that they knew absolutely nothing about Eartha Kitt. So I took over for them–first I asked if she liked singing in French better than English, and it kind of rolled on from there, me asking questions of this dignified, quiet old lady over a speakerphone.
We’re lucky, in a sad way, that she died on Christmas–it’s a slow news day, and NBC News treated us to a brief rundown of her life story that they probably wouldn’t have time for on another day. There was footage of her spontaneously decrying the Vietnam war at a luncheon at the White House that Lady Bird Johnson was throwing for some less controversial cause. It speaks to the well-known intelligence cluelessness of the Bush regime that the next clip was her singing “Santa Baby” at the White House tree-lighting in 2006.
My girlfriend is away, so I was sposed to observe a Very Jewish Christmas with Scrap this year–Katz’s pastrami and a movie–but at the last minute Scrap went to Dallas. So I spent the day watching TV. I watched The Breakfast Club for the first time in years and was amazed to see that Judd Nelson appears to be roughly 32. And to rediscover that nearly everything we said in high school, circa 1984, was ganked from the movie. Actually, despite myself, I was kind of moved by the high-school-stereotypes-unite-in-spite-of-their-tribal-enmity message in the same way I was in the 9th grade. (My role was sort of a Judd-Ally Sheedy-Anthony Michael Hall Venn diagram)
I also watched a little bit of the WPIX Yule Log– a videotape loop of a fireplace, with holiday music, that’s run on channel 11 in New York every Christmas for as long as I can remember. It used to run for 24 hours straight–presumably so there could be just one guy at the station keeping it running while everybody else could go home, open presents, and get drunk on nog–now they keep it to a crisp 4 hours, 9 to 1. There was some hoopla about them changing the log this year. Maybe there was an outcry. It was the same log.
The thing I’ve been complaining about since about 2003 is that MTV no longer devotes their programming on the 25th to playing their backlog of every Christmas video and promo and bumper-slide that they’ve played since 1981–including my personal talismanic Christmas video, “We’re Having a Reggae Christmas” by Bryan Adams, in which one can see Pee Wee Herman undulating in a dreadlock wig.
I did see the video for Band Aid’s “Do They Know It’s Christmas?” though. I forgot that somewhere in the second verse Paul Young, Bono, Simon LeBon and Boy George (I forgot what an amazing voice Boy George has) sing about “a world of dread and fear” and “the clanging chimes of doom.” I heard it on the holiday mix-tape-loop at Whole Foods the other day and realized you could probably say anything in a Christmas song. I’m considering writing a Christmas song with dark, foreboding imagery between choruses that go, Christmas, snow, etc, snow, trees, Christmas, etc, snow, etc.
(PS, who would remember Paul Young? I loathed him as a metal-transitioning-to-punk kid, but he’s got a great voice. He needs his Rick Astley moment)
(PPS, does anybody out there call Whole Foods “Ho Foods”? As in the place where they feed the Hoes?)
I went to YouTube, looking up the other chorus-of-rock-stars benefit song videos that happened after Band Aid. I saw the metal one, Hear’n Aid, with five straight minutes of celebrity guitar solos, and then Artists United Against Apartheid’s “Sun City.” Which is worth it just to hear Joey Ramone sing the line, “Constructive engagement is Ronald Reagan’s plan.”

Thanks, Everybody.

–for helping me through my conflicted feelings about kicking out the drunks. I got A LOT of emails. I was surprised at how many people supported the move.
I was bummed that I said “shut the fuck up,” but otherwise I think I’m glad I did it. If I have to do it again, I hope I can keep a cool head and say it more nicely. (or, as I almost typed, nicely-er)

Gluten-Free Mac and Soy Cheese, as a Side-Dish to Deep-Fried Turkey.

I read Malcolm Gladwell’s Outliers on a plane. I love the guy, and I bought wholesale everything in his last two books. Unfortunately, I know a little too much about the Beatles. The simple thesis of the book is: success is based on environmental factors, i.e., luck. One of his examples is that the Beatles’ success is predicated on their having played 8 hours a night, five nights a week in Hamburg. They got the 10,000 hours he deems necessary for expertise, and hence their artistic preeminence.
But the primary factor in that preeminence is songwriting–which they didn’t do in Hamburg. And the covers they played all night, when they ended up on Beatles albums, sound pretty stiff–“Roll Over Beethoven,” for instance. The best thing a million gigs can do for a band is tighten up the rhythm section–and most of their time in Hamburg, they played without Ringo (and anybody who fronts on Ringo, the fattest, heftiest rock drummer that ever was, is a sucker)–they played with Pete Best, who got fired. The secret weapon in the Beatles is Paul McCartney’s bass playing (I got a bootleg of some solo-ed Paul bass lines, and the sound, the style, and his rhythmic acumen is astonishing)–and he didn’t play bass in Hamburg–Stu Sutcliffe, who died before they started recording, did.
Maybe the one solid element strengthened would be the harmonies–which I couldn’t imagine the Beatles without.
So now I’m questioning all those dramatic empirical examples that I ate up in the last books–maybe I should’ve been more skeptical.
I kicked some people out of a gig in Woodstock. What a dreadful drag.
Scrap and I were playing the Bearsville Theater, which is an amazing place to play. There was a guy near the front yelling back and forth with his friend. So I stopped, ha ha ha, hey man, please keep it down. Next song, he keeps talking. I stop, give him a less comic chiding. Next song, he keeps talking. I stopped mid-chorus, and had him kicked out.
It divided the audience. A woman was yelling at me “He’s your fan! He’s your fan!” I felt bad. In retrospect, I wish I’d been nicer about it–I still would’ve kicked him out, though.
I’m not inclined to be sympathetic to those guys just because they liked the music. They were talking loudly, and nobody else in the crowd was. My point of view is that they were ruining the show for people that wanted to watch the show, rather than talk through it. I gave ‘em a couple of warnings, and then when they couldn’t pipe down, I kicked ‘em out.
Obviously, when I’m playing to a loud drunk crowd it’s less fun for me. I’ll make jokes to try and shut the crowd up, but if that’s the deal, I just put my head down and get through the set–though I think it’d be a more fun show to watch when the artist is actually into it, not just trying to get to the end. Still, if that’s the deal, that’s the deal. But, when it’s four drunks that are the only ones talking, messing with everybody else’s experience, it’s what I have to do.
I’ve kicked more people out of shows in the last couple of years than I’ve done previously. I had a woman in Williamsburg, VA booted because she was babbling at the top of her lungs–I think, directly to me–when everybody else in the theater was being quiet. At a Brooklyn gig, I booted a group of drunk guys leaping up and down and whacking everybody else in the face in their enthusiasm.
Being a Silence Nazi is a drag. Bad vibe in the show, too. But I don’t know what else to do.
After the gig, when we were loading the instruments in the car, the drunks I kicked out were waiting for me. They were pleading, saying how much they loved the music, and that they were the greatest fans, etc. I thanked them, really, sincerely, for listening. But that’s really immaterial. You have to think about the people you’re watching the show with.
(They also claimed that I didn’t warn them–evidence of their drunkenness, and reinforcement for my ex post facto belief that I should’ve been kinder, even as I had them booted)
There was another woman at the show, likely drunk, who approached the stage and just started talking at me–oblivious to the fact that the show was going on. Or, maybe, thinking that she was entitled to take it over. I brushed her off, she persisted, I yelled at her to sit down. After the gig, she was waiting in the line where I was selling CDs, and as soon as she came up, I said, Uh-uh, no way, not talking to you, get out of here.
“Why are you so angry?” she kept saying. Just with you, I said. Still, it got to me.
There were lots of people in line that thanked me for kicking the inconsiderate jerks out, but I got two angry emails this morning–not from people that I kicked out, but people that thought I was a dick in doing so.
I heard Glen Campbell’s version of the Foo Fighters’ “Times Like These” on Joe Belock’s WFMU show. It sounded so assured, so classic, that I immediately assumed that the Foos had covered Glen’s tune, not the other way around, and I had just never been aware of it. (“Times Like These,” in fact, had gone in one ear and out the other when I’ve heard it previously, but, like a great cover version should do, I realized what a great tune it was)
The album, Meet Glenn Campbell, has apparently been out for a while, and has a Green Day cover and a Paul Westerberg cover, and a couple Tom Petty tunes–it would sound cringeworthy to me, had I not actually heard the record, which is fantastic. Big string arrangements, and the guy’s voice is just fantastic.
But I guess it hasn’t made much noise. (Unless it’s playing on country radio? I don’t know) I wonder if these kind of records will get made much anymore–huge-sounding, expensive-sounding records by an artist without a recent string of hits.

Monitor Lizards.

Reading a lot about the street protests in Bangkok, which for years I had erroneously thought of as a stable haven over there. I have friends who’ve moved to Thailand–some for cheap living, some to bathe in the strangeness, and some, I suspect, to indulge their sex addiction in cheap Thai whores.
I wonder if these friends of mine have any idea what’s going politically–I remember joking with one of my expatriate friends, when he was back in New York for some tax thing, that he was the emissary from Thai Rak Thai, and he had no idea what I was talking about. (Thai Rak Thai means, “Thais love Thais”; the former party of Thaksin Shinawatra, who all the protests are about–he was ousted in a coup last year, and now his opponents fear he’s re-taking the country by proxy)
Anyway, read in the NYTimes this morning:
Protesters call the government the “beast from hell” and refer to leading politicians as “monitor lizards,” one of the gravest Thai insults.
Wait. Did I read that right? Monitor lizards?! There’s one for the rhetorical arsenal.

But I Didn’t See the Fjords.

My girlfriend had work in Norway this week, so I tagged along. It’s strange to be traveling around without having gigs. I brought a guitar–I always do–but didn’t even crack the case.
We were in Bergen, on the coast, this insanely gorgeous town on mountain slopes, and there was a fantastic snowstorm. On the ride between there and Oslo we passed through the train station with the highest elevation in Norway–there were houses, chimneys emitting smoke, half-buried in the snow. What do they do there? What do they need, other than a mailman and a guy to open up the train station?
There were boats and a funicular. I sought a Norwegian sweater, but they all looked super jolly on me. (“Jolly” is a new pejorative, replacing “gay,” because how stupid is it to say things are “gay” in the age of Prop 8?)
We talked to a guy who asked, “You’re Obama people?” Mais oui. He seemed mystified that during the Bush years Europeans were hostile to us.
Now I’m in a tiny room in a budget hotel in Oslo–flying back tomorrow–it’s depressing here, staying by the train station–I was approached by aggressive African whores as I went to Dolly Dimple’s pizza and then to the 7-Eleven–!!–for salt licorice. (Which is what it sounds like, salty black licorice. Very trippy.)

Jackie Robinson Elementary School.

PS 375, otherwise known as Jackie Robinson elementary school–built on the site of what was Ebbets Field, where he played with the Brooklyn Dodgers–was where I went to vote. Nice, right?
I was texting with a friend in Manhattan whose Midtown polling site was sheer chaos–senior citizens elbow-to-elbow on their walkers, poll workers yelling at people who were yelling at them for letting the old people cut the line. But in my mostly black neighborhood, the voters and the poll workers were snappily efficient; there was a sense of giddy dignity.

Barack and I.

I tagged along with my girlfriend, who had some work in Ohio this weekend. We were delighted to find that there was an Obama rally in Columbus.
We were closer than these pix make it look, and it was kind of astonishing to see the man in person. Though the Obamamercial last week made me cry, his speech on Sunday was kind of pro forma.
The line was insanely long to get in, snaking around mulitple blocks, and there were a curious number of people selling bootleg merchandise–a mini-industry. Prices kept going down as the line got closer to the gate–“Five bucks” “Three for ten!”–there was a guy with an intricately silk-screened Obama portrait who indignantly said, “It’s twenty bucks because of the quality.”
A truck with big McCain/Palin banners kept rolling by, to boos and “O-BA-MA!” chants. The driver was a guy with a C. Everett Koop beard who shook a bible at us–seriously, he shook a bible at us–as he drove past. (“It’s actually a copy of Neil Strauss’ The Game,” somebody joked) Eventually, though, on his fifth or sixth pass, everybody had gotten bored with him, nobody reacted, and he was reduced to yelling “Baby murderers!” as he drove by.