I was watching this thing on 60 Minutes last night, about ‘millennials’ and their supposed self-centered work habits. “They’ve climbed mountains in Colorado, but they’ve never punched a time-clock!”
Morley Safer grumbled about how kids straight out of college, pampered and adored by their parents, expect to find fulfillment; they have no corporate loyalty, and will drop a job like a hot rock if the boss is too bossy. “They see themselves as if they were on eBay,” said an Expert. “If you don’t suit them, they’ll quit and go company down the street–and probably make more money.” She told a story about millennials’ parents calling bosses to complain about their kids’ poor performance reviews. (I’m guessing this is apocryphal, or, perhaps more likely, something that happened once and has been blown out of proportion)
“Their priorities are their friends, and their lifestyle!” Then Morley Safer implied that the culprits are Little League baseball teams that gave out trophies to kids just because they showed up.
Well, heavens to Betsy. Look, I grew up in a house where I was anything but adored and pampered; school was agony for me, and I was told constantly that adult life was worse, that work is by nature horrible, to be endured. I think I would’ve absorbed these lessons and worked thanklessly at school, and then at college, and then trudged off to unhappy destiny–were I capable of it. I tried, I really did.
So I feel a certain affinity for this allegedly self-fulfillment-seeking generation, with their parents, who so gallingly chose to teach them to feel good about themselves, and their petulant wish to live in a society where the world of work doesn’t resemble a German expressionist film.
(there’s some Marxist phrase about the value of work in a free market system, that the worker’s work has value, that he rents it to the bosses–the above is a kind of sellers’-market version, right?–I don’t remember it, but I used to drop the phrase into conversation all the time in school)
Scrap and I were playing gigs down South last week; a couple were great (the Pilot Light in Knoxville, the Milestone in Charlotte, both vibey, shambly, punk-rocky,clubs). A couple were the kind of trying gigs I play in cities where you don’t play very often; half the crowd is chatting rar-rar full volume, yelling at the bartenders for their drinks, dudes shout out for “Super Bon Bon.”
(I’m getting better at not getting mad at people for yelling “Super Bon Bon,” but that’s probably because it doesn’t happen that often anymore. I’m still not gonna play it.)
We were buying Laffy Taffy, ice cream sandwiches, and Chili-Cheese Fritos at an Exxon station, and I found a newspaper on the counter, for $1, called The Slammer, consisting entirely of mugshots from around that part of North Carolina. It was subdivided into categories: drunk drivers, deadbeat parents, sex offenders, underage perps, a section of older cons (“Mature Menaces”), a section of perps with bad hair, and a whole page of arrestees who were weirdly smiling in their mugshots. That one was my favorite.
This morning, I was reading the glossary of old lowlife slang in the back of Herbert Asbury’s Gangs of New York–a history of gang and gangster life in the 5 Points slum of Manhattan in the 19th century, from which the Leo DiCaprio movie was liberally extracted–and wrote a poem:
BOILED OYSTERS MOLLOY
The joskins and kirkbuzzers
Booly dogs, rumbeaks and mabs
The jaw coves and high tobies
Marking flats in padding-kens
I’ll give my dots, my regulars,
The screwsman vamped the owl
Bleakest goo and figure dancer
She wore a yack, unlike a moll
We’ll yam sawney; in our gutter lanes
swill bing; with barking irons
We’ll get hockey with our balsam;
Rub from whit and picture frames.
All correct, he told the crokus,
Then the mab, she fibbed my boke;
Alamort at ballum-rancums
Stole my castor from my fams
Now I am an autumn bawler,
And I wear a Jacob’s coat
I will forgive the bludget,
Who absconded on the bull.
Now it really irritates me when people say, Oh, you’d like this piece of art much better if you understood it’s about n, x, or y. But I wanted to mention that it’s not just a Jabberwocky rip-off, but makes sense if you know the slang. Maybe I’ll publish a translation.
(Oh, and do I have to mention copyright 2008 by Mike Doughty–? Yes? OK then.)
Here’s a song by this mythic gay cellist/singer from the Old Arty Scary East Village of the late 80s/early 90s, Arthur Russell. He’s fascinating to me because he’s using a house-music trick: keeping the music repetitive, repeating one phrase with variation. It deepens and becomes heartbreaking. There’s a moment in the middle where the vocal does something odd and off-putting, and initially it put me off, but after a few listens (and I listened to it over and over again when I first came across it) it struck me as a very endearing kind of New York art move; just a little superfluous weirdness thrown in there for no reason. It made me feel homesick.
Apparently this song was used in a UK T-Mobile commercial. I like that something from that old country I used to live in, the pretentious and fun Lower East Side, made it into the big wide commercial world. Still, it was offputting to watch the ad–it seems perverse to cut the song at 0:30, without it’s endless repeating spread
Arthur Russell, “This Is How We Walk on the Moon.”
Oh yeah–I’m DJing on Tuesday the 26th (tomorrow, as I type this) at a benefit for The New York Neo-Futurists, a fantastic theater company that does a splendid weekly show called Too Much Light Makes the Baby Go Blind/ See below:
I remember reading a review of Amistad that harped on its anachronisms. One of them was the misuse of the word “pathetic.” Apparently in the 1820s it meant deserving of sympathy. I realized that it’s current meaning must’ve begun when people starting using it sarcastically, and that an eventual sarcasm-tipping-point flipped the very definition of the word.
Touring is done, though I have those shows down South over the weekend, which means I’ve been in a kind of limbo. I’m starting to work on some new songs, ripping off some old country melodies and grafting bits from my notebooks onto them. And every time I turn on Ableton (it’s DJing/production software) and start tinkering with my electro stuff I look up and realize I’ve been working nonstop for six hours, without even eating. (I’ve thought about it maybe being a decent weight-loss option)
I threw another Dubious Luxury shindig on Saturday, and it was poorly attended. Oh well. The fact is that I love doing it; I’d be doing it at home with headphones on if I weren’t in the Knitting Factory’s basement.
A friend came, with the bizarre rationale that she thought she hated House music, and wanted to see if she was right. We shared a cab back to Brooklyn, and she said that much to her surprise, she dug the music, but was dismayed that people just sat along the walls, leaving the dancefloor an empty moat.
So something is amiss. I’m contemplating a quasi-hired group of ringers, inviting Lang and NYU kids down, and offering free food in exchange for booty-shaking. No, seriously, if anybody is a decent party promoter out there, get in touch. A sample mini-set is up at DubiousLuxury.net. It’s good tunes to get high to. I promise.
I met a woman who runs a theater company, and read her manifesto on the company’s Myspace page.
(I like to pronounce Myspace not MY-space, but rather My-SPACE)
She talked about how her goal is to make people uncomfortable, and how she tricks herself into beginning to write a play by trying to write the play she least wants to write. The latter seems like a good trick–maybe I should sit down and try to write a mainstream country song, or a string quartet, or a ballad in the style of “Memory” from Cats, as a means of getting something interesting to come out.
I read somewhere that some Beatles songs started out as them jamming a jokey take on some goofy genre–oompah or ragtime or reggae or something.
But making people uncomfortable? It sounds much more playful, and cheerful, when she describes it; juxtaposing, intoxicating, and thrilling. Not like the old joke about the guy who says, “Your play was boring,” and the playwright says, “EXACTLY!” But what am I trying to do when I sit down to work? Move myself, make a connection between the song and myself. Is that enough? OK, I know, it’s enough. But what am I doing? What am I trying to do?
Lynda Barry has a book on writing that I pre-ordered off Amazon, called What It Is–it looks like a great big collage/scrapbook/art project, and it has exercises about plumbing your memory, extracting details, finding very specific images from childhood. Sekou Sundiata always used to say, “You don’t owe the facts anything.” Meaning that you’re not required as a writer to represent the complete and utter truth, when in fact you could put fiction into the events and find something more ‘truthful’ (unless yer James Frey, ahem).
The facts, the facts, the so-called facts. Seek the middle path.
Am I looking for a girlfriend? I’m looking for a girlfriend. I was dating a woman that I had dated previously, who withheld some big facts from me–namely, that she had a kid, and used to date a really good friend of mine a couple years back–but I got back together with her and, though I knew better, convinced myself that I wanted her to be my girlfriend, and kept telling her, and she seemed to assent, until I looked at her blog one day and there was a big picture of her making out with her boyfriend.
As my guru said: D’oh!
Then I met this one woman who lived in a different city, and was so soothing, beautiful, and righteous, but am I gonna be in a long distance relationship, jump into that mess again? No. I’m not going to jump into that mess again.
There’s a drumbeat in my head that I ought to find a woman and get married and have a kid, and I want to have a kid principally because I think I’d be good at it, that my years of therapy, and understanding of my own half-fucked childhood would enable me to raise a child in a world of fun and kindness. But it’s partially a need and partially a feeling of inexplicable obligation, and I mistrust it.
But the misery of my parents’ marriage in the 70s and 80s has convinced me that I have to take it day at a time, day at a time, day at a time; meet somebody and sloooooowly get to know her, live with her, get past the romantic phase and become a team, like a unit, and only then decide to create another life. I owe it to whoever’s little life that is.
My last relationship broke up because she wanted to get married, and I was like, yes! Absolutely! Let’s get married! Only I outlined the program above, and in addition told her I wanted her to go to therapy because of the stories she had told me about her childhood (and not to mention had serious misgivings about the weed she was smoking, near-secretively, when I wasn’t around). This horrified her; especially, I think, the part about getting past the romantic phase. Despite the family she grew up in, she clung to a belief in a lifelong fuzzy-feely marriage. Maybe people do have them.
I think I’m looking for a genius.
There is a pain on the side of my hand that only happens when I’m playing the outro chorus on “27 Jennifers.” No other song, and no other part of the song. I’m taking it morbidly, as an indication of eventual old age.
Arthur Russell was this fascinating New York guy, in the old dirty arty New York. He was a gay dude with huge acne scars that played the cello and sang songs and made obscure disco records. Below is a video for “This Is How We Walk on the Moon,” which I forwarded to my playwright friend that wanted to not hate House music; it kind of mirrors a House structure; one progression, variation, addition.
We taped an episode of the Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson yesterday in Los Angeles. We sat around a dressing room for 5 hours, and then the song took 5 minutes. I got in Chuck’s car and he drove Scrap and I to the Bob Hope airport in Burbank. We took the red eye, and I walked into my place for the first time in a couple of months at 5:45 am.
I didn’t meet Craig Ferguson, which is a drag, because I’ve been a huge admirer ever since his heroic declamation on Britney Spears. Incidentally, Cinco de Mayo in the year 2000 was the day I got clean/sober. So that’s eight years as of yesterday.
There were a few days in L.A. as a nightcap to the tour. I slept in Pete’s guest room. Scrap and I went on Steve Jones’ radio show; we played “Grey Ghost” and Jonesy jammed with us, playing leads on an acoustic guitar. I hope I get the chance to release that in some form.
He’s going to Yurp for a few months; the Sex Pistols are playing the big festivals on the continent. So this was a pre-taping, to air while he’s gone, in July or something. He played a recording of waves in the background, and we operated under the ruse that he was doing the show live from a Swedish fishing village.
His engineer kept yelling “More Abba! More Abba!” in the background.
Jonesy’s show is rambling and wonderful. Scrap talked about how Beethoven was evicted for being too filthy; I grilled him about a song he and Paul Cook did with Iggy Pop on the Repo Man soundtrack.
(I’ve been hunting that soundtrack all over the place. I finally found a copy, a couple of weeks ago, at Music Millenium in Portland. It’s also notable for the Circle Jerks’ acoustic version of “When the Shit Hits the Fan.”)
I’m lazing now, watching the primary returns come in. What a beautiful coming-home gift; I’m making espresso from the beans I bought at Stumptown Coffee in Portland, and watch my secret boyfriend Tim Russert enthuse about polls.
I wanted to just walk off that plane at 5 am and jump in a car, so I sent my suitcase with all the gear we’re shipping back; clothes, toiletries, etc. However, I brought the beans and my grinder (needed it on the tour bus) back in my carry-on. Priorities.
Now I’m back, feeling serene and pleasantly melancholy.
I got an email from the Hillary organization a month ago, during the Pennsyvania primary, to come and play a rally led by Chelsea Clinton. Basically, to be Chelsea’s support act.
I declined: I still could be happy with either Hillary or Obama. The only reason I would attend is a desire to meet Chelsea, because, let’s face it, she lives in New York, and maybe she’s into older guys? She’s a financial analyst, wouldn’t we make a stunning left/right brain combo? How happy would I be to have a hot girlfriend who spent her pre-teen Summers going to math camp?
Oh yeah: I’m throwing a party Saturday night, the 10th: my periodic Dubious Luxury affair. It’s $5, 10 pm, at the Knitting Factory in Manhattan.
Samples of the (new, original) electro music can be found at the above link.
Scrap and I have some duo shows down South in a week or so–we will drive lackadaisically, and feast on Chick-fil-A–but after that seven week monster tour, I’m gonna have some downtime–especially after my 38th birthday, on June 10. We are a happy bunch, my band and I, but after seven weeks you get crotchety–kvetching to Pete about looking in my shopping bag, and at Scrap for strolling off the plane too slow.
How lucky I feel, after those wretched years touring with Soul Coughing, trapped on a bus and not wanting to see any of their faces, to have these guys that I love so much, and the first signs of bickering don’t show up until almost the two month mark?