Osaka Alleys.

Lady GaGa is, in fact, as she is reputed to be: a butterface. This only makes me dig her more. I’ve always had a thing for horsey faces.
My guess is that she’s showing her face more clearly in her videos now because the marketing department were pulling their hair out; one needs an artist that’s recognizable. That’s the conventional record biz wisdom, anyway. I wanted her to stay in her sunglasses (though clearly she won’t go gentle into giving up that wig), as that’s the perfect way to be a pop star–you doff your disguise when going home at night (or, as is likely with Ms. GaGa, in the morning), and you’re unrecognizable. Not unlike Jem. Not that there’s any immediate danger of it happening to me, but I think it’s the only way I could tolerate celebrity.

“Making Curry a Threat Again”–Mortar Records, Kumagaya, Japan.

Scrap and I toured Japan in June; we got together with a band from Tokyo (from Kasukabe, in the suburbs, actually) called Uhnellys; they drove us around the country, playing right before us every night, on bills that would include three or four other Japanese bands. It was pretty hardscrabble; ten day tour, ten shows, no days off. Fatiguing, but wonderful; Kim and Midi, the bass/vocal and drummer duo that make up the Uhnellys, are fantastic people, and a fantastic band, and I felt like I got a view of Japan I wouldn’t have gotten if I hadn’t toured with a local band.
I don’t even have a record out there–haven’t been to Japan since a two-gig trip in 1997–and yet there were 30 or 50 people at each show (including three shows in Tokyo–!!), and we kept encountering those legendary Japanese fans that are so devoted, and freaked out, giving us small gifts and trembling when they met us. Amazingly, too, outside of Tokyo, most of the audiences were made up entirely of Japanese–usually Americans come crawling out of the woodwork for American bands.
Everywhere I looked, there was something fascinating; I have roughly a billion pictures that I hope to post eventually. Despite this, and despite the wonderfulness of the whole scene, when I got lonely, I got homesick, it was such an alienating environment, everything utterly other for a Westerner. I don’t think I’ve ever gotten homesick on tour.
One of the gigs was at a store in Kumagaya called Mortar Records. It may have been my favorite show of the tour. There was a tiny space with a low ceiling upstairs from the store; people sat Indian-style on the floor.
This guy above had a bookshelf on wheels outside the store; he called it his “free library.” He asked me to take his picture while he drew me. I asked Kim if he was crazy and he said, “No crazy. Just funny.”
Funny indeed. There was a solo folky Japanese guy who played a song with English lyrics that went like this: “I make up scenarios. I make up scenarios. I make up scenarios. I make up scenarios. I make up scenarios. I make up scenarios. I make up scenarios.” I fled outside. (in fact, nearly every show we played had a guy on the bill that played whispery, unintentionally creepy folk songs in English; after Kumagaya, we started calling it Scenario Rock). The free-library man was making something unidentifiable out of cardboard boxes. I came back to watch Kim, and right before he went on, free-library guy came up with his cardboard contraption, which turned out to be a lion’s-head. He went around the club biting people on the noggin with it.
I didn’t get a good picture–in the pic of the girl sitting on the curb reading, you can see it in the lower left corner.
Kim played a solo acoustic set, because Midi had to work; he did lots of freaky loop-pedal stuff–freaky loop pedal stuff is his mainstay. He is great, great, great.
There was this thing going on in Japan with surgical masks; everywhere you went there were people wearing them. Maybe it had something to do with Swine-Flu hysteria (are epidemics capitalized?)–when we landed in Tokyo, they sent people in scrubs and masks, with stethoscopes, on the plane seeking out sickly passengers; before we got to customs, we had to go through a station with heat-sensor monitors to detect people with fevers (it was insanely cool looking; the people coming through looked like ghosts).
On the streets of a big city, I could understand it, but people were in the audience at the gigs with surgical masks on. Some people in the opening bands were wearing masks when they soundchecked; happily, no musician wore it during the show. There was a surgical mask wearing woman, blase as could be, sitting in the corner.
Anyhow, it was a fantastic gig. Another opener, whom I didn’t get a picture of, played a Steinberger bass (one of those 80s-futuristic basses you’d see played by Lee Sklar in Phil Collins’ band circa ’85, with no headstock and a tiny rectangle for a body–where the hell does he get strings for that thing?), and while he played bass, did Mongolian throat singing. Actually, he was the best Mongolian throat singer I’ve ever heard live. Between acts, they spun vinyl–a lot of old Judee Sill tunes, which made my heart sing. Really special place. If you’re ever in Kumagaya, stop in–and be sure to try the curry.

Live! In Tokyo.

These were recorded by listener Izumi Kamo, at Club Goodman in the Akihabara section of Tokyo, otherwise known as Otaku central, and home of the famous Maid Cafés, where beautiful women in maid costumes serve you tea and are extremely polite to you (seriously–that’s all there is).
“Grey Ghost”

“Your Misfortune”

“Soft Serve”

“Busting Up a Strbxxxx”

Marching Off to the Question Jar Show.

I just piled 17 identical navy blue t-shirts into a suitcase, and that can mean only one thing–we’re flying out to do a couple weeks of shows on the West Coast!
A few of the shows have sold out–maybe if you’re thinking of coming, you ought to buy your ticket soonish? Second shows in LA and SF have been added. The full spate of dates are at
Now, let me run through a bunch of things you probably know about already!
My cello-and-electric-guitar guy, Andrew “Scrap” Livingston and I are doing a thing called The Question Jar Show–a duo show, just us two–we put a jar on the front of the stage, you put questions in it before we play, we answer ‘em between songs. Questions on any topic–obscure, weird, or esoteric questions accepted happily.
If you want to keep up-to-date with mundane details, I am MICRO-BLOGGING LIKE A FIEND. You can find me at:
And there’ll be a CD I’ll be selling after the show called Busking, recorded live in the 14th St subway station (in that long tunnel between the 1/2/3 and the F). It is, as the wise man once said, not available in stores. Or anywhere else other than at the gigs, from me directly.
Addendum: I did not end up buying the above glasses, because I only buy eyewear of which my girlfriend approves. She is, apparently, not that into Terry Richardson.

Contemplation of the Grift.

The spectacle of the Hipster Grifter is pure candy to me, and I’ve sought out dozens of stories about her, even though they’re all the same: Korean girl with ultra-Williamsburg-irony tattoo that says “I Love Beards,” stole money in Salt Lake City, lied to series of roommates and quasi-boyfriends that she had cancer, rooked the illuminati at Vice into giving her a job.
I feel guilty about it–it’s prurient, weirdly sadistic and crypto-pornographic. The actual crime, in SLC, is barely mentioned in any of these pieces–how many stories have I read and I still don’t know who she stole the money from?–they’re mostly about how she picked up a dude by handing him a note that said, “I want to give you a handjob with my mouth.”
The NY goss blogs are capitalizing on salacious anecdotes about a sexy, tragic Asian girl, and that’s it. New Yorkers vilify hipsters, despite the fact that most of us are textbook hipsters–sour-grapes-ing, due to insecurities rooted in high school cafeterias. So we’re all enjoying her public humiliation as a liar, and the $60K she stole is an excuse–now, in the blog-o-lanche, little more than a footnote. However fucked up it is to tell people you have cancer so they’ll be friends with you, it’s sick, not criminal.
Didn’t everybody know somebody like this in high school? A pathological liar. I have to admit, I was a teenage fabulist myself, mostly because the circumstances of my life didn’t reflect my interior turmoil the way my invented life did, I wanted to express it, I wanted to impress people with a made-up portrait of myself that in a way was a truer portrait. One theory of mine is that those of us predisposed to grow up to become hipsters are also predisposed to youthful fabulism–maybe there’s some self-loathing being channeled by the HipGrift’s vultures.
Hipsters have a thing for Asian girls, and artsy peoples have always had a thing for little-girls-lost. How bitter it is to read’s headline “Did ‘Hipster Grifter’ Play On Loathsome Hipster Asian Fetish?” and know that many of us clicking on it are doing so to read about a hot Asian girl.
My favorite baffling j’accuse thus far, from “She claimed she was a vegetarian, but wasn’t upset when one of the roommates accidentally gave her a dish with meat.”
This girl might, in fact, be a sociopath. But she’s smart. She signed an email to Gawker, “Without Wax, Keri.” Which I immediately took to be an obscure sexual reference. Though Gawker didn’t comment on that, a commenter named Sarcastro explained:
When Roman sculptors executed their work they would occasionally crack the marble. The crack would be sealed with wax. In Latin, “sine” means “without,” and “cera” means “wax.” The sculptures that were made out of whole, unbroken stone were marked, “sine cera,” or “without wax.” The term evolved to apply to anything that was “true” or unadulterated. In English, “sine cera” is rendered, “sincerely.”
I had this really mindblowing lesson in mediocrity the other night. I went to see this show that was one of the most beautifully designed and staged things I’ve seen recently–and the show itself was boring. I would see something and go, “Wow, that actress is really charismatic, what a great voice,” and two minutes later be hoping that my girlfriend would let us leave at intermission.
I’m working on a record now, and it’s such a vital lesson–you can come up with a hundred thrilling ornaments, but if the song’s no good, it’s no good.
There was this guy in Portugal, when Scrap and I were touring there two weeks ago, who was hired to drive us from city to city for the gigs. We coudn’t quite figure out how to pronounce his name in Portuguese, so we called him Bimmy.
Bimmy was this little guy, and he had almost no English, but we found weird ways of communicating. He was playing Jimi Hendrix in his car, and after a half hour of uncomfortable silence, he said, “Hendrix! The best!” and I said “Bom!” which means “good” (at least I think it does/hope it does). Our next conversation was him saying the names of 70s rock drummers, doing a-cappella versions of their signature drum fills, and saying, “The best! John Bonham, the best!”
Bimmy had a Deicide CD, a death metal band (Speed metal? Thrash metal? I’m not up on my subgenres), and seemed shocked when I put it on. “Deicide, the best! From Tampa, Florida!” It was so hilarious, seeing this tiny Portuguese metal guy say Tampa, Florida that we burst out laughing, and this became the basis of our bond. Any time there was a moment of silence, he’d go, “Tampa, Florida!”, assume a metal guitar stance and a-cappella chug chug chug guitar sounds.
He also loved Elvis, and sometimes would say “Graceland museum in Memphis!”
Scrap’s dog is named Foxdog (because after they got her out of the shelter, a kid pointed to her and said, “That’s a Foxdog!”), and Foxdog does this thing where she comes up to Scrap and puts her paw on him, kinda like, Hey man, you doin’ OK? Scrap calls it the Foxdog Wellness Check. So when Bimmy assumed the rock stance and said, “Tampa, Florida!” that would be the Bimmy Wellness Check.
We got literally three hours to sleep after the gig in Guimaraes, then Bimmy drove us at 4 am to Lisbon for our flight home. See you later, Bimmy. “Tampa, Florida!”
On the subject of death metal: I tracked down the legendary death-metal-band-logo designer Christophe Szpajdel online, and he did a Mike Doughty logo! It’s very metal looking–it looks like scary trees! He also did one Art Deco style that he’ll be putting in an exhibition of his.
I’ll be printing up shirts of it to sell online shortly.
So I’m recording Sad Man Happy Man, and it’s sounding great, but there’s this one song that I kept trying to make good, but it’s just not good. What bums me out is that I love the lyrics, my faves on the album, but the song is just a non-starter. I’ll probably put it up on iTunes or something as a bonus track, along with a bunch of covers that I recorded lo-fi up at Yaddo.
I was looking through some photographs of yours today
I saw your drunken friends laughing, party favors there
Two people kissing in the corner bring their hands together,
Leads him towards the bedroom, where the coats are, hear them whispering
I sang the wrong, sang the wrong, sang the wrong song
I know this song’s not the song you want
I made my plans, made my plans, made my plans
I know my plans, they are burned and gone
Ecstatic sadness is the stylish pleasure of the day
I’m in my headphones on the bridge, the cars are rushing by
The barges is spinning in the bay below me,
And your love is the snow that’s falling slowly
I sang the wrong, sang the wrong, sang the wrong song
I know this song’s not the song you want
I made my plans, made my plans, made my plans
I know my plans, they are burned and gone

I’m Really Actually Twittering, for Real This Time. No, Really.

I realized that I was flakey flakey when I initially announced I got a Twitter going, then dropped the ball, but I’m really seriously Twittering of late, I’m on somewhat of a roll:
These are pix of an all-garden-gnome store Scrap and I came across while foraging for Wurst in Frankfurt. Frankfurters, it turns out, do not have some kind of local-speciality specialness about them when you eat them in Frankfurt: they are indeed hot dogs.

Through Deutschland.

My cello player Scrap and I are barnstorming through Germany. We’ve played in Berlin, Hamburg, Köln (Cologne), and a few other cities; we’ve got Munich and Dresden and a few others left, then we fly to Portugal for three nightcap-like summation gigs.
It’s been a hoot. I’m more or less a total beginner here; nobody remembers Soul Coughing, it’s all people who’ve caught a whiff of the new stuff. (If you’ve been following this blog you might know how frustrating I find it as an artist to have to constantly be working under the burden of everybody’s memories of whatever the first time they heard me was, unable to just present the songs without the baggage of my past)
A compilation of my solo stuff, Introduction, came out on a Berlin-based label called Nois-O-Lution earlier this year. We’re playing tiny, tiny places to houses of twenty or thirty people–the gig in Nürnberg was a place called Mata Hari that was so small it could only fit a bar, and hence there was no stage–we played behind the bar.
I’ve been studying German for a couple of years now, and it’s fantastic to be speaking it all the time. The difficulty is that nearly everybody speaks English, so when I make an error, which is constantly, the other party in a conversation will switch to English, and I’ll have to stubbornly plod along speaking bad German, and usually they’ll follow my lead. Sometimes they don’t, and I have weird conversations where I’m speaking bad German and the German guy is speaking bad English.
The German language has some inherent weirdnesses. The articles and adjective-declensions (yes, linguistically hip friends, in German you have to conjugate the fucking adjectives) I have to more or less throw out the window, or kind of use the Force and hope that I’m speaking correctly some of the time. The real fuck-up engine is the weirdness of the syntax. Where in English you’d say: “I must not tell you that I will go to the store,” in German it goes: “I must not you tell, that I to the store go will.” Yeah.
Jorge Luis Borges said in a poem, “German language, you are your own masterpiece.” I agree. English and German are pretty closely related, so there’s all kinds of cognates, but trying to think in German syntax is a psychedelic experience. I’ve learned a lot about what it is to speak or write, period, in any language.
I speak my fractured Deutsch to the crowd during the shows, and they tend to find it charming. My hope is to come off something like Roberto Benigni in Down by Law. Some of my go-to shticks don’t work so well in Germany–when I tell the crowd they’re sexy and look very healthy, it confuses them–not that that’s any reason for me to stop telling them that. At the end of the show, when instead of the encore we’ll just turn around, pretend we’ve left the stage, then turn around again and pretend we’re spontaneously playing another song, the word I use for “turn around” is zugabe The crowd sometimes chants it: “Zoo-Gah-BUH! Zoo-Gah-BUH!”
I’ve been doing interviews in German, too, which is great–I kind of get a high from it, going on some big radio station in Berlin and stumbling along half-haplessly. Everybody compliments my German effusively, which I realize actually means: You speak really great German for an American. Actually, probably for anybody; there’s not a lot of foreigners that speak the language. Those of us that find German pretty are in the minority.
The journalists and DJs love hearing that Germanness (well, more likely Berlin-ness) has acquired hipness in New York; that my fave DJ on WFMU, Ken Freedman, has been on a months-long jag of playing old German-language New Wave tracks. I understand where those tracks came from well–Germany is a post-industrial place, its artists are well-marinated in, and aware of, the angular modernity and the geekiness of the culture. Theirs is a funny mindset–Germans are these hugely emotional people, but they’re very into control, and rules, and regularity–it’s a fascinating tension.
When I first started touring Europe, way back in the way back, I dug the French and not the Germans. This has pretty much reversed itself–I find the French exasperating and the Germans lovely. I’m very freaked out by the sublimated anger of the Dutch, which surfaced when I stopped enjoying Amsterdam for the weed and whores.
We’re traveling by train, which is romantic, deliciously lonely, and soothing all at the same time. The German train system, naturally, is beautifully put together and hyper-efficient. Getting up in the morning and going to the train station, usually giant, vaulted, bustling spaces, is a wonderful ritual. I read Bild on the train, the big populist national daily paper, which is kind of akin to the New York Post. It’s appeal to me is not so much for the gossip about German soap stars but that it’s exactly on my reading level.
Scrap and I are really into the fact that when Germans say English words that have a V in it, they pronounce it as a W: wisit, wacation, wenue, wan, adwice. Except here’s the thing–there is no W sound in German whatsoever. W is pronounced V, V is pronounced F. Huh?! We’re going to query some Germans about it before we get out of here.