Friday, March 28, 2014

Spring Break!

Some things I’ve been thinking about in the last 48 hours.

My friend Ramona was in town about a year ago. We met up for coffee at Alliance Bakery, then split. She was going to go dancing at Rainbo Club, Brianna and I were going to head south. Later, I asked Ramona how dancing went.
            “If by dancing you mean drinking 40s in an alley in the rain, very well.”

On a phone call waiting for some FAFSA info, the machine voice got tricky with verb tenses. “Your call was very important to us,” it said, and I waited for something bad to happen.

The manager at White Palace Grill was talking to a regular. “It's too, too expensive to fly into San Francisco. What you should do is fly into Oakland, save a hundred bucks, and take a fifteen-dollar train to San Francisco.” 
              I actually wrote this down in the book I was reading. When I got home and checked some prices, Oakland was somehow at least seventy-five dollars more. But that doesn’t make sense. So I still believe him.

I’ve watched two Werner Herzog documentaries in the past two weeks. Which isn’t a lot of anything by anyone’s standards, but I don’t watch many movies. After seeing Happy People and Cave of Forgotten Dreams, I slummed onto YouTube to hear him talk more. I love his voice. During one interview, someone in the distance shoots him in the stomach with either a powerful pellet gun or a weak rifle. He taps his stomach and mumbles, then the camera cuts. Afterward, at the interviewer’s request, he reflects on the shot. “It was an insignificant bullet.”

I reread Conrad’s short story, “Youth”, because Heart of Darkness is too long to finish in a sitting, I think. Here is the setup for a quotation I enjoyed. After the coal they are trying to ship to Bangkok sets alight in the cargo, the ship explodes. When they meet another ship, it is described like this – “One of the boats dropped in the water, and walked towards us upon the sea with her long oars.”
Over break, I’ve been trying to write about this time I rode an elephant and felt icky afterward. In one cheesy paragraph I’ll probably have to cut, I think about big eyeballs on animals. Which animal has the biggest eyeball proportionate to body? The vampire squid. Which overall? The colossal squid, I think. I looked up elephant eyes, too. Really, they aren’t that big. When I went to sleep I had a nightmare wherein I asked Brianna about eyes, some weird eye question, and then rows upon rows of eyes appeared and she chased me, a departure from my usual nightmares that are about forgetting to lesson plan, etc. 

I try not to write about dreams, but it always happens.

And now I have to go to bed.   

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Hits from Dee Dee Ramone’s Autobiography, Poison Heart

1.     On being in a rehabilitation center: “That was fucked up. They also made me play volleyball. It was a nightmare.”

2.     On quitting the Ramones: “By then I was having a lot of fantasies about jobs […] so I could quit the Ramones. Like being a doorman or a candy store owner, or having a hot dog stand.”

3.     About living by an old graveyard: “Once I went down there to get a loose brick and a dead person’s hand fell out of the hole where the brick had been […] the hand was all bone, but a gold and diamond ring was on its finger […] it must’ve been worth two and a half carats […] the money I got for it at the pawn shop kept me in dope and hostess cupcakes for months.”

4.     On Joey the Artist: “Once Joey bought some fruit and vegetables at the grocery store and used them to do a painting. He churned them in the blender and painted with them—you could either look at the painting or eat it.

5.     On End of the Century: “I still have no idea how [Phil Spector and the Ramones] finished End of the Century, or who actually played bass on it.”  

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Comic for 2021 S. Halsted / LIS #6

This comic will be in Let It Sink #6, being rereleased for zine fest w/ illustrations. Here, Mark and I move a printing press into a condemned hand-operated elevator. The day? Yom Kippur. Box 1> I'm in my loft bed. Box 2> the stairs. Box 3> moving it. Box 4> Mark on left.

Or Maybe an Improved Version of How Songs Are Easy

How I Pass the Time, Or Maybe an Improved Version of How Songs Are Easy

At 28, I'm only starting to learn the things I needed to know at 17. How to sort of make a zine, how to silkscreen, how to write songs, how to not take any of it personally. I'm still not great at any of those callings, and I've never identified as an artist in any sense, though I do like the mythlore of being receptive to ideas and inspiration.

If I go for a stroll or a bike ride on Ashland, a miserable street for cycling and exhaust choked for walking, there's a passable opportunity to receive a song idea.

It starts by my whistling. I pair whistles with bits of phrasing I see, almost exclusively store slogans and grocery prices that have been painted on white butcher paper. A melody arrives and I record it onto my phone. I rush home and jangle it out onto guitar. I break into a sweat, play it over a few times. 

Outside people are dropping candy wrappers to the cement and waiting at red lights. They have no idea what's happening in my apartment. Incredible.

Four out of five instances my song's will have such a bad melody that I can actually hear my high school friends ridiculing it, "What're you gonna send these off to Walt Disney?" 

Etc. Then the occasional song will make it to Krayola practice. My accomplices, according to no grading system I can determine, will give it the pass or rejection slip. The rate of acceptability must parallel some sort of barometer. I can only knit my hands over my eyes and invoke the Lord's name many times until it's over and a new song comes.  

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Dee Dee Ramone Figures Into Things (3)

Dee Dee Ramone Figures Into Things

How I Think of Dee Dee Ramone in Particular and Songery in General

Over the next few days and in the year since, I knew I didn't care about who wrote what, "Chinese Rock" or whatever song. Really, I just think -- wouldn't it be exciting to be walking around your neighborhood, to get onto the subway, to do anything with a hit song in your head? The type that other bands wanted to rip from you and set to record across town? Does it feel heavy until you record it? Do you whistle it for months before anyone else knows? All I want is this light drama in my life.

And I don't mean popular songs like Train's "Hey, Soul Sister" which I had to learn the name and performer of so I could hate it clearly, but maybe famous songs like Cannonball or Great Big Kiss, Heatwave or Civilization's Dying.

Learning of the plagiarism legend around "Chinese Rock" established in Poison Heart and 70s NYC cult rock biography Please Kill Me feels a bit like watching tennis. Bass player Richard Hell -- who referred to any time he spent with Thunders as babysitting -- told Dee Dee that he would write a song better than Lou Reed's "Heroin," and Dee Dee decided he would outdo both Hell and Reed by writing an even greater drug-themed song. To his testament he gave proof in shaking out the chorus and verse to "Chinese Rocks."

Oddly, The Ramones were leery of taking a song about hard drugs. This delayed prudery caused an odd shift. Without any documented slap to the face of his pride, Dee Dee tossed the song as a hey whatever/you take it to Richard Hell, who renounced his Anti-Reed vow and wrote two lines for a new verse to "Chinese Rocks." Hell then gave it to The Heartbreakers, quit The Heartbreakers, and frowned later on when Johnny Thunders and company took writer's credit for it in their next album's liner notes.

To settle things, Dee Dee writes in his autobiography that Johnny Thunders was a lowlife, a wonderful insult. Apparently, no sooner does he lose that song then Stiv Bators of The Damned stoleThe Ramones piece "Poison Heart." Bators rushed it to demo in a London studio only to die promptly afterward.

Sure, all you ingest is potato chips and methadone, you can wax a car with all the grease in your hair, and receding gum lines make you look like a sad Dracula, but a dozen creeps around the city want your choruses.

I can't distinguish the pulp from the history. But still, to have such professionally unreliable people grating out this music. It gives me pause. 

Saturday, March 1, 2014

Dee Dee Ramone Figures Into Things (2)

Dee Dee Ramone Figures Into Things 

(Part 2 of 3) How to Care About It in the Wrong Way 

During a summer rainstorm that you could hear from inside a windowless bar on California near Diversey, I got stuck in a longer conversation between my neighbor, Brian, and a skinhead.
        We were lined up at the stools and initially talked about leather jackets. I wanted to know where Brian bought his. My old jacket got ruined through rips and soakings.
In minutes I lost all footing in the conversation, which had turned to Johnny Thunders, who I knew of only as a tattoo on the arms of bleach headed punks.
        Brian and the skinhead worked me through Johnny Thunders' history with the New York Dolls, into The Heartbreakers and up to his New Orlean's death and posthumous rising stardom in books and record shops.
        Then I remembered what I read in Poison Heart, and I said, "Hey, didn't Johnny Thunders steal a song from Dee Dee Ramone? Was it Chinese Rocks?"
        Then skinhead looked into space.
        "Oh no!" he said. "That has never been established." 
        Seeing this, the bartender stopped pouring a draft and watched us from a few feet away as the skinhead explained to me with the aggression of a man abused that Thunders, as a songwriter, played miles ahead of DeeDee. 
        And further, that the man who fronted The Heartbreakers would never stoop to steal a song in all his life. 
        "Especially not from a Ramone!"
        "But maybe he'd steal your watch for heroin," I guessed. Then I got a dirty look. Eventually, Brian was talking hockey and then I knew it was really time to leave.