The Suspect Is In Our Sights

I sipped my Dunkin coffee as my partner, Pat pulled up behind the suspect. From our vantage point, the suspect was an African-American male approximately early thirties. He wore a white dress shirt and neck tie. We could identify a car seat stationed in the back with a child rocking while holding a toy.

“Check out the plate.” I called it in. No outstanding violations. We continued our pursuit.

The driver signaled and turned right on Cochran. Nice neighborhood. Where was he going?

“Should we call in back up?” No, this is ours.

Pat reached to turn on the lights, but I slapped his hand. I wanted to see how this played out.

The suspect pulled into the driveway of a split level house. Lawn appeared to be manicured with lovely shrubs. Fall mums recently planted. A flag pole with what first appeared to be a foreign flag waving. Upon closer inspection, the flag checked out as American. Suspect unbuckled his safety belt and exited the vehicle. Without making any sudden movements, he removed the toddler from the car seat.

“Are they working this together?” Pat muttered. Pat’s hand rested on his sidearm. We’ll see. I sipped my coffee as Pat pulled the car to a stop across the street from the home the suspect appeared to be casing. Why this house? It didn’t add up.

“Someone’s coming.” Pat reached for his door, but I pulled him back. An African-American female opened the front door. Thin and wearing nurse’s scrubs, I could make out her lips saying “how was your day?” She grabbed for the child.

“Should we call in back up?” Pat was sweating. “There’s more than one.”

We wait. This could be good. Maybe SWAT good. Reminded me of the time we caught one in a Jaguar heading towards the suburbs. Got hot real fast. Several suburban forces helped with the pursuit, even though that suspect had pulled over immediately. His license and registration checked out, but something just didn’t feel right. Call it patrolman’s instinct, but by the time the FBI arrived each officer had already emptied his weapon. No dash cams on that one. Good damn, brass.

From our vantage point, the suspect, the woman and the toddler were sitting around a dining room table. Something was smoking in the middle of the table. Drugs? Maybe. A discharged weapon? No, we would have heard it. The suspect picked up the steaming bowl and seemed to pull something from it by possibly using a large utensil. Pat appeared antsy.

“I say we bust down that door. There’s three of them!” No. We wait.

A half hour passed before we noticed some activity. The suspect emerged from the house wearing what appeared to be a hoodless track suit. He made some stretching movements and then took off running down the street away from our car.

I got him. I set my coffee down and went for a run. I made it down the street a couple of blocks before heading back to the patrol car. Before I could catch my breath, I took another look at that flag. Still American. What the hell is going on here.

The next morning, the suspect and the toddler emerged from the front door. I tapped Pat’s leg with my shotgun. Pat had slept through the night, but not peacefully. Several times he cried out and whimpered. The case was getting to him, and weren’t getting too far.

“He’s on the move already?” 7am, big boy. Let’s roll.

The suspect stopped at what appeared at first to be a safe house called ABC DayCare. Turned to be a day care. He dropped off the accomplice, and then moved on to the concrete jungle. A skyscraper. Where is he going?

“He’s making fools of us. I say we grab him.” NO!!! We wait.

The suspect ate yogurt for lunch. Yogurt. He’s fucking with us. If we were going to solve this, we were going to need some help. We called the Chief.

“Yogurt, huh? Keep building a case, officer.”

Two weeks passed before we sniffed a break. The suspect pulled into the driveway of the house he still appeared to be casing and opened the trunk of his perfectly registered car. With no time to lose, Pat and I slipped from our vehicle without having to unlatch the safety belts that we never use. As we approached, we saw a motherload in the trunk. “Bombs,” Pat whispered to me. Just as I raised the shotgun to crush the suspect’s skull, I observed that the trunk was full of pumpkins.

“Pumpkins? The guy’s fucking with you two. I want this case wrapped up. You here!”

Several years passed. The suspect had been promoted to a regional manager position. He and the women had added another accomplice. A girl. The woman appeared to be taking yoga three times a week.

“Yoga! Are they monsters?”

As I neared retirement, I knew I needed to put this case to rest. I wouldn’t go out the same way as Pat drinking myself to death. Why would a good officer drink rat poison? He didn’t have a rat problem. Or did he? Did I miss those signs too?

FotoFlexer_TrumpFor all of his faults, idiocy, high crimes and misdemeanors, self-aggrandizement and general awfulness, I would contend that Donald J. Trump is quintessentially the most American of all presidents. Let’s cut all the “shiny city on hill” bullcrap and examine the true core of America.

America cultivated for-profit Christianity (while maintaining non-profit status), a form of religion that enriches pastors, bishops, prophets, madmen, charlatans and Mormons. Oh, yeah, Mormonism, that most American of all religions founded by a failed “businessman” who spent time in jail for scamming people. In the early 1820’s, Joseph Smith found himself turning to the tried and true business of religion to cultivate suckers. Prophets with a vision to sell were popping up all over the place, but not many offered free land and child brides. Oh, and Mormons preach a success covenant with God. Your financial well doing is tied to your faith. You know, just like Jesus preached. Give a man a fish and create a lazy mooch, teach a man to scam and he’ll never work again. Trump Steaks, anyone?

Before Donald Trump, America had to endure Phineas Taylor “P. T.” Barnum. Another creation of the America of nightmares, Barnum was a politician, showman, and businessman best remembered for promoting celebrated hoaxes and for founding the Barnum & Bailey Circus. Like Trump, Barnum said of himself, “I am a showman by profession…and all the gilding shall make nothing else of me.” Also like Trump, Inc., Barnum’s goal was “to put money in his own coffers”. Barnum is generally credited with coining the phrase “There’s a sucker born every minute”. Hey, do those suckers vote?

Why do Americans still remember Barnum nearly 130 years after his death? Sure – torturing elephants, but why else? Because he bragged about himself non-stop. A shameless self-promoter who saw humanity as one big dollar sign. The distractions he created were bearded ladies, conjoined twins and sword swallowers. For Trump, it’s failed casinos, horsemeat steaks and flirting with his daughter.

And what about those casinos? Is there anything more iconic of the American landscape than Las Vegas? The city of dreams funded by gangsters using union pension funds so suckers can waste their hard earned cash trying to get rich quick. Of course, Trump tried his hand in the casino business in the shithole known as Atlantic City. Like most of his business operations, Trump himself became the sucker. The only casino operator on Earth who lost money. Even Old Testament Ghoul, Sheldon Adelson made money in casinos, and his were in Macau!

Which brings us to professional sports. The only monopolies left in America. Another institution that found popularity through gambling, and remains popular despite scandals involving drugs, cheating, doping, stealing and murder. Yes, they even covet their neighbors wives!

The idiocy of professional sports in America can best be showcased through it’s favorite creation: professional wrestling. Nothing says America like beefcake bodybuilders engaged in homo-erotic gripping and groaning while a delighted audience cheers on the heroes and villains knowing the entire enterprise is a fraud. Each wrestler is a manufactured “character” marketed to get the suckers in the seats or shelling out big dollars on pay per view.

Of course, Trump too had a hand in professional wrestling. Trapped somewhere between ridiculous business buffoon and too soft “pretty boy” to be taken seriously, Trump would stand ringside at yell at the actors and their owner, Vince McMahon. In 2009, instead of negotiating with world leaders, Trump was dealing with Vince McMahon on the “purchase” of Monday Night Raw, the cable broadcast of professional wrestling.

Said Trump at the time, “I’m going to do stuff that’s never been done before. never been seen before. People have been watching Raw for 17 years and they deserve something special. You’ve made a lot of money off these people. It’s about time you give back. Like our president says, ‘Give back.'”

As always, when left unscripted, Trump has a way of playing the asshole. Imagine a president like John Kennedy or Barack Obama suggesting that successful people give something back to their country. What are we? Suckers?

Bigly.

I Would Have Gone With Garland

On November 25th, Etouffe’s birthday by the way, I finally decided to take my Hillary sign out of the yard. Others had been doing it since the election, but I kept putting it back up. A resistance movement? Not so much. I just wanted people driving down our street to know that her Mims and I weren’t insane. We weren’t ready to concede that 60 million of our countrymen, some friends and relatives, could pull the lever for such an obvious conman. A conman running on the dimmest of slogans: Make America Great Again. I won’t even concede that the phrase is harkening back to some racist time that every klansman would know. I think it was a reject slogan from Chevy or Wendy’s or MelloYello.

If you (singular reader) haven’t gathered by now, I run a political marketing firm. Here’s some inside baseball info for you: we rarely elect the best and brightest. Mostly, it’s wealthy narcissists. Paranoid ones who clutch to petty slights and dream of exacting revenge. They drive their consultants crazy with their Enemies of Carlotta lists, and just when we’re ready to kill each other the campaign ends. So, good luck, Trumpie. Hope you make it through the year.

fotoflexer_lourdesOn the positive side of the election year, Mims and I were honored to host an exchange student from Bolivia for 2 weeks. While I was not sold on the idea at first, it didn’t take long to feel blessed. Lourdes became our “daughter,” and a special part of our lives. Her English was way better than my Espanol. She said I sounded Japanese when I tried to speak Spanish. Also, she was pleased by our extensive CD and DVD collections. She flipped when she saw we had Gorillaz. Of course, I tried to get her interested in every Indie band I could think of (more on that).

Sadly, I promised her a Hillary victory. I even ordered her a hat and shirt from the ImWithHer store. But it was not to be. Apparently, there is a strong desire to make America a banana republic. So we can’t share the joy of seeing the USA elect it’s first female president, however, Lourdes, Her Mims and I will always have David S. Pumpkins. Any questions?

Lourdes did want to see a live concert while she was visiting. Our options were Har Mar Superstar or Rooney. I’m happy to report we chose correctly. Robert Schwartzman (Jason’s little brother) was pure rock star, even if only 50 people showed. Francis Ford Coppola’s nephew could not have been more gracious and more entertaining. As a bonus, they even have new record out: “Washed Away.” I’m not making any promises, but if I go back to publishing “Best Of” lists this should make the Best of 2016.

fotoflexer_rooneyRobert stopped to have his picture taken with all of us, and to chat. He seemed genuinely interested in his fans. Especially one who had traveled all the way from Bolivia to see him. I did get a brief interview in, and, finally, someone answered “the question” correctly. Read on:

Me: Man, that was a great show. Way better than Phantom Planet.
RS: Hey, thanks. Well…
Me: How come your brother wasn’t in “Royal Tennenbaums?”
RS: I don’t know.
ME: He could have played Ari or Uzi.
RS: Ok.
ME: Final question that I ask all musicians: Rolling Stones or Blur?
RS: What do you mean?
ME: Which band rocks harder?
RS: I gotta go with Blur. I love them. Yeah! All right.
ME: Holy crap! That’s it. Thank you!

And just for sticking around for the interview, I’ll leave you with a little taste of Rooney. You’re welcome, kind sir. Or madam.

Send In The Destroyer

On a trip to New York in the 80s, I discovered Spy Magazine. I became a subscriber until they stopped publishing in the mid-90s. If you’re not familiar with Spy, it was a precursor to the Onion only they focused a lot of their satire at the “short-fingered vulgarian” known as Donald J. Trump. Nearly 30 years ago, they predicted the comic rise of a national nightmare/joke. One might say that Spy destroyed satire. On November 9th, many of us might be thinking: what now?

fotoflexer_bejarSpeaking of Destroyer, I had the pleasure recently to see Dan Bejar perform a solo show that was by all accounts divine. It’s not just his unique voice, his biblical prophet/renaissance painter look or his 70s jazzy style of indie rock that was so appealing. It was all of that, and. And his way around a song structure that blended storytelling with free form poetry. One might call it Nobel Prize winning caliber, but we’ll see.

The interview didn’t go so well, as I caught him standing near the restroom. He was extremely nice, but seemed fragile and I didn’t want to be the one to send him into a tailspin. I approached with an introduction of my own.

ME: Dan. Hey meet your label mate. My sister’s doing an album with Misra.
DB: Oh, yeah. (To Comedy Sister) Do you know (Ted)?
GAB: No, I’m working with a local guy.
DB: That’s cool.
ME: How about some pictures?
DB: Sure.

And that was it. I didn’t even get to ask Stones, Blur or Sloan (our Canadian edition of the popular quiz show). I also wanted to ask who he reads. He just seemed like a guy who polishes off a book a week. Maybe next time.

fotoflexer_lynn-whitfieldSpeaking of destroying it, here’s a picture of me with Hollywood great, Lynn Whitfield. Ms. Whitfield was in town as a surrogate for Hillary Clinton. They told us Ted Danson was coming, but I wasn’t complaining. She crushed it for Hillary. In a room packed with Democrats, I bet 85% of those in attendance will vote for Hillary. If they vote at all. And if you’re going to fire up the faithful, who better to light the match then the woman who portrayed Josephine Baker? I told her how much I loved her in “Silverado,” and she gave me a high-five. She said, “no one ever brings that one up.” I told her that Goldblum was a native son. We follow him closely. Love his work for Apartments.com.

I also had the honor recently of meeting a real national hero, Representative John Lewis. This man was a freedom marcher who put his body on the line to bring equality to the South. He took more batons to the head than a blind marching band. My goodness, he was so kind to all of us waiting to take a picture. He also gave a great speech that was even respectful of the short-fingered vulgarian. All he asked was that we vote. I guess he’s still passionate about that stuff.

fotoflexer_john-lewisOn a strange note, he thanked me profusely for all of the support my brothers in the Plumbers and Steamfitters Unions have given him over the years. Huh? Oh, the shirt was a “gift” I picked up on Labor Day. Oops. You’re welcome, Congressman. You’re welcome.

Should have had one more photo to share, but Ben Folds blew me off. Me and 50 other people. Realtor Dennis took me to a VIP reception and show of Ben Minus Four, which was to include a meet and greet. Ben never made it to the meet nor the greet. We did get to sit in on the soundcheck, but, you know, not from the stage. He performed “Zak and Sara” so I’m not complaining. However, when he played “Brick” Realtor D turned to me and asked, “Do you know any of these songs?” Sometimes it goes like that.

His question did get me thinking. Mostly about “Westworld.” Man, I am loving that show, but I am starting to spot AI among us. Seriously, how else can you explain these Trump crowds.

Your Band Smells Like the Replacements

Review of “Trouble Boys: The True Story of The Replacements”

FotoFlexer_KetelReplacementsAs chronicled in Bob Behr’s excellent history “Trouble Boys: The True Story of the Replacements,” the band were often self-sabotaging drunken louts who performed to their audiences basest desires to see a head-on pile up. Yet in 1987 at the Graffiti, Paul Westerburg and his mates put on an inspired gem of a show playing an ungodly 28-song set plus a few encores that included Westerburg taking and playing requests. Someone yelled out a Christmas song and one of rock’s greatest lyricists indulged.

In 1987, the ‘Mats (as they’re affectionately known) were on the verge of super stardom. On the road to promote their highly anticipated second major label release (“Pleased to Meet Me”), they inexplicably chose chaos and destruction rather than playing it straight. And that’s the point of Behr’s book. In a calculated choice between dominating the airwaves and destroying their livers, the Minneapolis kids picked up the bottle and rarely set it down.

The band always had trouble reconciling their hard scrabble upbringings with a desire to be accepted. They were four high school drop outs (with the exception of their 12-year old bassist, who may have dropped out of middle school at some point) working menial jobs and making tremendous racket in a basement who somehow crafted some of the most beautiful songs of their generation. Always fortunate to find friends willing to take a chance on their talent and overlook their glaring alcoholism and drug use, they were propelled into legend if not exactly fame.

While “Trouble Boys” explores psychological factors, including child abuse, that lead to many of the challenges the band faced on their career trajectory, it doesn’t delve deeply enough to explore how such a talented songwriter as Westerburg came to blow up what should have been a brilliant career. He both craved fame and urinated all over it, including shouting a profanity on Saturday Night Live that lead to a television ban.

The Replacements three record output of “Let it Be,” “Tim” and “Pleased to Meet Me” rank as one of the greatest runs ever by a band, yet they struggled to escape the confines of college radio. Meanwhile, their colleagues R.E.M. were able to reach the top of the charts, infuriating and confusing the ‘Mats. It’s not that Westerburg was against “selling out,” he just couldn’t get his demons under control long enough to make people like him.

An American soul singer who could bang out classics like “Unsatisfied” and “Here Comes a Regular,” Westerburg started chasing the dream and further alienating all of his allies. Firing band mates, management and even bringing in session players, he became prophetic in writing “A dream too tired to come true.” With the release of “All Shook Down” and it’s single “When it Began”, the dream had come to a close.

It’s difficult to read their post-Replacements lives, especially the half-brother Stinsons. Tommy gets his first non-musical job as a telemarketer selling office supplies and Bob dies of “natural” causes before the age of fifty. For his part, Westerburg got sober and embarked on a somewhat successful solo career, though the big hit remained elusive. One of the joys he finds in sobriety is being able to coach his son’s little league team.

To his credit, Behr interviews nearly everyone involved in the Replacements family, from the earliest days in Minneapolis to the final tour. Reading each and every drunken miscue becomes exhausting. You keep hoping that they’ll straighten out long enough to taste success even though you know the ending. By the early 90s, as the torch of the Replacements’ sound gets passed to bands like Nirvana and the Pixies, it’s too late.

In a final ditch effort to cash in on renewed interest in their music, the Replacements reformed in 2012 to tour the world. They played in front of their largest crowds ever, and even talked about recording together again. But, in staying true to themselves, the project devolved and was canceled before it could can go further. A May 2015 show scheduled at Stage AE was canceled due to illness, and by June the tour was over. Even in sobriety they found a way to disappoint their fans. The troubled legacy would remain intact.

Review of “The Strange Library”

Japanese novelist Haruki Murakami’s follow up to his brilliant “1Q84”is a slight fable that reads like a condemnation of Common Core, the education system that promotes memorization over critical thinking.

As in most fables, Murakami gives us a young protagonist who finds himself on a quest. In “The Strange Library,” our nameless narrator visits the city library to return books and to learn about tax collection during the Ottoman Empire. To fulfill his quest, he is lead through a labyrinthine basement by a menacing library assistant and confined to a cell.

Often criticized in his native Japan for using western story-telling techniques, “The Strange Library” incorporates elements of fabulism and folklore that feel rooted in Japan. The book is also peppered with drawings that give the feel of being a picture book for adults. The drawings have the coloration of anime or pop art, bold and hypnotic. I imagine Guillermo Del Toro is already working on the screenplay.

Our narrator chides himself constantly for his own politeness, and his willingness to please others. His desire to learn about the tax collecting policies of the Ottomans is more a whim born from loneliness than an actual intellectual pursuit. He arrives at the library near to closing time to return 2 titles, “How to Build a Submarine” and “Memoirs of a Shepherd.”

Which brings us to the man in the sheep skin suit. A variation of this character has appeared in other Murakami’s books, and in “The Strange Library” he appears as a slave to the brutish library assistant. Our narrator empathizes with the man’s plight and invites the man in the sheep skin suit to escape with him.

Surely Murakami, with his fascination for Western culture, would know the significance of the “sheep skin” symbolism, and how Westerners refer to diplomas as sheep skin. The boy is aided in his assignment to memorize three books about tax collection by the man in the sheep skin. The boy is told that he cannot leave the library until he can recite the books verbatim.

As in “1Q84,” Murakami plays with a notion of parallel universes where actions in one universe can affect outcomes in another world. Like a liberal education, the narrator elects to study a subject and then is forced to commit to that choice. In this case, the commitment takes the form of being confined to a part of the library he did not know existed. The narrator fears his surroundings, but also fears for the worry he will cause his mother if he does not return home in time for dinner.

Like most good fantasies, there is a love interest. Here our narrator meets a wraith like young woman of incredible beauty who nurtures him in his confinement by bringing him his meals. How many productive educations have been lost to the pursuit of romance?

The grandson of a Buddhist priest, Murakami also generously peppers this tale with Christian imagery. From the boy returning a book titled “Memoirs of a Shepherd” to him losing his new, leather shoes during his escape. He also discovers his pet starling has escaped while he has been away. The transference of freedom. What does he gain from losing?

Of course, this book implies that the memorization of obscure details may in fact be liberating, but does this “liberal education” truly produce freedom? Isn’t our narrator now imprisoned by a stifling knowledge of impractical facts and details. Are we, like our narrator, filling our heads with useless information merely to pass our time through our days. Instead of Ottoman tax collectors, we share information about talent show contestants and PED participants.

“The Strange Library” is certainly accessible by Murakami standards, but is not as satisfying as his master works. While it does offer an allegory for the pursuit of an education, including the harrowing experiences with pedagogues and taskmasters, it leaves the reader wanting for a more fleshed out story. This story story has a place in the Murakami canon but not at the top.

###

FotoFlexer_TammyEalomOn tour to promote “Kingsized,” their latest CD on Yep Roc Records is Dressy Bessy. One of our all-time favorite sugary, power pop confectioners from Denver, and tertiary affiliate of the Elephant Six Collective. The new record is their first in nearly 8 years, and only adds to an impressive resume. Standout tracks include “Lady Liberty” and “Pop Phenom.” If more dads and moms bought Amber or Tiffany a guitar instead of a case of Stevia for non-denominational Christmas maybe we would have more excellent female frontpersons like Tammy Ealom. Half the bands played on Sirius XMU owe Tammy some damn reparations. Hashtag truth.

If they were disappointed to be playing to a small crowd of around 30 diehards, then disappointment turned to surprise when Pittsburgh Mayor Bill “Bill” Peduto walked in. The set was tight, and the power was oh so poppy. Maximum Tom and I sat close enough to the stage to ever hope to hear again. Which is fine by me. I don’t need to hear to hand surgeons their stupid tools.

FotoFlexer_DressyBessyHere’s me offering Tammy some good old-fashioned PeePaw advise. Yikes! She and the gents played for a good 90 minutes, and about the only thing missing was the occasional blast of a harmonium. Elephant Six much? But I digress. My only complaint, and yes, I bring it up in the interview, is one song they didn’t perform. I guess I’ll get over it. Now – another award-winning interview:

Me: Tammy, great show. Thank you.

Tammy: Thanks. Man, I was nervous. I’ve never played for a mayor before.

Me: You take Portlandia way too seriously. You a Broncos fan. Me neither. Right?

Tammy: I am.

Me: So, you didn’t play “Superstar Everything.”

Tammy: No. No, we didn’t.

Me: Um, I know. What the hell?

Tammy: Just didn’t make the set.

Me: But I requested it. With my heart. Ok. Next question: favorite movie?

Tammy: Really? Wow. This is hard. Um, “Little Darlings.”

Me: Oh, sorry, we were looking for “Mad Max: Fury Road.” That’s the best movie ever. Ever.

Tammy: Well, I..

Me: Final question that I ask everyone: Stones or Blur?

Tammy: That doesn’t even make sense. Of course, it’s the Stones. Are you going to buy the CD?

Me: I’m asking the questions, and, yes, I already did.

Great show. Great interview. Terrific Mayor. What more do we need? Oh, yeah, the song that must be played! Enjoy.

Charlie, Call the Cops

FotoFlexer_StewartAs you can tell from this photo, Stewart Copeland, Rock and Roll Hall of Fame drummer of the seminal post-punk band, The Police and I are aging gracefully. Copeland was in town to debut his work “The Tyrant’s Crush,” a concerto for drum set and percussion with the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra. While the piece was compulsive and mesmerizing, I couldn’t help but recall seeing the Police in 1982. It was the first concert her Mims and I attended together, and, yes, every little thing she did drove me crazy. In the best way possible.

I borrowed a department store credit card from my grandmother to buy the tickets because, I suppose, I wanted to start paying Ticket Bastard charges before they even existed. The show was phenomenal. We walked to the front of the stage and no security personnel who thought they were patrolling Baghdad stopped us. Sting was the showman, but the man behind the drum kit was the madman who kept things rocking. This was the “Ghost in the Machine” tour, and you can hear Copeland trying to crush his way away from the reggae Sting always tried to sneak in. Good times. Mims and I have seen the PoPo thrice, and each time was memorable.

I didn’t get too much time to interview Stew, but I did get to drop the big question.

Me: Stewart, big fan. Loved the piece.
Stew: Thanks.
Me: Quick question. Blur…
Stew (seemingly excited): Yeah!
Me: Or the Stones?
Stew: What?!! Are you nuts? The Stones started all of this.
Me: Actually, I think it was Ike Turner. Anyway, thank you.

FotoFlexer_VuTranNow back to shamelessly plugging books and music. If you’re a fan of literary crime fiction in the vein of James Ellroy and Richard Price, then you’ll enjoy first-time novelist Vu Tran’s “Dragonfish.” Tran, born in Vietnam, escaped with his family via rickety boat, and was raised in Oklahoma. Set in a Las Vegas most of us never experience, we meet Vietnamese crime lords, smugglers and a bad luck dame. Well written with colorful characters, you’ll Pho for it. Sorry. Here’s my brief interview with Vu:

Me: So your parents were big Velvet Underground fans.
Vu: Huh?
Me: Have you read James Crumley?
Vu: No, I haven’t. Crumley?
Me: That’s right.

And, finally, we end our show with a shout out to Mourning Stone, a band we discovered via Twitter. Fans looking for a heavy sound reminiscent of Sunny Day Real Estate/ Fire Thief will love the track “Save Me” from their EP “Five Ways to Broken.” Songs are available to stream on the band’s website mourningstone.com/music, or you can, you know, buy it. And while you’re buying music, don’t forget that Dressy Bessie has a new record coming out. Start saving. I look forward to seeing them on tour and interviewing Tammy. Someone has to answer Blur!, don’t they?

Are We Going Steady, Craig?

FotoFlexer_Finn Craig Paul SCall me Ishmael. I finally landed my white whale. Having already “interviewed” a couple of Hold Steadilys, Tad Kubler and Franz Nicolay, I finally had a chance to meet “Singer” slash songwriter, Craig Finn, dressed as Paul Stanley no less. Finn is on tour in support of his great second solo release “Faith in the Future” on Partisan Records. Why was I dressed as a torero? Well, I had recently returned from Barcelona to help separate the Cataloonies from the Spainies. But that’s another story.

Speaking of stories, Craig Finn, who has chronicled the underbelly of Minneapolis druggies and petty criminals in his bands Lifter Puller and The Hold Steady, trained his eye on 9/11 New York and his new digs in Brooklyn. The stories on the new record are a little more Cheever and less Bukowski, and, of course, allow Finn to continue to explore his own struggles with his Catholic faith. A story on the record, “Newmyer’s Roof” relives watching 9/11 happen while drinking with a friend. Thing is, my friend, Christian (who may be a Muslim) knows Newmyer. Christian (possible Muslim) got to party with The Hold Steady at a crappy bar in the Southside recently when they were touring because of the Newmyer connection. I couldn’t join them because I was too drunk. Imagine being too drunk for The Hold Steady. Literally, my pants kept falling down. I willingly gave up my keys…to my house. I was that drunk.

Now – on to the award winning interview.

Me: Wow, the makeup job is so good I want to call you Paul.
Craig: Really?
Me: No. Hey, Bert Blyleven is my all-time favorite Twin.
Craig: I met him once. He’s great.
Me: I know. I lobbied to get him in the Hall of Fame. Anyway, who is your favorite Pirates player?
Craig: McCutcheon. I like him. He’s seems cool. You guys have a good team.
Me: Well, looks can be deceiving. Next question, and it’s one I ask a lot: Stones or Blur?
Craig: Stones.
Me: Damnit! Everyone says Stones.
Craig: Well, I’d pick Blur over Oasis. Yeah. Definitely.
Me: Not the question. That’s like saying I’d pick China Crisis over Icicle Works.
Craig: Can I leave?
Me: Final question: John Berryman or Yeats.
Craig: Berryman. Absolutely.

FotoFlexer_Finn Set ListIn fairness, I may have said Keats. Hell, I might have said Bleats. Who knows. I had consumed some Devil’s juice. And I was dressed as a bullfighter. Ps. Here’s a copy of the set list. That’s right – Stay Positive.

Speaking of being positive, my promise to you solitary reader is that I will finally publish my Top Twenty list of CDs for 2014 soon. Sorry, it’s been a rough year. And I’m not even talking about Shamir.

FotoFlexer_Chris DiffordAnd I’d positively be an idiot not to mention that I stalked Chris Difford, legendary lyricist of Squeeze at a sushi bar. Squeeze, as I’ve written before, get an unfair comparison to the Beatles. As if. Squeeze are more the Kinks, a great UK band that America (and their deep pockets) largely ignored. Too literate, too poetic, too British. I did get to ask Viscount Difford a few questions while Etouffe snapped our photo. To wit:

Me: Chris, big fan, and I should point out we’re both Cool for Cats.
Chris: Lovely.
Me: How is the new record moving off the shelves?
Chris: Dunno.
Me: So I ask everyone: Blur or the Stones?
Chris: Really? Stones.
Me: Okay, everyone says Stones but you have to admit that the new Blur record is fantastic.
Chris: Yes, I will admit that. Now can I eat my sushi?
Me: I’m asking the questions here, Sexy Beast.
Chris: Bye.

Sufjan Stevens’ “Oedipus Rex”

“Oblivion – what a blessing…for the mind to dwell a world away from pain.”
― Sophocles, Oedipus Rex

FotoFlexer_SufjanThe ancient Greeks believed that the dead could come back as birds, and in his masterpiece, “Carrie and Lowell” poet/singer Sufjan Stevens references birds in nearly every song as he tries to makes sense of his mother’s death and life. From opening track “Death with Dignity” with images of chimney swifts and red hens, to the one-winged dove in “Drawn to the Blood,” the falcon of “Eugene” and the hawk reference to his mother on “Fourth of July.” Birds represent his mother, himself, his siblings, seemingly everyone who has touched his life. If this weren’t such an autobiographical piece, you might condemn him for Yeats like excess, but each bird has a clear reference point in each song.

Of course, the center piece of this record is “The Only Thing,” a meditation on his complicated relationship he had with his mother and the unbearable grief leading him to thoughts of suicide. How complicated? Well he does sing about “should I tear my eyes out now?” Like the Prophet Daniel, our narrator finds solace in faith, though, with a healthy dose of cynicism. Where Daniel is able to survive a den of lions through divine intervention, our Narrator survives “sea lion caves in the dark.”

And we shouldn’t pretend that the composer of “John Wayne Gacy” and “Casimir Pulaski Day” can’t take a song cycle about his mother’s death from stomach cancer down a notch or 2. He punctuates the bedside conversation between mother and son in “Fourth of July” with the cheery thought the “we’re all gonna die.” To bring the point home, the mother reminds the child of the terrible Tillamook forest fires in Oregon – a biblical like conflagration.

Personally, this record could not have been released at a worse time. When it came out on March 30th, we had already taken my mother back and forth between 2 hospitals and home. When her Mims, Max and I went to Cleveland on April 16th to see Sufjan at the Masonic Hall, we were hopeful that she was on the mend but we were also a lot on edge. As I write this she’s back in the hospital dealing with an infection, Afib, battle wounds and tremendous pain. Hey, at least Carrie could self-medicate. Too soon?

If you are planning to see the second leg of the “Carrie and Lowell” super-bummer tour take plenty of kerchiefs, both hand and neck. The first set is the entire “Carrie and Lowell” record not in sequential order, but with awe-inspiring orchestration and family videos. The second half of the show is nothing but the hits. He even played “Sister” from “Seven Swans!” See the attached link:

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As an added bonus: please enjoy this magpie funeral service. I like to imagine it’s Sufjan and his siblings.

FotoFlexer_Marshall CrenshawHe may not be the most brutal lawman on the frontier, but when Marshall Crenshaw comes a calling you best listen up, Festus. All right, I’m stopping this nonsense in it’s tracks. Suffice to say, I dragged Maximum Tom to see a man who should be in the Rock-n-Roll Hall of Fame if it weren’t for the numbnuts who vote on such things. Maximum asked, “does he do anything else besides ‘Someday, Someway.” Uh, yeah. “Whenever You’re on My Mind,” might be the greatest love song ever written not named Ode to Joy. And don’t even get me started on “You’re My Favorite Waste of Time.” Pure pop gold.

He played a loose set of older, more known songs and newer stuff that he’s recorded with Dan Bern. However, he played without a set list and let the audience shout out requests. Not sure why no one screamed “Blues is King,” nor why he couldn’t hear my mental screams. Suffice to say, that’s one he didn’t play. Bummer.

Anyway, he seems to be touring non-stop, if Twitter is to be believed. And it is. As a bonus, guess who follows our little contribution to the webs? You got, Mr. Marshall Crenshaw. Now my interview:

Me: Can you hold my drink?
MC: What?
Me: Question – who are you currently listening to? And as a follow up – is it Perfume Genius?
MC: I never know how to answer this question. Pass.
Me: This isn’t the $20,000 Pyramid. Let’s go on. Favorite book?
MC: Oh, ok. I like this book about poverty in America. I forget the author. Oh, and there’s a book about the decline of manufacturing and what that’s done to Detroit.
ME: So light reading. How do you see the Tigers finishing this year?
MC: They should be good. I think they were better with that other manager.
ME: Jim Leland?
MC: Yeah. I think they played better for him.
ME: He’s kind of a legend here. Still lives here.
MC: Why?
ME: Um, cause it’s a little safer than Detroit.
MC: Are you going to buy anything?
ME: Hey, I’m asking the questions! Give me back my drink.

Thus concluded the interview. On the plus side, I bought an EP. On the negative side, I don’t own a turntable.

FotoFlexer_Kurt BraunohlerNow let’s turn our attention to the world of comedy, if such a thing still exists. I went to see sister/comic play at a local club and also got to see Kurt Braunohler. Funny man. Yes, we look a little chummy in this photo. I’m not going to lie you, but I think someone roofied me. Braunohler? Maybe. I bought his CD, and he asked me if I’d like it inscribed. Sure. Make it to Nick. He asked how I spelled it. I said, “You’re the second person to ask me that. The other was Lou Reed. He shouted at me C or a K? I told Lou, um, the traditional spelling. Both C and K.” Braunohler signed it: Fuck that guy!

Speaking of sister/comic, we are totally jazzed to be going to Cleveland (Land of Cleves) to see Sufjan Stevens perform. I hope I don’t have to attend any weddings or funerals between now and April 16th. I’m saving my tear ducts.