My Grudges Linger

The band Mastodon is coming to Missoula in a couple months. Whenever I encounter a friend or acquaintance from the local heavy rock scene, there is often a moment when they express enthusiasm over the show, and then display befuddlement when I reveal I have no interest in going. When asked why, I say it’s because I hate the band.

This is why I hate Mastodon:

It’s a limited edition “Thanksgiving” t-shirt design they put out in 2013. There was a kerfuffle over it. Of course the band claims they were making a cultural statement. I call bullshit. For a great breakdown of what played out and Mastodon’s response, you can read an excellent piece HERE.

At the time it came out, I had minor interest in the band. I loved their album art, and their noisy kind of prog/metal thing and heavy concept records were interesting at times, but I was on the fence. After this episode I unloaded my CDs and deleted the electronic versions of them and haven’t considered them since. I only think of two words, in fact, whenever they are brought to my attention.

Fuck Mastodon.

Should I be over it? Nah. Soon as pussy hats aren’t necessary, soon as we don’t need a Black Lives Matter movement, soon as places like Standing Rock don’t have to worry about having their cultural values steamrolled, then I’ll think about getting over it. Until then, lines in the sand, people. Lines in the sand.

This Will Wreck You

Maybe like me, you didn’t like Hillary that much. You didn’t care for her politics, whatever, or how the DNC handled the primary. She bore the brunt of all the rage and anger that has built up toward the DNC; it comes with the territory, and I’m sure she understands that. But what she stood for to so many isn’t something I take lightly, and I feel for all those folks who are crestfallen. Hell, a huge chunk of me is too. I’ve been in a funk in the aftermath that has come as a real surprise, frankly. I understand failure and heartbreak and not achieving something you wanted so badly, and I’m not such an ogre that I can’t feel sorry for Hillary Clinton. What a shitshow the last months have been, what a shitshow Tuesday was, and what a shitshow it’s going to be moving forward.

Anyway, if you have a heart, this will crush it. Context: this is the cold open from this past weekend’s Saturday Night Live, Kate McKinnon playing Hillary Clinton, as she has brilliantly all election season. She is singing the song “Hallelujah” by Leonard Cohen, who also died last week. It’s beautiful.

Many people are hurting out there these days. I hope it gets better.


Scatterer of Crows

I’ve been listening to this song a lot the last couple days. It was recorded by my last band, Lazerwolfs (or, “The Goddamn Fucking Lazerwolfs! as our friend Yale Kaul used to say, the guy who gifted us with the name). To me, the song represents a tendency of mine to go through life kind of bull-headed, a trait I’m not proud of that I try and keep a rein on, sometimes more successfully than others. You know how all the self help books say you need to shed yourself of poisonous people and relationships and situations in order to be happy? When I think of all the friends, lovers, family members, et al who aren’t in my life anymore, or aren’t speaking to me (some for decades), I wonder if I was that person in their “get right with myself” regimens. Who knows. I try to be kind, but goddamn it’s a process and I fuck up sometimes. Reflecting on Father’s Day about the loss of my dad, listening to this song and reflecting on the loss of my friend who plays drums on it, reflecting on leaving a job after 13 years and not having one lasting relationship from that era as a result, all of it . . . I can’t afford to be that guy anymore.

Anyway, there is a story here. As I said, the band was called Lazerwolfs. This was on a CD we released in 2005, which means it was probably written in ’03 or ’04. I adapted the lyrics from a poem I discovered, and loved, called “I Am The Stone That Breaks All Hearts” by Bill Lewis. In an amazing, and bizarre, coincidence, I later learned (via this posting of the poem) that he originally published it in a collection released by a publishing house called . . . Lazerwolf Press. How freaky is that?

Some things I like about it. I love the power and dynamics (though my bass line I modified slightly after recording it, and I prefer the new version, which I play every show when sound checking for the sound man). I love Bubba’s drumming so much. We were all three really into the grunge era band Mad Season at the time, and he lifted a couple drum fills from that record. But goddamn could he play those drums. There is a live recording of us in Bozeman, just weeks before our last show with him and his disappearance (we learned of his passing away last fall). Back to back we play my two most favorite songs from that era, 16+ epic minutes combined, and I don’t think we ever did that before or after. RIP, Bubba, damn it.

Finally, Jimmy’s abuse of his Stratocaster on this one. Especially the short solo that kicks in around 6:52. This was always a very emotional song for me to sing, though I learned to sing it better than it is here, and it often brought me to tears on stage, just the power of three guys making it happen and what the words mean to me. How they felt to sing. Something about the single note that Jimmy hits starting around 7:05 and hammers over and over thirteen times or so are like a fist just clenching on my heart. It still gets me. The final refrain — I am the stone, that breaks, every heart — is delivered with the kind of angry, frustrated passion that I haven’t been able to get with anything we’ve done yet in American Falcon. We used to make music that was sometimes meaningful. I’d like to get back to that.

Okay, so maybe this post is a little melodramatic, self-serving, personal, whatever. But this is my place, people. This one means a lot to me. If you’re reading it, you mean a lot to me.

Reviewing 2015 via Bullet Points

I had big plans to sum up the three areas of popular culture I engage most with — music, movies, and books — into three expansive, individual posts. But who wants to read that? And do I really want to write that? Not really. So I thought I could cover the same ground with just some random bullet points.

  • The first recording worth mentioning is called Ritual Rising, from the band Swamp Ritual. Yeah, my kid is the drummer, but the CD kicks ass and I’m proud of him and Dustin (Fugere, the bass player; the band is a heavy bass/drum duo).
  • John Vaillant and Kim Heacox both wrote novels I really enjoyed (The Jaguar’s Children and Jimmy Bluefeather, respectively), but the one I had the most fun with was probably Koko the Mighty by Kieran Shea.
  • If my records are correct, I saw 29 of 2015’s movies. The first one of the year I saw was Selma. The last was The Hateful Eight.
  • I loved staying in the Goat Chalet at the North Fork Hostel in Polebridge not once, but twice.
  • Last fall, Iron Maiden, Slayer, and Motörhead all released new records within weeks of each other and they were all fantastic.
  • I read a total of 101 books in 2015. They weren’t all 2015 releases. 16 were eBooks. 11 were poetry, which is probably more than in all years prior combined. 46 were fiction. 44 were nonfiction.
  • My second favorite movie of the year was Mad Max: Fury Road. The soundtrack is also excellent and has gotten heavy rotation during my periods of writing . . . like right now.
  • I enjoyed having my father-in-law help me stalk Jim Harrison‘s house in Patagonia, Arizona.
  • Bonnie Jo Campbell‘s Mothers, Tell Your Daughters and Matt Pavelich‘s Survivors Said were my favorite short story collections.
  • If my records are correct, I purchased 25 of 2015’s musical releases. The first was Ryan Bingham‘s Fear and Saturday Night. The last was South Broadway Athletic Club by The Bottle Rockets.
  • My favorite movie of the year was Creed (aka Rocky VII). I cried from beginning to end the first time I saw it. I hope Stallone gets a supporting actor Oscar. This movie probably deserves a blog post of its own.
  • I walked out of the theater early during Furious 7 because it was so bad. And as bad as Jupiter Rising was, I think The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part II was worse.
  • The best live show I saw was Nikki Lane at The Filling Station in Bozeman. Great band, fun show, and she kissed me on the cheek afterward.
  • Should I mention TV? I suppose. I really only watched three things. The most recent season of Game of Thrones (HBO) nearly jumped the shark for me, but pulled it together by the end. True Detective (HBO) was fun to heckle but probably doesn’t deserve another season. Surprisingly, Daredevil and Jessica Jones were both excellent (and both Netflix originals) and a lot of fun to watch.
  • For poetry, Mary Oliver and her book Felicity gets the nod, while I also dug Essays After Eighty by Donald Hall.
  • In my final year of work travel, it was fun to visit all the monuments in Washington, D.C. at 3 AM.
  • I don’t usually go to horror movies, but It Follows was excellent. And I usually hate comedies, but I laughed my ass off during both Spy and Trainwreck.
  • The closest my head came to exploding this year was when Dita Von Teese posted a picture to her Instagram account of herself holding Grumpy Cat.
  • Chris Stapleton got all the country music industry love for his Traveller record, which is awesome because it’s a great record and it isn’t pop country bullshit, but for countryish music my nod goes to John Moreland and his High On Tulsa Heat record.
  • Documentary films Meru, Cartel Land, and Jumbo Wild were excellent.
  • My favorite listen of the year was Psychic Warfare by Clutch. Honorable mentions go to Dying Surfer Meets His Maker by All Them Witches and Berlin by Kadavar. Which is weird, because I feel like I am losing my interest in rock, but these are all rock records.
  • In the nonfiction category (arguably my favorite overall), I really loved Walking with Abel: Journeys with the Nomads of the African Savannah by Anna Badkhen, and Missoula: Rape and the Justice System in a College Town by Jon Krakauer, the latter not so much because it is an entertaining read as it is one that I think everyone should read.

And that’s probably enough. I hope 2015 was good to everyone; at least we all got through it. Here’s to a fantastic 2016.

Winter Solstice, Missoula
Winter Solstice, Missoula, 2015

Dead Rock Stars

I know what it’s like to lose people whose art, music in particular, I loved. Lemmy’s death sucked, but he was old and sick and few people stiff-arm death like he did for as long as he did. His run was epic. It sucks that the Ramones are all dead. Ronnie James Dio died of illness, but he was old too. That’s probably how I’ll go out, given my family history, and sometimes I feel like I’ll be lucky to make it out of my 50s, frankly, given how shitty I am to myself. I just find this outpouring for people we don’t know to be really weird. We all die. None of these deaths of artists who have lived long lives with decades of work to remember them by are tragedies.

But, man. I literally had no idea David Bowie was such a big deal to so many people. I feel like the only person on the planet who is completely ambivalent to the whole thing. Of course I’m sorry for his family. He had cancer, which sucks. I’m sorry he had to face that. He was 69, which isn’t THAT old but isn’t young either. I suspect he had a lifestyle that means to get to 69, though, he had to fake death out a time or two. Good for him. He had a good run. I don’t know if he was a nice guy or not. People are saying nice things about him. But people said nice things when Nixon died too, and he was an asshole.

I respect Bowie’s place in the pantheon of rock idols, or even using the broader term “artist,” but he was never part of anything I listened to or even cared about. I’m not trying to be that guy who likes to rain all over everyone else’s parade, it’s just weird to experience. A few points:

  1. In all my years of hanging around music and music people, at no point has anyone ever said, “Hey, you wanna listen to some Bowie?” Not one time. Nor have I ever been asked, “So what’s your favorite Bowie record?” Not once. And don’t give me any of that, “Well, you’re just a metalhead!” bullshit. I listen to lots of different kinds of music, and have friends all over the musical map.
  2. I’ve never been inspired to seek out David Bowie on my own.
  3. I totally get though that if you were a “weird” kid in any way, male or female, who didn’t fit in with those around you, Bowie could have been someone pointing you the way. He just wasn’t that for me. And yet his death has me feeling the “odd one out” again, a sense that probably drove a lot of folks to Bowie in the first place. It’s a wonder the world doesn’t explode. Still, “weird kid” cliques were every bit as conformist and brutal as any “mainstream kid” cliques were, they just dressed differently.
  4. Julia​ is a Bowie fan, which I guess I kinda knew, yet in the 13 years or so we’ve known each other, we’ve never listened to Bowie together. We’ve listened to Ralph Stanley. The Carter Family. Skip James. SUNN O))). Ufomammut. The Cramps. But David Bowie? Not once (not counting when he’s come on the radio or something, or in a movie soundtrack, of course).
  5. I probably can’t name 10 of his songs. “Fame” was always cool enough. “Suffragette City” comes to mind. Both have been ruined by classic rock radio overplay, though.
  6. In my formative years as a music listener, Let’s Dance was his big record. I thought then, and still do, that it is essentially unlistenable. “Put on your red shoes and dance the blues”? That’s as bad a lyric as anything KISS has ever written. He never did anything since that piqued my interest to investigate deep into his back catalog, unlike someone like, say, Alice Cooper, who was also basically retired before I ever really got interested in music, then made a comeback, of sorts.
  7. His duet on “Dancing in the Streets” with Mick Jagger should go in a time capsule as one of the worst things that happened in that era. I mean, that song is terrible no matter who does it (yes, even Van Halen), but that version in particular, and the video, might be the shittiest.
  8. “Under Pressure” is the worst song on Queen’s Hot Space record, and that isn’t a good record anyway. We would have forgotten the abomination if Vanilla Ice hadn’t resurrected it and turned it into an object of cultural scorn.
  9. So, because of points 5-8, see again #2.
  10. I liked that vampire movie he was in. But Labyrinth? Unwatchable unless you’re a child, or like to revisit your childhood favorites, which is fine. The only good thing about that movie was when my friend Bubba (RIP) used Bowie’s character’s image for a Traveller character he played in 1987/88 or so (Traveller being a sci-fi roleplaying game popular back then; for further reference please purchase and be blown away by the 2004 concept record, Traveller, by the mighty San Francisco band, The Lord Weird Slough Feg​).

It’s entirely possible that tabloids, the internet, tell-all biographies and memoirs, all of that stuff has completely ruined hero worship for me. All of my idols of youth turned out to be raging assholes, and if I’m cynical about anything, it’s successful artists and entertainers. I just don’t get it. But to each their own.

I will admit to being bummed when Lux Interior, right, died
I will admit to being bummed when Lux Interior, right, died