Theta Naught + Alex Caldiero : Sound Weave 2 CD set (Differential Records)

As a completely live and improvisational recording with spoken word by Alex Caldiero and the accompaniment of 5-piece cello/bass/drums/slide-guitar/keyboard combo Theta Naught, Disc 1 is good to listen to at night when you feel like being at a jazz joint or a coffeehouse but you don’t want to have to leave the house. How Long Did It Last? is my favorite track, track 8, and that may be because by then the performance collaborations between music and poetry has finally stewed to just the right temperature for all the songs on the rest of the disc. Or, because by then my ears and mind have finally tuned to the proper channels for the attentive listening this record deserves. Disc 2 is an instrumental bonus disc that is on the same expressive ambient music plane. After being inspired by the voice of Alex Caldiero, it’s fun to listen to and decide what words it makes me want to say.

Onethirtyeight – The Sister CD (Tuesdays Music)

Only 6 tracks long, but the simple sonic atmosphere of The Sister has that slow timeless feeling of a journey on a leaky paddleboat through a swamp or an amusement park ride, with a mumbling old man and his sad lil’ granddaughter as your underpaid tour guides. Is this a Funeral March record? I don’t think so. You’ll feel bad about the fate of the curious Squid Boy, and be glad to move on to another track until you realize it’s about Sssix Foot Albino Penguins! You’ll wonder if the Earl On Mars doesn’t really know he’s putting on a show, and then google Alexandra Elsbeth to find out how to bring her flowers! All the songs were written and performed by one guy named Dan who is very good at pulling out the dark somber moods from his guitars and keys. Highly recommended, even if you already are depressed.

The Grave Robber’s Daughter by Richard Sala (Fantagraphics Books)

Attention all psychotic teenagers, abusive fathers, and killer clowns: Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned by a ’72 Datsun. Nothing can stop her. Not even you. The proof is in this comic book. What seems to begin as a predictable “damsel in distress” story about a potty-mouthed hottie named Judy Drood looking for a working phone in the abandoned town of Obidiah’s Glen, soon turns into a “how to” guide for surviving a gangbang in a haunted circus fairground. There is no hero to the rescue there and there doesn’t need to be. Fortunately for Judy there is one semi-sane human being in the town, a little girl named Nellie Kelly. They don’t become friends, but perhaps the mutual understanding that they both had shitty parents inspires them to want to protect each other in the midst of all the magic bottles, possessed dolls, mad ghosts, stab wounds, split skulls and splattered blood. Is there a moral to the story? Don’t be mean to girls.

Bad Idea

Why did Jonathan Lethem put a picture of himself on the cover of You Don’t Love Me Yet? As much as I like this guy, I’m not sure anyone should be writing a rock novel right now. Color me scared. Yes, I’m in a position to say this.

John

Just when you thought every real estate bargain in Berlin was gone, up pops this one!


It’s got a lot going for it. Location, for one: it’s directly across Invalidenstr. from Nordbahnhof, which is twice as busy now that they have the tram line running. On one side of it, there’s the historic Reichsbahn building, with its heroic statues of workers ready to build Germany’s railroads, and on the other side, there’s a nice park the locals use for sunbathing, with a kiddie pool that’s jammed all summer long. So it’s easy to get to and has nice green space.

Of course, the view’s sort of hard to see, given that the windows are so high, but that’s just a clue about the main thing it doesn’t have going for it: if you look at the top photo, you’ll see that there’s a little sign high on the wall. It says WC.

That’s right, folks: this is your opportunity to buy a genuine DDR public toilet.

It’s been standing there, locked up and stinky, for as long as I’ve lived here. Not that that’s stopped anyone; today as I shot this photo, I realized that the best sun was from the other side, and as I was headed in that direction, a gentleman from the building trades appeared, loosened his belt, and, um, proceeded to use the outside in the manner for which the inside was intended, if you catch my meaning here.

Maybe it’s the jet-lag, but my normally rich creative faculties have frozen at the challenge of coming up with a use for this property, a reason to buy it. But I trust my dear readers will be able to think of something.

BARBARA MANNING & SEYMOUR GLASS – “8s”

One of the first bands I followed with my then-frequent religious fervor when I moved to San Francisco in 1989 were WORLD OF POOH. Their bass & sometime guitar player BARBARA MANNING impressed me from the get-go with her lovely voice, totally off-beat, spiky sense of rhythm & song construction, and general falling-down, about to implode onstage persona (at least in that volatile band). I was an instant fan. I talked to her at one of their shows, probably late ’89, and she told me about this album she’d released called “Lately I Keep Scissors”; of course I went out & bought it, and I’m pretty sure that since that time I’ve owned every single piece of vinyl and/or CD with her name on it.

One great place to gain an overview of her oeuvre is the “Under One Roof” 45s collection, thought I’ll warn you that there are some mid-90s duds present that don’t really stand the test of time. One stunning track that does is one they inexplicably left off that collection. It’s called “8s”, and it came out on a limited 45 on the Majora label in 1992. Majora was an excellent label run out of Seattle, responsible for the bulk of the SUN CITY GIRLS’ 1990s stuff, along with great weirdo/noise/folk records from DADAMAH, EDDY DETROIT and LESLIE Q. The Manning single they put out was actually a team-up with SEYMOUR GLASS, the publisher of Bananafish magazine and a nominal noise musician in his own right, and also Manning’s longtime college buddy (Chico State, baby!). The song is haunting, distant and perfect – far better than the version that turned up the following year on an SF SEALS album. I’m still pretty bummed that Manning didn’t get her shot to participate in the 1990s female singer/songwriter financial sweepstakes & find a wider audience, but also pleased as punch that one reason she didn’t is she kept recording strange records with people like Seymour Glass, and always kept her songs one quirky step to the left of what was hitting big.

Download BARBARA MANNING & SEYMOUR GLASS – “8s” (from 1992 Majora 45)

We Don’t Live Here Anymore

“Too sad,” Mark Ruffalo’s character says toward the end of this film from 2004, succinctly summing up the preceding hour and a half of marital warfare. Arguably, director John J. Curran’s greatest accomplishment is managing to end the movie, which is sometimes almost too painful to watch, on a hopeful note without resorting to maudlin platitudes or a song by Sarah McLachlan. 

Woody Allen’s Husband and Wives without the laughs, Bergman’s Scenes from a Marriage without the subtitles, and Kubrick’s Eyes Wide Shut without the masks, We Don’t Live Here Anymore boasts terrific performances from Ruffalo (fine in this year’s Zodiac), Laura Dern, Peter Krause, and co-producer Naomi Watts.

Larry Gross’s screenplay, based on Andre Dubus’s novella We Don’t Live Here Anymore and short story “Adultery,” guides but doesn’t drag the viewer through a psychic minefield fraught with every imaginable method of harm we humans can inflict upon one another without actually drawing blood.

Big Book Idea. No Market.

 

The latest chapter in I DON’T GET IT.  

I just checked my “Book Proposals” folder and yep, I did remember to name an empty file, “The Truth About Outsider Artists.” If I start giving away pump organs to every rambling maniac that panhandles me, will that guarantee a glut of delusional documentaries in the year 2040? When taken as a whole, the music of Jandek (a perfectly sane man with a perfectly fascinating story, yet he makes perfectly pointless music), Wesley Willis, Daniel Johnston (a wonderful visual artist), and especially Wild Man Fischer has produced exactly five interesting songs, and they all come from Johnston.

I Might Have Dreamed This

But I’m pretty sure I didn’t.

I landed in Paris Tuesday afternoon, and found the hotel I’d reserved with a service I’d never used before. Pretty dingy, as was the neighborhood, which was close to Barbes, the largely African quarter. If I’d had more time, like another day, I’d probably have gone in search of the place where a man who claimed to be “the spiritual leader of the entire Senegalese community here in Paris,” told me, in perfect English, of his training with the French Air Force in Oklahoma and Texas. They had great fish baked with lemon there, and I bet they had other good stuff, too.

But I knew that in 24 hours I’d be back in a place which, next to California and Texas, would have extremely limited food options, and I wanted to celebrate the possibility of gastronomic greatness one more time. Which, considering I was in Paris, shouldn’t have been too difficult.

If only. Well, okay, when I woke up from my jet-lag nap and splashed some water on my face and decided to get out of the nasty room and go look for something to eat I left my indispensable Michelin Map 11 behind, not the smartest move in a city I only know in bits and pieces.

I figured, hey, I didn’t have a lot of money, so I should just find some brasserie or cheap joint with a blackboard out front with some appealing choices, go in, and enjoy myself. I was tired, I’d go back to the hotel, read a little, and pass out. Seemed like a plan. Surely the neighborhood, so close to the Gare du Nord, would have plenty of places like that.

So I walked down the street the hotel was on, the rue du Faubourg du Poissonnier. After a few blocks, I saw a tiny place that looked like it hadn’t changed in fifty years, but the prices — no “menu,” or multi-course, single-price meals, a la carte only — seemed a bit high. I glanced at it and moved on. And on.

I walked down the rue des Incredibly Fat Prostitutes and wondered whether the forty-ish men who were striking poses in Calvin Klein yuppie wear on the same block were in the same business or the girls’ “business managers.” I made a turn and found myself on the rue du Wholesale Clothing. I found a sign which said I was in the Marais, a neighborhood I not only know, but which is stuffed with restaurants, but I couldn’t figure out where I was. An hour had passed, and I was now officially hungry, not to mention somewhat lost. But luckily, I almost always have a compass in my head, and it wasn’t like I’d never been in this general neighborhood. It’s just that except for kebab houses and the occasional designer sushi place, there didn’t seem to be anything at all to eat.

Further walking brought me to République and loads of dining options: Quick, Mac Do, Kentucky Fried… This was getting ridiculous. I decided to head back to the hotel and hit someplace by the station. I found myself on the rue du Château d’Eau, which is one African barbershop after another, men’s and women’s alternating, with the expected amount of socializing. Even on a Tuesday night, it was churning. But nothing to eat.

All of a sudden, I was back on the rue du Faubourg du Poissonnier. Now, that place I’d seen hours ago — well, 90 minutes ago — didn’t seem so intimidating. I hesitated over the menu, then said to hell with it and walked in.

The front room was very small. A tiny bar was off to the left, as well as a spiral staircase pitched so that I was praying they didn’t seat customers up there. A very morose middle-aged Indochinese woman (I use the word because you could tell that the country she’d left behind when she first got to Paris was French Indochina) was bringing out some panniers of raspberries. An old woman sat on a banquette to the right wearing a fawn cloth coat which one could say had seen better days except that it was also evident that it had never been anything but drab. Next to her sprawled a large dog, boxer-like but with a graphite-colored coat. She held its head in her lap and was stroking it. Between her and the bar were the entrance to the dining room and a table loaded with stuff to be served cold: some sort of terrine, something jellied, and the berries.

A stout, no-nonsense woman with pixie glasses emerged from the dining room. “Are you still open?” I inquired. She stared at me, giving me a top-to-bottom assessment. “Of course,” she said. “What are you afraid of?” Huh? Was my French that bad? “Well,” I said, “I’m hungry,” and she smiled and led me into the tiniest restaurant dining room I’ve seen. Part of the problem was a huge party of perhaps 15 people against the back wall had taken up a lot of the room. I wound up wedged over by the silverware and bread service, scrutinizing the same menu that had been posted outside. The prices were still stiff, but it seemed that you could do okay if you were careful. And surely there was a house wine so I didn’t have to order a whole bottle of one of the three on offer.

So: from a very basic menu, two very basic choices. Rabbit terrine and beef Bourgignon “a la ancienne,” made the old way. Like I was aware there was a new way. The stout woman’s male counterpart was a short, busy man who was obviously her husband, and it was he who took my order. “No, no rabbit terrine,” he said. “Poultry. Even better.” His eyebrows shot up when I ordered the beef, and I asked him if there were a house red I could have a pichet of. The eyebrows went up again, and he said “Of course!”

The wine and a basket of excellent bread appeared right away. I have no idea what the wine was except I suspect it was a Bordeaux, and it was better than any house wine I’d ever had. The terrine appeared next, and it was perfect: lots of elements mixed in, pistachios and peppercorns, organ meat and meaty bits, the whole thing finishing with a slight tang of alcohol which I suspect was marc, the grape-skin liqueur. As I was savoring it, I was presented with a crock of cornichons, a touch I’ve never really gotten, and one I’d never seen before which was perfect: sweet-sour pickled cherries. You don’t want to eat a lot of them, but they do wake up your tongue.

Monsieur appeared again to take the empty plate, and informed me, gesturing at the long table, that it would be several minutes before the next course arrived. That was fine with me. I sipped the wine, ate a bit of bread, and looked at my dining companions. I couldn’t make sense out of the long table, and in fact the only definite impression I had was that I was going to bop the kid who was sitting nearest me, who took to leaning waaaay back in his chair to the point where his arms, which were behind his head when he did this, almost touched me. The group was mostly young, mostly very square-looking, and utterly forgettable. Not so the woman who was at one of the tables directly on the other side of the room from me, dining with a male companion who was impeccably dressed. She looked to be in her mid-40s, and her unlined face and high cheekbones bespoke a sense of humor and an intelligence which was telegraphed by her facial expressions on occasion as she talked with the man. She was wearing a ring with a stone which, if it were a diamond (and how can you tell from across the room?) would have kept me alive for a year. It was big enough that I wondered if it were real. Next to her were two guys, one young, one old, who were just finishing, and right by the entrance to the room was another pair of men who were always taking out hand-held devices and running figures. Both were speaking English, one with a notable French accent, one with the kind of accent native speakers get when they’ve been speaking another language for a long time. I never did figure out what kind of business they were in.

The Bourgignon appeared at last, and with it a round white thing with brown bits showing which turned out to be made up of potatoes, onions, and bacon, all molded into the shape of a cake layer. As for the stew, it was perfumed with the wine, cooked long enough that the bits of meat could be cut with a spoon, the whole thing topped with a few pearl onions and tiny carrots. I cautioned myself to go very slowly; this was too good to eat too quickly: the stew, the potatoes, the wine. It was, I began to realize, ridiculously old-fashioned, as was the decor. There was a shelf which went around the room on three sides. One part had ladies’ straw hats, the one above me men’s top hats, and the long wall against which the large party was seated was a hat miscellany which included a pilot’s helmet and a diver’s rig.

The two English-speaking guys were presented with a cheese plate and a new bottle of white wine, which they insisted on sharing with the hosts. Madame politely took a bit in a glass and they talked for a while. Finally, the American said something in French which ended with the word “mistress,” and Madame straightened up, grabbed her glass and stalked from the room. I could see her, though, as she staggered up to the bar, finally able to let loose the laughter she hadn’t wanted to let go in the dining room. She was laughing and gasping for air so loudly that the American wondered if she were okay. She eventually got herself under control, walked back in the room with a few tears still leaking out of her eyes, said something concise, and everyone laughed some more.

Even with the uptight bourgeoisie splayed against the back wall, I felt right at home in this place, which was inexplicable because I wasn’t really interacting with anyone. But there was nonetheless a feeling of being guests, not customers, and it was a groove that was easy to fall into. Before long, though, I was finished, and being uncertain of the eventual bite, I declined dessert or cheese. Monsieur presented the bill, a whopping €44.40 — 14 more than I’d wanted to spend, and just about half the money in my pocket.

I knew I was returning to extreme financial uncertainty, the possibility that I’d be completely out of money when I got back to Berlin. I knew I didn’t have any work ahead of me, and only one magazine owed me money and was so overdue that I was beginning to wonder if I’d ever see it. I had no ideas what bills would have come in the mail while I was gone. I suspected I’d have a letter from my landlord waiting — he hadn’t heard from me since December, after all — and as it turned out I was right.

But none of that mattered right at that moment. I’d had one of the best meals of my life, in surroundings that were eccentric and redolent of an age that’s definitely past. I’d felt at ease and happy to be alive. That’s what I’d paid for, and you can’t put a price tag on it.

Monsieur had opened the front door and was standing outside on the sidewalk. What, I asked him, was that potato thing? “Gallette Lyonnaise,” he answered. “Potatoes, onions, bacon. You put it on the plate to look like a cake, which is why the ‘gallette.'” “And the potatoes make it Lyonnaise,” I said. “Exactly.” The air was cool and bracing. “You are at a hotel?” he said, pointing down the hill. “The hotel,” I said, pointing up the hill. “Ah, rue Lafayette,” he decided. I didn’t disabuse him. He extended his hand. “Well, my friend, thank you very much. Come again.” I told him I would and he went back inside. I started the climb to the firetrap I was going to call home for the night.

* * *

Post script: In writing this, I pulled out my bill for the first time since I’d paid it. Weirdly, it looks like the wine, at 19.80, was the most expensive thing on the ticket, since I remember the terrine at 7.80 and the Bourgignon at 16.80. Clever trick, although I can’t prove anything because Monsieur’s handwriting is totally unreadable. And this Frommer’s review confirms that this wasn’t just a lucky find — if nothing else, the award from the French tourism folks confirms that there may be some calculation in what I saw. Still, the chef’s credentials from places like the Cordon Bleu were genuine, and showed. It was a great way to end the trip.

Restaurant de la Grille, 80 rue du Faubourg Poissoniere, 75010 Paris. Reservations: 47 70 89 73

Finally

 

Finally, I’m back from a hectic weekeed shooting photos for the Earles and Jensen Present: Just Farr A Laugh, The Greatest Prank Phone Calls Ever! Vol. 1 & 2 booklet….or book.

And finally, Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman gets released on DVD!!! Thus far, it’s only the first season, but the plans are to release DVD’s of everything up through Fernwood 2-Nite.

Do yourself a big favor.

I once paid $150.00 for every MH, MH episode on VHS (eBay), and the show (along with Fernwood 2-Nite and America 2-Nite) were to be the cover story of the aborted Cimarron Weekend #00008.

Norman Lear’s greatest idea? By far….BY FAR!!!!