The Point Always Missed – J.T. Leroy

Read about it here: http://www.slate.com/id/2169125/

(Sorry, posting with Safari – they steal my toolbar)

The lawsuits, the fakery, the hopeful downfall or arc of disinterest, these are all fine things.

The main, deserved focus is usually missed: The embarrassing, godawful writing.

Fiction keywords and phrases: gay hustler, runaway, abuse, slumming regional dialogue written by an outsider, Dennis Cooper, drug abuse, horrible childhood, .

If these easy avenues are what you look for in fiction, pack your lunch. Do not return. There’s plenty out there catering to your needs.

The Hidden Killer

Last Saturday, because we found ourselves each in possession of a couple of extra Euros that would permit a very inexpensive restaurant meal, the dancer and I decided to try the new ramen joint next door to Cuchi, the superb sushi place on Gipsstr. After all, it was under the same management, and ramen can be a wonderful experience.

Sad to say, this place wasn’t. My soup was pretty bare-bones. Although there was some pickled ginger in it, and, unlike the place we usually go, there were the right condiment-adding things (chili and black sesame, a sesame-seed grinder) on the table, it just wasn’t very interesting. Hers was even weirder: although I don’t think any tomato was involved, it was very much like a thin version of spaghetti bolognaise, with ground pork and a reddish broth. Both soups had corn in them, which didn’t endear the place to me.

But about three-quarters of the way through her soup, the dancer suddenly pivoted on her butt and lay down. (Fortunately, as she noted later, we had benches; otherwise she would have fallen out of her chair). “It’s my circulation,” she said. “It’s just dropped way down.” She was sweating and pale. Now, I know that every medical crisis in Germany is “circulation,” just as every medical crisis in France is “liver,” but I had a more exact diagnosis: MSG poisoning. Hardly surprising, of course, because MSG is a crucial part of Japanese cuisine, the “fifth taste,” umami, and something you expect to encounter. You do not, however, expect to pass out as a result of eating it.

Eventually, she sat up and sipped some water the solicitous waitress brought over, and found the strength to get up and leave. We walked around for a while so she could get her “circulation” back up, and finally got her to the U-Bahn, where she headed straight home and to bed. And, she reported the next morning, felt fine.

What happened wasn’t a “drop in circulation,” though, but a spike in blood-pressure. I have high blood pressure, so I try to minimize my MSG intake as best I can because it (and, of course, all other sodium, like salt) will raise your blood pressure. Certainly I’ve always been sensitive to MSG, and that night, I, too, had symptoms of muscles bunching up and a sort of caffeinated feeling, lying buzzing for a couple of hours before sleep came.

The thing is, though, although few people realize it, MSG is everywhere in Germany. It’s not just in the fake “Asia” food, or even the authentic Asian food; it’s found its way into German food so pervasively that I often avoid eating in German restaurants. I read labels of all prepared food products. It really is everywhere.

What I’m looking for in the supermarket is “Geschmackverstärker E 621,” which is in just about every brand of canned soup (which are already hideously oversalted), in plenty of sausages (I no longer buy from butcher counters if I can’t read the labels), in the formerly delicious smoked pork chops known as Kassler, in some brands of Maultaschen (those fantastic overstuffed pillows of pasta, one of my favorite discoveries in Germany), prepared chicken broth (Fond), and even in such weird places as black olives.

But at the restaurants, I’m helpless. What has happened over the past couple of decades is that restaurants have stopped making their own sauces, using cheats marketed by food giants like Maggi and Knorr. No doubt they cheated before with other prepared products, but both Maggi and Knorr base their entire product line on MSG, and their offering up condensed sauce bases that a good cook could make from scratch in a couple of hours has ruined German food. Nor can you assume that you’re safe at a high-end restaurant: friends of mine report strong MSG reactions after eating in some of Berlin’s toniest joints.

Germans are notorious for the amount of salt they consume. My doctor tells me that the numbers for high blood pressure are adjusted upwards in Germany, because numbers that would cause concern elsewhere are fairly normal here. And no wonder: from the Wurst you eat for breakfast to the Döner Kebap you have for lunch, to the schnitzel with gravy you have for dinner — not to mention the Bratkartoffeln and green beans boiled with Speck you eat alongside it — you’re at the minimum getting a ton of salt, and almost always even more sodium courtesy of the MSG in all that stuff.

The folks at the Wurst counter don’t know what’s in the sausages — and, worse, they won’t go look — and in restaurants you can’t even assume the server will ask the cook, or, if they do, that they’ll tell you the truth. Is it any wonder German food has the awful reputation is does? People go to a restaurant to eat something that sounds excellent on the page, and wind up dizzy or otherwise distressed afterwards.

Anyway, I’ll continue to make occasional visits to the ramen place on Alte Schönhauser, fully aware of what’s in the soup, but my desire to eat out elsewhere is always tinged with apprehension. I wonder if any of the other diners at this new place had a similar reaction, and, if so, how many will have to pass out before the owners decide it might be a good idea to cut the aiji-no-moto in half.

LE CRÈME DE LE CRÈME DU 60s POP

I’m posting three brassy, loud, wonderful pop songs from 1960s France, sung by three sexy mademoiselles from an era & ethos of a long, long time ago. By way of explanation, I’m going to re-post a thing I wrote on the ye ye girl/Ultra Chicks phenomenon four years ago – then get set to download great songs by ANOUK, CHRISTINE PILZER and PUSSY CAT.

Originally written for Agony Shorthand on April 22nd, 2003:

YOU TOO CAN LOVE LES FEMMES DE PARIS….As I’ve mentioned before, I’ve got a real affinity for overblown, loud, brassy, well-crafted 60s girl pop — the kind with enormous hooks, screaming horns, and a saucy, coquettish playfulness that runs through your better US and UK girl groups & solo artists. But hands down, the queens of the 60s pop hop were the French — specifically le femmes de Paris and the groovy-to-a-fault “ye ye girls”. There is nothing quite like hearing LIZ BRADY’s majestic and flat-out booming “Palladium” or CLAIRE DIXON’s charm school central ball of fluff “On M’appelle Petit Bout De Chou” to wipe that smug I-only-listen-to-the-13th-Floor-Elevators pout off your beak. And while in the past few years there’s been a slightly heightened awareness of these girls’ existence, this stuff is still incredibly laborious to hunt down — even the recent reissues. A tour of the web finds one very solid albeit un-updated site and a bunch of message board posts desperately pleading to all readers, “Please, where can I find this stuff?!??”. I’m here to help, folks. These “teenie-bopper doyennes of the Coca-Cola bubble-gum pop culture” were huge in their native France during the rough period spanning 1965-68, when rock and pop continued exploding into smithereens to satisfy the mainstream, the hippies, the drug underground, and of course the teenage kids. I am under no illusion that this music was made for anyone but pre- and pubescent French girls, which in no way negates the craft and genius of these songs’ arrangers, nor the power and bite of the songs themselves. The 60s french girls were a roll call of lush first names: VIOLAINE, JOCELYNE, CLOTHILDE, COSETTE, ARIANE, etc. CHANTEL KELLY (who’s an absolute dead ringer for Audrey Tatou’s Amelie in other pictures and was likely quite a perv-magnet in her day) and the aforementioned Claire Dixon are among the less coquettishly-monikered ye ye girls who have some of the most stomping hits. In the mid-90s the “ULTRA CHICKS” compilations started popping up in better North American record stores, and they continue to do so, with a 5th volume coming out in 2000 and a 6th appearing sometime last year. These are far and away the best starting points for this stuff, if you can even find them. I highly recommend Volumes #1-4, even the one called, um, “Baby Pop”, and then the recent Volume #6, which continues the series’ winning ways after a somewhat rotten Volume 5. Sprinkled in among these are a few non-French but still ripe international pop bombshells, from places with less mellifluous languages like Italy, Germany and Syria. I found the first 4 by e-mailing some record stores in Montreal until they surrendered the name of the guy who put them out (somewhere I’d read that he was a native). Damn if I didn’t misplace that email address through. However, another fantastic series is called “SWINGING MADEMOISELLE”, which overlaps a little with Ultra Chicks but might have the higher batting average song for song. These two LPs were put out by Sasha Monet records in France, and when I contacted the guy or gal that runs the label in search of the first volume, he/she told me it was sold out but that they’d gladly make me CD-Rs of both volumes, with a ton of extra tracks plopped on the end of each. I paid a pittance — something like $12 US, which included shipping — for both. Contact the label here and see if magic can strike twice. There are a couple of lesser series out there as well — “FEMMES DE PARIS” have beautiful digipack sleeves but rely way too much on covers of British and American hits en Francais to be of much listening pleasure — unless EILEEN trying to out-Nancy NANCY SINATRA on “Ces Bottes Sout Faites Pour Marcher” sounds like a good time. Likewise, “SIXTIES GIRLS” have some terrific sleeves, and up the ante by including entire 4-song EPs, but then you get the crap songs as well. Better to sit back and let the programming wizards of “Ultra Chicks” and “Swinging Mademoiselle” take the reigns for you. Hopefully should you decide to dip a toe in this stuff you do so with an appreciation not so much of the KITSCH involved (lame) but of the song craft itself. I’d rank the best of this stuff up against any American 1965-68 summer AM radio hit you care to mention.

Postscript – what’s changed since the thing above was written is the very existence and now-ubiquity of terrific mp3 blogs, several of which actually specialize in ye ye. Check BLOW-UP DOLL, SPIKED CANDY and YE YE LAND – just remember that Detailed Twang still picks the finest songs.

Play or Download ANOUK – “Jimmy Est Parti”
Play or Download CHRISTINE PILZER – “Champs Elysees”
Play or Download PUSSY CAT – “Les Temps Ont Change”

Horizontal –Jennifer Generator

Horizontal –Jennifer Generator/ The Last Time –RCA 2140 (1972 UK)

I picked this one up on the strength of the title alone and it nearly lives up to expectation. I couldn’t find any information at all on this release, but Jennifer Generator is a late Bubblegum entry with a nice chord progression and lush harmonies. The use of a Fender Rhodes also adds an unexpected touch. The B side ups the tempo and has more than a hint of Buddy Holly/ Bobby Fuller as if channeled through Kasenetz/ Katz

Click on title for edits of Jennifer Generator and The Last Time

XMAS EVE – ONE OF THE AMERICAN UNDERGROUND’S LOST CHILDREN

I’ve written about it before – I was such a rabid teenage college radio junkie, totally ecstatic about the amazing amount of crazy music that I was hearing for the first time (1980-82), that I would spend hours actually writing down every song that the DJs would back-announce, and then “rate” them. This process gave me an insight into what records to purchase the next time I was in Berkeley, CA, a total record store mecca at the time (Rasputin’s, Universal, Rather Ripped and Leopold’s!), visiting my grandparents. I think I actually drew stars next to the songs – 5 stars was a must-purchase (and that’s how I bought my X “White Girl” 45, only I had missed the name of the band, and I’d really wanted THE VKTMS’ “100% White Girl” instead), 1 star was among the worst songs I’d heard to date. I only remember giving one song the dreaded single star, and I’m pretty sure it was something I heard on the Maximum Rock And Roll radio show – a song called “It’s Your Birthday” by XMAS EVE. Then again, I was 14 years old, and not quite ready for strange, rough, American post-punk jangle (and why this hardcore-only show was playing it, not sure). I’m guessing the song was from a demo tape or something, because there’s no record of it anywhere and it didn’t make XMAS EVE’s one and only 45.

The band were from El Sobrante, CA – I town I actually called home in the early 70s as an exceptionally young man (4 years old to be exact). Later, members went on to the bands YO and EL SOB. I have only heard the song I’m posting for you today, and it’s fantastic. It came out several years ago on an out-of-print compilation called HOMEWORK #5. It’s from 1982, and it exists in a time of rampant experimentation within standard rock and roll forms. It might sound pretty pedestrian to you, but I hear elements of WIRE and THE MINUTEMEN, as well as a tuff & arty presaging of what we later called “college rock” as made popular by acts like R.E.M.. Great track. Anyone know what the others sound like?

Play or Download
XMAS EVE – “My House” (from 1982 single)

Rise Up

We’re heading off on a camping trip in a few weeks with a couple of other families. An opportunity to bring the guitar and the songbooks and just hang. On of the other dads is an amazing guitar player and fun to jam with. My problem is that I have completely lost the ability to remember the chords to more than a couple of songs from start to end. If I have it written out in front of me, no problem, but the part of my brain that used to be devoted to remembering the changes to, say, Thrasher (Neil Young), Apeman, Allison, etc
has gone. Lyrics? No problem. But I’m hopeless without the music. So, I’m trying to find books full of great songs that lots of people like to sing.

So far, nothing beats my copy of Rise up Singing, which has everything from Showtunes and Union rally songs to choice 60s and 70s folk (Ochs, John Prine, Dave van Ronk, Dylan) and Child Ballads. Chords are simplified a bit, but great for singing along. All the lyrics are written out with the chords, so you aren’t flipping back and forth all the time. Best part is that the book is spiral bound (there’s a non-SB version, but why bother) so it will lie flat.

We’ll also be packing some Beatles song books, but I need more advice.

DEMENTED ARE GO – MORTY SHANN & THE MORTICIANS

I’m not the only person to have posted these tracks in the quote-unquote blogosphere, but I’ve lived in perpetual terror for too long thinking that there might be some of you who’ve yet to hear them – so here it is, MORTY SHANN AND THE MORTICIANS. As I understand it, these two guttural howls from 1960 remained unissued and unloved until Norton Records set fit to put them on a 45 a few years ago, and then later comped them on the “KICKSVILLE VOLUME 2” rockabilly acetate collection. I was floored the first time I heard them. Think screaming HASIL ADKINS-style hoot, mixed with raunchy throat culture vocals a la THE TRASHMEN (an inspiration? When did “Surfin’ Bird’ come out? Wow – the always-reliable Wikipedia says 1963), and then muddle up the fidelity real real good until you’ve got an absolute Top 10 contender for the Primitive Shit Rock hall of fame. Plus the songs just scoot, too. I wouldn’t call it rockabilly at all – it exists in an almost otherworldly place of its own, and if it’s really from 1960, as Norton says it is – holy crap.

Here’s what I wrote about this record (the 45) a couple years ago:

Made reference to these guys a few posts ago and got an email saying, “who??”. Well. MORTY SHANN & THE MORTICIANS were unknown to history until Norton found their unissued 1960 recordings of these two songs and quietly set them loose along with all the other sleeveless 45s they pushed out a few years back. I sort of picked this one out of a catalog on a whim and was just floored when I heard it. Primitive Shit Music? Puh-leeze. This is so raunchy and bug-eyed insane it puts even the TRASHMEN to shame. Morty is a frog-voiced, gravel-throated belter and his band plays off-the-rails, poorly-tuned madman’s rock that’s completely frantic and pulse-quickening. Before your breath can be caught and your nerves steadied, each 90-second retarded wonder is over in a big unexpected flame-out or quick fade. Fans of BUNKER HILL, THE PINETOPPERS and the fastest of the early lo-fi rockabilly pioneers will be very pleased, but this really ain’t rockabilly, nor R&B — just pure white frat trash. It’d be real nice to know who these guys were and where the hell they came from & if they ever tried to inflict this sound on a paying audience.

Play or Download MORTY SHANN & THE MORTICIANS – “Movin’ In”
Play or Download MORTY SHANN & THE MORTICIANS – “Red Headed Woman”

Die Hard Dot Com

aka “Die Hard: Reset” – USA (working title)
aka “Die Hard 4″ – USA (working title)
aka “Die Hard: Tears of the Sun” – USA (working title)
aka “Die Hard 4.0″ – USA (working title), Denmark, UK
aka “Die Hard 4: Die Hardest” – USA (working title)

Cable Report:

Showdown on a Max. Billy Blanks’ high school bully adventure made in 1993, unwillingly set in the mid-80’s. Students in their mid-30’s. Blanks as the hermit janitor savior. Stars an unsuccessful Christine Taylor. Unfortunately entertaining.