Naked Teenage Girls in Outer Space

John Trubee & the Ugly Janitors of America’s Naked Teenage Girls in Outer Space is now available as MP3 samples, downloads or full CDs. Just click to sample or buy.

Track listing

1. Mental Illness Can Be Beautiful 2. Field Of Corpses 3. John Henry 4. Trout’s Daughter 5. Enchanted Dance Of The Humorless Ill-Tempered Corporate Executives 6. Naked Teenage Girls In Outer Space 7. WPRB 8. At The Carnival 9. Leper In The Shadows

Strange Hippie Sex Carnival

John Trubee & the Ugly Janitors of America’s Strange Hippie Sex Carnival is now available as MP3 samples, downloads or full CDs. Just click to sample or buy.

Track listing

1. Alienation 2. When My Ship Rolls In 3. Memories Of Dreams Of Yesterday 4. Copulating Geckos 5. Now I Step Over Your World 6. Babylon (Throw Your Children To The Fire) 7. Driving Around New Jersey On A Summer Night 8. Memories Of Dreams Of Yesterday (Reprise) 9. The Last Parade

The World of Lying Pigs

John Trubee & the Ugly Janitors of America’s The World of Lying Pigs is now available as MP3 samples, downloads or full CDs. Just click to sample or buy.

Track listing
1.     Rise Up This Morning                     
2.     Deep Into The Heart Of The Setting Sun             
3.     Guru Swami Mind Control             
4.     Your Stupid Friends             
5.     Damn Their Souls             
6.     Cast Me Off In The Shadows         
7.     Can You Hear Me?             
8.     Summer Rain             
9.     Watch The River Flow         
10.     My Grandmother’s Eyes     
11.     This Moment Is All We Have         
12.     Oceanic Neon Turnpike

There are only two great NEW albums released this …

There are only two great NEW albums released this year.

Sparks’ “Hello Young Lovers”

I’ve listened to this album at least four times a week since it’s release. For sure it made me a more balanced person. I have a better understanding what ‘life’ is and where it’s going. I listen to music all the time. And this album is number one. There is not one bad song on it. In fact I am amazed at its complex arrangements, beautiful melodies, its swing, its bounce, its gall to be the best album of the 21st Century.

Yes you are thinking, “TamTam Books has totally flipped.” Gone to the other side of the dark planet. But as I mentioned on this blog and elsewhere, if you have this album and you don’t like it – well, I don’t like you. It is simple as that. This is a great album. “Hello Young Lovers” is about life, pleasure and pain. You don’t like life, pleasure and pain?

Scott Walker’s “The Drift”

Unlike Sparks’ “Hello Young Lovers” this is an album about history and hell. In fact this album is hysterical (so is Sparks’ “Hello Young Lovers”) because it is so dark that humor is bound to come out. Scott Walker is a remarkable writer and probably one of the great poets who is writing music these days. Yes Dylan has his strong points on his latest album, but he’s coasting. Walker, at the same age, is pushing the music and lyrics forward and upward… or is it downward. Either way it’s going for the throat. This album doesn’t take no prisoners. Either bow down to its greatness or get out of the room.

I think this is a beautiful album full of beautiful stuff. In fact when I saw David Lynch outside Tower Records, I bought him this album. I think he should listen to it -and since I don’t know him, he may have thrown this CD outside his car window. I doubt he would do that. Nevertheless who ever picks up this album from the street will find wonders and desires that are intense. We live in a horror show now, and art has to be really strong.

The two albums here are strong and brave. Buy them and surrender to their greatness.

Expat Magazines: What I’ve Learned

Since I realized the other day that I’ve already made one of my New Year’s resolutions — not to get involved in any more magazine startups — and since the morass of comments on those last two posts got into this area, I thought it might be time to expound my basic theory of how to do an English-language magazine in another country.

The following is based on my experience here in Europe, specifically — although not totally — in Berlin. There might be other variables which would make this advice not as applicable in the Far East or South America, I don’t know. But this is what I’ve learned in the past decade.

Earlier, even: when I first moved here in 1993, Checkpoint magazine was already publishing. Co-funded by Zitty, Time Out, and some private funds, it had been running for about a year when I first approached it. It wasn’t very successful for a number of reasons, not least of which was appalling art direction. Eventually, Time Out pulled out, and Zitty took it over, forming a new subsidiary of their company to do so. Since the old name was owned by the previous entity, a new one had to be found, and, casting about for suggestions, I liked one from a friend, Metropolis. True, this was also claimed by an American architecture magazine, but doing our title search (something every magazine should do…hello, ExBerliner!) we discovered it hadn’t been registered in Germany, so we were clear to use it as long as it didn’t look like we were putting out an architecture magazine. It didn’t.

Zitty proved to be an unreliable partner, to say the least. They’d withdraw or hold back funds, and they’d “suspend publication” for a couple of months at a time — once, most disastrously, over the three summer months, the very time when Berlin got most of its English-language tourist trade, and thus, a perfect opportunity for advertisers. In late 1996, though, they’d convinced Metropolis‘ editor, Kevin Cote, to join Zitty as editor-in-chief, and he handed the magazine over to me. I made a couple of changes: the magazine became free, thereby freeing it from having to compete for space with newsstands which hated to display non-Turkish and non-Russian foreign-language publications; and editorial focus was redirected from tourists, never a stable market, to residents.

Having taken our editor, though, Zitty lost all interest in the magazine, and killed it after two issues. Oh, excuse me, “suspended publication.” Weirdly, the two issues I’d put out, with the free distribution network still in its infancy, made money, something the magazine had never done in its earlier incarnations. I was plenty angry about the “suspension,” and announced that the next editorial meeting would take place as scheduled, with an eye towards continuing English-language magazine publication in Berlin. Out of this grew a project known as the Berlin Information Group (BIG), one of whose elements was a newsprint magazine called b. The other elements, and the story of how and why it failed, aren’t part of what I’m focusing on, though.

The two big changes at Metropolis remain essential to the success of a magazine like this today. And yes, I mean magazine. Webpages are great, blogs are great, but even though you can read the web on your cell phone on the U-Bahn, do you really want to? I’m still convinced that a well-designed magazine with great graphics is a fine thing, portable, browsable, and, if it’s free, disposable without guilt. (You do recycle, don’t you?)

Making the magazine free puts a larger burden on the ad staff to get ads (and another burden on the editorial staff not to go all advertorial, which seems a temptation too many yield to these days), but it also means you can target your distribution points far more precisely, and hit your readers where they actually exist. I remember seeing Checkpoint in U-Bahn kiosks, forced upon them by the Zitty distribution guy. Nobody looked twice at them. If you try to sell the magazine at your distribution points — English-language cinemas, bookstores, video rentals, bars, restaurants, etc. — you’re asking each merchant to keep track of each copy sold and segregate the proceeds from his own intake. Fahgeddaboudit. Running a business is hard enough without that kind of headache. Free is free. And free means a huge number of them get picked up and a huge percentage of them get read. Work out the economics of the advertising — we actually had people approaching us at b towards the end of our three-month run, so anxious were they to reach our readership — and keep it free.

The second point, though, is far more subtle, and the one we had the hardest time making the few prospective investors understand. Locals, approached with our projections, would trot out the figures from the Ausländerbehörde and tell us there were only 35,000 Americans in Berlin, only X hundred Australians, New Zealanders, and an unknown number of British people and Irish people. There was, they said with a certain amount of Schadenfreude, no way we could make money with those kind of numbers. Which, as far as it went, was true. With so few residents forming a base, we would only enjoy a small increase when the tourism figures — not so hot in those days, better now — were added on. Then we would hear the German investor’s mantra: Wo ist der Sicherheit? Where is the security? As if investing were a 100% secure proposition anyway. Ask those poor people who lost their shirts on Deutsche Telekom.

But that figure — for the sake of argument, let’s say it’s 60,000 — is only a start. There are two more readerships, as I learned at Metropolis and as the BIG project got underway. The second readership is people whose native language isn’t English, but whose English is better than their German: Indians, Japanese, even some Europeans like Scandinavians, Dutch, and French. These people live and work here, too, and they’re happy to have help understanding what’s going on. I estimated their numbers at around half the core readership’s. The third readership is the most nebulous — and, potentially, populous — of all: those native German-speakers whose desire to improve their English (not to mention see their home from a totally different viewpoint than the German media presents) would drive them to seek out such a publication. This may be just a data-point, but when I put an ad in Metropolis looking for a new apartment, with an office phone number on it, I got twelve calls, nine of which were from Germans who apologized for their bad English as soon as we started talking. That seemed telling to me: I expected to hear from the expat community with offers they’d picked up on the jungle telegraph. There is no way to research this number in advance, but it’s there, and once you’re in business, you encounter it repeatedly.

The other thing to remember about all three segments of the readership is that it’s demographically diverse. If you want to focus on the hip! edgy! college kids on junior year abroad, be my guest, but you’re not going to make any money. Consider the executives at Anglo-American companies here on contracts of a couple of years. Consider the academic and diplomatic communities. Consider the older people who’ve washed up here because of everything from the military to DAAD. Consider those Germans who became Anglophiles or Americanophiles during the occupation. We heard from every one of these groups and more as we tried to make b a reality. They haven’t gone away, and they’re not being served.

Of course, one advantage we had back in ’96 was that Deutsche Telekom was making access to the Internet almost impossible, so any kind of online presence was a nice fantasy (and one we were planning for), but nothing we could do much about right at the moment. Today, the online presence and the print presence would have to be complementary to each other, and the success of the enterprise would come out of the synergy.

But like I said, I’m walking away from all of this. I’d mostly walked away from it at the beginning of this year, when I helped someone start a project in France. My advice was all ignored, with the result that the magazine is mostly aimed at retired British people, which is a shame, since the constituency is much larger. I’ve had it: I’m going to concentrate on book projects (since magazines are a losing proposition for writers) and try to make as much money as I can as quickly as I can so I can get out of here as soon as I can. I don’t exactly feel like I’ve wasted my time on this, and I’m glad I learned what I did. But this is a risk-averse society that’s hostile to entrepreneurship, and just a bit more so when that entrepreneurship comes from an outsider. Someone else can beat their head against that particular wall. Good luck.

So Why Not Another One?

I got an e-mail yesterday from a friend who read my post on that ridiculous New York Times story, and he had an interesting point:

“Figured the Times piece would detonate you. Would you say it was accurate as of, say, early 90s, but the economic collapse has made it outdated? Or was it ever true? Certainly Berlin has had that image since, say, a few years before the U2 Zoo album. Seems time for a counter-hype travel article puncturing the outdated image yet celebrating what, if anything, is there to enjoy.”

And he’s right. Much as I don’t enjoy living here any more, I do have an affection for Berlin, and newcomers and visitors often take my famous walking tour of the central city, which starts at my house and ends up two blocks away at Berti Brecht’s grave, if they last that long. In fact, that’s what I was doing yesterday when this guy’s e-mail came. When I put myself in the mind of someone who’s seeing this city for the first time, I know there are a lot of things I’d recommend they do.

So for this proposed counter-hype story, some notes:

Stop ringing the hip! edgy! Berlin! bell. Sorry, it was like that ten or more years ago, but the coming of the government in 2000 and the attendant real-estate hype all but killed that Berlin. It used to be possible to set up an illegal club in some disused space, sell beer out of iced tin tubs, with a sound system and some minimal lighting, maybe some odd art from one of your friends, and have a little party a couple of times a week, the location spreading among the cognoscenti by word of mouth. But the disused spaces became objects of speculation and as the speculators displaced not only the club spaces, but the working spaces and living spaces for artists, those artists and the hangers-on and scenemakers moved on. I’m absolutely positive there are still illegal clubs, and little scenes here and there, but nothing like there were in the mid-90s and earlier. And, of course, there’s the annoying fact that if you write about them in the media they get busted.

Instead, consider that just your normal everyday bar scene seems weird enough for the American readership, and that some of the most “authentic” experiences can be had in places hipsters either don’t notice or take for granted. Stories are everywhere. Try to find some of them out. For instance, there’s a rather nondescript restaurant/bar towards the top of Friedrichstr. I’ve walked past for years, the Bärenklause, I think it’s called. Just the other day, I found out it was a secret meeting-place for a bunch of anti-Nazi workers who passed on information to the Allies during the war. The place up on the corner by my place, Honigmond, was a gathering-place for dissidents in the DDR. And the Kellerrestaurant am Brecht-Haus a couple of blocks away was, in fact, Brecht’s basement (the house is a museum upstairs), and the food there is hardly innovative, but usually top-notch. Of course, being able to identify a schnitzel is sort of a basic requirement for being able to appreciate these sorts of places.

Nazis and Jews: that’s what people come here to see. So give it to them! Look, it’s a basic statement of fact: people don’t come to Berlin to eat or to shop (especially the latter), so what’s left? History. And the history that’s here is pretty much all recent, which is to say Industrial Revolution and later. I can see taking a pass on the Jewish Museum, but what kind of travel writer are you if you can’t find a new spin on the exhibition inside the New Synagogue or point out one of the many Nazi air-raid bunkers around town? Am I the only person who still notices the bullet-holes from the street-fighting as World War II came to a close here? How about fashioning some clever statement based on the fact that the deportation monument and Christian Boltanski’s The Missing House are across the street from each other, or walking up to Koppenplatz and checking out that sculpture in the park of the table with the tipped-over chair, another comment on the deportations, as, of course, are the Klopfenstein brass memorials. Do you suppose the hip! edgy! writers even see these things? And there’s even a humorous take on this stuff, if you want it: how awful Berlin bagels are, and how truly vile the food at the Beth Cafe, run by the local temple, is. I thought it was just supposed to be more authentic until I met an old man there who’d grown up Jewish in Berlin and escaped to Toronto in 1939. “My mother cooked Berlin Jewish food, and it didn’t look like this, I tell you! What are these people palming off on us?”

Besides the Nazis and the Jews, of course, there’s also the Communists. Although the Wall Documentation Center on Bernauer Str. is pretty incomprehensible to a non-German-reader (and who wants to read all those documents, anyway?), the Wall walk from Nordbahnhof to Mauerpark is lined with those trilingual plexiglass signs about the Bernauer Str. death-strip. There are two Stasi museums, apparently, and the new Museum of the DDR. And, on a lighter note, there’s lots of DDR crap for sale in Ostalgia stores and flea markets.

Mista Issyvoo, he dead. And so is the world inhabited by David Bowie and Iggy Pop. Stop looking for it: it’s not there. Instead of trying to force your own preconceptions on the city, why not look at what’s actually there? Surely there’s enough to say about the real Berlin that would attract a reader here. It’s got more green space than any other city in Europe, per square mile. In the summer, that means tons and tons of lawn, forest, park. Places to sunbathe, walk, feed ducks, let the kids run around, or just read a newspaper under the sun. Go to a Wochenmarkt, where more and more organic stuff is beginning to show up, and where you can also buy some pretty neat non-food items a lot of the time. Take a few of the river cruises and figure out which ones are best. Is this stuff corny? Hay-ull yes! Is it fun? You bet!

And when the sun’s not shining — 89% of the time — the continuing reshuffling of the museums here has presented some great opportunities for culture-vulturing. I’ll be the first to admit I’ve been remiss in checking them out in recent years, and with the Bode Museum now re-opened, just a few blocks from my house, I’m totally embarrassed that I don’t have a clue what’s in there these days. But the city’s current poverty notwithstanding, the Prussians were some acquisitive bastards, and the city’s holdings reflect three centuries of a royal family that grabbed what they could and commissioned the rest.

***

So you see, there’s a lot of stuff these stories miss in their headlong rush to perpetuate a long-dead stereotype, stuff that could be made attractive to the crowd they’re writing for. There’s another problem, though, which lies in the last sentence of my friend’s e-mail, a sentence I purposely left out:

“But who would run it?”

Indeed. I can’t think of a single travel magazine aimed at people who travel the way I and the vast majority of people I know travel: not so much “budget” as not spending unnecessary money; not so much “adventure” as guided by a curiosity about out-of-the-way places; not so much voyeuristic as open to learning something about where we are on the earth, knowledge which can come from every one of our senses, as well as our intellect. Me, I’ve given up hope that such a magazine will ever appear. For one thing, where would you get advertising for it? Not from the big cruise lines. Not from the huge resort chains. Not from luxury jewelers. Nor, more than likely, from Cadillac Escalade and other high-end SUV makers.

So you’re not going to read the story about the real Berlin — or the real Paris or the real Kyoto. Instead, you’re stuck with people who don’t know a sausage from a schnitzel and think salads can be plump. And who, incredibly enough, still get to write for the New York Times.

I’ve been fascinated by Joe Orton’s plays as wel…

I’ve been fascinated by Joe Orton’s plays as well as his lifestyle. On one of my trips to London, I went on a very long walk through Islington, North London. I tried to imagine what it was like in the 60’s. I found Orton’s flat where he was murdered. Also on the same walking trip I found Joe Meek’s recording studio and home.

I tried to imagine what their lives were like. First of all homosexual practices in public places were pretty much outlawed – and I did try to find the public bathroom in their neighborhood. I couldn’t find it – and I was told that the public toilet in that area doesn’t exist anymore. Which is a shame, because it should be a plaque in the spot saying this is where Joe Orton and Joe Meek (among others) had sex and a pee as well.

I wondered if they ever met in the darkness of the toilets? One would presume so, but alas all we have are the brilliance of their work.

As usual there is a fascinating article in toda…

As usual there is a fascinating article in today’s Guardian UK. It seems the pop music writer Jon Savage has just put together a collection of ‘gay’ pop songs from the 60’s to the 70’s – including a legendary Joe Meek b-side. The recording sounds like a must. Here’s the article:

http://arts.guardian.co.uk/features/story/0,,1812122,00.html

Not Another One!

Okay, I now have a theory that some higher-up at the New York Times is heavily invested in some Berlin real estate he can’t unload. That’s the only explanation for the deluge of travel-section articles on hip! edgy! new! East! Berlin! the paper has carried this year. This is, what? The fourth, at least.

That link will be good for a week, and I’m including it instead of the usual text-only link so you can enjoy the video that goes with it, which manages to mispronounce just about every single place-name it utters, including Reichstag, and identifies a Wurst as a Schnitzel. That the Grey Lady thinks it’s news that the eastern part of the city is where the action is, and, worse, that it would print such twaddle as “Bullet-scarred buildings are metamorphosing from squatters’ homes, to artists’ studios, and then to retail showrooms. Gray Communist alleys are laboratories for trendy bars, restaurants and galleries. And, like the city itself, Berliners continue to reinvent themselves as cultural vanguards, pushing the boundaries of art, fashion and design” in 2006 is mind-boggling.

The city’s economic deterioration is only touched upon once, in wondering who can afford €300 shirts, and the article never wonders how many of the revelers in the hip! edgy! nighttime are residents instead of, say, Americans enjoying a cheap year in Europe. But then, I guess it’s reassuring for Americans to come to Europe to hang out with other Americans. That’s what reinvigorated Prague, after all.

Finally, with the exception of M. Vuong’s, which I haven’t been able to get into since he moved to Neue Schönhauser Allee from Gipsstr., I would be very wary of their food recommendations. I’ve downed many a good beer at Altes Europa (although I guess now it’s been “discovered”), but I would never even think of touching the food there.

Come to think of it, though, there’s three more Sunday papers left to squeeze in a trip through Berlin’s Christmas markets. This may not be the last article this year. Or maybe it is: there’s nothing particularly hip! and edgy! about Christmas markets. Maybe that’s one reason I like ’em!