13 July, 2008

Seriously considering the purchase of a "slippery slide"...

So we totally slacked off on our blog "challenge" on Saturday... I recycled the latest piece I did for C&E, and he half-assed his way through some promotional nonsense. Tarded. But it was sort of a mutual mulligan- so we'll make up for it at some point. Maybe. It's just that we had soooo much going on and we had soooo much fun, so regardless of the blog commitment it was totally worth it. On the way home last night/this morning (eeek), we both agreed that it was the most fun day we've had in a while.

A brief synopsis:

- Slept-in embarrassingly late.
- I stayed in bed reading for a bit. Absolutely REFUSE to finish the current book. It's just too good. :(
- Quesadilla waaay more cheese than necessary, an avocado, tomato and cilantro from the garden, with tomatillo salsa. More heaven.
- Fiddled with my "Garage Band" program for the first time in 5 years or so, and recorded a song. Hilariously fun. And so much more satisfying than playing solitaire. :)
- Walked downtown listening to Ultra Orange & Emmanuelle for the 10,000th time today.
- Chit chatted with the boyfriend for a bit and stole cookies from him when his back was turned. Sucka!
- Met Matt and Kandace of Moniker at the gallery and made the trek North with them, to the Forever Stoked show out on a ranch between SLO and Morro Bay. Beautiful.
- Fun art.
- People watching.
- Wine in the sun.
- Attacked by a vicious, rabid yellow jacket for the very first time in my life. The bastard. Hand still hurts. :(
- Back to SLO, and on to dinner. Milanese- Arugula, tomato, lemon, chicken, Parmesan... Yum.
- After dinner we pick up Nic and drive South to Arroyo Grande, where he and his lady are house-sitting.
- Grand tour... Koi pond, cat sanctuary, bird atrium... We pop cherry tomatoes off of the vine and snack on them while exploring rocks, deer bones, and a remarkable house. It's still and quiet- right on the cusp of "getting too dark", and we're far from everything.
- Around 10:00 we rouse Matt and Kandace from out of their cozy bed, and drag Nic and Lia out to Bill's Karaoke Bar in the Arroyo Grande village.
- Having been here for the first time just a week and a half ago, I wasn't sure I could stomach it again, but miniature champagne bottles seemed to help- the acquisition of which made Kandace my hero for life! Ridiculously fun.
- This place is absolutely scary. Stuffed animals, wood so dark and dulled, I don't think it's seen the light of day (or a cleaning product) in the last hundred years or so... It is the quintessential bar. A thousand grimey bar scenes could have been filmed here... It's just THAT bar. I don't think I've ever heard so many sad, country songs in my life- and somehow they're all the sadder when crooning out of a 70 year old man, alone in a bar. Trashy reaches new heights and the air is thick with Eau de Alcoholique. A tribe of head-to-toe denim wearers makes for top-notch people watching. How it's possible to dance at one tempo while your partner dances at the other end of the rhythm spectrum is a skill I've yet to master- but the denim tribe has it down to a science. Rock.
- A free show rocked the dance floor in hooker heels and a 4-inch "skirt". Grinding and threesome-dancing ensues and the entire occupancy is granted unsolicited views of her *ahem* parts. The woman was a date-rape waiting to happen, complete with half-shut eyelids and tramp stamp tattoo on her lower back.
- Around 1AM, we move on. We trek to the AM/PM for a sugar fix. However, we miiiiight have participated in some debauchery along the way. But unlike the girl skanking her way across the danclefloor earlier- my lips are sealed.
- After goodbyes and drop-offs we arrive home with high aspirations and over-ambitions to wreak havoc on stop signs, but I opt instead for a 45 minute shower and a collapse onto the tempurpedic for the next 10 hours.

The amount of fun I'm having is blowing my mind... And it gets better everyday. Inspired by the Fellows/Reuter firepit, I have big plans for the yard, and all the hard work in the garden is paying off to the tune of 2-pound summer squash and tomato overload. AND today I'm in the market for a vintage bike!

Silly happy. :D

12 July, 2008

Taking Flight With Blackbird Raum... "Cause & Effect" Magazine, July 2008

“Drink wine, this is Life Eternal.
This, all that youth will give you.
It is the season for wine, roses, and drunken friends.
Be happy for this Moment; this moment is your life.”

-Omar Khayyám

It’s the last day of my weekend, meaning it’s all downhill from here. From the big front window, I observe my poor garden flowers being choked-out by those damn early-spring weeds, but the weeds are winning the battle today—just coming out of my winter weariness, I’m much too lazy to deal with choking flowers. I have only the energy to stare back at them from the couch and send them good vibes... “Be strong! You can do it! Just get through today, and I promise I’ll have your back tomorrow.” I offer them an encouraging thumbs-up, and in response a worn-out pink snapdragon flips me off in disgust.

Ignoring the gesture and the anthropomorphic drama playing out, I turn my gaze to the park across the street and the usual goings on. Children pulling reluctant dogs through the grass, homeless sun bathers, young couples contorting themselves to cuddle whilst enjoying their picnics, Frisbee players, and the random body asleep beneath the billowing, languid trees. Often these sleeping bodies are found near an overturned bike, as though it was just too much to go on and they had to jump off mid-peddle to grab a nap. Under the huge gazebo centerpiece, a few young men sit along the railing and pluck softly at acoustic instruments, providing an aptly half-assed soundtrack to the day’s lackadaisical events. All in all, a typical Sunday in Mitchell Park.

A half-hour later, I at last muster the enthusiasm to walk two blocks to the grocery store, my regular Sunday chore. Cutting through the park on my way home, I hear a vaguely bluesy music and marvel, impressed by the acoustics of that little AM/FM radio the bums sometimes huddle around. But as I approach the gazebo, it becomes clear that the little radio is not responsible for this at all. A handful of tattered musicians and their equally tattered instruments emit something completely unexpected, and completely out of the ordinary here: music. Real music. Something at once soulful and light-hearted, it’s so good it stops me in my tracks. And I’m not the only one. About two-dozen spectators are slowly creeping toward the impromptu concert. Even the napping cyclists are sitting up to take notice. I’ve stumbled upon the very first chords of something truly special, and the opportunity does not escape me. Milk be damned, I set my groceries down on the painfully hot bench, and watch as this neighborhood surprise party unfolds.

Not unlike the musicians, the first wave of onlookers are young, a little dirty, and grinning widely, as if in on a secret. The tempo is slow and soft in the heavy air, and it draws them in gently with that classic acoustic charm. They’re playing guitars, spoons, a banjo, and an accordion, and the energy emitting from them is so palpable you can practically taste it.

Though the instruments have seen better days, they are perfectly paired with these young men. Whatever the musicians lack in life, practice, or ability, the instruments are happy to compensate for. They are rich with the patina of experience and happy to share. They are soul mates. It’s a gorgeous push and pull—a dance perfected between them, and it’s affecting to witness. It reminds one of depression-era musicians—devoid of all possessions, save an instrument that becomes their best friend, meal ticket, and greatest love. In fact, with their suspenders, high waters, ragged edges, and unwashed hair, you could have plucked these musicians straight out of the Dustbowl of 1938, or maybe even the Civil War.

They are timeless and ageless. And these guys aren’t just looking the part, they’re living it; in what seems an unnecessary suffering for both, the instruments cling to the musicians by ratty, thin ropes. But the clothes, the venue, the make-shift guitar straps… they all serve as both a statement and testament to the fact that anyone can do this, and hand-me-downs aren’t just economical, they’re fucking cool.

The crowd is enraptured. They all realize what a treat this is. Inhibitions are put aside, and the musicians are not afforded the least bit of separation from the crowd. Some of them begin to dance; all of them are smiling. Bear in mind, this is not the polite smiling, head-bobbing modus operandi of other such San Luis Obispo happenings. This is heads thrown back, mouths open wide, and arms outstretched, as if worshipping their own release.

It’s a release from conformity, stereotypes and expectations, and this little performance has opened a floodgates. As dancers spin one another along while moving round and round through the circular structure, I’m reminded of an 18th century costume ball. The independent turning of the couples and the collective turning of the assembly leaves me half-hypnotized. Twenty minutes pass before the music breaks for a moment and I’m startled to discover a man, equally enthralled, sitting beside me. We manage to shake off the spell just long enough to exchange pleasantries and remark on our good fortune in stumbling upon such a spectacle. “Paul” is a museum curator from San Francisco, in his early 40’s and has been a frequent visitor to San Luis Obispo for about twenty years. Happily, just as our conversation reaches the inevitable crescendo, before plummeting into awkward valley, the music starts again and we are transfixed. Without taking our eyes from the stage before us, we marvel aloud at the totally unexpected talent of the band. Suddenly one of the musicians breaks off and brandishes a microphone seemingly from out of nowhere. In that moment it occurs to me that this has been their plan all along. Like pied pipers they set out to charm the crowd toward them, coaxing it to a careful simmer and now, having their full attention, they would stoke it to a boil. Effortlessly, a young man perches himself high atop a railing, where, overseeing the pulsations of the collective, he begins to organize them into partners.

Mind you, throughout this transition, the music does not falter. It is growing faster and louder, breathing in time with the crowd. It rises and falls and fills the gazebo, spilling out low over its sides and rising high into its rafters. The participants happily acquiesce, pairing off at random—some friends, some strangers, all sharing in this rare moment of unselfconscious freedom. The mood is reminiscent of a tiny Woodstock, except that it’s not. It’s nothing so significant, and nothing so overdone. It is intimate and sweet, a civic love affair… a little, unexpected gift to the town, with no reciprocation necessary. And there is no reason for it—not money, promotion or notoriety. Here in this moment, it is all that exists.

Under the direction of this anonymous band, and the man with the microphone, the crowd shapes itself into a jubilant, fast moving, square dancing mass. He leads them, step by step, and they are laughing their way through the motions. Eventually, the square dancing gives way to a waltz. The crowd is carefully guided through every stride, and they are clearly appreciative of the lesson. In fact, it’s become impossible at this point to discern who is gaining more pleasure from the experience—the crowd or the band—as they seem equally enamored with each other. And as if the music weren’t enough of a tribute to this little fling between them, suddenly- randomly there is food, and lots of it. As though they had willed it to happen this way, a few kids stop dancing just long enough to pull out bags full of watermelons and pies, and offer huge slices of each to the unsuspecting crowd.

It’s not until now that I realize an older man has joined in with the band. He’s appeared from out of nowhere to accompany them with his large, steady hands and his heavy, white beard. In fact, I’d guess that the beard itself is older than his fellow musicians- but he has melded perfectly with them. As if in a trance, neighboring residents begin to emerge from behind picket fences and make their way into the park, drawing ever closer to take it all in. Women in their 50’s are laughing, and being swung around by stinky teenage boys. Some are pulling out mobile phones to call friends and family, and “You have to get down here!” is the general consensus. A conservative-looking couple timidly joins in, and within 20 seconds they are separated from each other and paired with strangers—he, with a teenage girl, whose dreadlocks, bare feet, and braless breasts move in contradiction to gravitational law; she, with a young man, whose age and appearance are in direct contradiction to his ease and good manners. He offers a wide, genuine smile, and taking her gently and respectfully by the waist whisks her around the room so carefully that it may as well have been choreographed.

It may as well have been just the two of them dancing on that cramped stage—the entire group seems gracefully and subtly aware of each other. The dancers move around and through and together and back again, like magnetic energy, incapable of clumsiness. Couples exchange partners, young women hold hands, and grandmothers twirl their skirts into knots. Impervious of classes, stereotypes and social constraints, awkwardness does not exist in this moment.

Paul leans toward me, his eyes fixed upon the dancers. “Can you believe this is happening here in San Luis? This town needs this so bad,” he admonishes, and he is absolutely right. For all its big trees and open spaces, clean parks and cultural potential, San Luis Obispo—my adopted hometown—is so in need of raw, spontaneous expression that the city itself is like a pent-up and ignored housewife, a fertile woman convinced of her own barrenness and panting at the possibility of passion- however dirty and unplanned. This music… this entire affair, is a fantasy fulfilled.

More than an hour has passed now since those first chords were struck and something has shifted imperceptibly. The music is reaching a climax. The honey-drunk, bluegrass waltz that seemed straight out of some Adirondack mountain cave has given way to something bigger, tougher, and reminiscent of a battle cry. The voices are straining, screaming in harmony, and rubbed raw—and they’ve never sounded so good. The entire park has emptied toward the stage now, just to be nearer to them. The gazebo itself has long since reached capacity and the rest of us must be content to watch from the side.

It serves us right. The musicians, the instruments, and the dancers… they are in another world. They’ve opened themselves up, and made themselves vulnerable. The rest of us, on the outskirts, we are the onlookers—voyeurs lucky enough to find ourselves in the right place at the right time. From the safety of the sidelines, we have nothing to lose—for those playing, and those being played to, it has risen above the ordinary, and they deserve their higher plane. If it all stopped right at this moment they’d be cruelly jolted from the intimacy of the experience.

But alas, it must draw to an end. Rather than the subtle fade to black, it happens suddenly and without warning. Maybe the voices gave out, maybe someone busted a rope strap and lost an eye, but I tend to believe that they accomplished what they set out to do and therefore their work was done here. The voices trail off abruptly, but the instruments, impervious to fatigue, beg to play on. And as a sort of compensatory cool-down, they are plucked and strummed and slowed to a crawl before finally being put away.

Once the final note had rung out and fallen away, the spell was broken. The people seemed to disappear rather than disperse. Thankfully, the band offered its own CD’s as parting gifts. Rushing home to grab my emergency cash I panicked thinking they’d sell out before I could get back. I flung open the door, threw my groceries on the ground, and rifled through my underwear drawer like the world’s most inelegant cat burglar. Cash in hand, I marched back to the park and up onto the nearly empty stage. As the young man handed me the jewel case, I let out a huge sigh of relief. I wanted to jump into his arms, give him a huge bear hug and thank him for what he did.

What they did… They roused us all from a self-imposed hibernation. We, a sleepy little community, happily lazing through our Sunday, confident that nothing short of an earthquake could shake us out of our routines. These men, and this amazing little show seemed to fall out of the sky and into our laps, setting hearts racing and senses afire. It’s difficult to find a worthy musical comparison, as everything that comes close stops short and goes cold. But if you closed your eyes and imagined The Arcade Fire, thrown back 100 years or so, and playing English pub songs to an encouraging little crowd, in an acoustically flawless venue, you’d be getting warm.

Restraining myself from a full-body hug and opting instead for a sincere “Thank you!” I couldn’t mask my obnoxious kid-in-a-candy-store grin. I clutched the CD close as I walked away, coveting the treasure in my hands. It was mine! The music belonged to me now, the band was no longer anonymous, and this wasn’t all a dream. And though there was no more reason to stay, I collapsed onto a bench and allowed myself a sort-of weaning off period before making my way home.

When at last, I shoved myself off of the ride, and back into the house, I wasted no time in getting to know Blackbird Raum. Their album Purse Seine has become a fixture in my home, and the song “Ars Goetia” can be heard with a particular frequency, to the point of compulsion. I can’t be sure if they even played it that day, but of all the songs on the album, that one just feels the most like that afternoon in the park. Warm and throaty, and sweet but with a pulse that seems to pound so hard beneath the surface, it could break the whole thing apart in an instant... it lulls and empowers at the same time, never failing to suck me back into that trance.

I can’t call it a discovery, because I didn’t find it on my own, but Blackbird Raum gifted me with a sampling of what I’d been missing out on—holed up in my quaint little house with my picturesque view of the park, and my stale old play-lists. They ruffled something out of me and woke me up a little. Even my disgruntled flowers took notice. Since that day they’ve grown not upright, but forward: straining toward the park, and keeping a watchful eye out for the band that welcomed us all into spring.

10 July, 2008

Ass-Backwards Auditory Assault... 2/2

The Mozart CD was picked up in a check-out line at Safeway earlier that day. My mother later said that she just had a sudden impulse about it, thinking that because I liked the music in "Fantasia", I might appreciate some classical. The lady was so right. It should be noted, my mother is very hit or miss when it comes to taste assumptions where I am concerned. Case in point...

Norma Kamali bathing suit, in style of 1940's siren... HIT!

6th and 8th grade graduation dresses with huge white-laced collars, in style of Sandra Day O'Connor... MISS!

Alarm clock set to play Billie Holiday every morning... HIT!

Bamboo backpack... Ummm... Shall we take a wild guess or a flying leap on this one?

Mozart was an obsession for me, and by that I mean a full-fledged love and insatiable appetite for all things related to. Further, it was my first free-forming obsession. It needed no guidance, no prompting, and no encouragement; but mama certainly enjoyed the novelty of a 5th grader capable of recognizing the odd concerto, aria, or overture where and whenever they appeared. Incidentally, Mozart's music is used far more often in popular culture than most realize or acknowledge. I became a party-trick and playing the first opening notes of various tracks on the CD's and guessing how long it would take me to "NAME THAT COMPOSITION" was an endless source of entertainment for mother and her dinner guests. In a matter of months, one CD had grown to four and the giant map covering a wall in my room was full of colored-coded pins indicating his birthplace, working locations, and place of burial. I fantasized about Vienna constantly, his beloved "City of Music". I practiced German out of a library book in preparation for the journey- which by my calculations would be in ohhhh... 2 or 3 years, as I was fairly sure I could convince my mother to let me travel there on my own at the ripe old age of 12; 13 at the very latest! PHEW, that would be old.

Needless to say, I was a little off in this estimation. At 29 I've yet to visit Vienna. Invariably, the obsession waned and the interest gave way to subsequent musical preoccupations. But Mozart was my first and he set the bar sky high. He taught me what it was to hear music in movements and few artists have come close to the hair-raising, goose bump-inducing, passionate perfection of Amadeus. Maria Callas at her peak comes to mind... Edith Piaf... And in a similar way- Nirvana, The Clash, and Arcade Fire. Albeit there was the occasional embarrassment along the way. For example, no matter how I attempt to justify the choice, there were just no excuses for the purchase of "The Bodyguard" soundtrack in 8th grade. *cringe* Or that time I bought Paula Abdul's "Spellbound" and Joy Division's "Closer" in the same transaction. *sacreligious cringe* Of course, I'm still making embarrassing music choices today, but I learn from my mistakes and love the good ones with a burning fervor more often reserved for soul mates than CD's. I can't be bothered to question the evolution from Bob Marley to Motown to "The Mickey Mouse Club" to Mozart to The Melvins to NOFX to Bikini Kill to Blondie and countless others in between... But it was my musical education and it was vast and grand and it continues every single day. And in my estimation, Mozart- the man who wrote such treasured beauties as "The Marriage of Figaro", "Eine Kleine Nachtmusik" and "Don Giovanni", but also had the sick and darling sense of humor to write the canon "Leck mich im Arsch" (literally, "Lick My Ass") would be terribly proud.

09 July, 2008

Ass-Backwards Auditory Assault... 1/2

Note to self... Don't expect musical predilections to dictate life. Ever.

But I couldn't help it. Waxing poetic recently to the poor, obliging boyfriend on my "sliiiiight obsession" with Mozart as a ten year old, I was thrust back into the hopeful romanticism of my youth. I remember distinctly, my mother watching "Amadeus" on the trusty beta-max just before my tenth birthday and her rare indifference to my presence throughout the course of the film. It was common knowledge that the full extent of my T.V. privileges were rigidly confined to:

1. The Discovery Channel (and even then it had to be monitored lest some bare-chested heathen in Papua New Guinea corrupt me).

2. The Disney Channel (much scarier than 'Amadeus' of course, but with a name like DISNEY it has to be good- little did she know the Mickey Mouse Club and "Goodbye Miss Fourth of July" were absolutely traumatizing).

3. JEM & The Rockers (Shocker! But it was only a half-hour program and I think she felt this allowance made her an edgy mom- cue further trauma).

4. Various Horse & Rider instructional tapes (which I would later finagle with scotch tape and record over with Red Hot Chili Peppers videos- to her ultimate horror, and my ultimate denial... "I don't know how it happened... Maybe the T.V. was broken for a little while and we just didn't know."

5. Charlie & The Chocolate Factory (but ONLY after I'd read the book- which at that age felt akin to reading the Iliad).

6. The Black Stallion (which subsequently initiated an obsession with bareback riding sans bridle- curiously, this was neither frowned upon nor disallowed. Yes, my mother is possibly a little "off color", but we'll just call it "off" for the sake of historical accuracy here).

But I digress...

08 July, 2008

The challenge...

"A blog a day for one week."


But I'm in. I'm blogging with bells on, regardless of the "1:50 AM" glaring at me from the upper right-hand corner. Fuck you, clock! Granted, I'm not about to attempt witty jocosity or intellectual acrobatics at this God-awful hour... But I can certainly crack out a quickie, maintain my end of the deal, and at the very least walk myself through some day-in-the-life-of nonsense...

11:53 AM
Awaken to the sounds of absolutely nothing. Who knew Mondays were so quiet?! Happy. Rested. Thrilled, even. This is the first morning in a handful of mornings that I haven't felt in need of "just a few more minutes". I am up, ready to start my day and feeling cracked-out on life.


1:00 PM
Showered, teeth brushed, and make-up dial set to "on". Ready to face the day. Or what's left of it... Bookstore bound.

Having accomplished with minimal effort, the requisite errands- which help me to feel absolutely productive and totally guilt-free about sleeping the day away, we secure sustenance in the form of blended fruity goodness and baked berry muffin brilliance. Inordinate waiting ensues as we're obliged to tolerate the incompetence and blending follies of a "trainee".


Having wandered into a costume store, we are overcome with latex and colored polyester fur. All comin' atcha LIVE with a healthy coating of dust! Allergies immediately send out red flags and make threats... Something about taking another step, and rearing an ugly head... But this is not simply gratuitous browsing, we're on a mission. As the boyfriend seeks to post t-shirts online and requires a lady to model said shirts, it falls upon me to make said body available as his animated mannequin. Unforrrrtunately, said mannequin requires one or more of the following to get in front of a camera without suffering any of that pesky anxiety attack stuff...

1. Stiff drink- preferably of the brown variety and served short.
2. Recreational drugs- preferably fast acting and taken in double doses.
3. A mask- preferably of the over-the-head rather than over-the-face variety. As in, if they (as in the entire population of Earth) can't see my hair either, they DEFINITELY won't know it's me!


3:00-or thereabouts
We don't believe in "loitering" per se... As evident by the not infrequent hours spent reading entire volumes of newly released books and magazines in Barnes & Noble. After the first hour and a half or so, the staff might begin to suspect you of vagrancy, and give you the "buy or bolt" look. This is your cue to meander into the cafe and order a $1.10 tea. Money well spent! This tea just bought you another hour, cowboy.


4:40 PM
Having emerged at last from the black hole of Calcutta that is the bookstore- we decide that the next two hours would be best spent seeing the new Angelina Jolie film. Retro theatre... No lines... Matinee rates... We're so in. And lucky me, the boyfriend claims revulsion of Jolie's infamous "pillow lips". "I wouldn't want to kiss those". Clearly, he loves me- and I love the big fat liar right back.

8:30 PM
Cooking inabilities reach new heights when forgotten-about steamed artichokes emerge smokey and burned.


12:30 AM
Is it really that late? Having eaten ourselves silly, brainstormed on the couch for a few hours, argued over exes and groped each other sufficiently- it's time to call it a night.


2:30 AM
Looking so forward to sleeping in again tomorrow. Looking so forward to gloating in the face of doubt. How dare he suspect I'd flake out on this blog challenge! And so it begins...

Sweet dreams.
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