Thursday, September 21, 2017

Is Arizona Immune from the Apocalypse? Don' Think So


I may not be a rocket scientist, but the word on the street is people here in Scottsdale, Arizona don't need to worry about other disasters spreading like contagion across the globe. On the day of the earthquake in Mexico, however, I did some low-tech scientific readings. Based on these readings, the ground was rolling. Later that day, I sat at the bus stop, not even playing my harmonica to mock the honking vehicles like I often do at Scottsdale and Shea. I just sat there, staring, taking it in, in a kind of simple-minded bliss, thinking to myself: "Hmm. This stuff all around me all looks pretty damn solid to me."

But that is falsehood. Everything is porous. Everything. It's all atoms and molecules, brothers and sisters, and the world we see is a mere illusion based on our limited censors perceiving it as stable.

The late Edward Abbey once wrote he lived in Arizona for, among many other reasons, this one: Nothing bad ever happens here. It's solid as a rock. Wrong, Everything is in flux.

Things change. Perhaps because of this: Experts in the field will tell you there are no natural disasters, only human errors. Build by the sea, pay the price. Build on the desert, make sure you have enough water. And in the heat, in Arizona? C'mon man, just look at what happened to this place in June, with temps going over 120 and records going out the window. Live on a mountaintop, look out for lightning. You get the picture. But let's set that aside, for now.

Nuclear war is a kind of cheap answer to this question of immunity from the apocalypse. Mostly because of its unthinkability. There is no rational reason for their use, since mutually assured self-destruction is always going to be the posture. But a nuclear accident? Yeah, that's out there. So are acts of terrorism with nuclear materials. Worrying about that, though, is the job of highly paid paranoids in the fear-is-security-industrial-military complex, and I'm just going to let those folks stew in their own sweat, hatred and self-loathing of all of the mosquitoes out there looking to bite us, hitting America where it ain't.

Arizona is, nevertheless, about as safe as it gets in terms of all thing militaristic. The economy depends on the military. War is Arizona's lifeline, courtesy of the U.S. government. I won't bore you with the stats. But from end to end, this state is armed to the teeth, with everything but a navy. Air assets. Ground assets. Space assets. Probably even men-who-stare-at-goats assets. If war comes, the Southwest is bank.

In addition to that, for example, just Scottsdale alone is loaded with human shields. The international elite mutton here like locusts. They drive drunk, do their coke, bring their slave women here. It's party, party, party in Scottsdale for the uber rich. Which is what inspires this little sermon, I suppose. Watching their dance of indifference on these days when earthquakes, hurricanes and all the rest are turning the planet inside out, I ask myself, what do these people know that I don't? They are building a new Egypt in Scottsdale, and the architecture is state of all arts. The masters of the universe, as Tom Wolfe called them in "Bonfire of the Vanities," have big plans for Arizona. They have access to all the data. The ears of the governments and the corporations. The run the big money seas as they swell and burn. Why?

Well, that one thing not being considered is this: Human error. And arrogance. Incredible arrogance. See the greed? Yep, arrogance.

So I know this couple. Two of the smartest, hardest working, motivated, tuned-in people you can possibly ever know, and they are ready to book, as in flee Phoenix because they are completely convinced the gig is up ... in a matter of days. They are getting survival gear. They are dialing up both mobility and wireless techno. They are thinking about food and water and where is the best air to breathe when the shit goes down. Their conviction is infectious. And I look at this and go, well, where do you run, really, when you don't really know what's going to happen from moment to moment, much less tomorrow or the next day or month or years to come. I think about such films as "Mosquito Coast," with Harrison Ford taking his family to some far off place in South America, all geared up to build their new Jerusalem. All I can think is, you wanna take all of that off-the-grid American know-how and take it where, to make what part of your lives and the world better? With that kind of approach, aren't you just bringing the Beast with you?

But like Roland Emmerich, who did all of those disaster films like "2012," "San Andreas" and "Independence Day," I will now consider several Arizona-based scenarios because hey, it's fun to think about.

Numero Uno: Did you know the San Francisco Peaks, mainly Sunset Crater to the northeast of Flagstaff, are still active volcanoes?

Numero Dos: Public officials in Flagstaff live in fear of what might happen to the downtown area if a 100 to 500 year flood were to come, since even during the monsoons right now the amount of water running through there is unreal.

Numero Tres: The Grand Canyon. Period. One big gash in the earth capable of doing anything, at any time, it wants. Floods. Earthquakes. Dinosaurs or new races crawling out from beneath the Earth. Anything.

Numero Quatro:  Native American legends tell of biblical floods. It is glued to their beliefs, and even if some of it was morphed into by the Spaniards and the Jesuits "civilizing" the Southwest. They say the white band on top of Superstition Mountain is from that flood. They say the Apache Mother landed in a little hollowed out log after the great flood in Boynton Canyon, outside Sedona, Arizona.

Numero Cinco: Dinosaurs. All over the place. Bones. Tracks. Dead. Quite Suddenly, it seems.

Numero Six Six Six: Trump.

Numero Seven: Solar storms. Let's just say the same kind of solar storm that hit America in 1859 struck again. Lights out. Electronics bursting into flames. Even paper caught on fire. Imagine the Valley of the Sun with known of its wonder-tech in working order. Fountains running on electricity, done. Traffic lights, dull, leading to panic and gridlock. Looting. Shooting because the place is loaded with both guns and economic disparity. The polarities of social and political angst are just as on edge in the Valley as it is in Los Angeles or New York. A powder keg. Take away that one thing holding it all together, electricity and communications, and, well, could get pretty wild around here.

Numero Eight: Water. This is a fucking desert. When is this place going to get serious about its usage, now that yet another huge influx of refugees are headed here after the torments on the coast of the Gulf of Mexico?

Numero Nine: Aliens

Ten: The Great Wall. Interesting thing about walls. While in Mexico, heading north, they are mere impediments to be gone around. However, in Arizona, going south, We the Sheeple aren't so well-trained in getting through them, if, for any reason the need to go southbound were required, en masse.

Yep, This One Goes to Eleven: Boy, Arizona is really becoming such a diverse place. People from all over the world come here. In fact, I think I caught a cold from one of those people who came from someplace else. Good thing it wasn't anything worse. Like some zombie plague or anything. Whew!

OK, that's all for now. Personally, I like what the Buddhist monks once told me. There is no need for an end-of-the-world myth or story or fable or prophecy. As long as we are at one with the Creator, all else is irrelevant.

Happy dancing, Scottsdale.

Namaste.

Friday, September 08, 2017

Sol Drop: Flagstaff Trio Leads Vibrant Crop of Groups Forming in a Vibrant Music Scene in Northern Arizona

Dare we say it? Flagstaff, Arizona. Senior Class. Northern Arizona University. Great band, Sol Drop is. Could probably beat ASU's best senior class band. That's a wild guess. But it's possible. Need to do more research on this. Yet Flagstaff is a separate cultural being from the megalopolis of Phoenix and Tucson. That breeds originality. A real "music scene" in northern Arizona? Maybe. Maybe.

The high-tech interview on Facebook Messenger with two of the three members of Sol Drop is growing dark and difficult to see as the two stand at the Conoco Station at San Francisco and Butler. First they are backlit in the sunset, then it goes all grainy blue, then, nothing but black and it's time to go. These are busy people. They have to go to class, among other things, since they are seniors at NAU.

"It has almost been a year since we released an album," Sean says.
Says Kathryn, "Since we've been together now we are a lot more solid."

In the past year the band has played SWSX for its spring break vacation, and they currently have the goal of releasing another album in May as a graduation present for themselves.

Just how prepared can three seniors at Northern Arizona University be? While the new college semester began with the annual arrival of daily parties and all the young dudes shouting over the din of giant stereo speakers, as well as the rivers of people running in and out of the bars downtown, the members of Sol Drop, a band that’s three years old, has been carefully hatching a plan.

A year ago they released their first CD, "It’s Alright," at an album release party at the Firecreek Coffee Co, where they just played another successful show on First Friday this month. In a carefully thought out marketing strategy, receipt of the new work was included in the cost of attending the event and now according to the members of the band agree other groups from the area are doing the same thing, After U2 rankled the world of Apple users by automatically depositing their last record, "Songs of Innocence," into their music player files, the incident, even if it did tee-off some music fans who simply didn’t like (hated) the band, did highlight the crisis of the ongoing search for some kind of new distribution paradigm in the age of the Internet.

In response to these kinds of issues, Sol Drop’s lead singer, guitarist and NAU honors student Kathryn Meyers, who is “leaning” toward marketing in her studies at NAU, decided to draw from the past.

“We are forcing people to buy the CDs by including it in the cost of admission,” she laughed exactly one year ago during a person-to-person interview at Fire Creek. “I know Prince would do it back in the day. He’d give his new CD to people at his shows, and then by doing that he’d make it No. 1 on Billboard."

Sol Drop is a power-trio described by its members—Meyers, Sean Buechel (bass) and Brian Dorsey (drums)—as fast-blues. Meyers’ vocals are drawn from a kind of ’80s female punk weirdness, with snarls and yelps and extended phrasing reminiscent of anyone from David Byrne, Wendy O. Williams or to her several years of listening to the “Riot grrrl” genre of music of Sleater Kinney and Bikini Kill. But her playing is inspired by Jimi Hendrix. Meyers says she started listening to Hendrix as a young teen growing up in the Arcadia district of Phoenix/Scottsdale. From there she moved on to learning to play guitar by listening to blues standards by B.B. King and other blues masters.

“I was into Joan Jett and all of those women who came out,” she says. “That interested me, those women inspired me that way. A lot of people tell us that I sound like the singer for the B-52s, but I’ve hardly ever listened to them other than hearing the song “Rock Lobster.” I certainly don’t try to sound like the B-52s.”

As far as the “how-we-got-together” story goes for Sol Drop, it’s one of the better stories you could ever hear.

Meyers, who clearly came to NAU with the idea of starting a band in mind, had noticed Dorsey walking in a dorm hallway with a drum key on a carabiner. Then she asked if he was a drummer. He was, having played in various bands in Santa Rosa, Calif. She got his number with the idea they would later jam, then sent him a text message several months later. He didn’t realize who it was at first, but then remembered the connection.

The problem was, even if they wanted to play music together, they had nowhere to practice. It was pretty impossible in the dorms they were living in.

But then one day Meyers found a power outlet on the top floor of a parking garage on campus.

As Buechel describes it, “We took our stuff on the top of the parking garage and found a common place where we could play. We did it just loud enough with the drum set to where we could hear each other playing,” says Dorsey. “From just doing that we got some fans who came by to listen, and many of them have been coming to our shows ever since. Nobody told us to stop, for some reason. People really enjoyed it, which was cool.”

Meyers says that within a week of playing on the parking garage, they had their first gig at Firecreek.

This summer they went on a DIY tour up and down the West Coast, first starting in Phoenix, then going from Southern to Northern California, finally ending up in Las Vegas, where they played at a deli.

“We did 10 shows in nine days,” Meyers says. “We did one in a party room in a bowling alley. That was an interesting story. The owner cut the power on the band playing after us because they were too loud.”

During the band’s short time together, they have played at least 60 shows, many of them in Tempe, Phoenix and Scottsdale. Their new CD was recorded in Chandler, at an independent studio called Clamsville and run by John Herrera, who Meyers says has given the group “a lot of good tips.”

Standout tracks on the new seven-track CD include the opener, “Fake,” which starts out with striking punk guitar then leads into a very Hendrix-like section. Her vocals are bratty in the punk form. Another good song is “Rewinder,” in which Meyers’ pursues a bluesy chord progression, then sings in a snarling melody laced with sarcasm. Indeed, the seven-song release is a showcase for Meyers’ brilliance as a new young talent in Flagstaff.

Working the social media, especially using Facebook and Snapchat to keep in touch with their emerging following of say, 100 people, the band is trying to do all of the right things. For Sol Drop, there is a plan: To graduate, and then survive, as a band.

Monday, August 28, 2017

Sea Monsters Out There: Revisiting a Life in Exile in the Flatlands




The train leaves Flagstaff, Arizona, in the dark, and you are in Albuquerque by mid-morning, and by the time you get through the slow-moving pass in the Southern Sangre De Cristo range, the mind is set to wandering as you enter the first of the plains, confronting the memories of several years before. By the next day you wake up in Kansas City, the early morning lights of the tall buildings seem to be the color of barbecue sauce. At 7:30 a.m. as you step off the train after more than 24 hours after Flagstaff, Arizona, on the Southwest Chief, you scribble into the notebook like Dorothy in the opposite of Oz that his does look like Kansas after all. 

Why write this? All of the keeping track. Over the years the notebooks have piled up. All of it rarely rendered into anything suitable for publishing. Poetry for me is a lot like irritable bowel syndrome: You have to take paper everywhere because you never know when you will have to go, scribbling all over the place.

But you are, and the performance is on again, with the pen-to-paper, journoizing very light to your touch, which must be more fragile than even you are willing to admit. But hey, you are the connoisseur of chaos, and this doesn't feel like disaster. This feels like a re-awakening. Got just enough caffeine and nicotine in the pre-dawn light on the Kansas City train to this point to get you to firing up the old computer and getting back to the words, the words, the words ... You have a sense that stream of consciousness isn't in style anymore. Political hacks keep it simple for the masses. You are no man for the masses ... crossing the Mississippi now.

You are a solitary figure. Things you say to strangers must seem odd to them, since you can't get much of a response. Like when you got off the train in the early morning light and said, with a bearded Mennonite man in front of you, facing his back, "Hmmm, Kansas City, must be, since everything looks like barbecue sauce." He doesn't laugh. Maybe he got scared of hearing something so odd so early in his day. Definitely not your target market, Mennonites. But he's your people, your ancestors, who worshiped lightning or some shit in colonial Pennsylvania. Someone not of this world, separate. But you feel fully in this world, and the light of rebirth is no trick. Just can't be overwhelmed by it, the rush.

The first half of the trip has been a visitation of ghosts. Triggers you did not expect. In New Mexico, as the train moved slowly through the mountains between Albuquerque and Las Vegas, New Mexico, and then northward to Raton Pass, into Colorado to Trinidad, all of the memories of the last time you had covered that ground sent me into moodiness, despair, sadness. Not sure how to explain it.

Six years before the recession had just begun and she and you were flying across the arid lands of creosotes and buttes and hobbled sorta adobe homesteads, in both directions over the course of what might have been more than a year, optimistic one way and desperate going back, finally breaking down in Las Vegas, what seemed like a quiet little hippie-fied ranching town, as J. decided she needed to be institutionalized. I remember her slumped in the seat of the moving van. We, enlisted in the U-haul Army crisscrossing America in those days of desolation and economic depression, came to a sad halt on the rolling brown plains of northwestern New Mexico, on the flatland side of the nation.

She slumped in her seat. Shapely but shaken. Almost unable to speak anymore, she muttered that she needed to go in for an immediate psych evaluation. So we pulled into Las Vegas, New Mexico, like it might be our final destination, and had her in the state mental institution there by late afternoon. I stayed in a motel, trying to keep the expenses in check as the meter ran by the day for the van, for what nest egg we had left from her mother's inheritance after she had committed suicide earlier that year, as the winds blew hard and once a sign blew off the motel signage up front and I ducked before it took my head off. Trying negotiate an escape for J., who decided she didn't like being institutionalized, while at the same time going around Las Vegas, which was in itself in the midst of a re-birth or a decline in uneven distributions, going buy on granola and sell on beef, I suppose, and me going around collecting business cards and meeting with a local radical I'd met on Facebook, who gave me an earful about the social and political battles going on there.

The liberal insurgency in the age of Obama and me going around the world, wondering where everybody went, as if my industry, journalism, had been hit by a neutron bomb, with the buildings all still there but the people vaporized.

The trip had really begun in Las Vegas, where many more than 150 years ago had crossed at a significant passage into the mountains. Then you head over the range into Raton, New Mexico and then Trinidad, and that's where we came off the mountains and began to cross the great plains sea of America like two cast-out devils falling from grace into the void.

Pretty soon, the hills turn into great big washes, big bowls on the rolling plains, containers for lakes, empty now, until it rains ... and strange colonels, retired spotters maybe, popping out from nowhere, like jack-in-the-boxes ... watching your every move ... I remembered the blocked turnoff ... might put you out about where the strange summer cloud veil was landing ... sweeping up now to meet the southern edge of the Rockies, moving in on Pueblo, Colorado Springs ... as we flew further out, nothing out there ... especially not gas ... It seemed we would never make it ... I knew ... so we had to turn the moving van, a unit in the U-Haul Army, around, on a tricky hill near a cell phone tower ... She got out of a truck, since the space was so tight, to give directions ... and out from nowhere pops another one of these retired hawk-faced men, in not so beat up green truck, obviously mystified with our presence, as he lingered like a vulture.

I had been on that road before. But she, not. I knew better. She, not. It goes forever into eastern Colorado, out to places they now say there are secret military industrial parties, MIBs, black helicopters, all swooping around ... your tax dollars at work ... and what was that mystical veil of cloud sweeping up from the southeast? ... No, nothing looked natural ... especially not that ... but hell, once you make it out for a sail into the Midwestern U.S. ... does anyone know what they are looking at anymore?

So we decided to turn right at the first opportunity we got, which sent us straight out into the great prairie of America. From that point on, the comedy had ended, and a real shit storm immediately began to get noticed ... while the watchers watched us, you, everyone, for ridiculous and dangerous reasons ...

There is no other way to put it: These are the corners of the killing fields, with this end being up, that end being down, and the compass pointing ... and we end up bouncing all over the great rolling sea of the Midwest, with sea monsters out there.

Symmetry comes to your mind, but it’s hardly late enough in the hour to consider it fully, completely. More like, it’s this: Listening to a long sad aphorism by Mark Twain, once of Hannibal, Missouri, thus misquoted: The hardest thing in life, the thing that really wears you out, the rub, as they say is having to spend most of your life trying to convince completely ignorant, stupid, ill-mannered, superstitious or otherwise plain retarded people that there’s such a thing as being smart.

Not to get too prideful on the subject. To think too much of your own education is no humble way to go on living. In fact, information can really get in the way. Too much information, poison. If you have too many beeping crickets in your head, if you haven’t gone completely Luddite (and therefore mad), then you are simply pushing the envelope on what the mind can actually contain. There are just too many things that if you did know, you’d wish you didn’t. If you are like one of those poor folks who are suckerfish for data, well, condolences, bothered brothers, sorry sisters. And if you wield it all like a sword, using the word (lowercase, though solemnly used) like a shield instead of a sword, well, we regretfully inform you that your apologies are not accepted.

On that opposite side of that coin, sometimes, yes, you just need the effing noise. Say you are resting on the journey along the mad boulevard of St. Charles, outside of Chicago … and it’s a Saturday morning and the motors are roaring in front of you, camped at the Starbucks, sucking down your caffeine, getting your first cig with coffee for the day. A glorious morning, with motors a roarin’. Down America’s snaky trail they go: The rented cars, the newly bought golden bows, all funded by the cash for cars program, making the whole roadway look like a new car lot running like blood from the old century into the new; the cattle trucks, the dump trucks, the pickups carrying horses to their polo games, the motorcycles, the morons and their motors, there they all go … in camper cans and brightly colored vehicles designed in the late 20th century and made to all look like aerodynamic Clorox bottles, the Porches for the Plutocrats, the Lincoln Continentals for the Republicans, the Democrats, seeking prestige, in their Priusi (hybrids of dinos, still, sucking the vampire blood from the earth, but only half as often), the independents in their silvery gleaming galaxies of wheels, the Redcoats in their redcoats, the Blues in their bluesmobiles, sex and death and terror and awestruck to the bottom of the gully in front of the Starbucks, down the red brick canyon, carting coal or gasoline or ethanol, corn oil and hydrogen and eternal air in the morning’s last pure light. Lawyers dressed as gangsta bikers. Gangsta bikers dressed as lawyers. All of the dogs and cats and lesbians in their convertibles, their hair glaze getting Beatled down by the sun and blazing classic rock radio, their stereos boom boxing their personal music, their power, their Powaqua, piped in by satellites now right into their husks, into their chests, and the latter, their long blonde hair flying wild in the evil, weaponized breeze … a wind, tainted by the Fox River, on this day overflowing and reeking of kerosene … Holy Ronald Reagan! … if you are downwind today it will make you dizzy …

And there you are in front of Starbucks, with your notebooks and designer coffee, your pack of smokes, American Spirits, expensive as a vote in these Chicago gangland parts, with the strange wise guy in a T-shirt staring down at you from his second-floor window right across the street, above the pizza parlor. There you are, with your pride, your conceit. O, you have so much information flowing in your head, faster, faster, faster … esters and ketones and raging hormones, from sex denied from living in the burbs for just one week, for living among the so-called (as Tom Wolfe put it), the “Masters of the Universe.” Little do you know that, even as you think all of these wonderful beautiful mind thoughts, he is plotting against you: the Dr. Cyclops, master of all the fatherlands you can currently survey.

And he won’t pick up the phone today. He, who lured you into this state of placated freedom after a full week of endless horrors. He who knows much more than he lets on, some effing one-eyed grandmaster, He! So you thought you had one grand Peter Pan fantasy in yer head … lazy post-literate you, without a so-called “pot to piss in,” as you have heard frequently during the week. Every time you heard it you looked into your Navajo-made sacred earn for your cig smoke ash. You with you shaman pretenses, your rael as blood pink sunglass lenses … He, with his plan, working against, and yet, despite his best efforts failing … because she is basic, gorgeous, a queen, true to her times as a bee in some mysterious hive, commanding the spirits of the earth, the underworlds and over worlds, her sex divine, her Joan of Arc in full arc, her animal magnetism, fully magnetized, all sharpened by the wickedly severe engine of grief.

O yeah, it’s real. The day you two arrived in this plastic castle fantasyland Dr. Cyclops was hatching his plot against this fairyland queen and long away from home Ulysses, both barely unable to even gauge which way was north or south or east or west, save for the unfamiliar sunlight and the direction of the foul winds, blown up this north by the British Petroleum-launched war to re-take America, an undeclared war that now, not even the U.S. military quite gets yet … from the moment the divide and conquer game was on as you are carefully guided into his road raging castle on the hills of the Shire. The whole neighborhood is a military base in the meadows of the Plutocracy, homes for colonels retired but still having their use, for KGB queens, but hell, they aren’t near half as dangerous to this sacred soil as the real estate mavens in their pink Cadillacs and their busy blood for time-is-money ways and means, all meeting the endless ends, the service to the great digitized seas of that false god: The caches of electronified cash, the stolen formulas for beers, the Kentucky fried generals on their furloughs, watching it all go down in deep bunkers beneath their homes … O yeah, trust this, if nothing else: It is so effing so! In God you can trust. In Ta’Iowa east to Chicago you can trust the things you wished you didn’t know.

So that all blows us back into the sea for safety, and we escape and then: We are in Winfield, Iowa and everyone seems to be staring at us. Must be the dollar store shades, since the future is so bright (here in Hades ... let us not pray), and you are in that peculiar "you are not from around here" look of yours. Especially with what may seem to the locals as an odd manner of bobbing and weaving in the bush, as well as the downright Martian vocabulary.


Winfield, in the southeastern corner of the state, is far less bombed-out, bummed-out looking than nearby Morning Sun, Iowa, but that's not saying much. The people of Winfield appear, at least on this sunny day brighter, happier, perhaps even prettier. But that's only on this day. A sunny day. A Big Little Wagon Grain machine goes by and the driver waves; because, well, he's getting stared at by you, marveling at such a large and marvelous device, because you can't get over your "am I a real boy" Tonka Trucks wonder years.

There are several cars in the front of the favorite and only restaurant, Pork's, where the food is cheap, tasty as hell, and served with an easy going smile and sense of merriment. People stroll out of the place with leftovers in styrofoam containers, big Buddha bellies, and on the way to their cars, taking up all of the parking spaces on the road out front, each and every one have one last fine thing to say to each other.

That, after nearly breaking their necks to look at you. Since you are still in that "Am I real real boy, Tonka trucks" phasey haze.

It's mid-October and the leaves are just starting to turn. Funny thing is: It was supposed to rain today.

The local historical museum, with fine bright-eyed seniors working in there, fully prepared with their centuries of knowing, to assist you in your not-so-private investigation. One lady gives you a tour. She is spry. Quite wise. Eager for this attention. She tells you, for example, that in 1907 the whole town, except for the hat shop, burned down. Another year an entire brick-made church was completely dismantled after two of the church elders had gotten into a fight fight after failing to come to an agreement over how to spend the money donations attained, one would suppose, after many Sundays of passing the plate. Stuff like that, she tells you, as you gave at the black and white photos of what this church once looked like, as well as the bombed-out, post World War II firebombing look of what the town looked like after the fire of 1907, of bleak and figures silhouetted, of dazed survivors looking around, trying to figure out, "now what," after the disaster.

Now what? Indeed.

But such worries on this sunny neo-Depression era day are replaced by your notices of the reddish Winfield Wolves "welcome" flags posted high on the utility line posts. The noon siren on top of one of these streetlight-included posts shouts to workers and residents that it's noon ... time to eat, or leave, or just hang out at Pork's ... and so on ... as a thresher rolls by, a big Jolly green giant of a monster UFO kind. The driver waves. A king of the new Martian technology that is what really amazes you about the people and technologies of the area. The leaves keep turning into reds, oranges ... fall is coming (going by?) way too fast.

Yeah, it's one fine sunny day in this place. A day to remember. With everyone nearly breaking their necks to get a look at you in your dollar store shades.

Why? Because, because, because ... because of the wonderful things you do? Hell, no!


You are just lost in the amazement of that fabled "Am I a real boy" Tonka Truck haze and you just can't even catch up to not being in Kansas anymore ...

Somehow we got through all of that, but on the road back to Arizona she came apart. The grief was just too much.

And so now the train is passing through all that, and I'm seeing things all over again. Knowing now it was real, no dream. Finally, as the Southwest Chief heads into Chicago, not even a year ago, the train stops for a few passengers in Naperville, Illinois, where I still, far as I know, have a storage space full of my life's belongings up to that point seven years ago. I want it back. I want it all back. But then again, I don't. The train just keeps moving on.


Sunday, August 06, 2017

And the best karaoke bar in Arizona is ... a bit bitchy


If I hadn't of been thrown out of yet another karaoke bar, two, count them, two, in Scottsdale, Arizona, for only wanting water, in the past month, perhaps a more equitable peace could have been made with this paradigm bummer when it comes to what's been going on in music for the past twenty years. In fact, in considering this story about the best karaoke bar in at least Scottsdale, I had an extended relationship with the place for about three months, offering to write a RFA column right away, once I got a drift of what kind of singers were there, but decided not to declare it the best karaoke bar in Arizona because, you know, call some place paradise, kiss it goodbye.

But over the past few weeks, as the bone-burning summer in Phoenix drives people more frequently to the hospital than to the golf course, the snake of jaw-dropping loss in income in the local nightlife has has curled into a coil, shaking a death rattle, an empty cup, to the hungry hearts out there, yearning to sing to be happy as hell. Without fear. Without desperation. Holding back the Sahara of America from choking off all hope, kindness, or normal human interaction. And it's not just the bars, but the hate-filled scream of society being liquified by the heat and pounding, pressurized humidity in general. The wild bestial sexual pulse of downtown high-end glitter? What's that all about? Basically, the summer is trying to kill everyone. So why not party like it's 2999?

And, since they really did throw me out permanently for ordering water, I am going to do the place a favor now, since I love the people there, and the amazing talent that gathers there so very, very much. And the prescient deejays who know how to pick songs for me, rather than what I asked for. The place so-long-not-mentioned-in-a-praising rock journo's review, with it's warm studio setting, big sound, and amazing affability draws singers as good as anything on "American Idol," in many cases better. Many of whom are gifted musicians with their own many projects and amazing professional backgrounds. Many of those choosing more improvisational bends to the originals, thus, perhaps, hopefully signifying the end has begun for this big bad feedback loop of brain-dead repeating of rote "Caroline" Idolotry.

Better than going to church? Perhaps. Indeed, there is no place happier than a room full of singing hobbits, bouncing off the tables, and rolling on the floor. And one more, no, two, no, three things ..,

1) It's OK if you do your own own words
2) It's OK if you want to channel Bono
3) "Caroline" no bueno ...

And so, here it is, the best karaoke bar in Costdale, no, Scottsdale, Arizona, my home, my land, and yours, truly, too ...

The GRAPEVINE 
SCOTTSDALE, ARIZONA
You RFA welcome.


And hey man, what's with this dropping the mic? Don't do it. Just don't. I never did.


This all began with one simple statement about two months ago. There I was, nothing to do on a Saturday night, and I needed some healing, bad. So I said to myself, "There are times in a life when karoake necessary, and this is one of them."

This led to a series of efforts re-training myself to sing. Starting with a Japanese karaoke bar in Tempe, during which I choked and sputtered to nothing less than U2's "Vertigo." Right then, a bunch of Japanese Americans, probably, started peaking their heads out of their rooms, seeing who, exactly, was dying up on the center main room stage ... Any way, this all go to the point to this, again about Tempe ... Posted as thus on Radio Free Arizona's Facebook Group page: "I truly believe an energized music scene is bubbling in the cauldron of Scottsdale, Arizona this summer. The musicians are out, and if maybe the audiences aren't (since it's summer, a bad one, this season), people playing original music are out all over the place. Reminds me a little of Tempe in the late '80s, early 1990s. Went to Tempe to check that out, see if it's the same, monsoon strikes willing. They were, Did a rendition of "Mexican Radio" adding the words, "Vivi Libre O Muertes," So loud it penetrated walls. Now the woman working in the sandwich shop next door kinda likes me, but thinks I'm strange, and I am. By the way, just as we driving up to the place, Tempe cops were wrestling a black man to the ground, kicking him in the head as he resisted. He kept shouting he had done nothing. A local run over Santa just watched and stared. Just asked why? You could see it in his street zoned-in body language. "Vivi Libre O Muertes," indeed.

But now, with the current developments, I would clearly have to say, for myself, "There are times when karaoke is necessary, but this is not one of them." 
Walked by a day later, and they were still talking through the bars about the previous night's stuff of legend. Perhaps I wasn't the only one thrown out. Maybe for dropping the mic. That's what's the dude said he was going to do, so maybe the's a graduate, too. For myself, all I could think to say was, channeling Neil Young, "That's better than winning a Grammy!" Oh, well, I guess the question isn't how well you play within the circle, but what you do once you break on through to the other side ...

~

Douglas McDaniel has been living in the Valley of the Sun since 1960 and is pretty darn sure she's spent $1,000 at the Grapevine, lifetime. He is currently a producer, publisher, author, editor, journo, rock crit, web cat, web dog, poet, songwriter, singer, open mic poet organizer, bandleader, band loser, then band finder again, then who knows ... for, here goes, whew ... breathe ... The Bards of Mythville ... Radio Free Arizona (the Band) ... Shiprect ... Son Mythville ... with a poet tree at ... Mythville ... as well as his long-time gonzo feature ... Radio Free Arizona  ... He throws right (and left) ... kills at ping pong ... Rights write. Writes wrong. Right on ... Sorry, EA, had to say that part ... Namaste ...


Thursday, July 13, 2017

Enormodome and the muse of the 1990s now retro (Director's Cut)

Enormodome with P.H. Naffah of Roger Clyne and the Peacemakers, Gothic Theatre, Denver. Enormodome.net photo


Over the crystal clear connection of a Facebook Messenger video chat, the two members of Enormodome are live and over the airwaves. And brothers and sisters, let this be known: Though it's tragically uncool for any rock merchants to reveal their ages, Flagstaff's dynamic duo were in fact alive during the 1990s. And since they were in high school, when the music of their time was breaking their hearts and carving a permanent meme into their memory banks, they have found a way to express all that in a completely retro, maybe even holistic way.

That is with a 1990s night on first night each month in Flagstaff at the Monte Vista Hotel bar. According to Enormodome members Jeff Lusby-Breault and Mike Seitz, their monthly '90s nights are cultural phenomenons in town. With so many people out at night, a packed house is virtually guaranteed.

What do they remember about the 1990s? Among the things mentioned during the Messenger interview, for two tight guys who are always finishing each other's sentences, were "stylistic things," according to Seitz. "Everyone trying to find a place after the '80s, and being pretty went to being ugly." According to Lusby-Brealt: "The anti-'80s. Double shoelace era. The bright lime green, dayglow."

They go on, leaning into the screen.

Seitz: "The culture and branding explosion. Nike versus Rebok. Everything versus brand was right. Brand became culture and vice versa."

Lusby-Breault: "We were in (Flagstaff) high school in the 1990s. Everything that happened in the '90s has caused me to dedicate myself to the 1990s ... freaking Third Eye Blind. The 'Black' album for Metallica, although that's when people say they sold out," and then later, via Facebook chat, "None of our content is specifically '90s reflective."

Or is it?

As Seitz says, "You grow up with your parents music a little bit, and then you are really shaped by the music when you have crushes on the opposite sex. You have all of these raging hormones. So your parents open you up to it a bit and it just solidifies when you just go crazy with your first crush on the girl ... I remember crying to 'Color Blind' by the Counting Crows."

Such formative years then move forward to create a current Enormodome song called "22 Guns," performed this year and available on Youtube.com for the Tiny Desk outlet, with the line: "High school sweat hearts make bad grown ups."

Since both were in high school and two young for bars in Flagstaff, Lusby-Breault says he doesn't have much of an idea about how the alternative scene expressed itself in northern Arizona. Most likely, with so many new bands on tour, the Museum Club was a major hot spot with such bands as the Meat Puppets playing there.

In Phoenix, the alternative scene was more amply available for the purposes of observed memory. That all starts KUKQ on the AM band out of Apache Junction. Such hits as "Dad, Have You Ever Been Arrested?." Bands like Pop Eats Itself and tons of B52s and David Bowie as filler. The deejays were Jonathan L. and the Bone Mama. The peak of all that was came out of KUKQ culture in the Valley was a show at Big Surf in Tempe. People hanging off the palm trees to get a view. The bands were the Gin Blossoms, the Sidewinders (one of the best bands ever out of Tucson), Camper Van Beethoven and the Red Hot Chili Peppers. And then there was the Sun Club in Tempe, where the Meat Puppets, Giant Sand (another Tucson fave) and Dead Hot Workshop ruled. Nirvana and Public Enemy. Peter Murphy and the Levellers and Crowded House and Janes Addiction. People all dressed in black at the Mesa Amphitheatre for Love and Rockets and New Order. Morrissey out at that dust pit south of Phoenix called Compton Terrace. When KUKQ went FM it codified the whole thing. They went corporate and that pretty much summed it up for quote "alternative" in Phoenix.

That's the pop process in a nutshell.

Now the important thing to remember, obvious as it may sound, is there was no Facebook in the 1990s. But the root of it is there, in 1996, when (as the joke goes) Vice President Al Gore "invented the internet." And it can be argued here that the 1990s are hard to remember, perhaps due to the Telecommunications Act of 1996, which essentially unleashed the internet onto the free world. It can be further argued that the 1990s actually ended then. Because the world was never the same. The 21st century had begun. Not in the year 2000 with Y2K and the kind of outrageous fear and dystopian blah blah blah that is the ethos of the 21st century. But in 1996 when the erasure of all that had come before had begun. Which is why some voters were led to believe in the 2016 presidential election that former President Bill Clinton started a child pornography ring while in office. Since 1996 the truth of history is slowly being turned into vaporware. To bring this point to the well, point, is this: Napster.

Enormodome members Jeff Lusby-Breault and Mike Seitz remember the disturbance in the force created by the controversial first music sharing web site.

"I remember going to my friend's house and he says 'I'm getting free songs on Napster," Lusby-Breault says. "I felt a dark pit in my stomach. It just seemed weird. I remember a very weird, bad feeling ... It was the end of the record industry. Napster killed it. Metallica took all of this s...t for taking a stand against it to protect the value of the art." Followed by Seitz, "Intellectual property is property. (What Napster created) was like stealing groceries at a stand on the roadside."

And then Seitz responds to the call further, the deep thinker leaning harder into the Messenger video screen, "The media shifted immediately, too. There was an immediate departure from record to video." In terms of the art of full-length albums or CDs, "How did that not kill everything?" Then Lusby-Breault, "We are excited vinyl is making a huge comeback. It inspired listening to music as an event. The song order on the album meant something. The new generation hasn't experienced that much. It's an art in itself to make an album flow."

As far as the 90s night goes, with Enormodome playing covers from that period, the two believe the event, which started slow but has picked up steam, is reminiscent of the '90s in the sense of the way people at the show behave.

"People believe they are at a rock show again," Seitz says. "They lose themselves a bit. A lot of people stumble on it from out on the street and room becomes a really cool place. It's a lot more kinetic, with people bumping into each other. It's really a different feeling."

Finally, Lusby-Breault, summing it up: "It's a miniature phenomenon downtown."

Article appeared previously in Flagstaff Live, Arizona Daily Sun.



Tuesday, July 04, 2017

The way back machine when 'alternative' was colored lime green



I've been thinking about the '90s for an upcoming story and the only thing I can remember about those years was writers were actually paid for a living. That, and Pearl Jam and lime green as the ubiquitous signifier of alternative chic. Better bone up. The 1990s. 1990s. Wasn't Bill Clinton president running a child kiddie porn ring or something?

The heat here is sapping my memory.

Oh. I was there. KUKQ on the AM out of Apache Junction. Such hits as "Dad, Have You Ever Been Arrested?." Bands like Pop Eats Itself and tons of B52s and David Bowie as filler. The deejay was Jonathan L. and the Bone Mama. The peak of all that was came out of KUKQ culture in the Valley was a show at Big Surf in Tempe. People hanging off the palm trees to get a view. The bands were the Gin Blossoms, the Sidewinders (one of the best bands ever out of Tucson), Camper Van Beethoven and the Red Hot Chili Peppers. And then there was the Sun Club in Tempe, where the Meat Puppets, Giant Sand (another Tucson fave) and Dead Hot Workshop ruled. Nirvana and Public Enemy. Peter Murphy and the Levellers and Crowded House and Janes Addiction. People all dressed in black at the Mesa Amphitheatre for Love and Rockets and New Order. Morrissey out at that dust pit south of Phoenix called Compton Terrace. When KUKQ went FM it codified the whole thing. They were sold to a corporation and that pretty much sums it up for quote "alternative" in Phoenix. That's the pop process in a nutshell.

I had my column Radio Free Arizona in Scottsdale Life, the arts and entertainment weekly for the Scottsdale Progress, an early prototype of what Flagstaff Live does now, especially with the free distribution in addition to the subscriber delivery. Then I took a big risk and went to work for a local rock publication called Where It's Hot. I took the Radio Free Arizona column there with me. People thought I was crazy, even though it paid more, because they used to have all of these scantily clad women on the cover. It was basically a hair band rag at that point. But I took over right as alternative was hitting and we put all of the new bands on the cover. I think the first one was Live. Also U2 for the "Achtung Baby" tour. I put the Gin Blossoms on the cover and the hard rock oriented owners of the mag hated that. Within a few weeks the Gin Blossoms were on Letterman. Anyway, the publication became much more professional and I became known to all of my mainstream journo friends at the time as the guy who "got the bimbos off the cover" at Where It's Hot. But all that only lasted a year or a little more. There was too much conflict between me, the straight journalist, and the hair band owners there who thought the whole thing had lost what they called "cool." I call it my year of living dangerously.

I went to Catalina Island to write a book when that all fizzled ...

But I still wrote for them after that, even though I had moved on to sports magazines like The Diamond (the official history magazine for Major League Baseball) and Harnett's Sports Arizona. But my future x-wife at the time didn't like me writing about music at all. Was threatened by it. So I wrote under the name RFA for Where It's Hot. But it wasn't much of a cover. The guy who owned Zia Records, Brad Singer, figured it out and called me, which I thought was cool. Especially since he's dead now.

And so are the 1990s. And so is "alternative," which is in the dustbin of history just like "classic rock." But hey, dad still rocks ... dad rock.

Monday, June 26, 2017

Confessions of a liberal hobgoblin as a young man


Well all hail Trump and the breathless gonzo he inspires: Having absorbed numerous presidential campaign conventions, with the media in the mainstream, as well as on the fringes as a roving-then-writing observer of the times, and having taken the pulse on my own social media now sanitized of those fuckheads who like to write in caps, I have started to assess where exactly I was coming from when planning to vote for Hillary Clinton, against every disaster, personal, professional and political, that came before during my life.

Because due to the Electoral College, my vote didn't count.

Some quick memories.

Pink Floyd's "The Wall," seen in Los Angeles, with its thundering cynicism about the world at large as it spins headlong toward fascism. The counter-Woodstock pilgrimage of my college days.

Sitting amid a bunch of political science professors as I was a student reporter trying to get reaction to Ronald Reagan's presidential victory in 1980. They kept popping their heads in the room expressing anguish and astonishment in the social sciences building at the University of Arizona.

Then, after graduating and getting a newspaper job in Prescott, Arizona, interviewing homeless people living in the forest on the fringes of town. They were like peasants kept outside the castle wall in medieval times.

Then, same newspaper, doing a series of stories on some very sick people who had run across a new term in insurance policies, "pre-existing conditions," and were literally left to die without any care at all.

Then, during these days of deregulation, covering something called the rural tariff,  which required rural residents to pay the full price of getting a phone line out to their cabins, little houses on the prairie, and so on. An Arizona Corporation Commissioner later quit after those controversial days to start her own cell phone company.

Boy was she smart.

Finally, religious nuts in Prescott Valley, burning record albums in a big pit at moonlight. It was as if the Dark Ages had returned.

That boils the Reagan era down for me.

Why more people don't claim he was the Anti-Christ, considering his moral majority support, as well as tendency of political hypocrisy, breakout military inclinations, the scandals that never went anywhere, and the greed, the stupid endless greed, is beyond me. Guess I was never much of a gauge on the looming apocalypse, after all.

Because here I am. The sky has not fallen.

I owe my liberalism to rock music, especially British prog-rock, and Kurt Vonnegut, and then, Edward Abbey (who may not have been a liberal at all). As well to watching how religio-political fanatics behaved in my personal life throughout the 1980s. Authoritarianism and raging persecution, for poor me, the rock critic, was local as all politics, as Tip O'Neill might have said. 'Bout had my eyes scratched out by a bunch of increasingly intolerant Christian activistas.

Fast forward to the speed and emotional integrity of a U2 song, and heck, that brings me right up to the late 1990s. Because here I am. Hello, is this the political PTSD support group? There now, is this so painful?

I mean, what could go wrong? Did I vote for Al Gore in 2000? Hell no. The Clinton administration's periodic bombing of Iraq to distract the nation from the Monica Lewinsky scandal led me to vote for Ralph Nader. But Massachusetts, where I was living at the time, was going to go for Gore and I had the idea it was a good time to join those wishing to express dissent about the two-party system. Then came Florida's failure to count all the votes, the dimpled chads, all the rest as the right-leaning Supreme Court decided the game ,,, and then, and then, and then I completely lost any hope for a political solution.

I'm not joking. Lost it. Everything I'd every learned since I was a kid, which I took really seriously, all that patriotic stuff, was proven to be wrong.

I could bring you right up to date in the current century. The Dot-Com bust. 9/11. The Great Recession. But it's all too heart-breaking. For myself and many of my close friends and lovers. Many of whom are no longer with us because of the seismic shifts in society. And now, the New Cruelty, Republican retrogression in healthcare.

I only have the strength to post this about a previously cruel century during the days of the industrial revolution from Wikipedia.org to provide what I think about the latter: "The English Poor Laws were a system of poor relief which existed in England and Wales that developed out of late-medieval and Tudor-era laws being codified in 1587–98. The Poor Law system was in existence until the emergence of the modern welfare state after the Second World War ... In 1834 the Poor Law Amendment Act was passed by Parliament. This was designed to reduce the cost of looking after the poor as it stopped money going to poor people except in exceptional circumstances. Now if people wanted help they had to go into a workhouse to get it."

So, yes, it's all too much. But ego death is a good thing.

That I lost my civic bearings because George Bush II took over has been well-rewarded, or, at least, justified by history. Now comes Trump and truth is disposable and we are all at the mercy of the pharaohs more than ever. But what didn't kill me made me stronger. I should get an honorary degree for this. A doctorate in survival and resiliency. And I know how hard it is to get centered and balanced in times like these. Music helps. I recommend King Crimson's "21st Century Schizoid Man," then call me in the morning.

Just want to let you know where I came from. I'm not a shaman. I'm not a columnist. I'm not even a real journalist anymore. We all belong in the same museum as coal miners. I'm just a fool fallen down off the hill with some tunes in my head. Poetry pouring out. Wish I had a nickel for everyone who told me they were a medicine man. I'm not a medicine man. But a wise one once gave me a riddle. "What does a shaman want to be? A human being."

So that's it. That's me. Hopefully. My political views have been sculpted by my experience. Other than that I don't know crap. Your mileage may vary. And I don't weed out the conservatives on my social media anymore. Because we need to have a chat. Maybe we can both learn something. Just don't use CAPS!

P.S. Maybe all the moon-beams and wingnuts can comment on these words from the Crimson King:

The wall on which the prophets wrote
Is cracking at the seams
Upon the instruments of death
The sunlight brightly gleams
When every man is torn apart
With nightmares and with dreams,
Will no one lay the laurel wreath
As silence drowns the screams

Between the iron gates of fate,
The seeds of time were sown,
And watered by the deeds of those
Who know and who are known;
Knowledge is a deadly friend
When no one sets the rules
The fate of all mankind I see
Is in the hands of fools

Confusion will be my epitaph
As I crawl a cracked and broken path
If we make it we can all sit back and laugh,
But I fear tomorrow I'll be crying,
Yes I fear tomorrow I'll be crying


~ "Epitaph," by King Crimson

Written by Greg Lake, Ian Mcdonald, Michael Rex Giles, Peter John Sinfield, Robert Fripp • Copyright © Universal Music Publishing Group

Friday, June 23, 2017

Burning Man Band: The 'Magnificent Beast' that is Marchfourth


Chaos theory works in a magical way. Like in a typical disaster movie, when the earth-shaking event begins out in the boonies. The moon shakes. Bubbles start coming out from the bottom  of the sea. The lone hero scientist-researcher begins to detect disturbing readings from some ice-weary cubicle in Antarctica. Before you know it, all hell is breaking loose, snowballing toward an apocalyptic conclusion. But what if that out-in-the-middle-of-nowhere cosmic event, the trouble in River City, began with the birth of a singular moment of pure joy? As some insurgent agent invisible to the catastrophe, violence and hatred already amply available in broad society? Before you know it, before the pharoahs can do anything about it, the whole world is dancing in the streets in global Mardi Gras ecstasy. Such may one day be the case for what was first big-banged as the Marchfourth Marching Band, now known more simply as Marchfourth. Of course, that should all be toned down quite a bit.

Marchfourth isn't a four-piece Beatles or U2 taking the world by storm. The Portland-based troupe-group, with its founding members inspired by the Burning Man events out in the Nevada desert, is maybe 18-20 people up on stage, with burning horn players, burning drummers, burning bassists and guitarists, burning dancers, burning men and women on stilts. All elaborately dressed in chaotic costumes beaming in the glories of the individual as a kind brash, booming, brassy and quite mad high-flying circus.

The group doesn't really operate like other performing acts do, especially considering they have had more than a taste of big-time glory, such as doing theme songs for the "Monsters Inc." kid-movie franchise and getting recruited by the U.S. State Department to tour in China to create a disturbance in the force there. To set up an interview there's no highly efficient intermediary big-label publicist to arrange a time to speak at a specific time. It's more like, hey, here's the number, just call, send an e-mail and we'll get back eventually. When they take to the road, they more often than not stay at the homes of friends and fans and members of their network across the country or in a customized bus full of thoughtful bozos. It's a very communal approach, with group members always coming and going, all managed furiously by lead organizer John Averill, who views the whole thing as a baseball team that's constantly evolving as the season wears on.

Fourteen years ago Averill and co-founder Dan Stauffer decided to channel all of the creative desires inspired by attending Burning Man festivals and a love for New Orleans second-line ensembles into a kind of social club in Portland. Averill had been organizing "hybrid theme parties," creating "one-off" bands inspired by Burning Man, once unofficially described as the "special Olympics of art." Usually held around Labor Day in the desert 90 miles northeast of Reno, the big moment of the event is the torching of a large wooden man. The internationally attended even is officially described as "an annual experiment in temporary community dedicated to radical self-expression and radical self-reliance."

How that combination of off-the-grid gumption was interpreted by Stauffer and Averill was as a marching band combining Mardi Gras and the Chinese New Year. They performed for the first time on Fat Tuesday, March 4, 2003, and two weeks later really set the thing on fire amidst the collective oxygenated angst of a downtown Portland protest against the war in Iraq.

The musicians drew from the institutional brass bands of New Orleans, klezmer, samba and other strong Latin influences, especially since most of the drummers were already members of Brazilian batucada, which is also draws from an Afro-precussive style usually performed by an ensemble, known as a bateria.

Via e-mail, Stauffer described the first igniting of the group this way: "We started going to Burning Man in '98 and got turned on to some large roaming bands like Extra Action and the Infernal Noise Brigade and thought that it would be fun to have an outfit like that here in Portland. You know, something fun, energetic, danceable, and larger than your typical four-piece. John was throwing a big party called Chow Yun Fat Tuesday and we decided to make this party our debut. We teamed up with Faith and Nayana Jennings (a former member now retired now serving as the road manager), and stiltwalker Nathan Wallway to have a crazy dance and costumed circus kind of vibe, learned five or six songs from Rebirth (Brass Band), Fanfare Ciacarlo, Fela Kuti, and Los Fabulosos Cadillacs. Four cases of PBR and four practices later we went and played the party, which was a blast but we perhaps had too many drummer and dancers and not enough horn players (now there are more horns than any other section). The next day we went out and did a peace march against the Gulf War, and that was magic, both the protestors and the counter-protestors dropped the anger, fear and bad vibes as we marched through the streets of downtown Portland playing our fun Mardi Gras set. It was like a little ripple of joy in an ugly little sea. We were all pretty blown away getting to contribute something like that at that moment in history, and thought, well, we might want to keep doing this. So we did! And that's just the beginning of this magnificent beast."

One of the things marching bands don't have, in addition to the Burning-Man-slash-stiltwater icon, is a bass player, which Averill brought to the evolving stew.

"Music was always a hobby until about 15 years ago when I decided to chase a musical career," he says, again via e-mail. "I guess I wanted to figure out what it was like to be broke all the time (haha)! I made more money doing visual art-related work, but I love the immediate connectivity of playing music. You play music in real time and people dance, so the joy is instantaneous. With other jobs, like stop-motion animation (my prior occupation), you work behind a curtain for 50 hours a week and then wonder if anyone is going to enjoy what you created."

The current incarnation of Marchfourth consists of bass, guitar, two trumpets, three saxes, two trombones, and four percussionists. Add this to three dancer-acrobats, including one of the last stiltwalkers around -- since it's such a physical job to be a pro that retirements far outweigh the number of available new recruits -- as well as four people as support staff, the whole ethic of roving self-reliant creative outburst becomes a real practical problem. They are now on their third tour bus, modified to sleep more than 20 people.

"We have a full kitchen so we don’t have to stop for food all the time," Averill says. "The vibe on the bus is pretty chill, and very family-oriented. There really isn't any room for drama. There also isn’t any room for guests. So we just kind of pass the time reading, playing games, working on laptops. Whatever pent up energy we have gets released on stage. It’s kind of like we live on a 45 box on wheels, and then we get to a town and just explode on the stage. In a good way. It’s a happy explosion."

As far as getting to be known nationally went, the iconoclastic counter-culture vibe and burn-down-the-big-box unorthodoxy were always the prime directives. For example, "America's Got Talent" asked them to perform on the show (who knew it wasn't all volunteer?) but the group couldn't get their heads inside the request.

"They hounded us, and we made a promo video, but when it came time to sign a contract we decided not to do it," Averill says. "Most of us felt, as a legitimate band, that we didn’t want to become reality TV show fodder, and the contract basically signed away any kind of control of whatever they decided to film us doing."

They put out an album called "Rise Up," and somehow (Averill has no idea how) it ended up in the hands of the producers of the "Monsters Inc." franchise, and they used one of Marchfourth's pieces despite anything Randy Newman could do about it.
"They just picked one of our songs," Averill says. "Randy Newman did all the other songs, and he apparently tried to write one that would replace our song, but I guess it didn’t work. As a compromise, our song (although featured twice in the movie) was left off the official 'soundtrack written by Randy Newman,' which was kind of a bummer."

Last year they put out another album called "Magic Number," which required a slimmed-down tribe of musicians-only to hit the road from Portland to record in New Orleans, where they cut 11 songs in 11 days: thus accomplishing a numerological feat matching the sacred mathematics of both ancient Hebrew, Islam, as well as Christianity. Adding two elevens together, making 22, is the last chapter, the Book of Revelation, in the bible and is generally supposed to mean, getting back to the point of the chaos theory of Marchfourth, a "concentation of disorganization," according to Biblestudy.org. And there is a trumpets-at-the-gates-of-Jericho feeling when the ensemble really gets rocking hard, in a frenetic swing-era way gone post-modern hip-hop, like this were a music set on fire by the devil for the purposes of entertainment in some den of iniquity.

The members, in a crazed energy for a week-and-a-half, would record 10 to 12 hours a day and then form up again on Frenchmen Street in New Orleans like they belonged there, really owned the place. With their crazy outfits, again fitting the anarchic sensibilities, a video of their performance in the Big Easy makes one wonder if they dressed like that all of the time since, based on Averill's description of the time spent in the studio, with free time to rest, eat and dress being so unavailable? There's no organizing principle at work with the outfits, Averill says. But it is an art unto itself, combing Sgt. Pepper, Kiss, Batman and Rocky Balboa when the Stanford Band takes a day off to attend clown school, only to get lost in the desert at, yes, the fringes of Burning Man.

"Everyone pretty much is on their own as far as outfitting themselves," Averill says. "Some people are excellent designers who know how to sew. Others have to get help blinging out their wardrobe. We try to go for a mis-matched 'marching band' aesthetic, but it’s really kind of open. Even though marching band jackets look amazing, the reality is that they are hotter than hell to wear. And those ridiculous hats are actually plastic buckets with no ventilation. So out of necessity people end up chopping off the sleeves and cutting off the tops of the hats."

A shorter version of this story original appeared in Flagstaff Live.

Friday, June 16, 2017

And the least hip coffee house in Scottsdale, Arizona is ...

You won't see this woman at the place in Scottsdale, Arizona,  that I'm talking about.
The most un-hip coffeehouse in America, after years and years and years of research, since I've been to them from Cambridge, Massachusetts to Lincoln City, Oregon, writing poetry furiously as I put myself on display at these places, is located in Scottsdale, Arizona. You will not be able to post a "Yelp," which is uberese for hip hot spot, though. I will not permit it. Scottsdale apparently leads the world in Yelping, which is putting a lot of professional journalism-school-trained restaurant critics out of work ... so fuck even trying to explain what a "Yelp" is.

And it's not un-hip because the Scottsdale Police Department is right around the corner. Because the police are always at this painfully cheerful little coffee hut chatting with each other to work-group their benefits packages, as well to tell tales of harrowing heroism. God knows these people need to take a break in this town. With so much trouble in the world. With wrong-way drivers and right-mad drunks and the occasional gun over-enthusiast. With so much chaos, even in a streamlined, bolted down, cemented-to-perfection place like Scottsdale. Let them rest, with little distraction. Let them breathe, sip, chat in peace. Peace officers need peace. Let it be. Let it be.

Not going to tell you where it is. Nope. Nope. Nope. Because if you call some place paradise, kiss it goodbye (insert Don Henley/Eagles copyright dinky here).

For the purposes of comparison and contrast, I must explain that the best coffeehouse I ever lived at was Mama Java's, in Phoenix in the Arcadia district. It's not there anymore. But in it's heyday Mama Java's was a community hub for musicians and writers and strip club dancers and street people and joggers and people with nose rings and tattoos. At night, it was a constant live entertainment hub. After it was bought, I went back in there expecting more of the same. I asked the barrista woman when they had their poetry readings. She responded they didn't do that anymore. Changes had been made by the new owner. I wonder how many new owners there are in the world who had killed the successful business paradigms they had acquired. Mama Java's is one nasty example. The Coffee Plantation is, too. You can get arrested at those places now for simply strumming an unauthorized guitar note.

But the least hip coffee house in Scottsdale will never even attempt such endeavors in community Woodstock. The least hip coffee house does have all of the attendant nick-knacks, the fake burlap bean bags zonked in like wallpaper, the display cabinets with the $20-dollar coffee cups, the try-the-new-diabetes drink signs, the ecstatic barrista pitching for the up-sell. The least hip coffee house in America doesn't play any unnerving music. The only truly distracting elements are the cars, sirens and the beep beep beep of the nearby traffic light if you sit out on the smoker's porch, which is perhaps one of the worst places to be on earth if you want to get any poetry done. Unless you want your poem to go beep, beep, beep, too.

The people who go there are different than the Woodstock-turned-Lollapalooza-turned-Coachella stock. These people aren't there for their kicks. These people are there to work. To interview each other. To convince one another about the superiority of their sales gigs. To train them to sell their sales gigs. This is their office. They have no office. They are busy keeping office spaces empty. They are busy Mary Kay Cosmeticisizing. They are focused. They are dialed in.

At first, maybe it was my personal unicorn, I found it really awful. But now I'm getting warmed up the idea. Maybe I have realized, after all of these years with still no tattoos, I am not a very hip person. I'm simply a fallen yuppie angel, which is why I keep coming to the least hip coffee house in America in the first place. Because success breeds success. And if I know one thing it's this, with so many cops taking a break, it's the least likely place in the world to get arrested.

Monday, June 05, 2017

Old Town Scottsdale and the future shock of too much progress

                                                                                                                                                                                                    PNI photo

After being away from Scottsdale, Arizona for at least a decade, the place has changed a lot and right now I'm a little in future shock from all of the designer gloss. Clearly, I do not fit in. An argument could be made that I don't fit in anywhere, but at least my fly-on-the-wall status in life is an opportunity to provide a little counterpoint.

And I probably would not have gone through the trouble of writing this if not for a recent article about a dress code sign in a Chicago uber-pizza place called The Bottled Blonde, which is owned by Evening Entertainment Group, which based in Scottsdale, and has already conquered the Old Town Scottsdale area with about nine different kind of theme venues for the Mercedes-Benz set.

The sign at Bottled Blonde in Chicago, before it was removed due to a wave of Twitter activism for being racist, stated the following: “No Excessively Baggie, Sagging, Ripped, Dirty, Frayed, Overly Flashy, or Bright clothing. No hawaiian, tie dye, floral, skull prints, or anything else obnoxious. No gang attire (leather cuts, colors, or insignias) and no camouflage. No Embellishments or Statement [attire]. No plain white tees, long tees, denim, flannel … or zippers on shirts. … Tank tops before 6 PM only. … No Jordans, Nike Air Max, or Air Force Ones. … Hats must be worn forward at all times.”

There is also a Bottled Blonde in Old Town Scottsdale, so there's the hook, the line, and the sinker. However, while there's a lot more diversity in Scottsdale than there was when I was trying to buy drinks as an underage kid at disco bars, I've also noticed there's very little chance of gang attire being worn anywhere around Old Town, even by white kids.

This is about conformity. There is a certain look so entrenched in Old Town one can hardly imagine "obnoxious" ever existed, even if it could be defined. Men have crew cuts or are bald-shaved. Women wear cleavage. Not sure what else, but I'm sure whatever it is to display it with was bought at an overpriced fashion mall. But the only purpose for whatever is worn is cleavage. That's it. Battleship cleavage propped up for display on incredibly high heels.

These are people who pay retail. You have a bum's eye for clothes? Go to Tempe. Or Flagstaff. Or better yet, France.

Hats must be worn backwards. Eyes must be on two things: either your cell phones or the ubiquitous televisions hanging high up from the ceilings of these places. You could argue every patron gets their own TV, but that's overstating it a bit. But there is a lot of distraction going on in many of these slickly themed youth traps, maybe so you won't notice you are paying six dollars for a PBR or some ridiculous yacht-price for a pizza. 

Oh, and no original live music. People need to be comforted, dancing not too wildly, and most certainly not inspired into any kind of youth rebellion or nuanced emotional complexity.

It begins with the architecture, which is very modern and angled with considerable sharpness. Clearly the people who have had the most fun in Scottsdale are the architects.

The counter-culture may be over, certainly never existed in Scottsdale to begin with, but there are subtle notices of its passing, as well as signs of its legacy in the mainstream. While exploring, I saw a hookah bar and two smoke shops.

Since this is a high-end consumer's oasis, and I'm a low-end guy, I feel pretty invisible during my forays into downtown Scottsdale. The place makes me feel downright Lutheran. I seem to get away with being actual human camouflage.

The vast size of these designer places, blinking in laser bounce and video screens through the windows, reminds me that this is just celebrity longing in full bloom. My post-apocalyptic dystopian eyes always view these things wondering what it will look like when it all dries up and the original dusts of the desert returns. Like tumbleweeds blowing through Disneyland, the un-sustainability of so much progress will eventually get the last good snort.

Is Arizona Immune from the Apocalypse? Don' Think So

I may not be a rocket scientist, but the word on the street is people here in Scottsdale, Arizona don't need to worry about other d...