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 ...

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. 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 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 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 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.

Friday, May 26, 2017

Viola, We Never Knew Ya

Photo by Eric Hays, Flagstaff Live
Flagstaff's Viola & the Brakemen
began as a legend written on a local mural

There may be a rational explanation but it’s nowhere near as accurate as the mythic one. And after numerous interviews with the members of Flagstaff country-folk-rock-something-but-definitely-not-bluegrass band Viola and the Brakemen, the only conclusion is the truth is murky at best. Just who the hell is Viola? It must be asked. There is nobody in the band named Viola, just as there was nobody actually named Jethro Tull. Well, actually there was. So Viola is even less so.

Is she a chimera, a mystery girl, a waif-like ghost skipping in the alleys of downtown just before dawn? We may never know. Did we ever know Viola? Of course not. Whatever the idea of Viola has morphed into, it’s now also a heat-stroked desert sound coming from the songwriting heart of singer-songwriter Brian White, a phantom that is only cool water cupped in our hands at Oak Creek—where White has written many songs—or from the high-altitude, non-manufactured melting snows where the Kachinas roam. Such a person cannot exist but can only be imagined when you close your eyes and listen to White’s style of musical breeze. He makes up the words for his songs for a band that “only make sense” when expert acoustic music is attached for the safety of the consumer.

“Viola is before my time, and now is legend,” says the band’s drummer, Matthew Tress.

White explains it this way: “Her name was Nora and she played the viola. I thought about calling [the band] Nora and the Brakemen, but instead used Viola to infer both definitions of the word. I like the contrast of a flower and the steel that makes up the railroad and in conjunction with the Southern Pacific Railroad position title ‘brakemen.’ We are asked all the time if (band members Kristin Straka or Jessica Ludwig) are Viola. They always respond by pointing at me!”

In fact, the band’s name has proved to be so evocative and anthropologically local that “Viola & the Brakemen” is now memorialized on the Route 66 mural on the back wall of downtown’s Lumberyard Brewing Co.

“The band name stuck when the Mural Mice (R.E. Wall and Maggie Dewar) added our name as a bumper sticker in the mural on Phoenix Street at Lumberyard Brewery,” White says. “At that point I took Viola and the Brakemen on officially.”

So the evolution of the band was a kind of collective happening, a stream-of-consciousness thing ignited by one fact, codified by local muralists, and now a part of the Flagstaff historic district landscape. The mural image is a kind of faded, half-shadow that’s tilted, naturally, almost upside down, as a barely stapled old band flyer seemingly petrified to the brick wall. At this point, even if there are still band show notices stapled on Flagstaff telephone poles that are older, it appears Viola and the Brakemen will be almost as permanent as the hot dog stand on Route 66 that inspired Jackson Browne to write “Take it Easy.” Especially as brick murals in the great cow towns and mining hubs in the American West prove to endure as the decades roll on.

In any case, that brick-of-an-idea Viola and the Brakemen is the brainchild of White, who among other things is a kind of cyberspace marketing and communications wiz, working on a Master’s in Education Psychology, and really knows a lot about trains.

“The inspiration for the name came directly from my father and his position as brakemen for Southern Pacific Railroad,” he says. “The brakeman was a position on the caboose. They assisted the train when stopping, but in the mid-’80s the caboose went away because they would add more engines for power [longer freight trains] and stopping. But if you were a brakeman at the time you would keep your title per union by-laws. New hires would come in as ‘trainsmen’ while anyone before the caboose was omitted remained a brakeman due to the difference in pay.”

Of the music, a key turn of phrase stands out, “flowers” and “steel.” The new music found in the various digital formats, including on Bandcamp, the real good fortune for White is the quality of the backing band, which among other things, features an experienced player on bass, Keith Gomora, who, with the train beats, keeps each song swinging into some funky places in unexpected ways. As a group they are impressive, with Straka on the violin and Ludwig on vocals and percussion, as well as the work of drummer Tress, whose family has a recording background in the early days of Christian rock in Florida.

The off-the-grid melodies of country-porch, hippies out in the woods playing Marshall Tucker songs, and yes, all of those references to Oak Creek and mid-Western farm life, it comes at you in surprising ways. White says he’s influenced by the Byrds, Wilco and even shoegaze, a more recent critic’s word for guitar-playing frontmen with so much focus on the pedals for guitar effects on the floor they are therefore staring at their shoes. And indeed, there is a very rich palette to the songs, which are steeped in a very Arizona twang and rich harmonies—especially considering White’s background growing up as a kid, the son of an original brakeman who was also a country musician, spending a lot of time at San Xavier del Bac church southwest of Tucson.

“I am an Arizona native and I was born very close to the border of Arizona and Mexico,” he explains. “My ‘playground’ was the San Xavier Mission and I believe this upbringing lends a hand to my Southwestern musical roots. I grew up roaming miles and miles of desert lands in flip-flops, flipping rocks over to check out the weird creatures of the desert in my youth and later taking motorcycle journeys through the Tohono O’odham Nation as I got into my teen years. I had 20 years in Tucson and 21 years in Flagstaff, and I have never lived anywhere else.”

In the final analysis, as far as the legend of Viola goes, in terms of the wake she left, there’s a warm comfort in knowing that somewhere out there is a band whose idea of “going to church” is playing long Sunday afternoons at the porch at Flagstaff Brewing Co. Shows no doubt muted with great frequency by the turbulatin’ of the engines and sirens along Route 66 and the river of trains running by.

~ Originally published in Flagstaff Live, Arizona Daily Sun

Tuesday, December 06, 2016

Asleep at the Wheel keeps it rolling along Route 66 for Museum Club show

Talk about one of the great band names in music history, Asleep at the Wheel is a national institution. The country music group from Paw Paw, West Virginia has been in perpetual motion since 1970, right as country rock was taking off for the Eagles, the Flying Burrito Brothers and Commander Cody and His Lost Planet Airmen. Even though they were a part of the hippie counter-culture at the time, touring as an opener for Alice Cooper and Hot Tuna and earning the praise of Van Morrison, they kept to the retro side of the country scene, doing authentic songs with an eccentric audacity, respecting a tradition that, at the time, didn't know it was an endangered species.

But now after 50 years they are one of the holdouts of the country traditions, recently releasing an album decided to Bob Wills and the Texas Playboys, a legendary group from the 1960s known for pioneering western swing and conjuring images of raucous nights playing music behind chicken fence wire in dusty pool halls and small town honky tonks.

However, in recent decades, Asleep at the Wheel, since it is a national cultural institution, is more likely to play the swankier fine arts venues, such as the Musical Instrument Museum in Scottsdale, or, the Dell E. Webb Center for Performing Arts in Wickenburg, the Heritage Hall in Paris, Texas.

Band leader Ray Benson says even though the band has frequently been to Flagstaff, it's been a long time since they played at the Museum Club. The Route 66 connection and the history of Flagstaff's roadhouse venue is enormously important to the band, Benson says during a telephone interview from his home in Austin, Texas.
"The reason we are playing at the Museum Club is it's a nostalgic show," he says. "We haven't played there in 30 years ... With eight players it will be amazing if we all fit on the stage."

There is something ubiquitous about Asleep at the Wheel. They have been around for so long, doing shows year-round, they always seem to be a permanent marker on the upcoming concert horizon, and if you miss them now there's no doubt they'll be back again soon. In the imagination, they are that travelling troupe pouring out of the tour bus to have a bite to eat somewhere around Route 66. And this week, they will be driving several days from Decatur, Illinois, generally taking the direction of Route 66 from the Midwest to the Southwest.

"We will be doing sections of Route 66," he says. "This trip is going to take us a long way in the few days."

The group is racking up remarkable numbers. Benson says they are currently on their seventh tour bus, and even though the current model is equipped with internet, GPS and satellite TV, "They still break down from time to time." In addition to that, he says 90 different players have been in the band over the years, and with the exception of Benson, all of the current players are 30 years old or younger.

The band has won nine Grammy Awards and placed 20 singles on the Billboard country charts, including their highest-charting single, including "The Letter That Johnny Walker Read," which went to number 10 in 1975. It's a tune that needs to be heard on an old juke box.

The band went through a lot of challenges in its second decade, but emerged late in the 1980s even stronger after Benson took over as the band's leader. The albums "10" and "Western Standard Time" started a comeback for the group.

"That was the third incarnation of Asleep at the Wheel," he says of those years. "We had three female singers but I decided to take over as lead singer, since I was developing as a songwriter and producer. We had a hot band and a great idea and we put it together with 'House of Blue Lights.' "

The song sounds like a kind of mission statement, as Benson sings:

Lace up your boots and we'll broom on down
To a knocked out shack on the edge of town
There's an eight beat combo that just won't quit
Keep walkin' 'til you see a blue light lit
Fall in there and we'll see some sights
At the house of blue lights
There's fryers and broilers and Detroit barbecue ribs
But the treat of the treats 
Is when they serve you all those fine eight beats

By the 1990s they had found a groove and had become permanently recognized as traditionalist mainstays of country swing. In 20 years Asleep at the Wheel had gone from irreverent upstarts to being the keepers of the flame. That reputation was consolidated when, in honor of the 66th anniversary of Route 66, did a tour all along the remaining elements of the Mother Road, and their tributes to the music of Bob Wills and the Texas Playboys won them two more Grammys. They kept touring in support of a second Bob Wills tribute album, "Ride with Bob." 

A play based on the life of Wills, with Benson, playing himself and meeting the spirit of the legendary country swing icon, was performed around the country, including the Kennedy Center in Washington D.C.

Yet another Wills tribute, "Still the King," continues to cement Asleep at the Wheel to the very ground floor of the country swing tradition.

"Its been an amazing ride," Benson stated recently. "From Paw Paw to San Francisco to Austin, we've seen it all. But, rest assured, there's still many exciting projects in the works. The Wheel keeps rolling!"

Thursday, September 15, 2016

The struggle of the California Condors of the Vermillion Cliffs of Arizona

John Sherman's view of a condor nest on the Vermillion Cliffs, Arizona

Flagstaff wildlife photographer John Sherman is on a mission. His subject was once on the brink of extinction. After being placed on the federal endangered species list in 1967, only 22 California condors were known to exist, and were extinct in the wild by 1987. But now 71 condors are alive in the wilds of northern Arizona and southern Utah. And Sherman has vowed to get at least one photo of every one of them. The point: to highlight the precarious nature of one of the largest birds in North America as they attempt to make a comeback from centuries of misfortune.

One of his new photographs demonstrates the incredible wingspan of a California condor, which can be nine feet or more. They are immense in size, sure. But there's also this: the largest birds in the wilds of North America are numbered with tags as well as GPS transmitters on their wings. These items make the bird appear to be some kind of football player, race car or at least racing plane, but these non-natural items are really indications of a species on life support.

That's because one of their biggest foes right now is lead poisoning from the ingestion of bullets not shot at them, but at the carrion they eat.

When a lead bullet strikes an animal target, it explodes into tiny particles. Thus, when a carrion bird, clean sweeper of the southwestern deserts, ingests those particles, they are in danger of lead poisoning. But copper bullets are different; when they hit the target, they generally stay intact. Just that one difference could mean everything for the survival of the California condor species.

The intention of Sherman's photography project is not only to show their odd beauty, but also their vulnerability.

"By showing every bird in the population, which is about the size of a deck of cards, you can put them up on a poster and see every one," he says. "By doing that I can divert people from the politics of condors and have them think about the biology and ecology. They are on a tipping point right now ... I hope I live long enough to see them without tags."

That one simple change in hunter's shooting habits in the protected area could make all of the difference. In most situations, in terms of protecting an endangered species, the issues can be far more complicated. Lead poisoning, which the birds are constantly being tested for, has been identified as the main thing that could prevent the condors from having a chance at self-sustaining survival. Lead shot in gut piles left by hunters is a big source of concern. Since the birds feed in groups, just one such carcass could potentially poison several birds. So hunters are being asked to not only switch to copper shot, but also to remove all carcasses and animal parts from the field.

"What does it say about us, as a species, if we can't make such a small sacrifice that pays such dividends?" Sherman says. "We really can get the lead out of the environment."

So far he has photographed 58 out of 72 (one, however, was recently shot dead). He has seen them at the South Rim of the Grand Canyon, at Navajo Bridge on Highway 89A, and where they have been released into the wild, on Vermillion Cliffs, near Kaibab National Forest to the west and Glen Canyon National Recreation Area to the east.

Photo by John Sherman

Sherman believes by capturing every one of them with his long lenses, he can make a strong statement about how few there are.

"I would like to be able to make a poster that says, 'This is it. This is all there is. Help us out.' "
The "us" in this case includes the biologists who are constantly observing and tracking the condors. For nearly 20 years, program personnel have released low numbers of condors into the wild every year, with the last release this past September. Each condor, fitted with radio transmitters and monitored daily by field biologists, is the beneficiary of a special provision of the Endangered Species Act that allows for the management of their reintroduction in the wild.

Decades, perhaps even centuries of decline, due to poaching, lead poisoning and habitat destruction during the settlement of the West, led to the point of thie rnear extinction by the late 1970s. Then in 1987 all remaining wild condors were captured, then bred at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park and the Los Angeles Zoo. Captive breeding increased their numbers and now there are slightly more than 400 condors total living in the wild or in captivity. They have been reintroduced in northern Arizona and have since migrated into southern Utah as well (including the Grand Canyon area and Zion National Park). They are also being reintroduced into the the coastal mountains of central and southern California, and northern Baja California.

In 2006, a condor pair was seen nesting in Northern California for the first time in a century. A decade later captive birds were also being bred at the Oregon Zoo and the World Center for Birds of Prey in Boise, Idaho. Five years ago, the number of wild condors actually in California had increased to 100 individuals, with 73 more in Arizona. Three years ago, more than 200 of the estimated 400 California condors alive today were living in the wild.

The rugged Vermillion Cliffs provided every type of condition needed for the birds' survival, especially the ridges and caves condors need for nesting. But another big advantage is the isolation from humans.

For the average person, the best time to see the condors is in the spring and summer at the South Rim and Zion National Park. In the winter, they can be found at the Vermillion Cliffs National Monument, as well as along the Colorado River corridor near Marble Canyon. Perhaps the easiest chance to see them is on the Navajo Bridge. In fact, several of the best closeup photos of the birds that Sherman has taken were shot at Navajo Bridge.

Sherman says it's a pretty good haul by four-wheel drive, with some hiking involved to get the photo equipment near enough to the birds, but not too close. The birds are naturally curious, and fairly unafraid.

"They are impressive in their statures, but not that hard to photograph," he says. "I make the assumption that 99 percent of the time the animal knows I'm there. I approach very slowly, but only close enough where I'm within the comfort zone for the bird. It's not a success if the animal runs away when I'm shooting."

He says he acquired the patience necessary to photograph these elusive, rare birds in rock climbing and bouldering, which also require intense study of the object for long periods of time. "Bird photography is the bouldering of the photography world," he says. "It taught me a lot I didn't know about myself, in terms of the patience I had." Sherman first began shooting photos of birds during a trip to the Colorado River wetlands, and then moved on to shooting peregrine falcons, which he says are far more difficult to capture than condors. At one point, during an assignment on peregrine falcons, he wondered if it would be easier to shoot penguins.

He believes himself to be a "staunch traditionalist," which means he doesn't use tricks, such as putting out bait to draw the animal in, or bird calls to trick the bird into coming closer. Sherman only wants a photo of what the birds will normally do. "You have to be dedicated to spend time with them and when something happens, I feel so enriched the photo becomes secondary. It's like, 'wow, that's so cool.' I don't even care about the photo."

His ideal behavior, he laughs, is to take on "the physique of a ruminant," which basically means appearing to be as non-threatening as possible.

On the face of it, getting a photo of every single condor in Arizona sounds like a pretty daunting task. The birds can fly anywhere from 150 to 200 miles in a day, and tips provided by biologists based on their GPS positioning can only help so much. They might be reading at one position at that moment, but who knows where they will be hours from now across some of the most isolated, rugged areas. Sherman says it helps that they are numbered, and therefore easy to identify to avoid any redundancy.

"If you find one, you often find more than one in a group," he says. "There are not an awful lot of loners. The biologists told me there were two I would never get, but I did. So that gives me the faith that I can get the rest. It's going to be more important to track down the leads (provided by the biologists) when I get down to 10."

But it's a game he plays, and it keeps him motivated.

"I'm sure that when there is one left I will be thinking of that one as Moby Dick," he says.

Photo by John Sherman

Saturday, September 03, 2016

Howling from a rooftop: Sol Drop drops their debut album 'It’s Alright'

Just how prepared can three juniors 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 not even two years old, has been carefully hatching a plan.

This week they will be releasing their first CD, It’s Alright, at an album release party Friday at the Firecreek Coffee Co. In a carefully thought out marketing strategy, receipt of the new work will be included in the cost of attending the event. 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 laughs. “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, with the CD, “ready for a couple of months, and now they are ready for the show,” Meyers says.

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