Monday, May 28, 2007

30 days till the rock drops; and more updates (always more)

That's right -- on Thursday, June 28, my as yet unnamed workshop band will perform live on stage at the Red Devil Lounge at around 10 p.m. Our set spans twenty years of contemporary rock and pop, with old songs by Prince, U2, R.E.M., and more recent material by Modest Mouse, Queens of the Stone Age, Snow Patrol, Jet, the Arctic Monkeys, and others. We're still a little rough around the edges, but we should be in prime rockin' form in one month's time. Next rehearsal is Thursday...

In other developments, I have nearly completed my third 'Idiot's Guide' for the always entertaining Just a few minor tweaks and it should be ready to go. More on that when I get closer to finding out when it might run.

And, I've started the painstaking process of writing my first ever long-form work of fiction. I have no idea how this is going to turn out, in spite of my rough notes and outline giving me a guide to where it *should* go... I'm subject to changing my mind mid-sentence on this thing. All I will say for now is that I envision it as a philosophical drama with some elements of comedy. I just finished reading Kurt Vonnegut's "Cat's Cradle" and I decided it probably shouldn't be quite as damning of the human condition, but there will be some of that, because the human condition is always ripe for damnation.

No word yet on when the Slayer interview will run. But it will run soon...

Friday, May 25, 2007

Cruisin' for records, part 2

Open Mind storefront signSo I did make my way over to Other Shop II on 327 Divisadero between Oak and Page, where I saw the Open Mind sign hanging across the street from its old location, and discovered that Open Mind has some consignment bins inside. They are planning on reopening "late May" at 2150 Market Street, by Cafe du Nord. If they stay open late, it'll be fun to hang out inside before and after shows at du Nord, which I'm sure must have been the idea of re-opening in that location. I used to do that at In Your Ear in Boston, before shows at the Paradise. It'll be just like old times, except without boxes of 8-tracks to sift through...

Monday, May 21, 2007

Bay to Breakers 2007

I can now officially call myself a San Franciscan, after having run the annual Bay to Breakers 12k race yesterday. It's even more a spectacle than a race, and I've got the photos to prove it.

Starting by the Embarcadero, with the San Francisco Bay Bridge as a backdrop, the race crosses the city, through Golden Gate Park, ending by the ocean, hence 'Bay' to 'breakers.' Along the way...

tortillas on the pavement

...tortillas are tossed before the start of the race in a strange, messy ritual that literally smacked me across my face...

naked guy

...old men get naked, in the process reminding us that the really hot bodies want to get paid to bare it all...

guy in Teletubby costume

...grown adults dress as all manner of iconic children's characters and other random costumes...

onlooker from apartment window

...the not-so-adventurous watch from a safe distance...

woman holding bottle of Corona

...lots of alcohol is consumed (I wish I had thought to photograph the big yellow homebrew stand that provided me with a nice big cup of tasty, amber-colored beer)...

religious fanatic holding protest sign

...the religious fanatics forget again that San Francisco tuned them out ages ago...

Bay to Breakers start line

...we cross the start line (finally)...

massive crowd running up Hayes Street

...we flood the streets and march up the Hayes Street hill...

neighbors partying with balloons outside apartment building

...the neighbors come out to party (and treat us to awesome tunes by Herbie Hancock ("Chameleon"), the Gap Band ("Outstanding"), and the Rolling Stones ("Dance Part 2"), among others, not to mention the numerous local live bands that entertained us)...

line of porta-potties

...bladders and colons empty their contents in posh facilities...

blow-up Southwest Airlines display at Golden Gate Park

...advertisers take advantage of the 60,000+ audience...

KRON 4 news crew van

...the news media gives us a fleeting chance to be famous...

big purple head

...creative minds display homages to their bony shelter...

organ donor team parading with a fake human heart

...the organ donor folks salute their internal engine...

organ donor team parading with a fake human eye

...and their natural viewfinder...

Bay to Breaker finish line

...and we reach the finish line!

the Pacific Ocean

...just by the 'breakers.' Good times, but I'm sore as hell.

My stats:

Finished in 1 hour, 42 minutes.

Placed 13,415 out of about 35,000 registered racers.

Placed 8,048 out of all registered men.

Stopped to use the porta-potties only twice.

Monday, May 14, 2007

Cruisin' for records

Back when I used to make the occasional trip to New York City to hunt down elusive vinyl records for my beloved collection, I used to carry a long guide with me that had been posted on a usenet newsgroup back in the early '90s. It was damn near close to comprehensive, and it covered almost every corner of Manhattan. No mean feat.

I've yet to find a similar guide to Bay area record stores, but this article by Aidin Vaziri in the San Francisco Chronicle is exactly how it would be written -- little reviews on most (if not all) of the stores, with contact information and locations. Would be nice to have it organized by location rather than straight alpha order by store name, but hey, it's a start.

It was also incomplete, and Vaziri knew it. It was probably not possible to assemble a complete guide on whatever deadline he was working with, so his readers helped him out with some of the places he missed. Scroll down and you'll see my question about the fate of Open Mind Music, which used to reside on Divisadero by Oak Street in SF. Vaziri did reply to my inquiry, though it was not printed in the Chronicle. Here is what he wrote:

Rent increase. They're looking for a new location.


Figured. Rent in this city is ridiculous. I salute all those who take on the challenge of running a small storefront business in SF.

Recently, I spied an 'Open Mind Music' sign above an antique shop across the street from the old location. I have not yet stopped inside to ask what the deal is, but rest assured that I will very soon. You wouldn't expect anything less from me now, would you?

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Band workshop update with photos (and guitars!)

I have my own digital camera, and I have a perfect forum for sharing my digital photos. Yet, it seems I always forget to carry the stupid the thing with me! Fortunately, my coworker and bandmate Julie seems to have hers on hand almost every day.

Here are a couple of photos she took during our last band workshop rehearsal:

That's me playing guitar.

And here is our fearless leader, Bill Spooner.

We've made it through four weeks of rehearsals, so we're fast approaching the midway point before the big performance in June. We've gotten through nine songs so far at various levels of competency, so there is still a lot of work to be done. And more will be done tonight and over the weekend.


Tuesday, May 8, 2007

Heads up: Slayer interview

The Complete Idiot's Guide to Slayer, which ran on last March, has led to this: Will Harris at asked me to interview Slayer's Tom Araya, and this morning I spoke to Tom for half an hour in an interview that is due to appear on sometime soon. I'm about halfway through transcribing it, and I expect to hand it in before week's end. Tom spoke at length about Slayer's upcoming tour with Marilyn Manson, the band's working relationship with producer Rick Rubin, and their history with TGI Friday's, among other things. As I learn of the publication date for the interview, you will too...

Sunday, May 6, 2007

Drip, drop, drip, drop...

The exciting music news of this past week was the leaking of three more recordings from Guns N' Roses' Chinese Democracy. Keeping up with this ever-delayed album has been my new pastime since Brian Wilson finally completed and released Smile some 35 years after it was started and aborted as a Beach Boys project. It seems Axl Rose has become an even greater perfectionist than Brian Wilson ever could have hoped to be, albeit with far less prolificacy and awe-inspiring results. Nonetheless, the songs are good. Catch this clip of "The Blues" before Axl's management has it pulled from youtube (if you're lucky, you might find new studio recordings of "Chinese Democracy" and "I.R.S." floating around as well). It's a fully produced studio recording that almost bests the live recording I've been listening to for the past, oh, six years? Yes, this is getting ridiculous. It's not as if Axl has been training monkeys to play keyboard during his downtime or anything.

And then another leak from about a week ago that had me all excited came from the new album by someone who actually has his shit together, Sir Paul McCartney. "Ever Present Past" was leaked as an mp3, and also appears on youtube as the basis of a fan-made video. It is due to appear on Memory Almost Full, his debut for Starbucks' Hear Music label, next month. There is even a little behind-the-scenes promo clip that appears to be legit and finds Paul in good spirits:

I give Paul major credit for remaining so productive in spite of the soap opera that his life has become as of late. And if Axl needs a little extra inspiration to close the books on the Chinese Democracy project, I bet Paul would be quite happy to give him some words of encouragement. Let's get this album out already!!

Thursday, May 3, 2007

Harry Burns is an alright dude

When Harry Met Sall DVD coverI am a music guy. Everyone who knows me knows this. I do have it in me to be a movie guy too, given the right guidance from people who understand my tastes. This especially applies to humor: I like my humor dry (i.e. Leslie Nielsen), intelligent (Woody Alan), occasionally over-the-top or offensive (Andrew Dice Clay), and if it's British it's probably good too (recently saw Hot Fuzz and it got my thumbs-up).

I've typically avoided romantic comedies over the years, even though I have been described as a romantic person. Go figure. I guess my relationship with romantic comedies as been akin to my take on sports -- I'd rather be participating than watching, given the choice. But having been recently exposed to Swingers, Annie Hall, Tootsie, and most recently, When Harry Met Sally, I think my tune has changed.

Would you believe I actually enjoy these films? And no, it's not just because I really like the girl who's showing them to me (which I do). I really, truly enjoy them, and would enjoy them if any of my film-centric guy friends sat me down to watch them too.

When Harry Met Sally, in particular, was a very hyped-up film in '89, one that even those who never saw it will remember. Meg Ryan's famous orgasm scene was repeated all over TV ad naseum back in the day. I had enough of that one scene to feel like I never needed to see the film. Ever. Probably the only aspect of it that left me open to someday giving it a chance was the fact that Harry Connick, Jr. did such a tasteful job with the soundtrack.

Yet, the experiences which accompany the passage of time seem to have softened my attitude. In 1989, when this film was released, I was 11 years old. The big film I was into that year was Batman. I was satisfied with ogling Kim Bassinger, dazzled by the action scenes, got a great kick out of Jack Nicholson's portrayal of the Joker, and of course, I dug Prince's music (my one complaint was that Prince's music wasn't nearly as prominent as I hoped it would be). Romance really wasn't on my mind. Even when it was, it was in a state of frustration over not getting any, so I didn't need any visual entertainment to rub it in. At least with music, the words could fade into sound and just become a part of the melody or harmony. With film, it was a bit more complicated.

So the years of frustration have been behind me for enough time now that I was finally ready for When Harry Met Sally. And it was strange... like two versions of me watching it at the same time. For example... when Sally (Meg Ryan) complains to Marie (Carrie Fisher) that the guy she offered to set her up with was the same guy she set her up with 6 years prior (and any other mention of forgetting something that occurred), I was simultaneously thinking, "this is what happens to grown adults who are so busy -- they forget" and "how could something like that be forgotten so easily?" It was as if my brain was giving me a "bonus commentary" DVD track in two channels -- one of the current me who lives and understands the rigors of adult life, and the other of the old me whose mind was still untouched by wear and tear, priding itself on a sharp memory and often forgetting that not everybody else's brain worked that way.

Then there was the whole premise of the film -- the question of whether men and women can be friends. I think I've spent a good chunk of my life proving that to be true, though I must admit I've had a few would-be Sallys in my life. I say would-be because I never had the guts or the nerve or the social skills or the chemistry wasn't strong enough for a full romance to flower from said situations, and that really bugged me for a long time. I didn't need to see someone else's happy ending when mine were always so anticlimactic. So coming at it from my own experiences, I would have had a hard time empathizing with the characters and watching with an objectively critical eye. Not so anymore.

In fact, I found myself watching in horror as Harry (Billy Crystal) gets himself ready to leave so quickly after waking up from his unplanned romp with Sally, thinking to myself, "he's doing the very thing he knows Sally hates so much about him -- hasn't he learned anything?? He's about to drive her away!!" I think 10 years ago or so, I might have laughed at that scene. I would see it and know what's going to happen next, and hope that maybe there would be a tragic ending where Sally is so depressed over having Harry take off so quickly while she's already mourning a failed relationship that she OD's on painkillers and chokes on her own vomit. Which in turn would cause Harry to head off on his own tailspin and maybe end up as a cranky, misogynistic vagrant who spits at every woman who passes by except for young skinny blondes, which would make him cry. The sole piece of compassion to soften the blow of such an off-the-wall, depressing ending would be his old pal Jess (Bruno Kirby) passing him by, taking him in, and starting a novel with him to get him back on his feet and ultimately have some sort of redemption through art by making his point that not only can men and women not be friends, he has lived the consequences of messing with the idea.

But no, I'm a good boy at heart and I want to see everyone happy. And I couldn't have been happier to see Harry and Sally finally getting past their endless interpersonal roadblocks and uniting in long-delayed, blissful love. Fuck yeah! Brainy, semi-neurotic dudes with average looks *can* snag hot chicks!

Yup, that much I can identify with now too.

Tuesday, May 1, 2007

Rock n' roll

The band workshop of which I wrote more than a month ago is now three weeks into rehearsals. My brain has been sapped of late, which is why I am only mentioning it now.

This is the fourth band workshop I've played in since I started attending the Blue Bear School of Music. Usually, these rock workshops have at least six people led by an instructor -- one drummer, one bassist, two guitarists, and two singers, and we each choose a couple of songs to create a set that we will perform live on stage after ten weeks of rehearsals. My first workshop in the winter of '06, led by Bill Spooner, added two other members, one playing keyboard and one playing sax. The next workshop I played in was also led by Spooner, and was down to the core six. I played guitar in those two workshops, and switched to bass for my third in the fall. I hadn't planned on being in a workshop at that time, due to writing projects and a personal situation that made it difficult for me to practice as much as I needed to. I was called to fill in a vacant bass spot, and gambling on the idea that I could get away with minimal practice, I decided to do it. It was something different to do, in a workshop led by someone I had never worked with before. I practiced all of my songs for a couple of weeks outside of regular rehearsals, and after that, I wound up not practicing at all. Band rehearsal time was my practice time. I think it turned out OK. Our performance of Free's "All Right Now" was one example of a song where I felt nervous and rusty (in the instrumental break, that is -- the bass doesn't play much at all during the verses), yet for some reason I received more compliments for this song than any of the others:

So now I am back to playing guitar, trying to make more practice time. We're down to five in this Spooner-led workshop, which means I will be singing a little in this one. Only my friend and coworker Julie, who sang in the last workshop I was in, is a dedicated singer. She is doubling up on keyboards, sharing vocal duties with the two guitarists. I have only tried singing one song so far, a song I picked called "The View" by Modest Mouse. Singing and playing this song at the same time doesn't feel like something I can do, so there's some work yet that needs to be done.

Julie writes more on the workshop in her blog, and recaps the humorous exchange between Spooner and our drummer over the beat to U2's "One."

And, most significantly, our bassist is my girlfriend Christina. I had always wanted a girlfriend with whom I could play music, and now that wish is fulfilled! She is actually playing in two workshops this quarter, which is a feat in and of itself. But, as she says, "it's bass." Still, it's a time commitment, and to that, I raise a glass (maybe later tonight, too early in the day right now).

First rehearsal outside of our usual weekly schedule is later this week. Now the real work begins. This is going to be a good one!