Fog of Sound

In another life I made music that a specific group of people seemed to enjoy. Yesterday I was cutting up guitar parts on a plane, and today I’m sitting in a hotel waiting to watch people watch a short film I directed. Disassociation sounds overwrought but it feels accurate. I stopped performing in front of people in 2013, and that’s probably for the best. I could never fully enjoy myself in the moment, even when I played sober the performances are spotty. I know that I played in a small bar in New Orleans because my old roommate told me I covered Smashing Pumpkins to 30 drunk college kids, I know that I played in a small town in Illinois because I shaved my beard and had a friend draw a lightning bolt on my face. I do not remember Seattle, Portland, or New Jersey but they happened. I find that those moments come easier when I’m writing alone in my apartment. I’ll look through an old notebook and have no memory of the stories inside but they’re written in my serial killer handwriting so they’re probably mine. Creativity is strange. It bends and flexes with the landscape and disappears when you need it the most. I haven’t felt creative making music since I moved to Los Angeles. I play things when no one is around, but it’s always the same chord progressions, the same beats; nothing I would show anyone. On the plane yesterday I listened to a collection of things that I recorded over the course of a couple of months, then I cut at them until they adhered to some kind of dream logic. Plane logic? Unlike everything else I’ve been working on lately, I felt relieved to have this piece finished. To be able to close the door on whatever it was. It’s nice to now be able to apply a narrative to a time that was nothing but a confusing fog of sound. 

Anything To Mean Something

Why am I making myself worry about the Blair Witch and Ring reboots? I don’t care about either of them. For the most part I still like The Ring, although all the gothic atmospherics won’t save your film if the monster’s reveal is a dud, and I’ll talk your ear off about my capital L Love for the Blair Witch and its what could have been sequel if you let me. But there’s no reason that I should be wringing my hands over multi-million dollar properties.

 

I’m trying to listen to less podcasts. There are a few that I listen to religiously and I feel like I need to cut them out of my life so I can use the brain space they’re taking up for new ideas or facts about serial killers that I can spout off at parties. One podcast that’s proving to be difficult to excise is the Bret Easton Ellis Podcast. His first season of episodes included incredible interviews with Alexander Aja, BJ Novak, and some really interesting people from the realms of music and film. But this year he’s been interviewing luminaries like John Carpenter and Peter Bogdanovich who, while once masters of an art form, have turned into grumpy old bastards who trot out the same tired bullshit about how the current generation of filmmakers and artists don’t have any soul. Or that people are just copying them, or blah blah blah set me on fire now please. Every time I listen to one of these interviews I spend an hour typing down every angry thought that comes to mind. I write full responses to people that don’t care what I think (and rightfully so, they both made some of the most influential films of the late 20th century), and that kind of reaction is taking up too much of my day.

 

Do we put ourselves through emotional turmoil to avoid facing reality? Am I typing and deleting screeds against worn out directors because I don’t want to think about how much the repairs on my car cost? Nothing these people say or do can hurt me, so why do I care? In a world where nothing matters I’d really like anything to mean something. 

restless procrastination

I don’t handle the time in between projects well. When I work I like to feel like I’m being crushed under the weight of impossible tasks that I’ve taken on in exchange for paltry amounts of cash. I kind of hate myself for using paltry in a sentence. For the first time in months I’m entirely finished with one large project and the end of another is in sight. It’s dancing on the horizon and asking me to come do the worm, I’m just waiting on an email that says, "The check’s in the mail, and PS go do the worm with that intangible concept." 

There are always a few small things going on in the background, but none of them carry the struggle of life and death that I need to feel like I’m doing something as I sit in various states of undress at my dining room table. Currently I’m working on a few small projects with friends, which is fine if you like your work to feel like one big, never ending party where there are snacks and everyone goes out for a drink afterwards to bask in the promise that the next day will be even more rewarding. Personally I prefer my work to feel like a dare. I want a blank page to stare back at me, hissing and taunting me. Telling me that I’m going to embarrass myself in front of the world. I want a set full of actors to hand me a loaded gun and shove the barrel in my mouth. 

When everything is fun and games I become restless and start thinking about cutting off one of my feet to make things interesting. 

Art House Horror and the Difficult Task of Managing Expectations

I love horror films. To me, there’s nothing more interesting or exciting than a competently made film that scares me, or makes me dread turning off the lights before I go to bed. Last week I saw The Witch in the company of a few strangers at The Arclight in Hollywood and I continually found myself wishing that I’d stayed home spent my afternoon watching a B rate film on Netflix. To be fair, The Witch wasn’t awful. I’ve been a part of two very poorly made genre films so I know first hand how bad things can get, and The Witch came nowhere close to my experience with failure, but it never managed to actually become a horror film. At best, the film felt like a list of things that give the director, Robert Eggers, the heebie jeebies. Which is fine! We should all be so lucky as to get to make a moody set piece based around stuff that makes us look over our shoulder as we walk down a deserted street in the middle of the night. The core of my dissatisfaction over The Witch is not that the movie isn’t good, it’s that I yet again mugged myself and jumped on the hype machine for a movie that’s just okay.

 

We’re all susceptible to marketing, and the marketing for The Witch was incredible. The trailer for the film is far more frightening than anything offered up in the film, which is almost an argument for cutting The Witch down to a short but that probably wouldn’t fix the problems of the film either. One of the main sticking points for me with The Witch is the constant reminding of the public that Eggers spent four years researching the history of witchcraft for the film. Who cares? One of the best things about art is that it doesn’t require a scholarly approach to make something great. As far as I know John Carpenter didn’t spend a decade performing tireless research on suburban Illinois, he just made a spooky movie. Horror is like punk rock or hip hop, anyone can do it. And in the hands of someone with a great idea or something interesting to say you can get kicked in the stomach and never recover, but if it’s mishandled you just have something resembles a bunch of other bland stuff that should be shoved in a drawer labeled content.

 

It was impossible to watch The Witch without thinking of the think pieces I’d stupidly read leading up the premiere of the film. I found myself wondering what each scene said about feminism, and whether or not there was a kind of electra complex taking place in front of me. The girl does kill her mother after disrobing her father, so maybe there’s something there. But after thinking about the film all weekend I’ve come to the conclusion that The Witch had nothing to say other than “Doesn’t this stuff look neat?” Which is fine. No artist is under an obligation to answer questions in their art, and more often than not the work is more interesting when it creates more questions. Unfortunately I came away wondering if there was a point at all.

 

This has happened to me before. In the last couple of years, each of the big art house horror films have managed to work their marketing magic on me in a way that compels me to read countless articles and shell out hunks of cash in order to leave a theater underwhelmed by third acts that take David Byrnes advice and stop making sense, or films that decide to make too much sense. It Follows and The Babadook are two films that I had incredibly high hopes for, only to be disappointed when the credits began to roll (more so for It Follows than The Babadook, which has one of the best first halves of a film I’ve seen in years). I don’t think this is the end of horror cinema by any means. If anything, a film like The Witch doing so well will mean that more writers and directors will get a chance to tell their stories, and put their decade of research into abominable snowmen or whatever to practice. Something like this can only be good for the genre. My main concern is that I’ll be duped again, and be forever a fan with stars in my eyes.  

A Letter in Your Handwriting Doesn't Mean You're Not Dead

At 7:30am on the morning of January 11th I woke up to an email from one of my editors that read, “David Bowie died, any ideas?” Almost instinctively I wrote back, “Are you sure?” But I knew they were sure because my editor’s job is to be sure about this sort of thing. Also the email was sent around midnight and I assume if it had been a hoax there would have been another email that said, “nvm.” From the outside, this kind of knee jerk “any ideas?” journalism seems ghoulish, but after I laid in bed and tried to understand the ramifications of the email. David Bowie was dead, and yes I had ideas. As I waited for my coffee to brew, I relived every drunken sing along, all the painted lightning bolts, and every debate about which albums really were the best. 

But I also had to write about the Golden Globes (it was the other thing that happened over the weekend) and all of a sudden I was weeping uncontrollably at my desk while trying to take screenshots of audience reactions. Five minutes passed, then ten, I was crying so much that I began to laugh, cackling at the absurdity of life continuing in the face of such a heartbreaking moment. No one, even David fucking Bowie can stop the lurching frame of time as it bares down on our shoulders.  Young Americans was playing and I heard myself saying, “this is so fucking stupid.”  David Bowie was the only artist that was one thing to me at age 6, another at 16, and something else entirely at 30. I remember seeing him for the first time. It happened twice. The first first time, as it probably was with most people my age, was when I watched Labyrinth on VHS. Afterwards, it was like someone had picked me up and rattled my insides into a new diagram of reality. The second first time was 1997, and he was playing on Saturday Night Live. Neve Campbell was hosting.  All I wanted to do was stay up late enough to watch Weekend Update, and I really didn’t care about the musical guest, but that night Bowie played “Little Wonder” a breakneck drum and bass freak out with a full band and I was hooked. I didn’t know what electronica was, or that the guy with the very cool hair was Jareth the Goblin King, and it took years to figure out what I heard that night. By the time I was able to fit the two David Bowies together I was in high school, nurturing a serious pop punk habit. But Bowie was there, stretching out an elongated alien hand, waiting to blow my mind.

The thing that’s the most confusing about the sadness that permeated my bloodstream after I heard the news of Bowie’s death was why I was sad in the first place. I didn’t know him. I never met him. He’s released enough excellent music that he could never put out another album and I could still listen to nothing but Bowie for months if I wanted to. It was as if, as a society, we learned that Santa Claus had died after giving out his last collection of gifts. Sorry folks, but Christmas is over. There might be a few Santa acolytes kicking around, the Arcade Fire’s still out there, but Santa is no more.

From 8:30am to 6:30pm I wrote about David Bowie. I read stories about him, and each time tears welled up in my eyes it became easier to fight them back. The one memory that stuck with me all day was from around 2007. I was drinking at the Chat Room in Fort Worth on a Thursday night ($2 wells!). It was the kind of night where the morning seemed as distant as the peak of a mountain (and in Texas there are no mountains). The years I spent in Fort Worth were my prime juke box monopolization years, and I probably spent as much money on booze as I did on playing albums worth of material on the Chat Room’s digital juke box.* For whatever reason, my friends and I were playing Station to Station in full, and when Golden Years came on the singer from Flickerstick (he was a co-owner of the bar) began to strut around the dance floor in a mock shimmy that was delightful in its childishness. Everything about that moment made me so happy.

I think about that night quite a bit (at least in terms of my memories of Fort Worth – I think about pizza, the collected works of Sarah Vowell, and the dance scene from Ex Machina about ten times more often) and remember being happy. Truly, unequivocally happy. And when I break down the night into what made that moment so good, it wasn’t my friends, or the cheap drinks, or the singer of a forgotten band that won a reality show that I religiously watched when I was 14 dancing to a song that I also loved. It was the music. Bowie cast a spell on everyone for four minutes and one second (or 69 years if you want to carry the metaphor all the way home) and when the magic ended we all went back to our lives, and the clock continued to count down.  

 

 

*Digital jukeboxes are a mistake by the way. First of all, they’re hideous. Secondly, they inspire assholes like myself to play the entire first disc of New Order’s greatest hits (a great collection of songs, but other people probably want to hear The Replacements or something – it is a dive bar after all). 

Books I Read in 2015 - Most of Which Were Finished Hastily on a Plane

This year, like the last, I read some books. I edited out the words “a lot” in front of books because I don’t know if this is actually a lot of books. Maybe it’s not many, or maybe it’s a normal amount. The amount of books read by a person is subjective. Anyway, here’s what I read this year in order of genre, and with a few notes next to the titles that made me feel like I should write notes. I’m typing this on December 29, hours before I board a plane, so I may actually finish another book before this is posted. You’ll know how the reading turned out if anything is posted under the section marked “poetry.”

 

Fiction

Moby Dick - Herman Melville (I wouldn’t recommend reading this unless you want to bring it up in conversations. Although, I’m thinking about reading it again come 2017).

White Noise - Don Delillo (I read the Airborne Toxic Event portion twice, and I’m under the impression that this was the first piece that Delilo wrote for the book but I refuse to do any research into the subject.)

Shotgun Lovesongs - Nickolas Butler

Jitterbug Perfume - Tom Robbins

Sag Harbor - Colson Whitehead (A friend gifted this to me two years ago and I only just got around to reading it. Obviously, I’m not a very good friend.)

The Mysteries Of Pittsburgh - Michael Chabon

The Great Gatsby - F. Scott Fitzgerald

Vineland - Thomas Pynchon

Bobcat - Rebecca Lee

Welcome to the Monkey House - Kurt Vonnegut

One More Thing - BJ Novak

 

Non Fiction

Poseur - Marc Spitz

I Don't Care About Your Band - Julie Klausner

What's Not To Love - Jonanthan Ames

Grasping For Air Time - Jay Mohr

God, If You're Not Up There I'm Fucked - Darrell Hammond

Maps & Legends - Michael Chabon

Basketball Diaries - Jim Carrol (although I have the feeling this is mostly fiction)

Slouching Towards Bethlehem - Joan Didion

Rebel Without A Crew - Robert Rodriguez

Take The Canoli - Sarah Vowell

On Writing - Stephen King

 

Short Fiction

Kino - Haruki Murakami

Don't Eat Cat - Jess Walter

A Fable For Living - Kevin Brockmeier

Tin Man - Judy Budnitz

The Years of my Birth - Louise Erdrich

The Tales of Beetle the Bard - JK Rowling

Naked Pictures Of Famous People - Jon Stewart

The Depressed Person - David Foster Wallace

Jeffty Is Five - Harlan Ellison

How's The Nightlife On Cissalda? - Harlan Ellison

The Banks Of The Vistula - Rebecca Lee

Like the Locked Antlers - Lawrence-Minh Bui Davis

Twenty Questions - Bridget Clerkin

The Actor's House - David Means

Conversations With Girls - Sean Casey

Letters from the Academy - Tom Barbash

Does This Look Familiar - Daniel Handler

Where We Must Be - Laura Van Der Berg

The Secret Life of Walter Mitty - James Thurber

Death of Nick Carter - Phillippe Soupaulte

The Last Adventure of the Blue Phantom - Eric Hanson

 

Poetry – I did it! I actually finished the book on the plane! After I closed the book I high fived the girl in 23 E, and scarfed down my savory snack courtesy of Alaskan Airlines.

The Incomplete Tim Key – Tim Key

 

Weird Outliers

Zac's Haunted House

Observations at a Protest Movement - Said Sayrafiezadeh

Reflection on a Modern Protest Movement - Robert Haas

 

What did you read this year? Anything good? Anything weird? Did you read any of it on a plane or were you mostly interested in stationary reading in 2015?

Jacob Vs. Evil Dead

The first time I saw an Evil Dead film I was stuck at my mom’s boyfriend’s trailer and Army of Darkness came on Starz. Bart, my mom’s boyfriend’s son, told me that in no uncertain terms that we were going to watch the movie because it was “fucking awesome.” Bart was never a guy whose judgment you could trust. He spent his late teens and early twenties moving in and out of jail for various drug related offenses and he supposedly once lived on an island in the middle of a lake. I say all of this not to tear him down as an individual, but to let you know why I was skeptical of his taste in film. I was wrong. Dead wrong if you wanted to make a pun. The film opened my eyes to horror in a way that no other film could have at that time. It had everything I, as a 12 year old boy growing up in Texas, loved: zombies, swords and sorcery, stop motion animation, and a pile of old timey jokes. I would later come to realize that this wasn’t really an Evil Dead film. Well it was, but you know what I mean. h

In Army of Darkness Ash is cool, he has a chainsaw for a hand that he can seemingly attach at will while flying through the air, and chicks love him. He’s the perfect character for a 12 year old boy. But the true Ash of the Evil Dead series is the Ash of Evil Deads 1 & 2. In those films, Bruce Campbell plays the character with less John Wayne bravado and with more sincere desire to stay alive. Even when he has a chainsaw attached to his arm he’s not throwing out zingers (okay, he might throw out a few). If I remember correctly, most of the dialogue post chainsaw in Evil Dead 2 is screaming.

I just finished watching the first episode of Ash VS. Evil Dead and I hate to say it but I’m underwhelmed. Actually, I’m overwhelmed. The visual style of the series hasn’t changed much in the years between Army of Darkness the new series, although it’s still a little CGI heavy for my tastes but budgets being what they are, what are you going to do? The demons look more ferocious than they ever have, and the amount of references to Italian horror cinema and the last decade of gonzo Asian martial arts caper movies like The Good, The Bad, The Weird, and The Raid that were fit into 40 minutes is astonishing. Sam Raimi even managed to make a phone call compelling, but the episode still felt like a wash to me. Here are the two reasons why.

First of all, the women in this show are troubling at best. They’re either annoyed, or inept, or they want to fuck Ash. There is no in between. Dana DeLorenzo’s character goes from being annoyed at the overt sexual harassment from Ash, to wanting to fuck his brains out after he kills a demon. I know it’s a show about a douchebag fighting demons but you can have a middle ground. Hopefully the show proves me wrong, and with the addition of Lucy Lawless to the cast I’m hopeful that we’ll get to watch a female protagonist that isn’t trying to fuck Bruce Campbell.

Which brings me to my second reason: Is Ash the only character in Western cinema whose real life counterpart has informed his character? One could argue that all of John Wayne’s characters were based around his persona in some way, but he never played a character more than twice (that I can think of) across a multi generational film and television series (so eat it, Duke). By all narrative logic, Ash shouldn’t be a skeevy, down on his luck Han Solo wannabe. I’d buy that he was living in a trailer waiting out the apocalypse, but this version of the Ash character is suspiciously similar to Campbell’s character in My Name is Bruce. If you haven’t seen MNIB, Bruce Campbell plays Bruce Campbell, a paunchy, ex star of the Evil Dead films who’s forced to pick up his mantle as “the chosen one” and fight a demon. Sound familiar?  

While watching the episode I began to wonder if the Evil Dead television series would be better off without Ash. The last Evil Dead film was a spectacular cinematic experience that you’d think would either be a good way to end the series or a new rubric to follow. But that’s why I’m sitting on my couch writing about Evil Dead. Maybe I should call Bart and see what he thinks. 

Why Didn't Anyone Tell Me Martyrs was an Emotional Roller Coaster?

Like most people, every year in October the vast majority of the films I watch are from the horror genre. I usually watch a few of my favorites, but usually I try to seek out something new. That desire for the unseen brought me to Martyrs, a 2008 French film that’s part of the New French Extremity wave that birthed films like Haute Tension, and Irreversible. Even though it’s right up my alley, I somehow missed Martyrs. But this year I feel like it’s the one movie that I heard about the most, maybe it’s because there’s going to be a remake. Maybe it was fate. It’s probably because there’s going to be a remake.

 

BEYOND THIS SENTENCE THERE ARE SPOILERS FOR THE FILM MARTYRS

 

Before I see a film that I’m really excited about I try to do some research. I don’t want to spoil the film, but when reviews of the film say that the viewer had to turn the movie off, I want to know what I’m getting into. The more I read about Martyrs the more I had to see it. Not only were people saying that the film was hard to watch, people were comparing it to movies like The Babadook and Dancer in the Dark – films that you watch once, admire it for its quality and then never watch it again. Honestly, those comments made me want to watch the movie all the more. When I finally got my hands on a subtitled version of the film I was blown away with how watchable and entertaining the movie actually is. I went in expecting something akin to hostel, but I feel that Martyrs is more of a spiritual successor of the Evil Dead franchise. Specifically Evil Dead 2, which deals with a hero’s mistakes catching up to them. Obviously, there’s no humor in Martyrs, but if there were a modern film that could earn the tagline, “kiss your nerves goodbye” it would be this film.

Despite the incredible violence of the film, and the realism that the effects team strove for, the thing that stuck with me the most was the emotionally taxing exploration of survivor’s guilt. Anyone who’s ever survived an abusive relationship, whether it was with a parent or a significant other will immediately understand the tortured state of Lucie, a character who is hell bent on getting revenge on her childhood tormentors. Throughout scenes of children being shot, Lucie having a cross cut into her back with a straight razor, and the main character pulling steel staples out of an emaciated woman’s head, the scene that wrecked me the most was when the manifestation of Lucie’s guilt forgave Lucie for leaving her chained to a chair to be tortured to death. Obviously things don’t end well for Lucie (or anyone in this film), but that scene reduced me to tears. I’ve never had a horror movie do that to me. There are scary movies that I absolutely love, but none that have put me through such an emotional ringer. By the time the main character was imprisoned, beaten, and flayed open in the name of finding transcendental insight to the afterworld I was game for whatever. Martyrs reached inside me and pulled something out, a feat that I don’t think any other movie has ever accomplished.

News of an American remake gives me pause. I think it’s great that Pascal Laugier’s work will reach a wider audience, but like most remakes I don’t believe that it will have the same impact as the original. My biggest worry about the remake (because I’m the kind of person who worries about things they have zero stock in) is that the film will erase the emotional core that runs through the heart of the film until it’s nothing more than just another piece of torture porn. 

Revisiting The Day of the Doctor For the First Time

Lately I’ve been playing a bit of catch up with Doctor Who. The last time watched the series was in the middle of season 7, while I was still living in Texas, and still had time to watch the show. But after watching a particularly bad mid-season episode (or maybe it was early in the second half of the season? I seem to remember season 7 being split up into different sections), I gave up. That’s not true. I actually gave up the moment that Rory and Amy were left at a fixed point in time in New York to die for reasons that make no sense beyond the ending of a contract. I let myself watch on from there but with a disappointment that only grew until I stopped watching all together.

At the time the choice made perfect sense. I was like John Hurt deciding to destroy Gallifrey in order to save it. If I didn’t leave Doctor Who at its horrific fixed point in time I would grow to thoroughly hate a program that had brought me so much joy in the past. Joy by way of watching alone, late at night in my Grandfather’s house on channel 13, the local PBS affiliate of central Texas. And joy by way of the people who I’d meet that shared similar stories. Most of the time we disagreed on our favorite Doctors and storylines, but it didn’t matter because we’d found each other. I didn’t want to grow to think I’d wasted my time because of a few rotten episodes.

Time moved on, as it does, and I traveled around a bit, worked a lot, and moved to Los Angeles where I write about television for a living. It’s not as fun as talking/arguing about it with my friends over too many drinks, but I can pay my rent without having to smell like burnt grease and that should stand for something. Doctor Who is now beginning its 9th season, and there’s a Doctor who is new to me, but old hat to the rest of the viewers. I have not kept up.

A few months ago something said to me that I should see what I missed. I needed refreshing so I forced myself to go back and catch up starting at season 6 and I found things that I liked along with the many pieces of shaky exposition and storytelling that were still rotten. Oh well, I pressed on through the River Songs and the dropped storylines (The Silence, anyone?), and once again found myself becoming disgruntled with season 7. But still I pressed on and found myself at the 50th anniversary episode, The Day of the Doctor. There were so many things about this episode to like and dislike, to love, and to hate that it felt like I was having a conversation with friends over too many drinks as I watched the feature length episode play out. The episode’s strengths are, tellingly, the strengths of the series as a whole (not just the rebooted series, but the series dating back to 1963): the chatty, whimsical problem solving of The Doctor. The episode (and the series – I’ll try to stop with the parentheticals) is at its best when the action is allowed to disappear altogether and let whoever is playing The Doctor cut loose and jaunt around with arms flailing. Getting to see Matt Smith, David Tennant, and John Hurt all work their particular Whovian magic was a delight, and it made me miss the show. An extended scene of three men and Billie Piper trying to figure out how to get out of a room made me want to go back and watch the series from the beginning, just to relive those moments.

But as with any episode of Doctor Who there are faults. Steven Moffat’s obsession with making The Doctor into a raging warrior feels incredibly forced. From the moment John Hurt appears on screen, toting a laser cannon and grimacing in the face of battle I was reminded of what made me turn away from the show in the first place. Scenes full of angry men with lasers and guys ringing their hands while wearing robes and saying things like “it’s in the time vault,” and “they’re fighting in the sky trenches” make Doctor Who seem like a pulp novel from the 50s – which isn’t a good thing. Doctor Who has always been a different type of science fiction, its own addition to the genre that prizes a chatterbox man in a funny outfit over explosions and unnecessary descriptors (I doubt Moffat is being paid by the word).

The opening of The Time of the Doctor worried me. I thought the next hour and a half was going to be filled with boring cinematic slow-mo shots, and Highlander-esque flashbacks that attempted myth building on a 50 year old show that just doesn’t require any more myth building. Thankfully, all of that went away (mostly). The episode gave up trying to be cinematic when it brought the Doctors together and stuck them in a room where they proceeded to talk for almost 40 minutes. It was beautiful. The old magic had returned. Even the Zygons, the poorly and perfectly named baddies of the episode were spot on classic who. Gone were the overly nightmarish Angels/Silence/Whisper Men that have almost become de rigueur in the new series, and in their place was a silly looking man in a rubber suit that looked more like a lobster than a shape shifting alien from outer space.

By the time the episode was climaxing, I was so completely won over by the three men talking in a room that I didn’t even care about the elaborate deus ex machina that was happening right before my eyes. I suppose the whole thing had been telegraphed since the beginning of the episode (so technically it’s no longer the much maligned DEM, it’s just foreshadowing), but it was still a bit lazy. Oh well. You’ve got to end the episode somehow. I started out my journey of revisiting Doctor Who with the dread of episodes that I already knew I would rather sleep through (most of season 7, despite Jenna Coleman’s welcomed energy), and now I’ve ended somewhere in the middle; ready to see where a new Doctor takes me, even if I’m one season behind.  

Rambling Thoughts About Wes Craven and the Scream Franchise

Wes Craven died last weekend and it made me feel weird. Or maybe unsettled is a better word. I’m not sad or anything, it’s just strange that he’s gone. He was old and had brain cancer, if you were playing the famous person death lottery and didn’t choose Wes Craven, you’re kind of an idiot (or not an awful person I guess). The one guarantee in life is that death is inevitable, and as a seminal horror director I’m almost certain that Craven recognized this more than most people.  I’ve been reading about a lot of people having impromptu Wes Craven film festivals after hearing the news. I didn’t join in with the fun. Not because I think it’s lame, but on average I’ve probably accidentally watched more Wes Craven films than any other director. I don’t even think he was that great of a filmmaker, but he brought so many memorable characters to life that it’s hard not to watch his films again and again.

What Craven lacked in directorial ability* he more than made up for in intelligent and thoughtful characters who he gleefully plunged into stories that gnawed away at the psyche of the viewer. He was able to take fears inherent to us all and spin yarns that were both relatively small yet still larger than life. A Nightmare on Elm Street, The People Under the Stairs, The Hills Have Eyes, The Last House on the Left, and Scream are all based on very simple concepts, and that’s why they all work so well. Specifically Scream, a film that Craven seems to have synthesized with his lifetime of experience toiling in the slasher genre. The film is a modern masterpiece because Craven filled it with his disappointment of being typecast as a horror guy, his distaste for the myriad copycats that followed in his footsteps, and the ghosts of the PMRC that still haunt us today whenever a horror film watching doofus shoots up a school. After 20 years of storytelling he was ready to reinvent the horror film while still working within the structure of the genre.

I started writing this while watching Scream for about the 20th time (possibly an under-exaggeration), and it still plays as well as it does on the second viewing. The jokes still land, the scares are still there, and it’s still fun to watch Craven weave a new form of slasher story while dropping hints and red herrings from the first phone call.  Almost accidentally this ties into something else I’ve been watching with varying levels of interest, Scream the television series. MTV’s reimagining of the film series does its best to keep pace with Craven’s original film but the show doesn’t have the teeth to recreate Craven’s masterstroke. Even while trying to bite Craven’s style, the series can’t seem to get the Cravenisms just right. Early on in the first episode, the horror geek stand in for Jamie Kennedy, Noah Foster (played by John Karna) posits that it’s impossible for a television series to follow the investigation of a serial killer. Tongue planted firmly in cheek he states that the medium isn’t suited for that kind of storytelling. Scream (the series) sells itself out right off the bat, and by doing so it undercuts everything that it had going for it. Never mind that we’ve seen multiple television series’ play out the familiar serial killer/slasher genre to varying degrees of success over the years: Twin Peaks, True Detective, and Dexter (sort of) all had a mystery (or mysteries) that they were able to investigate over at least 10 episodes. Obviously the scene that the series is drawing a direct parallel to is the famous scene from Scream where Jamie Kennedy lays out the rules for surving a horror film. Yes, it was a joke lobbed directly at the slasher copycats who followed all too perfectly in the footsteps of Craven, Toby Hooper and Sean S. Cunningham, but it was also a way of telling viewers that the only way to break out of the confines of a genre is to play into its tropes.  One thing the series has over the original film is a keen visual style that the original is lacking. But Scream was never about having a flashy visual style, instead the film and subsequent franchise has always been about telling a story, and defending a genre while simultaneously deconstructing it from the inside out. Scream the television series flip flops on what it wants to be. Is it a smart genre busting mystery series? Or is it just another excuse to watch mean pretty people get hacked to bits? By the end of the first season the show seem to find its footing. It played the comedy up a bit more, and the kills almost reached Saw levels of goofy (the series definitely goes there with Will’s death by giant tractor chainsaw thing). Even though the show sort of lost its way with some psychic ghost mumbo jumbo it corrected its trajectory with a tightly directed episode by heir to the horror throne Ti West before ending the season with more of a fizzle than a bang. But that’s the nature of episodic television; always leave the viewers wanting more.

Despite many of Craven’s failures (Shocker, anyone?), he usually found a way to give the audiences what they wanted while still leaving us wanting more. Even if the more that we ended up with could rarely live up to the original story’s promise. If you haven’t watched ALL of the Nightmare on Elm Street films, do yourself a favor and pull a marathon on a long weekend, and then watch Scream 1 & 4. And maybe even watch the series, which despite its many flaws feels like a worthy member of the Craven canon.

 

 

*I’m not trying to tear the guy down, he just had a very workman like style that anyone would be hard pressed to consider groundbreaking. I’d consider him closer to Kevin Smith or George Lucas, two directors who prefer to lock the camera down, than to guys like Scorsese, or Tarantino. It doesn’t matter, email me and we’ll talk about it. Even I’m bored reading this footnote.

 

Set Photos from Life Raft

Last weekend I paid a visit to the set of a horror film I co-wrote and I have a lot of thoughts that I can't synthesize into words right now. For now, here are some set photos for you to check out

Not screaming in terror, but telling a story about eating a Hot Pocket directly out of the microwave.

Not screaming in terror, but telling a story about eating a Hot Pocket directly out of the microwave.

An alternate title for Life Raft was "Four Dicks on a Boat."

An alternate title for Life Raft was "Four Dicks on a Boat."

One light to rule them...

One light to rule them...

I'm still processing the feeling of seeing actors say the words that I wrote at my coffee table, and I probably won't be able to give my honest thoughts on the filmmaking process of my first film until I have some distance from it. For now these photos can serve as an appetizer for the Life Raft thoughts to come. 

Nat. Brut Issue 6, Inclusivity In Art, and Someone Might Be Living In My Walls

Nat. Brut issue 6 is ready to be sent to the presses, but they need some money before that happens. And you should give it to them. If you aren’t hip to Nat. Brut, they’re a bi-annual art and literature magazine that focuses on inclusivity in the art world. Which, after spending the last year working with writers, comedians, filmmakers, and blah blah blah, I think we need some fucking inclusivity.

I’m sure there’s someone out there making an argument against inclusivity, but they’re probably an asshole. The only reason to actively work against inclusivity is because of some deeply ingrained patriarchal nonsense that says women, people of color, and the entire LGTBQIA movement is lesser than because they’re not white men. As a white man working against inclusivity you’re probably (read: definitely) afraid of not being as good as some perceived watermark. That way of thinking is total garbage. There is no "good/not good" in art. You do whatever you do long enough until you’re confident in putting your work out into the world, and if it’s not universally accepted as the best art that ever arted, then you do more art. Or that’s how it should be.

At this moment in time, there’s either a systematic crushing of anything that’s not cis/het/cauc by the publishing world (which is probably not the case – because people are mostly very dumb, and that would require a lot of work), or there is isn’t enough support for “non-traditional” voices. Even as I typed “non-traditional” I couldn’t help but laughing. What a dumb thing to say. I wish I knew a more succinct way of writing “there isn’t enough support for women, people of color, and LGTBQIA’s in art” but I'm not a professor of linguistics or sociology. I’m a self-centered dummy.

Somehow, I veered very far away from my intended topic. Nat. Brut is trying to do something very big in a world that’s shrinking every day. By creating a space where everyone can have their voice heard, they’ve stumbled upon a subversive act. When Kayla (one of the bigwigs over at NAT. BRUT CORP) first emailed those of us involved with the magazine that she was going to cut out white guys all together from the submission process (this is not a quote btw, I’m refuse to dig through my email at 8:47am) I was initially disappointed that I’d no longer be able to have anything featured in the magazine again, but then I immediately remembered that I’m a straight white male and I have a 1,000% chance of being published somewhere else. Also, I’m involved with two art magazines that I deeply care about (one of them being NB) and it’s probably for the better that there’s not a Jacob Shelton piece in every issue of everything I’m involved with.

Through the new submission guidelines that Kayla, Axel, and Tyler set I was able to read fiction and poetry that I’d probably never have the chance to read anywhere else. Which is exactly why you need to give Nat. Brut your money. By featuring art and literature that wouldn’t normally have a chance to be published, they’re giving those artists a chance to be seen, thus be published, talked about, whatever, again. Those artists being published again brings people back to Nat. Brut and a mobius strip of putting good things out into the world is created. Hurray!

If you’re looking at the Nat. Brut Indie GoGo campaign and wondering how you, one drop of water with a minuscule checking account balance, in an ocean of snowflakes with possibly larger checking account balances can help with NB’s very large printing budget - just relax. No one is watching you through a two way mirror installed on your laptop. Give what you can and hope for the best. Unless you’re a millionaire investor who could take care of their entire budget and get a huge tax write-off, don’t worry about it. Although, personally, I feel like you should get a two year subscription, and then buy issue 5 separately. Then after that issue arrives in the mail you should immediately have my story framed. But that’s my opinion. However much you decide to give, do it now, and make it as much as you can. What were you going to do with your money anyway, spend it on in-app Angry Bird purchases? Be someone who nurtures art and not the self destructive tendencies of anthropomorphic birds with anger issues.

My apologies for any typos, grammatical errors, or off topic rambling. I started writing this blog at 8am~ and  I took multiple breaks to try to find the source of a weird sound that I was hearing. Specifically, somewhere in my neighborhood there’s a guy tapping on a piece of metal or something and saying “can you please help me” or “can you get me something” – it’s hard to tell what he’s actually saying. I’ve been watching a lot of movies lately where there’s a guy living in the walls of a house and from what I’ve learned; this is never a good thing. 

Once again, here's the link to Nat. Brut's Indie GoGo Campaign.

Writing Is Easy, Horror Is Hard

Earlier this week I watched the Skype ghost movie Unfriended. After seeing the trailer months ago I was intrigued by the premise but I never got around to actually seeing the film when it was theaters. Admittedly, watching a movie at home isn’t the same experience as sitting in a theater and being forced to reckon with the images that are being projected at you. Whenever you like, you can stop the film to make a sandwich, take your dogs for a walk, or to hop on Facebook to see if you have mutual friends with any of the actors (all things that I did while watching Unfriended).*

I don’t believe that having the ability to stop and start a movie at will is necessarily a bad thing. There are plenty of movies that I've enjoyed over the course of a day as I was going about my business, and it’s rare that I get a chance to sit down and watch a movie from beginning to end without pausing it at least once. That’s just the world that we live in now. When I do see a movie in the theater (a couple times a month) it’s usually to see a larger tentpole film that I’ll be writing about for work, but if there’s something that I’m aching to see I can usually find it on VOD. Which is exactly how I found Unfriended.

One of my favorite genres of film (maybe my absolute favorite – I’ve never tallied up the score) is horror. If I find myself home alone (which is often) I’ll put on a horror film that I’ve either heard a lot about, or that looks interesting and hope for the best. This is a fairly hit or miss way to find a good movie (and more miss than hit), but it invokes the same feelings that I had while browsing video rental stores in my youth and I chase that feeling as much as possible.

I enjoyed the conceit of Unfriended. The idea that although these five millennials were connected via the Internet, cellphones, and various technologies meant to connect, that they didn’t know each other at all and that by viewing life through screens they’d become jaded to the horrific acts that they’d committed. The actors were all good. They managed to emote with what little they were given to do and it seemed like a challenge to shoot everything in one take. The only problem with the film (albeit a big one) was that it wasn’t scary. Even though it contained the trappings of the standard horror film, there were zero frightening moments. No jumps, no sense of dread, nothing. The idea that a ghost is causing teens to commit suicide is interesting, but it isn’t inherently frightening, and when there were scares to be had: someone hiding in a room, an eerie knock at the door, a girl jamming a hot curling iron down her throat – they played like examples of frightening scenes that you too can use for your film, rather than actual scares themselves. 

All of this armchair quarterbacking is meaningless. The film did gangbusters at the box office, and even though the film is mostly a bus,t this is a good thing because it means that production companies will continue to take chances on small films even if they aren’t perfect. The only real fear that Unfriended riled up in me is the fear that the horror film that I had finished writing a week or so prior would also suffer the same fate of being patently unfrightening. As a writer, I have little control over the final product of a film, and since the movie is going into production in late August I can’t rewrite the movie with all new and better scares. As I watched Unfriended, the terror of the similarities between the Blumhouse production and my script began to illicit terror in me that I never thought I would feel. Both of the films take place in one location, they’re both mostly POV, and there are ghosts. Had I crafted a thoroughly unscary scary movie? Are these the feelings that every writer faces when they let their work out into the world and tinkering is no longer an option? Maybe it’s for the best that the script is out of my hands. It’s a forced finality that gives me the option of either wringing my hands and waiting for the inevitable bad news, or writing something else that’s new and better.

 

*·      Avocado and Sprouts

·      To the small park with the nice grass

·      Many

Submission Tips For New Writers

I do a lot of reading and editing for a couple of different art magazines and literary journals (Nat. Brut, Kill Pretty, etc etc etc), and this weekend as I was writing a new cover letter for a couple of new pieces that I’m going to be submitting I realized how daunting the process can be for new writers. Because I’m the king of procrastination, I decided to write up a few submission tips for new writers.

1.     Begin your cover letter with: “Listen up!” Readers will understand that you mean business and deserve to be heard.

2.     After you do your final read through, get drunk and do it again. Not only will you be loosened up, but you won’t be afraid to make the changes that you know the piece really needs.

3.     Put it off until the last minute! If you’re entering your piece into a contest that closes on October 31st, wait until the 31st to send it. Maybe even November 1st. The staff will not only find your rebellion sexy, but you’ll get their full attention. Seriously, they will all be talking about you.

4.     If you’re lucky enough to receive a critique with response to your piece, cross your fingers that it’s positive. But if you get a negative response, make sure you respond with a critique of their critique. Use phrases like “how dare you?” and “what were you thinking?” Really let them have it.

5.     Relax. Your genius has been let out into the world and soon you’ll be lauded by peers and a legion of fans waiting to see what comes next.  

Scenes Cut From The 2014 Horror Film "It Follows"

Jay goes to the Grand Canyon to escape "it" and she watches as "it" slowly walks around the precipice while selecting an instagram filter. This scene takes ten minutes.

The kids go skiing and Jay sees "it" slowly riding a jet ski towards her until "it" eats it on a choppy wave. This scene takes twenty minutes.

While at the gym, Jay sees "it" walking on the treadmill. "It" doesn't seem to realize that it's not actually moving forward. This scene takes fifteen minutes.

Hugh tries to finish eating a Nerds Rope in the candy aisle of a Walmart before it reaches him. This scene takes seven minutes.

The kids get stuck behind an old woman sorting coupons in line at the grocery store. "It" chooses a different line in hopes of beating them to the parking lot. But of course, "it" gets busted bringing 16 items into a 15 items or less line. This scene takes 45 minutes. 

Nat. Brut Submissions Are Open & I'm Going To Read Everything (Except For Your Short Fiction About Frankensteins)

Hello writers or readers of this blog who clicked the link and aren't writers. As you may know, I work with a literary journal called Nat. Brut that's prepping to release its sixth issue (the second in print) and submissions are open throughout May.  

I, along with a few other intrepid authors, poets, and the cajoled, will be reading the submissions and be deciding your fate. Will we be swinging down the axe on your lovingly crafted haiku about space puppies? Or will we be sending your flash fiction about sexy vampires on to the second round? There's only one way to find out. 

 

Issue 5 Is Alive

I thought about titling this blog "Long Live Print Media, Print Media
Is Dead," but that honestly sounds like the biggest pile of shit that's ever been written.
Today, the online version of Nat. Brut Issue 5 has been released upon the world and the beautiful print version will begin shipping soon. Inside I have a piece of short fiction
available for you to read and interpret as you please. I'm quite happy with the
story, but what tickles my insides more than having a story published
is that I've become involved with a wonderful group of artists intent
on keeping print media out of the ground for the foreseeable future.

I've been fortunate in this last year to work with numerous artists,
writers, and other multi-hyphenates who strive to create something
concrete, from Kayla, Axel, Tyler and the entire crew at Nat. Brut, to
Tyler at Kill Pretty, and John at Lovers and Other Strangers, it's
been a profound experience to be a part of a small beehive of tactile
fetishists and lovers of the printed word.

Please go read Issue 5 from cover to cover (or the online equivalent)
and order a copy before it sells out if it hasn't already. Other than my story and some other oddities that I had a hand in, the issue features a photo collection by libertine flea market beauty Obscura LA and a poem that opens with the line "ESKIMOS HAVE VARIOUS THOUGHTS
ABOUT WOLVES." I love it. So will you.

Ain't Life Grand - The Time I Accidentally Followed Widespread Panic on Tour

“Caw! Caw Caw! Caw Caw!” Lauren crowed out the sliding glass window of the Waterfront Hotel. Earlier in the afternoon she had insisted that this was how all Widespread Panic fans communicated, but I’m certain that this is just a thing that people do that is unrelated to being a fan of a particular jam band.

She crows on for another three minutes and no one crows back, they don’t even look up to the second floor balcony that she’s squawking from. “Whatever. That’s what real fans do.” Lauren takes another sip of her Elvis Presley (coconut rum, pineapple juice, and a splash of ginger beer – shaken) and collapses back into her deck chair. There’s only an hour and a half until the show starts and she plans on being annihilated before the first notes of a song I’ve never heard ring through the Fox Theater.

Three weeks ago I started filming a documentary about a guy suffering from stage four- stomach cancer. He wanted to show the world that he could do more with the little time he had left than most people do in a lifetime. This included trying to get a social media site for cancer patients off the ground while exploring various methods of treatment, both Eastern and Western.

What I didn’t know was that this also meant drinking cheap booze, having a nonstop contact high, and following Widespread Panic to four shows over the course of seven days.

On our way to San Francisco we made a brief detour in San Luis Obispo to visit a reiki specialist who banished me to her waiting room because she was uncomfortable on camera. I spent most of the afternoon reading under a meditation lamp and eavesdropping on the hypnotherapy session that was happening ten feet away from where I sat. I’m still a little worried that about what my trigger word may be.

We arrived in San Francisco a few hours behind schedule and we had already lost most of our light so instead of shooting we decided to get dinner. Nick’s baffling San Francisco fallback was a Cheesecake Factory on the third story of a mall that promised a “beautiful view of the city.” Denying a dying man’s last wish I insisted that we eat something a little more authentic, and with a better rating star rating on Yelp. With each circle of the block The Cheesecake Factory became more appetizing. I knew a few people that had eaten and enjoyed their mass produced appetizers and lauded the extensive menu. I’d spent months on the road with men that sang the praises of their glam burgers and strawberry cheesecake, was I really so up my own ass that I couldn’t stoop so low as to order an over the top meatloaf sandwich and enjoy it?

“You guys lookin’ for something’ to eat?”
A withered man with matted hair and a beard reaching to his chest had stopped us at the edge of a street that lead directly into the towering, very un-SanFran mall. Trailing behind him was an oxygen tank with tubes that snaked up to his nose; the hiss of leaking air, once noticed, could not be ignored. Thank fucking Christ he had some dinner recommendations.
“First Crush is right up the street and among other delights it boasts one of the best burgers in the city. I strongly recommend the kobe beef burger. It’s absolutely delicious.”

We had lucked out and met one of the few decent wizards left in North America. We began walking to First Crush as he continued helping us plan our meal.
“The only thing I don’t recommend is the lobster mac and cheese, not because it’s bad but because there’s not enough cheese. You need a lot of cheese to make a good mac and cheese, it’s not good unless the cheese strings out from your fork and you’re not sure where your mouth begins and the mac and cheese ends.”

We neared the entrance to First Crush, a bar and restaurant that was significantly more upscale than I had imagined. The wizard’s spell had worked. I popped back outside to give our guide a few crumpled dollars but he had vanished. There was no way he could have walked off that fast and there were no alleys available for a quick getaway, I'd never believed in magic but there were no other explanations. 

Here’s something I didn’t know about stomach cancer that I now know. When you have your stomach removed you can still eat. The doctors actually encourage you to eat the same stuff that you ate before, but you have to relearn how to chew. If you don’t spend at least an entire minute chewing your food you run the risk of throwing it all back up again. I don’t know where the food goes; I don’t know how your body breaks down the nutrients to keep you alive, I just know that it does. If you asked me to explain how a healthy body breaks down food I would say the same thing. When you don’t have a stomach you’re supposed to eat a bunch of small meals throughout the day to keep your body from freaking out and hating you, so when you decide to shoot your documentary about a guy with stomach cancer who’s starting his own hot dog stand make sure that you don’t take a six hour drive (extended to eight with a stop over in San Luis Obispo) without eating.

Nick began to throw up at the table about ten minutes after Brady, his friend who lived in Hawaii, arrived and ordered the lobster mac and cheese (against the recommendations of a guy with stomach cancer, a writer moonlighting as a director, and a wizard). Nick had imbibed approximately one eighth of his peartini and half his kobe beef burger before he turned bone white and began coughing up into his hands. While Nick was vomiting in the men’s room I carried the weight of a conversation with the business owning beach bum. The reason Brady was stepping foot in the good ol’ contiguous was two fold. Obviously he was in town to see his long time friend for what could be the last time. Also he was selling water bottles (I’ll get to it). Growing up in Kansas City, Brady and Nick an adolescence straight out of the music video for “1979.” They set off fireworks in parking lots, made out with chicks in basements, and got stoned before skipping class. They went their separate ways sometime after college but had remained close in the interim. Now that Brady lived in Hawaii he was no longer a ne’er-do-well, he had made the transformation to an honest to goodness business owner. He had recently purchased “a shit load” of stock in a company that manufactured (I think – I had finished two beers Nick’s peartini at this point) water bottles that kept liquid cold for twenty-four hours and hot for twelve. I know it sounds like a thermos but it’s not because shut up. Nick returned from the bathroom and the night withered from there. The scent of the peartini stuck to my beard and as I drifted off to sleep I began to dream about shampoo.

“Caw! Caw Caw! Caw Caw!” Lauren was seated in the Escalade’s limo seat and crowing out of the open window. People on the street stared and shrugged at one another, just another drunk asshole. Through my camera’s view screen I watched Nick catch himself having fun and then check to make sure I was filming, preserving the moment in amber. Before we arrived at the venue Brady opened the Escalade’s door and tried to step out on the pavement, moving under his feet like an airport sidewalk. In unison, everyone shouted “Woah-oah-oah-oah” and pulled him back in. The driver didn’t seem to care, just another drunk asshole. Outside the venue a dense swarm of dreaded couples in ponchos smoked pot openly, guys in polos giggled at their audacity, and scalpers on every corner sold tickets to fans whose fingers weren’t fast enough for Ticketmaster. Brady and I didn’t have tickets but for sixty bucks and a nug, Brady was assured a spot in the pit and for fifty dollars I was afforded the same pleasure. I know that seems unfair but outside of a Widespread Panic show it isn’t so much the economic model of supply and demand but rather, are you cool and whaddaya got?

Inside the venue I notice that the crowd is stacked with people wearing their “big night out” outfits. I was confronted with a mélange of plaid pants, Hunter S. Thompson shirts, sweatbands, fedoras and trucker hats. The fact that there was enough tie-dye to stock an Etsy store for eternity goes without saying. As I made my way down to the front of the stage with Nick and his ragtag crew (of which I have now become a member) the lights went down and I began to take mental notes of the music and my surroundings, pretending to be a journalist or a spy, whichever was sexier. Whatever the band opened with made the audience flip the fuck out, it was like everyone had won the lottery. The crowd control that bands like Widespread Panic, Pearl Jam, and Phish have is astounding. Speaking of Phish, do you think it’s possible that, not now, but in the late 90s or possibly in 2009 when the band reunited, that Widespread Panic were ever jealous of Phish and their parking lot goo balls? (Google it). They’ve now obviously settled into a late career plateau where they can play literally anything and people will freak out but it had to irk them a bit that they weren’t headlining Madison Square Garden three nights in a row during New Years Eve. Although every great story needs an underdog, and it must be a good feeling to know that even if you’re not the most popular jam band, you’re easily number two. Or at least you’re in the Big 4. If this were the SATs a very possible test question would be Widespread Panic is to Phish as (blank) is to Metallica. The answer is, of course, Anthrax. No one thought either of the bands would have the staying power that they did and both bands contain a member with a segmented beard.

At one point there was a guy in front of me that kept taking secret hits off his miniature pipe and then doing a move that can only described as a “light shimmy.” After a spectacularly botched moonwalk he made eye contact with me as if to ask “isn’t this the best night of your life?” He quickly looked away, bashful that I couldn’t reciprocate his enthusiasm. After the first set ended I reconvened with my group and caught up on the latest Widespread gossip: JB changed the intro of a song, there was a little bit of “Keep On Truckin” in the middle of one of the songs, and who was that new roadie onstage? We made our way back to the pit where I was immediately separated from the group as dudes in cargo pants and girls with newly purchased tour shirts rushed the stage to do their whiteboy dance. Two songs into the set and I began to feel stifled, a claustrophobia overtook me like I’ve never felt in my life. I was not underwater, I was standing in more or less fresh air and all I could do was choke.

Once I stumbled onto Theater Avenue some of the fog floated away from my brain, outside the box office I was reminded that once I stepped onto the sidewalk I could no longer return to the show. I heeded the ticket takers advice and turned right, I needed a drink and had faith Oakland would answer my unvoiced request. After a couple blocks I stumbled into Café Van Kleef. I don’t know why (and if I did even the most cursory of Google searches I’m sure I could tell you) but every drink contained at least one slice of grapefruit and the bar was littered with grapefruit rinds. I drank slowly, Widespread Panic couldn’t have been more than four songs into their second set and the crowd was promised a third. My beer did the trick and fished me out of the jam band lake that I sat at the bottom of like an old boot or something much more appealing than an old boot. Maybe a new boot that was filled with diamonds. The new boot is also encrusted with diamonds (so as to not make the finder of the boot toss me aside when they dump out all the diamonds). The more I drank the more I liked Café Van Cleef, it had the feel of a nice dive bar where the perpetually collegiate could drink and talk shit while muted indie rock plays on the stereo and a local band takes an ungodly amount of time to set up.

If I were an Oakland local or a diamond lake boot wearing Berkley student I could see myself becoming a permanent fixture there and I’ll bet you all the diamonds in my boot that I would have fallen off the stage at least once.

I still had time to kill and my stomach was begging for something other than beer, Elvis Presleys, or grapefruit so I made my way to Hi-Life pizza and watched The Godfather II while I ate my slices in silence, the crust tearing in half as Michael embraces Fredo and reveals a plot point that couldn’t hear because some guy asked me which Godfather was playing. I walked back to the theater as the show was letting out and neo hippies were spilling out onto the Oakland streets. Brady was looking for a ride to Reno but no one seemed to be offering, there was no more space on their private jets or in their stretch limos with peace signs for hubcaps.

The next morning, in our San Francisco hotel and in between fits of vomiting, Nick would instruct me as to which angles we would need of him throwing up as I sat on the tile floor and watched my sort of boss, sort of friend puke up bile.
“Are you getting all of this?”
He would ask in between retches, denying the water I offered just out of frame.

Epilogue

Nick passed away around Thanksgiving 2014 in Marina Del Rey. I wasn't personally informed of his death, but I saw a few facebook posts and was able to connect the dots. We weren't friends, just coworkers inhabiting a profoundly heightened space for a couple of months. Today would have been Nick's 30th birthday and as I read over my words it feels as if I'm proofreading a dream. I wish that I could close this out with a philosophical one liner akin to Vonnegut or Marquez,  but the only thought in my head is that the heaving feeling in my chest is heavier than it should be for someone that I hardly knew. 

Books I Read in 2014, a Semi Out of Order List

I read some books this year, and a few short stories to boot. I also read a couple of articles on the internet but did not post them here as they are special gems that I plan on keeping to myself. I also read quite a bit of poetry but no one wants to hear about that. 

Fiction

Home Land - Sam Lipsyte (twice - it's quite good.)

The Corrections - Jonathan Franzen (also very good but rather long, I cried at the end.)

A Visit From The Goon Squad - Jennifer Egan (also cried at the end)

The Family Fang - Kevin Wilson

How Soon Is Never - Marc Spitz 

The Rules of Attraction - Bret Easton Ellis

The Sugar Frosted Nutsack - Mark Leyner (incredibly confusing but I was able to use the phrase "purposefully impenetrable" when speaking to someone about the book so there you go)

Unreliable Narrator - T. Sean Shannon

If On A Winter's Night a Traveller - Italo Calvino (disappointing. I felt hoodwinked)

Anthropology - Daniel Rhodes (one of the best collections of short fiction I've ever read)

The Girl on the Fridge - Etgar Keret (Rebecca thinks I hate this book but it was very good)

Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage - Haruki Murakami 

The Long Dark Tea Time of the Soul - Douglas Adams 

 

Non Fiction

Me Talk Pretty One Day - David Sedaris

Assassination Vacation - Sarah Vowell

The Partly Cloudy Patriot - Sarah Vowell

Hella Nation - Evan Wright

The Wordy Shipmates - Sarah Vowell (I feel like I read a fourth novel by Vowell but for the life of me I can't remember what it was)

Canon EOS 7D Digital Field Guide - A Man or A Collection of Men

Fargo Rock City - Chuck Kloisterman

Freakonomics - Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner

Easy Riders and Raging Bulls - Peter Biskind

 

Short Fiction

Bored To Death - Jonathan Ames

Joe Meno - Stockholm, 1973

How To Make Millions in the Oil Market - Christopher R. Howard

Man's Fate - 98: Learning To Love Again, A Story In Three Parts - Neal Pollack

R.W. Apple, Jr. Is Prejudiced. (An Open Letter To R.W. Apple, JR.) - Zev Borrow

The Discovery of El Dorado, City of Gold - Marc Herman

Thanasphere - Kurt Vonnegut

Mnemonics - Kurt Vonnegut

Any Reasonable Offer - Kurt Vonnegut

Yet Another Example of the Porousness of Certain Borders (VIII) - David Foster Wallace

What books did you read last year? Did you check out any good literary journals? Did you start a zine? If anyone has a bead on a cheap copy of the David Lee Roth Autobiography, "Crazy From the Heat," please let me know.