Friday, July 29, 2011
Praise Vishnu and the overdose of Coca-Cola the night before - I awoke the late morning after the humongous pleasure filled Normal's night at the Golden West (early on in the evening Sir Tony said "follow me". He led me into the heart of the kitchen area, strong beautiful youth looked upon me with horror, and he stopped before the soda machine. "Drink as much as you want you goofy-assed old man". Taking me back to my childhood days of working the Friday Bingo nights for Holy Trinity Church. Explode that bladder! Sugar levels Rise!!) and immediately thought "Today is the day to check out the Sondheim Prize finalists at the BMA.
Too many years, too many shows, I've thought "I'll get around to that when I am a well-paid Hopkins surgeon or when all my back hair falls off, each curly brittle strand turning into a speaking serpent). Well, not this time hombre! One of my favorite Baltimore multi-media power hitters - and softball team comrade - Stephanie Barber, was a finalist and had an ongoing installation.
I have to say that I felt funky fresh and invigorated to be back in the BMA, and not just because of their superior air conditioning, but the first room of the exhibit underwhelmed me like a sluggish whisperer in the kitchen at a family party.
The front room was all wood sculpture by Rachel Rotenburg. There were some spots with color stain/painting on the pieces and beautiful vines intertwining, like in the piece "Sacred". The artist is obviously a handy craftsperson and the wood was beautiful, especially for a late in life tree huncher such as myself. But I couldn't help thinking "Gosh if I was wealthy and I had a wealthy aunt this kind of thing would be great to buy her for her back patio".
Sort of like if Red Tree in Hampden handled larger scale arts and crafts. Not a bad thing, by any means, but there were no butterflies in my swollen belly and my aged knees were nowhere near buckling or even bending with the shock of the new or the mystery of the resonant. Especially in a city like Baltimore that is exploding with great art, music and writing now, more than ever, ruled over by the firm mystical hand of Madame Drogoul, High Priestess of Art.
Also, the pieces had such kind of shopworn, or we could be generous and say archetypical, titles as "Sacred", "Memories" and "Dream". If you're going to go with titles like that you really have to pack a punch on the Jungian level.
(picture below is not from show but lifted randomly from internet)
The second room contained powerful graphic photo pigment prints of the war in Afghanistan by
Louie Palu who is Washington based. These photos had titles like "Standing In Dust From Improvised Explosive Device Blast, .....Kandahar, Afghanistan", "A Soldier Asleep In The Morning Before a Combat Operation" and "Horse Killed By Improvised Explosive Device". These three photos were the most effective for me.
Being too young at the time for the Vietnam War, the last war with a draft, and too old and not at all interested in signing up to shoot down folks like Saddam who we propped up for years and gave weapons to so he could whoop up on Iran, I can't imagine what it's like to fight in modern war. As if wasn't bad enough that a near silent bullet could come out of nowhere and take out your windpipe or eye or a lobbed hand grenade plop in your lap like a sea turtle's malignant tumor, now the smiling teen walking beside you and your troop buddies could have a fairly sophisticated explosive device lodged up his ass and one second you could be doing air guitar (or rifle guitar) to a Tool song and in a blinding instant you are flying tartar, clam dip and chunky salsa.
The one photograph, "A Soldier Asleep", actually captures what appears to be a moment of serenity for a soldier. You see him chest up peaceful in bed, the lighting mild and velvety, beside an endtable with a miniature Christmas tree, a very large piece of flatbread of some kind and a glass of what seems to be tea. A moment of humanity in the middle of unimaginable hellishness.
The hellish part of modern war is depicted graphically and starkly in "Horse Killed....". All that's left of a majestic creature is a flattened skull and one charred curving side of ribcage. Everything else has been smeared flat black and charred into the equally grim charred landscape.
Beyond just for being the escape from the horrors of endless modern war, entering Stephanie Barber's laboratory portion of the exhibit was exhilarating and refreshing. She had a mini-studio set up within her exhibit room and was having museum visitors stop and read from scripts she had written. Then she would process these recordings and use them in a new video for the exhibit. While I was there two different sets of guinea pigs were emoting and the electricity was crackling. A group of teenagers read and it was as if this was what they were born to do. Meanwhile people floated around checking out her walls and the videos that were already showing on the monitor.
(Image of Lady Stephanie borrowed from Human Pyramid blog):
As it has already been widely reported in the tabloids, Dr. Barber is not only a hyper creative being pulled in many directions, she also never sleeps. After a few days of non-stop writing, videotaping and sculpting, she merely hangs upside down from a simple acrobat bar from the back of her knees and swings loosely with her fingernails grazing the surface of the floor. Watching her calm attentive treatment of these random art lovers, it is difficult to think of her diet as being strictly the stardust shaken from comets when they strike the Earth.
Stephanie's piece was called "Jhana and the Rats of James Olds". On little standing scraps of paper atop the video monitor is printed "Every day I make a new video and add it to these. They are between one and five minutes long.......they are like poems." Indeed. As a testament to the blurring of poetry and film in her work, Publishing Genius Press published these here separated to see how they standing alone, which is film narration and a dvd of her actual films.
Like poets whose voices are so distinctive that certain words are almost trademarked by them once they've utilized them, like "sheet" or "spit" in the work of John M. Bennet or "goodies" and "bigtime" in the writings of Al Ackerman, certain images, though they may be appropriated or "neutral", have become associated in my brain with the work of Stephanie Barber.
For example, her video which I think is called "Puppet Television", at least I wrote that down in my notebook with quotes around it, features a still photo that looks like it came out of a '60s era House Beautiful or Modern Home type magazine. A TV screen sized area has been cut out of the living room picture and in that area two sockpuppets are communicating in indistinguishable burbling. There are then cut away shots, closeup, of a young girl's face with various emotions crossing it, in apparent reaction to the sockpuppets. There is something about the still photo and the other similar pictures of home interiors that she had delicately pinned sparsely to an area of the museum wall that is as distinctly "Barber" as the high pitched violin strained sound "wheep wheep wheep" is Bernard Herrmann's.
Sunday, July 24, 2011
Despite the fourth day or so of grueling temperatures with heat indexes over 100 degrees and many other great shows happening, The Gold Plated Normal's Show at the Golden West drew an amazing crowd. I would put it at between 150 to 200 people who streamed in and out throughout, but DC park police are estimating a mere 50. It was humbling that so many fantastic musicians donated their time and brought the love.
Pictured above are Sir Nathan Bell, whose recent album "Colors" is one of my favorite releases of the last year (and has some great cello work by Kate Porter) and Michael Lambright and Justin of Madagascar. Nathan played with Liz Downing on this night as Spacecrafts and Insects and the chemistry between the two them is spellbinding - even in a sweating, buzzing beehive.
They've been working on a recording together and I plan on going on a Nyquil bender and robbing a shitload of Walmarts so I can pay for a massive 180 gram virgin vinyl pressing of it. To ride strapped beneath Jack White's portable record store mobile like DeNiro in that bad remake of Cape Fear and knocking the White Stripes albums out of youths' hands and replacing them with the sacred sounds of Nathan and Liz.
Pictured here is Tony Lambright of Madagascar, who suggested the idea of the show in the first place as a way to celebrate Normal's 21st Anniversary and to get some extra crucial mid-summer funds going to keep the three struggling air conditioners going and to pay off Max the dog's personal trainer/psychic. Since Tony has moved to Waverly and father Higgs has left his Charles Village apartment to roam the apocalyptic landscape of Third World America in his van, Tony has become my new guru.
And not only was the night a big night for Normal's, but it was most likely the last show for Madagascar for quite a well, since Michael has decided that it's time to clear out of Baltimore for the icy climes of Minnesota. He feels that his vast collection of Isaac Hayes floor length fur coats won't draw so much unwanted attention in a region that actually has underground tunnels for you to walk in to avoid death by frozen lungs.
If I achieve nothing else in my seedy life, I am at least amassing a good collection of photos I've taken of Baltimore poet Chris Toll, who has a brand new book out on Publishing Genius, cheerily raising a beer. Here he is beside Asa of Zomes and legendary Lungfish. Asa closed out the night with a fine set performing with Professor Andy Hayleck who lives a block or two from Normal's. If you are a scalper stalker who sells stolen human hair, it would be hard to beat the dark flaxen wig of Hayleck. Andy and I believe a woman named Jordan (Jordie?) were in the early format of Zomes.
Poet and curator of the WORMS reading series, Bob O'Brien, took on the burly crowd after Walker & Jay and Spacecrafts and Insects performed. He read a new version of his piece on war and responded to a rowdy voice in the crowd at one point, "Nothing you say will be as interesting as what I have to say because I've had time to revise it". Robert knows how to stand his ground with a crowd and work them into a frenzy of worship and he's also spent some serious time behind the counter at Normal's explaining to befuddled folks that no, we are not a martial arts center and we don't sell swimsuits or plastic owls for scaring away pigeons. And my favorite, back when we briefly had the two split in two spaces across the street from each other, a gentleman asked me while I was in the basement book side if I would hold his crack 8-ball behind the counter while he worked his sales pitch out on the street. And without even any enticement of a cut! Just putting neighborly guilt/pressure on me!
Here is one chunk of the crowd right after Bob's reading. I spy T-Dogg Duggan and Bob of the Junkyard band and at least three registered sex criminals.
And here is the closing act, Asa and Andy. Note that at this point it's probably pushing 2am and they've been rubbing elbows and with 100 or more sweaty friends and they look like they're sitting out on a backporch in Maine enjoying a chill breeze.
It was a great show and a great week at the store. One nice small world coincidence was that a longtime great customer, smart friendly guy turned out to have played bass on one of my top ten favorite albums, Emmylou Harris' "Pieces of the Sky"! He and I have talked many a time, mostly about music and he'd never even mentioned that he was a musician. Then he came in looking for "13" by Emmylou because she was coming to Pier Six and he wanted to get her to sign it for a friend of his who drove across country with a cassette version of it as the only music to listen to the whole journey. I mentioned how "Pieces of the Sky" warmed my soul one snowy Christmas eve when I was 15 and received it on vinyl from my brother. I laid in bed past 2am listening to it over and over on headphones watching the snow swirl.
Four or five days after I discovered my friend and customer's earlier life, I was holding three signed Emmylou albums.
The day of the Golden West show, about an hour before closing as my guts went into anxiety mode, a friendly gent walked in with a slick homemade crate full of nothing but vinyl gems, including two near mint second pressings of John Fahey. Of course, since this is Baltimore it turned out he was a good friend of good friends and a working musician to boot. A friendly conversation was had, fantastic vinyl was added to the stock and I was reminded again of why I love my job and hope the world doesn't go all white empty zen room digital.
Thanks again to everyone who played the show and came out and made the night so special.
Thursday, July 21, 2011
Many thanks to the folks at The City Paper:
With musical performers Asa Osbourne (Lungfish, Zomes), Thank You, Madagascar, Walker & Jay, and Spacecrafts and Aliens (featuring Nathan Bell and Liz Downing), and poet Robert O'Brien.
If you were to build a diorama of the Normal's Books and Records musical universe, you could start by collecting battered little musical instruments that fell out of the doll house that grandpa built. Then glue them to miniature dolls hand-carved in the likenesses of such local musical visionary-oddball-luminaries as Asa Osbourne (Lungfish, Zomes), Thank You (pictured), Madagascar, Walker & Jay, and Spacecrafts and Insects (featuring Nathan Bell and Liz Downing). You'd have to feature a poet, of course, so why not carve up a Robert O'Brien out of some winnowed soap? Place them on a scrap of old carpet, set them in an cut-up cardboard box, plug in some twinkly lights, and set it all in front of a plate glass window, where everyone walking by could puzzle over the curiosity. The whole thing would lure them off the street, ideally, as might this benefit show for the venerable used bookstore/culture hub. (Tim Hill)
and The Urbanite for these nice plugs for our show. Thanks to the great musicians for giving their time and talent for this night that already is singeing my back hair off with fevered anticipation!
Gold Plated Normal's Golden West Show
Wednesday, July 20, 2011
Thank god for MPT. The grotesque swamp weather has numbed my brain and glued me to the couch. The air outside is like stepping into an old catcher's mitt that baked in grandma's attic and not only has the humidity short circuited my brain too much to write, but I can't even summon the concentration to read.
Thankfully MPT broke through the blizzard of cable TV grotesqueries to air a homey documentary on amusement parks in America.
Two weeks ago they aired a kind of Junior High level doc about Hershey Park which I used to go to almost once a year or so when I was a fresh wee neurotic in Catholic School garb.
They spent a lot of time on this happy gent who plays a massive organ for a roller rink at one of the parks. The glossiness of it all cheered me greatly and made me think of Peter Pan.
Sadly, they focused primarily on the rollercoasters at all the parks. Which are cool. But then whenever they got to some funky eerie designed rides or park decoration the cameraman suddenly got ADD. One place had a nursery rhyme theme going like Maryland's own dear departed Enchanted Forest - http://theenchantedforest.ellicottcity.net/ - and had some great detailed slightly grotesque decor, but the filmmakers flew right past all of it. And come to think of it, why wasn't Maryland's Enchanted Forest mentioned/covered? Maybe there is an MPT doc on it yet to come.
One of my moments of achieving some slight touch of romantic wisdom was when I was fourteen and I somehow ended up on The Zipper - the wildest ride I've ever been on to this day - with this kind of tough, but extremely sexy many leagues cooler than me girl. When we were finished being spun upside down while simultaneously being whipped sideways we both tumbled out of the steel cage of pleasure and the power fox who I placed on a pedestal turned a fetching gray poupon collard green-yellow and tossed her cookies and perhaps even a beer or two onto the pavement that was also covered with scattered coins shaken from the riders' pockets as they broke all rules of gravity.
She beat a quick retreat from the scene but I was happy as a lark. She was human! I too often vomited. Never in public, though. Not until the college lush years anyway.
The special really got me jonesing for the song of the creaking rollercoaster boards, the wafting stench of fried everything, many things on sticks. moles getting whacked, something tiny and shrouded displayed in the back room, rides that swing me around, pin me to walls, dunk me in water - all operated by hungover stooped carnies too slothful to try crank, their nicotined fingers covered in the blue-black of homemade tattoos.
As synchronicity would have it, one of the emails in my box this morning, a morning that crawled even deeper into the harsh airless poophatch of Azathoth, was from my friends Ken and Aimee inviting me and my wife to a day at park called Knoebler's in PA. Ken calls it the best park in the country and this man knows his stuff. He has a masters in arcane fun. Never misses a Mermaid parade, calls all the security guards by name at the Mutter Museum, swam at Coney Island high on glue with Joey Ramone, knows all the funky dim lounges of Baltimore still left standing from the '50s and '60s and can sniff out a duckpin alley like Nixon could sniff out white socks and highwater polyester suit pants.
Sadly, as fate seems to get me with these things every time, despite my fairly sparse social schedule, the amusement park party day is the same day as the legendary ultra fun Shakemore Festival in Westminster. And She Bites is booked this year for 3:30, right before that mean ol' Selena belts out some Roy Orbison with Animal Eyes. She Bites opened up for her in Nashville at the Opry (Granma's Tiny Opry on Visigoth St.) and she stuck a wad of Britney Spears' gum on my mic.
Everly and I will have to venture out to the wilds of PA to check out this park when the weather drops down to below curdling temperatures.
Saturday, July 2, 2011
Normal's kind friend, other groove psych folk musician, Waverly dad about the village and all around good guy Tony Lambright convinced the kind folks of Golden West restaurant in Hampden to let Normal's Books & Records take over their venue on the night of Saturday, July 23rd. Not take over exactly, they'll still do all the hard lifting, but Tony is filling their stage (maybe stages) with great music.
So far the definites are Madagascar - having a reunion show before Michael takes off for the chillier climes of Minneapolis - the sparkling Thank You boys, who also played our 16th Anniversary Party back in 2006 on a hot humid evening that even made Thank You McGrath's fearsome wig droop and Spacecrafts and Insects, the mind blowing duo of Liz Downing (also of Lurch & Holler and Old Songs) and Nathan Bell. Poet and charismatic host of the WORMS reading series Bob O'Brien will get the night started with some fire breathing poetry.
Rumored possible acts are Walker & Jay and maybe even the esteemed and enigmatic Zomes.
Come hear some great music cheap and help us celebrate 21 years in the wild-assed cultural biz of book and record selling.
Friday, July 1, 2011
Hedgehog Resemblance Poem
So come on you little hedgehog in a tupperware bin
You're here and I find myself thinking about devil woman doctor a bit
I find myself longer than a true blue shadow
quivering on this page
and resembling an ever-changing Mexican stagehand
with how I can't stop slugging myself in the neck
I'm like some more sublime monster doing dishes at Arbeys
swimming shirt climbing the steps trailing clocks
the finger grunter the dog blister the lab dung
being self destructive
only more mysterious
THANKS TO JMB OF 1/26/11
- Blaster Al Ackerman -