October 02, 2015

Uber Convo

You know, Uber rides often make me feel pretty good about America. Last night's driver was Egyptian and we had a very interesting conversation about authoritarian governments, media spin, history, and Egyptian politics. He said his family and friends back home don't really grasp what freedom or liberty is, and that he first realized there was something different about the US when he first witnessed police officers waiting in line with everyone else, something that had been simply beyond his comprehension previously. There's lots wrong with America obviously and plenty to criticize; nevertheless I won't soon forget that statement, and there's definitely something in it.

Posted by Dr. Frank at 07:13 PM

"Those people, the American writers of the 1920s and thereabouts, knew how to conjure two universes at once, the ordinary one in front of us, and the invisible one that occasionally winks at us from behind a column..."

Paul Berman talks Popes and Catholicism:

It is sometimes said of Chateaubriand, the author of The Genius of Christianity in 1800, that he was drawn to every aspect of the Catholic Church except its Christianity; and I find this understandable. In modern society it is the Catholic Church that most assiduously cultivates the memory of ancient Rome and its civilization—the Roman arts and their medieval legacies, and the Roman philosophical doctrines and their own legacies. The idea that some corner of modern culture is devoted to maintaining those particular legacies seems to me immensely moving. Now and then I read that a 100-year-old church in Brooklyn or the Bronx or some other American place is about to be sold to real-estate developers, and I become nearly as agitated as the half-dozen elderly parishioners who are sorry to see their old temple get torn down. The exterior architecture of those churches is often of merit, and, whatever the quality of the interiors and the statuary and artwork may be, I regard those buildings as temples to temple-ness. They house whatever is left of Rome.
Posted by Dr. Frank at 03:26 PM

September 20, 2015

No idea what it is really, but Johnny Thunders played it once


So I reached under the bed and pulled out another guitar. This is the second electric guitar I ever owned and was the main guitar for a stretch in the late '80s.

I've never been able to identify it precisely. The body is an SG shape, with a dark brown finish where you can just make out the wood grain, but it doesn't look much like the standard SG. For what it's worth, the neck feels 60s to me, and the decal on the headstock looks like the one on my late '50s and early '60s Les Paul Juniors, but unlike them it has uncovered humbuckers and tune-a-matic bridge as you can see. It could well be from the '70s. I really have no idea what it is or whence it came. No serial #. Not the easiest guitar to play, but it sounds pretty good. (I got a more traditional SG after this, which lasted only a few months before the neck snapped off. But it was easier to play and was the main Milk Milk Lemonade guitar, I'm pretty sure.)

This, by the way, is the guitar played by Johnny Thunders in the incident mentioned here, which is a tale for another day.

Posted by Dr. Frank at 02:18 AM

September 19, 2015

Drunken Rumination of the Day

The thing I've never been able to understand about campaigns to have this or that bit of art or culture suppressed or bowdlerized is: if your ideological worldview is such that the thing in question depicts an evil important and terrible enough to exercise you to that extent, why would you want the depiction to disappear? It would seem to me you'd want to preserve it, "curate" it even, as an example bolstering your argument about its awfulness, or about the awfulness of the world or cultural context out of which it emerged. Otherwise, to the degree to which you're successful, no one will know what you're talking about when you condemn it. I guess I've never really understood iconoclasm tout court. (And no I'm not saying there's nothing that deserves condemnation; only that the condemnation is only intelligible when you have the thing in question to hand.)

Posted by Dr. Frank at 11:37 PM

September 18, 2015

Not Sure Why I Do This, But Doing It Anyhow


Upcoming things are listed here. (There are more as-yet-unannounceable shows to fill in when the time comes and I'll try to update the list as soon as they become announceable.)

First off, as I've mentioned here and there, I'm going to be teaching a class in novel writing (focusing on building and developing narrative voice) through the good people at Writing Pad. (They've just started operations in San Francisco, being previously an LA thing.) It'll be five weekly three hour evening sessions beginning Wednesday Sept. 30. If you want to join, now's the time: sign up here. (There's a payment plan if that helps, so inquire within.)


Sunday, Sept. 20

Punk Rock Sewing Circle Presents..., Impatient Youth, Dr. Frank, Yo, Edge City Ruins, International Cafe Revue, at Eli's Mile High Club, 3629 MLK, Oakland CA. All ages. 6PM.

This is the inauguration of an East Bay edition of the now annual SF Punk Renaissance festival. International Cafe Revue features J.D. Buhl of the Jars, plus members of Psychotic Pineapple, the New Critcs, and Young Adults. (Way back when I used to imagine that when I grew up and became a rock start I'd write songs like the Jars' "The Time of the Assassins" though I never actually managed to do it, so I hope they do that one.) Edge City Ruins features Jules from Kwik Way and Ike from the Boneless Ones, Fang, etc. I'll be playing a solo set.

Saturday, Oct. 10

Two things happening. First:

Well the details are quite sketchy on this but I will be participating in some form in the San Mateo County Library YA Novelist Convention. This will occur sometime between the hours of 2PM and 6PM at some location on the Peninsula.

Then, later that night:

I'll be part of a truly impressive line-up of satirical writers, presented by Litquake under the name Foolishness, Stupidity, and Vice, Z Space, 450 Florida St., San Francisco CA. 8PM. Tickets available here.

w/host Ben Griffin and featuring Lisa Brown, Will Durst, Mark Fiore, Daniel Handler, T. Geronimo Johnson, Frank Portman, and Tom Toro

Saturday, Nov. 21

Queers, MTX, Lillingtons at the Gothic Theatre, 3263 South Broadway, Englewood, Colorado. Tickets here.

More to come, so... yeah.

Posted by Dr. Frank at 06:35 PM

September 15, 2015

Hello Goodbye Columbus

I've often thought, and probably written a time or two, that as so much of my "serious reading" was done many years ago when I was young and stupid, my opinions on these books are unreliable and not to be trusted. The thing to do, if ever granted the time, say in the event of a long illness or big lottery win, would be to re-read everything methodically, book by book, and compare the results. I scorned Moby-Dick and went around casually disparaging it and its author for years on the basis of mere teenaged prejudice, till I re-read it (while recovering from a car accident as it happens) and was blown away by it. What changed? Well, apart from being older and more receptive to it, I'd recently also read the Bible-as-literature for the first time. This process, ideally, should be repeated with everything.

But of course there's no time to do this. The best I can manage is doing it here and there, on a random basis. In the present case it happened because I tripped over Goodbye, Columbus when I was looking for the silicon spray I use to maintain my swords. And of course the thing you do when you trip over a book, if you do have the time, is to plop down and start reading it, sword maintenance be damned. (But don't neglect your swords of course; you really don't want them to rust.)

So here's what I dashed off on the facebook thing in the aftermath of the re-reading:

re-read Goodbye, Columbus for the first time since I was a kid. 1. It is truly impressive how much is conveyed by the deceptively simple narrative; that the voice feels so casual and natural is a testament to a subtle artistry I had no way of recognizing the first time around, but rather just took for granted. 2. The sex and romance and the characters' struggles and conflict about it is, it seems to me, rather alien to contemporary folkways and behavior, while I'm sure at the time it was perceived as (and was actually) an unvarnished tell-it-like-it-is look at things you weren't supposed to talk about; nevertheless the character Brenda is splendidly drawn and feels as real as any genuine person, and the relationship dynamic between the two of them is likewise authentic despite the "retrograde" oddness. 3. This is embarrassing, but I think my memory had conflated this book with Dan Greenburg's Scoring and there were a couple of episodes that my memory had interpolated from the latter to the former, and I missed them. 4. The class satire still feels dead on. 5. Such vivid characterization in just 100 pages is really quite a feat. Appreciated it far more this time around.

I'd add that a great writer's first, shambling, perhaps comparatively naive attempt to thrust himself on the world can have a strange, dazzling energy and that's sure the case here. Of course, one of the many things that has changed for me in the past 35 years is that I started trying to write novels myself, and if I've learned anything from that experience it's not to take good writing for granted as I always used to. Great writing like this is a kind of miracle, really.

It'll be terribly time consuming to re-read every Philip Roth novel, and I probably won't ever manage that project, but in theory at least, I'm up for it.

Posted by Dr. Frank at 03:14 PM

September 13, 2015

Can You Believe They're Still Letting People Like Us on the Radio? Me Neither.

Hey folks, I'm going to be visiting Last Will on his show on KPFA tomorrow at 11 AM. (Yeah, he's back on the air, which is good news in itself of course.)

John of Vktms SF is going to be there too I believe. Also my guitar. We're gonna be talking about the show at Eli's on 9/20, the SF punk renaissance operation, punk rock and whatever. Tune in, turn off, drop down. (Do I have that right, hippies?)

As for the show it is Impatient Youth, me (solo), Yo, Edge City Rebels, and International Cafe Review on Sunday 9/20, 6PM, at Eli's Mile High Club, 3629 MLK Jr. Way, Oakland CA.

Posted by Dr. Frank at 07:18 PM

September 12, 2015

Woulda been fun to see one of those Strawberry Alarm Clock / Lynyrd Skynyrd double bills ca. 1971


Posted by Dr. Frank at 06:06 PM

Jerry Reed on Scooby Doo

Posted by Dr. Frank at 03:44 PM

September 11, 2015

Guitars I Have Known, cont.


So, continuing to rummage through the junk under the bed -- see below --I pulled this out. It's a Les Paul Custom I acquired sometime in the late '80s. According to the Guitar dater serial number lookup thing, it was made in Nashville on August 19, 1983 (Production Number: 3) -- more info. than I needed, probably, but kind of fun to know. I've heard people say that all the post-Kalamazoo Les Pauls were "weight-relieved" or "chambered", i.e., they had huge hunks of wood hacked out of them to make them lighter, and I agree that that seems like a terrible, terrible thing to do. But there's no way this particular one was "relieved" in any way. It's crazy heavy, shoulder-destroying heavy, the heaviest guitar I've ever lifted, the guitar equivalent of a medium sized anvil or a set of encyclopedias. So I guess some specimens must have escaped the chambering.

It was my main guitar for a couple of years there in the late '80s/early '90s, after my old SG's neck snapped off. (I had it repaired but looking down at the scar made me sad.) Then when I got the white Junior in '91 or so I immediately retired it, partly because of the weight, but mainly of course because pretty much nothing could compete with a Les Paul Jr. from 1957, funky though it always was.

I gotta say though, this thing is solid as they come and hasn't suffered at all from being bashed around by a guy who didn't know how to play for a stretch and then neglected, forgotten, and stored under a bed for 25 years. Been playing it all morning (through that old Mesa Boogie Mark IV I used to use back then) and it's a stout dependable beast, all the sustain you'd want, and a great tone considering the fact that it has those humbuckers. Plus, if I were ever to have to face a horde of marauding Viking warriors on stage, I know the guitar I'd choose as a shield. Sturdy, man.

Posted by Dr. Frank at 09:13 PM

Take that you ball-hogging hetero male cis-dude heritage-language appropriating tokenizing accountability avoiding micro-aggressing racist bitch white cohort blackguard, you.

The Battle of Waterloo, according to the famous saying, was won on the playing fields of Eton. (The meaning is clear, whether or not Wellington ever actually said it.)

Well now the Atlantic's Conor Friedersdorf casts a light on the playing fields of Oberlin, and, well, basically to the extent that the conceit of the saying about playing fields is true, the Waterloos of the future are going to be hilarious.

Posted by Dr. Frank at 04:22 PM

Look what I found under the bed!


I almost forgot I had this thing. According to the serial # it's from 1960 Kalamazoo. Seems like at one point it was a sunburst finish? Now like many of my guitars it most resembles a barn door. Pretty nice.

Posted by Dr. Frank at 01:12 AM

September 09, 2015



Posted by Dr. Frank at 05:32 PM

September 08, 2015

It's the Branding, Stupid

The rogue poet who managed to smuggle one of his poems into an (apparently) prestigious anthology simply by adopting the name Yi Fen-Chou reminds me of the fascinating case of Rahila Khan. The New Criterion article in which Theodore Dalrymple first alerted me to this story seems to have disappeared from the internet, which is unfortunate because he tells it in extensive detail and much better than I could hope to. Nevertheless, as I summarized at the time:

a Church of England vicar gets his book published by a for-women-only specialty division of a publishing house by managing to leave the impression that he is a young, female Muslim of Indian origin. The hoax is discovered, and the book is "disappeared." And the world "loses" a minor literary masterpiece.


If Theodore Dalrymple's version is to be believed, the vicar's downfall begins when he agrees to meet a literary agent, exposing his true identity for the first time. Up to that point, he had managed to avoid ever meeting or speaking with anyone involved in his publishing world - that can't have been easy, and would have involved quite a bit of fancy footwork.


I have no idea whether Dalrymple's praise for Down the Road, Worlds Away is warranted, and it's unlikely that I'll ever find out as the book is apparently in limbo, having been erased, pulped, and excised from the literary record. His essay/review did make me want to read it, however. In the process he makes some interesting points about identity, politics, and identity politics.

In fact, I did manage to acquire the book a few years back, snagging one of the rare copies that popped up on ABE books for less than a zillion dollars. And my verdict is, the stories in this slim volume are of unquestionably high literary merit, snapshots of the Asian immigrant communities to which the Reverend Toby Forward ministered depicted with quite remarkable economy, intimacy, and empathy, and moreover with an impressive talent for selecting the simple arresting detail that obliquely symbolizes the characters' existential dilemmas while having the good sense to avoid wrecking it by belaboring it with undue embellishment. In a world where content mattered as much as branding, this book would (and by rights should, in any world) have had at least a fighting chance swimming among all the other less economical, intimate, and empathetic fish with nowhere near the same gift for selecting simple, arresting, existential dilemma symbolizing details and refraining from over-embellishing them.

But, like the poetry anthology's editor Sherman Alexie -- I mean, like him sort of -- if I'm honest I have to admit that branding is important to me, too, if in an inverse kind of way. I mean, if it weren't for the story outlined above, let's face it, this is not the type of thing I tend to be all that interested in. Without the hoax, and more importantly, without its function as an ironic emblem of all the stuff I always complain about anyway (identity politics, the politicization of everything, the dumbing down and abandonment of civilization, how much nicer it might be to live in a world that wasn't so absurdly stupid, etc.) -- without that, I'd never know or care about the Rev. Toby Forward's Rahila Khan's Down the Road, Worlds Away. And that's a shame, precisely the same kind of shame I complain about with regard to all those other terrible Philistinic people, and it's just as much my fault. I should read more widely, with less prejudice, but I don't and never will to any great degree I'm sure.

Now, I could be wrong, but it seems to me that outside of the people whose poems are selected for it and their immediate families, the readership of a 2015 anthology of the "best American poetry" has to be vanishingly small, smaller even than the readership for short stories like those of the Reverend Toby Forward. Being selected is itself the simultaneous minimum and maximum that a poem like “The Bees, the Flowers, Jesus, Ancient Tigers, Poseidon, Adam and Eve” can hope to expect in the way of attention, readership, market share, cultural impact and all that. Its author has at least won himself far more attention than his work would otherwise warrant by making himself briefly notorious. (And judging from the excerpts quoted in the Slate article linked above, it sure isn't my cup of tea, if indeed I even have a cup of tea when it comes to that type of thing.) Its practical value, in other words, is 100% branding, zero % content. Its practical purpose is to serve as part of a mush of poetry-like clumps of printed text that allows a publisher to sell hunks of paper to libraries with a straight face. But this is merely an extreme illustration of a more general dynamic with regard to the business of literature and culture. Whether we like it or not, the branding is still most, if not all of it. The content is there to make it look more or less like a book from a distance, while the author's bio and self-promotional social media strategy determine the degree to which it will be lauded or denounced by a readership that includes only a small sub-category of people who ever actually get around to reading the damn thing. Your book is a mere marker in a vapid game of 140 character cultural one-upmanship, played by people who care passionately about something or other, but whatever that may happen to be, it's not your book. I mean, it's that kind of marker if you're lucky.

Or so I think in my most cynical moments. Which are most of them. But while you join me in lamenting the sorry state of civilization and literary culture, you could do worse than pouring yourself a large whisky and settling down for an evening's reading with Down the Road, Worlds Away. If you can find one.

Posted by Dr. Frank at 04:29 PM

September 04, 2015

This Is No Dream, This Is Really Happening

So this is what's happening this weekend, two Dr. Frank shows. There has been a change of venue for Saturday: this show is now at the Hideout (which is apparently just down the road from the Soda Bar.) See ya there.

(More shows to be announced soon, so watch this space.)


Saturday, Sept 5

Awesomefest 9, The Hideout, 3519 El Cajon Blvd, San Diego, CA 92104.

So, like it says, I'm playing at Awesomefest 9 in San Diego along with a whole mess of other folks, including Kepi and (though a late addition and not on the poster) Kevin Seconds. Half my set will be solo acoustic, followed by an electric bit backed up by Turkish Techno.

Tickets here. Everyone who said they were disappointed there was no "Hitler" at the Weasel/Queers show last week in SD -- now's your chance.

Sunday, Sept 6

DiPiazza's Restaurant and Lounge, 5205 East Pacific Coast Highway, Long Beach CA. Dr. Frank solo acoustic with Kepi (electric) and Dog Party. Matinee show, 4-7PM.

I don't know what to add other than: pizza and rock and roll. That's my argument.

Also will be announcing more MTX shows soon so watch this space.

Posted by Dr. Frank at 04:35 PM

September 02, 2015

Shirt Gate


The Minor Thread guy posted this one today. This was and remains a very popular design and I get many requests to re-issue it. Who knows, it could happen. But if it does, no scientists allowed.

Posted by Dr. Frank at 12:21 AM

September 01, 2015

Fiat Lux


Patrick tracked this down and sent it to me to sign. For what it's worth, there is only one other such signed item in existence.

Posted by Dr. Frank at 09:23 PM

August 19, 2015

Well, the good people won the culture war. Why are we still so awful?

"Why does contemporary culture so often seem indistinguishable from a Puritan society where everyone is constantly sticking their noses in everyone else’s business?"

This is Freddie de Boer's question in an interesting essay in the Observer. Contemporary culture, in this reading, is one in which "the left," broadly speaking, has in essence won the culture war against the forces of darkness and ignorance. But why in God's name, then, do we still behave pretty much exactly like the intolerant bastards we defeated? It's almost like nothing has changed after all.

The thing he is describing is real, and genuinely ironic considering the rhetorical posturing of "progressives" over the years as against their busy-body opponents' refusal to "stay out of our bedrooms" and their attempts to censor and pillory everyone for impropriety of various kinds. But it seems to me this can only come as a surprise to one who has drawn the wrong lesson from the puritanism and witch hunts of the past. This wrong lesson is that the cultural "good people," meaning we, were by definition in the right (i.e. righteous) simply because of belonging to our own reference group, and that because of this proper cultural-political identity we would never stoop to such nefarious tactics and behavior. That's what the bad people do, and the good people like us, who are wise and righteous, are and will always be far above it.

The right lesson is that, there being nothing new under the sun, this phenomenon can occur whenever any social grouping feels they are in control and can get away with policing and inflicting cruelty on others. People enjoy cruelty; they don't as a rule feel much empathy towards their hated cultural rivals. Tolerance is an unnatural condition among humans, an ideal that must be fought for again and again, no matter who happens to be in charge. "Winning" (or the perception that you have won at any rate) is what entices the "good people" to indulge in the behavior of the "bad people," with very few capable of taking enough of a step back to spot the ugliness that has revealed itself in their own souls. The proper lesson is, in other words, that the good people and the bad people are, in the way that truly matters, the same. Unfortunately, people tend to resist this lesson without being aware that that's what they're doing.

As I have put it before (in the original case sparked by the instance of blue state cultural partisans willing themselves into the idiocy of pretending to think that the Tuscon shootings were caused by Sarah Palin and her maps): of course you think the other side does it all the time while your side does it hardly at all; thinking that is part of "it."

The ugliness is part of being human and cannot be escaped or expunged. What you can do, though, is to be wary of and extremely cautious around people in any large group who think they are "winning" -- winning is where cruel irony, and sometimes atrocities, thrive.

Posted by Dr. Frank at 09:50 PM

August 16, 2015

For artistic reasons, "Little Miss Lucy" will now be heard on side one -- Gary Zekley, White Whale Records, Inc.


Posted by Dr. Frank at 05:56 PM

Dialing Back the Mob

Unless this is some sort of Onion-style joke or something, Suey Park appears to have repented:

Also this from Popehat on Roosh:

It's beyond my modest abilities to feel empathy for Roosh; I won't pretend to. There is in my gut, in my lizard brain, a visceral joy at seeing him humiliated and threatened.

But we try not to order society via our lizard brains, and that's a good thing. Now, if we were to govern by my lizard brain, that would be perfectly acceptable, because my deep-seated hates and fears and instincts are all reasonable and proper. The problem is all those other damn lizard brains out there, worn by lunatics with different hates and fears and instincts. Roosh has a lizard brain too, and so do the losers willing to pay sixty bucks to hear him talk about how evil non-plastic women are. When we unleash the lizard brains — when we give into the temptation to ignore the distinction between speech and assault, between insulting and attacking — we will find to our great regret that the majority of lizard brains don't work like the ones we see on our carefully moderated Twitter feed. Most lizard brains are really fucking scary. For every lizard brain cheering when someone we hate gets chased down the threat by a screaming mob, there's two our three lizard brains ready to cheer when that happens to someone we agree with. I am more afraid of the consequences of normalizing and condoning this behavior than I am gleeful about the humiliation of an awful person.

Maybe it's too much to hope for, and there certainly is ample evidence in our history with its continual moral panic flare-ups to suggest that it is, but nevertheless: my hope for the impending backlash is that participation in such shaming mobs itself will come to be seen as something shameful, something that marks a person as not only brutish, cruel, and stupid, but also profoundly uncool. Dare to dream.

Posted by Dr. Frank at 03:35 PM