January 29, 2012



My grandmother's high school graduation picture, seen for the first time on a recent visit home. (I posted another of these a ways back.)

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January 25, 2012

Not Knowing is Better

Matt Riggle of the band 41 Gorgeous Blocks writes about his mostly-imagined view of Lookout Records based on tiny bits of data gleaned from record jackets and the like:

A door tagged with the iconic “eyeballs” logo opens to reveal a guy named Patrick seated at a desk, drawing a cartoon and listening to the members of Green Day work out a set list; Pat’s friend, Erika, leans in to grab a handful of stickers, which she neatly arranges before stuffing into an addressed manila envelope; in the next room, recording guru Kevin Army tends to the daily ritual of coiling cables and setting mixer knobs back to unity, while Ben Weasel and Joe Queer, pens in hands, argue over a bitter love lyric; guys with names like Sluggo and Eggplant roam the halls making everyone laugh (occasionally on purpose); a teapot begins to whistle as Jesse Michaels and Jeff Ott ruminate about how, even though it is an essential subject to understand, politics is not the answer to our problems; Dr. Frank, meanwhile, sits in a beanbag, looking up from his book only when he senses one of the others can’t quite find the word they’re searching for; finally, at the helm of it all sits Larry Livermore, a quiet, behind-the-scenes, big-brother type of guy who, when he isn’t writing up contracts in his office, wanders the Berkeley streets from warehouse to garage, personally discovering and tending to new bands, ready to offer a few dollars and pats on the back at just the right moment.
Well, he got Dr. Frank right, at least.

I know what he's talking about. I did precisely the same thing as a kid, though the focus of my rock and roll fantasy was UK '77 rather than Berkeley '89. Like Matt, I started to think I really knew these people based on nothing more than lyrics and speculation, and the few whom I actually did meet later on usually surprised me by being a whole lot different, not to say worse, than their fantasy version. (Not TV Smith, though, bless him: I think I got him more or less exactly right.) Overall, I prefer the fantasy to truth I think.

Matt's the guy who did that "More than Toast" cover I linked to here, included at the end of his essay as well. In the email exchange where he asked if it was okay to post it (nb. it's nice when people ask) he said he always wondered about the "context of the toast reference" but then said I'd better not tell him as he prefers not knowing. I know what he means. Sometimes, and certainly here, not knowing is better.

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January 23, 2012

You Today

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January 22, 2012

When Everyone is Somebody then No One's Anybody

A week ago I got a message from a guy asking if I wanted to come to London to play at a punk rock festival allegedly being put on in Camden Town the following week. I'll help you with the math there: it was merely seven days away. Kind of short notice for transatlantic travel, in other words, though it was nice of him to ask. Word that I had been asked must have got around a bit, too, because I received a few skeptical emails asking if I were really going to be there.

Anyway, in response, I was able to write a sentence I never thought I'd write, particularly with regard to a punk rock gig offer: "thanks for the offer, but I'm afraid I have theater tickets for that evening."

Well, sort of. And last night, the night in question, instead of playing at an alleged punk rock festival in London, I went to see the Lamplighters' production of the Gondoliers by Gilbert & Sullivan in San Francisco. (Warning on that link: it will play music you won't be able to figure out how to turn off.)

I've been told by people with the credentials and imperiousness to back it up that my enthusiasm for G&S marks me as a substandard intellect and isn't the kind of thing I should go around admitting. But people who know me as a lyricist never have any problem "getting" it: I'm sure I'm sub-standard in all sorts of ways, but this particular marker of sub-standardness makes perfect sense for better and/or worse. (People are weird. I get the same sort of attitude when certain people learn how much I esteem Noel Coward, since what's the point of that kind of esteem if you're not gay? Or maybe, they darkly imply, everyone who likes Noel Coward's lyrics is secretly gay in some way, unbeknownst even to himself. The idea that a great lyric is a great lyric, gay or otherwise, doesn't compute when you've been pickled in identity politics, I suppose. But like a Groovie Ghoulie, I don't care where you've been: Motorhead or Chapman/Chin, Noel Coward or W.S. Gilbert. So sue me. No, don't really sue me.)

The Lamplighters and Co. have been doing regular local productions of Gilbert & Sullivan operettas for an astonishing sixty years. My dad used to take us to see them as a family when I was kid, which is how I acquired the taste for them, and I'm sure this really has affected my writing in all sorts of undesirable ways. I quoted a memorable line for my facebook status after the show, which attracted the immediate comment: "so you're writing more shitty lyrics." Guilty as charged, buddy, but that one wasn't mine.

Before last night, I'd seen, I believe, each of the G&S collaborations in some form, except for the final three, of which sequence The Gondoliers, their last big success, is the first. And even though I listened to a recording a couple times before the show it really didn't click till I actually saw and heard it performed. It's amazing how much of a difference that makes, to be able to watch and hear the songs unfold and come alive, like Frampton. What I'm trying to say is, I hadn't witnessed a G&S operetta for the first time in decades, and I don't think I can communicate how thrilling that was. I mean, I know I can't. I've had the same trouble communicating exactly why it is so thrilling to read a perfectly constructed Wodehouse sentence. I guess good writing just does something to me. Fortunately for me, Utopia Limited and The Grand Duke are rarely, if ever, performed, so maybe I'll be able to "save" those like I should have saved a Jeeves or a Psmith for some future date when I might want to be reminded of what it's like to experience something truly great for the first time.

They're doing it next week in Walnut Creek if you're looking for something to do. It's a great production of a brilliant, cleverly-written, and still genuinely funny show.

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More than Toast

Posted by Dr. Frank at 06:24 PM | TrackBack

January 20, 2012

Mehr Licht


This is the tunnel that issues from the Sutro Baths ruins.

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January 18, 2012

Eat the Rich

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January 07, 2012

Don't Call 911

Westland, Michigan man faces fine and three months in jail for "malicious use of communications device misuse of 911," which is, evidently, the technical legal term for calling 911 more than once when police don't show up.

This will be summarily dismissed, I'm sure, (and if not, man, we have an even bigger problem than even I think) especially now that it has attracted a bit of media attention, but it is absolutely insane that this kind of thing carries even the possibility of a jail sentence. That said, it could have gone a whole lot worse for these people if the police had actually shown up.

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January 01, 2012

Happy New Year


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