Tuesday, July 31, 2012

A Letter to the Good People of "Philadelphia"

This is an open letter to the citizens of Pennsylvania who live beyond the limits of Philadelphia.  It has come to my attention that a certain geographical misunderstanding has been floating around for quite some time.  If I may, I would like to clear things up for you in just six words:


That’s right, contrary to the lines you used to pick up chicks in college, living in a cushy little suburb on the fringes of Philly’s shadow does not make you a resident of that city.  It makes you a resident of a small town in PA.  If you’re unclear as to where exactly you live, there’s a very simple way to find out: check the last piece of mail you received.  If the address label ends with “Philadelphia, PA” then congratulations, you live in Philly.  If, however, it reads “Wayne, PA”, “Westchester, PA”, “Lancaster, PA”, “Wilmington, DE” or “Camden, NJ,” then you do not.  No, you don’t get props for being able to find Pat's and Gino's.  The mere fact that you eat that crap is a good indication that you’re from somewhere else.

You might think I’m being an elitist bitch, but I’m not.  See, the people who actually do live in Philly bust their ass to get by.  They put up with a horrendous crime crate, a dysfunctional transit system, a Draconian parking authority, and a cut-throat job market.  They pay city taxes, high rent rates, ridiculous insurance premiums, and insane parking tickets.  They deal with fines, assholes, pollution, gunfire, vandalism, and harassment, all while forfeiting any right to personal space.  It’s a great place to live, but it comes at a high price.  You claiming to be from Philly is tantamount to me saying that I understand what it means to be a woman because I wore a dress one Halloween.

Granted, I get the appeal of Philly street cred.  There’s something to be said about being a part of the city that nurtured Ben Franklin, Betsy Ross, John Barrymore, David Lynch, and the Dead Milkmen.  But if those bragging rights are so goddamned important, then start walking the walk.  Move to the big bad city, pay city taxes, give up the twenty-foot comfort zone between you and your neighbors, risk your ass going to work every day, and put up with two million tourists on South St. who couldn’t parallel park to save a dying baby.

If city life isn’t for you, well, nothing wrong with that.  Drop in once in a while, see the sights, hit up the shops, and have a few drinks.  Despite her flaws, Philly really is a fine city, rich with history, culture, fine restaurants, bumping nightlife, and limitless good times.  But remember, there are over a million people working their fingers down to the bone to keep that city running.  It’s an insult to them when you pretend to be a grad from the School of Hard Knox when all you’ve done is audit a weekend course.

See you at the Troc!

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

This Mortal Coil

These days I'm extremely picky about the goth that I'll listen to.  There'll always be a place in my heart for Bauhaus and (Rozz Williams era) Christian Death, but I certainly don't have the time for cheesy Sisters wannabes.  One of the bands that stands the test of time, who I'll probably love 'til I'm dust and bones, is This Mortal Coil.  Like any goth band worth hearing, This Mortal Coil weren't really goth.  They were a huge staple in dream pop music, the less guitar-heavy sister scene of shoegaze.  Also, they weren't so much a band as a project.

From the early 80's to the mid-90's, 4AD Records was one of the world's most respected indie labels, throwing up excellent bands like the Pixies, Cocteau Twins, Modern English, Bauhaus, and Dead Can Dance.  This Mortal Coil was the long-term project of 4AD's president Ivo Watts-Russell, in which he pulled together some of the label's best talent to record covers of 70's pop tunes.  Since he'd gathered artists as diverse as The Breeders and Dead Can Dance (and because these people are accustomed to doing whatever the fuck they want), most of the tracks sound radically dissimilar.  Also, since the covers are of lesser-known songs by well-known artists (Syd Barrett, Tim Buckley, Talking Heads, Van Morrison, etc.), the albums invoke a sensation sort of like remembering a dream that you'd forgotten about months ago.  Adding to the surrealism, all of the tracks are blended and overlapped like on a Pink Floyd record.  Beautiful.

You may have heard This Mortal Coil before without realizing it.  Trent Reznor sampled them on the 'Pretty Hate Machine' album, though I couldn't tell you what or where.  Their cover of 'Song to the Siren' showed up in David Lynch's Lost Highway, as well as in The Lovely Bones and a dozen other films.  It also played at the beginning of the trailer for the '03 remake of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre

So, is this for everyone?  No, not if you don't have time stuff on the softer side.  So who is it for?  I don't know.  People who like ethereal, folk, or experimental music.  Fans of Radiohead or Sigur Ros.  Art rock aficionados.  People who would have liked to have heard Billie Holiday fronting Interpol.  Lactose intolerant Goths who can't swallow cheese.

Here's a shopping list:*

*That's good for a sampling, but these songs are meant to be listened to in album form.

Monday, July 23, 2012


By the late '90s, Projekt Records had usurped 4AD as the most respected independent label in the world.  They'd taken a classy approach to the darkwave scene, releasing work by a diverse and interesting cannon of artists, such as Attrition, black tape for a blue girl, Love Spirals Downwards, Audra, Voltaire, Human Drama and Steve Roach.  The label prided itself on rejecting the corporate dynamics of the music industry, and they released atmospheric, finely-textured records with gorgeous packaging and cover art.  The band from that era that resonated the most deeply with me, who have been enjoying a resurrection on my personal soundtrack this year, is Lycia.

One of the things I love about Lycia is that they were a triumph of minimalism, that they created an epic sound with the most basic of tools.  On the Ionia album (their first release, and my introduction), the band consisted of founder Mike VanPortfleet on guitar, and a drum machine.  That's all.  The beats were simple and mid-tempo at most.  The lyrics were brief, and delivered in a whisper.  And the guitar simply SOARED.  In the way that the arches of Gothic cathedrals are designed to draw your eyes towards heaven, Mike's guitar lines on that album convey an ascension to the starscape of an Arizona desert.

If they get credit for nothing else, these guys deserve a spot in the Pantheon for conveying the sound of things which make no noise.  On Cold, my other favorite record, the theme is indicated in the one-word title.  Winter.  Snow.  Sleet.  Ice.  Frozen lakes and frost on the windows, bare forests and dry winds.  On that album, Lycia effectively captured the essence of a season in a recording lush with frost-bitten guitar-lines and snow-drifting melodies.  It retains the same dark ambient skeletal structure of their previous work, only with a much more full-bodied sound.  Also, by this point Mike's icy vocals were accompanied by the lovely voice of his wife/collaborator Tara Vanflower.  Her contribution drives home the simple truth presented by the album as a whole: winter can be bleak, but it can also be fucking gorgeous.

So who should listen to Lycia?  People who like ambient music on the darker side.  Hermits who dig drone, post-rock, or post-punk.  Goths who'd rather read Cormac McCarthy than H.P. Lovecraft.  Hippies who are into b/w nature photography.  Metalheads who meditate.  Maybe you.  Check 'em out and see for yourself.  And as always, support the artist by buying their music.

Friday, July 20, 2012

Battle Bots

I've gone back and forth on whether or not to talk politics on this blog.  On one hand, waxing political will inevitably alienate readers who might otherwise enjoy my fiction.  On the other, the only thing necessary for evil to flourish is for good men to blog about stupid shit.

But still, this needs to be said:

With Romney, the Republicans have nominated a clueless, out-of-touch android, who only barely represents their values and doesn't stand a chance in the general election.  If (like me) you have a few conservative friends, it is your FUCKING DUTY as a good human being to be there for them during the hard times that lie ahead, because if you're old enough to have voted for Kerry, you know EXACTLY how they feel.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Fear and Time Bandits in Brazil

Last Sunday I was invited to a joint birthday party of two friends of mine in Rome's Jewish Ghetto.  Because I was showing up after a day at the beach in Sperlonga, followed by a dinner party at my house, I didn't have time to throw together a costume in sync with the theme of the night.  I was the only one there who wasn't dressed like a character out of The Great Gatsby.

By 2 am, most of the guests had left.  A few of the remaining girls were doing the Charleston in the middle of the living room floor, while the rest of us broke into a fifteen-year-old bottle of Glenfiddich one of them had brought back from Scotland.

Somehow we got on the topic of Terry Gilliam movies, specifically whether or not The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnasus is any good.  I'd seen it recently, and had mixed feelings.  My friend Graham jumped into the conversation saying he loved it because it's the culmination of everything Gilliam's done since Monthy Python.  I asked what he meant by that.

"All Gilliam's movies are about the same thing," he said.

"And that is?"

"What's real and what's not."

I felt like I'd had my mind completely fucking blown for the next five minutes.  I tried to think of any example that disproved what he'd just said, but I couldn't come up with a single one.  Everything from Doctor Parnasus to The Fischer King to Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas is about the debatable place where reality ends and imagination begins.

If any of you can come up with a counter-example, I'd love to hear it.