Monday, June 29, 2009

Here and Now

At one point, Chris Stamey talked about the joy of marriage and how it’s provided inspiration for his recent songwriting. “This one is dedicated to my wife,” he said before playing “To Be Loved”. Far be it from me to begrudge anyone’s happiness, but I liked it way better when he was broken-hearted and bitter.

Overly sentimental songs make me uncomfortable, especially when I know who it was written for. I’m cool if I just have to imagine some faceless thing that inspired the words or—in the case of everything that falls out of Nick Lowe’s mouth—I just assume he’s singing to me.

I have friends who can’t watch The Office because the awkwardness is too unsettling. That’s how I feel about sincere love songs. Overt displays of emotion always leave me embarrassed, like I’ve just overheard a conversation that wasn’t meant for me.

I rolled that idea around my brain during “Early in the Morning”—the song [Peter] Holsapple dedicated to the woman wearing his last name—and decided that maybe the problem is less about the words and more about me. Since my own personal life is littered with more wreckage than the infield at a NASCAR race, maybe I just can’t appreciate an album about domestic bliss, about English muffins and marmalade and the same person’s head denting the pillow beside you until forever.

Or maybe I’m just a bitch.

I saw Peter Holsapple and Chris Stamey--formerly one half of jangle pop masters The dB's--on Saturday night at Cat's Cradle. I also wrote an insanely detailed review of the show, which you can read here.
__________

Tomorrow I'll be spending a total of nine hours in the car and, in between breakfast and dinner breaks at the nearest Exxon stations, I'll be riding roller coasters all day at Busch Gardens. Because that's what an unemployed, overdrawn thirty year old does. Also, I really want a funnel cake.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Meet and Greet

On Tuesday night, my friend L. and I joined approximately five hundred of our closest friends at Barnes & Noble for an in-store appearance by David Sedaris. He was delightful, self-effacing and brilliant--as expected--as he read some unpublished essays and diary entries and a lengthy New Yorker piece that he'd selected because it began at the very Costco just down the street from the bookstore.

I've been a swooning fan of his since several summers ago when I picked up Me Talk Pretty One Day on a whim, probably from one of those 'Buy 2 Get 1 Free' tables at Borders that always send me home with thirty pounds of paperbacks. As soon as I finished it, I snapped up everything else he'd written and still eagerly await Amazon's automated emails that announce the release date of his next cryptically-titled essay collection.

David Sedaris has always put things in perspective for me. I don't mean that as a reflection on his work or in that off-putting preachy way like, say, the apron-wearing woman at Whole Foods who judges me because I don't buy organic bananas, her thoughts almost audible as she imagines a variety of orifices where I can shove my conventional (read: cheaper) variety. He's not like your co-worker who took a mission trip to Honduras purely in the hopes of making out with that earnest guy who wears a fringed vest but comes back wide-eyed and full of reasons why we all need to stop living in houses with walls.

No, the Sedaris-style perspective is entirely more damaging. See, sometimes I think I'm a good writer. Not necessarily good enough to earn an unflattering caricature on a Barnes & Noble bag but better than the average YouTube commenter. Then I read some knee-buckling turn of phrase in Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim and I realize how wrong I am. There are people who have shaped who I am (see: George Carlin, the Monty Python cast, Robyn Hitchcock) and then there are those I want to be. That, kids, is David Sedaris. And I mean that purely on a talent level, although he does have some very nice belts and we seem to enjoy the same painkillers. But still. I'm being professional here.

Anyway before he began, as the massive crowd filled the back part of the store, forcing everyone to decide whether they wanted to be mashed against a stranger's nether regions or feel the sharp corners of the Liberal Fascism display digging into their kidneys, I made the comment to L. that within the next decade, I wanted this. This being the throngs of people with numbered wristbands who would wait two hours to hand me a dog eared copy of my paperback. People who spent the duration of my remarks half listening and half trying to decide what exactly they'd say when they reached the folding table where I'd be signing things. People who were so desperate to get a glimpse of me that they were willing to stack up several copies of something with a newborn's face on it and use it as a step stool. People who would clutch their now-personalized copy of my latest release as they walked across the parking lot to Macaroni Grill critiquing my shoe selection and commenting that they thought I'd be taller.

L. looked at me like I'd said I wanted to do shots of molten lead. "Why would you want that?" she asked.

I shrugged. "Why wouldn't you?"

Unfortunately, the only thing standing between me and an adoring crowd is, um, writing a book. That, and talent. Sometimes I think assembling something with chapters would be a great idea. Other times I realize it would be impossible, since my attention span is shorter than most seizures. Considering that--just this morning--my waffles caught fire when I got bored by their two minute toasting time and excused myself to start arranging my dress shirts by sleeve length, the thought of banging out several hundred thousand words is daunting, if not damn near unbelievable.
__________

The most unintentionally hilarious moment of the night came after David (yes, I call him David, especially in the conversations we have in my head) read the New Yorker piece that eventually veered onto the topic of book signings. He had several paragraphs that explained why he didn't allow photographs to be taken at his in-store events and, sure enough, B&N was blanketed with "NO PHOTOGRAPHS OR VIDEO" signs and equally prevalent wordless versions that had cameras with Xs through them, just in case some illiterates made their way to the book store.

Not two minutes after we'd all tucked our books under our arms so we could applaud the last sentence, a thin, fidgety man wearing a garish shirt pattern that looked like a sparrow had flown into his chest at an insanely high speed climbed to the second shelf of the Animal Husbandry section and held up his cell phone...to take a picture.

A uniformed police officer immediately confronted the guy by loudly asking, "Sir, were you aware that there's no photography allowed?"

Sparrow Shirt, who was standing under a NO PHOTOGRAPHS sign the size of a vending machine, shook his head dopily and said, "Nope, I didn't know that." Since he had both eyes and ears, I kind of hoped that the cop would call bullshit and beat him with the nearest available copy of A Beginners Guide to Falconry.
__________

If you have the chance to catch David (again, I lead a rich fantasy life in which we'll be going to Chick-Fil-A together later) when he resumes his book tour in the fall, I highly recommend it. Despite the massive crowd, he graciously said that he wasn't leaving the store until everyone who wanted a book signed had gotten their chance. "If your number is higher than 100," he said, "Go see Up and come back when it's over, I'll still be here. Also, if you don't cry during that movie, you're dead inside."

I had to roll out for a friend's birthday dinner before I got my chance, but I'm pretty sure he would've hung around for the wild-eyed girl wearing wristband number 383. I'll stay till the store closes when it's my turn to sit behind the author's table.

I promise you that.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Now I Wish I'd Super Sized It

I just got an automated phone call, the kind where a disembodied voice mangles my last name almost as completely as something with a central nervous system, the kind I usually ignore because they always involve phrases like "overdue" or "legal action".

Today's installment wasn't any better. I pressed the phone to my ear just in time to hear a monotone voice repeat "Hello" three times before soullessly informing me that my bank account was overdrawn.

That final, fateful debit charge, the one that shoved my balance into the red? A $4.25 McDonald's Filet-O-Fish sandwich.

I'm pretty sure that I heard the robot judging me when she gave the one-sided recount of the purchase that sent my net worth into the negative numbers and it didn't brighten my spirits to shout "YEAH, WELL AT LEAST I HAVE ARMS" before throwing my phone into the sofa cushions. Usually it does.

Let's ignore, for a moment, that I couldn't scrape together enough change to pass through the drive-through window and had to sign a receipt for my square-shaped mistake. You know what really sent that sandwich crawling back up my esophagus? The $35 overdraft charge that BB&T gave me as an after-dinner mint.

I don't recall the last time I paid $39.25 for a meal, if I ever have, but I sure as hell wish it hadn't been served in a cardboard box.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

We Have Some Lovely Parting Gifts For You

I have a very elaborate system of doing laundry, with countless exits on the road between Clean and Dirty. Typically whichever band t-shirt I wear as I procrastinate and loiter around my apartment is the shirt I'll sweat through at the gym the next day. That meant that yesterday's dorktastic workout garment was the "It's O.K. To Like Nick Lowe" tee I rocked during Pop Music Trivia Night at a local bar on Thursday.

Anyway, I was stumbling between the Y's two weight rooms when a guy with a chest bigger than mine1 stopped and said "Hey, I love Nick Lowe!" This was something I didn't expect to hear, since most of the dudes who frequent the Y on Friday night are walking staph infections who pause from lifting heavy things just long enough to throw up in the trash can. They're not typically the kind who go for gently aging English pop stars.

His genuine enthusiasm shocked me enough that I stopped in the middle of the hall and cocked my head, Golden Retriever-style. "For reals?"

"Oh yeah," he said, before singing "Take a little walk to the edge of town, go across the tracks..."

Yea--wait...what?

"Fuckin' Bad Seeds, man", he said, wiping a stained sleeve across his forehead. "They're awesome."

"Um, no, that's actually Nick Cave."

"Oh. Either way, he's great."

With that, he shuffled toward the water fountain, still singing "Red Right Hand".

Either way? No, brah, eight letter names are the only things that Mr. Lowe and Mr. Cave have in common. I've reached the point where I'm willing to be less-selective when looking for potentially datable dudes2 but that kind of mistake just doesn't get it done.

I'm not sure what it says about me, but I would've overlooked his willingness to, um, reblog his dinner in public if he could've dropped a couple of bars from "Cruel to Be Kind."
__________

Earlier in the day, I was trying to drag Pigpen away from a dead squirrel he was desperately trying to make out with when a guy rounded the corner and stopped on the sidewalk about six feet from the Boxerbeast's leash.

"Wow," he said, jamming his hands into his back pockets. "Great legs."

I immediately assumed he meant Pigpen, since I'm built like a lawn flamingo. "Yeah, you should see him in heels."

He laughed and extended his hand. "I'm Eric."

"J-Money," I said, thrilled that I was actually able to respond with something that made sense.

"Look," he said, whipping out a small notebook. "I'm in kind of a hurry, but I really want to give you my number."

I didn't know exactly how to handle this. Yes, I'd gotten a set of digits this quickly before, but it was because that guy had just parked his Hyundai in my back bumper. He tore the page out and handed me a set of neatly ball-pointed block letters. "Give me a call sometime. But you need to do it before the end of the month."

I grinned. Bold. I liked it. "Why's that?"

"Because my soon-to-be ex-wife is going to stop paying for my cell phone. Oh, I should probably mention that I'm going through a divorce."

"Um. OK, sure, that happens."

"And I'm homeless."

And this is the point where my frontal lobe exploded. I was completely unable to comprehend that last sentence, and responded politely with a sound that was somewhere between "AATUUGUUEH" and "EEEIIGAAGHH".

"Well," he said, completely undaunted by the fact that I'd morphed into Nell's less-coherent cousin. "See you around."

And this, ladies and gentlemen, is my life. It's also why I'm starting to consider Binge Drinking as a viable career option.

1 That's not saying much since I'm only slightly more voluptuous than Montgomery Burns.

2 My current criteria: Lactose tolerance, correctly paired chromosomes, ears.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Bonnaroo: Day 1

OK, so Day One of Bonnaroo is in the patchouli-scented bag and—other than the creeping realization that I’ll be loofa-ing dried mud off my lower half for the next several months—I managed to survive reasonably unscathed.

I merged onto I-40 West around 6:30 yesterday morning with an overstuffed backpack full of impractical outfits1 and three cases of Diet Coke, you know, in case of emergencies. Most of the drive was non-eventful, save for my screechtastic singalong with whatever spilled out of my iPod, although I could’ve done without the torrential rains. Little did I know, that was to be the theme of the day. HELLO, MY NAME IS FORESHADOWING.

After three pee stops (caffeine, you diuretic minx) and a swing through a Subway/Exxon hybrid, I got to my hotel around 1:15 and I’m pretty sure I recognized my room from an episode of CSI. I can’t say I’ve ever stayed in a place where the staff stands behind a plate of plexiglass and passes your key through a slot. “You’re in the handicapped room,” the cashier said, leaning toward the keyslot.

“What exactly does that mean?”

She sighed, as if I should be well-versed in the latest innovations in universal design. “It means your sink is lower and your shower don’t have a door. Sign here,” she said, passing me a credit card receipt and a pen with a logo from the regional medical center. “Checkout time’s noon on Sunday and remember, occupancy by more than six people is unlawful an’ violates the fire code.”

“Six people? You have more faith in me than I do.” I gave her my best student council smile. She responded by closing the slot and turning up the volume of the small television behind the scratched window of her cage.

I quickly showered, changed and ironed my shirt. The iron rained rust flakes and white pellets onto the front of my garments but that stopped mattering when I flipped it over to find I’d melted a centipede into the back of it. Grabbing another shirt, I tossed 90% of my things (including anything that touches my face and/or my gums) back into my backpack and carried it out to the car, where it will spend the rest of my stay living in the tailgate of my earth-mauling SUV.

My luxurious accommodations are close to 20 miles from the ‘Roo grounds and, although it took six and a half hours to cover 450 miles, it took almost three more to go the final 15. I had to swing by a radio station to pick up my Media Wristband, an accessory which is reasonably cool-looking but its dangling ends get in the way of my Portajohn maneuvers.

After several false starts at going in the right direction, I stopped at a Kangaroo gas station to casually bat my eyelashes at at Tennessee State Trooper to see if I could get any assistance. “You’re with the press,” he said, unable to hide his surprise when I nodded. “You ever interview Metallica?” I told him I hadn’t. “You’re young. You still have time. They’re my favorite band, you know.” We swapped stories about Master of Puppets, covered the years he spent stationed in Germany and, ten minutes later, I was directed back onto the interstate, back to the same endless line of traffic. Flirtfail.

Officer Metallica did direct me to a different exit on the interstate, but that was one for VIPs and artists, not for minor members of the internet press. A girl in a shirt stamped 'Security' made me bang a U-turn in the middle of the road and on each unsuccessful attempt, the honks and one-fingered salutes from the other drivers made me wish I didn't have a personalized license plate.

After another stop and another chat with concert security, I was directed toward a field where I waited for the staff shuttle and within ten minutes, I was lodged in the back seat of an Astrovan, wedged between two Canadians who had come to sell dreamcatchers. “You get your car searched on the way in?” a bandanna wearing twentysomething asked me. I shook my head. “Lucky. Cause that sucks. They had us on the side of the road, going through our shit. What I learned last year though is that anything you want, you can buy here anyway.”

“Yeah, after waiting outside I could use a glass of lemonade.”

He looked at me like I was speaking in tongues. “Um. Yeah. Anyway, we hid some stuff in our taillights. If you’re interested, I get off from work around ten.”

After a quick trip down a rutted road, we were deposited at the far end of the facility. If Bonnaroo needed an enema, they’d insert it where the staff shuttle rolls in. But I was there! And all that stood in my way was a thick grey mudsludge that made me understand why the media info suggested that you wear wellies.

The rest of the evening went by quickly. I’d hoped to see indie popsters the Delta Spirit but they had some weather-based travel delays (or maybe they just talked to the same cops I did) so instead I caught the Alberta Cross, White Rabbits, and Hockey—the latter of which should be your new favorite band.2

Just after ten, severe thunderstorms and tornado warnings sent me screaming for the press tent, where I cowered on an inflatable sofa and hoped that my life wouldn’t end with mud-caked feet beside people wearing ironic t-shirts. When the weather calmed down and the angry red splotches disappeared from the local radar, I made a break for the shuttle and rolled back into the hotel by midnight.

As I write this now, I’m waiting for media orientation and the beginning of what promises to be a very busy, very full day with a couple of interviews in the early afternoon and the David Byrne show tonight, where I’ll test the limits of this multicolored wristband and see exactly what I can do with it. Cause, you know, Once in a Lifetime and all that…

1 Note: Don’t wear anything white. Or anything that you don’t want to stain. Or anything you don’t want someone else to stain for you.
2 Reviews of the shows and a couple of videos are on my main gig at Bitch Buzz.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Road to 'Roo-in

My car is packed (again) and I'm ready to hit the road (again) for yet another six and a half hour drive. I'm on my way to Bonnaroo to report on the action for London-based BitchBuzz.com. It's their first U.S. music festival coverage, so here's hoping I don't screw it up. I'll be rocking an official media wristband and everything, which is something that hasn't happened since I covered SSHS Homecoming '96 for The Tiger Times and I promise to be no less obnoxious in Tennessee.

I have some interviews lined up and am trying to score a few more but it promises to be a swell time all around. I'll be sending updates to my editor daily, so check out that site for the goods and this one for all of my misadventures. The lineup is excellent this year, featuring Bruce Springsteen, Wilco, Robyn Hitchcock, Elvis Costello, Robyn Hitchcock, Nine Inch Nails, Robyn Hitchcock David Byrne, and roughly a brazillion other bands, including my all-time personal fave, Robyn Hitchcock.

25 minutes until Dunkin Donuts opens, which means it's time to lock my doors and program the GPS. A long day of gas station coffee and Slim Jims awaits...which may explain why my car smells like a hamster cage.

Are any of you guys hitting the 'Roo as well?

Wednesday, June 03, 2009

Nuggets

1) On Saturday night, I went with some friends to see Sam Raimi's latest creepfest Drag Me To Hell. It's the story of a Pam Beesly-ish bank drone who pisses off an elderly gypsy, which is a bigger no-no than taking a handful of Starlite mints from the teller window. The flick was much better than I expected with some genuine scares and the potential to reach cult-classic status if only because several scenes involved a talking goat.

It also ensured that I'm never speaking to any women over the age of 50 since I'm now convinced they have the potential to summon the kind of demons that don't drop by to trade Crockpot recipes. Also, let's just say I won't be swiping my old 'n' hateful neighbor's Sunday paper anymore 'cause if she opened a portal to hell in my living room, I'm pretty sure I wouldn't get my security deposit back.

2) Speaking of my building, there's a new dude on my floor who has been non-stop listening to a song with Shakespearian couplets like "If you want it/Get up on it". After three days of bone-rattling bass, the only thing I want to get up on is a sign for Prudential Realtors.

3) Yesterday was my long-dreaded birthday, which was commemorated with cards from both Banana Republic and Sunglass Hut, leaving me unnerved that all thirty trips around the sun gets you is a discount on cropped pants and oversized plastic eyewear.

Actually, it was a great day, start-to-finish. I rolled out of bed before 5 and immediately cleaned the kitchen and squeezed some scrubbing bubbles into the toilets because, at the very least, I wanted to start my new decade with gleaming bathrooms and empty trashbins. AND THAT WAS JUST THE BEGINNING. I think I heard from half the internet, got a thirty-candled cupcake from my non-douchenozzle neighbor, some friends took me out for mini-corn dogs and chocolate cake, and I came home to find FOUR BOXES of Oreo Cakesters on my doorstep. If it were possible to overdose on happiness, yesterday I was Jimi Hendrix on Jim Morrison's back.

I also heard from two of my three most recent exes, which was nice. The one no-show was--ironically--the dude who put the least amount of effort into our relationship but came out of it with Costco-sized boxes of bitterness. It's like if you ignored your houseplants for several months then acted surprised when the geraniums died. And then you called the geraniums a bitch, told the geraniums never to contact you again, and un-friended the geraniums on Facebook.

Anyway, my longest-tenured former boyfriend made an excellent point about my birthday-related discomfort. He hit the half-century mark last year and--because of our double-decade age difference--we'd been longtime subscribers to Age Is Just a Number Illustrated. He essentially said that it didn't make any sense to ignore my birthdate in one aspect of my life but to let it overshadow the other parts and--as much as I hate to admit it--he's onto something.

So that's one day down, 3,650 to go until life's odometer causes me to freak out again. Until then, I'll just worry about sensible things like gypsy curses and why I ever gave Sunglass Hut my mailing address.