Monday, July 08, 2002

Near-Death Experience

Received April 27, 1997

It was a suicide attempt in 1986. I was asphyxiating on co2. I drifted up an into a long tunnel. At first, I felt pain and sorrow. I felt, from the perspective of all those affected by me, any hurt I had caused them. It was horrible but I was forced to understand my negative influence on them. It was incredibly enlightening. I would call it purgatory and I'm glad I didn't have to stay long! Then I floated along some more. The tunnel walls seemed to be made up of moving images. I was floating as in a warm salt bath and I was very comfortable. I found I could think clearly with no distractions. There was no music in my head as there usually was. I calming voice told me that everything would be explained when I arrived. I trusted this voice.

Arriving at the end of the tunnel I was greeted by a man who looks pretty much like I do today. He brought me to the edge of whatever I was standing on and when I looked into the inky blackness, all sense of time vanished. There was no past, present or future. Only everything all at once. I felt a tremendous understanding of the nature of the universe and my place in it. He showed me what looked like a huge white obelisk floating in the blackness. As I looked at it more closely, I saw that the surface was moving. It was a giant puzzle and it looked like it was being solved. He showed me my place and how the puzzle was re-arranged with each action by anyone on earth. Some of the puzzle had already fallen into place and I knew that something wonderful was going to happen when it was complete. Of course, I don't remember what it is but I still look forward to it! I was then sent back to my body. I didn't want to go and I fought it. I was angry for about two weeks to have had such utter peace taken from me. I feel much better now...


Tuesday, June 18, 2002

Traveling Sounds

It should be a Grammy category. Good Drivin' Music (GDM) is a tradition as old as A.M. radio - but it has evolved quite a bit over the years. Here is River City's completely subjective guide to GDM and our quest for the best provider of GDM.

There are two categories that define real GDM. The first is the most obvious: Songs, and especially albums, that mention driving, cars, and all things automotive are the best start for GDM. Bruce Springsteen is the benchmark. Whether driving a stolen car, driving through the desert, or born to run, for chrissakes, Springsteen's GDM factor for this category is staggering. Every single album involves road adventures to some extent. The man must write songs from behind wheel, maybe steering with his knee (like I do when I'm playing the crossword ).

Others have boldly produced GDM from this perspective as well. Neil Young (see: Harvest Moon) is an old pro. Bob Dylan was never scared of the road. Don't forget Dire Straits. Readers will shout out "Willie Nelson" and countless old country performers. Fathers of classic GDM, all of them.

But these days, the circle is not complete until you look at the second, more controversial factor. GDM is not just about driving. It has to be flowing and hypnotic. Real GDM is an entire album, and it helps induce the Driving Trance (DT). This isn't always easily done. Long songs often do it best - stretching, surrealistic, mind-numbing songs that allow you to forget just how much damn further you have to go. Songs like the 17-minute gaelic instrumental epic at the end of Joe Strummer's latest, "Global A-Go-Go." Some DT-inducing music is exalting, like Spiritualized; others subtle and moody (I'm looking in your direction, Yo La Tengo). Even bands like Pink Floyd can, technically, rank high in this category of GDM - but only to the point of inducing a good Driving Trance.

Combining the two is the real art. And until recently, River City wondered if it could be done. In search of the perfect GDM band, we decided to focus on Washington weirdo-rockers and River City faves Modest Mouse.

The evidence is compelling. Begin with the song "Dramamine:"
Traveling swallowing Dramamine / Feeling spaced breathing out listerine
It's on the album This is a Long Drive for Someone with Nothing to Think About. Said album also includes "Ohio," featuring the following pearls:
Rows of lights to illuminate lines / Why don't they turn them off and let us see night /Drove crazed grooming my lies /You can't look in on one way eyes, Ohio.
Another good touch is the album cover of highway scenes. Several elements of GDM - but it's not quite there. The album is full of harsh, snap-you-awake rough spots that break the all-important DT.

On to Building Nothing out of Something, a strange album - but it has the song "Interstate 8:"
I drove around for hours, I drove around for days/ I drove around for months and years and never went no place /We're on a pass, we're on pass /I stopped for gas, but where could the place be /To pay for gas to drive around /Around the Interstate 8.
Compelling, as is "A Life of Arctic Sounds," in which Brock sings:
100 miles is a long drive inside a car, 200 miles is along drive inside a car, 300 miles…
…you get the idea. And the music gets into some strands of hypnotic space-rock, at least in stretches. Excited, we moved on.

Things looked promising. Ready to crown the king, we advanced to The Moon & Antarctica, arguably Modest Mouse's best album. It's enigmatic, spirtually stirring, both disturbing and enlightening. It induces the DT from the first song and never lets go. And as we listened, we tried to think through the trance, searching for the driving references.

Patiently, we waited. Nothing. Song after song, no cars, no whacked-out drives into oblivion. How could this be? A band that seemed to be building its catalog on road trips and surreal highway adventures had created their best work yet, but completely neglected an ENTIRE CATEGORY of GDM!

Dejected, River City wonders, wistfully, if the perfect GDM band is a dream, just out of reach. We want your thoughts. Send your nominations to us and make a good case. We've got another road trip coming up soon, dammit!

Monday, June 10, 2002

Maturity, Wisdom, and Junk E-mail

by Harrison Pak

I don’t know who I am anymore. Day after day I am inundated with e-mails that are addressed to me but not for me. Strange women without last names are greeting me. Mortgage rates have dropped just because I exist. I will be approved for a credit card. That second degree in Assistant Administration is only an e-mail away. And somehow, I, too, can enjoy the comfort of having a large penis.

My replies to those faceless women that write to me have fallen upon blind eyes or fingerless hands. These women don’t want to know me. They just want my money so I can see them naked. And because of the generic nature of the message albeit they had my first name, I feel like that they are not only sending me the message but countless millions of other unsuspecting men. I hope that if you get a message from “Julie,” heed my advice and don’t succumb to the temptation that is “Hot Teen Heat.” It simply isn’t worth it.

But what is all this? What if years from now, people were somehow able to dig up the “trash” in my virtual recycle bin? What would they say? They would see the countless pictures of the Olsen twins, my god-awful attempt to recreate the sinking of the Titanic, and my overdub of the sexually ambiguous show “7th Heaven.” They would know that I receive messages to get that bigger penis, get the attention of women, receive that diploma, and make $50,000 without leaving the comforts of my own bedroom.

If someone were to make a judgment call on the basis of my “trash” e-mail, that person would surmise that I was stupid, unattractive, poor, and all the while having to go through life with a small penis.

Let me make my stand here. I am not stupid, unattractive, or poor.

But I can’t help to look for a bigger penis.

For myself, of course. With more time, maturity, wisdom and junk e-mail, I’m beginning to find out who I am by who I am not and vice versa.

Thursday, May 30, 2002

Star Wars: The Next Generation

Let's talk about Star Wars. Try to forget that it has become larger than life itself. Imagine it not as a blockbuster, culture-defining event and remember it simply as a fun product of human imagination. Try to ignore all the marketing gimmicks and promotions, including a Walmart giveaway that promises "First prize: Star Wars R2-D2 fully operational droid from Hasbro (2 winners)." Fully operational? As in, helping you to fly your X-wing fighter, showing a video of a distressed princess Leia, and assisting you with blowing up the Death Star? Or fully operational, as in it lights up and beeps at you?

It reminds me of the special offer from 20 years ago, a Boba Fett action figure that actually fired a small missile and was deemed a hazard to children. Those were the days, back when you could bend your R5-D4 backwards and use him as a cannon in a grand game of "war," and you'd somehow end up with several different Luke Skywalkers (birthday presents), but they all looked a little different, for some reason.

Star Wars has been carried into a new generation now, and this is serious business. The guy at the ticket counter didn't even grin when I said "one for Star Trek, please." He just looked at me like I was an idiot, and said "you mean Star Wars?"

The culture built around the stories set "a long time ago, in a galaxy far far away" is an intricate study in fantasy mingling with obsession. If some of the fans spent half as much time considering true spiritual growth as they do a fictional concept called simply "the Force," we might be awash in levitating, peace-loving higher beings who could lead us into the spiritual promised land. Instead, we have enormous web servers and chat rooms of debate as to why one jedi knight simply dies when he is slashed-by-saber, while another disappears. Not surprisingly, the leading theory has something to do with the influence of the "dark side." It's amazing that hours of discussion have focused around a "force" that would have been just as appropriate in a Sunday morning cartoon.

But every good sci-fi or fantasy epic has its die-hard fans, and in general, it's all in good fun. The new movie is okay, by the way. The writing is bad, the story is in turns both unnecessarily complex, and surprisingly juvenile - but the film is still captivating and often visually stunning.

George Lucas, "you may yet be of some use to us…"

For the sake of sanity, we ignore the fact that "Episode 1 - The Phantom Menace" (may we never breathe its name again) ever happened. The new flick, "Attack of the Clones," is far from perfect, but if we pretend that it is the first prequel, it's pretty cool. True fans will feel like a kid again seeing storm troopers, Boba Fett (and his 'dad') and Yoda kicking some serious ass. Go to the matinee and buy a big popcorn (or, if you prefer, a big hot dog). This is what sci-fi used to be about. Wooden acting, cheesy lines - with some wild action and incredibly imaginative worlds. Just don't ask the 30-something, Chewbacca-shirt-wearing guy next to you when Captain Kirk and the rest of the gang will show up to save the day. You may get a 30-minute lecture about avoiding the path to the dark side.

Tuesday, May 28, 2002

Texas Music: The Good, the Bad and the Ugly

Texas music is always a mixed bag. Every now again you come across a Lyle Lovette, a Buddy Holly… a Grand Champeen. Other times, it's the dregs, like the hundreds or so top 40 country "musicians."

But in most cases, there's just the muddled middle. Artists like Stevie Ray Vaughan, Don Henley and Steve Miller. Guys who you know you don't hate… but you're not really sure you like them, either. Sure, any self-respecting Texas pool hall should proudly play Stevie Ray… and that Miller song "the Joker" is just so damn catchy. But how long could you listen to their CDs?

This generation's artists of relevance try, with varying success, to break out of that "yeah, whatever" classification. These are the stalwart Texans, the Americana "country-rock" icons. The Robert Earl Keens and Steve Earles of the world (any other Earls out there?). The ones, like Jack Ingram or The Gords, who tear this way and that across Texas on a mad, never-ending spree of live shows that you can never quite decide if you have the time or money to go to.

The Gords probably lead the list. They are a decidedly good band, and one which leads you to wonder: To what extent can a fan base have a negative impact on artistic expression? For The Gords, one of their shows gives a good impression. Their fans outside of Texas love their rootsy sound, their completely Texan swagger, and the way they do that "Gin and Juice" song. Their (maniacal) fans in Texas love their rootsy sound, their completely Texan swagger, and, you guessed it, the way they do that "Gin and Juice" song. Their shows are pretty much just killin' time until they play "Gin and Juice." Never mind that the novelty should have worn off by now - Austinites have been hearing this for 10 years. But some fans have the attention span of a walnut.

Then there's an icon like Robert Earl Keen. He hung around with dorm mate Lovette just long enough to really solidify some talent. But now he spends it playing the same show month after month, and writing the same song year after year. It's what his fans want. Some of the songs are great - well-written, rockin'… And the shows are usually a blast. But you feel your stomach turn at points… maybe it's when the 19 year-old sorority girl next to you vomits on herself. Or maybe it's when Keen sings "Copenhagen," which, unfortunately, is not an ode to the city in Denmark. Nope, it's Keen's make-out session with the snuff company. During the song, you actually expect a man in a Copenhagen shirt to walk up on stage and hand the singer a bag of money.

To be fair, a lot of these artists push barriers at times. Some more than others. Steve Earle, the rocker from Houston, kicks out a great new song every once in awhile, before falling back into his beaten path. Others, like Austinite Patty Griffin, seem ready to burst onto the scene with more brilliant music - then they surprisingly hold back, as if trying to hang on carefully to their fans.

Or maybe a lot of Texas musicians are truly happy just playing the music they've always wanted to play. A seeming lack of progression is frustrating, but I suppose music doesn't have to be about "progress," which would admittedly be difficult to measure or qualify. Perhaps a large body of Texas music is just a product of some well-worn advice: "If it ain't broke, don't fix it."

Back to River City News