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Willie's Off-Brand Web Journal: February 1-February 8, 2004

Thursday, February 5, 2004:

I had a dream last night about my friend Jon from high school. (Not Jon or Jon; a different Jon.) He'd purchased a manatee from a pet store, and was dissatisfied with it because it wasn't entertaining enough, so he was screaming at the pet store's customer service representative on his phone. In my dream, I found the phrase, "That manatee was a complete waste of money!" hilarious.

Last night, Jess, Jon, and I went to see the Super Furry Animals in Detroit. I picked Jon up at 4:30, interrupting his daily dose of Dynasty, and we drove to the Little Tree Sushi Bar in Royal Oak, where we were going to meet Jess. As we waited, Jon patiently put up with my kibitzing about minutiae and re-telling Neil Hamburger jokes, as he does on a daily basis. Jon is an exceedingly patient man.

At 5:30, I called Jess's cell from the Little Tree pay phone in the foyer to find out where she was. A charming 5-year-old named William was hanging out in the foyer as well, and thought it would be funny to keep playing with the lightswitch while I attempted to dial Jess's number, repeatedly throwing me into utter darkness. What a clever lad! Later, I asked Jon whether he thought that it would be cheaper to have a vasectomy or to just drink so much Mountain Dew that I become sterile. He told me that the Mountain Dew thing is an old wives' tale. And since the vasectomy thing doesn't really appeal to me, I guess I'll just have to continue relying on my repugnant personality and monstrous visage to ensure that I never sire any children.

But I digress. Jess was stuck in traffic, so Jon and I decided to wait awhile to order, and she showed up at about six. She and I got tofu yakiudon and Jon ordered pad thai. Jon and I were secure enough in our own clumsiness to ask for forks rather than attempting to eat solely with the chopsticks provided on the table, but Jess decided to give the chopsticks a go. She quickly realized that just wasn't going to work, and asked our waitress for a fork after all. I told her that she was also going to have to wear a bib that said, "I failed!" for the remainder of the meal.

Jess laughed and added, "And a sombrero!"

After dinner, we headed to St. Andrew's Hall for the show. They wouldn't let Jess bring her camera inside, so she and I walked back to Pip so she could put it away. Just remember that little tidbit. Once inside the club, we all immediately started our usual game of attributing deviant personalities to our fellow concertgoers, and then having conversations as those characters. Jess pointed out a couple who obviously hadn't picked up on any new fashion trends since The Big Chill: the guy had a Michael Gross beard and George Lucas haircut, a Richard Dreyfuss-in-Always bomber jacket (which he wore over a tech vest, which he wore over a sweater, so I can't imagine he wasn't roasting in there), and white jeans. Jess dubbed him White Jeans Guy. He was obviously trying very hard to look "rugged," as he kept affecting poses straight out of a late-'80s Eddie Bauer catalog.

I didn't get a good look at his lady friend's face, but she had black jeans and I think a leather jacket. I named her Beverly. (No offense to my friend Bev. The woman just reminded me of Beverly Archer of Mama's Family fame for some reason. Even though she looked nothing like Beverly Archer and I'd be hard pressed to identify any connection between the two whatsoever.)

We decided that they were swingers, and that they were attempting to set up a post-concert rendezvous with the two bald guys they were chatting up for most of the evening. They'd rented a room at the Motel 6 just out of town, and White Jeans Guy was planning to prepare venison steaks as a pre-"party" snack ("It's an aphrodisiac, you know..."), while Beverly had a vast assortment of edible oils that she loved to lick off bald pates, and did they mention the extra-large heart-shaped jacuzzi? They'd also rented 9½ Weeks for "inspiration." It got filthier, but I'll spare you.

Papa M was the opening act- and from the website, I'm not sure if that's meant to be the name of the band, or if it's just the pseudonym of frontman David Pajo- and was fantastic. Though the delicate acoustic guitar-and-violin arrangements were often muddied by the thumping sounds of whatever band was playing downstairs at The Shelter, the songs had such a gripping, aching beauty to them that I was transfixed. I think they played only five or six songs, though, which was disappointing. Between the three of us, Jon, Jess, and I couldn't quite put our finger on what other bands Papa M recalled- their sound is familiar and basic, yet also strangely unique. I was bummed that none of their albums were available at the merch table, because I totally would've bought one. Who would've thought a former member of Slint could make such affecting music?

While the roadies set up the Super Furries' equipment, some backstage DJ- possibly a band member- started spinning lots of great old-school dance numbers by Kraftwerk, the Jungle Brothers, and other artists that I didn't recognize but whose songs I desperately want to find, because they all ruled. It was a really entertaining way to kill the time between acts, and I wish more bands would work to keep the crowd's energy level up between the opener and the headliner. Such a simple gimmick, but it worked very well.

By the time the Phantom Power logo appeared on the projection screen behind the instruments, and the Warp Records-derived opening to "Slow Life" started thumping over the PA, the crowd was raring to go, and the band appeared and launched into an enthusiastic rendition of the song. As soon as the number hit its first instrumental break, frontman Gruff Rhys disappeared from the stage and returned wearing a gigantic Transformers helmet that covered his entire head and made him look like a robot wearing a sweater. That's when we knew it was going to be a great show.

For 90 minutes straight, SFA never let up. They started out with short, almost punkish versions of some of their most energetic tunes ("Do or Die," "God! Show Me Magic," "[Drawing] Rings Around the World"), and slowly started integrating slower and more complicated songs like "Run! Christian, Run!" and "The Piccolo Snare" into the set without sacrificing the intensity they'd built up. Though the band was friendly and seemingly in good spirits, many of the songs were accompanied by haunting visuals that emphasized the disillusioned, political side of their music. "Out of Control"'s backdrop was made up of night-vision footage of bomb and missile strikes. "The Piccolo Snare" featured animated footage of warplanes morphing into cemetery crosses, which gave way to a gigantic skull surrounded by exploding cannons. Even the opulent tolerance song "Juxtapozed With U" had vaguely ominous underpinnings, as it was accompanied by a video (shot on a thermal camera) that ended with a rescue helicopter exploding atop an already burning skyscraper. As always, the Super Furries' music was far too playful to be described as cynical, but the presentation had a certain gravity to it that I wasn't expecting, and was very effective. Great sound, too. The bass was so powerful throughout the venue that it felt like a Brookstone massage chair.

At one point during the show, White Jeans Guy reached over and grabbed Beverly's boob. She giggled. Then we noticed that he had a camera and was snapping pictures of SFA, which incensed Jess because she'd been forbidden to bring hers along.

Finally, the movie screen behind the band started flashing the phrase, "ALL GOVERNMENTS [are] LIARS [and] MURDERERS" interspersed with clips of Dubya smirking ominously, and the Furries eased into the slow, droney opening of "The Man Don't Give a Fuck." At this point, a geeky British guy muscled his way past me, saying, "This is the greatest fookin' song on Earth!" He took up residence about two inches in front of Jon, and as soon as the song's famous Steely Dan sample kicked in ("You know they don't give a fuck about anybody else!"), he started wildly flailing about like a malfunctioning penguin-bot who was attempting to re-create Rosie Perez's dance from the opening to Do the Right Thing. And he kept dancing for almost the entire 15-minute duration of the song. Jon was visibly ready to kill him. Jess said she was going to challenge him to a dance-off. I was trying not to get hit, and also not to laugh in the guy's face. It was a really funny dance. Though not for Jon.

The song itself proved to be the show's finale (there was no encore), but it was a fine ending. After playing the song through almost to the point at which the studio version ends, the entire band left the stage except for Cian Ciaran, who sat at his laptop and cranked out 10 minutes of improvised, aggressive house/IDM electronics that I found gorgeous, even if the guys next to me seemed enervated by it. Ciaran eventually bowed offstage as his bandmates returned, all dressed in full Bigfoot costumes, to blast out another two or three minutes of the song's refrain before Rhys dramatically threw down his guitar and microphone and they all triumphantly stalked off. That was it. Like the rest of the show, it was funny, strange, and perfect. A great night all around. Except that on the ride back to Royal Oak, we all started talking about how old we feel. Since Jon's 24, I'm 23, and Jess is 21, I imagine we're going to be three impossibly depressing people by the time we hit 30. Moreso.

Got dinner tonight at a place called Noodles & Company. No, it's not a crappy television spinoff of UHF starring Billy Barty (hey there, Rich), it's a really cool restaurant where they serve all kinds of noodle-based cuisine, ranging from Japanese dishes to Italian to just basic buttered noodles with parmesean and tofu (which is what I got). Most of the menu is vegetarian, and they have a great Mediterranean salad with tzatziki sauce, I discovered. Hooray for trying new things and not being disappointed by them!

CURRENT MUSIC: Henry's Dream by Nick Cave.
I'm starting to suspect it's not just a coincidence that the letters in "Lexapro" can be rearranged to spell "Plaxero," which is almost "Placebo."
CURRENT AGENT OF DISGUST: The way moths just... crumble when you hit them with something.
TIME: 7:11 PM.

Doot? | |

Tuesday, February 3, 2004:

Okay, The Airbag's Lipstick Kiss (my album) is finally available for sale! Correct artwork, correct music, and an honest-to-goodness barcode! Go buy some! Or, if you're unconvinced, read these glowing reviews and then go buy some. And tell your friends to buy some too, please! I promise it's good!

I got an e-mail this morning from my old friend Devan. He passed along the obituary of Matt Leslie, who was one of my very best friends in middle school. It doesn't say how he died. I'm not sure if anyone who reads this journal knew him (Adrienne? Alanna? Allison?), so I thought it might be nice to tell you some things. 

Matt was one of the funniest kids I've ever known. Although I can't seem to summon any specific quotations to back up this assertion, I distinctly remember spitting food across the lunch table on more than one occasion because he made me laugh while I was eating. I do remember that he signed everyone's yearbook with the phrase, "Matt says, 'Do good or get cancer!'" which I found almost unbearably funny. In eighth grade and the summer following, I spent practically every day at his house, where we'd watch TV and order pizza and... well, that's about it, as I recall. Rented lots of bad movies, like Jekyll and Hyde... Together Again, and listened to lots of music (he's the one who introduced me to Yo La Tengo, Pet Shop Boys, Phish, and The Dead Milkmen). One day, we spent about a half hour spraying the front of his house, his driveway, and his front lawn with a hose because he wanted to try to convince his mom that it had rained only over his house. That may have been our only venture outdoors. We briefly formed a band with our friend J.J. (The J. Edgar Hoover Band) and recorded exactly one song, "I Can't Feel Anything," on which I played drums, J.J. played guitar, and Matt contributed the most hilariously squawky and atonal vocals ever put to tape. I should try to post an MP3 of it...

I was rooting through my stuff, and I found this picture of us at the eighth grade graduation dance (which was like prom for middle schoolers; I think our moms made us attend even though neither of us wanted to):

That's him on the left. I think his tie has Grateful Dead bears on it. Mine has Alfred E. Neuman, though you can't see it.

On our class trip to Washington, D.C., we made a pact to not learn anything from the experience whatsoever. (It worked! The portion of the trip that I remember most vividly is when he, Devan, Nick, and I skipped breakfast to watch Abraxas, Guardian of the Universe on HBO.) He got in trouble because he refused to get off the bus at the National Cathedral, saying, "I worship the god Apathytos, and he commands me not to enter the large church!" and then, as the tour guide led us down a flight of stairs, he said, "Now, boys and girls, you've been bad, so we're taking a little journey to hell!"

Then, at the Lincoln Memorial, we passed up the actual exhibits in favor of composing an ode to the scaffolding that had been erected on the side of the building. I still remember the whole thing, because we sang it for about three months:

Scaffolding, oh scaffolding
You obscure the statue
Scaffolding, sweet scaffolding
No one can poke fun at you
Although we can't see our sixteenth president
You won't let construction guys splat on the cement
Scaffolding, oh scaffolding
Ladders and platforms and tarp
Scaffolding, hey scaffolding
I think I'll go catch me a carp
"One more time for Qadaffi!"
I think I'll go catch... me... a... carp!

You know- the sorts of things that precocious and prematurely bitter 13-year-olds always find hilarious.

He went to a military academy for high school, so we lost touch at that point, apart from a few letters. (My friends both past and present can attest to my miserable inability to keep up a reasonable level of correspondence.) A few years ago, someone told me that he'd become a roadie for Phish, but I don't know if that's true. I think the last time we spoke properly was the day he was leaving for military school. He gave me a call, and with the regretful voice of someone who's moving away, he said, "Hey Chris, I'm leaving now. I don't know when I'll be home next. Maybe Thanksgiving."

"Okay, see ya," I said in the most dismissive tone possible.

He started cackling like that was the funniest thing he'd ever heard. I'm glad that's the sound I'm left with. Even though I hadn't spoken to him for... cripe, almost ten years now... I still really value him as the person whose friendship and smart-assy intelligence could totally cut through all my adolescent angst and allow me to have some gleefully immature fun when we were hanging out. It's sad to know he's not around anymore.

Sorry for the odd, choppy tone of this post. I wasn't expecting this.

CURRENT MUSIC: The Airbag's Lipstick Kiss (Beta-testing the final product. After this, I hope to never listen to the damn thing again.) and Excuses for Travellers by Mojave 3.
2:15 PM.

Doot? | |

Monday, February 2, 2004:

Not to jinx anything, but I got an e-mail from the people at Oasis, letting me know that I should be receiving all my corrected, flawless CDs tomorrow. So stay tuned for the marketing blitz.

You know, I hate the word pussy, but there's really no other way to describe Josh Groban.

Off to take a nap (been up since 5:00 AM because my circadian rhythm has become quite the prankster) and then try to fix another of the colossal messes I've made.

CURRENT MUSIC: Warehouse: Songs and Stories by Husker Du.
Too lazy to get up and get the mail.
4:14 PM.

Doot? | |

Sunday, February 1, 2004:

Last night was my cousin Caitlin's birthday party, so I gave her those CDs. She seemed excited, and we listened to the mix I made her while we did some online window shopping for messenger bags, and she gave me fashion tips. ("Chris, do not ever wear a ribbon belt. I don't care if fashion says it's okay right now- it's wrong.") She was enthusiastic about the songs by Sugar, Hem, and the Postal Service. I'll turn her into an insufferable music snob yet.

I think I'm addicted to lip balm.

FYI: if you live in metro Detroit, East Alley Records is closing, so they're having a generous going-out-of-business sale for the next couple weeks. It's a total bummer, but hey, cheap CDs.

CURRENT MUSIC: The Gate to the Mind's Eye by Thomas Dolby.
Trapped in Cooterville.
I arbitrarily choose the Panthers. Go Panthers!
1:06 PM.

Doot? | |

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