Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Destroyer @ The Music Hall of Williamsburg

I really have to give it to Dan Bejar. With his wrinkly button-down shirt, stiff Levi’s, and Rockport walking shoes and a propensity for turning his back to the audience while slumped over his guitar, he’s the mopiest stage presence this side of Stephen Merritt. Most of his songs are lyrically indecipherable, and he’s singularly untalented as a vocalist. And I think he’s the best thing going in indie rock right now.

Now before you think I’m going into some diatribe on the state of indie rock, let me be more clear – I saw Destroyer for the first time last week at the Music Hall of Williamsburg (I still have a hard time saying that), after ingesting their last 4 albums over the course of the last year. Bejar was the last of the New Pornographers for me to listen to his solo work – I always thought his 3 songs per album were good but his damn voice was the worst part of the whole NP collective.

The beauty of it is this – he somehow makes it work, perfectly, and mostly through constructing melodies that could only belong to him, then sending them on their way through songs that sometimes meander, sometimes pound, sometimes skip along, but more often than not bring you to places you could only hear through Bejar’s filter. And he’s not afraid to adjust the lens – Destroyer played songs I’d grown fairly used to over the last year like “Crystal Country” and “Rubies,” stretching out the former and tightening the latter (which I always thought ran about 4 minutes long on the album anyway), keeping only the good parts.

And lyrically, I’ll repeat the most oft-used disclaimer because of the truth behind it, one I’ve heard Bejar himself give in an interview – his writing will never be reviewed the New York Times Review of Books. But the phrasing more often than not interplays with the songs so well that you can’t help singing gleefully along to lines like “Endangered Ape, a couple years in Solitary never really hurt anyone/Distinguished colleagues dig music writers' bribes - I apologize.” After a year or so of listening and one Destroyer show under my belt, I still have no idea what he’s trying to say. But I’m all ears.

On a side note, this was the first time I’ve been to the Music Hall of Williamsburg since the conversion from the old Northsix – a couple impressions:
  • It’s definitely more, well, regulated than Northsix. We had a hard time even getting in, as the barcode on our tickets hadn’t yet activated, and the security guys wouldn’t let anyone in if their barcodes didn’t scan. Once in, my girlfriend was delighted to be randomly carded while we watched the show from the balcony with beers in our hands. From our perch we noticed at least one hipster shoving match quickly and quietly diverted by 3 well-dressed black men who then blended back into the masses.
  • There was also some noticeable homogenization at work – the upstairs balcony and bar looked exactly like the balcony at the Bowery Ballroom, and the downstairs lounge was identical to the one at Southpaw. The Bowery Presents owns and manages all three.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

I now know what it means to be rickroll'd

And by a student, no less - I'm having to come to terms with the fact that no matter how smart I am these youngsters will always rickroll circles around me. She wrote a paper comparing news sources on the Florida teen beatings, and of course gave me the primary source on YouTube:

Personally though, I much preferred the alternate take.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

It seems the world is conspiring to make an asshole of me.

Or maybe it’s just this city.

The last two weeks have given me more cases in point than I want where, just a couple years ago, I might have had more faith and patience in human nature, both mine and other people’s. Both are sure being tested lately.

While she seems at least moderately impressed with me overall, Christine has always had a major complaint with me – my driving. I don’t like to give up my space, and having a couple tons of fiberglass between me and others just intensifies my resolve. Case in point:

The Thursday before last I was driving to Prospect Park so I could get in a few miles. I was in a hurry since I was supposed to meet up the Brooklyn Road Runners at 6:45 and it was already 6:50. And I couldn’t find a fucking parking spot. I should have known – it was just past rush hour, and everyone had just found their space for the night. Compounding my frustration was the fact that I’d passed up a spot 5 blocks before the meetup point thinking I could get a little closer.

Finally, though, after 5 more minutes of looking, I saw an open spot on the opposite side of the street from mine. I was on Prospect Park Southwest which is four-lane and there was one car in my lane with its hazards on, so I made a quick U-turn around that car and slid right in.

I was hopping out of my car and shuffling through my keys when I heard someone yell, “Hey, friend.” It’s probably a fair assumption when you hear a stranger call you “friend” that they don’t mean it, and this was no exception. A tallish guy in business casual had gotten out of the car with the hazards on and was walking briskly toward me. “I just wanted you to know, I was waiting for that spot.”

“I’m kind of in a hurry,” I said, locking my car door.

“So am I,” he said, standing in the middle of the street, “I was about to pull into that spot when you made an illegal u-turn and pulled in front of me.”

“Wait a second,” I said, confused, “You were on the same side of the street I was on, so you would’ve had to make the same turn to get this spot. And you had your hazards on.”

“I had them on so people behind me like you would know I was about to make the turn and wouldn’t be surprised.”

“That’s very considerate of you,” I said, walking away, “but I’m not looking out for people on the opposite side of the street from a parking spot.”

“Well, you should know, you stole my parking spot,” he yelled at my back.

“You don’t have a parking spot,” I yelled back.

And then, the following Monday morning I was putting the laundry in the machine downstairs. I intentionally do our laundry on Monday mornings to avoid the crowds jostling for the three washing machines in the building, but on this day I had a bad feeling when I heard someone coming down the stairs two flights up.

As expected, all the machines were available. We have two single-load machines in our building and one double-loader, and I promptly put a few of my whites in one single-loader and some of my colors in the other. Right as I’d claimed both of them, the door to the laundry room opened.

My building has at least a 75% hipster quotient, and one of their population was staring agape down at me with his laundry bag over his shoulder.

“You’re using those two?” he asked.

“Um,” I said, “Yeah. There’s a machine available right there.” I pointed at the double-loader.

But,” he said, unslinging his laundry bag, “I only have one load. Can’t you put both your loads in the big one?”

“Whites and colors,” I said impatiently.

“But I can’t afford the big one,” he said sadly.

Normally I’m a sucker for this shtick, but I’d just sent in our rent check. He wasn’t fooling anybody. “You can have these two in 23 minutes.”

He looked at me like I was his dad, huffed, “Thanks a lot,” and stomped back up the steps.

And then last week I was on the train on my way to work. I had my copy of The Death and Life of Great American Cities and was ready to use the midday lull to grab a seat and read. When I boarded the L it was more crowded than I expected, and it was all school kids from the projects across Flushing Avenue. It was around noon on a Friday, so they were obviously getting a head start on the weekend.

Every seat was taken except one between two of the kids, one of whom had his legs spread wide in that way that says, “I’m important enough to take up two seats.” He was a fat kid too, but the kid on the other side of him was a string bean like me so I figured I could wedge my way in.

He didn’t want to move his leg when I sat down – I think he even moved it out a little, then said to no one in particular, “Look at this boy, wants to sit in my lap or some shit.”

It was then I noticed that one or both of the boys surrounding me smelled distinctly of piss, but I had my seat at least. I took shallow breaths, pulled out my book, and started reading.

Before long the fat one started talking to me while his friend on the other side of me snickered into the back of his hand. “Yo, I don’t respect yo’ movement, son. Know what I’m sayin’?”

I don’t know if he expected an answer. I kept reading.

Then he started talking to a girl sitting across from us. “You believe this nigga? Boy tryin’ to sit on toppa me. I rather you sit on toppa me.” She acted like she didn’t hear him.

When we got to the Grand Street stop he said, “Those Grand Street boys, they don’t play. They all thiefs. But they cool. We all thiefs too. F’na rob somebody when we gets to Bedford.”

The skinny one could hardly contain himself, and most everyone else on the train was moving away, but at least I knew it was only three stops to Bedford Avenue. I kept reading.

The next three stops were pretty much repeats of the same shit he’d already said, and by the time Bedford Avenue came up I felt like I knew the fat kid. I even wondered if he’d say goodbye.
After the gaggle of kids had unboarded to spend their Friday afternoon stealing from hipsters, a gay man and his female friend sat down next to me, and he started talking to her. “Did you see that gang of kids? I really like the big one – he was so masculine. Did you see the ways he was playing around with this guy? He had every one of his friends’ respect. That’s street right there. I was like that in high school. But yeah, I’ve really been getting into this spinning class at Chelsea Piers, and they have this circuit workout where we can work on our abs. Then afterwards we can go to T salon – they have the best scones…”

And finally, last Friday I was out with Christine for dinner at this seafood place on North Sixth. We were sitting at our table between two other couples, and both of the guys were loud. One was talking about how sorry he felt for this girl he knew because her dad was a drug dealer and she didn’t have a lot of money, and the other guy kept talking with a prominent lisp about how great it was to make out with her on their last date. My luck must be on the upswing, I thought. These guys are making me look REAL good.

All in all, it was a fine night – the nights are starting to not be freezing, and we were strolling jauntily across North Sixth on Bedford when this blinged out SUV turned into us, clipping Christine. Remember how I said how much she hates my aggressive driving? Well, it’s not just me. After barely avoiding getting run over by this asshole, she managed to get a foot up to kick the rear passenger door as it passed.

We were then crossing Bedford when I heard a yell. Before I could turn around I felt what seemed like a baseball hitting between my right temple and jawbone. I turned around, and some guy in baggy sweats, low-zipped hoodie and a wife beater was jumping around and swinging his arms.

“Why you wanna kick my car? Huh? You don’t touch my car!”

My head didn’t really hurt at the time, but I knew it would soon. I was about to go into damage control mode when Christine stepped in front of me. “He didn’t kick your car, I did!”

The guy stopped swinging his arms around and looked at her. “What?” Then he looked back at his SUV that was stopped in the middle of North Sixth. “Why you wanna kick my car?”

“Because you about ran us both over!” she yelled at him.

Then he looked at me and started jumping around and swinging his arms like an idiot while moving backwards toward his SUV. “What you wanna do about it? Huh?”

I looked hard at his vehicle then yelled, “GMC1105! GMC1105!”

He got in his vehicle, halfheartedly yelling “I had the right a’ way” before speeding off.

I looked back, and Christine was already calling 911. The cops were there within 5 minutes, six cars’ worth of them.

The first two out were about our age. “Let’s take a look,” one of them said. I showed him my jaw, which already had a lump on it.

“Was the guy black, white or Hispanic?” the other one asked.

“Hispanic,” I said.

“Well,” another cop who just joined us from another car said, “It coulda been worse. People get so mad about traffic shit. I seen a kid get dragged a half a block a few weeks ago.”

“Oh yeah,” another cop from another car said, as all the cops gathered in their own little huddle on the corner. “When we got the call we thought the guy’d still be here beatin’ on you when we got here.”

“We got his license number,” I offered.

“You already give it to dispatch?” one of them asked.

“Well – yeah,” I said. “Are you gonna do a search?”

“The one car that’s got the machine didn’t come out,” he said. “And who’s to say the car belonged to the driver?”

I gave up, and they could see that.

“These things happen,” one of them told Christine, then he looked at me gravely. “But you should never be afraid to call us. It’s just,” he said, looking around, “it looks like the crowd’s disbursed and without a witness, we ain’t got much to go on.”

Almost on cue, a hand touched my shoulder. “Excuse me.”

I looked back, and a short bald man with a woman taller than him was looking at me in concern. A witness. At last, something was going my way.

He looked at the cop, then leaned into me. “Do you know where we can find a good Indian vegetarian place on this block?”

Friday, April 11, 2008

You Can Tell a Book by Its Cover – The Religious

I’m an antiquarian bookseller, and a media junkie. I buy people’s collections, sort through them, sell what’s worth something online, and give the rest away. I have a loft in Bushwick I share with my girlfriend, our dog, and our books. The walls, in fact, are 15-foot-high bookshelves. I sometimes climb my 15-foot ladder to the top and just look around, surveying the area while our 4 1/2-pound Chihuahua looks up at me and barks.

In 2006 I moved out to rural north-central Pennsylvania to sort through a collection I bought from a flea market that went out of business. It was my largest purchase yet, a collection of over 40,000 books. After cataloguing, rating the conditions, and getting rid of more than a few, I found the easiest way of breaking the monotony was to set aside the titles most worthy of ridicule. As I did this, I began categorizing the general areas of laughableness and scanning them for my own enjoyment.

Without question the largest section I have so far is religious titles. I don't know if that's because there are just so many funny Christians out there or because there were so many religious books in north-central Pennsylvania. Anyway, without further ado, I present to you the first 9 religious specimens in my study of the impish, the wimpish, and the just plain simplish.

Do the religious really need to filch titles from Woody Allen? If you doubt the connection, take a look for yourself:

The little yellow book here is suspiciously similar to Dr. Impe's. I guess he figured his audience wouldn't ever notice. Well, I'm onto you, Buster.

OK, so this one was almost too easy. But seriously, I think Tammy Faye looked better on The Surreal Life.

Is it true, what this man says? Has he eaten God?

This one wasn't particularly funny in itself, until I opened the book and this photo dropped out:

I don't know whether to be touched or creeped out by this person's spiritual devotion to his/her pet parrot. It is kinda cute, though.

Funny, he looks more like Jesus in the first picture. (The second looks more like Geraldo.)

Well then. I can't even think of a response to this one. (Except this, maybe - does "fatty, fatty, two-by-four" count as religious persecution now?)

In case you missed this title or his 1970's hit "The Late Great Planet Earth," you can catch his 1990's bestsellers "The Road to Holocaust" and "Planet Earth: The Final Chapter." No, I'm not making this up.

I found it interesting that, while most of the previous titles were in the lower-circulation trade paperback format, this one is a high-circulation mass market paperback. What are they saying about their audience?

File these two under, Who Cares?

OK, OK, all for now. As always, I welcome all smartass responses.