Some of My Favorite Shows (Part 6)

Posted in Dancing about architecture on January 2nd, 2016 by bill

This New Year’s Eve found us at the Fillmore in San Francisco, where the evening’s entertainment was provided by Patti Smith and her group, the, um, Patti Smith Group. (It’s possible that they’re not actually calling themselves that anymore. I’m fuzzy about a lot of things from that night – not, as is usually the case, because of overindulgence, but because details seem beside the point. It’s all about feeling with Patti.)

Having purchased our tickets on StubHub and ridden from our AirBnb to the show in an Uber, we were feeling like fully habituated citizens of the 21st century, but the feeling inside was rife with nostalgia. Old hippies and aging punk rockers intermingled, sometimes within the same body. The pre-show soundsystem rocked Television, the Dead Boys, the Ramones, the MC5, and Lou Reed (“Satellite of Love,” sounding even better than usual as we stood staring at the net full of balloons hanging from the ceiling). It was a groovy scene.

And it got even groovier when four hippies wandered onstage and kicked into “Eight Miles High.” This turned out to be Patti’s backing musicians, who for the occasion I believe were calling themselves “The Nuggets,” and were going to play set of classics from 1967. Which got me to thinking…hmmm…1967…wouldn’t it be great to hear Patti Smith belt out “White Rabbit”? Really, it seemed like too much to ask for, especially after the band followed “Get It Together” and “Last Train to Clarksville” with a ripping version of “Somebody to Love.”

Oh well, I thought, there goes their Jefferson Airplane moment. But then, without even waiting for the last notes to fade, Jay Dee Dougherty lit into that martial drumbeat. A gray-haired lady in a hoodie appeared at the back of the stage, and a big, dumb smile appeared on my face.

At the end of the song, when Patti repeated the command to “Feed your head!” four times instead of two and the whole place sung along, I got chills. If that was all we’d gotten for the night, I would have been perfectly content. But that was just the beginning.
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The Increasingly Weird Life of Martin Shkreli

Posted in Whatever Else on December 21st, 2015 by bill

So just a few days after I wrote about Martin Shkreli, in the context of his status as the owner of the only copy of Once Upon a Time in Shaolin, he was arrested by FBI agents on securities fraud and wire fraud charges. As a result he has been in the news even more than previously, and the more I learn about him, the more I’m impressed by what a weirdo he is – in that special way that only billionaires can be weird, by virtue of having the resources to indulge their eccentricities to the farthest extreme.

The day after his arrest, Shkreli was back on the streets and back on the internet, live-streaming five hours of his life during which he played online chess, strummed his guitar, and browsed OKCupid dating profiles. Or so I am told. I am not going to enable Shkreli’s colossal ego by by watching that shit, curious as I may be; it’s bad enough I’m writing about him.

Frankly, though, I’m not sure which is weirder: that Shkreli likes to live-stream his entire life –  he has previously posted video of himself working on his computer, and even sleeping – or that people seem to care. On his part it’s just raw narcissism; what’s the excuse of the people who are watching? Morbid curiosity? Lifestyle envy? Or just a simple case of nothing better to do?

Shkreli clearly craves notoriety, perhaps even more than money, and doesn’t seem to care how he gets it. In that sense, casting himself as a heel in the increasingly professional-wrestling-like world of modern celebrity is a shrewd move. He also apparently takes some amount of inspiration from the world of gangsta rap, and no doubt considers himself a “gangster” of one kind or another, which makes his recent perp-walk something to brag about. Well. Hopefully he will be doing hard time soon, and we’ll see then how hardcore he is.

Your Mid-December Updates

Posted in Because he's David Bowie, that's why, Golden (State) Years on December 13th, 2015 by bill

A quiet Sunday in mid-December seems like a good time for an update on some of my ongoing obsessions.

The Warriors
I hoped to be sitting here today writing that the Golden State Warriors are still undefeated at 25-0. And I guess I just did, but that was not intended to be a factual statement. Playing their last game of a 7-game road trip, fresh off an exhausting double-overtime victory against the Boston Celtics, the Dubs finally succumbed to reality and lost in Milwaukee last night. That leaves them at 24-1, for a tidy .960 winning percentage. Good enough.

Once Upon a Time in Shaolin
There was an interesting twist this week in the saga of the Wu-Tang Clan’s Once Upon a Time in Shaolin, the only copy of which which was finally sold recently, for what was reported to be something in the $2 million area. The identity of the buyer was not disclosed until a few days ago, when it turned out to be: Martin Shkreli, the capitalist supervillain who’s gotten a lot of bad press lately for acquiring obscure pharmaceuticals and drastically raising the prices. (Here’s one sample headline: “‘Most hated man in America’ raises drug prices again.”) This prompted RZA and co. to say they were going to donate most of the money to charity. Which, whatever, that’s nice. My hope, though, is that Shkreli – who’s badly in need of some good PR – will do the right thing and share Once Upon a Time in Shaolin with the world (my understanding of the legalities is that he is allowed to give it away, but not to profit from it). So come on, Martin, let’s do this thing.

Meanwhile, Mr. David Bowie released a new single recently: “Blackstar,” which at 9:59 clocks in as the second-longest song in the Bowie oeuvre (behind only “Station to Station”). And it is quite a piece of work, starting as some kind of dark electronic chant, then morphing into a middle section that’s by turns sweetly melodic and aggressively funky, which in turn is slowly swamped by the return of the original theme. There’s a hell of a lot in there; after a dozen listens, I feel like I’m only beginning to unpack its contents. “Blackstar” is seriously strange, hauntingly beautiful, and even kind of funny. It’s David Bowie. It’s 2015. I like it.

With 2016 on the horizon, Ave Vigoda, age 94, against all odds remains alive. I for one take comfort in that.

Are you kidding me?

Posted in Golden (State) Years on December 3rd, 2015 by bill

I did what now?

I have been superstitiously avoiding writing about the Warriors up to this point, waiting for them to lose a game before I talk about the insane run they’ve been on. But since it looks like that may not happen anytime soon, I’m just going to go ahead.

As of this writing, the W’s are 20-0. That’s twenty wins and zero losses, for those of you keeping score at home. The previous NBA record for wins to start a season was 15, which they have now left far behind. There have been a few close games in there, including a nail-biter the other night against Utah, but also lots of blowouts. Like last night’s evisceration of the Charlotte Hornets, wherein Steph Curry went for 28 points in the 3rd quarter.

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Twilight of the Mamba

Posted in The sporting life on December 1st, 2015 by bill

Don't cry, Kobe. It'll all be over soon.

I’ve never liked Kobe Bryant, not one bit. And still don’t.

Will I miss him? Well…maybe a little bit. He’s been the player I love to hate for 20 years now, and for most of those years he tortured Warriors fans. I’ll never forget one day in the late 90s when the Lakers spotted the (in them days) normally hapless W’s 25 points. Several of us gathered in front of the TV in anticipation of a rare victory over the hated purple and gold. Instead, the lead slowly slipped away, and we started to get that familiar sinking feeling. The night ended with Kobe hitting a buzzer-beater to win the game and me in the fetal position on my friend Willem’s couch.

But times have changed. Last week, we got to see the Warriors run their record to 16-0 against a remarkably awful Lakers team while Kobe shot 1-for-14 from the field. It was both thoroughly delightful and kind of sad. Kobe is 37 now and no longer has the wherewithal to torture us, no matter how much he might like to. This week he officially announced, to the surprise of none and the relief of many, that he will be retiring at the end of this season.

But he apparently intends to play out the string for 2015-16, despite the fact that – according to ESPN – “His field goal percentage and 3-point percentage both rank last in the NBA among qualified players.” Lakers coach Byron Scott says that Kobe will continue to start, that he’s “earned that right,” and thus will continue to drag his team down with his selfish and inefficient play. This may be the Lakers’ subtle way of tanking the season, putting them in position for another high draft pick next year.

The mantle of Warriors Public Enemy #1 has already been taken up by Blake Griffin, who, let’s face it, is no Kobe. Though a gifted player, Griffin is not quite the incandescent talent that Kobe was at his peak. He is also slightly less hateable – a whiny crybaby punk, sure, but not a rapist (alleged).

So there was something bittersweet in watching the Black Mamba be turned helplessly in circles by the swarming Warriors, like an old lion being toyed with as a prelude to being ripped apart. Kobe set a gold standard for hateability that will never be matched, and that’s worth taking a moment to appreciate, before we get back to talking about the Dubs. Who are – as of today – 19-0. More on that later.

Goodbye Mr. T

Posted in Dancing about architecture on November 14th, 2015 by bill

In a reversal of the usual situation, Allen Toussaint is in the foreground here, with Dr. John in the background.

We lost one of the greats this week: Allen Toussaint, legendary New Orleans songwriter/producer/pianist and all-around musical genius, who dropped dead of a heart attack shortly after finishing a show in Madrid.

Toussaint was not exactly a household name; he mostly stayed in the background, I think by design. But his influence on American popular music was broad and deep. He recorded with everyone from Fats Domino to Elvis Costello, Etta James to Dr. John, The Meters to Paul McCartney. All his work – with the possible exception of that Wings album – shared a common vibe; not just funky and groovy, but soulful and positive and uplifting. In short, some of the best music ever made by humans.

Many of us came to know him through his work with Lee Dorsey, which the kind of stuff you know even if you don’t know you know it. Toussaint and Dorsey recorded “Yes We Can Can,” which later became a big hit for the Pointer Sisters; “Workin’ in a Coal Mine,” which I came to know first in Devo’s cover version; and of course “Everything I Do Gonh be Funky,” famously referenced by the Beastie Boys in “Sure Shot.”

I don’t know if everything Mr. Toussaint did in his life was funky, but his average was surely among the highest out there. The world will be measurably less funky without him.

(I’ve only scratched the surface here; for a deeper dive, I recommend this article by Mike Powell.)

It Is Happening Again

Posted in Golden (State) Years on November 6th, 2015 by bill

'Shoot it again, Steph.'

Exactly one year ago, I was writing a breathless encomium to the undefeated Golden State Warriors, who were coming off a big win against the detested LA Clippers. Well…(cue the giant)…it is happening again.

If anything, this year’s Dubs have been better than last year’s. The Clips game was their first close contest; before that their average margin of victory had been 25 points, including a 50-point obliteration of the once-feared Memphis Grizzlies. Steph Curry has somehow found a way to take his already stratospheric game up to yet another level, dismembering defenses with an ease that borders on contempt. And all this has been happening without coach Steve Kerr, who is still sidelined by complications from offseason back surgery. Interim coach Luke Walton is 5-0, and with no disrespect to young Mr. Walton, I’m pretty sure that I would also be undefeated if they’d given me the job.

Once again I must remind myself that we’re only five games into the season. It’s a long hard road and so on and so forth. All the more reason to take a moment to savor the sweetness of being a fan of a team that is playing intergalactic basketball right now. Can they possibly keep it up all season? Well, consider that Andrew Bogut hasn’t played a single minute…that Klay Thompson’s shot has been MIA so far…and that Harrison Barnes has been inconsistent. In other words, the Warriors could be better. I wouldn’t bet against them.

Here We Go Again

Posted in Golden (State) Years on October 27th, 2015 by bill

Steph Curry nails a shot while chewing his mouthguard – in the NBA 2K16 video game. Soon he will be doing it again in real life.

So today Our Golden State Warriors begin their defense of the NBA Championship. It still feels weird to say that. Maybe it’ll finally sink in for real tonight when they hand out the rings and raise the banner into the rafters.

The Dubs will be kicking off the season without Steve Kerr, who is still out with complications from offseason back surgery. I assume, though, that he will be there to get his ring – as will Alvin Gentry, last year’s top assistant, who is now the head coach of the New Orleans Pelicans.

And if the Pelicans are in town, that means Anthony Davis, a/k/a The Brow, consensus future MVP, will be there too. Davis and the Pels will have something to prove after being swept in the first round of last year’s playoffs, and the Warriors will want to respond. But we all kind of like The Brow, and we like Gentry, so this will not be a grudge match. Those will come soon enough when the W’s play the Rockets (10/30), the Grizzlies (11/2), and – yes, Lord, let it be so – the Clippers on Wednesday 11/4.

The Clippers did a lot of yapping this summer, and are feeling all swoll about themselves after stealing DeAndre Jordan back from Dallas and adding a couple of decent bench players. But to me they’re still basically the same bunch of floptastic crybabies that we smacked down repeatedly last year, and I look forward to that matchup with great relish.

So let’s go, let’s go…how long till tipoff?

Some of My Favorite Shows (Part 5)

Posted in Dancing about architecture on October 26th, 2015 by bill

There have been many versions of Pere Ubu over the years, but this is something like the version that I saw in 93.

In related memories, there was the time I saw Pere Ubu at Slim’s in San Francisco in 1993. The common thread here is legendary Cleveland underground band Rocket from the Tombs. After a brief but influential tenure in the mid-70s, which produced a few singles and many live performances but no actual album, RFTT splintered into two factions. One became the Dead Boys, featuring Stiv Bator, later of Lords of the New Church. The other, including David Thomas – known as Crocus Behemoth during his time with RFTT – and the soon-to-be late Peter Laughner, became Pere Ubu.

Ubu recorded a number of strange and innovative albums in the late 70s and early 80s, and in the late 80s returned in a somewhat more accessible form. I was not really aware of them until I saw them open for the Pixies at the Warfield in 1991, but when they came around again in support of 1993’s The Story of My Life, I was right there at the foot of the stage.

They opened with the first song from Story of My Life, “Wasted,” a slow-moving number that starts with just voice and accordion. But a minute or so in they stopped. David Thomas indicated, quite clearly, his displeasure with the way the accordion sounded; there was a pause in the action.
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Some of My Favorite Shows (Part 4)

Posted in Dancing about architecture on October 22nd, 2015 by bill

Rock legend has it that Stiv Bator used to stuff Martha's muffin.

This is another show that comes under the heading of “Foggy but Fond Memories” – as do most of the shows I write about, now that I think of it. Is this a natural result of aging and the passage if time, or is it directly attributable to the Rock’n'Roll Lifestyle, or some combination of the two? Impossible to say at this juncture, and I don’t suppose it matters that much.

Anyway: the band was the Lords of the New Church, the venue the venerable Berkeley Square, and the time…em…sometime in the latter mid-80s? A web search spits out the date March 22, 1986, which seems a bit early by my timetable. But it could be right…perhaps I was spending spring break with the Babbs of Vallejo? It’s plausible.

This was as close as I ever came to attending a genuine Punk Rock show. But while the Lords had impeccable punk credentials – singer Stiv Bator and guitarist Brian James were veterans of the Dead Boys and the Damned, respectively – they were really Beyond Category, mixing Stones-y rock and 60s garage with bits of funk and a dark theatrical streak that caused some people to mistake them for a goth band.
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