New Angels of Promise

I’m not a video game guy, so I never played Omikron: The Nomad Soul, which David Bowie and Reeves Gabrels wrote the music for in 1999. I thought I might try playing it now — cause why not? — but 24 years later, it is still a PC-only game, so that’s not going to happen. It’s probably just as well. Part of the reason I’m not a video game guy is that I get obsessed; after losing a couple of nights to Sim City many years ago, I put a stop to the whole thing.

“New Angels of Promise” was originally written for Omikron, as the lyrics make clear enough:

Omikron
You didn’t feel us coming in this lonely crowd

But when David repurposed it for hours…, he changed “Omikron” to “suspicious minds,” in an apparent nod to his role model and co-birthdayist Elvis Presley.

Of course, Elvis didn’t write “Suspicious Minds” — that was Mark James, also the author of “Always on My Mind” and “Hooked on a Feeling.” Truth be told, Elvis didn’t write much of anything; in one way of looking at it, he was a hollow person without a lot to say. (Honestly I think Elvis’s influence on David was less musical than in the a realm of presentation. Ziggy Stardust is really just Elvis the Pelvis turned up to 11.)

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On the Road Again

Got to spend some time this week catching up with old friends. Here’s the report.

The Sisters of Mercy

In addition to being a great band, the Sisters (est. 1980) were always a very successful brand. The music aligned with the image and the graphic design to create a total package that a lot of us found very satisfying.

Here in 2023, I can tell you that the brand remains strong. When I arrived at McMenamin’s Crystal Palace in Portland around 7 P.M., my brethren and sistren were lined up around the block, having happily paid [redacted] for a chance to get inside — where the $40 t-shirts were selling like hotcakes.

As for the music… well, let me begin by saying what I liked. Doktor Avalanche — the Sisters’ drum machine, now in its umpteenth iteration — was on top form. The two young guitarists were solid players and looked the part. Many great songs were played and at the end, as I looked around at the black-clad masses singing “Hey now, hey now now, sing this corrosion to me,” I knew that I was among my people — which is why we go to concerts, isn’t it?

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Round 2, Game 6: Lakers 122, Warriors 101

Location: Evergreen Ave.
Personnel: Me, KT, Johnny the cat, Olive the cat
T-shirt: Strength in Numbers

It was of course foolish of me to say that there would be “no more (emotional) rollercoaster for a while,” as immediately on the heels of the news that the Lakers’ Anthony Davis would be playing Game 6 after all came reports that the Warriors’ Andrew Wiggins had sustained a rib cartilage fracture and was listed as questionable. Wiggins was absolutely crucial in Game 5 and the prospect of playing without him was not an appetizing one.

And right after that we learned that ex-Warrior Kevin Durant and his new team the Phoenix Suns — considered title favorites by many — had been eliminated by the Denver Nuggets. Possibly I experienced an emotion akin to schadenfreude in that moment, though in theory I have nothing against KD, a massive talent who often seems confused about his direction in life. I can certainly identify with the latter, if not the former.

In the end Wiggins did play and it mattered not. “It’s a make or miss league” is something you’ll often hear NBA talking heads say, and it’s the truth. Last night the Warriors shot 39-for-103 (37.9%) from the field and 13-for-48 (27.1 %) on three-pointers. You’re not going to win doing that.

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Round 2, Game 5: Warriors 121, Lakers 106

Location: Evergreen Ave.
Personnel: Me, KT, Johnny the cat, Olive the cat
T-shirt: Strength in Numbers

As I was laying in bed Tuesday night, thinking vaguely about sheep but too lazy to count, I realized that a part of me was ready for the emotional rollercoaster that has been this year’s postseason to be over. It’s been a struggle from the drop and after the high of Game 7 against the Kings, the slow-motion horror of losing three out of four to the Lakers — who weren’t even supposed to be here — had depleted my last reserves of optimism.

But then yesterday I grokked that there will be no more rollercoaster for a while. Either the Warriors will win three in a row or the season will be over — no middle ground remains. So I was back in front of my TV at 7, eating delicious cod and drinking Lalande-de-Pomerol (whatever that is), and on the whole feeling pretty good about the world.

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Round 2, Game 4: Lakers 104, Warriors 101

Location: Evergreen Ave.
Personnel: Me, KT, Johnny the cat, Olive the cat
T-shirt: Keep Calm and Curry On

This was a hard-fought nail-biter of a game, and though obviously I am not pleased with the result, I can’t complain about the entertainment value. The lead changed hands about 50 times and in the end, My Personal Savior had a good look at a 3 that would have won it, then inexplicably threw the ball out of bounds with a second and change left on the clock.

Though the Lakers’ stars, LeBron James and Anthony Davis, both had decent nights, the game was won for them by someone named Lonnie Walker IV — who, after not scoring in the first three quarters, somehow poured in 15 points in the 4th. Several times I was seen to leap up from my couch and yell, “Who the fuck is Lonnie Walker?”

Fortunately Olive the cat was there radiating calm, which kept me from getting too exercised. She did a good job of closing the game after Old Man Johnny covered the first half. Next time I attend a game in person, I may take a personal comfort animal along.

So Tuesday morning dawns on a 3–1 series deficit. Teams have come back from 3–1 before — in fact, in 2016 it happened two series in a row. The Warriors trailed Oklahoma City 3–1 in the Conference Finals before coming back to win, then went up 3–1 over LeBron’s Cavs in the Finals before snatching defeat from the jaws of victory.

But you can’t win three games at a time. Tomorrow night’s Game 5 now becomes an elimination game, and fortunately is at Chase Center. Home cooking is best; just ask Gary Payton II, who in the first quarter last night ran straight off the court into the locker room without checking out of the game, apparently in some sort of distress. Some of us watching guessed he had to go #2, but today word is he threw up in his mouth. In any case, on the next Warriors possession, Draymond Green fired a pass to where Payton was supposed to be and the ball was caught by a bemused Lakers coach.

That possession might have come in handy at the end of the game. But there are always so many could-have-beens and might-have-dones and what-the-fucks. Today’s mission: leave all that behind, clear the ol’ noggin, and look to the future.

Round 2, Game 3: Lakers 127, Warriors 97

Location: Evergreen Ave.
Personnel: Me, KT, JR, EBR, NR, K?
T-shirt: 2018 Championship

For those of you keeping score at home, that’s a 57-point turnaround from Game 2 to Game 3. There’s not a lot to say about last night’s fiasco except that everything went right for the Lake Show and wrong for the Dubs.

How bad was it? Steph Curry, normally the most automatic of free-throw shooters, missed two of his three attempts. The Warriors committed 19 turnovers and it felt like 90. Draymond Green and JaMichael Green, who both started, combined for all of 4 points versus 7 personal fouls and 2 technicals. It was ugly.

Many years ago the Starland Vocal Band, best remembered for “Afternoon Delight,” had a tune where they sang about being “blessed with forgetfulness.” And that is my mantra for today — have a good Sunday, forget about the horror, wake up Monday with a clear head and full heart.

The Pretty Things Are Going to Hell

[Apologies in advance for the excessive length of this post. There is a lot of information to encode and limited time to do it in. If I had more time, I’d write a shorter one.]

Many Bowie albums have one song that doesn’t seem to belong there. (In particular I think of “Rock’n’Roll with Me” and “The Secret Life of Arabia.”) Whether this is an intentional strategy to keep listeners on their toes, or just a byproduct of David’s famously short attention span, I don’t know; I suspect there’s some of the former and much more of the latter.

On hours… it’s “The Pretty Things Are Going to Hell,” a thundering, brain-dead rocker among the elegiac reflections. (It would sound much more at home on a Tin Machine album.) The title is a nod both to David’s own “Oh! You Pretty Things” and to a Stooges song from Raw Power (which Bowie mixed1) called “Your Pretty Face Is Going to Hell”:

As it happens I got to see Iggy live recently. I was at my friend Bob’s house and someone offered him a ticket and a ride; I looked online to see of tickets were still available; next thing I knew I was at The Masonic Auditorium watching the opening act, a local neo-punk band called Spiritual Cramp. They were… not without their good qualities. As openers go I’ve seen far, far worse.

But there is no competing with Iggy. At 76 years old (!) he is still an energetic, charismatic performer with long, stringy hair who likes to show off his ever-more-marbled physique. Here he is doing “I Wanna Be Your Dog” and flirting with what, in a more genteel age, we would have called “indecent exposure”:

[Sorry this is so huge… I can’t figure out how to change the size…and anyway Iggy should be larger than life.]

The setlist was a good mix of new stuff, Stooges songs, and Bowie-era classics. Then, for the first encore, he pulled out a wildcard:

I stopped filming at that point because I wanted to, like, experience the moment; but here’s the full performance:

Not only is the spirit of Lou invoked there, also that of DB, who was the producer of the song… making this a brief reunion of the Holy Trinity:

OK… where were we?… ah, yes, “The Pretty Things Are Going to Hell.” There’s also an implied nod to the band the Pretty Things, whose songs “Rosalyn” and “Don’t Bring Me Down” Bowie covered on Pinups. It’s a complex set of references for what is, in the end, a pretty silly song.

Bowie was very enthusiastic about “TPTAGtH” at first, releasing it as the album’s first single in Australia and Japan. Later he seemed to back away from it, calling it “a song about standup” and complaining that no one got the joke. He performed it a lot in 1999/2000, then never again.

How does it sound now? It starts as a bracing blast of energy, but never really goes anywhere. I find that about two minutes in I’ve had enough — the album version, at almost five minutes, is waaaay too long; the single edit is more tolerable.

Wikipedia says a music video was made where “Bowie encounters four of his ‘past selves’ (The Man Who Sold the World, Ziggy Stardust, The Thin White Duke and Pierrot) as played by life-sized, mannequin-like puppets.” But he wasn’t happy with how it came out and shelved it; today it is nowhere to be found online. (Two of the puppets did later appear in the “Love Is Lost” video.)

I did find a video where someone combined “The Pretty Things Are Going to Hell” with footage from the TV show House. I have no idea why. Then again, why not?

Round 2, Game 2: Warriors 127, Lakers 100

Location: The Pub at the Creamery, Arcata
Personnel: Me, KT, a barful of strangers
T-shirt: Keep Calm and Curry On

Sometimes I crave the noise and chaos of a sports bar, It calms the nerves somehow.

In years past I watched a lot of big games at the Sidelines on the Arcata Plaza, which was shut down a while back for drug dealing. In all the time I spent there, no one ever once offered me dope; not that I wanted it, but it would have been nice to be asked.

My new spot is the Pub at the Creamery, which has food as well as drink and is much less divey, for better or worse. As I sat in my stool waiting for the game to start, the guy next to me was telling me that he grew up in LA as a Lakers fan but has been a Warriors fan as an adult. So he was conflicted. Not so your humble scribe. I have never like the Lakers nor LeBron James, so I find them easy to root against. Even so LBJ is not the compelling villain that Kobe Bryant was — I lived through what seemed like a century of Kobe torturing hapless Warriors teams.

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Round 2, Game 1: Lakers 117, Warriors 112

Location: Evergreen Ave.
Personnel: Me, KT, Johnny the cat (special guest appearance), Sid the cat
T-shirt: Basic Black

The downside of winning a seven-game series is that you get stuck with a quick turnaround to the next game. The Warriors have only themselves to blame for this: They could have won Game 6 against the Kings, but noooooooo, they have to do things the hard way.

It seemed like no one was ready for the game last night — not the players, not the Chase Center crowd, not yours truly. Who was ready was Anthony “Street Clothes” Davis, who spent 44 minutes in uniform and tortured my team for all of them, ending up with 30 points, 23 rebounds, and 4 blocks. His buddy LeBron James added three blocks and ultimately I think that was what made the difference in the game — repeatedly the W’s waltzed into the lane, which had been such a friendly environment during the Sacramento series, only to see their shot attempts flying back over their heads.

The block is somewhat underrated as a stat — not only does it save a basket on one end, it often ignites a fast break on the other end, and is just plain demoralizing to an opponent. Keeping away from those long arms is an adjustment the W’s will have to make in Game 2, which is tomorrow, when I assume the sense memory of all those swats will be fresh.

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Reading Report, April 2023

On a trip to the East Bay recenly I stopped by the Pub on Solano and, in need of something to read, happened to pick up Nick Hornby’s The Polysyllabic Spree.2Published in 2004, this is a collection of magazine columns that Hornby wrote where he reported once a month on what books he acquired, what books he read, and what he thought about them.

A tiny leetle lightbulb went on over my head. I have written before about the Great Pile of Unread Books, which is a chronic problem in my house. At the moment it is not the worst it’s ever been, but in addition to the main tower (actually four stacks of roughly equal size, maybe 18 inches tall), there is a separate pile of music books in another room, as well as various little snowdrifts scattered throughout the house.

The problem, of course, is that acquiring a book takes very little time, sometimes mere seconds. Whereas actually reading it — especially when we’re talking about something like the gigantor collections of short stories by Harlan Ellison or J.G. Ballard, or the massive biographies of Albert Einstein and William S. Burroughs that have been mocking me for years now — requires a significant time investment.

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