It was a nice runtwo
Bill Tuomala, Minneapolis writer, has retired his writing effective immediately.
"It was a nice run, but it's best to quit while I'm ahead," a tearful Tuomala told a packed press conference, "The zine was proof that Do-It-Yourself and word-of-mouth work. I wish I could thank my dozens of readers individually, I sure will miss the love."
"Cult followings get a bad rap these days," he added. "The love slash hate relationship I had with mine will stay with me always."
When asked about his future, Tuomala said: "The thrill of debit equals credit can't be resisted. Deep inside, I realize accounting is my destiny."
I'm a bigot who makes unfair assumptions about people.
For instance, if I'm driving around in my car and see a minivan, I assume it is on its way to soccer practice. I also assume that said minivan will drive at least five miles an hour below the speed limit.
On Saturday afternoons, when I see one of those huge, shiny, newly-washed sports-utility vehicles in my bank parking lot taking up two spaces, I automatically say, "That thing has and never will see a gravel road." I also internally refer to the driver as a "yuppie," even though I don't know whether he is a young, upwardly mobile professional or not. And when I'm in the bank and see a petite lady wearing color-coordinated sweatpants and sweatshirt, preppie baseball cap, and beautiful nail polish; I always assume she is the wife of the yuppie out in the parking lot. And I just know that the Gap somehow fits into the yuppie couple's afternoon plans.
How about that forty-or-fiftysomething man with wire-rimmed glasses and close-cropped, graying beard? He's everywhere, frowning at me. He wears sweaters and relaxed-fit jeans. He never smiles. He doesn't like me. My greasy hair and ready smile. My faded jeans and slouched posture. Winter's coming, and he'll be wearing Eddie Bauer attire, frowning at me with my light jacket and choppers on. He was in the coffee shop, frowning when I laughed out loud at a letter I was reading from a friend. He was in that writing workshop a couple of years ago, dissing my short story for being too angry and telling me to get over my adolescent angst already. He was behind me in line at the YMCA, disapproving of my friendly banter with the girl behind the service desk. He was with his equally uptight wife, walking in front of my car in the upscale area of Lake Street, glaring at me when I had AC/DC's "It's a Long Way to the Top" cranked up to eleven on my stereo. I'm pretty sure that there's not just one crabby wire-rimmed-glasses-wearing man here in town frowning at me, it's just that they all look the same.
Then there's the men with suits on. I assume most of them are assholes. Any time I see one in the skyways, I instinctively check for my wallet. I think all of them are greedy pigs who want more money, and would gladly take mine. When and if the suits bother to talk to me, I always have to comb my hair because the condescending air in their voices gives me the feeling that they've patted me on the head somehow. I'm pretty much scared to talk to them, as they don't speak English clearly. Words like "opportunity," "solution," and "facilitate" spew from their mouths, leaving me to rely on their gestures and tone of voice to understand what they're getting at. I wish the suits would speak goddamned proper English. Another reason I don't like suits: almost any time I see a politician on TV, they're wearing a suit. I take it for granted that suit-wearing politicians are trying to get more money for their rich buddies.
Oh man, then there's the rich. I think rich people are pure evil. I believe that the rich are the cause of about ninety-nine-point-five percent of the world's problems. If I was in charge, I'd make sure these folks were put on a bus headed out of state so they could go collect their corporate welfare somewhere else. And when I've had a few drinks, I dream of making sure every burg and town had a scaffold so that once a month we could have a state-wide necktie party.
I confess, I'm a bigot.
A Vision of the Millennium (or) Apocalypse Now
Here's hoping there some chaos during the millennium, as I need a break from my usual New Year's Eve ritual: renting movies, eating chips and dip, drinking diet pop, the phone shut off and not ringing anyway. (Besides, can't top 1991 or 1992 - '91 was Heathers and Eight Men Out, while '92 was Gimme Shelter and Drugstore Cowboy.) Getting up the next day to cold pizza, a newspaper, and two TV's showing meaningless bowl game after meaningless bowl game. If it takes the shutdown of civilization to bring me some kicks, then so be it.
Maybe this Y2K thing will be fun. What is forgotten in discussions of the world's technologies shutting down due to the millennium bug at midnight, December 31, 1999, is that the bug won't hit the whole world at once. It'll start in the Pacific, then creep its way across the globe, time zone by time zone.
I sit at home channel surfing between CNN, Fox News, and MSNBC; eating my pizza, gulping Diet Mountain Dew and seeing all the shit going down in Europe. CNN has the best coverage - Inga Hammond has been promoted out of sports and into a CNN Classic gig AND SHE'S WEARING HER HAIR DOWN, talking about the chaos in Europe. Computers going bonkers; there's riots and looting; rumors of the Pope hightailing it out of the Vatican in his Lear, headed for the Himalayas. After a while it gets old, and there's nothing I can do about it; so I mute the TV and pop in my Apocalypse Mix Tape.
Of course, the shape of things going down in Europe didn't affect the celebration plans here in the New World. We crazy Americans are convinced our superior technology is immune to the bug, after all - we were the second ones in space, y'know? People still went to their parties dressed to the tees, drinking themselves silly because it's a certain day on the calendar. Not only is tomorrow a new day and a new year, it is a new century and a new millennium. Everyone makes silent promises to themselves that they'll make things better for themselves in the next year, even those of us who shrug and say "it's just another day of the year." Many think that drinking flat champagne while dressed in classy (if that's the word) outfits and kissing strangers while twelve tolls ring is a damn fine way to bring in the new day rising, but not me.
Parties and gatherings are for me at best a nuisance, at worst they're sheer hell - sitting in a corner, wearing clothes I rarely wear, having nothing to say. Music? No, you listen to weird music. Politics? No, you're left-of-center. Sports? No, college hockey has a cult following. Writing? No, someone will bring up John "The Great One" Grisham, and you'll make that face... Days (if not weeks) before the party, I worked out my excuse for cutting out early, and am looking for the appropriate time to mumble it on my way to the door. I'm dying to get home to check the hockey scores and have a nightcap while reading Sports Illustrated and listening to my music - most of it stuff I never hear at parties. I've developed fine skills in simply avoiding parties outright over the years, just like I've worked on my channel surfing like a true craftsman. So it's fitting for me that as the Twentieth Century winds down and the world is throwing the biggest party ever, I'm home with my music and my remotes.
Around ten-thirty and with the TV still muted, I flip over to ABC to watch Dick Clark's Rockin' New Year's Eve. The ball drops in Times Square and then: black. I flip over to CNN, who somehow manages complete coverage. The apocalypse will be televised, of course.
Within minutes, the big cities in the East are under siege with riots, looting, and fires. I say: It's funny because I don't know them! I watch a half-lit New York City - big fires coming out of trash cans, half the throng rioting in fear, the other half having riotous fun. I decide to switch to beer, then load up on potato chips, laughing at all those barbarians in the East with their looting and burning. Laughing, because it's about time they got theirs. The Eastern Establishment has been responsible for such horrors as the commercialization of Christmas (according to Lucy Van Pelt) and too many subpar Eastern wuss hockey schools going to the NCAA's. Plus, they all talk funny, yet insist that yours truly talks funny. They think they're better than me, too, so fuck 'em. The only thing more fun on this night than a slow beer buzz is cheapo, ugly provincialism.
It's less than an hour until darkness and its companion madness descends on the Midwest. I have my Crate amp, a chest of drawers, and a file cabinet stacked in front of my apartment door. Two hundred dollars is stashed in my mattress, I've got a Louisville Slugger ready to go. For rations, I've got cans of Campbell's, booze, candles, blankets, and dirty magazines. Bring it on...
How It Ends (or) It's Just Another Day of the Year
I wake up on the futon during the dawn of the 21st Century, the sun trying to come in through my living room blinds. I stumble to turn the TV and stereo off, stepping on the Black Label empties in my way. I glance out the window, everything looks the same as it did yesterday. The cemetery across the road is still covered in snow, undisturbed. Apparently, the dead didn't feel the need to rise again. I ramble into the bedroom for some solid sack time, making a mental note to get to a McDonald's drive-through for a Big Breakfast before the bowl games start.
Apocalypse Mix Tape - some of these picks were made based more on a feeling or sense they give me than actually being about the end of the world. I reserve the right to remove "1999" from my tape if I get too sick of it. (Predicted date of that happening: January 2, 1999.)
Metallica - "The Four Horsemen"; Stevie Wonder - "Superstition"; The Stooges - "Gimme Danger"; Dr. Octagon - "Earth People"; Sly & The Family Stone - "Thank You for Talkin' to Me Africa"; Creedence Clearwater Revival - "It Came Out of the Sky"; Merle Haggard - "Swingin' Doors"; Bruce Springsteen - "Roulette"; Run Westy Run - "David's Drum"; Prince - "1999"
The Clash - "Four Horsemen"; Public Enemy - "Black Steel in the Hour of Chaos"; The Sex Pistols - "Holidays in the Sun"; Everclear - "Santa Monica"; Mother Love Bone - "Bone China"; Black Sabbath - "Sabbath Bloody Sabbath"; Jimmy Cliff - "Many Rivers to Cross"; Jimi Hendrix Experience - "Are You Experienced?"; Concrete Blonde - "Everybody Knows"; REM - "It's the End of the World As We Know It"
A couple of years ago, I wrote this prose poem that tapped a part of my mind I usually don't access much. It was a darker, more contemplative piece than the hyper zine stuff I'd mostly been writing at the time. When I would go back to read it during rewrites and revisions, I would get uneasy. I wasn't sure if it took my writing to another level or if it just sucked. Two years later, I'm still not sure.
Eventually, I slapped the date of my first draft onto it as a title, and submitted it to some publications. It became the first piece of mine accepted for publication. In the piece were a few lines inspired by this petite redhead who I used to see from afar while in the cafeteria at my temp job or while on the bus.
Lately, I've been seeing her on the bus now and again and think: what have you done for me lately?
Jeff Tweedy is one of my favorite current songwriters. A quick résumé: founding member of alt.country legends Uncle Tupelo, current leader/frontman of Wilco, co-conspirator with Wilco and Billy Bragg on the Woody Guthrie / Mermaid Avenue project, member of superdupergroup Golden Smog. It'd probably be enough to sum up Tweedy on the basis of his recorded output, but I cannot say enough good things about Wilco as a live act. I'll leave it at this - they're better than their records.
The latest Golden Smog album, Weird Tales, contains a Tweedy song "I Can't Keep From Talking," the companion song to Wilco's "The Lonely 1." With these two tunes, Tweedy has tracked two of the best glimpses into the thoughts of an infatuated fan. He's got all the obsessive rituals of Rock Hero Infatuation down: listening to your hero on headphones too loud; writing letters berating critics who pan your artist; talking incessantly of your hero to friends; hanging outside the backstage door to get an autograph or at least a glimpse of your hero; firmly believing that if you were to actually meet the artist, you would become fast friends as he/she is the only one who truly understands what's going on in your mind.
In "The Lonely 1," the fan goes home after his hero's show. There's no messages on his machine so he listens to yesterday's messages again. He then listens to his hero's songs, because he knows his hero is the lonely one who captures his state of mind.
In "I Can't Keep From Talking," the fan knows that his hero is "the one who knows me better than I do." In the chorus when Tweedy sings "I just want to thank you" and "I can't keep from talking / talking about you" his voice hits an embarrassingly breathy falsetto. You just know the fan in the song has trouble saying anything remotely significant to his girlfriend, if he even has time for one with his schedule full of making comp tapes and working on his fanzine.
"I Can't Keep From Talking" has an eerie bridge (contains a suicide threat!) where Tweedy sings "I can't be there to help you figure it out" after telling us that he just wanted to get his feelings down in some songs. The final chorus then doubles back on the song, as Tweedy seems to be thanking his fans for doing what they do. A nice touch, and necessary - as much as Tweedy may appear to be a regular joe, his insistence on continually making great music may eventually make him the object of Rock Hero Infatuation himself.
It's the devotion detailed in these two songs that gets turned to the bitterness in "We've Been Had," a tune written by Tweedy back in his Uncle Tupelo days. The way he spits out the final word of the final line "every star that hides on the back of their bus is just waiting for his cover to be blown" is one of the great pop-punk* moments ever - even if the band sounds like pure Creedence.
How exactly have we been "had"? A short list: only two decent Stones albums in the past twenty-five years, not to mention too many take-the-money-and-run Stones tours; Who comeback/farewell tours every few years; the all-time greatest Stooges song selling Nike shoes; greatest hits albums that you buy for the handful of new tracks even though you've spent good money on albums that contain the greatest hits; "unplugged" albums that are merely all the same ol' songs by an artist strummed quietly for yuppie ears; those Microsoft "Heroes" commercials...etc. etc.
Many people take it for granted that they get taken by rock stars - it's all part of being a fan. Outrageous ticket prices are rationalized as a result of market economics; stale art is a result of the demand to "give the people what they want." In "We've Been Had," Uncle Tupelo suggests that it doesn't have to be this way, that we don't have to put up with it. It may have been a younger Jeff Tweedy that wrote "We've Been Had," but he was wise enough to know all the contradictions involved in being a fan who senses what's going down. In the middle of the song, Tweedy asks "how could I still be in love when I know we've been had?" It is the ongoing, unanswered question for fans everywhere.
* pop-punk as in populist-punk - "We've Been Had" also portends the sentiments that swept my main man Jesse Ventura to winning the governor's race here in Minnesota. (With the line "Republicans, Democrats can't give you the facts.") Uncle Tupelo covered Creedence's "Effigy," which deals with the dark side of the throw-the-bums-out populism Jesse has come to personify. Jesse has been known to quote Warren Zevon - the day after the election he namechecked Zevon and said "I'll sleep when I'm dead." His best Zevon quote was using "send lawyers, guns, and money - the shit has hit the fan," which is exactly what the Democratic and Republican parties are now thinking. It goes without saying that Norm Coleman and Skip Humphrey never quoted rock lyrics. If they had, Norm could have used The Platters' "The Great Pretender," while Skip might have thought about using Jane's Addiction's "Had a Dad."
I saw on the news where a certain brewery is coming out with beer in plastic bottles. Yes, you read that correctly - plastic. Of course, the brewery with this rich idea is the Miller Brewing Company. Miller, the same company that brought you the first (and worst) light beer. The ones who brought you CLEAR BEER, remember that one? Then a few years back, they brought you "Miller" beer, it was supposed to be differentiated from "Miller High Life," which is what you think of when you think of "Miller." Got that?
A few years before that, they came out with Miller Private Reserve, which was supposed to be just like the beer that Old Man Miller first made back in the nineteenth century. Funny thing, they also came out with Miller Private Reserve Light, which I guess was supposed to be just like Old Man Miller's beer, if Mr. Miller had decided to add water to it and come up with a light beer a hundred years ago.
Miller were also the geniuses behind putting Miller Genuine Draft in a black can. (You drink beer on a hot summer day, black absorbs heat...) Miller also bought Leinenkugel years ago, and thankfully haven't ruined it yet. They were quick to come out with Leiny Light, which has since disappeared. Leiny drinkers are too smart to drink a watered-down version of their regular beer.
On the news report, they said Miller is trying plastic bottles because beer sales have flattened out over the past few years, and they need to think of ways to reach consumers. Apparently, just brewing a good beer never occurred to them.
The way I see it, in ten years or so, most everyone except me will have a cell phone. (Nice word: "cell"). And then I won't even have to try to avoid talking to people like I do now. Everyone will be walking or driving around with their ears and mouths pressed to their cells, and I can cruise through life uninterrupted, just hearing bits and parts of conversations that aren't mine.
I can't wait.
Easily the best high school team name I have ever heard of is the Devils Lake (ND) Satans. Number two? The Thief River Falls (MN) Prowlers.
Back in 1987 while driving around in my mom's pickup, I had a road-to-Damascus-like first hearing of Metallica's inspired cover of Diamond Head's "Helpless" on the radio. I rushed to the record store to buy their Garage Days Re-revisited - The $5.98 EP, and ever since, Metallica has been an obsession of mine.
Why Metallica? Since a pup raised on my big brother's Deep Purple and Led Zeppelin, I have enjoyed real metal. In college, I dreamt of a metal band that would combine the riffology of real metal with the smartness and flair of great punk. Little did I know that Metallica already existed. (Real metal is the metal-sounding non-spandex/hairspray stuff - definitions of "what is metal" have been complicated since at least the speed metal insurrection of the mid-eighties. Fans of nerf-metal like Poison and Bon Jovi tended to detest thrash-and-burners like Metallica and Anthrax, while fans of the thrashers generally turned their noses up at the spandex-and-hairspray nerf-metallers. It got more twisted in the alternative nineties. As Chuck Eddy* pointed out - no one wanted to be known as metal, but everyone wanted to sound metal. See Nirvana, Pearl Jam, Rancid, Offspring, Green Day, etc.)
This is not hyperbole: I've never heard a more viscerally thrilling band than Metallica. Thrash-era Met (Kill 'Em All through ...And Justice For All) played faster, tighter, and more intelligently than any hardcore punk band I've ever heard. Better guitars solos, too. When I tell people that I haven't listened to much Husker Du since getting into Met, it invariably pisses them off, but it's true. I always sound too analytical trying to describe Met's sound, so I'll once again rely on the ever-insightful Chuck Eddy: "resurrecting the stamina of garage-era metal, speeding it past comprehension, discarding flash, and incorporating U-turns-at-ninety learned from old Mahavishnu LP's." Eddy was actually describing speed-metal as a genre, and Metallica was the best and the brightest of 'em all.
Championing Metallica invariably upsets people. To take Metallica seriously sometimes gets misinterpreted as some sort of inside joke. Met rarely has serious analysis done on them - acknowledging not only their influence (they are the band that has launched a thousand bands) but their legion upon legion of fans would ultimately mean giving props to the likes of Black Sabbath and Motorhead instead of the Velvet Underground and Big Star. Hand-and-hand with Met's early slash-and-burn sound was their populist takes on war, drugs, capital punishment, censorship, and other "serious" subjects. But because Metallica is a metal band, they are not supposed to be smart or politically aware. (Note that Sabbath, Seger, and Skynyrd - great populist artists covered on Garage Inc. - are now mostly regarded as silly cartoons or clichés; considered mere jokes, while someone like David Bowie - who stopped making anything relevant around the same time as the aforementioned artists did - is continually revered as the Godfather-of-Something-or-Another; each new release hailed with the same emperor's-new-clothes treatment that fellow bores like the Stones and Paul McCartney get.)
In the days of the manifesto-like ...And Justice For All, I would say that Metallica were the "most political popular music artists around." When pressed too much on this, my trump card was to state that because Metallica's fan base was the proletariat that worked at Jiffy Lube (I'm guessing the cover of Garage Inc. is a Met's nod to their prole support), their message was inherently more important than that of a bunch of overeducated Michelle Shocked fans. (To put it simply: who gets sent to war first?) But the general take is that Met's fans were merely headbangers and supposedly didn't "get" any messages the band may have been disseminating, and weren't worthy of the messages anyway. (Around the same time, Def Leppard was invited to - and then dropped from - an Amnesty International tour that was staffed mostly by fern-bar favorites like Sting and Peter Gabriel. Classist elitism fits into this big-time.) What went without saying was that Met was simply - except for Public Enemy - more sonically overwhelming than all the other political/smarty artists out there at the time. Heaven forbid revolutionary music should sound like a revolution, y'know?
So it's great to see the Garage Days Re-revisited EP repackaged into a two-disc set of covers, Garage Inc. While some of the most recent stuff comes off a little too formal, the thrash on disc two is the sound of an aural revolution at its most potent. In these days of cover-as-joke or cover-as-camp, this refreshing blast of homages from the greatest high-energy band ever is sure to shake you up - unless yet another close-up of Everclear's bug-eyed Art Alexakis (he looks kinda crazy! he's wearing all black!) in that Gap ad is your idea of excitement.
* Chuck Eddy is a rock critic and one of my favorite writers. His book Stairway to Hell heavily informed this piece. I've been a fan of his ever since he pointed out that Van Halen's "DOA" is the best Stooges knockoff ever.
Where The Bands Are
There is sometimes a night when it all fits together, when you are in the club and look across the people and you know that this is enough for now, that this is all you need to get you through the night, through the weekend, through until the next time. A night when the tall men give you sway and don't knock you around, a night when the bartender acknowledges your presence before that of the beauty next to you. A night when that girl you see from the halls of your day job or from your morning bus ride or from the health club smiles a quick smile as you pass, telling you she knows you're one of us, that you are a member of the same secret society, that your world is just a little smaller tonight.
You stand in your corner, hearing the girls next to you talk, and for a moment you try to hear every conversation in the bar and for just a flash you do. You hear every voice, every wisecrack, every rumor, every bluff, every heartbreak, every confession. Then the moment fades, and the voices return to a Babel chorus mingled with the clinking of glasses, the music on the PA, the noises of the headliner setting up and tuning up.
And sometimes, on a night like this, it is all enough.
Everything written by me, except where noted. "Where The Bands Are" title borrowed from Bruce Springsteen.
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