Tuesday, March 09, 2010

"I'm the Dog That Ate Your Birthday Cake"

This is a picture I took at Angkor Wat in Cambodia--some young monks having a smoke, watching the tourists get ready to take pictures of the sunset. The cigarette is a perfect metaphor for how they got it, and the tourists--myself included--didn't. Smoke is always changing, it drifts away. You can't hold it in your hand; you can't even really remember it with accuracy. Anicca, one of the three marks of existence, means without permanence or continuity. Nothing can be stopped in the stream of time. And yet, here we were, Westerners, trying to photograph the setting sun so we could keep it on a shelf somewhere far away from the now, to pull out of an envelope in some indeterminate future, in an effort to recapture a moment long gone. The sun's always setting somewhere. Get out and see it, before it sets on you.

"You never understood that it ain't no good
You shouldn't let other people get your kicks for you."

--Bob Dylan, "Like a Rolling Stone"

I remember asking some monks what the different color robes symbolized. It might've been these three guys--the one in the middle has a slightly different colored robe. They're all fairly similar, though--I remember it being almost a red-purple color. Anyway, being as they spoke little English and I spoke absolutely no Khmer, it was tough going trying to find out the meaning behind the colors. I thought perhaps that one was further along in his studies of the Dharma. Finally, one of them said, "He likes that color." Even then, before I'd dipped into Buddhism, I associated it with the tamping down of the flames of the ego, and, in my mind, this was associated with limiting the personality and expressions thereof. Of course, I'd assumed, the robes had to have a deeper meaning and not be a mere expression of personal preference.

So that was the lesson of the day: like what you like, just don't be attached to it. Young men in Cambodia often go into monastic practice for a year or two before returning to secular life. At this time in their lives--and perhaps before and after this time, as it's not a wealthy country--these guys probably only had a robe and a pack of smokes to their name. Why not wear the color you liked?

Of course, as lessons go, I fucked it all up. I remember working the door at a Juxtapoz party at 111 Minna Gallery. This was probably around 2003, not long after I went on my trip to Southeast Asia. The party was a monthly event, and it was always packed to the gills with young hipsters who would show up, be seen, be scene, then fuck off to the Arrow Bar on 6th Street to blow coke and bget their pictures taken. This particular night I was wearing a Dickies jacket with a few patches on it. People kept liking it, commenting on this patch or that--the metallic silver Glock logo or the tiger head. It bummed me the fuck out. This was one of the first moments--albeit late in the game for someone in his early 30s--when I realized "youth culture" was no longer, de facto, my culture. That the "underground" or "alternative" types weren't necessarily my people.

The women were wearing annoying drapey polyester crap like my first grade teacher wore. It was the rise of the über backwards-looking fashion blight known as retro. All the worst shit from the '80s was now cutting edge: acid wash pants, slat sunglasses, headbands, cocaine. Blech. I made a decision before I got home that night: I didn't want to "relate" to people on a level as superficial as clothing or insignia. I would be a blank wall: "POST NO BILLS." The next day, I sold all my "marked" clothes at Wasteland and Buffalo Exchange on Haight--decades worth of band T-shirts--Mötorhead, Black Sabbath. Band shirts were becoming an especially hot, ironic item in SF, the more rocked out the better. Because what a delicious incongruity a 3/4 sleeve Nugent shirt is with tight pants, foppish hair, and fluorescent green high tops.

I bought four or five plain black T-shirts and a few pairs of black Dickies. That's all I wore for a year, maybe a year and a half: plain, unmarked black. The same thing every day. I don't know if I really made the connection, or modeled myself after him, but there was a guy named Fred in my high school who wore the same black outfit everyday. Not because he was goth or even because he was cool: like all kids blessed/cursed with a incongruous name--"Fred" in a sea of "Mike"s and "Matt"s--he was a bit of a freak. Coke-bottle glasses, unkempt hair, socially awkward, a loner, goofy to the point where he must have been either borderline retarded or a genius, depending on whether you were brave enough to talk to him and find out. When I finally nutted up to confront him on his bland attire, it turns out he was more the latter than the former. Fred was a Buddhist, and who the fuck is that in a suburban, mostly white high school, except the precociously (though secretly) brilliant? We were all still trying to jettison our Christian hang-ups, while Fred's ochre robes were black slacks and a black button up. He told me he'd "given up" wearing colors because of his beliefs. It was his version of asceticism.

We'd both fucked it up. The Buddha denied asceticism: he tried it, and left it behind for the middle path. I didn't learn the lesson, or even remember Fred, until I took up the mantle of colorlessness myself over a decade later. I could only subvert blooms of personality so much...I still had my Dickies pegged and zippers put into the back. I still had tattoos covering my arms I had no intention of hiding. I'm looking back and laughing at myself, but not too cruelly--it was a valuable experiment for me. The period faded out as different, non-uniform items of clothing found their way, almost accidentally, into my wardrobe until I made a conscious decision to jettison the effort. The impulse to not engage on a superficial plane was a good one, but it was too absolute, too ambitious, blind to the fact that opting out was a statement of personality in and of itself. I had become, like Fred, "the guy that always wore the same black clothes."

The idea should have been not to subvert all outward expressions of personality--i.e. ego--but to be self-aware of these expressions. It's a temptation, often unconscious, to wear an "outfit," something from the wardrobe rack, to be an actor on the stage of your own experience. To act a part based on how you perceive yourself in the world, and how you intuit others see you. There's a fine line between being "true to oneself," which can mean indulging a calcified preconception based on ultimately meaningless personal preferences, and being "true to the moment," flexible and open enough to act, no--to be--true as things arise and pass away around you and within you.
“Life's but a walking shadow, a poor player, that struts and frets his hour upon the stage and then is heard no more; it is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.”--William Shakespeare, Macbeth

I suppose I'm still trying to find the balance between signifying something real, something meaningful, and mere strutting. The strut has a meaning of its own: fashion, while primarily empty, isn't a complete vacuum. Find the color robe you like and wear it, but don't let it define you. Don't cling to it, don't make it your signature, your trademark expression.

To take a detour with this line of thought, it seems to me that the rigidity with which we see ourselves lies at the root of suicide. Remember this Radiohead track from 1992?

When you were here before
Couldn't look you in the eye
You're just like an angel
Your skin makes me cry
You float like a feather
In a beautiful world
And I wish I was special
You're so fucking special

But I'm a creep
I'm a weirdo
What the hell am I doing here?
I don't belong here

I don't care if it hurts
I want to have control
I want a perfect body
I want a perfect soul
I want you to notice
When I'm not around
You're so fucking special
I wish I was special

But I'm a creep
I'm a weirdo
What the hell am I doing here?
I don't belong here

She's running out the door
She's running out
She's run, run, run, running out

Whatever makes you happy
Whatever you want
You're so fucking special
I wish I was special

But I'm a creep
I'm a weirdo
What the hell am I doing here?
I don't belong here

I don't belong here

Like all things Radiohead, it's brilliant in its melodramatic way. When you start to believe the bad press your mind writes about your soul, sucking on the end of a gun can seem like the only eraser available. But we're all angels, and we're all creeps and weirdos, and we're all so fuckin' special. It's the difference between being an arrogant, self-absorbed ass and being a morose depressive given to suicidal ideation: the amount to which you believe your own bullshit and how readily you can flit from one false, ephemeral conception of self to the next.

Mark Linkous of Sparklehorse stopped being able to make the transition. He killed himself on March 6. It's a wonderful life, Mark. Wish you were here.

I'm having a problem with the delivery of this blog. By the time I get down to writing an installment, I've got about 50 posts worth of stuff to throw in. Then, when I sit down, I start writing about something entirely different than I had in mind. I probably should publish this while it still has some kind of thematic continuity and just update more frequently. Though, I suppose, continuity is an illusion anyhow, right? Anicca.

My homeboy from way back when Bill Keaggy, creator of the iconic Atomic Circle of Chaos zine, recently sent me 50 Sad Chairs, a book of his photographs. Bill is an amazing and inspirational guy. He collects grocery lists, shoots off rockets, takes pictures of sandwiches and rocks shaped like shoes. This pocket-sized book of abandoned chairs--and a few couches--has a feeling of perfect loneliness to it. In high school, Mr. Wallach did a little philosophical experiment with us. He pointed to a chair and asked us what it was. "A chair [idiot]," was the general consensus. But what, he queried, if I hung it upside down from the ceiling? Or nailed it to the wall? Would it still be a chair if you couldn't sit in it? (And there, folks, is our continuity--the rigidity of definition.) The chairs in Bill's book are sad because they've ceased to be chairs, as such. Separated from ass cheeks forever, they've become forlorn objets d'art.
Combine this feeling with Bill's dry titles, and you've got a great way to kill 50 minutes at the cafe.

Speaking of sandwiches (was I?), I've developed a fast-growing addiction to Giordano Brothers "All In One" sammies. Based on the Pittsburgh classic Primanti Brothers feast on bread, they feature a peppery vinegar and oil slaw and salty french fries between two slices of Italian bread. Add meat and provolone, and perhaps a fried egg, and you've got a meal in your hand. Which sounds a little dirty--and it is messy, but delicious. When I saw Primanti's on the Travel Channel, I thought the fries would be a disruptive element in the sandwich--that they'd make it too dry or too starchy or too greasy. But, speaking for Giordano's at least, this is far from the truth. There's a harmonious agreement between elements: salt, pepper, soft bread, oil, vinegar, cheese, meaty goodness...fuck, I'm hungry. It's one of the few things that'll make me venture to the traffic-packed touristy hell of North Beach. Here's a picture of my Italian sausage number from the other day:
A sandwich that's served with a fork is a good thing.

Speaking of bread and the ephemeral nature of being alive, how about dismembered bread body part sculptures? (Fuck, someone should send me 50 cents for that stretched transition):

Nutritious, and disturbingly delicious. Make a play at cannibalism without the whole "eating one's own" taboo. The only real downside is excess carbs. And, the fact that you've got to travel to Thailand to meet someone talented and emotionally disturbed enough to sculpt severed heads out of bread.

From one body part fixation to the next, has anyone been following American Apparel's Ass...er, "Best Bottom" Contest? Just when you thought Dov Charney couldn't get any fuckin' pervier, he launches this contest. Someone told me that American Apparel was trying to "clean up" their advertising, re-brand a little, but I think they're going the opposite direction straight into porn. No judgment: own it, you know? Work that shit. Sex sells and porn is the most honest use of sex yet: nothing is implied, everything is explicit. And you know what? Charney's previous charges of sexual harassment notwithstanding, I say more power to you, you swarthy creep, you. Those asses are magical, Dov baby. All 1, 368 of them.
"I think it's a First Amendment right to pursue one's affection for another human being," Charney says in the above linked Business Week article. Clearly, believing your own bullshit doesn't always lead to suicide. From now on, my crusade to tap fine ass is being elevated to that of a constitutional right. I will endeavour to persevere, my brothers and sisters. To paraphrase my friend Pol, there's a limited amount of pussy in the world, and I intend on getting as much of it as I can. That is to say, there will come a time when I have sex with someone, and that will be it. It will be The Last Time I Ever Have Sex. I may know it at the time, but I probably won't. All good things come to an end: I'll have my last ice cream cone, go to my last baseball game, pop my last wheelie. Hopefully, I've got a lot of fucking to do in my golden years, before I'm incapable or just uninterested--too revolting, even to myself. As for now, it ain't no good to let other people get your kicks for you.

Speaking of the hotness, how'd we go from the original Electric Ladyland cover by David Montgomery:
To the blurred, quasi-thermal imaging cover by Karl Ferris?
Well kids, that would be the difference between your English and German releases and your American release. Who would have thought the Brits would be less uptight than us? America is based on Puritan values, alas. Hendrix, as it turns out, wanted the following photo by Linda Eastman (who went on to become Linda McCartney, FYI):

Lately, I've become a fan of David Lynch's daily weather reports. They're usually pretty straightforward--"Here in Los Angeles it's a beautiful sunny day, not a cloud in the sky"--but every so often, like you knew it would, the weather in David's head gets a little cloudy:

Not sure if he's doing the weather reports anymore, but he is posting Studs Terkel-like interviews with regular folks from his Interview Project. It's unclear how much Lynch himself has to do with these interviews, and how much of it is his "team." In any case, they're well-edited and fascinating in a quiet, almost quotidian way.

"The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation."
--Henry David Thoreau, Walden

These interviews showcase those men (and women). It lets you hear the voice of those who are usually voiceless. They're definitely worth checking out.

Saw "Tutankhamun and the Golden Age of the Pharaohs" at the de Young. Got a call early Thursday morning from the teacher's aide in Dolly's class. They were at the museum and Dolly was all broken up and crying because I was supposed to go on the field trip with her and wasn't there yet. Of course, I'd was on my way to sleeping through it when I got the call. It's a hard row to hoe, being an accidental hedonist, drinking and fucking at night and being a righteous dad in the day. In the immortal words of Kim Gordon: "Does this sound simple? Fuck you. Does 'fuck you' sound simple enough?"

So I threw on my pants and hauled ass up the street to the park, buying a $24 ticket and flying through the exhibit as fast as I could, looking for her class. Weekdays may seem like a great time to view an impacted exhibit, but it was all school kids and geriatrics--hard to tell which ones were the mummies, you know? Turns out her class was outside eating lunch. Finally met up with them about 45 minutes later. At least I didn't have to pay to get back in. Here's a picture of an ancient Egyptian nine-year-old:

We took a hike out at Land's End on Sunday. Well, we started to, anyway.

Not long after we started on the trail, I paused to shoot some photos and Bo dog followed Dolly off the path, up a hill behind a retaining wall. I put the lens cap on my camera and caught up with them. Bo spotted me and, overcome with the exuberance of being off leash and not having seen me for a period of up to 15 seconds, leapt off the top of the wall onto the asphalt path, at least ten or twelve feet below. It was positively surreal: Sky Dog Falling. He landed with a yelp. I though for sure he must've broken his leg and immediately started back to the car. By the time we got there, he was his usual self, for the most part, jumping around and being goofy. I decided to wait until Monday morning to take him to the vet, and he's fine now. Today he jumped out the truck window as I was rolling to a stop. I'd fallen asleep early last night and didn't walk him: I think he had some backed up turds he really needed to handle. Fuckin' dog will give me a coronary yet...he's Evel Knievel all the way, sans helmet.
In related news--related only insofar as it's no news at all--Sunday chess matches at the Buckshot have evolved/devolved into Chess Jenga as demonstrated here by the lovely Allie:

In the worlds of Morphine's Mark Sandman: "I propose a toast to my self-control/ You see it crawling helpless on the floor.” Allie makes self control difficult. Like Chess Jenga, it's all about seeing how high you can stack it before everything falls apart.

Of course, lack of self-control didn't do wonders for Sandman, in that heavy cocaine use, among other factors, led to his having a massive coronary at age 46. Someday, Mark, there'll be a cure for pain.

Collecting things is a way to dull the pain for some. Speaking as a former gun and PEZ collector and a guy with 10 bicycles, I can understand. It goes back to the Radiohead line above: "I want to have control." Ownership of inanimate objects gives credence to that same illusion: that we have control, that we can fix things in a permanent, ordered state beyond temporality. Collecting antiques is a way of putting off the future while we trap the past in amber.

A line gets crossed and you're no longer a collector, but a hoarder. Perhaps you'll even be featured on the harrowing new A&E series of that name, knee deep in worthless detritus and cat corpses you can't seem to throw away without great emotional pain. I've always pictured myself winding things down by screaming nonsensical gibberish on street corners, but the more I think about it, maybe my daughter will be wailing and gnashing teeth trying to get me to throw away old BMX magazines. (Sorry to steal your thunder, kid, but I threw them out decades ago--much to my regret. I'm sure I'll have stacks of newspapers to deal with.)

I will say this: I'm glad there are people out there preserving old school BMX bikes. Here are a few classics I've built up (and later sold) myself:
1980 Team Mongoose

1980 Moosegoose

Early '90s chromoly SE Quadangle

Aluminum Torker

While my builds are badass, nothing I've built holds a candle to the collection of Jeff Tollefson. He's got tribute bikes that are part for part exact to the bikes pros rode at particular races or in particular photos--right down to the stickers on the number plate. Here's a few:
1975 Stu Thomsen replica Redline Squareback. This is built up like the bike Stu rode in the first sequence of a biker doing a 360, or "helicopter," as it was originally called.

1980 Stu Thomsen replica Redline Proline. Complete with Honda MX brake handle and no pinch Flight Cranks.

1981 Jason Jensen replica Torker mini.
I remember drooling over this in a bike check in BMX Action.

The blueprint for the first freestyler: 1981 Bob Haro replica Torker.

The first freestyler: 1981 first generation Haro Freestyler, set up just like Bob's.

When good ideas go wrong:
the very rare CW Freestyler with the shortlived "luggage rack" frame platform.

Be sure to check the bikes on the history page on Tollefson's site. Mind blowing.

Speaking of old school, check the list of confirmed attendees at Steve Swope's second annual Old School Reunion at Woodward West:

Bryan Blyther
Michael Dominguez
Eddie Fiola
Scot Breithaupt
Dave Nourie
Ron Wilkerson
Mat Hoffman
Dennis Mccoy
Joe Johnson
Pete Augustin
Oscar Gonzalez
Hugo Gonzalez
Robert Castillo
Woody Itson
Kevin Martin
Stephan Prantl
Rich Sigur
Todd Lyons
Lee Reynolds
Tony Murray
George Smoot
Gale Webb
Joel Alamo
Chris Moller
Robbie Miranda
Keith Mulligan
Alan Foster
Andy Shohara
Jay Eggleston
Ben Ward
Xavier Mendez
Mark Gray
Sean McKinney
Steve Blackely
Wade Nelson
Albert Ocampo
Jared Souney

That's the land beyond legendary, right there. Fucking mega. I'll be there, too, of course, though no one's going to be asking for my autograph. Here's a picture of the first guy, Brian Blyther, taken by the last guy, Jared Souney:
That's his cruiser in the driveway. "Fuck the man!"--yeah, sure, unless that man is Brian Blyther. He's both The Man and The Man.

Rumor has it that at least one of these cats will be there:
Bob Haro and Bob Morales, circa the stone age. That's a lot of BMX brainpower right there. Fuck, what would I give to still have my Kore Thrashguard? Haro was in attendance last year. I wish he'd bring a bike...540 rollbacks for days.

No word if Mike "Rooftop" Escamilla will be in attendence--I think of him more as "mid school" than "old school," though I'm sure he meets the age requirement of 32 years. He's picked up a new frame sponsor in United, though, and has dropped these highly entertaining videos:

Four pegs, two brakes, and a couple of big, hairy nuts (no homo--well, maybe a slight man-crush). Always one of the most creative, fun to watch guys.

Speaking of old school, check these pics of Bob Hannah's helmet I cribbed from Flicker:

How rad would it be to have that sitting on your mantle? I needn't remind you what a total badass the Hurricane was, do I?

"I T-boned the silly bastard."

Last post had a couple bits on BMX sidehacks. This led me down the rabbit hole to MX sidehacks, which they call, rather blandly, "sidecars." Even more bland, the "monkey" is merely the "passenger." I guess when you're this fuckin' nuts, you can call it whatever your want:

Finally--I mean really, finally, this fucker is way too long--I'll leave you with a few shots I took of Triclops! that were supposed to go in Mastodon in a Microwave:
John Geek is truly a god among men.

Double finally, I'll really leave you--for real this time--with this awesome video of President Lyndon Johnson talking about his bunghole during the height of Vietnam that I ran across on Glen E. Friedman's blog, Idealist Propaganda. Because if the President's bunghole suffers, everyone suffers.

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