Monday, May 25, 2009

Garbage In, Garbage Out

Guantanamo Bay is the subject for this month's series I will call "exposing the trough of bullshit constantly being fed to us by our elected leaders". Not a short title but it does get the message across.
This week's subject is the projected closing of Guantanamo Bay and the eventual destinations of those imprisoned there. The pack of prevaricators have gotten up on their soapboxes to proclaim, "Not in our backyard" and "The citizens of my state won't be safe with these crazed terrorists here." As if they are going to be frolicking in our fields or picking up our children at the daycare center. Not so much.
Rather the eventual destination of these alleged (remember none of the prisoners at Guantanamo have actually been tried in a court of law and we don't know whether these military tribunals which Obama has unfortunately continued to back are even legal) criminals is a Supermax prison.
If you are not familiar with Supermax, here are some details to enlighten, brighten, but hopefully not frighten your day. Supermax prisoners are kept in solitary confinement for twenty three hours a day. They are given one hour of recreation, after first being strip-searched. The exercise period is not social hour, no terrorist plots can be fomented when you spend the hour alone in a concrete chamber (a separate room used by individual inmates during the recreation hour).
If you haven't figured it out already, prisoners have no direct contact with one another, their only human contact is with prison officials. The windows in the cells are designed so the prisoners can not even figure out where they are within the facility.
But these are resourceful criminals, they can probably escape! What can these puny civilians possibly do to protect us from that eventuality?
"The prison as a whole contains a multitude of motion detectors and cameras, 1,400 remote-controlled steel doors, and 12 ft (3.66 m) high razor wire fences. Laser beams, pressure pads, and attack dogs guard the area between the prison walls and razor wire."
With such state of the art detection equipment it is a pretty hard place to escape. In fact, no one has even bothered to make a serious attempt except in that prison break show on Fox, a program which is as fictional as the lies the idiots in Congress have been feeding us.
Here are some famous criminals who are already being housed in the Federal facility in Florence, Colorado:
1. Zacarias Moussaoui - yes the terrorist also known as the "20th hijacker" from the 9/11 attacks. So obviously there is no history of dangerous terrorists being held on U.S. soil. He was hardly a mastermind though, we couldn't risk having any of those here...
2. Theodore Kaczynski- AKA the Unabomber, guilty of planning and perpetrating numerous bomb attacks throughout the US over a twenty year period.
3. Richard Reid - Muslim fundamentalist known as the shoe bomber, demolisher of Nikes and attempted destroyer of an American airliner in route from London.
4. Eric Rudolph - a local hero of the town of Murphy, NC, (ignorant redneck town of the year ten years running now) Rudolph used to routinely bomb abortion clinics as well as random bands of innocents in Centennial Olympic Park during the 1996 games in Atlanta before his subsequent capture. He is now serving a life term at Florence.
5. Terry Nichols - the accomplice of Timothy McVeigh who somehow avoided the gas chamber, Nichols shares responsibility for the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing which killed 168 people.
6. Robert Hansen - These first five just liked to blow stuff up, they weren't real risks to national security in the long run. We wouldn't house someone like that in our backyard would we? Oh yeah, we would, Hansen has been imprisoned in Colorado for eight years after giving away national security secrets to the Russians, our greatest enemy at the time, over a twenty year period. That Cold War thing is so 1980, though, our biggest fear now is Al Qaeda and Muslim fundamentalists. We couldn't risk keeping any of their leaders here could we? Surely another deadly attack would have occurred as a result of having them within our borders?
7. Ramzi Yousef - Of course, if you think that you would be wrong. Yousef is the convicted planner of the first attack on the World Trade Center, the 1993 bombing. He has been residing in the Florence Supermax for over a decade now. Maybe the Colorado prison is at its capacity for dealing with lunatic terrorists (prison spokesman recently said they have only one unused cell) and we don't have any other adequate place to house them than Guantanamo.
8. Omar Abdel-Rahman - nope the blind Shiek who helped Yousef plan the Trade Center bombing is held in a separate facility located in Butner, North Carolina. That's pretty damn close to me, I had no idea I should have been shitting myself this whole time. Or....
9. Jose Padilla - The alleged planner of a dirty bomb attack in the United States who has never been tried on those charges (mainly because he was tortured until he became basically a vegetable) the Padilla flotilla was for several years housed in my home town of Charleston, where he was at least in military custody. Hopefully he is never turned over to a civilian prison since we know that it is much too dangerous to have one of these fellas there. * Update* Oh wait he is housed in Florence too now.

So quit with the bullshit and the lies Senators and Representatives, I have grown a bit tired of yawning at your pathetic efforts to deceive me. Now chill out and listen to some old Fugees as they teach us about Guantanamo Bay. Actually, they don't teach us a damn thing but hell they slipped the word into a song so god bless 'em!

Sunday, May 17, 2009

No Sex in the Champagne Room, But Plenty of Drugs and Rock and Roll

After some goading from a faithful and no doubt severely twisted reader of my befuddled musings, I have decided to plunge ahead with my previously mentioned threat to create the official CD for the drug user in all of us.
In truth, great music would hardly exist without the aid of the occasional narcotic. The oft-frustrated comedian Bill Hicks once yelped, "Drugs have done some good things. If you don't believe me take out all your tapes and CDs and burn 'em. All those musicians who have created all that music that has enhanced your lives over the years? Reeeeeeeeeeeeeaaaaaaaaaaalllllllllll fucking high on drugs."
Take warning, though, this will not always be a happy ride - these substances, which can at times expand our consciousness and create great art also can come with the hefty price of addiction, obsession, and even death. I have tried to create a mix that illustrates the whole picture, a drug train, to quote Social Distortion - the good, the bad, and the ugly, building from the softer drugs up to the harder narcotics and their at times terrible consequences.
I will also include some honorable mentions here and there just in case you want to expand the mix into a boxed set.

Since I have already dedicated a mix tape purely to songs about booze, we will skip that silly sissy stuff and move on to the most commonly used illegal narcotic, marijuana, the wacky weed that has inspired countless bards throughout the years.

1. "I Love You Mary Jane" by Cypress Hill and Sonic Youth. Who better to lie in the grass and sing of its joys than the fellows from Cypress Hill, who have nearly created their own genre (ganja rap?) by doing that very thing. The tune, from the Judgement Night Soundtrack, also features hipsters Sonic Youth as the back-up band. Money shot: "Sugar come back, gets me high, if you wanna party, well shit I'm gonna, as soon as she comes...."

2. "Stoned Immaculate" by the Doors. Jim Morrison wrote a short and simple song about the joys of visiting the nether regions which exist within us all. He takes us there by creating a hazy musical atmosphere that has been unmatched by any of his peers (if there can be said to be any) over the last forty years.

Honorable Mentions: "Glazed" by Rocket from the Crypt, "Herojuana" by NOFX, and "Marijuana" by Hayseed Dixie. Why not add "Mr. Bake-O" by Adam Sandler (from the era when he was still occasionally funny) to inject a little comedy into your day? R. Alton has also pointed out my near-criminal negligence in omitting "Smoke Two Joints" by Sublime.

Next up, cocaine: the white powder that rarely kills, but can be ferociously addictive and some claim invariably leads to harder drugs. Some bands wrote a song about it, goes something like this...

3. "Bananas and Blow" by Ween. The masters of any genre they attempt, Ween goes calypso with this gem, that tells of the joys one can experience sitting on the cabana and subsisting solely on the two substances that give the song its name. I can't say I want to drown my nose in white powder afterward, but I sure am ready to relax on the exotic beach and enjoy an alcohol-laced beverage.

4. "Cocaine Blues" by Johnny Cash. "Cocaine Blues" is a warning of a song that takes us on a trip to the darker side of narcotics. It is the story of a man sentenced to "99 years in the Folsom Pen" whose troubles start only after he takes a shot of cocaine.

Honorable Mentions: "Cocaine Lil" by the Mekons. Also, give a listen to the comedy track "Cocaine" by Richard Pryor, someone who had a firsthand experience or two with the Peruvian marching powder. For those of you waiting for country music to be represented, quit before you die of old age, I don't really know any (unless you count Cash). However, a friend of mine recommends Hank Williams "Od'd in Denver."

Time to expand our minds with a little lysergic acid, brewed up in the lab just in time to give birth to the colorful era of the 1960s.

5. "White Rabbit" by Jefferson Airplane. Words don't do justice to this classic, a song that takes Alice down the rabbit hole and into a world that exists in the back of our mind, but can only be reached with a little assist from our friendly neighborhood pharmacist, someone always happy to help you feed your head. Take the pill that makes you larger, take the one that makes you small, just skip the one that doesn't do anything at all.

6. "Third Eye" by Tool. Tool's music often speaks cryptically about the joys of the mind-altering experience, but the band doesn't make any effort to hide their pro-drug leanings in this epic thirteen minute track, from which I have taken the Bill Hicks quote used in the introduction to this piece.

Honorable Mentions: "No LSD Tonight" by Jeffrey Lewis and of course just about anything from the masters of psychedelia, Pink Floyd - let's go with "Comfortably Numb" if you want to pick one single track.

We move to the world of pills, a sordid place where our fear and anxiety can be transformed into serenity with the addition of a few milligrams of Prozac here and a small dose of Xanax there.

7. "Mother's Little Helper" by the Rolling Stones. Who can blame mom if she needs something to calm her down? With a busy day ahead of cleaning and caring for a bunch of crazed rugrats, who wouldn't want to put their head in an oven? A little shelter from the mother's little helper will help to minimize her plight!

8. "That Smell" by Lynyrd Skynyrd. A bit of a stretch for this category I admit, this song is about the inherent dangers of getting too heavily involved in the party scene. Van Zant's brilliant insertion of a line about quaaludes, a mainly forgotten pill commonly abused in the 1970s allows the Southern rockers to eke into this category.

Honorable Mention: If you can find it, there is a great audio track to insert here - the scene from Walk Hard where Tim Meadow's character explains pills to Dewey Cox. There are three or four similar episodes in the flick and if I can get my hand on them, they are going in my collection for sure.

The poppy plant has brought Oriental bliss to the United States for centuries in various forms, from opium to morphine and finally through the joys and ultimate pain of heroin.

9. "Golden Brown" by the Stranglers. A song that rides like a carefree merry-go-round and shares the ecstasy of those first heroin experiences when our brain's pleasure centers are caressed by the narcotic's tempting embrace. Never a frown....golden brown.

10. "Post Blue" by Placebo. Placebo takes us into the future of our heroin abuser, now living in a world of co-dependency where love, drugs, and sex are all part of one emotion, a need to feel something that has been taken away by the years of abusing heroin and other drugs that should have been left in the capable hands of the fashion models who know how to take them in the properly irresponsible manner.

Honorable Mention: "Heroin Girl" by Everclear and "Mr. Brownstone" by Guns N' Roses.

There are of course many other different ways we can abuse our body, and expand our mind, and various combinations in which we may do it. Here are a couple of examples:

11. "Special K" by Placebo. As the only band to appear twice so far, Placebo has clearly earned an advanced degree in writing about drugs (and sex). In order to find new material they have been willing to sample the entire pharmacy, including Special K, also known as ketamine, a cat tranquilizer which has some interesting effects when ingested by humans. To quote an expert:
"At low doses, K is a mild if weird stimulant. At medium to high doses, it becomes a very powerful paralyzing psychedelic. Its effects are like a combination of cocaine, cannabis, opium, nitrous oxide, and alcohol." Sounds like a bit too much fun for me.

12. "Crack Pipe Burned My Hand" by the Coolies. A song that could, I suppose, go into the cocaine category, but this version is chemically altered, more addictive than cocaine, and just so much funnier to talk about for some inexplicable reason that I will leave it to Dave Chappelle to explain to us one day. The Coolies, a defunct band out of the 1990s Atlanta scene, go the humor route on this track and the results are scrumptious enough to make me want to sprinkle crack on a dead hooker.

Honorable Mention: "Hash Pipe" by Weezer and "Methamphetamine Blues" by Mark Lanegan.

Now that we have sampled everything our neighborhood dealer has to offer, let's take a look at the results.

13. "Junkhead" by Alice-in-Chains. One of the most haunting songs ever written, this is the most obvious cry for help among the many attempts Layne Staley made. An unapologetic paean to drug culture, "Junkhead" asks the question, "What's my drug of choice?" and gives the answer "What have you got?" Staley's subsequent death from an overdose leads one to believe he was a little too fervent in practicing what he preached.

14. "Cure for Pain" by Morphine. "Junkhead," which I referred to as haunting, is like a trip through Candyland compared to this frightening suicide note of a composition offered up by bandleader Mark Sandman. Although Sandman would live six years more after "Cure for Pain" was released on the album of the same name, the writing was on the wall. He collapsed of a heart attack and died on stage during a 1999 show in Rome. The money shot: "Someday there'll be a cure for pain -that's the day - I throw my drugs away."

Honorable Mention: Placebo's "Commercial for Levi." Honestly if you turned this mix into a box set you'd have to dedicate a whole CD to Placebo and this song about a man's attempt at saving a friend from addiction would be right at the top of the list. If you want something a little more light-hearted, check out the NOFX jam "Drugs Are Good."

Now that our drug mix has gone to the brink of death - there are only two results: continue on that grim path or to come back from the edge.

15. "The Needle and the Damage Done" by Neil Young. A short and sweet ballad by a man who has produced an endless supply of such gems. When you end with the words, "every junkie is like the setting sun," its safe to assume things have not gone well.

16. "Whoops I Od'd" by NOFX. Known best for their word play and humor, some of which is indeed delightfully juvenile, the boys at this veteran punk outfit can put together a deadly serious song when the urge strikes them. "Whoops I Od'd" is the first person account of a man who has overindulged a bit too often and is in the midst of paying the price for his indiscretion. He is lucky enough to live through the experience, but whether he learns from it or not we do not know.

17. "Gravity" by A Perfect Circle. The last track from the CD "Thirteenth Step"is also the perfect ending for this magical musical tour. The title suggests the wobbly first step taken after a former abuser has completed a twelve-step program. These songs are very personal, as they recount singer Maynard Keenan's attempt to overcome his addiction. "Gravity," which ends with the line, "I choose to live," demonstrates Keenan's determination to end his downward spiral and not end up like Staley and Sandman.

Honorable Mention: If you are a little bit down after these last tracks, kick back with Black Grape's "Get Higher" which mocks American drug policy by using actual audio from Ronald and Nancy Reagan. "Treatment Bound" by the Replacements sticks closer to the motif while somehow still carrying the snotty vibe you can usually expect from most of the band's early catalog. Comedy tracks by Dave Attell and David Cross both entitled "Drugs" will also suck those tears right back up into your welcoming eyeballs.

If you believe I have made any egregious errors here, and if you love music I am sure you do, feel free to suggest any possible omissions, I am always looking to enhance my collection.

Editor's Note: He forgot Blue October's "Hate Me" and K's Choice's "Not An Addict," but what are you gonna do, he's just a junior travel correspondent.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Will the Real Joker Please Stand Up

Just watched Christopher Nolan's "Batman: The Dark Knight" the other evening, which I realize puts me on the last train to latesville, but hey sometimes it takes me a while to get around to doing things. The one piece of knowledge I was equipped with going in to the flick was that Heath Ledger did a phenomenal job as the Joker, perhaps even better than the legendary Jack Nicholson. I admit to being a fan of Jack and such a claim made me skeptical. Was this another case of the artist being put on a pedestal because of an untimely early demise?
Thirty minutes in, though, I had to concede that Ledger's performance was incredibly freaky, I would not have wanted to be in the same country with the psychopath who was dancing madly on my screen and killing or frightening to death everyone in his sight.
All of sudden, though, in the midst of the scene where Bruce Wayne fetes Harvey Dent, I came to a shocking realization. Heath was mimicking another actor. I couldn't put my finger on who at first, for the man being impersonated is not very likely to scare you unless you live in the state of Minnesota and aren't Jesse Ventura.
The real Joker was in fact not a complex character evolved through the use of brilliant acting technique, but rather a reproduction of the mannerisms and speech patterns of one Al Franken. Yes, the same Al Franken who wrote for and starred as a cast member of Saturday Night Live for many years, most notably as Stuart Smalley, host of the show Daily Affirmations. The very same subversive who has carved out a political career by first broadcasting a show 0n Air America Radio and subsequently riding that gig to the post of United States Senator from Minnesota (assuming Norm Coleman finally admits that he lost the race before the term expires).
I thought, maybe I am just crazy, it could be I just was unconsciously unwilling to admit Ledger had acted Nicholson into a corner. I searched the IMDB comments page to see if anyone else had noticed the same thing. After flipping through a hundred amateur reviews of the movie I found nothing. It seemed I was wrong - until I found the smoking gun.
Reality bites and the truth is as plain as day when the two are put side by side. It seems patently obvious that Heath had long ago seen the similarities between the two while doing his character research. I found pictures of Franken side by side with the Cesar Romero Joker from the old TV series (see above) as well as the Jack Nicholson Joker.
Don't be sad though, Ledger fans, what is acting but mimicking the behavior of others ? Who is to say that in the light of this new evidence (well probably not new, but it is to me and probably you) that Heath Ledger was not still a fantastic actor who put in a stellar farewell performance? He is still Jack Nicholson's bitch, though.

Monday, May 4, 2009


Just returned from spending some time this weekend in the mountains west of Asheville, where I attended the French Broad River Festival. Words shall soon be created that will succinctly describe the aforementioned experience. When that miraculous birth of what can only questionably be called literature does in fact occur, the letter combinations will be applied to the screen in a way that shall without a doubt cause hilarity to ensue.

Welcome back from our short commercial break and thanks again to our sponsors, Invisible Dogfood. Does your sad only child have an invisible dog? Feed them Invisible Dogfood, the one and only brand name you need to know for your psychotic child's non-existent pet.
As mentioned previously, I did in fact meander in the direction of the great white north this weekend past. I can't say I planned to attend originally. My brother and father were going there, along with their significant others and a group of friends. I, alas, was scheduled to work and unable to make the trip. That is, of course, before fate intervened and my boss decided my services were unnecessary that particular Friday evening.
I couldn't pass up the chance to spend some time with good folks amidst the great outdoors, so I packed up the car and hopped on the highway.
The French Broad River Festival takes place annually in the rural hamlet of Hot Springs, North Carolina, about forty miles or so west of Asheville. The scenery I passed on the drive in was amazing to behold, the mist drifting through valleys carved through millions of years of erosion (or twenty years if you are Baptist). The steep mountain roads twisted and turned, bringing a fresh glimpse of verdant beauty at each corner. My ancient vehicle, a Toyota Camry that was used to haul coal during the first World War, was unhappy about the whole scenario, but plodded onward as the loyal companion she has always been.
The campground was full of vegans, deadheads, and other assorted hippies in the middle of getting their nature on when I made my arrival. My brother, aware of my keen ability to get lost, dazed, and confused, often simultaneously, was waiting for me at the gate and helped me register for the event before showing me to our campsite, which was conveniently located right across from the Portolets.
Trust me, when you wake up having to whizz like a race horse in the middle of the night because of the previous night's debauchery that comes in mighty handy - especially when (hypothetically speaking of course) it takes you twenty minutes to figure out how to open the zipper on your tent.
Since this was a festival there were various forms of entertainment involved. Just like with any other festival it was raining most of the time so that the hippies could get properly muddy. They must have to truck in the mud for Burning Man since it takes place in the desert.
The activities taking place included neon hula hoop dancing chicks, some guy shooting flames in the air with a propane tank device, whitewater rafting, and a mountain bike race. A series of bands also attacked from all sides with two stages dedicated to making maniacal melodies until mountains and minds melded into a mystical musical melange.
Acoustic Syndicate was the main draw on Friday night, rattling out their anthems well into the wee hours. These professional rockers acquitted themselves quite well, even if the sixty-five minute closing number may have worn out its welcome a wee bit.
Note to jam bands: I understand if you want to write long songs and avoid the four minute pop recipe garbage that others adhere to, but consider at least ending your tunes before the audience members die of old age.
Our clownish clique was much happier hanging out at the side stage, where the Mad Tea Party performed a danceable mix of rockabilly and zydeco that created a delicious instrumental gumbo best washed down with a tall glass of Abita. The stage was decorated with a skull and various bits of voodoo imagery, and soon I was craving a beignet for dessert. My family and friends gallivanted about like fairies and nymphs freed from the chains of society to revel in the joys of nature and music.
As I bounced about in this near meditative state, I wondered, how can you not be happy away from the daily grind? What's wrong with a chance to flee the various sad people who want to run your life? Nature is the great escape from all those things that drag us down on a daily basis - rent, bosses, car payments, mortgages, etc. What can be better than a place like that? Especially when there is always a conveniently located bathroom with no line.