Doing the Time Warp

Today we made the long trip from Austin to (near) Santa Fe.  Lots of driving, but it was a good time.

When we crossed over into New Mexico, we went back an hour.  That means that the previous hour, from around 6:30 ET to 7:30 ET, didn’t exist.  Wiped off the books.  Gone.  Everything we said and did for that one hour just never happened.  All of the crimes we committed were wiped off the slates; the fuel gauge tipped back up; and the lines on our faces lessened just a bit.

Time travel.

During that hour, the main event was an enthusiastic enjoyment of Yoko, Beulah’s last album.  We first enjoyed this album three years ago, in the same region, in the same car — eery, right? — just before they played their last-ever show in San Francisco, which we saw.  An end for them, but a beginning for us.

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So that’s today’s song of the day, one that I played over and over again in the year of 2003, “Landslide Baby.”  It makes you move, it angries the blood.  Like a ghost it returned from the dead, and like penitents we welcomed it with open arms.  See sidebar.

Honorable mention goes to two songs that caught our eyes today concerning high school football stars from Texas who fall to earth, from albums about the very area we were driving through: “The Fall of the High School Running Back” by The Mountain Goats (off of All Hail West Texas) and “The Great Joe Bob: A Regional Tragedy” by Terry Allen (off of his bizarre album Lubbock).  You’ll need to find those for yourself, whoever you are.

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Published in: on June 30, 2007 at 2:59 am  Leave a Comment  

Lyndon Baines Johnson

Today we did indeed visit the Lyndon Baines Johnson Presidential Library and Museum here in rainy Austin, Texas, just miles from the West Texas hills where LBJ grew up. As some of you may know, I developed a keen interest in LBJ after reading the three volumes of Robert Caro’s biography, which has yet to be completed. After reading over 3,000 pages about him — up to, not including, the presidential years — I may know more about him than I do about any other person (fictional or real) other than myself. Or at least I did at the time.

Yes, they are good enough to merit the time required to read that much. As is the case with Caro’s The Power Broker (which focuses on Robert Moses), you learn about an individual in great detail, but Caro’s able to use Johnson and his career and life to describe and illuminate a wealth of information about American politics. Caro’s books are all about the way that power actually works in contemporary America (as opposed to the way that we think it does). I saw him speak a few months back, and it was possibly the greatest speech I have ever seen in person; he literally brought me to tears.  (He also speaks with maybe the most pronounced Long Island Jewish accent I’ve ever heard, talks out of the side of his mouth, and pronounces the word idea “idear.”  All very endearing.)  Cameron mentioned War and Peace as a comparison for The Wire, which I agree with.  I see Caro’s biographies in the same light, not just in the sheer volume of words but the objective, dignfied, and clear style; the long, gripping philosophical and biographical diversions; and the totality of his scope.  But enough about that. It was exciting to look at the archives and know that this is where Robert Caro passed the majority of the five years he spent living here in Texas.

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The museum wasn’t that great, but I’m betting it’s one of the best presidential libraries out there — probably tears Eisenhower’s library to motherfucking shreds. From all I’ve read, all you needed to do to really understand the power of LBJ was to be in the room with him, but obviously that wasn’t possible, since he’s dead. It was nice to hear that after he left office, while he lived in Texas, he would often come by the museum and greet visitors. He apparently had a separate office that was hidden, but preferred to spend his time in the room that was built to be a replica of his Oval Office when he was President, and say Howdy to guests.

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Needless to say, the tour glossed over a lot of the things that made LBJ so interesting. Pretty sanitized, which is the version that most Americans know, the proper, persidential LBJ. Which is a shame, because he wasn’t like that at all, he just assumed the mask that he thought went with the office. It mentioned the Senatorial election he stole, but didn’t mention that he cheated at pretty much every election he every participated in, including his very first, at Southwest Texas State Teachers College, and the fact that the positions of Minority and Majority leaders of the Senate were meaningless, nearly-ceremonial positions until LBJ saw in them an opportunity. They did do a great job showing just how man bills he was able to pass.

The animatronic robot has seen better days, though.

Song of the Day: Pale Blue Eyes, by The Velvet Underground. See sidebar.

Published in: on June 27, 2007 at 11:28 pm  Leave a Comment  

The Greatest Show Ever

I have been holed up in Austin now for 3 days. To go anywhere around here takes a good 20 minute drive, and I thought things were spread out in California. We are visiting both my and Matthew’s (in different years) college roommate Jonah, so its good to slip back into the ease of just hanging out again.

Rekindling a shared love, we have been rewatching season 1 of the Wire from the beginning. I know that many of you who read this blog have already heard my rhapsodic praise for the show more times than you can count, but I will lay it out there again one last time in print. It is, hands down, the greatest achievement in the history of television, an unfairly maligned artistic medium which has provided many great shows (including creators David Simon and Ed Burns’ last show, Homicide: Life on the Streets), and one of the great works of American art of the last quarter century. While ostensibly about the war on drugs in Baltimore, the show encompasses nearly every aspect of American life, making it the one drama to fully address what it means to be American at the beginning of the 21st century. The story moves from small stories of people trying to make it (which took a full detour into the working class story of the second season, which is clearly the weakest season, but still, I believe, underrated because it takes us away from the story begun in season 1 and continued in seasons 3 and 4), from cops, drug dealers, children, drug addicts, politicians, working people, blue and white collar workers, etc., to larger questions of bureaucratic and institutional structures, the difficulty in addressing societal problems through social institutions, the functions of bureaucracy, politics, policing, and culture. The show creates a tableau out of a somewhat major American city and tells a story that is suspenseful and entertaining yet incredibly rich. Watching it this time, I’m so struck by the level of detail that the writers bring to the world they have created. And every character sticks with you, from small time dealers like Bodie and Wallace to Stringer Bell and Avon Barksdale, to the cops, from McNulty and Greggs to Carver and Prez and Lester, etc. I continue to maintain that it is the American War and Peace, in that it holds everything of life within its scope. Everyone should watch it, it will blow your mind.

Today we went to the Lyndon Baines Johnson Presidential Museum here in Austin under the influence of Robert Caro’s magisterial writing on the man. The museum has an animitronic LBJ telling jokes on the 4th floor, very creepy. Reminds me of a wax museum I once went to in Natural Bridge, Virginia, where there was a wax child swinging out in front of the entrance, seemingly there only to frighten attendees. More from later on.

Cameron, Fellow Traveler.

Published in: on June 27, 2007 at 9:51 pm  Leave a Comment  

Crossing State Lines

Some days take you from A to B. Today was one of those days. When it started, I was in Jackson, Mississippi, picking cigarette butts, water toys, beer cups, and firework ashes off the ground with Ari (previous post) while Minibus (previous post) rooted around the detritus and ate half of a watermelon. It’s ending now, at 4AM, with me sitting on a waterbed in Austin, Texas. In between, we drove for around 11 hours and were treated badly on the road, possibly because of the bumper sticker that reads BUSH IS A TERRORIST.

Song of the “AM”: Best of All Possible Worlds, by Kris Kristofferson. Ernie Banks said, “Let’s play two!”, while Sly Stone said, “Everything I like is nice / That’s why I try to have it twice.” Kris Kristofferson’s first album, Kristofferson, demanded two listens early on a sunday morning. Really everything about it is remarkable: Kristofferson had already attended Oxford through a Rhodes Scholarship before turning to country music, and his first album — sadly, not only his best, but essentially a greatest hits collection — is one of country’s greatest. “Best of All Possible Worlds” is right at the top along so many other jewels. Voltaire has never sounded better. The entire album is worth digesting, but you can hear this one in the sidebar.

Song of the “PM”: This Year, by The Mountain Goats. From John Darnielle’s amazing 2006 album The Sunset Tree, which Cameron believes to be far and away Darnielle’s best. I also enjoy Tallahassee, but the arrangements here are just so meticulous and perfect, and the lyrics have an emotional directness — it was acknowledged to be his first openly (or at all) autobiographical album, documenting his relationship with his abusive stepfather — that reach the core. Darnielle has a unique ability to construct lyrics that cut to the center of truth; here he was able to put wisdom to catchy music. See sidebar.

Published in: on June 25, 2007 at 9:27 am  Leave a Comment  

Jackson, Mississippi

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Published in: on June 22, 2007 at 10:14 pm  Comments (4)  

Two on Graceland Too

Today we finally visited Graceland Too, in eery Holly Springs, Mississippi. I’ve been to Graceland twice. It moved me on a cultural, aesthetic, anthropological way, but Graceland Too touched me somewhere deeper, for better or worse. It left Cameron and I reeling, recovering, and ruminating for hours afterward.

The facts: Graceland Too is the private residence of one Paul MacLeod, an Elvis fan who has dedicated his home and his life to Elvis the Pelvis. The museum (mausoleum?) is open literally 24-hours a day, and each extensive, detailed tour is given by Paul himself. It’s just a house with lots of Elvis stuff in it, and you pay to look at the stuff and hear a guy talk to you about it.

For reasons that were never explained, the outside of the house, and the large plastic lions that guard the palace, are painted gray; there are scores of small x-mas trees of surprising colors; and the entire area is festooned with barbed wire. That’s the outside. Paul has been an Elvis fanatic since the age of 13. Over the years he’s collected literally thousands upon thousands of Elvis records, posters, lamps, figurines, knives, videotapes — everything covered under the umbrella term “memorabilia,” and then much more. The walls and of course the ceilings of each room are covered with this stuff. Taped onto boards are pictures of all of the famous names who have visited Graceland Too — Tom Cruise, Chris O’Donnell, President Bush’s daughters, etc etc — the various awards and notices of recognition that Graceland Too is earned, and oversized printouts of comments by visitors attesting to the museum’s greatness; stacked in corners and small alcoves are folders detailing every mention of Elvis on television ever and FBI files that mention Elvis… Hard to describe all this crap. You get the point.

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Leaving aside the frightening implications of the sheer mechanics of this obsession, the tour is more about Graceland Too itself rather than Elvis. Paul repeatedly speaks of having been offered untold millions for various parts of his collection, and, upon hearing that we have driven from New York, continually asked if we knew anyone in business or marketing to go 50/50 on the collection to make billions (as much as Bill Gates or Sam Walton, to quote Paul). The tour descends more and more into a reflection of Paul’s mind and experience as he details various interactions with celebrities, the Elvis entourage, Presley family and various Ole Miss students. The talk also descended more and more into crude sexual stories (he described at least 4 women as being built like “brick shithouses”) and shockingly violent interludes, such as:

Paul: Have you ever operated a chainsaw?

Cameron: No…

Paul: Have you?

Matthew: Yeah, I have.

Paul: …well then you can take a chainsaw and cut off the heads of me and my family if anything I say isn’t the whole truth.

Also, Matthew feels the need to mention the fear factor. At one point I realized that we were talking to a crazy man who could probably kill the two of us without thinking twice. Paul is an extremely imposing man, despite his advancing age. His weight has settled so that his shape now resembles that of a lemon, but he is powerful and barrel-chested. He would punctuate stories by slapping his fist into his hands, and if you failed to follow his eyes like a yo-yo he would snap his fingers in front of your face. I was scared for my life; I thought Paul MacLeod might just kill me if I didn’t pretend to understand his story on Elian Gonzalez; I am glad he did not.

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Things kind of fell apart at the end. The monologue was interspersed with some choice sexual comments — it took us a while to realize that there was in fact no connection between Jennifer Lopez and Elvis Presley, but that her ass was being used as a means of comparison — but right before we left Paul unleashed a deluge unlike anything I’ve ever heard. Is it really possible that all of these acts involving sexual contests, various species, and hordes of well-endowed Ole Miss coeds are being performed nightly on Paul’s lawn? What does the City Council of Holly Springs have to say about that? What can they say: dude knows how to party. Finally, Paul let us know that he’s working on getting some new lion sculptures to guard his gates, only these will be twenty times bigger and will shoot lasers the color of Cameron’s shirt (gray-green) out of their eyes.

For two hours, complete attention was demanded. We were literally surrounded by Elvis memorabilia, but all we were able to see was Paul. Maybe that was the point.

Overall, a surreal and somewhat traumatizing experience. Definitely something to see, but not for the faint of heart.

Matthew’s Song of the Day: Bur Tree, by The Bowerbirds.  (Listen here.)

Published in: on June 22, 2007 at 12:36 am  Comments (2)  

The City Museum

I can’t even begin to describe how amazing and wonderful The City Museum is in St. Louis.  (Our first reaction: “It’s like Rubulad, except without the drugs and alcohol.”)  So I’ll post one picture and give you a link for more pictures.

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Cameron Sez: After eating in a restaurant inside a Days Inn in Holly Springs, MS, you need to get in a groove. Try Lowdown by Boz Scaggs, classic disco influenced rock and roll.  See sidebar.

Published in: on June 21, 2007 at 1:11 am  Leave a Comment  

On Toasted Ravioli and Imo’s Pizza

“When in Rome, do as the Romans,” that’s what they say, so that’s what we’ve been doing. But what if that means imitating some of Rome’s nastier practices, such as gladiatorial combats–or slavery? Here in St. Louis, we unintentionally enacted that hypothetical by trying two of St. Louis’ local delicacies: toasted ravioli and Imo’s Pizza.

Toasted ravioli is to be found at Blueberry Hill, Chuck Berry’s restaurant in a nice, collegey section of town. On one of Bob Dylan’s unreleased songs, “Get Your Rocks Off,” covered wonderfully by Coulson, Dean, McGuinness, Flint, one hears, “Well it was late one night, down on Blueberry Hill / One man said to another, with a blood-curdling chill / Get your rocks off!” Well, toasted ravioli definitely did not get my rocks off, though it did rip my stomache apart. They cook the ravioli, and then, as the waitress said, “bread it, fry it.” But the deep-frying takes away the texture of the pasta; it’s just meat in a deep-fry pocket; if you were to deep-fry human flesh, it would probably taste the same. Not that I would know. My grade: B.

As our host and my old friend Stephen Osserman informed us, Imo’s is a local institution. Every St. Louis local loves the pizza; every outsider can’t stand it. The cheese that adorns Imo’s is called “provel,” and is some bizarre combination of provolone and mozzarella, and has the texture of American Cheese. Wikipedia has more specific information here. I of course refused to give this a shot, but Cameron took the plunge. Some of his descriptions: “A texture vaguely like that of plastic.” “Incredibly expensive.” “By far the worst pizza I have ever had.” “Kind of like a skewed version of American cheese, and I don’t know why you would want to do that.” He gave it a 3 out of 10.

But I can say this for St. Louis and Missouri: at least it’s not Iowa.

Published in: on June 20, 2007 at 1:35 am  Comments (1)  

From a Super 8

Two things come to mind as we sit here waiting for You, Me and Dupree to come on.

1. I’m thinking of three or four nights ago, when we first watched this movie. Cameron, Steff, her friend Valerie, and I — we were just in it for laughs, for some entertainment. Now we know that it’s truly one of the worst movies ever made, so bad that it deserves at least a second viewing. Hence the waiting. Hence the Country Junction Sweet Cherry Wine, produced locally here in Dyersville, Iowa. This makes me think of Steff, who we dropped off in Chicago. Her presence is definitely missed.

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2. The Field of Dreams. Maybe I or Cameron will write more about this — excellent, the film is starting — but today we made the long detour to Dyersville on the way from Minneapolis to St. Louis. To make the movie Field of Dreams, they actually built a cornfield in Dyersville, Iowa, and the field is still intact, the grass still mowed. Souvenirs are sold, of course. (Side note: Seth Rogen, of Knocked Up fame, is in You, Me and Dupree. Will that jump-start his career, like Dustin Hoffman in The Graduate? One can only hope.) But you can throw the ball around and pretend you’re one of the Black Sox. (Another side note: when Michael Douglas’ character implores Matt Dillon’s character — his son-in-law — to get a vasectomy, that has to be one of the most senseless lines in any movie. Ever.)

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Song of the Day: Tighten Up, by Archie Bell and the Drells.  See sidebar.

Published in: on June 18, 2007 at 3:08 am  Leave a Comment  

Minneapolis Wrap Up

First off, Minneapolis is an awesome city.  It’s got great coffee shops, great record stores, a nice downtown, and tons of lakes inside the city.  Yesterday, me and Matthew went swimming in Cedar Lake, the water temperature was perfect.  I think every city should have lakes inside the city limits, even if they’re not natural, they should be put in.

But, most significantly, Minneapolis has some of the best food around.  After arriving on Thursday, we went to a random Mexican restaurant on Nicollet Ave., I think it was called Paraiso, and it was some of the best Mexican food I’ve had, certainly the best outside of California, and even challenging my beloved Juan’s Place for Mexican food supremacy.

However, best of all, and worthy of trip in and of itself was Al’s Breakfast.  Consisting solely of a 50s style counter with about 12 stools, and a constant line along the back wall, Al’s is cramped, and even in a portion of the city called Dinkytown (I’m amazed anyone can say that with a straight face).  However, it provided me with the best breakfast I have ever had.  The Jose consists of hash browns, cheddar cheese, poached eggs and hot, chunky salsa, all grilled together to perfection.  From the crunchiness of the hash browns to the creamy cheese and eggs, with the the heat and flavor of the salsa, topped off with some toast, it’s one of the best things ever.  Any of you who know me knows how much I love breakfast, and this was the best breakfast I’ve ever had.  Ever.  Plus I topped it off with the best pancake I’ve ever had.  If “Texas’s largest pancake” in Silver City, TX had been this good, then I would have finished it and gotten my name on the wall 3 years ago.  In honor of the Jose, I suggest that you listen to Lee Hazelwood’s spectacular bullfighting anthem, Jose.

Overall, Minneapolis has everything a city needs, even a baseball team and Kevin Garnett.

Cameron, Fellow Traveler

Published in: on June 18, 2007 at 2:51 am  Leave a Comment