THE SOUND OF THE BONE DRILL: BMX hero Mat Hoffman on the pain and the glory (Arthur, 2002)

Originally published in Arthur No. 1 (October 2002). Cover photograph by Spike Jonze. Art direction by W.T. Nelson.


BMX superstardom didn’t come cheap, says Mat Hoffman

Excerpted from The Ride of My Life, BMX madman Mat Hoffman’s new autobiography written with Mark Lewman. Hoffman came out of retirement at the 2002 X Games and made history, pulling a no-handed 900 air. 

I’ve broken one wrist five times. The other wrist, three times. Between my ankles, I’ve had five breaks. I’ve snapped four fingers, my thumbs four times, my hand twice, busted my feet three times, and broken three toes. (You don’t think a broken toe would hurt that much, but your entire body weight is on it.) I’ve busted my collar bones five times, snapped my pelvis, my fibula, my elbow, cracked three ribs and separated a couple from my sternum. (Breaking ribs off the sternum sucks—just about every movement you can think of is centered in your chest.) Then there’s my head: one skull fracture, two broken jaws, two broken noses, a mouthful of teeth, and a partridge in a pear tree.

Every choice you make can be traced back to the instinctual need to seek pleasure, and avoid pain. These two forces are interconnected, different sides to the same coin. Since I started bike riding, I wanted more than anything to experience the highest highs. To get there, I was willing to accept the consequences. My medical records contain more than four hundred pages documenting my injuries. I’ve put myself in a coma, had over fifty knockouts and concussions, been sewn up with over two hundred stitches, dislocated my shoulder more than twenty times, broken about fifty bones, and had over a dozen different surgeries. I’ve torn ligaments, bruised tissue, severed arteries, spilled blood, and left hunks of my skin stuck to plywood, concrete, dirt, and bicycle components. I’ve had to endure not just physical pain, but the mental anguish of re-learning how to walk, ride my bike, or even remember who I was. I’ve dealt with mountains of health insurance red tape, and condescending doctors who took it upon themselves to lecture me before they treated my injuries, as if they needed to save me from myself. 

Not everyone understands that I’ve asked for it, accepted it, and willingly volunteered. Not to sound sadistic, but I consider each of my injuries a tax I had to pay for learning what I could do on my bike. I wanted it all, and wouldn’t take any of it back if I could. Yes, I will be sore and broken when I’m older. I can feel it already, the aches and pains of a body that has been beyond and back. I’ve given up as much of myself as I could, because I love bike riding that much. 

My insurance companies have always hated me, having paid hospital bills totaling more than a million dollars over the years. I’ve had to rely on surgery to keep me going. You know it’s getting serious when you start letting people take knives to your body to make you healthy. 

Here are my patient notes. 

Number 1: Collarbone Crush 

November, 1986. It was immediately following a Mountain Dew Trick Team show. I’d just learned 360 drop-ins, and was uncorking them all day. We finished our demo, but I still wanted to ride. I took my chest protector off, figuring I’d just do easy stuff. I lined up parallel to the coping to do a simple hop drop-in, like Eddie Fiola used to do. I stalled in position for a second and went for it. For some reason my brain told my body to react as if I was doing a 360 drop-in. I fell straight to the cement and took the hit on my head and shoulder. My friend Paige said it made a sound like a helmet being thrown off the ramp with nothing in it—a loud, hollow snap. That was my grand finale. I didn’t just break my collarbone, I shattered it. I knocked myself unconscious too. The show was right next door to a hospital, of all places, with two of the best surgeons in Oklahoma City on duty that day. In surgical terms, Dr. Grana and Dr. Yates performed a fourth degree AC joint separation procedure, provided reconstruction of the coracoclavicular ligament, and did a partial removal of my left collarbone. 

Number 2: Right Leg, Wrong Move

February, 1988. The 540 is a trick that makes you earn it to learn it. The price is a lot of slams. I finally thought I had them just about dialed in, and did one and looped out. My leg got caught behind me and I sat on it. There was a snapping sound and a blast wave of heat, pain, and nausea. Broken bones have a dull, throbby kind of ache to them. I got into Steve’s car to go to the hospital. Every time he hit a bump my leg would sway between my knee and ankle. My body was in shock, and the pain began to subside. We started chuckling every time it swayed, and then started laughing harder about what the hell we were laughing at. Dark humor helps. The doctor I encountered in the ER had very little humor. My first question to him was, “how long before I can ride again?” He told me I would be lucky to walk without a limp and would never ride a bike again. “Okay, thanks…bye,” was the next thing out of my mouth. I left that doctor as fast as I could, and my dad got me in to see Dr. Yates. Yates put in a titanium plate (the body rejects steel) and ten screws in my fibula to repair the complete syndesmotic disruption and fibular fracture of my right leg. I missed the first King of Vert in Paris because of this injury.  

Continue reading

LIFE AGAINST DEMENTIA by Joe Carducci (Arthur, 2002)

Originally published in Arthur No. 1 (Oct. 2002)

by Joe Carducci

Anyone familiar with the roiling currents and tidal motion of American popular culture knows that the film and music industries are delivering less interesting work than ever. Melodies, rhythms, songs, voices, characters, stories and genres seem colder, more processed and, in general, received rather than inspired. There’s nothing wrong with referencing or even stealing plots or melodies as long as the stealing’s done by an artist or madman who revives them too, in some new personal way. But with the explosion of University film departments and rock and roll courses in the last two decades the American arts are filling up with professional careerists who better belong in business college, or law school.

The action film fell of its own overblown weight; you’d hardly know that it grew from such lean, tightly-scripted productions as Dirty Harry (1971), Death Wish (1974), Rocky (1976), First Blood (1982), and Terminator (1984). And whereas Jaws (1975) remade film marketing, Titanic (1997) threatened to remake the action film itself: fusing the male action film with the woman’s film takes another hundred million dollars and an additional hour in running time. The resulting summer behemoths trod the marketplace with such strong-arming confidence that the studios practically demand they be made without costly stars so as to pack in more explosives and effects and advertising.

The music industry’s dilemma was clear at this year’s Grammies. In a normal year Michael Greene, president of the National Academy of Recording Arts & Sciences (NARAS), would have slammed Republicans on non-Industry social policy grounds, but Bush got off easy this year as the country ain’t in the mood and Greene’s house was not in order. Big recording stars are lobbying in Sacramento to void the record industry’s exemption from the seven-year personal contract limit, and they want to own their own master recordings. And over all the bogus proceedings on Grammy night loomed the specter of the computer-software-hardware-internet juggernaut’s paramount killer app—free music. (NARAS is no longer Greene’s playpen due to sexual harassment lawsuit—a real Clinton Democrat, apparently.)

So the questions become:

– Have the media, which now dominate content, so divided programming into blindered marketing niches that’s they’ve cut the cords to our rich musical and film traditions?

– Has the evolution of Pop—its computer generated virtual musics and films—superseded any organic folk motion within our music and film traditions?

– Has the Organization Man of International Entertainment corporate culture proved incapable of recognizing and delivering music and film of the level that sundry Sammy Glicks and juke-box mobsters did for decades in their sleep?

– Has the music underground rejected all tradition but either the line of nihilism diagrammed by Greil Marcus in Lipstick Traces, or a backstop of kitsch (such vicarious ex-pat pursuits as French chanson, Exotica, Canto-Pop, J-pop)?

Sorry I asked…

We can’t be sure whether the current thin gruel might not be the only possible art deduced from the slim pickings of the last nearly thirty years. The teenagers just starting their bands and the twenty-somethings still prepping their first film will be the artists shaping what American pop culture will become. But they have experienced pop culture of little depth or personality their entire lives. What humanity persists in the art tends to be negative, reactionary traits: cynicism, indifference, contempt….

Radio was formatted in the early seventies and so ambitious recording artists quickly began to format themselves. An entire generation of willful rock bands—Ramones through Flipper—refused to format themselves. These were the last bands to have grown up listening to the cultural mix of pre-1973 radio and TV variety shows (not to mention walked through the high grade “amateur” musical environment Americans of all ages once experienced at County Fairs, Corn-boils, church socials, and school dances). But unformatted, these Punk bands were then, not programmed. Those that attempted to format themselves for hits (Talking Heads, Devo, X, Replacements…) ensured they would not be the bands that carried the torch forward; perversely, it would be the unprogrammed misses (Ramones, Avengers, Black Flag, Minutemen, Descendents…) that would launch a million bands.

Since the music left the South in the late fifties the natural grace of that early rock and roll has gradually dimmed, leaving a more studied rock music in its place. The British bands of the decade between 1963 and 1973 had studied the music, though you couldn’t say they were grounded in it. The American punk bands that formed before 1980 were the last to be grounded in this folk tradition aspect of rock and roll (though they were warped as well by that new Brit influence). Thereafter, even the most important bands (Sonic Youth, Nirvana, Tool, Kyuss/Queens of the Stone Age, White Stripes…) are necessarily more conceptual in approach. It may be that our distance from the South of that day, and the input from today’s constricted media-driven musical environment might ultimately dry up the musicality of even bands that do not depend on the programmers of radio and MTV.

Hollywood today, courtesy of marketing science and Sammy Glick IV, offers CGI (computer-generated imaging) Potemkin villages and villagers for pulverizing in CGI thermidor for the boys, tearjerking emo-porn for girls, and nihilistic puzzle pictures for the sophistos. Generations of filmmakers have been destroyed by the Star Wars saga with nary a wobble in the force detected. (In my unrequited meetings with film producers in L.A. and N.Y. the life-size star-trooper models in the office corners never relax their guard.) More noxious influences on film narratives are tramping in from TV, music videos, advertising, videogames, pornography, and all the film deconstruction bonuses included on the typical DVD release.

Recently passing on through the obit pages have been American cultural figures such as Peggy Lee, Budd Boetticher, Joey and Dee Dee Ramone, Dave Van Ronk, Pop Staples, Katy Jurado, Ray Brown, Anthony Quinn, Waylon Jennings, Dorothy MacGuire, Harlan Howard, John Lee Hooker, Richard Farnsworth, Bernard Klatzko, Carl Perkins, Ed Roth, Hilous Butrum, Rod Steiger, Otis Blackwell, and John Fahey. Never mind the heftlessness of the obits in decades to come, Britney Spears may never die! The biotech nerds (not known for their ability to hear music) are forging new frontiers in unintended consequences.

Our meta-sentient pop culture has foreshadowed this immortality. The explosion of cultural choices via cable and satellite has reached critical mass via the web—it’s now become something different, a constant ambient hemorrhagic din. Kids watch Ozzie and Harriet and The Osbournes; the Randolph Scott rides again; Buster Keaton falls down and springs up again; and even the sword-and-sandal genre returns! We are either jacked by contemporary offerings (Survivor, Cops, Robot Wars, Dismissed…) or calmed by our immortal ghost culture (Lawrence Welk, Audie Murphy, Cheyenne, Father Knows Best…).

Continue reading

PRESENCE: Lift to Experience’s Josh T. Pearson talks about the Passion [Arthur, 2002]

Originally published in Arthur No. 1 (October 2002)…

One Texan Band, Under God
Lift to Experience, the greatest art-rock band since Sigur Ros, talk about the Passion with Jay Babcock

Josh Pearson, the 28-year-old singer-guitarist-songwriter for the extraordinary Denton, Texas-based art-rock band Lift to Experience, works in a world positively drenched in Judeo-Christian allusion and metaphor. So of course he’s conducting a mid-tour interview on a cel phone from a Manhattan pub called The Slaughtered Lamb.

“Yeah, it’s perfect,” he says, with a chuckle. “It’s like, ‘Where do we go? Oh, there’s a spot.’”

Lift to Experience are in New York City on their first-ever extended tour of America. It’s a tour that’s been a long time coming, in support of a debut album—the audacious, double-CD concept record The Texas-Jerusalem Crossroads—that itself was a long time in gestation. The songs that made it onto the album were originally composed in 1998, after Pearson had moved out to a ranch to work as a farmhand.

“It wasn’t a career move,” he says. “I just needed a place to be alone and not have to talk to anyone, to have enough time where the good ideas could become great ideas. I was alone and isolated and living in this little barn. It wasn’t glamorous, it was just mindless work: shoveling up the shit and taking the horses out to pasture and feeding them hay. It’s real therapeutic working with horses…”

Soon, the songs came. And with them, the concept for the album. No brief summary of The Texas-Jerusalem Crossroads can do it justice, Texas-style or otherwise. The album’s opening, spoken announcement is: “This is the story of three Texas boys busy minding their own business when the Angel of the Lord appeared unto them saying, ‘When the Winston Churchills start firin’ their Winston rifles into the sky form the Lone Star State, drinkin’ their Lone Star beer and smokin’ their Winston cigarettes, know the time is drawin’ nigh when the son shall be lifted on high.’”

Pearson says Texas-Jerusalem is “a concept album about the end of the world, where Texas is the Promised Land—the final battleground in the war between good and evil.” But it’s about more than that. The double-album’s lyrics are full to bustling with freight trains and incoming storms, strange prophets and fallen feathered angels, blood and fool‘s gold. Its protagonists are an ambitious Texas rock band desperate for a smash hit, ready, metaphorically at least, to deal their souls to the devil at Robert Johnson’s crossroads in exchange for material success. But Satan doesn’t show. Instead it’s the Angel of the Lord, announcing “just as was told/Justice will unfold.”

“Don‘t you boys know nothin’?” the angel asks the band, puzzled by the news of imminent holy conflict on Texas soil. “The USA is the center of JerUSAlem.”

Then, the music volcanoes. The rhythm is muscular, spacious, dynamic; the guitar is meditative, gossamer drone parted by noise mass and riff shapes; and the vocals are uniquely full and rich—triumphant yet resigned—sung in a beautiful voice of steady comfort. The lyrics—the metaphors, the literary and contemporary allusions—are relentless and poetic: the simple word ’star’ means, at once, the Lone Star state, the Jewish Star of David, the Christian Star of Bethlehem and, of course, Rock Star. A lot of work was put into this album, obviously. Taking it all in is a dizzying, overwhelming experience.

“It worked out real well with what I wanted to do with the metaphors,” says Pearson. “Texas being the place of last stands, from the Alamo. And Texas being an individual nation in its own, with freedoms that it celebrates that the other states don’t have—it can secede at any time, the only flag allowed to fly the same height as the American flag, that sort of thing, cuz it was a nation before it merged with the States.

“I started writing songs and they were all pointing to a place and then one night, I realized where it was headed. It made itself known. It’s one of those things where your body is just sorta following intuitively. I wouldn’t say you’re channeling it, but you’re trusting in your intuition that it’s headed in the right direction. Sometimes you never know why you’re headed that way, but it works out. All the pieces fall into place.”

* * *

Incredibly, Lift to Experience does the album one better in a live setting.

The first time I saw them was at 7:15 on a Saturday night in a small bar on Sunset Boulevard in Silver Lake. A stained and horned bullskull sat at stage-center; a Texas flag draped over a bass amp. Behind and above them was the bar’s neon-lit sign that read (of course) “Salvation.” As the sun dipped into the smog horizon outside, Lift to Experience began playing to an audience of no more than 100, most of whom were unfamiliar with the band‘s music.

They began suddenly, with almost notice. And they began with a no-vocal, power trio cover of—I shit you not—“Kashmir.” It was intense, immediate, absolutely massive. There was Josh (The Bear) Browning—a bass throbber of burly frame, serious beardage and eyes-closed close concentration; there was Andy Young, a drummer with the build of the sturdiest steakhouse either side of the Rio Grande, leaning forward off the stool Keith Moon-like, switching between mallets, drumsticks and handclaps, his cymbals in perpetual perpendicularity; and there was Josh T. Pearson, a gangly lanky framed, scraggly-haired guitar-vocalist in biker Nudiewear and bracelets, his beaten cowboy hat ringed by thorns.

They seamed straight from “Kashmir” into an instrumental version of their own majestic “Just As Was Told,” without breaking. It was that rare kind of performance that dapples your skin with goosebumps. All the stuff on the album was there: the long builds and graceful a cappella interludes, the churning muscularity and psychedelic overload. We’re talking presence.

Continue reading

“Fellowship of the Vine”: an interview with shamanic psychonaut-author Daniel Pinchbeck (Arthur, 2002)

Originally published in Arthur No. 1 (October, 2002)

“The Garden of Magic; or, the Powers and Thrones Approach the Bridge” by Alan Moore (1994)

Fellowship of the Vine
An interview with shamanic psychonaut-author Daniel Pinchbeck

Daniel Pinchbeck is a New York-based writer and journalist who co-founded the literary magazine Open City in the early ‘90s. The son of the writer Joyce Johnson (a member of the Beat Generation and author of Minor Characters) and the painter Peter Pinchbeck, Pinchbeck has been on a passionate intellectual quest for the last years that has taken him across Nepal, India, Mexico, the Amazon and West Africa, writing pieces on art, psychedelics, and altered states of consciousness for Rolling Stone, The Village Voice, Wired, Salon, and The New York Times Magazine, among others. His new book, Breaking Open the Head: A Psychedelic Journey Into the Heart of Contemporary Shamanism (Broadway), is an account of that quest, blending cultural history, personal narrative, and metaphysical speculation. The original interview was conducted by Joseph Durwin on the eve of Breaking Open the Head’s publication; there’s been some slight futzing of the text by Arthur’s editor.

Arthur: In your book, you talk about exploring many of the same hallucinogenic drugs—LSD, magic mushrooms, ayahuasca—that postwar Westerm bohemians like the Beats and the Hippies were interested in. How does your quest compare to those of people like William Burroughs, Allen Ginsberg, Ken Kesey and Timothy Leary?
Daniel Pinchbeck: The Beats were working by instinct and intuition. They realized that modern society had become a horror show, and that their task was to begin to uncover, in Allen Ginsberg’s words, “a lost knowledge or a lost consciousness.” They took that process as far as they could in the context of their times and their individual personalities.

I believe that my approach—and my book—is more scientific and analytic, because that is the task of the “counterculture” in our time. Perhaps I am the only person who feels this way, but I see a clear goal ahead. This goal is a direct legacy of the counterculture —but it is actually hundreds, if not many thousands, of years older than that. In fact, it is the mission that we must somehow accomplish. Think of it as a secret raid to be carried out deep behind enemy lines, despite incredible odds, and with no possibility of failure.

The Beats and the Hippies saw through the abrasive insanity gnawing at the soul of America–this warmongering, money-mad, climate-destroying monstrosity, which is now casting a dreadful shadow across the planet. Where the Beats acted intuitively, from the heart, we now have the necessary knowledge to put together a new paradigm that is simultaneously political, ecological, spiritual, and far more scientifically accurate than the out-dated Newtonian-Darwinian model which is propping up the doom-spiraling status quo. The psychedelic experience supports the physicist David Bohm’s vision of a “holographic universe,” which is also identical to the alchemical perspective of “As above, so below.” We now have the tools to reinstate the archaic cosmological perspective on a firm scientific basis. Once that sinks in, it becomes obvious that the true goal of human existence is psychic and spiritual development, and the entire thrust of the capitalist system is a samsaric delusion that is keeping humanity from recovering its birthright.

Perhaps there is a reason that humanity has been frantically seeking to develop a “global brain” through the Internet, cell phones, and satellites: I suspect that a moment will come when complete social transformation becomes not only possible, but inevitable. That moment may be sooner than we think.

What were the circumstances that led to pursuing the experiences you relate in your book?
I first tried mushrooms and LSD in college–as many people do—and my experiences left me intrigued but puzzled. It seemed extraordinary that such vast alternative dimensions of consciousness could be revealed with such shocking immediacy. And it was equally extraordinary that the mainstream culture didn’t find this a worthy subject of discussion or thought. After college, I put psychedelics aside to enter the “real world.” When I hit my late twenties, I began to feel increasingly desolate and despairing. I was lucky enough to be connected to the New York media world, the art world, and the literary world, but all these scenes began to seem unbearably empty to me. I realized that I needed to know for myself if there was a spiritual dimension to existence–I really thought that I might literally go insane or prefer to die without access to some form of deeper knowledge. I didn’t think a bit of yoga was going to do the trick. At a bookstore, I heard about iboga, an African tribal psychedelic plant used in Gabon and the Congo that is said to show initiates the African spirit world. Most people just take it once in their lives–it lasts for thirty hours. I got an assignment to go to Africa and go through the initiation, and that was where my quest began.

Continue reading

FAMOUS ARTHUR: Arthur C. Clarke, profiled by Paul Moody (Arthur, 2002)

Originally published in Arthur No. 1 (Oct. 2002), with a full-page illustration by Geoff McFetridge. In the photo above, ACC holds his copy of Arthur No. 1, with that page showing.

FAMOUS ARTHUR: Arthur C. Clarke
Paul Moody enters the sci-fi court of King Arthur

Androgynous aliens searching the galaxy for the nine billion names of God; mysterious unmanned spaceships drifting Marie Celeste-like into the solar system; vast black monoliths discovered under the surface of the’s all in a day’s work for Arthur C. Clarke.

The author of more than seventy novels and the undisputed Godfather of science fiction, he’s also—to a generation brought up on his long-running UK TV series, The Mysterious World Of…—the monstrodomo of the unknown. Add the fact that’s he’s lived in self-imposed exile in Sri Lanka since 1956, became a guru to the entire US space program in the 1960s and has attracted visits from even the likes of ill-fated Rolling Stone Brian Jones in the search for answers to the reason why we’re here, and you’ve got a mystery wrapped in an enigma signed with a question mark. Religious cults have been born from less.

Yet meeting this good natured sci- fi Colonel Kurtz takes you into an even stranger world. Picture the scene as a Hollywood pitch: you’re standing in a quiet residential street in Cinnamon Gardens, the most exclusive district of Colombo, capital of Sri Lanka. Vast palm trees sway in the 90-degree heat haze. A cloud of bats flies overhead on its daily vigil toward the sunset. Suddenly a ten foot grille slides open and you’re walking into the private residence of one of the most reclusive figures on the planet.

Yet it’s all true. As you go up the stairs of his palatial headquarters you begin to realize you’ve entered a one-man orchestrated nerve-center. This is a far cry from the days when Clarke owned the first television set in Sri Lanka. Banks of computers drone harmoniously; fax machines buzz with communications from all corners of the globe (the telecommunications bills rarely drop below $1000 a month). Signed pictures of everyone from Neil Armstrong to Elizabeth Taylor to the Pope line the walls, amid vast blown-up NASA Moonscapes, whilst a vast floor to ceiling bookcase at one end of the room is filled entirely with hardback first editions of Clarke’s novels.

The overall effect is like entering the inner sanctum of a benign, hyper-active Bond villain. Prodigious isn’t the word for Clarke. He claims to have 102 projects on the go at any one time, and in this setting, aided by a host of assistants, it’s hard to disbelieve him. On top of all this, a wall-sized TV screen is beaming footage of Clarke appearing as a hologram at the Playboy Mansion last year. Standing on a dais addressing an invited crowd of NASA dignitaries, octogenarian swingers and luminescent blank-eyed Playboy bunnies, Clarke delivers a speech as a shimmering, golden, light projection. The effect is much like seeing Kirk and Spock mid-dematerialization on the USS Enterprise. Except Clarke really is going where no man has been before.

As you’d imagine, he’s pleased with it.

“You are watching history!” he booms by way of introduction, gesturing at the screen. Wheelchair bound due to the debilitating effects of post-polio syndrome, nonetheless he wheels himself forward at high speed wrapped in a batik sarong.

Continue reading


Originally published in Arthur No. 1 (October 2002)

Ask Neil Hamburger

Each issue, comedian Neil Hamburger will answer Arthur readers’ queries about relationships, career, sexual intercourse, table manners and particle physics. Email your questions to and we will pass them along to Neil at our next Cappuccino Blast party. For this special premiere issue of Arthur, we didn’t have any questions from our readers for Neil, mostly because we don’t have any readers yet. So we adapted the following questions from The Sun.

I am 22 and living with my 20-year-old girlfriend of two years and our baby son. Our relationship is routine and boring. I’ve never been in love with her and only stayed because of the baby and because it was somewhere to live. My life changed a few months ago when I met this beautiful, intelligent older woman. We met at the gym where she works out most days. She doesn’t look anywhere near her true age. I am younger than her children but I don’t care about the age difference between us, although she does. She asked me out for a drink and afterwards we went back to her house and ended up making love. She is the most fantastic lover a man could wish for. Her calls and texts are so erotic, I’m addicted. She asks what underwear I like, then buys it for me. She laughs at my jokes, listens to everything I say and she’s only interested in me. Even without sex, being with her is good fun. We recently sat on the beach for hours just talking – something I’ve never done with my partner. But my lover is married and says she will never leave her husband. They live in a fabulous house and I think it’s only the money that keeps them together. I’ve promised my lover that if ever I win the Lottery I will take her away with me. She agrees we could be blissfully happy together if we had money. She is going away on holiday soon and I worry she will meet another young guy who does have money and head off with him instead. I’m pretty sure my girlfriend knows something is going on because of the text messages. I feel bad but I can’t live without this woman. My partner is trying hard to please me but I just want my lover. Will she ever leave her husband so I can have her to myself? —Who’s Laughing Now

Dear Who’s, I can relate to your wish to win the Lottery. But the rest of your problem is somewhat foreign to me. I haven’t had this sort of situation, unfortunately. You say, “She laughs at my jokes.” I would love to meet a woman that would laugh at MY jokes. It seems that at far as that is concerned, sir, you HAVE won the Lottery! A lot of times I have done shows to huge crowds and received no laughs at all. Here you have a situation where this woman laughs at your jokes…and still you complain! I don’t understand what your problem is. Except where you say “I worry that she will meet another young guy who does have money, and head off with him instead.” Because I’ve had that happen to me, which ruined my marriage. Except that it wasn’t a young guy…it was a dentist! So my advice is, yes, keep playing the Lottery. And suggest to your lady-friend that she brushes her teeth three times a day, thus ensuring that she stays away from the dentist. A good, name-brand baking soda-based toothpaste should solve your problem, as it neutralizes the acids that cause cavities.

I’m a 17-year-old girl and this happened after I’d gone to a nightclub with some of my mates. After a few hours they were bored and decided to go on somewhere else but I wanted to stay as I’d seen a really cute guy standing at the bar. He’d been looking at me all evening and when they left he came over and bought me a drink. We got chatting and seemed to hit it off straight away. At the end of the evening he said he’d walk me home but as we started walking down an alleyway he suddenly pushed me against the wall and started kissing me. I was surprised at first but we ended up having sex. It was a bit rough but it was the best I’d ever had. Now I’m desperate to see him again. I’ve looked out for him in the club and around town but he’s nowhere to be found. I don’t know whether to tell my mates or keep it to myself. —Likes It Rough

Dear Likes, This happens to me all the time. People leaving nightclubs to have sex, thus missing my act. Oftentimes they leave shortly after my set starts, which doesn’t look good in the eyes of the club owner. These nightclubs are reluctant to book you a second time if people are walking out during your set, whether it’s to have “rough sex” or just to get some cigarettes across the street. It’s people like you who are ruining my career. Yes, I do have some advice to you! Next time you are out at one of these nightclubs, watch ALL the acts on the bill, particularly the comedy segments of the night. Be patient—and THEN go home and have your rough sex, however you want to have it. It’s just common courtesy.

My girlfriend and I are both in our thirties and have been together for three years. Last weekend she went to her mum’s with our baby daughter so I could decorate our bedroom. As I tidied the wardrobe a bag fell out and curiosity made me peep inside. I could hardly believe my eyes when I discovered the vibrator. I haven’t mentioned it to her yet. I’m so confused and upset I don’t know how to deal with my feelings. Should I say anything? —Seeing Is Believing

Dear Seeing, This is a very modern age, so this is the sort of problem that comes up now and again. Unfortunately, we men have to accept the fact that we are now replaceable, because of the invention of the battery. You can say something to your girlfriend, but you’ll probably be told that you are impeding “progress”, that you are a fossil, a relic of a by-gone era. Nowadays they have computers that can do anything…including comedy routines! The old-style comedian, such as myself, must make do with bookings in smaller towns in which the computer age has not yet arrived. This is why I have so many bookings in Oklahoma. This is what I suggest you do: find one of these small-town girls who has not yet been exposed to the new technology, who still believes in the simple things, like the human touch.

I am 29, my husband is 39 and we’ve been married just over a year. When we met he was everything I ever wanted in a man and–as a bonus–he accepted my son who absolutely idolizes him. But things started to go wrong within weeks of marrying. He likes to experiment sexually and his sexual demands are getting worse. I go along with his wishes to keep him happy but I don’t enjoy most of it. Stupidly, I agreed to a threesome. He found her through an advert. She was quite matter-of-fact but I had to drink a bottle of wine before I could go through with it. I feel totally worthless now and I can’t understand why he needs someone else if he loves me. I have refused to do it again but he won’t stop asking. What am I going to do? I love him when he’s kind and gentle, but not when he’s trying to be a sexual deviant. —Liquored Up

Dear Liquored Up, I see what you mean. I had a show booked recently in Denver, Colorado, at a little nightclub there. It was supposed to be just myself and my opening act, Pleaseeasaur, which is also a comedy-oriented act—we often travel as a package deal. Anyway, we both arrived in Denver early, prepared to do this show…but when we got there, we found that a “third party” had been added to the bill, making the night a “threesome,” as you call it. I felt totally worthless because I had believed that we were able to perform adequately for the Denver audience without needing another act on the bill to keep the evening going. And to make matters worse, this third party, a band called “The Fire Show,” sat in the back of the club all night saying bad things about my act, and about Pleaseeasaur. I had to drink a bottle of wine before I could sit through their set. But you know what: we were vindicated, in that no one bought any of this third party’s merchandise afterwards, not a single thing! Yet we sold quite a few Neil Hamburger souvenir CDs, fridge magnets, buttons, and T-shirts. So my advice is to hang in there, because, as the legendary entertainer Phil Harris used to say, “cream always rises to the top.”

Neil Hamburger says his next comedy album, Laugh Out Lord, is due soon on Drag City Records. For more information, say hello to

“ICE CREAM FOR CROW: In the Shadow of the Valley of the Bomb Pop” by Eddie Dean (Arthur, 2002)

Originally published in Arthur No. 1 (Oct. 2002)

ICE CREAM FOR CROW: In the Shadow of the Valley of the Bomb Pop
Last Notes from the Great Lost Big Lik Expedition
by Eddie Dean, with photography by Dave Brooks

I first discovered the power of a Fudge Bomb when I was surrounded by a family of Blue Ridge Mennonites who hadn’t seen the ice cream truck for a week. All their Fudge Bombs had run out days ago, and their Snow Cones and Chocolate Chump Bars, too. Their sturdy white frame house sat on a hill in Greene County, Virginia, and I was parked before it in my truck, both of us coughing up dust after the long climb up the winding gravel driveway. These people were hurting badly. We were here to help them.

For generations, locals have found this rocky region as poor as a snake. But it’s been a goldmine for interlopers—first the folk-song collectors and then the government men and the social workers and finally the movie stars here for peace of mind and land for their trotting horses. The movie stars didn’t buy ice cream, not off a truck anyway. Just about everybody else did, though. At least, they did back then. This was 20 years ago, before gourmet ice cream and the culture of instant gratification. If you lived in Greene County, the only way you could get a Fudge Bomb was from my truck.

A Fudge Bomb is a brown and yellow “quiescently frozen confection” impaled on a stick and molded in the shape of a Sputnik-era nuclear warhead. It is infused with an equatorial stripe of artificially flavored banana that beads with tropical sweat when unveiled in the July heat by a Mennonite housewife in a gingham dress. At the time I was selling them, a Fudge Bomb cost 60 cents, a crucial dime more than its red-white-and-blue cousin, the Superstar Bomb Pop, but well worth the extra investment. No mere popsicle, a Fudge Bomb is a bona fide meal.

The Mennonites are a strict denomination. For them, every day is a holy day, and they dress and try to behave as such. But there is nothing in their rules that forbids the indulgence of sweets. And no visiting preacher ever inspired more joy than did the driver of the truck with the BIG LIK license plates. I would often linger in the shade as the family members gathered on the green lawn, becalmed by the sacrament of ice cream. The rippling folds of the Blue Ridge mountains stretched to the horizon, as big white clouds drifted by like so many covered wagons. At such a moment of a bright Sunday many summers ago, I understood why their ancestors decided to nestle here instead of pushing west. This perch would do fine until the Battle of Armageddon.

Those were good customers, that family, one of several Mennonite families on the route. They even bought ice cream for their livestock. They had a goat named Curly leashed to a tombstone in the family graveyard, a stone-walled plot near the driveway. His reward for keeping the grass trim was an ice-cream sandwich. The Mennonites were businesspeople themselves. I’d often pass roadside stands where they sold homemade peanut-butter pies to the weekend tourists from Washington D.C. They were better off than most of my customers, who had little in worldly possessions other than the junk accumulated on their ramshackle properties. Yet even the most destitute were no less faithful when that ice-cream bell came ringing. For them, the unbidden arrival of the BIG LIK truck was proof that even if they weren’t among the affluent or the righteous, they would not be denied their just desserts–even if it meant scraping together a fistful of pennies for a 25-cent popsicle.

Behind the wheel of BIG LIK, in the shadow of the hazy, hallucinatory Blue Ridge, I believed I’d found my calling, though at 20 I would have never used such a word. All I knew was that it didn’t seem like work and it beat delivering pizza in a borrowed car. What began as a seasonal job during my time at the University of Virginia held me in Charlottesville well after graduation. It wasn’t driving the truck that hooked me: I fell for the geography. I’d grown up in the lowland Piedmont of Richmond, and there was something about this rugged landscape that moved me. Whatever the reason, the mountains cast a spell that I couldn’t shake.

Continue reading

A tribute to Eagle Pennell by Paul Cullum (Arthur, 2002)

first published in Arthur No. 1 (October, 2002)

By Paul Cullum

“Life has been your art. You have set yourself to music. Your days are your sonnets.”
—Oscar Wilde, The Picture of Dorian Gray

Like punk legends, indie film pioneers are going to start dying off soon. And in a microcosm defined by perpetual youth, dissolution and decay don’t have much room to ramp up, making it harder to get used to the idea. I guess it’s never pretty.

Eagle Pennell was politely called a regional filmmaker by those unaccustomed to his kind, and like many in his native Texas, he had an outsized impression of his own identity that ultimately destroyed him. In 1978, when A-list Hollywood was made up of veterans of Roger Corman’s shoestring epics, and everyone else in America with dreams to burn now worked for Corman to replace them, the first inklings of what we now think of as independent film came courtesy of people who were too clueless or inept to follow that simple protocol. One of them was Eagle, whose shaggy dog buddy comedy The Whole Shootin’ Match pioneered that Austin-specific sort of epic underachieverdom that Slacker later turned into an anthropological treatise. But Eagle’s laconic dreamers, drunk as a lord and impossibly balanced on the thin line that separates ambition from nostalgia, were more than just literary conceits. They were Eagle in a nutshell. Like we used to say about him, the man belonged in the Alcohol of Fame; he put pop alcoholics like us to shame.

The Whole Shootin’ Match, based on an earlier 16mm short called Hell of a Note, starred Lou Perry (nee Perryman) and Sonny Carl Davis as a couple of perpetual fuck-ups trying to work as insulation blowers or something equally improbable, and retiring to the comfort of cold beers and fevered dreams once the going gets tough. (In Hell of a Note, they laid asphalt, until they were fired for not realizing you weren’t supposed to pee on it until it had cooled off.) This woozy testament to the comically disenfranchised, made for twenty grand in borrowed money, was also historically significant in that it was the film that Robert Redford was famously watching at the 1978 inauguration of the U.S. Film Festival in Park City, Utah when he had the epiphany that it was strays like this who could best benefit from such a festival, or something like his soon-established Sundance Institute.

Continue reading

BULL TONGUE by Byron Coley & Thurston Moore from Arthur No. 1 (Oct. 2002)

first published in Arthur No. 1 (October, 2002)

Exploring the Voids of All Known Undergrounds
by Byron Coley and Thurston Moore

The concept of this column is simple: to cast light on scenes, music, words and images that are ignored by the handmaidens of capitalist culture. Living people seem to be tired of gagging on the brackish pablum of the known. We would like to offer them access to new nooks. That is all. To start this first installment, here is some bottled screed tossed from the Sonic Youth tour bus.

The 1970s punk rock scene in NYC never paid heed to L.A. And London did not have a clue. There was one record store in 1978/79 NYC on 1st Avenue around 3rd Street that actually had copies of the first West Coast punk rock 7”s. I remember seeing the Dangerhouse 7″‘s of X and Black Randy and wondering why they were even there. They seemed to be from a distant world as opposed to the spotlight punk scenes of NYC and London. I was curious about their weirdness and I bought the X one. I had read how they were the main L.A. punk group who played in a graffiti-drenched dungeon in Hollywood called the Masque. And I bought the Black Randy one cuz the cover was so completely inane, w/ comic book panels referencing a bizarro Hollywood sex-joke juvenilia. It was a repartee I have only just gleaned. And that gleaning is thanks to We Got the Neutron Bomb (Three River Press/Random House) an oral history of the early L.A. punk scene, edited by noted L.A. punk impresario/historian Brendan Mullen. Brendan, a founder of the Masque, also helped Germs drummer Don Bolles edit and prepare Lexicon Devil (Feral House Press ) an oral history of Darby Crash and the Germs. We Got The Neutron Bomb, gaping holes and all, acts as an almost necessary precursive read to Lexicon Devil.

The X single struck me as interesting if only because it was so different than the Ramones/Heartbreakers crunge I heard in the NYC clubs. Its obvious “poetic” sploo was also quite odd in comparison to the St. Marks Church visions of Patti Smith, Richard Hell and Tom Verlaine. And it certainly wasn’t the sex bop of Blondie or the artschool geekage of Talking Heads. And it didn’t have the ground zero allure of primo London punk–Sex Pistols, X Ray Spex et al. The Black Randy 7″ made no sense whatsoever, ‘though the barking retardo chorus of “trouble at the cup! trouble at the cup!” had a genuine other planet punk rock sensibility.

That other planet was L.A. and the only images available of L.A. punk in NYC were from imported issues of Slash and Flipside, magazines found only at Sohozat on West Broadway between Canal and Grand St. (or sometimes at Revenge on 3rd Avenue just south of St. Marks Place) (or at Manic Panic right on St. Marks Place just west of 2nd Avenue). I suppose Bleeker Bob’s, then on Macdougal Street just south of 8th Street, would carry them as well. Bleeker Bob was dependable for carrying any 7″ from the nascent punk rock scene upon its initial availability and had a large collection of ‘zines. Unfortunately, all of these items were behind the counter and you had to brave a request to check any of them out, which would invariably mean that Bob himself would humiliate you w/ assholistic douchebaggery. Plus, there were usually repellant Who-collector clientele farting about the place. These dups would be aggressively collecting “anything on Stiff Records” and wearing Gen X and Joe Jackson badges while still secretly believing that Steely Dan were valid. Bluggh.

The images in the punk ‘zines of L.A. showed bands and fans, all dressed up in ‘77-era leather, bondage and PUNK regalia. This was a style identified w/ the U.K. and no one in NYC bought into it, knowing that it was an extreme and manipulated reaction to Richard Hell, the Ramones, Blondie, Wayne County, Mink Deville et al. To see an American city like L.A., and to a slightly more obscure (yet more typically urban) extent S.F., adopt this identity seemed dopey. At this time, downtown NYC had a developing post-punk community of artists and musicians exhibiting a new radical style of nihilism and producing sex/danger noise/vision. This was “no wave” and it was committed to destroying any strain of rock n roll still alive in punk. To the no wave, the new wave of punk rock was corny. Seeing, hearing and playing atonal guitar monotony in a Broome Street gallery was formidable and it was a formulative experience for my 18-year-old psyche. I’m glad to have been there, all the while thinking that L.A. was nothing but a sea of goofy punk hairdos that weren’t even of their own creation.

I’d see Sid and Stiv Bators skinking around St. Marks and would follow them at a careful distance, wondering how to tell them I was the guitar player Sid should be playing with. The fact that Sid was a heroin dog never really registered to me at the nefarious level it should have. Even though I had near proximity to his thereabouts at the time (as he was always at the same CBGB gigs etc.), the reality of me ever hooking up or communicating w/ him was completely farfetched. Plus, I was conflicted by an incident involving him slashing Patti Smith’s brother’s face w/ a broken beer bottle. But when Sid died it was a landmark event for all of us, and punk CHANGED right then and there. The ideals went into transition: Patti moved to Detroit and married/disappeared. Richard Hell went even more subterranean. The Ramones began to be taken for granted in their perfection. Johnny Rotten made the genius move of experimenting w/ dub-radics and Sid Vicious remained dead. London went dipshit w/ new wave, new romantic and some kind of pirate bullshit, but also had an onslaught of cool Rough Trade inspired art-school punk (Raincoats, Pop Group). NYC went beyond no wave into Bush Tetras/ESG/Eight Eyed Spy grey-scale rhythm music and serious noise composition (Glen Branca, UT, Rhys Chatham, Information). And California continued being punk (but also w/ its own buy-in to dipshit new wave, the examples of which are too wretched to list here). But L.A., by documented proof, particularly The Germs’ (G.I.) LP, X’s Los Angeles LP, the first SST and Dangerhouse label 7″s, the Circle Jerks Group Sex LP and the wild issues of Slash magazine, was also evincing an exciting creative energy identity, unlike the intellectual toe-sniffing of NYC. L.A. was punk rock. But punk rock was over, wasn’t it? The new hardcore kids, romping around Avenue A w/ the Black Flag bars and the Germs’ blue circle on their leather jackets, certainly did not agree. Nor did they care if anyone thought otherwise.

L.A. punk in 1978 was not an affront to a culture-clashed society in a Thatcher-strangled depression. It was a reaction to a mellow Eagles/Jackson Brown “L.A. Sound” and the suburban mom n dad nowhere zone of SoCal. And it was decidedly anti-hippie. Hippie had been the dominant youth culture vanguard for too long. Glam/glitter-rock had never threatened hippie hegemony. If it was seen as anything, it was as a somewhat sex-wild cultural adjunct to hippiedom. But PUNK ROCK, which spun obliquely out of glam/glitter, was hardly foreseen by the potted royalty of the hippie elite. Punk set itself on a crash course to puncture the self-satisfied bloat of the longhair paunches. The punk rock revolution destroyed hippie. From its smoking ruins emerged the sentient force of real rock and roll fun.

Continue reading

“Thus Sprach Peatzches”: Ian Svenonius interviews Peaches (Arthur, 2002)

Originally published in Arthur No. 1 (October 2002)

Thus Sprach Peatzches
Live from a Berlin beergarden: it’s the crotchtastic techno-dynamo Peaches, on the phone with the intrepid Ian Svenonius.

She rescues rock ‘n’ roll from its doldrums and self referential morass; she lassoes in the lost tribes and constructs for them a common language. She builds an Ark for escape from the downpour of vengeful judgment on a rock world damned for its irrelevance—but unlike Noah, she doesn’t discriminate against homosexuals. She straddles paradox with legs stretched across the sea of contradiction; legs which emanate from the crotch emblazoned totemistically on her breakthrough underground hit punk rock disco album Teaches of Peaches. She is the ferocious rockin’ techno dynamo Peaches.

For those poor souls living under a rock, Peaches has led the way for the most exciting underground Rock N Roll trend going; the feminist hip-hop/techno/ Punk Rock melange which has captured the imagination of artists everywhere. Her album, pulsing at better discos everywhere, was composed and played entirely by her with the help of a Roland MC 505 Groovebox which she calls her ‘MC5.’

Peaches originates from Canada, a country stuck halfway between US commercial vulgarity and old world conservatism. While providing refuge for expatriate artists Rick James and Funkadelic during Vietnam, Toronto was too comfortable to spawn the insatiable rock n roll animals which haunted the desolate southern shores of Michigan. Why and how then was Peaches chosen to be the innovating vessel for ‘electro-clash,’ the marriage of forms which is being hailed as a rock n roll revolution?

Stan Lee theorizes: “Perhaps, in a freakish confluence of college radio signals, the music of the Stooges and DJ Assault were combined in a piece of crystalline mist which floated from Detroit across the frozen waste of Lake Erie. Maybe this bit of matter entered Peaches’ brain through her earhole and transformed her into the inspired, Frankenstein synthesis of the two encapsulated artists who would meld the primal urge of rock ’n’ roll with the new technology of software and itty bitty circuitry…”

Whatever the case, Peaches would soon boast autonomy through the fusion and mastery of these formerly opposed forms, but like a hybrid mutant, she would be stronger than either. Peaches wouldn’t work in the derivative manner of the usual rocker but neither would she be condemned to the computer coldness which would dog so many of her electro-enabled peers. Live, with her dynamism and assuredness, she came to resemble a young Tom Jones.

Peaches makes her home in Berlin. Appropriately, the city is a symbol for liberation and conquest. It stood for western decadence within Stalinist sparta; for metropolitan menshevism against Hitler’s bucolic Bavaria, for Spartacists and Dadaists in the midst of Prussian autocratic militancy. The gateway either to western decadence or to Slavic exoticism. The Berlinese tradition of resistance and conflict is woven within Peaches’ music but is now aimed against the repression and hypocrite morality of her bourgeois nemesis.

Rock and Techno. America and Europe. East and West. Past and Future. Peaches straddles these worlds and contradictions with ease and grace; a template for artistry, even a candidate for cloning; but woe/whoa to the scientist who attempts a scraping, for Peaches is a wildcat dynamo live, like perhaps nothing you’ve seen. I talked to Peaches from a biergarten in Berlin as she enjoyed a summer Wheat Beer with a bit of lemon. She sat with her proteges Electrocute enjoying a brief vacation from her fairy tale life of constant touring and festival performances.

I was concerned that she wasn’t capitalizing on her pioneer status within the “electro” movement which she’s done so much to instigate into being…With her killer debut Teaches already two years old, the attention deficit will forget their debt to her….remarkably, she doesn’t care.

Continue reading