T-Model Knows Better: an advice column by life coach/musician T-Model Ford (Arthur, Jan. 2005)

Originally published in Arthur No. 14 (Jan. 2005)


T-Model Ford is the 84-year-old self-styled “Boss of the Blues,” also known as The Taildragger. Every two months, Arthur calls up T-Model at his home in Greenville, Mississippi and asks some questions about things we have on our mind. T-Model gives his sage answers, then we transcribe the conversation with some interpreting help from the fellas at Fat Possum Records, the Mississippi label that releases T-Model’s all-bets-are-off blues albums (more info at fatpossum.com). If you’ve got questions for T-Model, and we suspect that you do, email ‘em to editor@arthurmag.com

What’s the best way for a woman to lose a little weight?

Well, she can’t eat everything, and be eating all the time. She have to find her a little snack, and eat it. That’ll lose weight. 

Is there any food she should avoid?


What about exercise?

I ain’t never had exercise. I always, if I was pickin’ up too much weight myself, I’d slow down on my eatin’. Whatever I’d be eating, I’d slow down  on it. And I’d lose weight then. Then I know I’m losing weight, and I’d want to get back at eating the same thing as I was eating in the front. 

What’s the best way to make some money quick?

Play the guitar good and get you with the right bunch, doing tours and they paying you right, and they do you right, that’s quick money. That’s what I’m doing. That’s all I’m able to do now is play guitar, make a little money in that. I’m trying to work on a few records now. I just got me another amp, a Fender, so I can practice. 

What’s your favorite way to travel? Plane, train, automobile or horse?

If you got a long way going, overseas and like that, the best way is to go on a plane. But now if you ain’t going oversea traveling, the best that I know, had good luck with, is get a van, and ride. You can have another person drive, you can help him if he needs it. You go like that, you won’t be in no strain or jammed up. 

What do you want for Christmas?

I’d like to have me one of them good amps for Christmas. One of them Twin amps. I’ve got already two good guitars. If I just had Black Nannie [T-Model’s old guitar that was stolen and pawned off by one of his sons] back, I’d be alright. 

Are you planning anything special for Christmas this year?

No, my money’s light. I ain’t got the money. I’m staying home, or be round some of them little honky tonks, or out of town, playin’—if they want me to play. 

Thinking of leaving? Arthur catches up with an American in Quebec to find out what life is like on the other side of the border (Arthur, 2005)

Originally published in Arthur No. 14 (January, 2005).

Illustration by Tom Devlin.


Thinking of leaving? Arthur catches up with an American in Quebec to find out what life is like on the other side of the border.

Arthur: You moved to Montreal from New York City in 2003. At the time we thought you were onto something. Now, in the wake of Bush’s re-election, with tens of thousands of disgusted liberal Americans suddenly interested in leaving the country, we can confirm it: You’re an early adopter! So, we were wondering, how it’s going?

Mademoiselle X: Canada rules. Well, I live in Montreal, Quebec so I should say, “Quebec rules.” Many Americans think of Canada as this big liberal oasis, which it is to a degree, but the country is different city to city, province to province. Alberta is the Texas of Canada where the provincial dance is squaredancing and cowboys are in, Toronto is Canada’s New York and Quebec and Montreal…well, there is no American equivalent for those two, really. But anyway, different provinces have different policies. At a business meeting in Vancouver last winter, I quickly learned that the social programs that are available here in Quebec—like subsidized daycare and a year’s maternity leave—are not available everywhere. Paul Martin is trying to subsidize daycare nationwide. Can you imagine that ever being on the national agenda in the States? 

Wait a second. Who’s Paul Martin?

You’re such an American! Paul Martin is Canada’s Prime Minister. He is the head of the Liberal Party that held on to a ruling minority in the last election. They narrowly defeated, who else, but the Conservative Party. It was like the first time in maybe ten years or so that the Liberals did not have a ruling majority. Unlike the States, though, two other parties played a major role in the election: the NDP, which is an extreme left party, and the Bloc Quebecois, which is also to the left but is always threatening to be sovereign. Since it’s a parliament, the theory is that more lefty initiatives will prevail as the Liberals will have to work with the NDP and Block, rather than the Conservatives. When the Liberals were the ruling majority they tended to be more moderate.

So Canada really is more liberal…

Canadians just tend to be more left. The average Canadian is closer to the average Arthur reader than to the average American. Every single person I know here has seen Fahrenheit 9/11, The Corporation and Supersize Me. It is refreshing to live in a world that has a social conscience, though I wish they hadn’t kicked Howard Stern out! Anyway, we’re pretty surprised at how conservative the election went in America. I can’t believe the same country that voted for Fantasia Barrino also elected George Bush.

How much do Canadians follow what goes on in America?

I get all the news that America gets, so most Canadians probably know more about national American politics than Americans. And of course, if a Canadian makes news anywhere in the world, we know about it. 

The CBC rules. Canadians do not know how lucky they have it. On TV, you can turn it on Friday night, and a movie along the lines of You Can Count On Me is on. On the radio, the midnight program “Brave New Waves” is a program that most 20-30 something Canadians can reminisce about what years they thought were best. NPR is great, but I love the CBC.

Personally, I love to watch Canadian Idol: it oozes way more talent than American Idol. The winners tend to wear glasses, sing rock songs and play instruments. Otherwise, with the exception of Degrassi High and the brilliant Corner Gas, Canadian TV is rather lackluster. Of course, I only get three English stations, the rest are French. On one of the French stations, every night after 11 or so, they air porn movies. There is also a porn shop and exotic dance club down the street from the office, about a block away from the library. I feel so Puritan to find it odd and not treat it with the nonchalance of the average Quebecer, maybe all of those years living under the Guiliani administration brainwashed me.

Does it matter that you don’t know French?

It’s not an issue. The east part of the island is French and the West is English and we live in the middle. The fact that we’re Americans means we get a free pass. People just go, Oh well. But if you’re Canadian and don’t know French, they’re not so happy. 

So, how cold is it, really?

It’s pretty damn cold here but, you know, there were record cold snaps in Boston and New York City last year that were just as cold. Here, though, it’s a given. If there’s a snowstorm, people don’t wait it out, they just bundle up and go about their business. It’s gonna snow again tomorrow, so there’s no point in stopping what you’re doing. It’s practically a military operation here clearing out the snow: sirens, dumptrucks, and so on. It’s amazing. 

How’s the beer?

Quebec beer is sooo delicious, but you have to watch yourself as they’re usually about twice the alcohol content of normal beers. They come in tall bottles with corks, and have the best romantic names like “La Fin Du Monde” (The End of the World) and “Don de Dieu” (Gift of God). Spruce Beer (non-alcoholic) gets a thumb’s down, though—it tastes too much like Pine Sol to me.

The food?

There’s a thing called “poutine” that I really love: it’s french fries and gravy with cheese curds. I never had them before in my life, but they are great on a cold day. Le Belle Province is where you go for REALLY good poutine. The Canadian smoked meat makes up for the lackluster French hamburgers. Also, coming from New York City, I thought everyone was full of it when talking about Montreal bagels. They are different and better—less bread, if that makes sense. I live one block away from the bagelerie, and I take any out-of-town friends by there. 

It sounds like a European city.

Yeah. There’s fresh bread, cheese and meat on every corner, and there’s the Jean Talon Market, a huge year-round outdoor market where somehow I can find ripe tomatoes and avocadoes any day of the year, for a reasonable price. In New York City, all vegetables looked they rolled off the BQE, and cost $5 each. Now we try not spend over $2 on any item.

For sweets, we have Cadbury’s. I’ve been to Hershey Park and I love Hersheys, but Cadbury’s has them beat hands down. Every store has a full selection of the crazy British chocolates like Mr Big and Wunderbar. Beware: American Smarties are called “Rockets,” and Canadian Smarties are actually M&Ms.

What about coffee?

Every good hockey dad (not such a bad term in Canada) has a cup of coffee and a maple doughnut. The “gourmet’ coffee chain is called “Second Cup”—I swear is owned by Starbucks as it’s an exact replica of everything about it, but it’s actually proudly Canadian. Starbucks here are called Cafe Starbucks Cafe, which in French I believe translates to Coffee Starbucks Coffee. There’s no filter coffee, no four dollar cappuccino. You know life is civilized when your allonge (long espresso) is less than $2 CDN.

What’s your living situation like?

We rented an apartment. Check this out: in Quebec, landlords are not legally allowed to charge anything more than one month’s rent at a time—no security, no last month.They’re also not allowed to ask for any personal information. And tenants are able to do a “lease transfer” where you can give your lease to a friend and the landlord can’t refuse. It’s easy to move here and stay. No one checks. The guy whose apartment we got came here from the US during the Vietnam war. I don’t believe he was dodging – he was just like, Seems like a good time. 

Do you miss America at all?

The one time I missed being in the States was during the Olympics. It took Canada five days to win a medal—and it was bronze. I’m sure it all changes with the Winter Olympics, though, so watch out! But you know, at the end of the day I would much rather have my own free membership to the Y pool than to have the money going to train Olympic athletes. So I shouldn’t complain.


Originally published in Arthur No. 14 (January 2005)

Photography and art direction by W.T. Nelson

God Bless Jello Biafra

The inspirational former Dead Kennedy and veteran punk gadfly talks with Sorina Diaconescu about what to do when the going gets grim.

Is there anybody better suited to comment on the absurdities and contradictions of America today than Jello Biafra—musician, activist, performer, poet, indie entrepreneur, First Amendment champion, scathing satirist and all-around radical artist that has inspired generations of young ‘uns the world over?

Here’s a man who at the tender age of 20 formed his first band, the visionary hardcore punk outfit Dead Kennedys, and was born anew as a frontman with a peculiar, quivering bark and a stage name contrived to invoke “plastic America and its overseas results.”

A legit icon of West Coast punk rock rebellion, the dude has withered blows that would have broken the hearts and the bones of the baddest motherfuckers out there. All the more, he did it with a big, lopsided grin smudged on his face, and an extended middle finger proudly pointing skyward.

Jello is now 46—which means he occasionally says things like, “you know, I’m not Iggy Pop and I’m not Henry Rollins, and I’m working my ass off trying to get in better shape and compensate for my age.” But his goal, as stated over the years, remains the same: “to kick over the apple cart of corruption.” While his avenues of expression have shifted back and forth between music and spoken word one thing is for sure: he can still provoke and enlighten, as his latest collaboration, with legendary iconoclasts Melvins, Never Breathe What You Can’t See, amply demonstrates.

Interviewing Jello is predictably fraught with intensity and drama but also deeply inspiring and laugh-out-loud hilarious. Time has not mellowed him. He’s still the same character we punk rock kids grew up loving: an articulate guy with a boundless imagination filled with ideas sick, funny and violent enough to score him enemies like Tipper Gore (who pretty much pegged her “Parental Warning” stickering campaign on his work) and the D.A.s’ offices in L.A. and San Francisco: In one of L.A.’s most notorious First Amendment lawsuits of the ‘80s, Jello and a cast of co-conspirators were charged with peddling obscene material to minors via sleeve art for the DKs record Frankenchrist. (The jury hung, the charges were dismissed, and even the D.A. who pursued the case in court eventually admitted to the press that his son “adores Jello and he plays his music all the time.”)

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“Re-Psychedelica Britannica” by Mark Pilkington (Arthur, 2005)

Originally published in Arthur No. 14 (Jan. 2005)

Re-Psychedelica Britannica
The fungal kingdom is making a bold incursion into British streets markets where, through a curious legal twist, magic mushrooms are openly available for sale. MARK PILKINGTON reports back from a trip to the shops.
Photos by Mark Pilkington
Drawings by Matthew Greene

On the morning of October 3, 1799 a man known only as JS was found wandering in a state of delirium around London’s Green Park, not far from what would soon be Piccadilly Circus. He complained of waves of giddiness, odd flashes of color across his eyes and a cramped stomach. His family suffered the same effects and feared that they were dying. All that is, except their eight-year-old son, Edward, who seemed to find their situation hysterically funny.

A passing doctor, Everard Brande, was summoned to the scene, where JS told him that the symptoms had begun not long after the family had picked and eaten their usual breakfast of wild mushrooms. Intrigued by this puzzling scenario, Brande would write in The Medical and Physical Journal that the family’s condition was caused by the “deleterious effects of a very common species of agaric (i.e. mushroom), not hitherto suspected to be poisonous.”

Family S hold a unique position in history, as the United Kingdom’s first recorded shroomers.

England’s most common indigenous psychoactive mushroom is the Psilocybe semilanceata, known to its friends as the Liberty Cap. Four to eight centimetres tall, nipple-headed and a rich cream colour, following the Autumn rains of September and October they dot our green and pleasant land in their millions. Individually they won’t do anything for you—though veteran shroomers may eat one or two as they pick in a fresh field, claiming that it helps them to spot other mushrooms—but in doses of 20 or more, eaten as is, or brewed in boiling water, the effects can be potent. In fact, they’re more or less indistinguishable from the effects of the 120 or so other psilocybian mushrooms found the world over—including the cubensis and mexicana, which are no doubt familiar to many Arthur readers.

The sight of plastic bag-carrying longhairs bent double, scrutinizing our autumnal pastures for a taste of freedom has been a common one for the past three decades or so. But recently the fungal landscape has taken a dramatic and surprising turn.

About two miles north from where Family JS took their historic trip into the fungal kingdom is Camden Town, a legendary pilgrimage site for punks and Goths the world over. Here the once-thriving Counterculture of independent book and record shops has been firmly superceded by the ever-familiar counter culture of Gap and co. Shifty-eyed, muttering passers-by offer you all manner of illegal substances, but we’ll ignore them and head for one of the many stalls offering an altogether more rewarding—and currently legal—psychoactive experience: magic mushrooms.

Conspicuously moist in unmarked plastic tubs are a range of mycological exotica that would, as little as three years ago, have seemed inaccessible to all but the most adventurous ethnobotanist. Psilocybe cubensis strains from Mexico, Columbia, Peru, Ecuador and Thailand sit alongside the connoisseur’s choice, Hawaiian Copelandia cyanescens, and what’s known as Philosopher’s Stone: “truffles” or sclerotica—underground growths—of the Psilocybe tampanensis or mexicana. Prices are typically £10 ($18) for 10g, depending on what and where you buy. Some stalls now also sell mescaline-containing cacti like San Pedro and Peyote, though these are slower to grow and so more expensive.

The mushrooms’ packaging tends to contain little or no information: the more organized suppliers will include a label identifying the country of origin, alongside a variety of legal warnings, but you won’t find any dosage or storage recommendations and no tripping tips. Only qualified herbalists can legally distribute such information, though most stallholders will answer specific questions and the better stalls display generalized notes about each strain of shroom. However, depending on the psychedelic scruples of a particular stall’s owner, the person selling you your magic kingdom pass may or may not know anything about what it is they are selling.

As well as key locations in London—Camden High St, Portobello Road & Covent Garden being your best bets—the mushrooms’ glittering domain now stretches to an estimated 300 vendors in towns and cities all around the country. Enterprising sorts are also offering online and telephone deliveries to your front door. But for how long?

The legal situation regarding magic mushroom sales is a precarious one. According to the UK’s 1971 Misuse of Drugs Act, the active ingredients of the mushrooms, psilocybin and psilocin, are classified Class A. This places them alongside heroin, cocaine, ecstasy, LSD and speed (if it’s prepared for injection). The maximum sentence for possession is seven years in prison or, for intent to supply, life. This strikingly neo-gnostic approach to drug law is shared by the United States and much of Europe: it’s the mushroom’s soul that concerns the authorities, not its body.
But, because they grow more or less anywhere that sheep and cows shit, including on land owned by the military and the royal family, liberty caps and the other psychoactive mushrooms that grow here—such as the Amanita muscaria, or Fly Agaric—are only considered illegal if they have been prepared. And it’s this word that has proved to be the semantic loophole through which the fungi have taken to the streets.

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“The Fifth World and the Hopi Apocalypse” by Daniel Pinchbeck (Arthur, 2005)

Originally published in Arthur No. 14 (Jan. 2005)

Illustration by Arik Roper

“Here and Now” column by Daniel Pinchbeck

“The Fifth World and the Hopi Apocalypse”

Last summer, I visited the Hopi on their tribal lands in Arizona. The Hopi are thought to be the original inhabitants of the North American continent–this is what their own legends tell us, and archaeologists agree. My initial interest in the Hopi came from reading about their oral prophecies and their “Emergence Myth.” According to the Hopi, we are currently living in the Fourth World, on the verge of transitioning, or emerging, into the Fifth World. In each of the three previous worlds, humanity eventually went berserk, tearing apart the fabric of the world through destructive practices, wars, and ruinous technologies. As the end of one world approaches a small tunnel or inter-dimensional passage —the sipapu—appears, leading the Hopi and other decent people into the next phase, or incarnation, of the Earth.

Of course, most modern people would consider this story to be an interesting folktale or fantasy with no particular relevance to our current lives. Even five years ago, I probably would have agreed with them. However, my personal experiences with indigenous cultures and shamanism convinced me, in the interim, that there is more to traditional wisdom than our modern mindset can easily accept. The Hopi themselves say that almost all of the signs have been fulfilled that precede our transition to the Fifth World. These include a “gourd of ashes falling from the sky,” destroying a city, enacted in the atomic blasts obliterating Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and a spider web across the Earth, which they associate with our power grid and telephone lines. According to Frank Waters, who compiled accounts from 30 Hopi elders in his Book of the Hopi (1963), the current Fourth World will end in a war that will be “a spiritual conflict” fought with material means, leading to the destruction of the United States through radiation. Those who survive this conflict will institute a new united world without racial or ideological divisions “under one power, that of the Creator.”

The 12,000 Hopi live in a dry and dramatic landscape strewn with enormous boulders, resembling the surface of an alien planet. Their towns are clustered on three mesas—high, flat cliffs overlooking vast swathes of desert. Traditionally, the Hopi are subsistence farmers; they work with ancient strains of corn and beans that are, almost miraculously, able to grow in that arid environment. For obvious reasons, water is sacred to their culture—many of their rituals are aimed at bringing rain. Each spring, each well, is precious to the Hopi. While I was visiting Hopiland I attended a raindance in the town of Walpi, on First Mesa. Perhaps 50 men of the town—wearing masks and costumes and feathered headdresses —participated in the dance, which was held in the town’s center. The dancers are dressed as katsinas, the spiritual beings that are thought to control elemental forces. The ceremony is a form of possession trance—the goal is to summon the katsinas to temporarily inhabit the bodies of the dancers. The Hopi believe that their culture can only prosper if they maintain direct contact with the supernatural powers that manifest directly through the natural world.

In his book Rethinking Hopi Anthropology, the Cambridge anthropologist Peter Whitely recalls, with an almost embarrassed reluctance, that during his time with the Hopi in the 1980s, he witnessed repeated demonstrations of their precognitive abilities and their ability to influence natural forces through ritual. He was transfixed by his first visit to a Snake Dance in 1980: “This was no commodified spectacle of the exotic … its profound religiosity was tangible, sensible. Within half an hour of the dance (which lasts about 45 minutes), a soft rain began to fall from a sky that had been burningly cloudless throughout the day.” When he went to see one of his informants, Harry Kewanimptewa, a septuagenarian member of the Spider clan, he would often find that the elder would answer the questions he had intended to ask before he could vocalize them: “I have no desire to fetishize or exoticize here, but this was something about him and some other, particularly older, Hopis that I have experienced repeatedly and am unable to explain rationally.”

I can sympathize with Whiteley’s plight. Since I started exploring shamanism almost a decade ago, I have found myself living in two worlds simultaneously—the world of Western rationalist discourse with its empirical and materialist emphasis, and the shamanic realm of magical correspondences, supernatural forces, dream messages, and synchronicities. The shamanic realm is one in which human consciousness is not an epiphenomenon or dualistic byproduct of a purely physical evolution, but an inseparable aspect of the world, intertwined with reality at every level. It seems that quantum physics has attained a perspective that is similar to the shamanic view, acknowledging a direct relation between the observer and observed.

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AUTUMN OF THE PATRIARCHS: James Parker on Richard Meltzer and Mike Watt (Arthur 14/Jan. 2005)

Originally published in Arthur No. 14/January 2005

Autumn of the Patriarchs
By James Parker


Autumn Rhythm
(Da Capo/Perseus)

the secondman’s middle stand

It’s Autumn, by God, and I couldn’t be happier. If you’re a writer, it’s the only season: the peak, the prime. Summer flattens you, Winter cramps you, Spring is a mere sizzling of the sex-urge, but Autumn flings open the furnace door to real transformation. On a high November afternoon, with the leaves in a life-and-death whirl and that tossing, brassy light all around, the writer creeps from his/her carapace and partakes in the vortex of Possibility. Out come the old, allergen-loaded sweaters. Yes! On goes the woolly hat, that incubator of thought. Upward fly the—well, I could go on, but the point here is to address our latest bard of the Autumn, the great Richard Meltzer, whose Autumn Rhythm (now out in glorious paperback!), is not so much about crisp weather and fiery trees as it is about Mortality (or mortali-T, as the Meltz, in his demented flippancy, might put it)—age, defeat—the Autumn of our days—“the ‘topic’ at hand: your time… my time… all our times running low, running out, or in any case running.”

Meltzer, in case you’re not sure, is a father of what he calls ‘rockwriting’—Sixties, Seventies, he did it, he lived and typed it, was legendary, boozed with Bangs, tyro’d with Tosches etc etc. He figured in LA punk rock, a great stimulus to the minutemen, had his own terrible band. It’s all in his previous tome, A Whore Just Like the Rest. And now, finding himself “on the cusp of fucking dotage” (his late fifties), Meltzer is taking the long view and using the essay form. He considers his life, and the possible cessation thereof. Is there any more good art to be had from the fact that we’re all, sooner or later, going to be combusted or ploughed under? Certainly there is. Take this: “A couple years ago I started quantifying what a day actually felt like, what its duration as lived existentially was, and the unit day, I surmised, was only four hours long. It now feels about three and a half…. What can you get done in three and a half hours? (Better not piss—that’ll cut it to three.)” Or this, from a piece about Meltzer’s father, touchingly entitled “The Old Fuckeroo”: ‘Of course he LOVED me (and I loved him) and all such nonsense—but that part was maybe the worst of it. A sentimental slob, a ‘40s romantic in desperate need of a compliant LOVE OBJECT, he inflicted his ardor on me in direct proportion to what he wasn’t getting from his wife, assuring me (as often as not) that I was the the most important being in his life. A sensitive little prick, I grieved for the guy in his loneliness…” This is top-notch, ranking with the most exalted literature of fathers and sons. “(And I loved him)”—oh, the brackets say everything.

Like a number of greying punk rock dudes one knows, Meltzer is a cat person. It’s almost a type: the hoary radical, the ex-crazy, childless (Meltzer has declined to Impose “the full slimy wrath of [his] being” on any progeny), spurning most human allegiance but twistedly into his cat or cats, relishing and respecting the fuck-you-ness and complication of the feline. Meltzer writes, at any rate, with unguarded passion about his own aging—dying, in fact—pet-friend. The prose totters pretty close to the sentimental here—“It tears my guts out that I can’t tell him anything he’ll understand ‘bout how come he can’t go outside no more”—but it’s the real man speaking, no question, the same crank who elsewhere demands that we “unplug from the cyber lifeline… it’s a fucking deathline,” and that “Any bar, meantime, where the TV is never off should be NAPALMED.” (hear! hear!)

Meltzer can be an extraordinary comic writer, a real Joycean nutjob, but Autumn Rhythm is—as a rule— sombre, shaded, down. For a freelancer or “writeperson,” reading him in this mode is like having a skull on your desk—the hack’s death’s head, with failure caverned in its eyeholes. Unrich, unredeemed, still pissed at all the mags he ever wrote for, the Meltz will be your memento mori. “May this heap-o-pulp likewise serve as the ur-expression of YOUR vanity. A foretaste of your own aftertaste, of your own extinction.” No laughing matter. Only once does the author uncage the humorist, the Joycean nutter within, in a blinding series of anagrams (with explanations) for “Twentieth Century”: “W.C.T.E: ‘NUTHER ENTITY? (is the Women’s Christian Temperance Enfederation really diff’rent from their Union?)… WET TEN-INCH RYE TUT (medium-size Egyptian novelty bread, after the rain).” Personally, I can’t get enough of this stuff—“NEUTER THE WITTY N.C. (Noel Coward should be desexed, humorless critics contend)”—but I suppose I should stop quoting it. Besides, it’s not all gold dust between these covers. There are “poems”—or at least vertical strands of collapsed prose—in here, mere beermat jottings really. “His life was like a fart…” “if the flies want me/ let the flies have me,” “does my dick have scales?”—yeah, well, okay. Dead-end complacency. Keep typin’em up, Mr. M, if it helps you stay loose… Alright, just one more: “TUNNEY ET IT W/ ‘H’ CERT (Gene followed lobster with a heroin-flavor breath mint).” Ha!

MTV, the “wundaful world-o-videos,” is another of Meltzer’s apocalypses, like the TV bars and the Internet. “When the frigging MINUTEMEN did a vid,” he declares, “you knew it was completely over.” So speaking of the minutemen, and speaking of being completely over, let’s move on to the new Mike Watt CD, which details—really details—a more urgent autumnal event, a most drastic run-in with mortality. the secondman’s middle stand is about serious physical illness (and recovery), and like Watt’s previous contemplatin’ the engine room it takes the form of a punk rock opera, thematically unified, moving in suites. No guitar this time, no Nels Cline or flaming Joe Baiza—on top of the bass and drums is the B3 organ of Pete Mazich, summoning celestial overtones or carousel queasiness as required.

The sickness unto death, for Watt, began in the perineum, that dark notch between balls and asshole. A place of terror: less a place than a space—an eerie, sensate, biologically brooding nothing. Anyway, in 2000 Watt got some sort of explosive abscess right there on his perineum, on the black fulcrum of his being as it were, a boil or saddlesore that blossomed vilely upward and inward and swelled its canker until he quite literally burst, gushing infection through emergency blowholes. Imagine it if you dare, it was an authentic crisis—flashing lights, gurneys, surgery, “38 days of fever,” the mercury climbing in horror and indignation, Watt hovering in half-states, deeply drugged. He almost died. His health and strength were demolished. His recovery was inch-by-inch. “Many geisha boy steps to make the couple of blocks from my pad.” Geisha boy steps—that’s very good.

Fortunately, blessedly, Watt’s philosophy seems to have been a match for this. A proper materialist from his minuteman days, always wrestling with the actual, he was not dismayed to find himself splayed, helpless, reduced, a creature of “pissbags and tubing.” His interest in the conditions, his taste for the basics, prevailed. Adrift for a time in the the unlit precincts of his own body, CURIOSITY got him home. “Dicktube yanked out too/How I laughed when that golf ball bead came thru…” If you’ve ever encountered Watt in person you know that there’s a poetic totality to the man, a density of imagination in which everything—the mumble, the rumble, the word-hoard, the face-bristle, the bong-gurgle, the rumour and squelch of his bass—corresponds. It’s the whole Watt thing, and it feeds the art tremendously: in some respects it is the art. All experience is grist to Watt the mythifier and this here, this bodily drama, is his own “dark wood of error,” his existential pratfall. Can you dig a punk rock opera about a man whose ass exploded? I know you can. Three movements—Inferno; Purgatorio; Paradiso—hell-hot fever, convalescent limbo, the heaven of the healed return. Dante Alighieri hovers palely by, upper lip lengthened in slight disapproval: Watt has customised the Divine Comedy.

“Boilin’ Blazes” gets us rolling, as Watt does some big vomiting—“threw up mah guts”—and succumbs to fever. It’s the beginning of the “hellride,” a derangement of vile organ-blare and bombastic drumming. “Puked to High Heaven”—more vomiting, and the freakout becomes ontological: “In my head, a tightly packed flame…The moment has me seized!” “Burstedman” is the killer track: “Virgil! Beatrice!” cries the patient, as ungodly fluids splatter his “bulkhead.” “A life in the moment, is that what you’ve always wanted, Watt?” he taunts himself, his bass snicker-snacking. “Well here it is!” (Watt’s playing in general on secondman… is, if possible, more bulbous and ruminative than ever.)

Into hospital we go, and Watt gives us—joyously—the wadded dressings, the catheters, the incidental bladder infections, the nitty gritty: “yankin’ it out… and shovin’ it in!” The mood of “Tied a Reed Round My Waist” is… wonder, oddly enough, Pete Mazich’s B3 doing soft throbs of awe as Watt goes swooning under the knife of top surgeon “Doc Hopkins.” “Beltsandedman”—again with the blue-collar metaphors!—is a beautiful evocation of post-traumatic smoothness, clarity of perception, with fuzzed bass-notes lingering and Petra Haden’s harmonies leavening the Watt-growl. See Watt on the back of the CD, pounds lighter, purged and streamlined: the eyes are heavy-lidded but clear, afire, and there’s a sort of rinsed brilliance to the complexion. It all appears to have been quite good for him.

“Some of my FAQs” by DAVID LASKY (Arthur, 2005)

Originally published in Arthur No. 14 (January 2005)

Click image to really enlarge. It’s still not gonna be completely ideal—for that, you’ll have to see the actual magazine (available at the Arthur Store for cheep)—but it’s pretty good.

David Lasky: http://dlasky.livejournal.com/

Arthur’s superb Comics Editor in this era was Tom Devlin.

BULL TONGUE by Byron Coley & Thurston Moore from Arthur No. 14 (Jan. 2005)

first published in Arthur No. 14 (January, 2005)

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

Some new and excellent small presses have been rampaging across the USA. First up is Matthew Wascovich’s SLOW TOE PUBLICATIONS, which has been hellbent on issuing stapled 8.5×11 paper poetry screeds at a rate of almost once a month. Most of these are Matthew in conjunction with one or more other writers, either vintage heavyweights from his beloved Cleveland scene or underground noise freaks. The dude has an ear for who out there may be spilling righteous verbiage, such as Elisa Ambrogio and Pete Nolan both of blasted headcase rockers Magik Markers. Anyone who’s seen that group twist and spout will know that, yeah, they must have some kind of wowsville poetry wheel just going off in their heads n’ hearts. And they do. As does Tyondai Braxton, Dylan Nyoukis, Dead C’s Bruce Russell, Charalambides/Scorces’ Christina Carter, Valerie Webber et al. Don’t expect “rock” poetry, this is all way more out there and off the tracks. Wasco hears it with the same brain that has read the primordial greatness of the long-flowing history of Cleveland’s heaviest. Peeps such as Tom Kryss, Kent Taylor and Alex Gildzen, all constituents of the famed Asphodel Bookshop, where the recently and dearly departed Jim Lowell held court and where the visionary and law-hounded poet d.a. levy burst forth. Slow Toe has been slipping out a few CDRs lately as well, mostly of Wasco’s bent brain guitar expressions either solo or in group-mode as Real Knife Head.

There is something eternally appealing about women playing punk rock, negating (as it does) the testosterone monotheism that is so synonymous in the field. A fine new entry in this area is the debut album by Chicago’s MANHANDLERS. Their self-titled LP (Criminal IQ) is more like a vicious update on late period Runaways than some others inside the genre, since they don’t shy away from flash-qua-flash, or rely on the primitivist approach favored by the post-Riot Grrrl generation. The album is just slamming, high-speed, old school punk of the early OC variety. As such it is a splendid thing. Criminal IQ have another punk winner with the eponymous LP by THE FUNCTIONAL BLACKOUTS. It has been out for a while, but it’s really a world-class destroyer in classic CA punk terms. Filled with reckless noise owing small debts to bands like Crime and the Weirdos, but powered by lotsa pumice unique unto itself.

We’ve been languishing in the strictly female scribulations of NYC’s BELLADONNA BOOKS lately. This long running series of pamphlet poetry editions has been edited by the poets Rachel Levitsky and Erica Kaufman since the mid ‘90s, and is getting close to its 100th issue. Each zine is a succinct piece by a female poet, all of whom share a common sense of adventure and active consciousness. Great writing from Anne Waldman, Eileen Myles, Nada Gordon, Lynne Tillman, Lisa Jarnot, Rosemarie Waldrop and so many others. So if you’re in the market for deadly nightshade, this is the place for you. An adjunct press to Belladonna is Erica Kaufman’s own BOKU BOOKS, which is just getting started releasing some good new staplebound killers. Her own the two coat syndrome and Chris Martin’s The Day Reagan Died are verily hep.

Brooklyn label The Social Registry has also released a handload of jake new wax. THE ELECTROPUTAS’ 3 LP continues their strategy of investigating Can Groove Land, then blasting it with all kindsa crude noise hand grenades. I mean, just when you’re about ready to settle back into a ‘Turtles Have Short Legs” mood, the forest starts to melt around you. Pretty cool, and then some. Damn nice, also, to have vinyl on the new HALL OF FAME album, Paradise Now. Samara, Theo and Dan continue to kick out the smoke with their fourth, giving spatial folk stylings a disturbed urban underpinning. The way they layer rondelays of slithering acoustic muzz and scarily genteel vocals is as killer as ever. It’s good to see that the time Samara spent hanging with Jackie O Motherfucker didn’t spoil her campfire ghost-spirit. Dan’s is another story. Give it a spin.

Some really nice tactile offerings have been sloughing out of Woodstock, NY by way of SHIVISTAN PRESS, which is run by the charmed beard of local cosmo-poet Shiv Mirabito. Shiv is one of those cats who somehow manages to trounce back and forth from India a few dozen times a day. How he travels we’re still trying to figure out, but it’s certainly produced some groovy results. The Woodstock community remains rich in deep literary vibes with the likes of The Fugs’ Ed Sanders, nomad spirit seducer Louise Landes Levi, right-on Janine Pommy Vega and hard lovin’ Andy Clausen, all of whom have books pub’d by Shivastan. Meta-thought warrior Ira Cohen, famous for his mylar photo LP jackets of Hendrix and John McLaughlin, has a hip book just pub’d here. Like Ira’s prescient Bardo Matrix press, whose publications are as now rarified as god’s nipple junk, these books are all manufactured in Nepal utilizing Nepalese woven paper. The heft and olfactory sublimation put you in direct line with a strange bliss-out. A good place to start may be with the Woodstock mountain poetry journal series Wildflowers, but they’re all pretty tasty.

Got a really good booklet of poems called Birthmarks & Plastics (So & So Publications) by Bill Cassidy. Know nothing about the guy, except that he seems to live in New York, and has fine-tuned himself to the music of Ted Berrigan and Joe Brainard, and a lotta other really fucking good NY poets. There’s a fake sonnet, a few aphorisms, and some really striking imagist writing about being young and adrift. Cassidy’s work seems untainted by the stodgy academic bullshit that holds so many back, and his stuff is revelatory without being confessional. And that’s pretty cool.
Aa (big a little a) has a very swank one-sided LP out on Narnack. It’s the first release from this Brooklyn combo, and has a very beautiful way of shifting its center in unexpected ways. The album is pressed on white vinyl, the jacket contains a passel of very righteous inserts by a buncha artists who are in (or are friendly with) the band, and the single side of music is a fat-shifting tableau of the kindsa sounds that young people should be making and enjoying in bistros from here to Kalamazoo. Having not espied them, it is not simple to discern their true nature, but what the fuck? Here they club out bite-sized hunks of neo-no, new-wave-electro-murk, disco-noise-readymades, French duck calls and a buncha other stuff. And it sounds quite pleasing!

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“The Gelded Age” by Paul Cullum (Arthur, 2005)

Originally published in Arthur No. 14 (January 2005)

The Gelded Age
A “Camera Obscura” column by Paul Cullum

CAMERA OBSCURA is a regular column examining the world and its lesser trafficked tributaries, recesses and psychic fallout through the filters of film, video and DVD.


Discussed herein:

Bill Hicks Live
(featuring One Night Stand, Relentless and Revelations)
(Rykodisc DVD)

Love All the People: Letters, Lyrics, Routines
By Bill Hicks
(Soft Skull Press)

Men of Crisis: The Harvey Wallinger Story
Directed by Woody Allen
(unreleased, 1972; available at UCLA Film Archives as part of a preserved PBS special, The Politics of Woody Allen)

* * *

“So that’s what this is about—a fucking robbery?”
—Bruce Willis in Die Hard

I know all the stages of Kuebler-Ross. I know that denial precedes anger, followed by bargaining, depression and acceptance. I know that conspiracy is a word applied by those in consensus to marginalize attempts to find solace in patterns.

But as I write this 100 hours after a collective pole-ax to the expectations of half this country and the whole world beyond, I’m wracked with the queasy suspicion that the bloodless coup dreaded by Sinclair Lewis in It Can’t Happen Here, Nathanael West in A Cool Million, George Orwell in 1984, Philip K. Dick in The Man in the High Castle or even John Milius in Red Dawn has happened on our watch, with our complicit ambivalence.

Already, blood is starting to seep through the hairline fractures in the body politic. Greg Palast estimates 110,000 spoiled votes in overwhelmingly Democratic precincts in Ohio, one of the last punch-card voting states, hobbled once again by hanging or pregnant chads. Heavily Hispanic areas of New Mexico, favored 2-to-1 for Kerry, are reporting a Bush landslide of as much as 68 percent. Exit polls in all the swing states are at variance with the final tally, in ways that uniformly favor the incumbent. Counties using Diebold’s optical scanners in Florida went overwhelmingly for Bush, regardless of party affiliation. In fact, Diebold and ES&S control 80 percent of the electronic voting machines in use, and their technical porousness and capacity for manipulation is legion; ES&S was established with crypto-right-wing Ahmanson family money, and the two brothers who founded it now sit atop both companies.

This doesn’t include the 155,000 provisional ballots in Ohio, which are overwhelmingly Democratic, since no one was challenging Republican voters, nor those driven away by all-day lines, bottle-necked by a lack of available voting machines. Reports are trickling in of door-to-door campaigns in black neighborhoods in Pennsylvania steering voters to the wrong polling stations, spreading disinformation, lying and intimidating. It’s only the 3 million-vote point spread which makes this seem inconceivable (1.5 million of it from Florida, province of the next Republican president). But this is Karl Rove in a nutshell: “The whole art of war consists in a well-reasoned and extremely circumspect defensive, followed by rapid and audacious attack.” (To quote him quoting Napoleon.) In time, we may recognize this as the most massive electoral fraud in the history of the republic. In a month, we may be calf-birthing deep into Constitutional crisis.

Which means that all the gushing liberal guilt you read—the thumb-sucking, head-holding, hand-wringing, soul-searching—is wrong. It’s working backwards from a conclusion, which is what journalism does. It’s re-legislating the ’60s. It is Rove’s bandwagon theory taken macro: In the final moments of a race, people fall in line behind the most likely winner. Two or three more elections like this, and rationalists will begin rethinking the Enlightenment.

Except that there may not be any more election—at least not ones that will matter. Because the House is controlled by Tom DeLay, who is on record as saying that “Democrats are irrelevant”—shut out of committee meetings, starved out of floor time, ignored and forgotten. Because Bill Frist controls the Senate—put there in the White House-engineered putsch that sidelined Trent Lott as a racist and reactionary. Already, they’re floating the idea of “streamlining” Senate procedure: Striking down the cloture rule, which mandates a two-thirds vote to end a filibuster, or bypassing the seniority “tradition” in naming committee chairmanships. What happened to Arlen Specter after he counseled against trying to get anti-abortion judges through the Senate Judiciary Committee is just the opening salvo in the battle they’re fighting now: Near right vs. far. And without the filibuster, you won’t see a Democrat on C-Span for the next four years.

Republicans are up two seats in the House because of redistricting in Texas, a move they will roll out to all 50 state legislatures—particularly Democratic strongholds with Republican governors, like New York or California. Legislative districts reshaped as fingerprint whorls means they won’t even have to steal elections anymore. Suddenly, aberrations in the political landscape that seemed inexplicable at the time—the California recall, Patriot Act II, Rehnquist’s mysterious illness—seem strategically prescient in retrospect. “Look who they wanted to run against,” says Deep Throat in All the President’s Men. Howard Dean taps the progressive youth motherlode, and he’s impaled on his own scream. Dan Rather turns his folksy paranoia on his co-Texan demagogues, and he’s sandbagged by a reliable source. Tom Daschle publishes a book telling how they make the sausage, and they hunt him down to the ends of the earth, like Stalin did Trotsky.

Rove, the bastard son of a Mormon bounder, has spent his entire 57 years wanting to be Mark Hanna, the strategic visionary who insured Republican Party rule (with the exception of Wilson during WWI) from 1898 to the Depression 30 years later. Barbara Bush, far more the genetic cauldron of her son than his pusillanimous father, is the only public figure I know of to call Roosevelt a traitor to his class. Repealing the ’60s is just warming up for this crowd: They want to dismantle the New Deal—privatize Medicare, Social Security and public education; shift the tax burden downward; loot the treasury; strip the common from the wealth. Think Pottersville with carcinogens and gated communities.

And just as the Pentagon screened The Battle of Algiers as a training film for tracking insurgents, someone has broken down 1984 as a how-to manual, a mere two decades late. This finally explains the war: Why they jettisoned contingency plans, failed to quell looting, laid off the Baathist army, left arms caches unattended, ostracized Sunni clerics. The goal is not to win the war or the peace. The goal is to perpetuate conflict, a misdirection to mask the great gravy train robbery here at home. Already, the election is off the front pages, replaced by Tallulah. Deep Throat said that too: “Follow the money.”

Conservative enforcer Grover Norquist, in typically gracious fashion, said of the Democrats as the new permanent minority: “Any farmer will tell you that certain animals run around and are unpleasant, but when they’re fixed then they are happy and sedate. They are contented and cheerful. They don’t go around peeing on the furniture and such.” (This is the man who gave us “Bipartisanship is date rape.”)

Welcome to the Gelded Age.

Laff Riot

“You have a sense of humor. I’m in favor of jokes. They have a political value. They are a release for the cowardly and the impotent.”
—Graham Greene, The Comedians

The Gilded Age—the first one—was coined by Mark Twain and incubated the likes of Will Rogers, muckraking, Yellow Journalism and the Progressive Movement to begin with. Laughing in the maw of disconsolate fear is an American institution, albeit a lonely one. Lenny Bruce comes to mind, delivered to the cool respite of bathroom tile. Mort Sahl, finally barking himself inside-out. Garry Trudeau, whose Tanner ’88 (currently revived and updated on the Sundance Channel) has much improved with time, and whose script Zoo Plane, on the Washington press corps, is once again relevant. You won’t find them on stamps, and a quarter-century of Saturday Night Live’s loutish corporate apologia would indicate otherwise, but there are comedy heroes and martyrs out there. And at the top of the list is Bill Hicks.

Raised a strict fundamentalist in Houston and then Austin, Texas, Hicks was the architect of the angry liberal persona eventually inherited by Dennis Leary, Dennis Miller (briefly), Bill Maher and, most notably, Chris Rock. (“It’s weird, those are the guys I really miss,” Rock told me once in an interview, remembering their days together at Catch a Rising Star in New York.) Until his death in 1992 of pancreatic cancer, Hicks remained resolutely apoplectic over flag-wavers, Bible-thumpers, ad weasels, marketeers, television, government malfeasance and the first Gulf War (“There never was a war. A war is where two armies are fighting.”). This DVD collects his half-hour standup from HBO’s One-Night Stand, his breakout 1991 performance at the Montreal Comedy Festival (Relentless) and Revelations, his crowning performance at London’s Dominion Theater, plus an excellent Channel 4 documentary titled It’s Just a Ride. In addition, Soft Skull Press has published Love All the People, a collection of interviews, performance transcripts (many of them available as bootlegs), the John Lahr New Yorker profile which chronicled his expulsion from the David Letterman show (and Hicks’s 31-page cri de coeur to Lahr detailing the specifics) and Lahr’s extended foreword. They’re both great. Buy them. Tell others.

Here’s Hicks on the value of drugs, and how he closed his Montreal show:

“How about a positive LSD story, just once. That would be newsworthy, don’t you think? ‘Today, a young man on acid realized that all matter is merely energy condensed to a slow vibration, that we are all one consciousness experiencing itself subjectively; there is no such thing as death, life is only a dream and we are the imagination of ourselves. Here’s Tom with the weather.”

Another rarefied example of political humor is the little-seen Men of Crisis: The Harvey Wallinger Story, written and directed by Woody Allen, Hicks’s acknowledged main influence. A parody of the CBS series Men of Crisis (as well as possibly the 1972 Richard Leacock Cuban Missile Crisis documentary Crisis), this half-hour short, shot in 1972 in four days for WNET in New York, mixes the documentary format of Take the Money and Run with the newsreel gags of Zelig to profile a Nixon advisor—a Kissinger wolf by way of John Dean nebbish—given to goofy rationalizations (“We decided to bomb Laos for a very strategic reason—we were not happy with the way it was spelled.”). Louise Lasser is on hand as his first wife, as is a painfully fresh-faced Diane Keaton to ridicule his sexual prowess. In the wraparound WNET studio interview, broadcast under the ironic title The Politics of Woody Allen, Allen rejects the mantle of activist comic. “My personal feelings don’t enter into this, they’re so hostile,” he says. But that’s not to say he is without valid political instincts:

“The good cartoons,” he says, “are where mice beat the hell out of cats. I like that.”

* * *

DVDs/videos courtesy of Cinefile, the official video store of Arthur. Contact Cinefile at (310) 312-8836 or http://www.cinefilevideo.com.

MF Doom’s Villainous Mac & Cheeze (Arthur, 2005)

From Arthur No. 14/Jan 2005:

villainous mac & cheeze

Come On In My Kitchen:

MF Doom’s Villainous Mac & Cheeze

We wish there were more rappers like Daniel Dumile. Back when he went by the name of Zev Love X, Dumile and his twin brother Sub Roc made records as KMD, a near-perfect fusion of early ’90s hip-hop. Their music was as wacky and open as a tongue-waggling gas face, and as militant and aggravated as the blows rained on up-jumping punks. They were signed by Elektra, but the label refused to release their masterpiece, Bl_ck B_st_rds. In 1993, with a career-defining piece of music stuck in limbo, Sub Roc died in a car accident. With his life seemingly in the shitter, Dumile did what most of us would’ve: He went to the park and got drunk for a few years.

In 1998, he re-emerged as MF Doom, a black, bastardized version of Marvel Comics arch-villain Dr. Doom. He dropped a beautiful album of painfully sincere, complex and sometimes hilarious stories laid over weird ’80s R&B and Scooby-Doo samples called Operation: Doomsday. Since then Doom’s done great work with heavily-blunted L.A. hip-hop producer Madlib and released several hazy instrumental albums in the Special Herbs series. His new full-length on Rhymesayers is the finger-licking Mm..Food. Arthur asked for one of the MF Doom house specials. Here’s what we got…

5 cups cooked macaroni (approx. 4 cups uncooked)
1 stick butter
1 cup bread crumbs
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp pepper
1tbls sugar
One minced fresh garlic clove
2 cups milk
1 8 oz package Colby/ Monterey Jack cheese
4 cups shredded cheddar cheese

Cook the macaroni until done as usual Add sugar and garlic to water.Do not overcook it. Drain macaroni in strainer.
Place macaroni, butter, salt, pepper, milk, Colby/jack cheese, and 3 cups of cheddar cheese in a pot boil slow add bread crumbs.
Cover everything with aluminum foil and cook for 45 minutes at 350 degrees.
Uncover and add extra cup of cheddar cheese across the top. Bake uncovered for another 15 minutes.

“Macaroni and Cheese is an ol’ time classic but Villainous Mac & Cheeze was concocted by wifey about three years ago. It took a couple years to perfect and you must follow the recipe exactly or else. Now Villainous Mac & Cheeze has become an MF family favorite, perfect for any holiday or special meal…enjoy and don’t forget your potholderz…”—MF the Super Villain