"Rage, Rage Against the Stuffing of the Couch" by Peter Relic (Arthur No. 22/May 2006)

Originally published in Arthur No. 22 (May 2006)


Rage, Rage Against the Stuffing of the Couch
Two poets delve deep into worlds of work and non-work


Alex Mitchell
Life Is A Phantom K-Mart Horse Starting Up In The Middle Of The Night
(Yahara Design Press, Madison, WI)

John Tottenham
The Inertia Variations
(Kerosene Bomb Publishing, Los Angeles)

If their styles couldn’t be more contrary, they do have one thing in common: poets Alex Mitchell (neckburned nailgun grindhouse tripper) and John Tottenham (couch-crowned prince of lethargy) have both created, by force of will or resigned declension, their own poetic form.

Mitchell is a rock’n’roll addicted sweetly emotional fellow traveler. His poems are as much about himself as the characters they co-star: a mushroom-juicing buddy from back in Pompano Beach with a suicidal brother; a friendly transvestite crackwhore outside a Hollywood 7-11. He is as much of the barroom as he is anti-boardroom, his impulsive tales [impulsions] leading us through corners of associative memory emotional and imagistic. There is a lot of power in his poems—they inspire you to write, my highest praise. In a poem called “if penguins could talk” Mitchell is a bruiser with a bruised heart (“once a speedfreak, always a speedfreak,” he writes) trying to quit Starbuck’s. After going without coffee for two weeks (“although I was feeling better physically I was jonesing for a blast”) he caves: “I greedily slammed down some of / evil black poison.” And then he’s off on a tale that goes for five pages.

Tottenham’s eight line withdrawals from ambition barely give the reader time to get out of bed, and he wouldn’t have it any other way. A resigned indentation is what he wishes to leave (if he aspires to anything at all). In poems like “Time Moves, But Not I” and “I’m Not Tired,” he discharges himself of will, while subtly sublimating his own state of stagnation. He declares he lacks the energy required to laugh, and one chuckles. The brief nature of his poems allow him to maintain the guise that he isn’t doing shit—but when you read them together, you feel the import of the block he pushes up against the eternal pyramid of poetic ambition, and one realizes: all progress is incremental…to the point of imperceptibility..despite any onanistic self-recrimination.

"There Ain't No Sanity Clause" by Peter Relic (Arthur No. 17/July 2005)

Originally published in Arthur No. 17 (July 2005)


“There Ain’t No Sanity Clause”


Rat Scabies and the Holy Grail
by Christopher Dawes
(Thunder’s Mouth Press)

And so, with Monty Python having set the appropriately demented historical precedent, Damned drummer Rat Scabies and his over-the-road mate Dawes set off in search of that most infamous, perhaps mythical tin cup. The premise is tidy: punk legend Scabies is now a boundlessly enthusiastic treasure hunter, Dawes a rapidly aging music journalist (followers of the now-defunct Melody Maker will have read him under his nom de plume Push) of no fixed ambition. The resulting picaresque travelogue, taking the pair from the planning stages at Scabies’ kitchen table to Paris brothels, a rain-lashed Scottish countryside, the mystical French village Rennes-le-Chateau and a Knights Templars induction ceremony is a pretty fine “edutainment” yarn—right down to the reproduction of Scabies’ hand-drawn map of “Grail Country.” With Dawes playing the straight man and Scabies getting off endless one-liners (describing Christian Crusader Godefroi de Bouillon as “one of ZZ Top with a halo” and the hidden message in Sauniere’s parchments as “like a medieval FCUK”), the classic buddy scenario develops into a slightly sentimental (unpunk alert) attachment between neighbors. Initially the passages of historical exposition drag compared to those detailing wine-and-weed fueled hi-jinks, but all is eventually integrated, until a description of deceased opera singer Emma Calve’s bee obsession seems relevant to Ratty’s midnight graveyard raids. And if it all sounds as dodgy as the emasculating height at which Da Vinci Code author Dan Brown wears his slacks (ever checked out the man’s dustjacket photo?), well, Scabies does carry a copy of that airport bestseller around for most of this book. Not to read though—only to tear off bits of the cover to make filters for his spliffs.


"The Turntables Might Wobble But They Won’t Fall Down: A Jam Master Jay Fan Remembers" by Peter “Piper” Relic (Arthur No. 2/December 2002)

Originally published in Arthur No. 2 (December 2002)

The Turntables Might Wobble But They Won’t Fall Down: A Jam Master Jay Fan Remembers
by Peter “Piper” Relic

A few minutes before four o’clock on Halloween afternoon 2002, I realized I’d better do the crosstown hustle in grandma’s Nissan if I was gonna bumrush rush hour to Beachwood Place Mall. Cooped up in the lab all day, I ran outside—foliage in full flame and wind whipcracking off Lake Erie—Cleveland represent!—and drove east past the granite gryphons lording over Carnegie-Lorain Bridge.

Fiddling the radio dial of the broken cassette deck, I struck immediate jackpot as the “blazin’ hip hop and R&B” station spun Missy Elliot’s new single, giving me my fix of elephant trunk calls, backmask raps, and well, that chubby cheeked happy feeling Missy’s voice always gives me. Thing is, my favorite bit in “Work It” is the part at the end when Missy shouts out “to muh lay-deez!” and Timbaland’s track flips into the beat from Run DMC’s “Peter Piper.” Woomp! Damn if radio plays anything anymore that hits as hard as Jam Master Jay’s cuts—you know that sound, like carpet needles cutting through a bituminous bite plate? Of course, that sheer fierceness may be the reason the ending is usually chopped and faded by some dumbo-eared radio bungler to make way for a Liberty Ford commercial.

Eff ‘em. Hearing that snatch of “Peter Piper” got me hyped. I snapped off the radio and busted the verse embedded in a shell-toed part of my memory bank:

“Doctor Seuss and Mother Goose both did their thing
but Jam Master’s getting loose and DMC’s the King,
Adult entertainer, child educator,
Jam Master Jay king of the cross fader,
He’s the better of the best
Best believe he’s the baddest
Perfect timing when I’m climbing on my rhyming apparatus
When he cuts girls move their butts
His name is Jay, here to play, he must be nuts
On the mix real quick and I’d like to say
He’s not last but he’s fast and his name is Jay!”

Maybe those aren’t the letter-perfect lyrics, but hey. I also doubt that my Run DMC experience was wildly different than that of many other kids lucky enough to tune in during the salad days of Hollis, Queens finest, but here goes:

It was the fall of 1985. I was a freshman at a suburban Connecticut public high school. Out of nowhere one day a way-beyond-me junior girl came up to my locker and without saying anything just handed me a tape. It was not Huey Lewis & the News. This 60 minute Memorex piece of black plastic included Beastie Boys’ “She’s On It,” Original Concept’s “Knowledge Me,” Skinny Boys’ “Jock Box” and Run DMC’s “Sucka MCs”—all songs that crunched. I listened to it on my Walkman while delivering the New Britain Herald (pumped me up to break my fastest time record on my route), on a D-battery powered Tandy tape recorder while playing driveway hockey against my brother (it made my slapshot nastier). I listened to it endlessly, and when Run DMC Raising Hell came out the following year, I bought the cassette at Strawberry’s. It took me forever to get through the entire album because I kept rewinding “It’s Tricky” and “My Adidas.” (I remember the look on my mom’s face when I told her “You be illin’.” The first time was the last.) But finally I made it to the awesome closing track, “Proud To Be Black.” Jam Master Jay’s slashing stab-scratches cut like brass tacks through a whitewashed history text as Run proclaimed “George Washington Carver made the peanut great, showed any man with a mind could create!” I loved peanut butter and I loved funky beats, just like Run DMC! They became the first heroes I ever had who weren’t pro athletes.

Thinking about it now, Jam Master Jay’s beats and cuts were essential for Run DMC to get their message across. Heck, Run and DMC knew it—they shouted Jay out all the time. Run DMC and Jam Master Jay exemplified synergy, syzygy and symbiosis—like Public Enemy and the Bomb Squad, their music hit as hard as their lyrics. It had to. I doubt today’s average teenage hip hop fan can appreciate how awesome Run DMC were, because I don’t hear anything that comes close to their power on commercial rap radio. I mean maybe I’m an ageist kook, but damn…

Back to Halloween ’02. As I pulled into the mall parking lot, an announcement came on the radio: “We will now have 60 seconds of silence for Jam Master Jay who was shot and killed this morning.” The words hit like a brick to the head. I parked and walked dumbstruck into Dillard’s. The first two brothers about my age I saw I went up to and said, “I just heard…Jay Master Jay….” One fellow lowered his eyes while his buddy shook his head slowly and whispered, “I know.” I drifted over to a 70% off reject rack and found a black t-shirt that said I’VE GONE TO FIND MYSELF—IF I GET BACK BEFORE I RETURN KEEP ME HERE.

At the video store, I did what I’d come to do: buy Donnie Darko on DVD. I asked the girl ringing it up, “Are you a hip hop fan?” She looked at me. I went on: “Can you believe…Jam Master Jay?” She gave me a sorrowful, sympathetic smile and said, “He brought a lot to the game.”

He brought a lot to the game.

I drove home, flipped the stereo on and got into the shower. The Chronic 2001 disc I’d left in the player started up and I heard Dr. Dre’s voice: “I moved out of the hood for good, you blame me? Niggas can’t hit niggas they can’t see, I’m out of they sight now I’m out of they dang reach. How would you feel if niggas wanted you killed? You’d probably move to a new house on a new hill and choose a new spot if niggas wanted you shot…I ain’t a thug—how much Tupac in ya you got?”

That’s when I cried. Bad meaning bad not bad meaning good. Jam Master Jay, not being a gangsta, must have felt safe staying in the hood with his wife and kids. When Tupac and Biggie died, it wasn’t a shock like this, and didn’t hurt the same. I guess because with Jam Master Jay, it hurt the fourteen year old inside me. And that 14 year old who fell in love with hip hop (and the girl who gave me that tape; thanks Mary) is still fundamentally me. I feel Run DMC’s records like I feel my younger self: dated but never played out.

Watching Donnie Darko that night, I noticed that at one point in the movie Donnie—a suburban kid living in the mid ‘80s—is rocking shell toes. I can only assume Donnie also agrees with the on-record unison appraisal of Jam Master Jay by Run and DMC: “Goddamn that DJ made my day!”

For my friend Jeff Seifert. Rest In Peace.

Take a dip in ye olde swimming hole…

It’s starting to get pretty darn hot across certain latitudes of the Northern Hemisphere — some would say it’s the perfect time to start scouting out local swimming spots for cooling off in mother nature the old-fashioned way, sans the chlorine and claustrophobic atmosphere of modern swimming pools.

Thanks to a tip from longtime Arthur contributing writer Peter Relic, we are now clued into SwimmingHoles.info, an online database that makes it easy to locate beautiful, natural dipping holes in your area:

SwimmingHoles.info focuses on moving, fresh water spots – like creeks, rivers, springs and waterfalls. Also listed are some selected hot springs (in the west) and other swimming places on lakes, quarries or bays which have unique features that make them especially beautiful or fun for swimming.

On the Road With The Black Keys and Sleater-Kinney in 2003 — by Peter Relic, with photos by Melanie Pullen


Peter Relic rolls out for a week on tour with The Black Keys & Sleater-Kinney

Originally published in Arthur No. 4 (May 2003), with original photography by Melanie Pullen shot at beautiful Amir’s Garden in Griffith Park (these photographs were later optioned to Fat Possum Records for promotional purposes)

“Rule Number One: Never make friends with a journalist.” I wagged my finger and slurped my coffee, assuring the two young men across from me I knew of what I spoke. “Rock hacks are fretful freeloaders out to steal your shine and misquote you every time.”

We were sitting at a back booth of Dodie’s, a greasy spoon on Market Street, Akron, Ohio. It was the final hayfeverish week of May, 2002. I had driven down from Cleveland to find out how the hell these fellas—Dan Auerbach and Patrick Carney, co-captains of the two-piece band The Black Keys—had created such a thrilling slab of raw-dog fatback juke joint blues as The Big Come Up, their brand new debut album. To hear the Keys tell it, simplicity was the key.

“We stopped talking about time signatures a long time ago,” Auerbach said.

“We’re de-evolving,” said Carney, a Duty Now For The Future glint in his eye.

“We’ve even removed the word ‘repertoire’ from our repertoire,” Auerbach added.

The following week The Cleveland Free Times ran my column about this band yet to play a gig outside Ohio who had made, quite simply, “one of the best American records you’ll hear this year.”

Pretty soon they did play outside Ohio. I tagged along to those Detroit and Chicago shows. By the end of ‘02, the good word about The Big Come Up had gotten around; Janet Weiss, drummer for Sleater-Kinney, testified in Rolling Stone that the stuff was up to snuff. 2003 was happily wrung in playing with Guided By Voices at a New Year’s Eve beer bash in Indianapolis. Then the call came: Would the band like to open up for Sleater-Kinney on tour? The Black Keys would fly with their equipment to Portland, Oregon, rent a van, and the West Coast leg would start there in Sleater-Kinney’s hometown. Perfect. Except that contract liability on the van stipulated that no one under 25 could drive the thing. But by then Rule Number One had been broken. And so 22-year old drummer/producer Patrick Carney and 23-year old singer/guitarist Dan Auerbach cannily roped in their over-30 Cleveland journo pal to act as de facto tour mensch. Best as I can remember, it went a little something like this…

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