Saturday, October 17, 2009

Why A Waffle?

I get asked about the origins of my nomme de rap Doc Waffles all the time. Its an unusual name for a rapper and has kind of an interesting back story which I'm happy to dish.

But first let me clarify this now for all the people who see me at the Steak Hut eating a tossed salad for breakfast and can't wrap their head around the idea that I'm not about to go in on a heaping plate of waffles: the name Doc Waffles does not elude to my gastronomical preferences. I don't eat waffles, or breakfast foods in general, and I have no particular affection for the waffle as an aesthetic object. I can honestly say that I have not eaten a waffle since May of 2005, when I got waffles and ice cream at the Golden Nugget in Chicago with my main man in the antiquities game John King. That shit was on point but it takes an unusual set of circumstances for me to eat a waffle, and while I'm glad they seem to enrich the lives of others as a food staple, I could take them or leave them.

I am however attracted to the idea of "waffling" when it comes to the transmission of meaning between artist and audience. As a lyricist I try to give listeners some wiggle room, to elude isomorphisms, to make songs that evolve with repetition, where each listen is a different trail of bread crumbs to follow. Thus if you were trying to explain the meaning of one of my denser efforts, "Bug Bites," perhaps, to a 99 year old man or a lifeless rabbit, it might be sort of challenging. It might force you to waffle.

The deliberate obfuscation of meaning to create a vaguer but more uniquely personalized listening experience is a practice articulated most exquisitely in the work of Ghostface Killah. I don't hide my affection for Wu-Tang, Ghostface in particular, and I class him as not only the greatest rapper guy in history, but probably one of the most vital American artists of any kind over the last twenty years. Tony Starks' brilliance is demonstrated by his sophisticated feel for abstraction, alternating from brutal to delicate, and his ability to make tracks that get their point across holistically, atmospherically, and with as much verbal intrigue and misdirection as possible. Its not a style with no face, its a Ghostface, distinct, memorable, haunting, but impossible to pinpoint and wide open to interpretation. He glosses himself after his artistic impulse, and this is kind of what I'm getting at with Doc Waffles.

But that's not the story of why that's my rap name, which here follows:

In the summer of 2001 my homeboy Darren would visit my penthouse apartment at the Alphabet building to smoke Sunday morning blunts with my literary agent Julius Caesar McGee and I. We'd put on records and freestyle while we burned down. D was on his way to serve brunch to yuppies at the Whitney, so these sessions included an unusually high number of references to high tone breakfast fare and the hyperbolically upper class lifestyles we figured were no doubt being led by the Whitney patrons. "Sun Drench dip to Club Med, stretch benefits, holidays on hollandaise sauce: Eggs Benedict." Naive fare along those lines. We figured this kind of visceral, luxurious aesthetic was perfect for a couple of broke ass service industry job having unknown rappers, and started calling ourselves The Yolks. Darren adopted the name Soft Boiled Brown. Julius chose Jimmy Dean. And I decided to be Doc Waffles.

As a rapper I was just coming out of my nascency. I was beginning to finesse a style that felt earnest and my own. I'd honed my freestyle skills and was starting to get a rep on the battle scene as a cat who could light up the nicest if slept on. I was recording with Charles Scavellini and while I knew what we were making was a step towards making real album quality tracks, we had a long way to go before putting anything down worth dropping. I was still trying to pin down my identity as a performer.

I was entering a lot of battles, using a different name each time I got in one. Ivan Eye Exam. Richard Mutt. Morris Watts. Different names kept me slept on, and I loved it when other rappers would size me up, figure they come soft based on my less than imposing appearance, then look astonished when I bitch slapped them with the tooth decay. Like they never saw it coming. So when I entered a big money battle at a west side rec hall called The Cotillion Club I figured Doc Waffles would be a name that would encourage people to not take me seriously, and maybe let me sandbag my way through the first round.

The battle turned out to be kind of a big deal. All the top cats in the scene were there, and the battle was being judged by D12, whose celebrity at the time was peaking. I won't go into great detail but I rapped real swell that night, outing four well known and respected emcees before getting outed in the semis by Qwest McCody. I don't really know how I accomplished this. All I really remember doing that night was smoking massive amounts of dope with my crew in the back of The Cotillion Club, a delightful facility where you can get high openly and have your picture taken in front of a lurid, fifteen foot high air brushed mural of downtown Detroit, with the phrase, "Murder City" written on it.

The next week I went to go see Del the Funky Homosapian at St. Andrews. Word of my exploits at the Cotillion Club had spread, and now people were coming up wanting to tell me what a superlative emcee I was. Like, duh, man, Doc Waffles, the white kid from the Cotillion Club battle who deaded Swann, I thought you already knew. This was more shine than I was accustomed to, and honestly, I hoped it would be fleeting. I was getting ahead in the game partially on the strength of my anonymity I saw no reason to keep putting myself out there as Doc Waffles now that it meant other rappers would know I was nice and treat me with more considerable gravity. Besides, I really liked the name Richard Mutt (neck deep in Duchamp adulation at the time, and sinking) and a couple weeks later that's the handle I tried to use when entering a Mic Krush battle on the east side. As I was putting my name on the bracket one of the promoters approached me and scrutinized it.

"What the fuck are you doing, Waffles? Richard Mutt? You're a funny dude man." He scratched out what I had written and scrawled Waffles, MD. "Yeah, Doc! Let's get it!"

I won the battle that night, served some of your favorite local rappers back before they were your favorite local rappers, continued to get love on the scene, and I've stuck with Doc Waffles ever since. I should mention that if I had to do it all over again I would have avoided the theatricality of it all and been just plain Ben Ness from jump street. Future generations of rappers will all have just plain names like Billy Joel and Elton John and will mock my contemporaries and I for giving ourselves cheesy, indulgent titles.

Monday, September 21, 2009

New Doc Waffles - Bring Me the Robe

A relevant nugget from my forthcoming How To Shoot Quail album. Naive, perhaps, by my own impenetrable standards, but a jaunty condensation of my aesthetic agenda nonetheless. I'd like to dedicate this track to impoverished people around the globe who will go their entire lives lacking the means to record a song in which they demand an article of leisure wear be brought to them.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

My Own Private Shaolin: Investigative Reports

I'm almost positive my man Joe G. stole my Wu-Tang CDs in 1997. A sharp assembly it was too. Wu-Tang Forever, Liquid Swords, Return to the 36, Cuban Linx, and a scratched the fuck up copy of Ironman that only played the first 10 tracks and would skip violently right when the beat dropped on Daytona 500 (grrrr).

Note that at age 16 I was already in a nascent stage of Wu snobbery in not owning copies of either Tical or Enter the 36 Chambers. I knew those records by heart, of course, but everybody had them and I tried to be more adventurous. I nurtured a deliberately esoteric palette. Liquid Swords, not Enter the Wu, was the essential record for me at that time. It was autumn and the taste of cold air had me gassed for GZA's crisp, meditative imagery. Liquid Swords is a cold weather record to be sure. And it's a personal record too. Enter the Wu is a record you put on when your driving around with the boys. Liquid Swords will always be an album I like to listen to best by myself.

So my mom and dad went out of town one weekend and I threw a bash on Golf View and my Wu specific CD case got lifted. I was bitching about it to some dudes in my math class, opining specifically for my GZA holdings and kicking some of the lines that should have been filling my headphones. Joe G sat a few desks away. We weren't really friends and he had been at the party. Joe listened to hip hop and had a reputation for mischief. He was the enforcer of the hockey team and rolled with characters who stole people's car amplifiers and cell phones. I had reasons to be suspicious.

The next day Joe came up to me after class and hit me with a copy of Liquid Swords and some bunk ass Sunz of Man CD.

"I heard what you were saying about your CDs getting stolen man. That's fucked up. I had an extra copy of you can still have some Wu-Tang to bump. GZA shit is my favorite Wu shit too. 'I slayed mcs back in the room era...' thats my shit!"

He'd put both discs in a Bone Thugz CD case. I inspected the back of the Liquid Swords and saw some familiar scratches.

Naturally I was heated to surmise that this kid had boosted my jams, but I was also touched in a strange way. It was kind of rare to be that deep on Liquid Swords in suburban Detroit at that time and I'm sure Joe was conflicted when he discovered he'd riddled someone who appreciated the record as much he did. Who perhaps needed Liquid Swords it in the weirdly specific, elusive way Wu-Tang records make certain upper middle class white boys jones for them. He didn't feel like he had to restore my entire cache, but couldn't bear the thought of having taken Liquid Swords from a dude who loved that shit so stridently. I thanked him for the GZA. Joe was a feared hockey goon and I was first year varsity on the golf team. I was out of my weight class. That Maximillion was all I really needed anyway. I don't think it left my Discman for next five months.

Joe G. and I have become good friends, and I finally confronted him recently. He fiercely denied my accusations and told me he was offended that I would ever think he was greasy enough to take another man's Wu-Tang, even back in his reckless youth. I pointed out that he used to steal whole stereo systems out of cars, thereby removing all music from people's lives, Wu-Tang or otherwise, but he maintained his innocence when it came to the Clan.

His earnestness revealed just how personal his relationship with the Wu-Tang was, and this of course is the very essence of My Own Private Shaolin. I was tempted to believed him. Then in a masterpiece of comic timing my roommate Tony Snow came downstairs, and when he learned what we were talking about, he started to lash out at Joe for hijacking HIS Liquid Swords CD a few years later. We put the record on to illustrate just how fucked up and depraved it was to pilfer something so fresh. Joe kept on saying he had no idea what we were talking about. So who really knows.

The tone of the conversation turned good natured as Tony related a story about how he forgot to write a paper for his English class one time. He scribbled the lyrics to Killah Hills 10304 verbatim at the last minute on the bus and turned it in. His teacher didn't identify it as rip job, but still only gave Tony a C+. A C+! I'm not saying the Genius is Ezra Pound or anything, and something is doubtlessly lost when the rhymes aren't set to RZA guillotine synths. But come on now, a fucking C+ for Killa Hillz 10304?!? Those who can't teach gym teach composition.

Overnight lows in low 50s tonight in Detroit. Protect your necks.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

New Doc Waffles - One More Pint, Detroit

If I could leak this track to you in a Church's Chicken styrofoam side dish container, dear reader, I would. I want this record to leave grease on your lips like runny egg salad.

This is a song from my definitively unfinished "The Bon Vivant" and the first song I wrote after moving to Chicago in 2007. I had been there a few weeks and didn't really know my way around. I was jonesed out for Detroit and its drowsy rhythms.

I kept thinking back to this one weird Sunday in the fall of 06 that seemed to approximate everything I missed about The D. I woke up that morning in a big house in the suburbs. My girlfriend's rich parents were in the Bahamas and we'd camped out the night before. Sugar socks and I planned to spend a languid day together by the pool, drinking her dad's scotch and watching peacocks roam around the backyard while she read The Story of the Eye to me in French. Yes, there were peacocks. And she could read Bataille in french. It was going down like that.

My phone started blowing up around ten and didn't stop for the next half hour. Everybody in the neighborhood was calling me. Shit was going down in the city! Some sketchy dudes got photo Jenny drunk on tequilla and stole her drugs! Where you at, doc? She's hanging out the window of your sun room right now with no shirt on drinking Crown and cursing and throwing your Elton John records out the window! You better get the fuck down here, man. The cops are going to take Jenny away!

So naturally I bailed on honey ankles and our decadent plans to go watch the drama unfold in the D. I sped down Woodward and pulled up in front of the Alphabet building expecting to see fire trucks, ambulances, the Environmental Protection Agency, Bill Bonds and the East Side Cheddar Boys all lined up to witness the horror. Instead, the only person there was Jenny, sitting on the porch of the alphabet building humming Belle and Sebastian with a big smile, cradling my records that I guess she picked up off the street, drinking a tall, perspiring Crown ginger.

"Captain, isn't it a beautiful day?"

"What the fuck, photo? Everybody said you were sauced out, bugging out out here, throwing my goddamn Madman Across the water out the window, look at this shit, and it's scratched, and I had plans today...what the fuck?

"These boys came over last night and I thought they stole my darkness, but its OK, I found it under your bed. Here, I found forty bucks too, but I had to give Madeline ten and you were out of ginger ale. But look, Captain, there's still 23 dollars left. Can we go get some food? Please? Can we go get some tacos? I'm starving?"

The taco spot was closed so we went and got some chicken. The big church across the street had just let out and the place was full of righteous patrons in their Sunday best, their vermillions, their money greens, their canaries. We took our feast back to the hood and started to picnic on the porch, and somebody came around with a radio, and what started with this crazy hyperbolic broad throwing records out the window was reconciled into a spontaneous block party. We got buzzed and Captain Caveman started bellowing on some nostalgia shit. Ay dog...Come on Dog.

Anyway you'll have to indulge the longwinded intro but so few of my songs have backstories, and I do mind pining. Shake your tail feather like it's broken.

Friday, August 7, 2009

No Teddy Rogers: Ferris Bueller's Day Off

(This started out as a comment on my man Ira Brooker's thoughtful John Hughes homage over at A Talent For Idleness. I've always felt that Ferris Bueller was overrated and when he started to blast on one of my favorite flicks, Pump Up the Volume, I got heated. The following rant ensued. My boy usually has a razor sharp cultural palette so he probably just ate some bad fish sticks or something. Then again, dude also roots for the Vikings, so who really knows. Anyway, Ferris Bueller gets the No Teddy Rogers treatment, which we all remember is Bring Me the Robe's examination of cultural affiliations so revolting they may drive you to threaten friends or loved ones who endorse them with a broken bottle. See 1:25 embedded below.)

Your way off base on Pump Up The Volume, Vikings fan, and I'm not buying Cameron Frye as one of cinema's iconic teenage characters (although Hughes gets props for dipping Cameron in throwback sports gear a decade before it blew up mainstream, and that it's a Gordie Howe is some extra strength shit).

I don't find any of the personalities in Ferris Bueller to be particularly sympathetic, with the exception of Charlie Sheen's ruffian at the end. He tells Ferris' sister to get the fuck over herself and that's what everybody in the this movie, especially Cameron, needs to hear. Why is your boy so maladroit? He's got a buttery house in the woods with a pool and classic cars in glass rooms. He should be parlaying his sheepish melancholia into sex with Ally Sheedy-in-The-Breakfast-Club-type honeys and buying high tone dope with the money his rich dad gives him. You know his pops is going to get him into whatever school he wants to go to. He'll major in Comparitive Literature and get a job teaching high school English somewhere and cash trust fund checks and sodomize his wife. His situation just isn't that bad.

Cameron getting emotionally in touch with abandonment issues is some low stakes bullshit compared with what Mark Hunter aka Harry Hard On has to take on in Pump Up the Volume. Just for starters there is the government trying to shut down his broadcasts, and an evil institutional conspiracy at his high school. Meanwhile dude is working on some alienation problems of his own, but instead of reverting to gestural, existential cheese like jumping into swimming pools, he gives his malevolence a meaningful cultural form through pirate radio. The superficially-reserved by day, zeitgeist by night character is one we've seen before, yes, but never have its metaphors been extended by such a unique and vital medium, and in such a specific narrative space. Seriously, who would you rather share a bottle of Mumms and drive out to the desert with, sad sack Cameron or the cat whose going to bring the benzos and the badass Leonard Cohen / Public Enemy mixtape?

My real problem, of course, isn't with Cameron but with Ferris Bueller himself and his actions as a mouthpiece for baby boomer hegemony. Here is a character I'm supposed to accept as a vanguard of youth who eats lunch at the squarest white collar joint in Chicago and listens to classic rock. He steals an old man's car and dresses up as his girlfriend's dad. The only people who give a shit whether or not he skips school are his malcontent sister and his oafish, painfully unfunny principal. Things are going to work out for Ferris. They always do. Do we worry for even a moment that Ferris might wind up facing severe legal and financial penalties for hanging Mr. Frye's Ferrari on a tree? Of course not! Ferris is a fully functional adult forced by the strictures of an agist society to attend high school despite the fact that he is pretty much a forty year old business man. Getting over on his parents and his academic supervisors is duck hunt to this guy. He projects such an air of invulnerability that his rumored illness becomes a powerful manipulative tool. He will not face the same exposure and downfall of Rushmore's Max Fischer. He's the guy who gets away with everything.

The character arc for Mark Hunter (sounds like a name from a Steven Segal flick) is more nuanced and subtle than I think you're giving it credit for. There is something telegraphic about the reconciliation of his social polarity, but one of my favorite aspects of Pump Up the Volume is the undercurrent of tension between Mark and his parents. Having uprooted their son, they don't ask too many questions about what he's up to with all the electronic equipment in the basement, for fear of alienating him entirely. Their passivity creates the kind of see no evil, hear no evil policy that simmers almost universally between parents and adolescents. While Mark Hunter's talk hard martyrdom may seem a little overwrought as teenage voices fill the bandwidth over the desert sky, at least the movie reminds us that the players are playing in a world where actions have consequences.

And I need not remind you, Vikings fan, that Mark gets rhythm from the fine dark-haired-chick-with-avant-garde-sensibilities character. The same type of girls I'm sure you were trying to press up on during your high school days in Sparta. Pump Up the Volume makes me want to be seventeen again and bump Bad Brains and chase girls like that. I don't know man, Ferris Bueller just makes me glad I'm not old. No Teddy Rogers!

Thursday, August 6, 2009

T-Bone Steaks Live - 2006

Nostalgia butters from the Golf View Drive record release party at the State Theatre, 12/15/2006.

Earlier that day I'd bought an eight foot Christmas tree and hauled it up five flights of stairs to my penthouse apartment unassisted. Yeah, on some megaton feats of strength shit.

Rocking the State was one of the highlights of my career as a performer and I'm still grateful to Willy "Optimo" Callahan and our boys in the middle school crew for hooking it up. Purple bags fell from the sky that night like gorillas dropping out of trees.

Monday, August 3, 2009

That's right, no waffles for one year

I've jumped back in the rap battle scene recently after taking a few years off. These are lean times, yes, even for rappers, and putting people on blast can be a good source of supplementary income for the sadistically inclined rhetorician. Trying to get that fruit salad money, you know?

I came up in what many consider to be an epochal time in the Detroit hip hop underground, roughly 2001 - 2004, when cats like Quest Mccody, Swann, Marv One, Hostyle, Subverse, et al were very active on the local battle circuit and at the top of their games. This was a time when the rap battle had a great deal of cultural relevance, with 8 Mile turning lots of casual music fans on, and MTV, HBO, BET, etc. giving freestyle emcees significant exposure.

I think most of the elite battle rappers have moved away from the scene because battling has proven itself to be a dead end of sorts career wise, and certainly not a reliable path to commercial success. The failure of cats like Jin, Serious Jones, Eyedea, etc. to crossover and make #1 HIT JAMS has created a climate in which battle rappers are often stigmatized by their success in verbal brawls. They are thought to be lacking in their ability to make meaningful, conceptual records (nonsense, obviously, as some of the most rigorously conceptual hip hop albums of the last decade were authored by prominent shit talkers up to and including my own 2006 release, Golf View Drive).

I get nostalgic watching tapes of old battles because I know I used to do it for reasons other than upgrading my life's gastronomical quality. The battle used to be a fun way to sharpen your knives and measure yourself against some of the hungriest cats on the scene. In that spirit I would like to extend the following challenge to any Detroit rapper experiencing malaise with current the state of affairs: I will battle you, on the roof of John King Books, the only stakes being that the loser will agree to not eat waffles for the next year of their life. That's right, no waffles for a year.

So holler at your boy, my acerbically tongued colleagues, and let's get this shit popping.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

New Doc Waffles - Ginger Jenny Ale

Another How to Shoot Quail recording session went down last week at the USM nerve center. Peace to the whole Kill the Bullshit crew for letting me come in and run game like Mikan drills. Crate Deezy and I banged out five new tracks Bride of the Atom style. And we've only just begun. Please devote the next two and a half minutes of your life to savoring this new Deezy produced song, Ginger Jenny Ale, and keep it Golf View, darlings.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

New Doc Waffles - Bug Bites

The Ghost and I ventured down to the United States of Mind headquarters in Hazel Park last night to preview some post-getting-hit-by-a-bus Crate Deezy beats. Pleased to report that DDOT can't do shit to slow down the Hiroshima Boy production wise. Enjoy this new track, brilliantly titled, "Bug Bites" and keep your grips tied tight for more popping fresh Doc Waffles material in the coming weeks.

And don't forget, Doc Waffles performs live this Saturday, 7/25 at Skorz bar in Sterling Heights. 4065 15 Mile. 10 PM. 21 plus. No cover and cheap drinks all night player, so roll saucy, roll deep.

Saturday, July 4, 2009

No Teddy Rogers: Sex and Notre Dame Football

No Teddy Rogers is Bring Me the Robe's examination of cultural affiliations so revolting they may drive you to threaten friends or loved ones who endorse them with a broken bottle (See 1:25 above).

If I fail to gain carnal knowledge of a University of Notre Dame football fan, I will consider my life somehow incomplete. I can see her now in my minds eye, this strange object of desire, plastic cup of keg beer in hand, her auburn hair smelling like a tailgate, a Return to Glory t-shirt disguising her paunch. Her young face prematurely weathered from watching her Irish catch beatdowns from Service Academies. Her eyes tired with false hope. Really gets my toes tapping.

I think this pathology is common among sports fans. While we naturally seek members of our own camp to share our lives, our secrets, to take home to mom and all that, there is a part of us that craves an emotionless sexual conquest over a supporter of our rivals.

The closest I've come to consumating this urge as a Michigan fan was on new year's eve in Chicago a few years back, when I made it with a girl who was dating Northwestern tailback Noah Herron. An All Big Ten second team selection, Herron had gone for 192 total yards that fall against the Wolverines in a losing effort. Good ballplayer. I bore him and the Wildcats no ill will. His performance on the field had nothing to do with my taking a shine to his girl, who shared my enthusiasm for brown liquor and the films of Dziga Vertov. Just one of those things. However, had Herron's efforts led NW to victory over Michigan that season, or had it been, say, Troy Smith's girlfriend, the act would have been infused with a very different gravity. Brady Quinn's sister would have been a perfect storm.

Twisted as it sounds, there exists a congruency between the strength of my hatred for Michigan's rivals and the strength of my desire to lay down with their women. Not as an expression of love, of course, but as a declaration of mutual submission and contempt. I want to make it with a Notre Dame girl so she feels like she's seeing the Irish running out the tunnel at home rocking their green jerseys and getting beat by Boston College. I want to make it like a Notre Dame loss to a mediocre BCS opponent being one of the lead stories on College Game Day. Sporty fun stuff like that. You always hurt the ones you love. Sometimes you want to screw the ones you hate.

These axioms comprise the very essence of No Teddy Rogers and I keep them handy when sorting out my reasons for never seriously trying to sport fuck an Ohio State fan. (Note: I did once make my girlfriend call me Jim Tressel during sex to see what it might be like). I tell myself I loathe Ohio State with every righteous atom of my being, but I've grudgingly come to respect them as Michigan's worthy, if ethically ambiguous, doppelganger when it comes to athletic tradition and excellence. Excepting the third Saturday of November, I root for Ohio State to succeed, because I want their battle with Michigan to have the greatest possible significance. To contribute to a rich, symbiotic mythology. I have accepted Ohio State fans in my closest circle of friends and can even see myself mating with a Buckeye for purposes greater than whiskey-blind revenge lust.

This is not the case with Notre Dame, a great school with a lovely campus and a catchy fight song which I hope finds failure and embarasment for the next 1,000 years on the gridiron. If you subscribe to the romantic notion that the sports teams we love reflect virtues we wish to cultivate in ourselves and admire in others, its opposite should also hold true. Individuals with affinity for lousy sports cultures will inevitably show analogous deficiencies of character. It is no coincidence that the history of Notre Dame bashing is so rich and colorful. Good people have taken Notre Dame fans into their homes. They have indulged their diet books and Jimmy for Heisman buttons. They will spend their New Years day watching rented VHS tapes. I want to make it with a Notre Dame fan like the Rose Bowl her squad will never play in again, ever.

Here are three facets of Fighting Irish fanaticism that make me think I need Notre Dame girls in my life like I need ants in my cereal. And make me think I want to do touchy stuff with them in the stalls of public restrooms.

1. Mysticism
I'm generally disgusted when people suggest that fortune practices favoritism, and especially when it comes to sports. The idea that Notre Dame football is smiled upon by the metaphysically elusive "Luck of the Irish" is annoying and intellectually insulting. Believing your team is favored by luck is dangerously close to believing your team is favored by God. So I inquire, Notre Dame fan, where was your God when Mario Manningham was torching your helpless cornerbacks? Whither your God when Shawn Crable was leaving five inch deep Brady Quinn impressions all over your storied pitch? Why didn't your God stop that irritating little man from putting on the leprechaun costume and prancing on the sidelines like a buffoon? I get dressed quietly and slip out while you're lighting prayer candles. No Teddy Rogers!

2. Hyperbole
Typified by ND's perpetual Return to Glory. A 9-3 season that concludes with getting your ass handed to you in a bowl game does not portend rediscovered greatness. Not when your program has been irrelevant for over a decade. Staging the gaudiest press conference in the history of recruiting does not make your quarterback an All American. Glossing your coach a genius doesn't guarantee victories. I get dressed quietly and sneak out the window, Notre Dame fan, and you don't even notice, because you've worked yourself into such a lather anticipating a breakout senior campaign by James Aldridge. I mean, he was a five star, right? No Teddy Rogers!

3. Catching Critical Beatdowns
Not only do the Irish lose frequently, they tend to lose by means of critical beat down. It is significant that the greatest achievement in ND's recent football history is playing a competitive game with USC in 2005. Catching a loss is one thing, but doing so with such consistency by such pathetic margins suggests that it might be time to appraise your status in the football world more modestly. I get dressed quietly and dip out the back door while you watch the Irish drive proudly down the field in the fourth quarter to cut the deficit to five touchdowns. Your money is on the night stand, Notre Dame fan. No Teddy Rogers!

Monday, June 29, 2009

My Own Private Shaolin: Karaoke Night with ODB

The relative paucity of posthumous Old Dirty Bastard releases has been kind of disappointing. As a vocalist Dirty effected a reckless charisma that could make reading the phone book sound dangerous and exciting. So why wasn't the RZA getting ODB in the studio every night and turning him loose? I got to thinking about how dope it would be if a "lost" recording of Old Dirty covering modern pop classics was discovered.

I like to classify Old Dirty with the singers of old jazz standards. Sinatra, Billy Holiday, Chet Baker, et al. Meaning in his work is conveyed not through the imagery or narrative content of his songs but through the precisely unhinged manner in which they are delivered. Call it the "not what I say but how I say it" phylum. Or more accurately, "whatever the fuck it says, no one can say it like me."

As a songwriter Dirty's brilliance lies in the creation of blunt, redundant choruses that distill his wildly meandering verses into simple idioms. Brooklyn Zoo for example is a bombardment of aimless boasts and scatter shot cultural references that are somehow reconciled by Dirty's repetitive, climactic pronouncement: "Shame on you / when you step up to / the Old Dirty Bastard. Brooklyn Zoo!" This reductive approach allowed Dirt Dog to experiment with nontraditional song formats. He could structure tracks as haphazardly as he wanted to, knowing that he could still generate isomorphism with a single, abrupt declaration.

I took this into consideration when compiling the following fantasy tracklist for a hypothetical Old Dirty Bastard covers EP, songs that would not only flatter his vocal skills, but also gel thematically with the rest of his oeuvre.

1. All Tomorrow's Parties - The Velvet Underground
Not only would the haunting instrumentation of this song blend ideally with Old Dirty's shrieking, uneven style, but it's lyrics approximate Wu-Tang's disgust with the base materialism of early nineties hip hop culture. "And what costume shall the poor girl wear / to all tomorrow's parties? A hand me down dress / from who know where / to all tomorrow's parties." This could easily be directed at Puff Daddy or Mace, artists who had more commercial success than Wu-Tang, but were viewed by the clan as inauthentic, creatively vapid, and needlessly obsessed with their clothes and shiny cars. "A hand me down dress / from who knows where" could reference commercial raps dependency on recycling tired themes and formats. Dirty, after all, prided himself on his "fatherless style" and paradoxically glossed himself Ason Unique, one who acknowledges his artistic heritage while crafting his own incomparable approach. "She'll turn once more to Sunday's clown / and cry behind the door," suggests that other rappers secretly recognize their insignificance when compared to ODB and are a bunch of weepy bitches.

2. Undone: The Sweater Song - Weezer
The lyric, "Hold this thread as I walk away" makes Undone a good choice for any posthumous covers album, and "Watch me unravel..." can be easily applied to artists like Dirty who had a taste for excess and precision tuned self destruction. Rivers Cuomo's opening mantra "I am / me be / goddamn / I am..." would go from doubtfully assertive to downright pathological when delivered in Old Dirty's rugged growl. Also its fun and easy to imagine Big Baby Jesus lying on the floor of an arena stage buck naked, grunting his way through the refrain.

3. Beast of Burden - The Rolling Stones
Another song communicating ODB's frustration with his inability to breakthrough from underground curiosity to hip hop superstar. The plaintive "I'd never be your beast of burden" could be directed at critics who thought Dirty was too erratic and unpredictable to be a reliable commodity in the music world. Record executives tell ODB that he ain't there kind of man, to which he responds, "Ain't I rough enough enough? / Ain't I rich enough..."

4. Someone to Watch Over Me - Chet Baker
A brutally ironic tribute from a man who needed a guiding hand to help curb his enthusiasm for drugs and alcohol and put him on a path to success. While this manifested itself partially in the form of RZA, too many nights Dirty found someone else to watch over him, in the form of flunkies and purveyors of narcotics. Again, he pleads vitally for acceptance in the rap game, "Although I may not be / the man some girls think of / as handsome / to her heart / I'll carry the key."

5. We Will Fall - The Stooges
One of my buddies promoted an underground Old Dirty show in Detroit in the late nineties. After the show he was given the task of delivering a pizza to the hotel suite where they were putting Dirty up. When my buddy showed up with the pie, Old Dirt Dog was shoveling ketamine up his nose while talking on two cell phones at the same time. On the end of one line was one of his baby mommas back in East New York. On the other phone was the dope man. Bored looking white girls walked around the room in their underwear. This is no doubt a scene that repeated itself night after night as Dirty toured the globe, and is one I think of when I hear We Will Fall. "And I love you / And we'll fall to sleep..." finds Dirty warmly resigned to his life between fixes, to his comforting, familiar thirst for oblivion.

6. Dominoes - Syd Barrett
Syd Barrett's laconic, almost disembodied homage to idleness, the song could be reinterpreted as a man confronting the constant threat of incarceration and forced withdraw from society. Dirty was plagued with legal troubles throughout the last ten years of his life, and no doubt suspected somewhere in the back of his mind that he would wind up behind bars. We can imagine Old Dirty locked down, meditating on the music world passing him by while he wasted time on dominoes and other banal pursuits. "Fireworks and heat someday / Hold a shell / a stick or play / overheard a lark today / losing when my minds astray / don't you want to know with your pretty hair..."

7. That's How Strong My Love Is - Otis Redding
If nothing else, ODB was passionate about his music and his lifestyle. If anyone had the chops to match Otis' passion on That's How Strong My Love Is it would be Dirty. This song is constructed to account the for unpredictable metric intensification of the lyrics, and Dirty was a master of switching his style from bar to bar. I imagine this cover running in excess of ten minutes, with most of it being the outro, as Dirty goes to painful lengths in trying to convince his listeners that his love is, in fact, that strong.

RIP Joe Bananas

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Good n' Fruity Done Lost its Soul

Candy fans, get hype for the reissued Good n' Fruity at your peril.

I've been a fan of Good n' Fruity since jump street. During my coming of age as a candy consumer between the ages of eight and ten, the Good n' Fruity was a go to product. This was a time before the widespread distribution of Swedish fish, Sour Patch Kids, and Jelly Bellies. Options were more limited for the young candy head looking for a chewy, fruit flavored varietal.

The thing about Good n' Fruity that made it such a fresh and distinct candy was that the insides of each color had the same taste platform, that of classic red licorice. Individual flavors were defined and differentiated by the color of their shells. The concept was way ahead of its time in that every flavor is a subtle red licorice hybrid: when you're finessing an orange Good n' Fruity what you're really fucking with is multitextual capsule of orange-red licorice. This realization blew my mind. '

I pushed Good n' Fruity to the limit by crushing them while I was chewing Big League chew. This not only made it a three textured experience, but also doped the flavor out to a whole new level. Say you pop in a cheek full of pink Big League Chew, then introduce two pink and two green Good n' Fruity. Now you're rocking five different fruit flavors all congealed into the dreamy texture of wet band-aids.

The Good n' Fruity was discontinued in the mid 1990's. A petition in 2008 led to the Hershey company reintroducing it. I was excited to see the familiar pink box back on the shelves, but I was appalled when I cracked one open and discovered that Hershey had dramatically changed the form and concept of this once unique candy. The current incarceration of the Good n' Fruity is just a jelly bean, and a vulgar one at that. The subtlety that once made Good n Fruity a viable dietary staple is in the wind. Nothing about this product recommends itself to the adventurous candy head's palette. I'm sure many of the over 2,000 good souls who signed the petition for Good n' Fruity's reintroduction were disappointed as well. Make this right, Hershey. Bring back the old school formula.

Halftime with Howard Cosell in Hell

Hail satan. This is Howard Cosell speaking from Hell. We are now on day 1,034 of what is shaping up to be one of the most unbearable halftimes in the storied history of inter-infernal athletics. The score remains, eternally damned Washington Redskins zero, eternally damned Seattle Seahawks, zero. Coming up we'll have highlights from what was a thoroughly joyless and poorly executed first half of football.

Right now we take you back down to the field, where legendary rap artist Eazy E continues to perform for this teeming overflow crowd of 600,000 plus. As you can see, Eazy has been tethered to a flaming pole at the fifty yard line. Ice cold 40s of malt liquor have been placed on the hash marks, just outside of his reach. Again the little man stretches out to grab one of the bottles, and again he comes up just short. You can tell Satan had something special in mind when it came time to exact his distinct brand of torment on this glamorizer of violence and promiscuity.

When Old Scratch tapped Eazy to provide this evening's halftime entertainment, there was a great deal of excitement. The diminutive gangster had the crowd going bananas early on as he performed hits such as "We Want Eazy," and "Down 2 tha Last Roach." However, after an electrifying rendition of "Gimme that Nut," Eazy found himself out of material. Treading water, he has now spent over 20,000 hours relating explicit anecdotes from his life coming up in the hood. All the while quixotically groping for the bottles of Old English 800.

It is safe to say that this journalist would have died from boredom by now were I not already condemned to this realm of disembodied and morally bankrupt souls. Only the First of the Fallen could have conjured a fate so miserable, a circumstance so excruciatingly mind numbing for the audience, the entertainer, and particularly for members of the broadcast media. And just when you thought my predicament couldn't be any more stultifying, we are now joined via closed circuit from the land of the living by my still animate colleague Don Meredith.

--Hail Satan, Howard. Great to be here.
--Welcome Danderoo, tell us what you thought about that first of action.
--I thought both teams got slowed down by all the fumbles and shanked field goals. 265 yards in false start penalties alone for eternally damned Seattle. Wow. They might be trying to slow the game down and keep that potent eternally damned Redskins offense off the field.
--Dan I'm just telling it like it is when I point out that no team in the Ineter-Infernal Football League has ever scored a touchdown. Any chance we'll see that change tonight?
--Well Howard I think we're going to see those big Redskins offensive linemen open up some holes here in the second half. If they put the blade down and really start plowing brimstone up front for these talented running backs, I think things could get exciting.
--Dann O, you know as residents of Hell we are subjected to season after season of scoreless, spirit crushing ties as punishment for our sins against the father.
--You know what they say, anything can happen in sports, and it usually does.
--Dan the buzz around the IIFL lately has been Lawrence Taylor's impending fatal heart attack. League sources are reporting that he could drop for the Giants at any time.
--Well, its a terrible loss for us topside. But football fans in Hell sure have to be excited. I can see the Giants getting some great production from Taylor on the field.
--And I'm thinking that The Boss of the Lost is going to come up with something really diabolical off the field to make him suffer for his misdeeds. Dan thank you for joining us, you have proven once again to be neither loquacious nor truculent.
--There you go again, Howard, using those $50 words of yours. Hail Satan!

Hail Satan indeed. Now a quick word from our sponsor, Tired of hearing the same old promises? Tired of products designed to introduce the great physical and psychological discomfort that define our entrapment in this shadowy and frightening existential plane that just don't deliver? Sports fans, have you tried Blisterall? Blisterall is Hell's only medicated lotion guaranteed to cause the surface of your skin to break out in hideous and painful blisters. Clinical tests show that Blisterall blisters are three times as putrescent as the other leading brands. But don't take my word for it. Here's a testimonial from Hall of Famer and long time Blisterall enthusiast Vince Lombardi...

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Yes, The Robe

Er, the Charles Baxter incident

Slow day at the bookstore.   I was eating a blueberry Danish and reading Ben Hogan’s Power Golf when this cute little blonde came up to buy a stack of Charles Baxter novels.  She was wearing a Free Mumia Abu Jamal T-Shirt.  I was bored and longing for distraction so as she set her books on the counter I dipped sportingly into Cassanova mode.  

            “It’s your lucky day madam.   Today and today only, I’m offering free blueberry Danishes to any purchaser of Charles Baxter novels.”

            I happened to have a large box of blueberry Danishes behind the counter, having worked out an arrangement with a science fiction collector named Bruce who drove the Otis Spunkmeyer delivery truck.  He came up short for cash that morning when attempting to buy an early edition Conan and we cut a deal.   

            Blondie looked at my curdling, half eaten Danish, shook her head, and changed the subject.    

            “Have you ever read anything by Charles Baxter?  He’s amazing.”

            “Well he’s on my list, but I’m still working my way through the 120 Days of Sodom.  So far I’ve only got to day 89.  Blueberry Danishes figure prominently in it but I’ll spare you the details.”

            She continues to eyeball the sad remains of my pastry while telling me how she just finished taking one of Baxter’s classes at U of M.  How she’s rewriting Wydham Lewis’ Apes of God from the perspective of the apes and how he has such penetrating insights into their craft. 

            Writers that is.  Not apes. 

            I was adding up her total when I noticed one of the books was signed by Baxter and priced higher than the rest.

            “I’ll have to charge you more for this one because it’s signed by your buddy Charles.”  

            “I’ll pass on it then.  I’m going to have him personally inscribe these to me when I get back to school.”

            The Baxter talk made her nipples so hard it looked like Mumia’s eyes were bugging out of his head

            “You know, there’s a good Indian joint up the street, I’d love to take you there sometime and hear more about your monkey book.”

            “No thanks. I’m dating a performance artist we’re busy rehearsing for his next show.  I’m going to be slowly lowered via freight elevator into a vat of scalding nacho cheese while he whispers the transcripts from the Nuremburg trials into the ear of a humungous plush lobster.  And please don’t call them monkeys.  They’re apes.” 

            She paid for her stack of books and split.  I was left alone with the signed Charles Baxter book sitting on the counter. 

            Earlier that week a coworker and I had joked about by boosting our lethargic sales by forging autographs.  We practiced duplicating the signatures of Kennedy, Dickens, Twain.  A few other heavyweights.  I decided to try Baxter and found his signature remarkably easy to copy.  After twenty minutes of practice I could produce a very convincing facsimile. 

            The next morning I went to the warehouse and loaded up on replacement copies of all the books blondie had bought the day before.  I took them back to the store and began forging bizarre inscriptions on the front endpapers and pricing them for sale. 

            “Dear Ernesto, thanks for cleaning out my gutters.  And good luck with the surgery.  See you on the runway, babe.  Lovingly, Charles Baxter.”

            “My dearest Petunia, I’ll have the Pink Panther costume dry cleaned and returned to you no later than Thursday.  Sorry I forgot to refill the ice cube trays.   Enjoy the book, Charles Baxter.”

            “To a little friend, thanks for referring me to Dr. Casper.  He is a wonderful podiatrist.  I’m just sure we’re both going to “get on the good foot in 2006” your old chum, CB.”

            A lot of Baxter’s academic cronies were assigning his books for their classes that fall and there was a decent turnover of his stuff in the store.  I was careful to never over saturate our stock with phonies, but always eager to put one out if opportunity provided.                “Dear Monica, I was going to name my first child Roscoe, but after our blissful hour and a half at the Highlander motel, I wouldn’t dare think of naming it after anyone but you.  With tingling toes and a song on my lips, Charlie.”  

            I’d never read a single sentence of Baxter’s prose and had no concept of his literary prowess.  Still, I indulged in fantasies where he was discovered to be the definitive millennial novelist and books containing his signature achieved great value and historical prestige.  That these inscriptions of mine, mechanically indistinguishable from his own hand, would have their veracity debated by scholars and perhaps one day contribute to the mythos of a great man. 

            Even more indulgently I imagined myself emerging as a great novelist and having some late 21st century hermetic scouring my fakery for some gainful minutiae that might lend meaning to the themes and structures of future masterworks I hadn’t even begun to conjure. 

            So for the next year I went on forging his hand.

            They invited my boss to participate in a panel discussion on bibliomania at the Ann Arbor book fair.  He hated doing talks like this so he lied and said a dentist appointment and dumped it on me.  I checked out the lineup and saw that Baxter was talking on this other panel.  “Insect reppellant and the Constructivist moment in the modern novel.”  Something heavy like that. 

            The night before the fair there was a reception for the panelists in the banquet room of a Best Western.  A shrimp cocktail and wine gig.   I kept looking for Baxter but he didn’t show.  I hung out with some of my cronies from the book trade.  The little blonde I’d met in the bookstore was there and she spotted me.

            “Ben!  I got so excited when I heard you were on a panel.”

            “That’s great.  Are you going to come hear me talk?”

            “Well, my boyfriend is burning an effigy of Elmore Leonard tomorrow beneath the big maple tree on the law quad the same time your speaking…so I’m gonna miss it …but could you sign this book for Charles?”

            “Charles Baxter?”

            “It’s an anthology of his student’s work!  I’ve had it custom bound in lambskin, and I’m getting everybody who’s talking at the book fair to sign it.” 

            I’d had a few glasses of wine and I couldn’t help but smirk when she hands me her rubbery book and a Uniball.  

               “Dear Charles Baxter, what happens on the life raft stays on the life raft.  But I’ll get your monocle polished, sterilized, and returned, as soon as I can.  Ben Ness.”

              I gave blondie her book back and checked out the way her nipples brought out the eyes of the Juan Valdez looking peasant on her “Peace with Honduras” t-shirt. 

             “You know, I’ve got a room upstairs…”  But she had dashed off to ask Umberto Eco a question about the feeding habits of silver back gorillas and its relation to the simulacra. 

            Signing a book for Baxter himself I took as the karmic finale of my prank.  I decided to cut out signing his books.  But I still took pleasure in going to other bookstores and seeing that my forgeries were circulating.  And I was especially delighted by other bookseller’s perplexed notation, penciled below the price. 


            A few months later I was back in Ann Arbor to see a football game and after it was over I decided to browse a few bookstores.  This joint on State St. had an especially long row of Baxter novels and I opened them to see if I’d inscribed them.   

            I had.  

            “Fairest Marcel, when you get done deicing the freezer please enjoy this work of incomparable genius.  Yours and yours alone, Ben Ness.” 

            “Oh Beverly, I’m sorry I scratched your Wrestlemania DVDs.  Please accept this masterfully crafted novel as a tolken of my regret.  Your little pepper shaker, Ben Ness.”

            The signature was indistinguishable from my own. 

            I checked all the bookstores in town.  In every one, Charles Baxter’s books contained absurd, effusive inscriptions.  From me. 

            “Dear Keith, hate to paraphrase Jodeci, but every freaking night, and every freaking day, I want to freak you baby in every freaking way.  Enjoy this book by Charles Baxter, who is probably the greatest man ever to live.  Love, love, love, love, love love love love love, Ben Ness.”