So what’s the most shocking aspect of Black Flag’s sudden reunion album, the appropriately titled What The…? The simple fact it exists after two decades of minimal stirring? The shiteous cover art that I think we all want to believe is awful on purpose? My vote goes to the astounding truth that the music within sounds like it’s being played by the real Black Flag, the tank-like ’80s outfit we all hoped would magically appear at our high school and start a police riot with their unique brand of disturbed, violent punk rock.
Not only is What The… better than it has any right to be twenty-eight years after the fact, it comes offensively close to being great in various pockets. Raw, nutty, heavy—these guys roll over the gate like they’ve been locked in a storage closet since In My Head. Founding guitarist Greg Ginn can still warp your mind with his playing, be it with gobs of gluey riffage or pointedly fractured soloing (Ginn also handled the gut-slapping bass lines that lay the foundation for What The…). Similarly, returning Flag singer Ron Reyes can still summon up that angry wayward teen who splattered his vocals across several of the band’s early lynchpin releases.
Unfortunately (you knew that was coming), What The… dampens its fire by handing out too much of a good thing. Forgetting that brevity is the soul of punk, Ginn and Reyes force us through twenty-two angry noodles when an offering a third that length could have comprised one of this year’s more invigorating EPs. It’s never a good sign when the listener needs to take a lunch break midway through an album. It’s even worse when the listener wants to. The contents of your refrigerator are sure to excite on a James Bond level once you’ve been confronted with the malaise that hangs over backend What The… cuts like “Lies” and “Give Me All Your Dough.”
As of this writing, Reyes is already out of the reformed Flag, having been ousted in favor of professional skateboarder Mike Vallely (who can also sing, apparently). Based on the meandering, circular nature of What The…, Black Flag doesn’t need a new singer so much as they need an editor. Of course, this is the band (the punk rock band) that released four albums in one year during their heyday, so I guess in a certain light we were spared the true onslaught. Twenty-two songs—can you imagine how much shit might be cluttering the cutting room floor?
FINAL SCORE: Two pastrami sandwiches on honey wheat (out of four).
Three planes, a few trains, I don’t know how many busses, and a whole lotta trail mix. Get ready to taste the magic.
Kicked this bastard off by speaking to students/staff of Full Sail University. Since Full Sail is a media production school, instead of reading from my book I threw together a little spiel about punk rock recording techniques (i.e. why the Misfits sound like the Misfits and not Reeves Nevo and the Cinch). The attendees seemed really into it and appreciative. The only weird part was realizing the median age in the room was about nineteen; my references to ’70s game show hosts crashed out like SCUD missiles. Guess my next book should be about Bob Eubanks.
One of my joker friends snuck his way in to the auditorium during the Q&A portion of the presentation and kept referring to Glenn Danzig as my “white whale.” Bitch PLEASE. Anyone who knows me knows Charles Biscuits is my white whale, and that clown nearly swallowed me whole in ’09. Thankfully I grew up in Connecticut where maritime law forces all children to watch “Voyage of The Mimi,” so I know how to survive a shipwreck.
All my rowdy friends came over for Thursday Night Misfits.
The private launch party. For some reason I committed to a wine/cheese thing even though my knowledge of/familiarity with those foodstuffs is entry level. Yes, I had to refer to a chart to make sure I was pairing up the right stuff. No one puked, so I think I did alright. I’m just happy I got to kill a few hours with so many of the special people I’ve come to know via NYC living (even the one friend who attempted to purchase a copy of my book with a thirty dollar Marshalls gift card).
The after-party was even more off the chain, and by “after-party” I mean “bacon cheeseburger and fries I ate at the diner across the street from where the party was at.” If you want to see the writer at his most relaxed and comfortable take him to a Brooklyn diner.
I take that back: the soothe was greater the next morning when I visited my hometown, which is just over the New York border in the aforementioned Nutmeg State. There’s something to be said for New England train stations ensconced in autumnal colors, not to mention the exact Main Street where I spent so much of my adolescence kicking piles of leaves, pawing Batman comics, and guzzling Kiwi Strawberry Snapple (which is about as exotic as my Connecticut got in 1991). The batteries were fully recharged after that.
No event here, just decided to visit some recently engaged friends and soak up as much Mid-Atlantic warmth as I could before hitting the frozen tundra of the Midwest. I also enjoyed the experience of attempting to eat at Pho Bar, which is one of D.C.’s hotter ramen noodle spots: walked up their flight of stairs, was received by a host in a Bathory shirt who informed our party the wait was two hours and forty-five minutes, laughed, walked the fudge out. I instantly wanted to frame this experience. We ended up down the street at a British pub called the Queen Vic where I ate chicken curry poutine…as a meal. My cholesterol is putting up Jeter-like numbers.
The Megabus took the Liberty Tunnel into downtown Pittsburgh, which is not unlike the transition from “real world” into Toon Town in Roger Rabbit. Everything on Pittsburgh’s non-dt side is a bit chain restauranty and spread out and nondescript…then you whiz through the tunnel and at the other end you’re hit with this beautiful twinkling chunk of pure uncut city couched between three rivers. I’ll admit I was stunned. Even more stunning: the Hampton Inn I checked into had a hot tub that was still open at 10:30 p.m. Dunked myself into that at the first opportunity. No bathing suit, just my underwear, ’cause I’m a wild man who can’t be tamed by society’s rules.
Perusing my favorite section at Mind Cure Records.
Thanks to a combination of me knowing exactly one person in Pittsburgh (who was busy that night) and the Lili Cafe snoozing a bit on promotion, zero humans turned up for my reading in Steel City. I wish I could tell you I was utterly livid about this, that I threw some kind of hissy fit and/or was at least minimally depressed. The truth, however, is that I didn’t and still don’t really care. This was the last date scheduled for the tour and I had a feeling when I set it all up that I could be facing an empty house situation. Like I said, the amount of people I know in the area couldn’t fill a tandem bike. Ain’t no thang. I had a perfectly fine time chatting with the barista on duty and no tears were shed later as I sat alone in Primanti’s and wolfed down one of those famous sandwiches with the french fries in the middle.
If there’s anything to gripe about regarding Pittsburgh it’s that not a single person busted balls about my Mets hat. Yes, I’m complaining that people were too polite. Yes, I have a sickness.
This was my second sojourn to Cleveland in the past decade and I can now confirm to you that Drew Carey is not incorrect: Cleveland rocks. in fact, Cleveland rocks so hard I’m willing to bet it’ll be annexed by Brooklyn in the next few years.
Speaking of New York and all its endearing obnoxiousness, the pizza at Crust (which is on the outskirts of Cleveland’s Bergen Village) is on par with the pie in my adopted home borough. Even if you don’t agree, fellow jaded and grumpy New Yorker, you cannot front on Crust’s portion sizes. A single slice is roughly the length and width of a catamaran. I thought I was being punk’d when the girl brought it out. She literally served it to me on a hunk of wood! I could barely finish the thing; I got to the crust (ahem) and thought, Well, I’ll just use this as a walking stick now.
‘Twas a modest turnout for my reading across the street from Crust at Visible Voice Books, but those who came were totally amped for my being there, which felt great. Also great: Visible Voice didn’t just absent-mindedly put the Misfits on their house music, they let me choose my own pre-show tunes. I went with Rocket From The Crypt, because occasionally I go hard and like to pretend I have lots of sick tattoos.
Hotel in Cleveland. Remember that week we thought Andy was still alive?
The Book Loft (a store one could only describe as “labyrinthine”; it feels like you’re just crawling through a cave of books) offered the first experience I had where someone bought multiple copies of the book and had me sign them to different people. Very trippy but cool. Somehow I managed to do it without misspelling anyone’s name.
Columbus got the short end of the stick in that I was outta there in under a day. Thus, I cannot tell you the best place to get artisanal cheese or eco-friendly pet supplies in that area. What I can tell you is if you’re picking up the Megabus at the corner of High and Nationwide there is no signage and you just gotta trust that it’s gonna show up there. My inner Costanza was a little peeved by this but in the end I got on the bus just fine, cheddar cheese Pringles and iced tea in hand, ready for the journey to Chicago.
“That’s why they call him Joker. He just stands on street corners all day.”
“Bad juju” isn’t a term you’ll hear me throw around often but I definitely have it with Chicago. My first visit in 2007 was beyond crummy—it wasn’t one big thing, either, just a lot of little things. Same deal this time around. Couldn’t book a damn thing but had to pass through anyway. It rained/sleeted the whole time, one of those famous Chicago wind gusts knocked my camera off what I thought was a secure piece of fence and broke the lens, the crosswalks appeared to be coated with some kind of quick slip that made me slide around like an ice skater, every person who said they’d go nuts and party with me suddenly had a million things to do, and my head was pounding with dull pain the entire time.
On the plus side, the Silversmith Hotel where I stayed was/is an awesome blend of old timey and modern, and I had some killer pad thai from nearby Hot Woks Cool Sushi. Also, I remember being comforted by the echoes of wailing police sirens. Like NYC, Chicago is dense enough with concrete to let sounds of that nature reverberate for miles. Made me feel at home.
I guess you haven’t completely broken my heart (yet), Chicago…but you are certainly not “my kind” of town.
Finally, my favorite graphic novel and breakfast combined! This gem spotted at Source Comics.
Here was the first reading where the crowd was packed to a standing room only situation (well, the people in the back were resting a bit on the window sill, so perhaps leaning room only). Boneshaker Books even set up a snack table for attendees with motherfucking carrot sticks and hummus! That is, as their FB page told me upon initial contact, radical and progressive.
I had a five day break between events here, engineered partially so I could take a breather, hang out with my Twin Cities Get Fresh Crew, and catch up on freelance work. It was oppressively cold in Minnesota at this point but I didn’t let that stop me from going to record shops like Extreme Noise and Electric Fetus and buying stuff like Poison Idea’s Fatal Erection (purchased at the former) and the Last Action Hero OST (purchased at the latter). Also went to that bar/diner in St. Paul where they have all the old school video games set up but none of the consoles we tried were functioning…so eff that place right in their Yelp review.
Tossed salad and scrambled eggs! Frasier Crane is a little more uptight than the Seattle I know, but he still seems like an alright mascot to me. Witty, urbane, masking some kind of terminal weirdness. You could do worse, Seattle. Imagine being Kansas City and having bland wieners like Paul Rudd and Jason Sudeikis rep your town.
Once upon a time there was a spooky donut place that was never open.
Cafe Racer was the only place where other people were on the bill to speak. That took some edge off until I actually heard the guys (Chris Estey and Bill Cerise-Bullock) and realized how legit/clever they are. They could write their own Misfits books worth their weight in devilocks. Still, I think my bit went alright. My barometer is no one threw anything at me or tried to punch me after the show. And yet I split early anyway. I was tired but I also didn’t want to tempt fate.
Had breakfast the next morning with my friend Kris at Roxy’s, the restaurant where you can order a shot that includes a slap from your server. I don’t drink but I considered ordering one of these shots anyway because the girl taking care of us looked totally over it and I’m sure she would have rattled something loose with her love tap. That’s what you’re paying for, right? You don’t want some sissy slap. Hit me like I owe you money, sister.
Top of the world, Ma. Photo by Michael Poley.
Did my thing at Powell’s, one of America’s last great books stores. Definitely battled some nerves here. Again though, I have to praise the friendly and receptive attitude of those in attendance. A couple folks even asked to get pictures with me afterward. I tried to look not crazy but that’s hard when you don’t comb your hair ever and you think giving a double thumbs up is always endearing.
Spent the days surrounding my event exploring Portland. What a charming and beautiful city. Epic nature framing adorable urban/suburban enclaves. Coffee strong enough to stun a yak. Amazing record stores both big and small (Green Noise and Music Millennium were/are my faves). A fast food chain called Burgerville that’s more prevalent/delectable than McDonald’s. Air clean enough to wear to bed. My only complaint is the city needs a prep course for its recycling situation. The couple I stayed with had five bins for their waste and I still couldn’t be sure what went into where. I just tried not to consume at all. That’s sort of beating the system, right?
Oh, and I guess in retrospect the sky tram in Portland is kind of weak. I mean, it has very little practical application unless you work at the hospital where the ride terminates, and the views of the city…I feel you get views just as breathtaking on Portland’s various bridges. Still, at four bucks it’s cheaper than the Roosevelt Island tram in Manhattan (I think).
There’s my next book: TRAM WARZ. Which metropolitan area’s sky bucket will reign supreme? YOU’RE GOING DOWN, EL PASO.
FINAL BOOK TOUR GRADE: A-
Huge thanks again to all who hosted me, all who came out, and all who helped me get from Point A to Points B through Z. Love youse all.
To Whom It May Concern,
Recently I visited your restaurant for a late lunch and I must tell you, the flavors in my bacon ranch quesadilla were greatly enhanced when I heard the Galactic Force Band’s version of the 2001 theme come over your in-house music system.
I don’t know what prompted you to break into your otherwise concrete solid country music programming with this ancient cocaine-riddled artifact, but I thank you. Variety is the spice of life. Clearly your knob-twiddlers in the back room know that.
Have a bitchin’ day,
There we were, three fleshy lumps on the couch, the bare minimum of our energies directed toward the television. What else were we to do as we awaited Tom Turkey and all his trimmings? Discuss local affairs? I’m afraid there was just nothing left to say about the bowl of pumpkin-flavored M&Ms that sat on the coffee table before us. Still, we couldn’t suppress every stray thought as BBC America pelted us with reruns of “Star Trek: The Next Generation.”
“Is it just me or are all these episodes really Gates McFadden-heavy?”
“It’s just this one, really.”
“Feel like I’m watching Gatesgiving, not Treksgiving.”
“Did you know she was a Muppet movement choreographer for Muppets Take Manhattan?”
“How could I have possibly known that?”
“Why are we watching with the sound off?”
“You think the visuals are bad, imagine the dialogue.”
“God, I wish she’d stop making out with that Kevin Sorbo-looking motherfucker.”
The Satellite of Love this was not, but we were amusing ourselves, doing our best to prevent Roddenberry-induced comas. The steamed bird did not arrive before the episode where our intrepid late eighties space nuts work out some Robin Hood fantasy to save the Captain’s sexy twenty-something personal assistant from the clutches of that nefarious Q, which of course means I had to watch LeVar Burton play a lute in leggings.
The wounds, they won’t heal.
A: Getting hit by a car, not so much because it might kill me but more because it might wound me, inflicting barely detectable head trauma that will leave my friends to say, “You know, he just hasn’t been the same since ‘the accident.’” Falling off a cliff, because of similar noggin concerns but also because of gravel and gravity and perturbed scorpions/cliff snakes. Accidentally committing a major faux pas in a foreign country and never being forgiven for it. Seeing Bigfoot or a UFO and never knowing if my friends actually believe my accounts or if they’re merely humoring me in person and writing me off as a lunatic behind closed doors. Accidentally inhaling mustard gas.
You know what this means: people were throwing their letters in that thing until they put the sign up. Guess they get a lot of overflow from 1921.
Signage spotted in the lobby of the Hampton Inn, downtown Chicago, where I am not staying. I need a hotel with a working mail chute!
“I think, since you post so much about your family and how happy you are all the time, people would be really surprised if you had a status update that was a Vladimir Lenin quote…or, like, something about Reservoir Dogs.”
The woman’s eyes widened.
“I couldn’t even finish that movie!” She exclaimed. “I had to shut it off, it was too—”
“I want to see it!” interrupted her second grader, looking up from her book with a wide smile.
“There are no dogs in it,” her father stated matter-of-factly.
“What? Why would they give it a name like that then?” the child asked, still smiling but with a furrowed brow.
No one—not Mother, not Father, nor I the visiting satellite adult—could provide an answer. The conversation lurched elsewhere.
She can Google it in a few years, I thought.