Sunday, December 23, 2012

Flophouse #7 (Mauve)

It begins simply enough.

An old flophouse, too impossibly ancient to exist within the city of Houston. Three to a room and there are many rooms. How many is anyone’s guess. Every Monday you nail rent, $50 cash, to the front door. Someone comes and takes the money away but no one ever sees who.

The tenants get by however they can, food scrounged from dumpsters behind some of the city’s finest eateries, petty theft, day work competing with Mexicans down on Washington, but mostly it’s just death in slow motion.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Katy’s Haus of Corrective & Reparative Therapies

Right this way! Watch your head, sir… Right this way!

I am standing here now, with all of you fine, fine folks around me, and I must admit I’m feeling overwhelmed. I am humbled by this honor. Of all the people in the world they could have chosen, they chose me. Me!

And so today, I will be the one giving you the grand tour of Katy’s Haus of Corrective & Reparative Therapies. I pray that I am up to the task.

So come along. Right this way!

Friday, December 14, 2012

Forgetting to Forget

My employer boasts there ain’t a soul alive who can remember the details of one of her parties. She promises a 4-day hangover minimum, guaranteed!

You see, Adri’s parties are by invitation only, and the invitations will read, “No cars. No cameras. No phones.”

To get in, you will have to sign a gag order and a waiver of liability beforehand, and the waiver is three fingers thick and requires that you be represented by counsel at the time of signing. It includes a provision in which you state you will not hold Adri personally liable should you be arrested for treason as a result of the event. You must attest to your food allergies under oath and promise that any severed limbs automatically become property of Adri’s law firm.

The mandatory pre-party physical is surprisingly thorough.

And you don’t know when the party is going to happen, exactly – you’re just given a range of possible dates – so when they come for you in the dead of night in a limousine or a taxi or in an unmarked van, it’s a bit of a surprise. And the men in the black shades and long trench coats, well, they will pull a sack over your head before you get into the vehicle, and they will play low tones of white noise to you with the bass turned way up so you cannot recreate the path you’re taking later on.

They will carve strange and archaic symbols on your body before the party begins. “For your own protection,” they will say.

The party is at a bar that Adri has rented out for the occasion, and it looks sort of  like a bar you have been in before, but not exactly like a bar you have been in before, so you really will know where the hell you are. And either she’s paid off the local authorities to look the other way or else there are no local authorities because maybe you’re in an international zone and that van ride turned into a plane trip somewhere along the way.

You are almost sure you felt some turbulence!

And I work for Adri now, so I get yanked off to this year’s party the other night, but the thing is that I am not exactly a party person. I am sitting alone, at a table in a dark corner of the bar, drinking a glass of water and writing this blog post longhand when the strippers arrive. The strippers come in four flavors: Female, male, gender-fucked, and pint-sized. There is also an animal of some kind involved, but I am unable to make out the details.

An old man who looks like Elvis taps me on the shoulder, asks me where they’re storing the defibrillators this year but I do not know, and I tell him this.

It is at about this time that Adri spots me in the corner, and she makes a beeline straight for me. She is all long red hair and tall black heels and ever-present skinny cigar, but she, too, is stone cold sober tonight because she is a recovering addict of… everything.

“You look like a gal who could use a drink and a stripper!” she says as she slides into a chair beside me. Then she whistles loudly, waving over a dark-nippled dancer to our table.

“No! No, I’m good, really,” I insist, but by then the stripper has entered our general vicinity and it is too late. A loud clanging and a braying erupt from a large cage somewhere across the room. I can just make out a pair of pants, several arms, and a wing inside.

Peering around the stripper in front of me, I say, “What kind of animal is in that cage with those people?”  but the stripper does not know and Adri’s guess is “a gryphon.”

Near the bar, a group of people are playing hangman with an actual gallows pole and noose. I can tell from over here that the word in question is “Burroughsian,”  but none of the players are anywhere close to guessing right.

Adri watches me watching the stripper. “With this party, I always kind of aim for a cross between a Hieronymus Bosch painting and the bar scene from the original ‘Star Wars’,”  she says.

Mission accomplished.

Some time goes by. The stripper is losing interest in me losing interest in her.

“So how about a drink, Katy?”  Adri offers again, more emphatically this time.

“I’m not really a social drinker,”  I say.

Adri pulls out a bag of pills. “How about a drug? Anything at all!”  she says.

“I am not really a social drugger,”  I say.

“How about a different stripper?”  she says, sending the one with the dark nipples away at last. “Want to go crazy and try a male dwarf?”

“I am not really a social experimenter,”  I say.

And then Adri, she throws up her well-manicured hands. She starts to sweat and look around nervously. She is done for: I am going to ruin her perfect party record!

“Katy, are you alright?”  she asks, and I almost believe her concern. “Are things getting better at home?”

At home? The words rattle around my brain a few moments. I cannot make hide nor hair of them.

At home?

Then, as the trapdoor drops out of the gallows scaffolding and the caged trio starts to moan and Elvis gets his heart shocked back to life, the room takes to spinning and it is only then that I remember. I remember that I have been forgetting to forget Dana. All evening. I have not been trying not to think about her or sort of forgetting her but with a cloud constantly present at the back of my mind.

I have really and actually and honestly forgotten about her… and for several hours, to boot.

This is momentous. I have forgotten to forget!

But the thing is, by this point, I am going into shock, and as I descend into darkness it bothers me a little to know that Adri has won again. I will wake up tomorrow, back in my own bed and with no memory of tonight, and I know I should be grateful to Adri for her amnesia-inducing party, but why couldn’t I beat her just this once?

Unless, of course, Adri’s goons fail to find the paper with this hand-written blog post I have tucked away in my pocket. And if that happens, well… If that happens, then everybody wins. 

**All illustrations by Alfred Kubin

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

My Top Ten Albums of 2012

I remember it finally happened one Saturday back in February.

It happened with no prior notice that it was going to happen.

It was February and it was a Saturday and I had just finished watching “30 Century Man,”  which is a documentary about Scott Walker. I mean Scott Walker the musician, of course. Not Scott Walker the Wisconsin governor.

I remember I finished watching “30 Century Man,”  and then I sat there, thinking, “I should really go and buy a CD by this Scott Walker guy!”  I could not fathom how I had missed him all of these years. The thing is, when I got into my van to go to Cactus Records and/or Sound Exchange and/or Sound Waves and/or Vinal Edge, I could not bring myself to turn the key. Cactus Records was not going to have a Scott Walker album, or at least not a Scott Walker album I wanted. Neither was Sound Exchange. The thing is, I knew I was about to spend the better part of my day driving around Houston for an album I would end up ordering off of Amazon.

I wanted the album now. Well, not now now. I mean right there and then now, when this happened, which was one Saturday back in February.

In the end, I wound up downloading Scott Walker's The Drift off of iTunes, which is the whole reason I am telling you this story. I promised myself this was a one-time thing. I promised myself I would not make a habit of it. I promised I would not tell anyone what I had done. I was too good for mp3 music downloads. But for just this one time, I would make an exception.

Of course, thats not what ended up happening. At all. Of my Top Ten favorite albums of 2012, I only possess three on CD. Three of them were never even released in CD format! (For those of you living in the twenty-first century, “CD”  stands for “compact disc,”  which was a sort of optical disk that your grandparents used to store digital data like music.)

So here they are. The bestest CDs, LPs, and digital downloads I got in 2012.

10. Swans – The Seer
The Seer is a rock album that can bend sound into impossible shapes while hovering in midair. The Seer is a rock album that can freeze time. And of course, with three songs that crash on beyond the 20-minute mark, The Seer had sure better be able to freeze time.

9. Aesop Rock – None Shall Pass
Standing in line to get into the Aesop Rock concert this past summer, I got a little nervous at the number of white suburban kids in Wu Tang shirts I was seeing around me. Uh oh! Not to worry, though: Aesop is a hell of an entertainer. The guy transcends genre, and he sure deserves a wider audience.

8. Scott Walker – Scott 3
This one is from 1968, and Scott’s playing the part of a spaced-out crooner. There are a couple psychedelic ambient tracks, a couple Jacques Brel covers, and even a patriotic ditty (complete with fireworks!). I don’t know exactly what this is, and that’s okay, too. I listen to a lot of damn music, so if it should so happen that I am unable to categorize an album, it’s gotta be a strange beast indeed.

7. Joseph Arthur – Redemption City
Finally, a decade and a half into his recording career, Joseph Arthur tries his hand at some loftier themes. Somehow, it works. Twenty-four tracks of this guy rapping about drugs and Christianity and Wassily Kadinsky, and it works! “Touched”  might just be the best thing he has ever done.

6. Mount Eerie – Clear Moon
“If I look / Or if I don’t look / Clouds are always / Passing over.”  I want to live inside of a Mount Eerie album.  I think this one would be as good a home as any for me. It’s a moody mental trip from the city to the sea, and the analog synths even add a little light to the landscape.

5. Robin Williamson – Skirting the River Road
With Skirting the River Road, Robin Williamson - formerly of the Incredible String Band - enters a VERY exclusive club indeed. He is one of only six artists to have gotten TEN separate albums into my Top Ten of the Year list over the years. I even made him an award in commemoration of this, but he has yet to come pick it up. Dirty hippie bastard...

4. Mount Eerie – Ocean Roar
For quite a while now, Mount Eerie’s music has mostly sounded like a little boy humming quietly to himself as a thunderstorm overhead threatens to crush him like a bug. But Mount Eerie mastermind Phil Elverum has really perfected that sound this time out. I just can’t be objective when it comes to Phil Elverum. The guy can do no wrong in my book.

3. Xasthur – Subliminal Genocide
This is one spooky black metal album. It sounds like the sound of some ghosts left out in the rain overnight who have woken up crying about it, just over the edge of the horizon. Yeah... Yes, that is precisely what this album sounds like.

2. Scott Walker – The Drift
In any other year, this one would have ended up at number one. It’s smart, it’s challenging, and it does not really sound like anything else you have ever heard. The thing is, it is also a miserable listening experience: sort of the sonic equivalent of having all your skin chewed off slowly. Which – don’t get me wrong! – is a remarkable accomplishment for an artist. I mean, you try doing that. But in the year 2012, I did not need this much help at feeling bad.

1. Aesop Rock – Skelethon
This is a hip hop album about cats, death, and eating your vegetables. It’s dark: Kimya Dawson does a nursery rhyme calling her dead best friend “meat inside a box” (“Crows 1”) and Aesop Rock raps about mummifying a pet cat (“How to Make a Homemade Mummy”). It’s goofy: “Racing Stripes” and “Grace” would be embarrassing if they were not surrounded by such brilliance. Aesop Rock raps about “autophagy,” about “a misanthrope vying for affection,” and about “bootlegs of Hawkwind.”  I’d call it a masterpiece, but that would probably scare you away.

Now it is your turn. Tell me: What did you put in your ears this year?