29 July 2009

Gogol Bordello vs. M. Ward

Lately my life has been all about contrasts. I'm not sure why, but I'm finding myself looking for contrasts, happening upon contrasts, and discovering contrasts. I think with all that has been taking place lately, it is necessary. And important.

Last week, I attended the Gogol Bordello show at the Exit/In.

Prior to this show, I had always maintained that the band, Prabir and the Substitutes were the hardest working band in rock n' roll....I'm sorry boys, you've been replaced. Gogol Bordello is. Upon arrival to the Exit/In, we all discovered the air conditioning was broken. I wonder if the gypsy punks arrived early, cut the A/C cords- just to create the mood for the evening. With no air conditioning, you'd think this might discourage people- or that people might leave early, not a chance. I had been told that Gogol Bordello has been known to run circles around the audience. I finally understand- it isn't often that you attend a show where the band maintains more energy than the audience for the duration.. By the time of encore, many of us were soaking wet with sore throats- perhaps hoping it was coming to an end, but the band played on showing no signs of exhaustion or letting up.

The picture above is of two of my favorite Gogol Bordello fans. These two fellas danced and sang out every lyric all night long. Fans of GB seem to come from all across the spectrum, though one thing rings true- all of them really engage in the sublime experience of the show. Well, almost all of them- except this fella below.

This poor fella had his hipster outfit planned out weeks before the show. And you could tell that he was suffering through a minor heat stroke. While sweating and straining to maintain his cool (albeit, rigid) poses, he did not dance, move, cheer, or smile- not once. And I thought, how horribly boring. It was this contrast between the dancing sprites above with this dead-to-the-world hipster that I realized- give me the dancing sprites any day. At least they have a sense of community, lightness, and fun.

In contrast to the Gogol Bordello show, last night I attended the M. Ward show at Cannery Ballroom. I had suspected that the show might be in direct contrast to my experiences with Eugene and folks. And it was. Don't get me wrong, the show itself was fantastic. Matt Ward has an incredible ability to soothe my soul, as I think he does for most people. Endearing and hilarious was the fact that I think a majority of the audience thought Jim James was on stage because they happened to see a fella with a beard. "Look! It's him. It's Jim James or Yim Yames." Not too surprisingly, I'm thinking alot of the folks there came because of the She&Him project- and perhaps were expecting Zooey Deschanel to make an appearance. She didn't. And you shouldn't have thought she would.

Whatever the issue was- there was no sense of community at this show. There was a strong disconnect between the performers and the audience. The folks at the show were not talking with one another, well, wait, let me retract that. Tons of folks were standing around talking to the folks they came with, while the performance took place. And from where I was standing- no one was dancing or seemingly enjoying themselves.

Where, oh where, were my dancing sprites? Where were the people who would give themselves up to the experience of the show and the music? That's right folks, the jaded and disinterested attitude ends here. Leave it at home.

And here is a short video I took. I recognize you can't see anything, but I wanted to give you the simulated experience I have in clubs.

27 July 2009

Why you don't eat the seed of the quenepa...

Before leaving for Puerto Rico on this last expedition, the hardest decision about what to pack was- what books do I take? I started out with approximately 7 books. I narrowed it down to two. I only read one while I was there and returned with two extra. So, what was the one book I read?

Alain de Botton's The Art of Travel. I've been wanting to read this book for years. I recently found it at the bookstore and it has been sitting on my bedside table for months. The trip seemed like the perfect opportunity. And it was. The book is divided into sections based on the idea of travel- departure (anticipation), motives (curiosity), landscape (the sublime), art (beauty), and return (habit). I first cracked open the book on the airplane to Puerto Rico and read the section on departure. I saved the middle sections for poolside and oceanside moments. And fittingly, I saved the return section for the plane ride home. So, I propose for my blog about Puerto Rico (which promises to be really, really, really long) I will use some quotes from the book to help recreate the mundane and sublime experiences of my trip with my mother to the island.

"...it seems we may best be able to inhabit a place when we are not faced with the additional challenge of having to be there."

There is something unique about arriving at the San Juan airport. The flight itself is full of laughter and lightness. I can't imagine everyone on the plane is on holiday. Upon arrival at the airport, I set about on a trip full of contrast. Contrasting the airport in Charlotte to the one in San Juan is easy. One is stark and terrifying, the other is full of sunshine and laughter. Now, here is the thing- it isn't like this on the way back. The San Juan airport when departing is chaotic, confusing and depressing. There is something special in the arrival, perhaps something I brought with me.

"If we find poetry in the service station and the motel, if we are drawn to the airport or the train carriage, it is perhaps because despite their architectural compromises and discomforts, despite their garish colours and harsh lighting, we implicitly feel that these isolated places offer us a material setting for an alternative to the selfish ease, the habits and confinement of the ordinary, rooted world."

Our first two nights in San Juan, we stayed in a neighborhood that is located near Condado, but seemingly away from the more touristy streets. While I do not seek to recreate every aspect of the trip, one (if not the most) memorable evening was our first night on the island.

The last time I visited, I made contact with a young man, Jorell. Since my last visit, we have had the opportunity to get to know one another, as he sought to answer the numerous questions I had about the politics and culture of the island. During this trip, we had planned numerous excursions that would allow him to show both my mother and I the island and introduce us to the spaces outside of where normal tourists might wander.

Our first night, we had decided that Jorell and his wife, Magaly, would pick us up from the hotel and take us to a bar, El Boricua in Rio Piedras for drinks. Also in tow, would be Rossael and Diego (a roommate and her boyfriend). I can remember quite clearly sitting outside of the hotel waiting for them to arrive. I was nervous. While you can get to know someone through letters, there is something inherently different about spending time with them. I remember hoping the conversation from email would translate into conversation over drinks. And it did.

And what is the equation for conversation starting among strangers? Apparently, it is called "chichaito"- no, not that for you speakers of the language, but a drink. It's made of a homebrewed rum and anise. After a couple of these drinks coupled with a handful of Medalla (a local beer), the conversation was perfect. Perhaps my favorite moment from the evening was when my mother decided she would buy everyone a shot of chichaito (yes, she is very hip). She practiced how to pronounce the name of the drink and saddled up at the bar to order. Being outside of the tourist area, she had considerable trouble ordering. Luckily, a drunken local decided he would help her after ordering her to his table in a very diminutive way. Before Jorell's rescue of my mother from her would-be suitor, I heard my mother exclaim loudly to the bartendress, "Chichaito!!" It was around this time that Jorell and folks explained to me what the word translates as...and you'll just have to look that up on your own. But I'll tell you this much, once I knew, it was not surprising that the drunken local took a fancy to her.

Our second day, we spent time walking around the area and visiting Museo de Arte- which was fascinating. A couple of my favorite pieces- the installation by Antonio Martorell, which was an homage to another piece, The Wake; Carlos Davila Rinaldi's Gringomatic; and Pepon Osorio's barbershop installation. Later that evening, we accompanied Jorell to a restaurant in the Condado area. On the ride over, a musical memory was created as he was listening to the music of Ghost Mice. I won't explain now, as an entire additional post is necessary. For dinner, we ate at a Mexican restaurant where we were serenaded by a mariachi band with the song "La Chucharacha" at my mother's request. During the performance, I glanced out on the street and noticed a parade was taking place. Seriously, I do not lie.

Our next couple of days were spent in Old San Juan. Although Jennie Ann and I had ventured to the olde town, I wanted to spend more time there this go around, plus I knew that my mother would love it due to the historic preservation. We stayed in El Convento, which I highly suggest to anyone making a trip to the island. It is awe inspiring.

"A dominant impulse on encountering beauty is to wish to hold on to it, to possess it and give it weight in one's life. There is an urge to say, 'I was here, I saw this and it mattered to me.' But beauty if fugitive, being frequently found in places to which we may never return or else resulting from rare conjunctions of season, light and weather. How then to possess it...? The camera provides one option. Taking photographs can assuage the itch for possession sparked by the beauty of a place; our anxiety over losing a precious scene can decline with every click of the shutter. Or else we can try to imprint ourselves physically on a place of beauty, perhaps hoping to render it more present in us by making ourselves more present in it...A more modest step might be to buy something- a bowl, a lacquered box or a pair of sandals- as a reminder of what we have lost, like a lock of hair cut from a departing lover's mane."

Old San Juan is beautiful. And while I enjoy walking around the town and getting to know locals from the shops that line the streets, I keep returning to my memories of the time I shared with the people I met there, particularly Jorell and Magaly. On the third night of our journey, the lovely couple had us over for dinner. Well before the dinner, Jorell had "warned" us of a couple of "issues" that we would need to consider. One was the fact that they are both vegetarians and two, that they are the proud owners of four cats. I couldn't have hand-picked a better couple to befriend. Magaly prepared the most wonderful dinner we had the entire time on the island- we first had an appetizer of cheese and guava, then settled in for a dinner of spinach and mushroom lasagna, a salad, and tostones. I'll never forget that before gathering together for dinner, Frank Sinatra played out from a record player in the kitchen. During this evening, I decided to ask Jorell and Magaly to participate in my Music is Memory project by allowing me to interview them, as well as to allow my mother to take pictures. While we discussed possibly attending a show, we instead sat and talked for several hours about the ways that music has changed our lives and the memories that it has left behind. A truly wonderful evening.

"At the same time, fog ushered in nostalgia. Foggy nights may, like certain smells, carry us back to other times we experienced them. I thought of nights at university, walking home along illuminated playing fields, and of the differences between my life then and my life now, which led to a bittersweet sadness about the difficulties that had beset me then and the precious things that had since been lost to me."

Our second to last day of the journey, Jorell had agreed to drive my mother and I around the island. I had wanted to see Ponce and perhaps other areas. We awoke early and at my request took a journey to the neighborhood of Rio Piedras so I could get some daylight photographs of the beautiful street art that lines the streets, both in public and private spaces. I continue to remain fascinated with the artwork that I saw. Afterwards, we drove to Ponce. We visited several museums, including one of my favorites, the Museum of the Massacre at Ponce. While in Ponce, Jorell bought some quenepa for us to try. It is a fruit that is sold on the streets and highways surrounding the area. Perhaps Jorell thinks my mother and I are smarter than we are- as we bit the skin off the quenepa and both began to suck on the fruit inside. After a few moments of trying to tease the fruit off the seed, I began to chomp down on the seed. A bit bewildered, luckily my mother asked, "Should we be eating the seed?" Jorell responded, "Whhhhaaaatttt?" And we learned you should not eat the seed.

Leaving Ponce, we set about to see some of the beaches in the area, we drove through Mayaguez and then headed toward Aguadilla, which is the hometown of Jorell. We saw one of the most beautiful beaches I have ever seen (Playa Crashboat) and then make a stop by his grandmother's house, which was lovely. Late in the afternoon, we headed back to our final destination for the trip, the Caribe Hilton.

The Hilton, while a lovely place to stay, is one of those places that is ultimately isolating. It feels difficult to leave and the hotel makes sure of this by providing you with every single thing you might need on the property, but for a price. Our last day, we spent soaking in the sunlight and the drinks at the hotel bar. I wanted to reflect upon the journey.

For our last night, I had requested that we take Jorell, Magaly, Rossael, and Diego to dinner. I had wanted to do this, because as I spoke about contrasts earlier, I felt the contrast of the way that Jorell and folks responded to my mother and I. Contrast, you ask? I was overwhelmed with the generosity of our hosts and hostesses. They paid for many of our meals and drinks. They offered up their time and energy to us, all while keeping to their normal schedules of 12 hour work days. It must be noted that these folks are also in their early 20s. I have a hard time believing that most of the 20-year-olds that I know would have been this giving and generous. Hell, I have a hard time believing that many people are this generous.

For this last dinner, I finally indulged in mofongo. We had hoped to have dinner at a Greek restaurant that was renowned for their vegetarian options, though it was closed. We quickly chose to eat at a restaurant directly across the street. Upon walking in, Jorell commented that it may be difficult for us to find eating options in a place that had "these kind of chairs." They were big wooden leather chairs. Yes, it may be difficult. We had a lovely dinner, regardless. While most wouldn't think that black beans and mofongo would work together- it does. Afterwards, we ventured to a small local bar called Fancy Pizza, where we could enjoy a few cold beverages.

I'm absolutely positive that it isn't only vacation that makes me so terribly sad to leave Puerto Rico, but rather something about the island itself. The last time I left the island, I teared up a little in the cab ride to the airport. The last time I knew that I would miss the island. This time, I teared up several times well before leaving. And I knew this time, I would not only miss the island, but I would miss the folks that I had come to know as friends while there.

"I returned to London from Barbados to find that the city had stubbornly refused to change. I had seen azure skies and giant sea anemones, I had slept in a raffia bungalow and eaten a kingfish, I had swum beside baby turtles and read in the shade of coconut trees. But my hometown was unimpressed. It was still raining. The park was still a pond; the skies were still funereal. When we are in a good mood and it is sunny, we may be tempted to impute a connection between what happens inside and outside of us, but the appearance of London on my return was a reminder of the indifference of the world to any of the events unfolding in the lives of its inhabitants. I felt despair at being home. I felt there could be few worse places on Earth than the one I had been fated to spend my existence in."

Yes, returning home was difficult. Again, I watch the fade of sun from my skin. I begin to hear English spoken more than Spanish. The days of wandering unknown streets and having conversations for the first time with new friends disappear. I can pick up the artifacts from the trip and think about how when I held them for the first time I was in an apartment in San Juan discussing how The Smiths impacted all of our lives.

"I thank you. And I thank you. As the years go by, this heart of mine says thanks many times for the friends it finds. I am so grateful. I am so lucky." -Ghost Mice

18 July 2009

Day Three and part of Four

While I didn't make it to the protest- my co-conspirator was a little exhausted after entertaining us until 1am last night and going to work at 5:30am....we did spend some time in the olde town.

July San Juan Trip Day Three

Dos Dias

There is so much to say...but I'd rather not spend too much time sitting in this beautiful hotel room typing it. So, I'll save it for when I return. Here are pictures from our first two days in San Juan.

July San Juan Trip Dos Dias

09 July 2009

How'd it take me so long to get here?

As most of you know by now, yesterday I made the trek to Louisville, Kentucky to see The Bob Dylan Show- comprised of performances by The Wiyos, Willie Nelson, John Mellencamp (to be confused with John Cougar and John Cougar Mellencamp), and of course, Bob Dylan. For the last two years, since I first fell in love with Dylan (yes, I know, I'm a late-bloomer, in more ways than one) I have been scanning internet sites to hopefully have the opportunity to see Dylan in concert. I had heard of his ballpark tours and I couldn't imagine a better way to see him. You can't imagine the pure joy I felt when I signed onto myspace and discovered that "Dylan" had posted information on his upcoming tour in ballparks. (See- Myspace IS still relevant). I was even more thrilled upon discovering he'd be touring with Willie and Mellencamp. Two others I had never had the chance to see- though I should be clear- I was much less excited about Mellencamp than Willie.

Given the fact that I keep obnoxiously busy every hour of every day, I didn't have alot of time to engage in the sublime experience of concert preparation. It actually wasn't until we were on the road to Louisville that while stopping at a truck stop for some supplies that I realized the magnitude of the impending experience.

Now, I must admit I'm saddened by one thing about the trip. The Louisville Bats stadium looks awesome and I'm wishing I had the time and finances to stay a few extra days and catch a game...but alas, work calls.

Although I feel the urge to give you a play-by-play of the whole evening, I believe I should stick to highlights....

While standing in line waiting to enter the stadium, I overheard a father exclaim to his son..."Just think, years from now you'll be able to tell your children that you saw a musical legend." I couldn't help but wonder how much of going to a concert like this involves the desire to say "I saw Dylan." While I'd be lying if I didn't admit that I also wanted to "see" Dylan in this way- I also wanted to "be" in the moment. Jeez, now that sounds all pretentious and touchy-feely.

Once entering the stadium, I realized that perhaps a t-shirt and jeans were a poor choice of attire (apparently I make this mistake often). It was amazingly hot outside. Though, there were plenty of refreshing (albeit expensive) beverages to solve that problem.

I also noticed the adoration for Mellencamp among the crowd. There were tons of people decked out in Mellencamp t-shirts and gear. The merchandising at this type of show was also insane. I eavesdropped on a woman showing her friends all the Willie merchandise she bought- which included 2 tank tops, 2 t-shirts, a wall-hanging, and a bandanna. I'm wondering how much money she dropped at the merch tent. And then I wondered how I can get involved in selling Willie gear.

Now, onwards, the show was fantastic. The Wiyos were great, though I was somewhat distracted by the heat. Willie was terrific, even enough to get me out of a seat into the crowd. See below for a clip from my book project about just how much Willie has been part of my musical motif.

When Mellencamp came out, I decided to take a seat off to the side in the small lawn seating area. I was shortly moved out of this space by a drunken middle-aged man who insisted on kicking his bright white tennis shoes in the air next to my head with every beat of the song. People in Kentucky love Mellencamp. And to be honest, I was into it. I didn't think I would be, but it was a helluva performance. Sadly, Mellencamp did not do me the pleasure of playing "Jack and Diane"- which is all sorts of tied up in musical memories for me. What I found compelling was the celebration of the "small-town," which all has mostly ceased to exist. Still, the crowd shouted- all celebrating those small town American values. Given this fact, Mellencamp was the only one of the performers to engage in any type of political speech.

As the evening closed in, I found myself moving further and further into the crowd. I knew that when Dylan took stage I wanted to be as close as possible to the stage. It takes something special for me to find myself wedging in between 6 ft. tall tweens.

And then it happened, Dylan and his band took the stage. I was about six people back from the front. And when I saw Dylan in person- and I know this might sound, well, I don't really care how it sounds- a couple of tears welled up in my eyes. It wasn't as if I had been a fan of Dylan for 20 years, but there was something about seeing him in person that moved me. And I felt a little like the dad in line, I was SEEING Dylan, a musical legend.

Dylan, while at times I struggled to understand his lyrics, played for about an hour and a half. One thing I loved (and loathed only a little) was how Dylan plays his older hits completely different from the original. I loved this because the crowd was unable to sing along, which meant I could actually hear Dylan. I loathed this because about half way through a song I would realize it was one that I really loved. Honestly, I was spellbound throughout the entire show. And the crowd was too. While moving up to the front wasn't an easy task, luckily some tall un's let me move closer (yes, it sucks to be short at any type of concert...I will continue to campaign for some type of "If you are under this height, you are allowed to stand closer" type of clause for shows).

So, it happened. I saw Dylan. I'm no longer a Dylan concert neophyte. It was everything I expected. I'm pretty sure that Tim and I talked about it for most of the way back to Nashville, well except that last hour when I passed out from sheer exhaustion.

And what is next on my docket of summer rock shows...well, hopefully a show in Puerto Rico of local punk and politco bands...then onwards to Gogol Bordello (oh, Eugene) and M. Ward.

Excerpt from work in progress...

...I’m not sure what came first, my love of travel or my love of Willie Nelson’s On the Road, Again. They may have happened at the same time. My mother, where most of my early musical memories originate, use to love playing the stereo in her Camaro loud with the windows rolled down. I’m not sure if we use to spend hours driving around listening to music, but the desire to get on the open road is undoubtedly burned into my DNA. “Going places that I’ve never been, seeing things that I may never see again, and I can’t wait to get back on the road again…” Later, my mother and I would take to the open road, but it was 1983 and Madonna was in tow. Besides at this age, I was still somewhat confused as what really happened with a stereo. I can remember riding around with my mother and her boyfriend at the time. I was in the back seat. I remember a song was playing on the stereo and my mother’s boyfriend shouted out some lyrics. Immediately afterwards, the stereo would repeat the words he just shouted. I can remember this going on for most of the song. I peeked over the seat wondering how they could fit the entire band in that small space. It must be a band of tiny people, I thought. I am too embarrassed now to think of how many years I wondered why the stereo band wasn’t able to hear my requests when I shouted them out...