I live in Spain now. Have I mentioned that here? Yeah. Easter vacation in Europe is a big deal, and it seems like everyone who can travel, does. I can’t tell if there’s an official schedule – some people take like 2 weeks, some a couple of days. I had a 4-day weekend, and I wanted to go somewhere cheap and interesting. This is Chiajna monastery. It’s pretty spooky in person (when we were there, there was a really dramatic sky with lots of black crows circling), and is, I’m not kidding, located in the middle of a giant city dump. The structure, completed sometime around 1790, is a total ruin but is apparently going to be restored by the church. I wish I could have gotten a better look, but there were a lot of guard dogs chained up around the place, a lot of “NO PHOTOS!” signs, and some guys with additional dogs started to roll up on us as soon as we got there. Here’s some stuff from Wikipedia about Chiajna monastery : “Legend says that the church was bombarded by the Turks even before consecration. Reportedly, the Turks believed that the church was a military objective and tried to destroy it. Thus, all the documents within the church were burned, though the building itself remained standing.”
“Its great bell was cast into the Dâmbovița River waters and, according to locals, is heard pounding on full moon nights.”
“On the wall on the right from the entrance, in about the middle, a few feet high, detaching plaster formed in the appearance of a lady or angel, and some claim it resembles the Sphinx of Giza or Romanian Sphinx.”
Over the years, many disappearances have been reported in the monastery, especially of neighboring Roma people.” “There were two murders, one before and one after 1990.” It rained non-stop the first 2 days, which so perfectly suited my pre-conceived idea of the city that I actually really enjoyed it. When the sun came out, things seemed more surreal. Here, a Communist-era barber shop. Romanian pickelhaube helmet at the National Military Museum. Usually these helmets have an eagle or other some-such military-looking symbol, and this bull emblem gives the whole uniform a kind of pagan look that I’m partial to. Carturesti Carusel, a really beautiful bookstore in the old town that kind of reminds me of a huge, spare, modernist version of Livraria Lello, which I visited a few months ago.
I met a couple of really cool people in Bucharest, including Andy (in the photo, with the rat on his neck), who is part of a crew of guys who find old pinball machines and return them to working order. These ones here are in a place called Club Underworld, which was described to me as Bucharest’s premiere punk club; I sure didn’t see any punks there, but it’s a decent place, with good tunes playing about half the time. Andy’s band sounds like this.
Big Sunday flea market at Valea Cascadelor. You have to imagine the shouting, the smell of mici sausages grilling over an open fire, and the sound of Gypsy music playing through homemade speakers.
Ciolan (giant pork knuckle) and a 1-liter beer at Carul cu Bere. This huge, always-packed 1890s restaurant is at the top of every tourist-blog “things to do and places to eat in Bucharest” list, but locals were also emphatic that I should eat here.
A view of the grounds at the Muzeul Militar Naţional, where there are seemingly hundreds of tanks, big guns, armored train cars, radar trucks – I don’t think I’ve ever seen this much war junk gathered in one place.
The statue of the most famous Romanian at Curtea Veche ( the “old princely court”). I was a little surprised that there wasn’t more Dracula stuff around town, but it’s a big country and he’s from a couple hundred miles to the north.
Last day in town. Rock n’ roll, a breeze carrying the smell of sizzling meat, and shots of homemade 100-proof palinca.
|September 6, 2015 | Cuba, Travels
Hey, here’s something a friend of mine wrote tonight: ”Three years ago I was playing in a band that toured Cuba under the embargo. The tensions between the band were insane. These gigs were some of the hottest and loudest shows I have ever played. There’s probably an entire novel worth of stories that could be written about this tour (tour bus crash, injuries, fights, getting detained by the police on suspicion of theft for hours, walking for miles around Havana, and so on, and so on). Coming back to the U.S., we land in Tampa and all flights are cancelled due to an incoming hurricane. What do we do? Rent two cars and drive 10 hours straight through a goddamn hurricane to get back to New Orleans. Terrifying. Been thinking a lot about this tour and my time playing. Next time, with a better band name.”
I was along for that ride, and you probably could write a book about it. Americans are not well-loved in Cuba, and I lost my wallet during that drive through the hurricane, but I wouldn’t trade the experience for anything. I took this photo of the band at the Museum of the Revolution in Havana.
Here in New Orleans, we think of Summer as something to be endured. It’s famously hot (really, it’s the tropics! I can see banana trees out of my window), and this was the second hottest Summer on record, so you can imagine what it was like. (You can’t? Turn your oven to 125° and stick your head inside) Everyone who can leave, leaves, and this time, I stuck it out.
There was that horror movie/celebrity convention at the beginning of August (while there were some fun things that happened there, I was working, and I wouldn’t call it a vacation), and a couple of little day trips (options are limited, living as I do in geographic isolation at the absolute bottom of the country, where the nearest medium-sized cities are 5-6-7 hours away), but for the most part, I stayed put. I had a lot to do, and I guess I was trying to
punish myself prove something to myself, which is that I really don’t want to live here any longer.
Especially with the 10th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, stories about this city – the gentrification, the incompetence, the corruption, and the crime are all over the news. Suffice to say that, for me, the draw, among a few other things, was that it was easy to live here, and you could pretty much do what you wanted and be left alone. The benefits (insanely cheap cost of living, no rules, being surrounded by art and music all the time) used to outweigh the drawbacks.
Now, they’re intent on turning the place into a demented version of Portland, albeit with lots of violent crime and broken social services. I like Portland, but if I wanted to live in Portland, I would, you know?
Anyway, to my point. There were some bright spots, this Summer. I wasn’t here very much, and I was on Instagram quite a bit. A lot has been made about the death of the blog, or how blogs are for old people, and .. no, I just haven’t been in the mood to write, and the web kind of takes the Summer off, doesn’t it? Instagram is a good medium for me. You don’t have to think much.
There’s a very nice church around the corner from where I live, which has a well-funded music program. I have recorded, from time to time, the church’s brilliant and eccentric musical director’s organ recitals, which might feature the pieces you’d expect, by Bach and Purcell, but might also include works by Hendrix, Aerosmith, and Deep Purple. The paint-and-gold-leaf design on the inside cover of the church’s harpsichord took 2 years to complete.
I worked on a film crew as a sound recorder, on a documentary about a New Orleans brass band (It’s part of this group of films, which were made to commemorate the Katrina anniversary, I’ll post the movie itself later, if it becomes available to watch). After a long and very hot shoot in a club in the 7th Ward, I was carrying gear back to the van, walking through tall grass on a neutral ground (in other places, you’d call this a ‘median’), when all of a sudden it felt like someone had poured acid on my foot. I have fire-ant scars now.
I call this one ‘The Bleeding Heart Of Kenny Hill’. Hill was an itinerant bricklayer who settled on a patch of land in Chauvin, LA (way down there in the wetlands, south of Houma, even) and, in the grand tradition of America’s loner eccentric builders (Simon Rodia’s Watts Towers, Edward Leedskalnin’s Coral Castle, Leonard Knight’s Salvation Mountain, Jim Bishop’s Bishop Castle, and the list goes on and on), created a colorful sculpture garden, full of statues of.. himself, in various states of religious torment. Here, he’s dragging a cross behind Jesus. There, he’s being comforted by angels. It’s awesome.
My friends are incredulous that I’m still working on the White Zombie vinyl box set, the idea of which was conceived about two years ago. I’ve spent the last year on it, wrangling audio (I mastered the whole thing) , digging through all of my boxes of WZ stuff for cool artifacts (like, above, this Make Them Die Slowly shirt, which Rob and Sean gave me the first day I met them, and which I wore on my first tour with the band, Summer 1989), writing down everything I can remember (this was from notes I made for the box, and so was this).
We’re on the final step, they tell me, which is editing various interviews (not just with me and Sean and Rob, but Ivan, Tom 5, and various other people who are part of the story) and pulling it all together into something everyone can agree on. I’ve got the test-pressings (5 discs, plus a possible sixth, everything sounds really good), and I’ve seen the mock-up of the hardcover book which will be included (beautiful, packed with high-quality photos). We’ve put a lot of ourselves into this thing, and I hope you get to hear and see it soon.
Here’s the “3D gold with blood splatter” vinyl variant of the soundtrack LP of Starry Eyes, which is a very cool 2014 horror film. The record actually looks like this, but if you hold it up to the light, it turns into something more like blood blobs on a clear microscope slide. When I started this site, I was deep into recording and engineering, and that isn’t the case at all anymore. I haven’t made a record with a band in a couple of years, and I’ve somehow become an audio engineer who prepares recordings for pressing on vinyl.
The label I do this for most often is Waxwork, issuer of horror-movie soundtracks and scores. Not only do I work on music from movies from the recent spate of fresh, inventive, and quite scary films, like Starry Eyes and Babadook, but on many of the classics I grew up with: C.H.U.D., Friday The 13th, Rosemary’s Baby, Creepshow. Often, the music from these motion pictures was originally released in a highly edited form, or not at all, and I get to go back to the original tapes and pull something new together. It’s pretty cool.
Des Allemands, LA. Drive-through daiquiri shop, with a blue gorilla in front. What can I tell you about this? Whenever I spot one of these old-time (late 50s-early 60s, America was covered with concrete dinosaurs, alligators, gorillas – enticing motorists to pull over, take photos, and buy stuff) roadside cement creatures, I turn around and check it out. It’s always fun.
The drive-through liquor store has a long and convoluted history in the deep south. Here’s the current loophole that allows you to purchase a big slushy cup of high-fructose corn sweetener, chemical dye, everclear or 4 different kinds of cheap rum to be consumed in your car : the lid of the cup has a straw in it, and the top of the straw has a torn-off part of the straw’s wrapper on it. Thus, the drink is ‘sealed’, and you’re, of course, committing a grave crime if you remove the wrapper.
By the time I was a senior in high school, I’d managed to finagle a schedule that was nearly all art and writing classes. First period was ‘graphic arts’, which was a vocational class where I got to use a printing press, silk-screen t-shirts, and develop photos in a darkroom. My friend Dread Scott (back then, a kid from my neighborhood, now a famous artist), was a photography student at the Art Institute of Chicago, and was able to check out fancy, professional large format cameras – which he shot punk shows with. I didn’t have a camera of my own, so Scott graciously lent me his negatives so that I could learn to print. I was recently going through boxes of teenage stuff and I came across two prints I made of Samhain, from their gig at Smart Bar, Chicago, December 2nd, 1984 (one of 2 times I saw the band).
Es el final del verano. Gracias a dios.
“The only window in my room (number 107) gave out on a gloomy, fetid air shaft, from which a revolting odor arose. I turned on the light. The walls, the bed, the table, and the floor were black. Black with cockroaches. I have encountered throughout the world all imaginable types of insects, and have even developed indifference toward the fact, even come to accept, that we live among countless millions of flies, roaches, and ticks, among ever-replenished swarms of wasps, spiders, earwigs, and scarabs, amid billows of gadflies and mosquitoes, clouds of voracious locusts. But this time I was stunned; not so much by the number of cockroaches – although that, too, was shocking – but by their dimensions, by the size of each one of these creatures. These were roach giants, as big as small turtles, dark, gleaming, covered in bristles, and mustached. What made them grow so large? What did they feed on? Their monstrous proportions paralyzed me. For years now I had been swatting flies and mosquitoes, fleas and spiders, with impunity; now, however, I was facing something of an entirely different order. How should I deal with such colossi? What should I do with them? What stance should I adopt toward them? Kill them? With what? How? My hands shook at the very prospect. I felt that I wouldn’t know how, that I wouldn’t even have the courage to try. More – because of the cockroaches’ extraordinary dimensions, I felt certain that if I leaned over them and listened, I would hear them emitting some sound. After all, many other creatures their size communicate in a variety of ways. They squeal, croak, purr, grunt – so why not a cockroach? A normal one is too small for us to be able to hear it, but these giants? Surely they will make noises! But the room remained absolutely quiet: they were all silent – closed, voiceless, mysterious.”
“I noticed, however, that when I leaned over them, straining my ears, they rapidly retreated and huddled together. Their reaction was identical whenever I repeated the gesture. Clearly, the cockroaches were revulsed by a human being, recoiled with disgust, regarded me as an exceptionally unpleasant, repugnant creature.”
“I could embellish upon this scene and describe how, infuriated by my presence, they advanced on me, attacked, crawled over me; how I became hysterical, started to tremble, fell into shock. But this would not be true. In reality, if I didn’t come near them, they behaved indifferently, moved about sluggishly and sleepily. Sometimes they pattered from one place to another. Sometimes they crawled out of a crack, or else slid into one again. Other than that – nothing.”
“I knew that a difficult and sleepless night awaited me (also because the room was inhumanly airless and hot), so I reached into my bag for some notes about Liberia.”
Rila Mountains, Bulgaria : my recent trip to Europe ( returned home night before last, thanks ) reminded me that this clip has been kicking around on my desktop since I recorded it this past Summer. I don’t like taking group tours, but if there’s no other way outside of renting a car to see the most famous place in a country, I’ll do it. And it was worth it. I was taken by the sound of these monks, and the crazy overtones produced by all the vaulted ceilings in this particular church.
Here is a photo I took of one of the very old frescoes there. About the monastery :
“ Founded in the 10th century, the Rila Monastery is regarded as one of Bulgaria’s most important cultural, historical and architectural monuments and is a key tourist attraction for both Bulgaria and Southern Europe. In 2008 alone, it attracted 900,000 visitors. The monastery is depicted on the reverse of the 1 lev banknote, issued in 1999. “
Monks Singing, Rila Monastery
Monks Singing, Rila Monastery