WE MAKE RECORDS ANYWHERE. We do what we have to do. Through the generosity of a comrade, I am making a record in an old photography studio in New Orleans. I got the band to help me bring a bunch of stuff over there, and we strung a few cables and hung a couple of blankets, and now we’re in business. The vocal mic is in the back room, where they store the chemicals and paper they barely use anymore, where they cut mattes and frame prints. We’ll cut guitar overdubs back there too, but after-hours, because I can hear the attorneys on the next floor muttering between takes. We Do It Ourselves, and we’d rather you didn’t knew we were here.
It smells back there, a little, but I worked in a commercial photo studio not totally unlike this one when I was 19 years old ~
( A nightmare of a swing / graveyard-shift job. I was often the only person in the whole building, sweating, turning off the lights, slamming the transparency holder into the giant Hammerite-grey enlarger, switching on the vacuum pump, feeding the dupes I shot into the E-6 machine, all night long sometimes – I haven’t thought about this since then, but I’d heard that the building had been a draft induction center during the Vietnam war, and sometimes, in the pitch dark, wired on burnt coffee-sludge at 3AM, I would imagine the ghosts of the Chicago boys who didn’t come back looking over my shoulder, saying, man, you’ve got a terrible job. I was a nightmare kid, too, a not-good employee, and it’s a wonder to me now that I lasted sufficiently long at that place to save what seemed like enough money to move to NYC. ) ( it’s never enough )
~ so I don’t notice the odor of developer, much. I like it here, for the same reason that I live in a town as unlikely and inconvenient ( I was going to say ridiculous, but then I didn’t say that ) as New Orleans : I’m most comfortable when I’m surrounded by old things. There are stacks of Mardi Gras photographs from the 1930s, 40s, 50s, and product shots for newspaper ads of the grand old department stores of Canal Street. The guy who used to own the business lets us go to the top floor and look around, and there are thousands of negatives, antique plate-glass ones even, and vintage Sears catalogs, and record albums ( I say unto you, N•O•L•A people, Chris Owens! ), and typewriters, and cameras. I could live up there.
I once had the privilege of being allowed into the archives of the National World War II Museum, where they store uniforms, trench art, field gear. Everything there is made of wood and brass and bakelite, and I was like, so, can I make a cot in the corner? I won’t get in the way, I promise.
What was I saying? Recording. It’s peaceful. The woman who runs the place is sitting behind me, and she’s glowing in the light coming through a big window which was certainly made before the 1920s. She’s editing headshots and passport photos, and I’ve got headphones on as so to not disturb her, and I’m recording the singer of the band, who is in the back room, behind a closed door, screaming into my expensive microphone about murder, and witches, and digging graves.
I do my thing, which is, at this stage of the process, knowing how to set the compressor ( all buttons in! ), knowing when to step in and help, knowing when to let it roll. To the woman sitting in the pool of sunlight, I say that this is some strange job I have, huh – by which I mean assisting this howling guy with the meter and tone of his misanthropic poetry – and she agrees that it is.
I’m wrapping it up, at least for a while. I shut down The Graveyard, my cool little spot in Mid-City ( which is the reason I find myself recording in a photo studio ), and I’m looking at spending at least part of another Summer in New Orleans ( Looking down the barrel of. Everyone who can go, goes. It’s not the nicest time of year to be here, okay, it’s the worst, although the magnolia trees are in bloom this week and this is a striking, stop-and-smell-the-roses kind of thing ) because I have to finish all this music I’ve committed to. Some interesting projects, all different. Almost done. I should make a list of these things and note stages of completion. And then I should go.
A comment by G., who used to play drums in a band you like, and is currently in another band which you also probably like, kick-started a powerful desire in me to go back to SE Asia, and to really, you know, have it this time ( that’s a thing British people say : having it, having it large, meaning to live life to the fullest; the answer to the question-to-self am I having it? is usually, sadly, no ).
He said, if you want to see Cambodia, you’d better do it now, and he was referring to the rapid modernization of that country. Am I one of those people who is under the impression that natives in colorful traditional garb, and rice paddies and water buffalo, and crumbling roads represent a more authentic travel experience than gleaming high-rises and new highways? No, but I want to see the water buffalo. And then maybe I’ll go back in 20 years and look at the sparkly buildings. And I will go, as soon as the worst of the heat and the rains are over. Angkor Wat, man, Vientiane. Fuck, are you kidding?
When I was in Hanoi a couple of years ago, I came across a street full of guys hand-carving wooden chop-mark stamps. Chinese astrological symbols seemed to be popular, so I got one for myself with my sign, which is the horse – not the sexiest thing to be ( although my yang is fire, so, rraaaarrrrr!! ), underscored by the stamp I had made for a friend, whose sign is the dragon. The horse is growing on me, little by little. I sign letters with it. I somehow misplaced the other coolest thing I brought back, which is a souvenir t-shirt from Ho Chi Minh’s tomb. Filing past Uncle Ho’s waxy, eternal body – that was something. That was having it.
The bottle of wine with the real cobra in it, though, that’s here. The customs agent in Houston didn’t want to let me keep it, but he was a nice guy and we talked about it for 20 minutes, and I acted in a way that sometimes works in such situations; a kind of easy-going, down-home, straight-shooter, smile-a-lot demeanor which is not natural for me ( I grew up in a northern city where it is very cold and, well, ” easy-going ” and ” smile ” aren’t words which come to mind ), but which, the longer I live in the deep south, is becoming the way I am.
It’s hot. Already. Hot, like, you look out the window and say yikes!, hot, like, nobody’s wearing any socks, hot, like, put something painted red out there and the blasting sun will turn it to a faded orange in a couple of days. I was saying something to W. along the lines of Summer in New Orleans is just like Winter in Minnesota, but in reverse, in that in both settings one doesn’t do much but stay inside and brood, if one can help it. W. says, “ yep, for the next four months I’m doing nothing but sitting around in my underwear with a sweaty glass of iced tea in my hand “.
W. is kidding. W.’s band is going on tour, in a van with no air conditioning. Yikes!, but when I think tour, I don’t usually think of the coke-mirror, salmon-and-mint-upholstered interior of a Prevost bus. What comes to me, in a vivid way, is what it feels like to be rattling along with all the windows down, the hot, thrumming air overpowering a cheap stereo. Just passin’ through a bright green billowing Summer-world ( I learned a new word, which is viridescence ), unless you catch a flat, and then there you are, out in the haze with the reverberance of cicadas, or crickets, or whatever those Summer sound-makers are. I don’t know, I’m a city kid. Cue the memory of the sticker-encrusted back door of a rock club, pick one. Cue the sound of the guy behind the board saying one two one two, endlessly, and the smell of silkscreen ink on fresh t-shirts being unpacked, and the fragrance of old beer n’ cigs, what a bar smells like in the daytime, before the next punters ( Americans in bands tend to use more British words than other Americans, did you know that? ) stir the air up again.
Of course, touring as I knew it doesn’t exist anymore. P., who tour-manages a band whose members carry passports from something like seven different countries ( not sure why I’m throwing that little fact in there except to say wow! — I ask P. how he manages to keep it together, and he says, breezily, that he’s not afraid to delegate ), tells me about the time, as their bus was waiting to cross into Canada ( to you, U.S.A bands, who are going to do a border crossing, and to you, Canadian bands who are coming to the U.S.A., I say Yikes! .. I mean, best of luck, keep your chin up, it will probably work out in the end ), when the on-board wi-fi went out, and everybody was like what are we gonna do? WHAT DO WE DO NOW? – and here’s what touring is like now, it’s like, you get there so you can play the gig, but, just as importantly, you get there so you can download the next couple of movies you’re going to watch on your iPad.
I think about dog-eared paperbacks of Summer, and the newspapers ( young people used to read newspapers, it’s true, I was one of them ) of Summer, and big, torn-up road atlases with the pages coming out ( of Summer ). I think about being lost, no cel-phone-GPS to guide you in for a perfect-almost-every-time landing. I remember a song, Lost In Germany, by King’s X, which was about the isolation, and the alienation. Are these things factors anymore? Is boredom something that exists? Of course, having stuff to do during an 18 hour drive to Denver, or being able to call someone when you want to, these are good things. I think about a shoe-box full of cassettes, about ten in all. You bought more at truck stops, comedy tapes ( which were engaging for one listen, if that ), and then you got some classic rock, The Best Of Creedence for $1.99, but these didn’t have much staying power either ( having had, I guess, a novelty feel about them ), and you went back to the ones you brought with you.
By you, I mean the whole band. Those old Walkman-style headphones didn’t cut it in the van. You listened to music, absorbed it, together.
Reading. For fun : 1Q84 by Haruki Murakami. For learnin’ : Edward Hasbrouck’s The Practical Nomad.
I keep trying to start For Whom The Bell Tolls, and it keeps getting away from me, or at least it keeps feeling like it’s for learnin’ when it ought to be for fun. I don’t know what is the deal, really, because I breezed through The Sun Also Rises and I got a lot out of it ( especially that sense of, oooh, THIS is why Hemingway had such a hold on our parents and grandparents, along with, of course, that sense of, I wish I was rich and bumming around Europe in the 1920s ) – but, then, I was about to go to Cuba, of which Papa H. is symbolic, both pre- and post-revolution, and so I was in a zone. Hell, maybe I ought to try taking Tolls down to Key West and reading it there ( I’ve never been, but people tell me it’s ramshackle and madcap and everybody’s drunk all the time, which sounds exactly like New Orleans, which is where I live, so I never really thought about it much until I was in Havana, looking back at Florida as the closest part of the U.S.A., and it’s close! ), or to a Spanish Civil War battlefield. It could happen.
You know, I was so taken with Rises that I even convinced myself I wanted to go to a bullfight. A couple of months later I was in a town in Mexico, in a little 1950s-time-warp hotel ( and they all, the hotels, seem to be unchanged from the 50s, which is one of the many, many things I like about Mexico. Time-warp means no grounded outlets, though, so if you want to plug in your laptop, you gotta use a ground-lifter, which I do not like doing. Zap! ), and I turned on the TV, and there was a bullfight on there, and I thought, oh, right, I forgot that it, in fact, SUCKS. “ The noble, courageous toreador gracefully dispatches the mighty bull “ – yeah, fuck you, why don’t you torture some kittens while you’re at it?
What I DO want to do is go to a soccer match in Mexico City, which I have heard described by people I’ve talked to ( and also by Daniel Hernandez, in his great book Down & Delirious In Mexico City ) as totally surreal, frightening, and more insane than the most brutal metal show you can think of.
This is a photo I took of that very TV bullfight. Aguascalientes, Mexico.
So, I like Murakami a lot. I like his odd voice ( I can’t imagine what he sounds like in the original, but in English, his tone is very specific and just sort of its own thing ), and I like how sometimes nothing much is happening except that he’s describing, in detail, what the characters are making for dinner, or what records they’re listening to. Some people had a problem with this aspect of the Dragon Tattoo books ( if I’d said The Millenium Series, you wouldn’t have known what I was talking about ), lingering descriptions of Swedes making coffee and frozen pizzas, but I liked that, too. And Hemingway, also, he’s like, here’s what we had to do to get checked in to the hotel, and here’s how much each bottle of wine cost, and we ate this and this and this, and the brown face of the man at the bar .. and etc. Anyway, Haruki Murakami Bingo has been circulating on the internet over the last couple of days, and it made me laugh.
As for The Practical Nomad – if you’re planning on doing any traveling beyond, say, a couple of days at a resort on an island .. well, okay, scratch that : if you are planning on ever taking a trip to another country where you are going to go to some different places and do and see some stuff and you have to make decisions and figure things out ( and maybe you’re not; some people don’t care about travel at all, and some people don’t want to have to think while they’re doing it, and that’s okay ), go ahead and buy it. There’s plenty of inspirational material here about the allure and romance of travel, but there’s also more nut-and-bolts information than I’ve seen collected in any one place. Hasbrouck’s not just a globetrotter but an experienced travel agent, and he gets DEEP into airline pricing systems – which fucks me up, because it’s all so difficult to understand. ” Double open jaw ” – ” internal open jaw, one way ” .. FML. But this book has actually changed my perception of the wider world in a couple of key ways, and has been a big influence on my ideas on how to go about seeing it.
I went riding yesterday, got myself good and lost. Across the Mississippi and way out west, Waggaman, Luling, Vacherie. It’s beautiful in Southern Louisiana right now, but the temp’s creeping up into the upper 80s and very, very soon it will be too hot to do anything. Tempers will flare, lakes of Miller Lite will be drunk, girls will wear next to nothing, gunshots will crackle across hazy, shimmering afternoons. It will not be cinematic. There will be no breeze to sway the trees. Some people love it. Takes all kinds, y’heard?
I’m mixing, and I still monitor through Yamaha NS-10M’s, which are quite accurate ( or maybe it’s just that I’m used to the way they sound ) but so harsh-sounding that most people literally can’t listen to them for extended periods of time. I have to take frequent breaks, or I make a CD and get in my car and drive until I’ve figured out whether I like what I’m doing or not. Anyway, America listens to music in cars more than anyplace else, so I feel that it’s valid to say I’m working even though what I’m mostly doing is eating pho at the Vietnamese market in Gretna, driving along the river, admiring abandoned docks and factories, hitting thrift stores.
I got a couple of terrible Christian LPs with great covers. I got History Of British Rock, a 1976 Sire Records 2LP set that’s actually pretty awesome. Glossy vinyl, no marks. Twenty five cents each, same price as when I was a kid. A tiny victory. I came back to the city on the Huey P. Long bridge, which is a narrow, terrifying thing that was built for Model-T’s, not F-250’s, but I was in a good enough mood that it seemed like a nifty adventure. Bridge City, y’all. Harahan. The hi-hat’s too loud in the top and bottom snare mics, once again, no matter what I do. Flip the phase. Ride on.
Wendy Bagwell : Here Come The Rattlesnakes
Wendy Bagwell : Here Come The Rattlesnakes
Two men are talking at a flea market.
Old man : ” Hey, well, look at that! Do you know what that is? ”
Younger man : ” It looks like a license plate for a bike. ”
OM : ” Yep, up until the 1980s every bicycle had to have one of these. ”
YM : ” Even little kids? ”
OM : ” Yeah! Seems crazy, doesn’t it? I wonder why they did that. ”
YM : ” Well, you had to buy the tag from the police, and then if you got caught not having one you’d have to pay a fine to the city, right? ”
Both men look thoughtful.
New Orleans Bicycles
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