Thursday, December 6, 2012 • on the 12-hour train ride from Bangkok to Chiang Mai – somewhere in the middle of it, but I’m trying not to look at the clock. There are some Swedish dudes across the aisle from me, watching South Park and Arrested Development on a laptop, alternately both plugged into an iPod, making guitar faces, and I wish I knew what they were listening to. They’re nice guys, but they stink. They smell like dirty balls.
There’s a German couple ( she’s much taller than he is, and that makes me uncomfortable, make of it what you will ) behind me with a kid who’s 3 or 4. He’s singing little songs to himself and he’s got a doll, a full-on babydoll – so I guess his parents are doing the non-gendered toy thing, which is cool.
There’s a Thai family in front of me who have a 2-year old ( I’m guessing – she can walk, but she’s still sucking on a pacifier ) who is playing a learning game on her Mom’s iPad ( she has two Moms : the iPad belongs to her butch, shaved-headed Mom, not her lipstick Mom – her lipstick Mom has a dolphin tattoo on her wrist, and I wonder, what is it with lesbians and dolphins? It is seemingly universal ) and she is deftly pinching and expanding and toggling through windows, and the game’s in English too. Watching her doing it is kind of mesmerizing.
Chiang Mai, Thailand.
Manila, Philippines. You might think, if you’ve taken a taxi in New York City, that you’ve experienced a crazy hell-ride, but you don’t know what that really means unless you’ve been in a cab in one of the anarchic mega-cities of the future, like Manila.
The driver swerves wildly and repeatedly to avoid hitting people crossing the street, and my walk the day before ( a sweaty 5-mile trudge* up Taft Ave., across McArthur Bridge, up Rizal Ave., and right on Aurora to the entrance to the Chinese Cemetery ) showed me why pedestrians are all over the roads : what sidewalks there are, are completely packed with parked jeepneys, cars, trucks, and motorbikes, so that you’re forced to walk in the gutter. You get used to breathing dust and diesel fumes with vehicles whipping by six inches from you, or you don’t walk anywhere. There are few crosswalks, and the traffic never fucking stops, and if you want to cross the street, you’d better run.
He is young and slightly rakish ( ‘rakish’, here, meaning Oakleys and a bootleg Ed Hardy t-shirt ), but there’s a rosary hanging from the rearview mirror, and he’s very polite, like everyone here. Mass on Sundays and a baby at home, at least one, I betcha.
He puts on a CD as soon as I get in the car.
Me: Is this Linkin Park?
Him: Yes .. do you like this music?
Me: Um, sure. You? ( it seems rude to say anything negative, and I don’t know how to communicate something diplomatic like“ it’s not my cup of tea “ )
Him: Not really. I like Bad Religion!
Me: ( smiling ) Oh, you’re into punk?
( he pauses, not knowing what I mean )
Him: I also like Bon Jovi!
Me: Oh, so, you enjoy music that has loud electric guitars?
Him: Very much!
Me: Me too, I like guitars very much!
I spend the rest of the trip gripping the upholstery tightly and contemplating what our music sounds like, and means to, people from other cultures. I try to imagine what rock n’ roll would sound like to me if I hadn’t ever heard it before, and what I’d make of the distinctions between different styles. Not much, probably.
These aren’t taxis, they’re jeepneys ( learn about jeepneys here ), and although I was intrigued ( I’m not sure why shiny sheet-metal with hand-machined chrome parts isn’t standard elsewhere; these things have a sort of 1940s aircraft-aluminum look to them, and it’s wicked-cool ), I didn’t work up the nerve to ride in one.
* To put it in perspective for New Orleans people : imagine that it’s August in the Dirty Dirty., and you’re walking from the Uptown Whole Foods to Molly’s on Decatur, sucking on black fumes and nearly getting hit by a car every 30 seconds. I swear, if I wasn’t hardened to the weather in the Deep South, I would’ve wilted like a little flower. I managed to figure out how to take the Metro back, thank god.
North Kohala, island of Hawaii. ” Moʻokini Heiau is one of oldest historical sites in Hawaiʻi and among its most sacred. It is a living spiritual temple and not just a historic artifact of the Hawaiian culture. Oral histories indicate that it may be 1500 years old. Evidence suggests the current temple was built on the site of a smaller older one, by the Tahitian priest Paʻao, who brought the Hawaiian Religion to the islands somewhere between 1100-1300 A.D. “
” The current site includes remains of the temple, measuring 250ft x 130ft, with an open stone paved court enclosed by 20ft high stone walls, and a large sacrificial stone slab. The temple is constructed of stones that are said to have been passed from hand to hand from the Pololū Valley, over 12 miles away. One myth holds that the temple was completed in one night. “
” For hundreds of years, a strict set of rules ( kapu ) were enforced at the heiau. It was a closed temple reserved exclusively for the Aliʻi Nui ( the highest royalty ) for praying and offering of human sacrifices to their gods. In Kohala it was the focus of religious life and order. In November 1978, Kahuna Nui Leimomi Moʻokini rededicated the Moʻokini Luakini to the ‘Children of the Land’ ( kama ʻaina ) and lifted the restrictive kapu. In doing this she made the site safe for all persons to enter the heiau and created a place of learning for future generations to discover the past. Her family has been taking care of the temple for centuries. “
” A few hundred yards away is Kamehameha Akahi ʻĀina Hānau, the birthplace of King Kamehameha the Great. He’s said to have been born here in 1758 as Halley’s Comet passed overhead. “
In the 90s, you were going to, for the most part, take bad pictures. With your little point n’ shoot, and the color ” Good For Snapshots ” film you’d get at the drugstore or 7-Eleven, and your crappy built-in flash. On a day off, you’d go to a shopping mall, and you’d spend an hour browsing at Sam Goody Or B.Dalton ( whoah, that does take me back ), and you’d pick up a plastic envelope full of prints and negatives. Full of anticipation. And they always looked like shit.
You meant well, and you carried that little camera around and you tried to document what was happening, but all the photos had the same small, flat look. Indoor flash made garbage, but if you turned the flash off, your snaps would turn black. Famous people looked the same as random people on the street, because you couldn’t capture charisma, or aura. ” Here we are at the hotel in Germany “ was identical to ” Denny’s parking lot, Tucumcari NM “. Pretty soon, you just took weird, bad pictures of odd things, or old things which were going, you could just tell, to disappear soon, or things that you found amusing, like vintage silhouettes of guitar players.
The left one is from a sports arena we played in upstate New York. Utica, maybe? Jimi, on the right, was, I think, on the window of a music store. Somewhere.
It’s in the details.
May you live in interesting times, the Chinese curse goes. I was on tour with a band in Cuba for two weeks, and then when I came back, there was a gigantic hurricane hovering over the town where I live. I got access to the internet yesterday for the first time since August 15th, and it’s a little hard to know where to start.
Should I beging with the part where a little metal band from New Orleans becomes, against all odds, the first American rock group ever to tour Cuba? Or the part where, in a single day, the gig in Holguín is cancelled due to Hurricane Isaac, the band’s singer and drummer are detained by the police while a report is taken on a portable typewriter from the 1950s, the tour bus hits a horse-drawn sugar cane cart on a country road, and we end up sleeping in a gigantic Soviet-style hotel where many of the rooms have no power or running water? Or maybe that other part, where we wake up in Havana, drive in the dark past billboards imploring us to uphold the Socialist ideals of Fidel Castro, land in Tampa FL, which is full of RNC delegates, find that all flights home are cancelled, and rent cars so that we can drive into the storm, while everyone else is evacuating?
Another haunted Summer.
Spencer from Trash Talk. It’s almost impossible now to take a picture without having at least one other person in it, taking a photo of the same thing on their phone. I don’t think this is a complaint that falls into the Cranky Old Guy / Things Were Better Back In My Day category, is it? Isn’t this a downer for everyone who likes taking pictures? I got several good shots of bands at SXSW which I didn’t bother putting up here because in each instance there are 3-4 photos exactly like mine on the internet.
I guess I just shouldn’t be taking pictures of things everyone else is taking pictures of. So maybe I’ll just photograph, like, plastic bags on the ground in a parking lot. Or maybe I’ll go places where people don’t have cel phones. What do you think is more likely?
I’m back from SXSW, and that’s another 1200 miles, or whatevs, under my belt. On the way home I thought a little bit about Keith Morris, erstwhile singer for the Circle Jerks – a group I enjoyed very much as a young teenager, on record ( I’m looking, at this moment, at their #1 album Group Sex, my original copy of which is, to put it lightly, used — and has that great goddamn cover shot, captivating to me then as well as now ), film, and at quite a few early-mid-80s gigs in Chicago and NYC.
Anyway, I bumped into Keith at the Austin Convention Center the other day, and a couple of hours later I saw him perform with his current band OFF!, which was super-great, and then I got to thinking about the track that he and I did for the Germs tribute album ( Land Of Treason, which I should post, probably ).
Also, I used to get breakfast all the time at a place in L.A. called Millie’s, and one morning, 14 years ago already, I caught him on film as he looked through the window at me.
A photo I accidentally took of myself yesterday.
Cerro, Havana, Cuba. We convince Cousin Augusto to take us to an exhibition baseball game at the Estadio Latinoamericano, home of the Industriales, Havana’s home team. Augusto warns us that foreigners aren’t expressly forbidden to come here, but they’re not exactly encouraged either, and that we should avoid talking or drawing attention to ourselves in any way.
This week, thanks to Augusto and Ramón, we have gotten to go several places which are normally off limits to tourists. Every time, we try to make ourselves invisible, but people make us immediately and address us in English. I ask Augusto about this and he says that it’s not our height, or our Levi’s, or our tattoos, and that we don’t even have the uniquely American way of carrying ourselves which many travelers from the U.S. do. “ They can just smell it on you “, he says.
We get through the gate without much trouble, and the cost of a ticket is something like nine cents, which I pay for with some tattered Cuban pesos I’ve gotten on the black market. ( a thing which I’ve never seen anywhere else : there are two systems of currency here – the Cuban peso, which is for natives, and the CUC, which is for visitors. More on that here )
Augusto describes the legions of secret police and sharpshooters who descend on the place when Fidel attends games, and points out the box where he sits, which is right in front of us. A few people watch us sideways, but they are genuinely interested in the game, a languid affair that they follow intently. There are no concession stands, just a few people walking around hawking food that they made at home. An old guy comes by selling coffee out of a battered teapot. ” Cuánto? “, I ask, but he refuses to sell me a cup. ” That’s okay, you don’t want to drink that shit ” says Augusto.
The sun starts to set, and the old concrete glows pink. Lights click on and buzz, and the breeze carries warbling announcements and the occasional flanging crack of a bat. A kid walks around the bleachers and blasts a horn that looks like it was made from an old radiator. There are no billboards, and no one has a cel phone. Everyone is right here, in the moment, and I find that I am content to sit very still and think about absolutely nothing.
Hey everybody, sorry about the emails, I’ll get to ’em.
Transito, Mexico City.
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