But For My Machine

                                         

 

It’s getting to be that hour when you start dragging out the heavy equipment: meaning; desire; love; hate; good; evil; life; death. Meaning’s a good one. File under The One That Got Away. You silently pine for it like a dead pet. It certainly can’t be found in or anywhere near your guitar playing tonight. Mostly it just feels good to sit and be with your machine; the foreclosed farmer sat alone in his shut harvester with no crop to thresh.

You were after a specific attack character achievable only with the use of a certain super-thin plectrum blasted against some .013 round wounds. You really needed that sound. You scoured the place up, down, and sideways, but still could not find a single pick in any of the usual crannies. It seems like just a week or so ago, you couldn’t get away from the dizzy things. They’d go flying from your pockets into the lawn as you pulled out your house keys, or you’d find them used as bookmarks, or in the clothes dryer, or the silverware drawer. You got annoyed seeing them everywhere, but now you wish you could locate even one. A collar stay could almost work; but no…maybe there’s one in the guitar case, but you look, and there isn’t.

You take your usual spot on the third step from the landing and play with your thumb instead. You strum, thump, pluck, mute, detune, re-tune, and then hobble through a few scales ’til your ass gets tired. There’s the usual pet shapes, maybe a part of something you loftily refer to as a composition that you’ve been working on for a lifetime now (taxonomy-depending, we could be talking several lifetimes). The notes produced are exactly opposite of what you were after — chubby and warm, yet devoid of soul coal. Indeed, at best, there’s a few scant cinders yielding barely enough heat to barre a chord. Even your muscle memories are growing spotty.

Not much doing tonight, is there kid? Not much doing on a lot of nights lately. Thousands, probably. It’s been a real bad spell.

When was the last time you replaced the strings? You sit there, actually trying to pinpoint the exact night you were in that awful music shop, knowing all the while that it’s that other stringed machine that’s fucking you up tonight. Lately, you are more physically aware of this other machine than you have ever before been. It’s been clocking some real hard mileage on some very bad fuel over the last year or so. Blaming your guitar strings for your playing would be like taking an open-wheel racer across the Baja peninsula and then blaming a bad shave for why everything came apart after mile one.

You hurt, and the hurt is so deep as to border on the unreal. It is actually bizarre to hurt so much. Lately, whenever you hear the word heartache in a song or read it someplace, it’s like you’re unfolding a series of hidden wrinkles within the word itself, its true dimensions fanning out like some phantasmagorical blueprint replete with detailed footnotes and exploded views.  All the references you’ve heard over the years become clear after finally sitting down and reading the codex. Don Covay; Roy Orbison; Barry Gibb; Doc Pomus; Charles Aznavour…all of them contributing architects.

If you make it through this, you know you’ll look back at the brink in awe of how close you were. Maybe some humid night several thousand nights from this one, you’ll be slouched in one of those injection-molded Adirondack chairs in some old buddy’s carport, listening to some Capcity sides and glugging some good suds as you compare scars from all your exit wounds. Someone’s flirty half-sister’ll light some fireworks at the end of the drive; cheap thrills will ensue. You’ll remain plopped there, delighting in your own dumbness, staring at the half-sister’s perfect little ass through the sulfur fog banks plaiting around the old street lamps. And it is in that instant, lungs full of mossy midnight air, that you will realize that you feel just about as close to fine as you’ll ever get. You contrive and fixate on various such banal scenes evermore frequently and in evermore detail, as though they might represent the zenith of the human experience. Could be they do.

You put the guitar up and go put the sprinkler out. With this machine, you have better luck.

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Nighttime is the Right Time

Alone with camera, one moonlit midsummer midnight, wandering the deserted lanes of my soon-to-be-former stomping grounds…

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I’ve always been a walker, and Crestview has been a not-bad hamlet for said — particularly those long, circuitous late-nighters when your heart is so heavy you start envying the dumb and the dead, and find the only thing that makes you feel even a little better is to move your legs. Conveyance purely for the sake of being kinetic is like a secret weapon against the bad stuff. Patsy was righter than I bet even she realized.

I know I’m not the only one who adheres to this ages-old spiritual liniment. On one of my last walks through Crestview, I heard in the near distance what sounded like a woman seized with either intense panic or epic orgasm (surprisingly hard to discern). It was enough to make me stop in my tracks and start scanning the nearby hedges. That’s when I saw her — a young cyclist tearing ass down the avenue ahead of me, gasping for air as she leaned into it like a two-wheeled Ichabod Crane; only no-one was in pursuit of her, nor was she outfitted in a fancy helmet or designer skinsuit which might connote bike nerd. I fancied her instead to be something like myself — another haunted kid trying to outrun her demons after midnight on an old Schwinn Collegiate.

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Crestview started out as a blue-collar neighborhood in North Austin, Texas with small, affordable lots for returning WWII vets. Many of the modest blockhouses built on on those lots still remain, (2 bed/1 bath), though most have been retrofitted with some kind of contemporary razzle dazzle to entice young, readily credulous renters to cough up $1500-$2000 a month for an 800 sq ft hovel with leaky carport and dying agave out front.

Talk to the veteran cabbies, and they’ll tell you how Crestview used to be THE place to score back in the day; heroin, mostly. These days, you might could score a Dr. Pepper (you’ll pay boutique prices for it, too).

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Years ago, whilst on a similar late-night stroll, I encountered a distraught pregnant kid plopped and sobbing on the curb, her distress due in part to having been tossed from a car by her beau just moments before. With some wariness, she approached me for help and cigs, though I could only oblige her the former. She was clad in a too-tight black bathing suit and flip flops and liked to swear a lot. With my humidified lick of forelock plastered across my forehead and my Murray’s Space Shoes, I’m certain I made an impression as well. Taking in both me and her surroundings, the first thing she asked was, “…this a rough part a town?”

Throughout the following years, I’d get hit with that same question by several newcomers and passers-through. I wondered myself upon first arriving. Despite the bike lanes and the churches on every corner, it’s still kinda got that look, especially after dark; like a scrappy kid with a brand new pair of laces in his boots.

Crestview looks considerably less dicey during the day, and by the day. You’ve got the pretentious cubist McMansions, with their shed roofs here and there, looking like misfiled coffee table books jammed in next to all the drab chainlink’d tracts. Then across from the ancient IGA you have the delicatessen where the DINKS go to enjoy eight dollar sandwiches with their designer breeds hitched to the benches out front. The reality is that you can walk around Crestview after midnight on any Saturday of the year in your bikini – male or female – completely unmolested (but be prepared for rape by your landlord or in the checkout lane).

Not a terrible place to collect your mail, Crestview. I’ll miss my lonely late night walks (the loneliest of which were not the solo outings).

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All (un-retouched) photos by g. edward weitl 2013

Chico Hamilton Quintet — Blue Sands

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More majesty from the youtubes…

Among other sensations, I’m simply humbled by such flights of beauty and imagination. I’ve long loved the recorded version of this composition on Pacific Jazz (w/ Jim Hall on guitar), but to discover this live performance with John Pisano in 1958 is really a thrill.

I love the audience shots, too; a real class bunch. Man, Americans really used to have it. 

Thank you Mr. Hamilton (and a happy early birthday).

FROM THE BUCOLIC TO THE SHAMBOLIC — PART ONE: TRAVEL VS VACATION

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The most fundamental criteria for any away game should be that it’s exploratory in nature. I don’t care about lying on the beach eating chips ‘n’ dips all day or watching back-to-back episodes of Gator Boys after the obligatory hotel screw on some puffy jacquard duvet. Duke Ellington once said that vacations are for miserable people looking to escape that which makes them miserable — and I take my miseries like daily vitamins. The difference with travel should be that you’re venturing out to landscapes unfamiliar in search of texture and color and shapes; things which will subsequently inform and even transform things about you, from your very ideas about life to the way you prepare your eggs.

Having said all that, I’m still too tired to detect any such phenomena in myself from my recent maiden European voyage (Prague by way of Lisbon). Yeah, I know — at 36, the Lonely Planet mavens would write me off as a tragically under-traveled slob; but I’ve never been a passport fetishist, nor do I have an obsession with all-things-European. Indeed, I’ve been working my way though the vestiges of the American landscape over the last several years, trying like hell to get to it all before the whole territory’s transformed into one giant mixed-use development. Besides, when it comes to culture, I’m decently internationale — miles more so than any of the travel snobs I know. As evidence, whenever I part with anything from any one of my book, record or film collections online, nearly every item ends up going to some disparate corner of the planet, from Australasia to Scandinavia; from South Africa to Oceania (in fact, rarely the US). The point I’m trying to illustrate is that it’s possible to be worldly without the need to breathe in other people’s effluvium for eight hours at a go.

THE MOST BEAUTIFUL AIRPORT IN THE WORLD IS STILL JUST AN AIRPORT

I’m an ardent adherent to the idea that adventure is less about the destination and more about the journey. One glaring exception to this rule is air travel. Flying compresses and depresses me. I’ve been trying to build up my resistance with long continental flights to far-flung burgs like Anchorage. Still, though, think about it: Have you ever reflected fondly upon a favorite flight? In coach? For eight hours??

(No.)

The airport in Madrid was my first taste of Europe on the ground. First impression: High on style, low on functionality. The Madrid Barajas Airport is just too insanely beautiful to be the place where Airport personnel report to work everyday. In fact, it barely feels like an airport. This is a bad thing. To begin with, you disembark the plane and begin an interminable zig-zag up the jetway before at long last emerging at the arrival gate, at which point you follow-the-herd, as the paucity of signage leaves one without any clues as to where to proceed to a connecting flight or baggage claim. Gotta take a leak? Sorry, slob — hopefully the sense of mystery which envelopes you as you wonder aloud where they’ve hidden all the privies (note: WC/Debussy) will distract from all those bladder pangs. Need a porter? Sorry, also — you will slog and slog and slog, while the only signs you’ll spot are those occasional green & white EXIT signs depicting that DRI-looking stick figure which seems not to suggest an EXIT, but rather scrambling for your motherfucking life. Every time I saw that little guy, he managed to induce in me a vague sense of urgency. It didn’t help that I was gradually resigning myself to the fact that we would never make our connecting flight in time. It took some forty minutes before we finally arrived at the departure terminals, after jog-walking for over ten, clearing customs and navigating the excessively farcical airport security theater, (my black leather boots were okay to keep on, but not the strappy goddess sandals the woman behind me was wearing), and then traversing the giant duty-free mall strategically sandwiched between customs and the departure gates. With an eight hour layover until the next flight to Lisbon, we spent our food vouchers on below-average coffee slung by passive-aggressive baristas, good beer and some curious-looking sandwiches. Eight hours is a long-ass time to kill, and it does not die easy…not even in the most beautiful airport in the world.

MUSCATEL! CORK! TILES! BACCALAU! VASCO DA GAMA!..TILES!

We arrived at the Hotel Mondial in downtown Lisbon later that evening, an old, slightly pricey resort on the Rua Palma, just a few blocks up from the bay. The Mondial’s lobby is dazzling enough to impress even the most jet-lagged and jaded soul, replete as it is with smiling staff running around in cummerbunds and bow ties. This somewhat belies the humble nature of the guest rooms, the carpet in which was more like thin wool batting stretched taut over what felt and sounded like starlight mints trapped beneath. Likewise, the bathroom was more like a found object sculpture depicting frustration, starting with the first third of the toilet installed under the first third of the sink, followed by the bathtub installed upon a three foot riser, requiring one to launch one’s carcass up into it. Bursitis of the hip? Enjoy your sponge bath, turkey. Further comedic relief was provided by the absence of mixer valves in the shower, making for wavering extremes in water temperature, punctuated by the occasional scalding blast, which truly took a bite.

There was some good stuff, though: the central location with its view of the Rua Palma, chock as it was with restive natives preparing for their anti-Troika demonstrations the following evening; the mattresses, which were perfectly firm — the best I’ve ever slept in outside of my own; the mostly young female staff, who exuded an earthy pleasantness as opposed to the phony hyper-politeness you get here in the States; the scrambled eggs…I had dreams about them.

That first night in town, our cicerone bussed us over to a restaurant in the older part of Lisbon. It was a large, grotto-like space, ornately decorated throughout with a high barrel ceiling and a stage. We were seated at a long table and served one of those five course meals where each plate features a diminutive pillar of food, randomly strewn with sprigs of this ‘n’ that, and strafed by a single squiggle of sauce. Following this pretentious and unsatisfying little meal, we were treated to a Fado show. In case you don’t know, Fado is a traditional Portuguese music, which I found rather hokey. The jet lag didn’t help things. The performance seemed to go on and on and on, and I just wanted them to stop. All I could think about was that lovely mattress I wanted to get back to where I might die in my sleep. The most entertaining thing for me the whole evening was the crazed death ray one of the guitarists kept trained on some little shithead kid in the audience who kept playing video games on his Ipad with the volume cranked throughout the entire performance.

The second day was better, with a trip out to wine country, where we toured the giant mahogany casks of Portugal’s oldest vineyard, home to thousands of gallons of the rather nasty Muscatel — a treacly sort of fortified wine that serves as the centerpiece to Portugal’s vintner heritage. I got the sense that the Portuguese were even lighter lightweights than myself, given their propensity for such craziness as adding 7-Up to their Super Bocks and cutting twenty year-old wine with Coca-Cola.

Ponte25AbrilBridgeCheck it out: In Lisbon, you get your wine country, the Mediterranean climate and even a Bay Bridge — all without the Californians! Unbeatable. I wonder what the suicide rate is compared with the one in San Francisco?

The two biggest things going on in Portugal are cork and tiles. They cannot and will not shut up about their goddamned cork and tiles. Christ! Enough already!!!

…I, of course, only kid: The tiled walls and houses all throughout Portugal left cricks in my neck as I craned around to glimpse as many of them as possible as we zipped past in the bus. Everyone gets beautiful tiles in Lisbon — doesn’t matter if you’re a wealthy club owner like John Malkovich, or subsisting in the Terras do Lelo slums. Call it the banality of beauty. As far as cork goes, one of the local merchants mentioned something to me about some ongoing research to develop transparent cork, which I still can’t get my mind around. I hope he wasn’t bullshitting me.

I tore ass around a few castles, the crumbling botanical gardens and one or two splendiferous old palaces, but by day five, all the threadbare opulence was beginning to tire me. You seen one ruin, you’ve pretty much seen ’em all. There was that, and the growing sense that the trip was devolving into a sort-of wealth transfer, as it seemed to me like the ladies in the group were being subtly funneled from one stop to the next in order to have their anemic US dollars swiftly Hoovered up with a too-keen obrigato. Not that I condemn the Lisboans or anyone else for hustling, I just got bored of watching it. For my part, I bought a blanket, two pads of paper, a bar of shaving soap and a pencil — shit you can really use, and all made in Portugal, thank you.

The evenings in Lisbon were free, and my woman and I wandered the streets together, marveling at the uncanny number of shoe stores throughout the city. We were warned away from the *bad parts* of town, but I unwittingly wandered into them a few times without incident, save for a bemused look or two. Compared to the asphalt killing fields (with corresponding Murder Maps) that comprise the bad parts of most American metros, a dangerous street in Lisbon might consist of a guy in a black t-shirt, snarling to himself. PG-13 stuff at worst.

Most nights we ordered beer from one of the various arcades near the bay — and that’s exactly how I ordered them: a glass of beer, like we were on the set of a Hollywood film in 1947. And just like in those old films, without hesitation, the waiter would whisk away to procure a perfectly crisp Blonde or Bock. Try it out. It’s pretty terrific.

Overall, the city of Lisbon, it’s people, and the surrounding areas are handsome and melancholic, which is my kinda stuff. It’s got poetry. One fear is that the ongoing austerity measures imposed by the IMF on the people of Portugal will continue to negatively impact the area. Even the bucolic coastal areas of Cascais looked quite neglected (at least compared to how they looked in 1971’s The Last Run with George C. Scott). Many of the urban areas appeared blighted and drenched in Krylon. Outside of the numerous anti-Troika messages, graffiti in Lisbon looks the same as it does everywhere in the world, and covers nearly every vertical surface, including, most tragically, some of those tiled walls and even a few ancient stone ramparts. One saving grace is that the city was constructed with certain local materials and in such a way as to weather and rundown much more beautifully than any American strip mall or condo tower ever will.

Lisboan hellraisers seem to have it pretty plush. The prisons in Lisbon are quite stately, at least on the outside. Sadly, the one pictured at the top of this post is slated to become a condominium once the Portuguese economy gets back on its hind legs. Who knows when that’ll be…thanks IMF!

Sideshow

Sculpture is an art form I’ve wanted to foray into for a long time now — taking some of my illustrations and realizing them in full dimension. Unfortunately, it’s an ambition that’s so far remained impeded by a life of constant upheaval and spatial constraints. Patricia Knop’s work has captivated me for years. Whenever I look at it, it never fails to reposition the flames from the back burners squarely under my backside, and I start thinking to myself how I really need to get my hands in some mud before the arthritis sets in!

I first discovered Mrs. Knop’s unique talent after buying some old press clippings from the late sixties of Zalman King, whose early acting career I was jonesing on at the time (I even commissioned a woman to recreate for me one of the sweaters his character wore in The Ski Bum). One of the spreads among this collection of clippings included an interview from 1971 with Zalman and his lifelong companion/wife, Patricia Knop, accompanied by photos of Patricia’s life-size sculptures. I instantly went ape for her work, especially when I discovered that she was a completely self-taught artist. The sinewy, diaphanous quality of her renderings continues to arouse sensations in me that no other sculptor’s work ever has. (I also consider her and Zalman one of the coolest artist couples that ever there was; you can readily perceive how they both cared for and believed in one another.)

Knop’s emphasis on hands, feet and hair is something I very much share in with my own work. Creating on such a scale is something I can only dream of, however. It’s a gutty statement in and of itself, especially since her pieces were HUGE from the start. Most pieces I’ve created over the years have tended toward the diminutive. I want very much to get away from that.

Besides inspiring me as an artist, Knop’s works also compel me to want to transcend the bounds of tense and space; they remind me not to let myself get too swept off course by the here ‘n’ now and all the bad winds that wicked and selfish people wantonly fart into my sails. Again, maybe it’s the sheer size of her pieces that inspires me to think bigger and soar beyond all of the noise. For after all the inevitable hardships she’s no doubt endured throughout her own long lifetime — including the loss early last year of her husband to cancer — here remains this woman’s magnificent sculptures, towering almost defiantly in the face of the base and the mundane, and indeed, even time itself…yeah…

From May 20 through June 20, 2013, Trigg Ison Fine Art will present “Patricia Knop: SIDESHOW – Paintings and Sculpture 1968-2013.” The exhibition will unveil a comprehensive look at the prolific career of Patricia Knop featuring sculpture and paintings never before seen by the public.

I’m hoping to get out to this event myself. If you’re reading this and are in the downtown LA area, do yourself a favor and check it out, (and then write me and tell me what you thought!).