Published May 5th, 2018
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Greetings, in the name of everything and everyone holy and good, and welcome to the world’s most beloved and admired podcasting thing that goes bump in the night, or morning, or whenever you happen to hear it – yes, you have arrived at THIS IS NOT A TEST, with yours truly, Terrence Trent Yardie, Piccadilly McShepardson, Molly Calamari, or, if we must, Michael Phillips, your guide to this barrel of monkeys, your helping hand out of the mouse trap, your shoulder to lean on and steady hand in this life or death game of Operation. Yes, make no mistake and accept no substitutes, the statue of liberty is watching and the statute of limitations, has, hopefully, run out. Welcome, welcome, pull up a bean bag and prepare to jump.
Ah, well, I am still jobless as of this moment, and still aimless, but not yet penniless, not yet, so that’s good. I mean, it’s good for me, it doesn’t make any difference to you. Are you fine? Are you well? Is the world rotating the way you’d like it to? Well, the world doesn’t care what we want, how we want it to rotate. It just keeps spinning and we keep holding on. Or we keep being subject to gravity and centrifugal force and that keeps us stuck to it. Does centrifugal force come into play? I don’t know. Somehow I doubt it. I know gravity is pulling my bones and skin toward the center of the earth. I’m just trying to keep it all above ground. So far, so good.
Have you heard this kid, this singer, Jade Bird? Since I’m not commuting to an office every morning I don’t get to hear Morning Becomes Eclectic on KCRW anymore, so I’m missing out on a few hours of new music every week. In its place I’ve been recording all the late night talk shows and watching and listening to the bands they throw on there. You know, to get a little nibble of what’s going on out there. The late night talk shows don’t compare to Morning Becomes Eclectic, I know, since network television can’t put on anything really weird, but trust me, the stuff they play on KCRW in the morning might be off the wall and indie and weird, but it’s no better than anything else. I always expect it to be, or want it to be, but it isn’t. It’s all so bad. Same thing with the bands they put on TV. Everyone is moaning and whispering and singing like babies and they look like they work part time at the last Blockbuster Video store in town, and their music is just painfully toothless and lifeless and I keep waiting for some life. Any life. Waiting. Show some fucking signs of life, you know, you’re 25 years old. Well, anyway, out of the blue I recently got some life, from someone named Jade Bird.
The song she usually plays on TV and radio and Internet appearances is called “Lottery,” and it’s a good song, not epic or outstanding or incredibly unique, but what got me was the way she sang it. I flip through five or six of those dead-eyed dead-sounding skinny pants bands every night and suddenly there appears someone who is singing as if her life depended on it, like you should sing when you’re young and crazy. It was great. It was spine-tingling, it was rock and roll. Though when I looked her up a couple days later I saw she was considered a country artist. That struck me as odd, based on what I heard, and I wanted to make sure I wasn’t giving her too much credit, wanted to make sure I didn’t think someone mediocre was great just because they were surrounded by crap.
So over the past week or so I’ve listened to 9 or 10 of her songs and I’ll definitely buy the EP she put out, and I don’t think the tingly spine I got hearing her sing “Lottery” was just because she seemed great in comparison to everything around her. She’s a solid young songster, and someone to watch out for. She’s not Bob Dylan, but neither is Bob Dylan. It’s all about delivery, and she delivers. “Lottery,” “Anniversary,” “Uh huh,” a lot of good songs there, and all of them put out into the atmosphere with real conviction and life. That stuff of life that makes music worth listening to. I mean, it’s all the same notes and the same instruments, so you have to have something intangible to really be great, and Ms. Bird has it.
And I have to say that I didn’t really hear “country music” in any of her songs, but I guess they needed to put her into a box and the country box happened to be handy. I don’t know if Jade Bird is her real name, either, and I don’t care. Joan Jett wasn’t really Joan Jett, and Joe Strummer – not his real name obviously – used to tell people to call him “Woody,” so what’s in a name anyway, Shakespeare? Check out Jade Bird. If you want to see the performance that hooked me like a lazy trout, go to YouTube and search for “Jade Bird on Jimmy Fallon.” Yeah, that Jimmy Fallon, that shallow, disingenuous, giggling twat of a talk show host. Who gave that dry turd in a suit a job? But I digress.
Oh, and while you’re on YouTube look up Starcrawler and bask in the wonder that is a bunch of teenagers channeling 1970-era Stooges. The singer, Arrow de Wilde, is the spawn of some L.A. artist-types, but they should check her DNA, because I think Iggy may have visited her mother 19 years ago. Just saying. That, or it’s just a bunch of kids who watched a lot of Stooges videos, but either way, they are doing what they do, and I have to doff my virtual cap to them for that, considering the whimpering cesspool that most young Los Angeles bands splash around in.
I rarely talk about books here, even though that’s one of the things mentioned in the pitch. You know, “books, music, movies, art, culture and truth,” right? Well that’s what I intended to talk about here when I kick started this engine a few years ago, but I have to be honest, I don’t read a lot of books that I feel are worth talking about. And I read a lot of books. I could talk about books and music I don’t like, but what’s the point of that? This book sucks, this record sucks – stay away! Why waste our precious, dwindling time with that kind of thing? Besides, everyone knows most art sucks, so belaboring the point is redundant and pedantic and supercilious. I don’t really know what supercilious means, but it sounds good right there, so let’s leave it.
So while the reality of what we’re doing here may betray what this thing is advertised to be, I think we bring it all together by talking about life – which, after all, is art and culture, isn’t it. It’s all connected. I also don’t talk about specific books or records very often because I’m not a good reviewer. You’ve read reviews, you know how they go. So smart and insightful, and I can’t do that. Or I don’t want to do that. So that leaves us with this, whatever this is. But today, brothers and sisters, I have to tell you about a book. A short story collection. When’s the last time you read a short story collection? Well, you should, they’re great. Short stories are the key to life. But I digress. I have to say that most of what I read fills me with – nothing. I mean it leaves me cold and wishing I’d spent those hours perfecting my smokey eye, which just looks like a racoon crawling out of a dumpster when I do it. Oh, I know, I could watch a YouTube video, but that feels like cheating.
But there’s a short story collection called “the late season,” by Canadian author Stephen Hines, and I’m going to try to make the case that you should read it. Like, right now. I say “Steven,” but he spells it like Stephen, so I don’t really know how to say it. He signs his emails “Steve,” so I’ll go with Steven. I don’t often ask myself existential questions like “what is life?” because I’m not that deep or thoughtful. But if you think about it, if you’re forced to think about it, life is just a collection of moments. We remember the big events and the triumphs and the major disappointments and of course the tragedies, but what makes those things are the moments in and around them. Hines captures those moments, and by doing that, I think he captures life itself. The real bits of life that you don’t often get to read in a book.
A lot of the stories in the book deal with tragedy and loss, but the tragedy is really just undercurrent. Hines doesn’t whack you across the face with it. The tragedy is the undercurrent, and the moments ride along on top. This is not just some somber emo-mope though. There’s a lot of humor too. All great books have humor in them. If you show me an example of a great book that is lacking humor I’ll tell you it’s not a great book at all. This is where an actual book reviewer would quote passages from “the late season,” but I feel like doing that would undercut the stories. They’re put together with such care, quoting lines to you would be like showing you a piece of yarn and asking you how you like my sweater. What you should do is buy the book and read it. Get the whole sweater. You won’t regret it. It will keep you warm. I’ll put a link on the thisisnotatest.com website, or you can Google Tangerine Press and Stephen Hines (or just click here). But remember to spell it like Stephen.
I can’t tell you if anything in the book is autobiographical or semi-autobiographical, I have the feeling some of it is, but I didn’t ask Mr. Hines because maybe I don’t really want to know. I was going to ask him why he doesn’t put quotes around his character’s dialog, but then I though that would be kind of like asking Jackson Pollock why there aren’t any boats in his paintings. If you want to appreciate art you have to let go of your preconceptions and notions about what you think art should be and just let it in and absorb it. If you’re one of those word people, one of those book types, do yourself a favor and read “the late season.” Read it twice and wake the neighbors to tell them the good news.
The sheriff of whatever county Prince lived and died in released all of the files related to their investigation a couple of weeks ago. I saw some pictures of the legendary tape vault online, the room where Prince kept all of his master tapes – which, as it turns out it was actually a vault…at least the room had a vault door on it. Well, I wanted to see more pictures so I spent the hour or whatever it took to download everything, and “everything” is about 3,000 files, so it’s a lot to go through. The way police photograph things – well they aren’t artists, I suppose, they’re just people with guns, but it’s ridiculous they way they focused on every bottle, everything that held liquid, every pill bottle, whether it was vitamin C or a prescription. Five pictures of a half full water bottle…20 pictures of 5 Hour Energy Drink bottles. Pictures of receipts for 5 Hour Energy bottles…things like that.
But there were pictures taken all over Paisley Park, so it was interesting to see all the different rooms that we weren’t meant to see. I can tell you one thing after looking through most of the pictures: Price was a slob. Every room had about 500 CDs strewn around, covering every surface, and it seemed like every room had an open suitcase or traveling bag, shit was just everywhere. A lot of the rooms were empty except for the aforementioned 500 CDs and suitcases and piles and piles of FedEx and UPS boxes. It was chaos, man. I like seeing those kinds of behind the scenes things, but I would have preferred not to see them under the circumstances, you know. And I didn’t particularly want to see the pictures of Prince’s body, and I kind of wish I could unsee them now.
What was that website back on the early web – the one with the gross out pictures and death pictures and everything? I keep thinking Snopes, but of course that’s not it, it’s something else. Anyway, when I first heard about that site I checked it out, because I checked out everything back in those days, when it was still almost possible to actually check out everything, but after a few minutes I just felt like I needed a bath or something. There’s nothing – I don’t know, death is death, we all die, and I’m not sure why society, at least so-called Western society, makes death such a big mysterious secret kind of thing. I suppose that’s why sites like that were popular, if you repress something, people are going to seek it out. I know if you tell me I can have access to something like the Prince investigation files, I’m going to look at them. I can’t just let them sit there ignored once I know I can get them. I’m curious like that.
We didn’t always shy away from death and bodies and whatnot. Back in the Victorian days you’d keep grandma or pappy or whoever in the house for days, and people would come by to see them, and it was even popular for a while to take pictures of the recently departed. Stile Project, that’s what that fucking website was called. S T I L E. Sorry, it was driving me crazy. Anyway, we used to be a lot more close to death and more intimately involved in it, but at some point people figured death could be a good business, an industry, even, and they started carting off our dead and displaying them in specialized places so we didn’t have do it at home.
So I’m abstractly philosophical about death, and we’re all just meat puppets, and so forth and so on and etcetera and etcetera, but it still made me sad to see a picture of Prince’s body laying there by the Paisley Park elevator, dead by mistake and for no reason. And when they tell you he was a casualty of the so-called “opioid epidemic,” they’re right. But not in the way they think. He was a victim because he had to buy what he thought were Vicodin pills from some shady hustler somewhere, because doctors won’t prescribe pain medicine anymore. They’re afraid of the puritans in this country who want to decide for everyone what’s okay to put into your holes. How much is okay. What kind of things are okay.
I took a picture of a guy at the grocery store a few years ago, I’ll see if I can find it and put it on the website, I was in Ralph’s grocery store and I took my customary turn down the liquor aisle, and there was an older guy, grey beard, and he had a shopping cart filled with liquor bottles. And I mean full, like “Leaving Las Vegas” full. You think that movie was exaggerating, but this motherfucker was doing it in real life. He had more booze in that cart than I could drink in five years, and I like to drink booze. Okay, two years. But the point is, no one stopped him from buying all that booze. He didn’t have to pay someone to scribble permission on a little piece of paper. He just loaded up the cart and whipped out the credit card. No questions asked.
But if you need some pills for legitimate, chronic pain, forget it. The federal government has decided how much of that you should be allowed to have, and they’ve put the fear into doctors – well, I suppose the government and lawyers have put the fear into doctors – so most doctors won’t even write you a prescription for effective pain medication anymore. It’s splitting hairs, isn’t is, whether I want 60 gallons of Wild Turkey or a bottle of Oxycodone? What’s the difference? Which one is more dangerous? And you can buy a dozen cartons of cigarettes along with your shopping cart full of booze, and that’s fine, but god forbid you should be able to suck on a Fentanyl lollipop.
So what happens is you have thousands or millions of people like Prince, who have to creak out of bed every day and deal with pain every waking moment, and to get enough drugs to do that, to get enough relief, they have to see multiple doctors or get prescriptions under different names, and they end up dying of Fentanyl overdoses when all they wanted was some god damned Vicodin. You tell me how that makes any sense. Tell me how we’re saving the god damned world with our laws again, because I don’t think we’re saving anyone. Bob Marley said, “Laws cause crime and violence,” and people laugh at that and say it’s naive and simplistic, but the more of this life I see, the more it rings true to me.
Everyone has known for thousands of years that if people want to get high or do whatever they want to do, they’re going to do it, whether it’s easy to do it, or difficult or illegal to do it. Laws against homosexuality, laws against drugs, laws against, well, pretty much anything a woman wants to do with or to her body, laws against sin, brothers and sisters, we must drive the devil out of the provinces! We must be elevated in the eyes of the lord and the eyes of the politicians who are more perverted and drunk and high than any of us. We mustn’t run afoul of them, because they control the people with the keys to the prisons. It would be funny if it didn’t cost so many of us our lives.
Speaking of the provinces, and people from the Twin Cities, I recently re-connected with an old friend who I haven’t talked to in almost 30 years, Scott. He’s the guy who came out here to California with me. It was just me and him in an old van, setting sail from Minnesota to points unknown. Why we haven’t talked in all those years doesn’t matter, but Scott is one of those people with an incredible memory, the polar opposite of my Swiss cheese memory. So I knew talking to him would open up all kinds of doors that I hadn’t necessarily closed, I’d just forgotten existed. He didn’t disappoint in that regard. He remembers everything, and it’s really strange to hear someone say, “Remember that time you…I don’t know, danced on top of that birdcage and stole the mayor’s Cadillac and drove it into the lake?” when you have absolutely no memory of any such things.
I don’t think I did any of that, but one of the things he said to me was, “Remember that time you flipped off Joe Strummer for most of the Clash show, and then he apologized to you afterwards?” And I was like…no, I don’t remember that at all, but it sounds like something I would have done back then. I am the same idiot who threw empty beer bottles at the Pretenders stage when they were playing at a bar in Minneapolis after all. And I loved the Pretenders. But I was a very angry young man, and I rarely behaved in a civilized or housebroken manner. I guess I’m still angry, but aren’t we all? Don’t we all run around with a list of grievances looping in our heads? Maybe not. Maybe it is just me. But I doubt it. The grievances seem to drop away as time goes by and I get older and forget to be angry about some things. But I don’t think I’ll live to see the day that they’re all gone. Really, I don’t want to see that day. Seems like to be completely devoid of anger in the world we live in is unnatural. It’s funny to me, when trolls on the Internet try to insult or goad someone by saying, “Gee, you sure seem mad, why are you so mad?” I just think, why are you not?
Anyway, I only had two brief conversations with the late, great Joe Strummer, who I consider to be a figure of immense importance in the history of rock and roll, the Woody Guthrie of my generation if I can say such a thing, and I do say it. One of those conversations was by the banks of the mighty Mississippi, in 1984 when he was touring with the Clash minus Mick Jones, which wasn’t really the Clash at all, but we all humored Joe and went along on that unsatisfying ride for a while. The other was after the show my friend was reminding me about. Which was in…1982? The second time the Clash was in St. Paul. The first time they came through town was in 1979. There are a couple pictures of that show in photographer Pennie Smith’s book, “The Clash Before and After.”
So, yeah. Scott was reminding me of 1982. I lived in an apartment in downtown St. Paul, and we knew where the bands stayed, because there was really only one hotel where a band could stay. We’d been staking the place about since I was a teenager, we met everyone there. Those meetings rarely lead to actual conversations, so I’m not sure why we did it so often, or for so long. I suppose the rare times we did get to have a conversation with one of these famous rock and roll types made all the quick, “How ya doin’?” nods worth wasting our time on. I’m sure most of those guys would have preferred that some girls had been waiting there for them, but it was always just us. Looking back on it now, it was a weird thing to do, to hang around a hotel lobby doing nothing for hours. An…unproductive way to spend one’s time. But I had non-productivity down to a finely tuned science, so I have to take that into consideration.
But that day in 1982 when the Clash arrived, my friend Brad and I were there at the hotel, and I tried to talk to Joe, but he was in a pissy mood and said, you know, “Oy, leave me alone then, I’m just trying to get about!” so we did. But I guess that rubbed me the wrong way. It shouldn’t have, because, you know, give the guy a break. He’s on tour, which is no fun to begin with, he doesn’t need to deal with a fresh gaggle of needy jackasses in every city gazing longingly at him like he’s a modern day Woody Guthrie. But as I may have mentioned, I was young and angry, so during the concert I was right up against the stage, in my usual spot, and – according to the story, anyway – I was flipping him off every time he looked in my direction.
After the show we went backstage and Joe naturally remembered the little prick that had just harassed him for two hours, but, amazingly, he apologized to me for blowing us off at the hotel. That’s really kind of astounding. Think about it. First of all that he even remembered us from the hotel and then recognized that that little nothing encounter was the reason I was giving him the bird while he was trying to entertain me. That’s pretty amazing, and it’s pretty amazing that Scott would give that story back to me. I really appreciate that. I was often shitty to my friends when I was a young man, spoiler alert, and it’s kind of a testament to human understanding and forgiveness that anyone I knew back then will still speak to me. I don’t even want to speak to myself sometimes.
But I also don’t want to spend all my time reminiscing, you know? It’s good to look back at where you came from and at the things you did and realize that maybe you really were more brave or foolish than you give yourself credit for being. But I don’t have the feeling that, oh, you know, all the good times are in the past, let me sit in my chair here with a blanket on my lap and reminisce about what a glorious life I’ve had. Maybe I’m crazy, but I don’t feel like any of that is over. I don’t feel like I couldn’t creak my weary bones out of bed tomorrow and just decide to lure Carol and the dog into the car and drive off to points unknown. I feel like that kind of thing can still happen. Whether it really can, or will, is another thing. And I guess when I get to the point where it can’t happen anymore, or I don’t want it to, then I’ll think all the best is behind me.
But I don’t know, man. There’s so much going on out there…sometimes those possibilities are still enticing. So I’ll just keep saying, “Who knows?” And maybe one day I’ll show up here talking to you from the road. Or a cave in Kentucky, or a snowdrift somewhere where it still snows. From one of the melting polar ice caps. And I’ll say, “Guess where I am?” and you’ll be like, who cares? Which is as it should be. You’ll be too busy building a tiny home in a meteor crater or inventing sky cars or something. Because I know one of you are going to invent that god damn sky car they’ve been telling me about since I was seven years old. Get going on that, will you? I’ve been waiting a long time. Okay and all right and keep your sock pulled up tight, good night.