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Candy and Cigarettes

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Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Burning Man Pt. II

So Candy & Cigarettes had, far and away, its most successful post yesterday, chronicling the dirty hipster annual rite of self-discovery and narcotic/carnal bliss, Burning Man.  In case you missed that post (and are too fucking lazy to scroll down):  We're closing in on a 1,000 hits on that single post alone, and it's still climbing.  Very excited.  Part of the post's success comes via my friend Sean Kenniff (, who stoked (sorry) linking the post on Burning Man's Facebook page (

I was out most of the day, only able to check comments, traffic, e-mail and responses remotely, on my phone (in-between blasting my delts and rocking with the WJ's new drummer, Mr. Hart).  When I got home and saw that Sean had posted the blog on Burning Man's FB page, I went there, and immediately felt bad.  I mean, I hate humanity, sure, but primarily in the abstract.  On an individual level, I tend to like the fuckers a great deal.  Once I read some responses by real people, my disdain softened, and looking at the goofy bastards with their ill advised facial hair and tall Abe Lincoln fuzzy hats, I wondered, why did I have to be so mean about the whole thing?  What had these dirty, stinking hippies ever done to me (besides making me compost and sort my garbage into 12 different containers, perpetuating the "organic" scam that has my mother-in-law harping continuously, and exposing me to their beaded crafts)?  Really, what the hell do I care if new-age hipsters want to head into the desert to dress up like Thing One and Thing Two and do yoga and display their crappy art?  It's not like they are hurting anybody.  (Unless you are this guy I used to know, Beau Daddy, who got really fucked up at Burning Man a few years ago and ran over a tent full of people and received a life sentence.  Seriously).

A little while back, I was accused of being a bully (in my writing), and I thought of that.  Pushing around "burners," why that's like pushing around one of those weird little kids who love turtles too much.

Then I read this article: on the SF Gate.  And the author makes some very valid points, like how Burning Man is just a little bit hypocritical in preaching its Earth Mother/anti-capitalism ideology, when the event costs as much as a plane ticket to Hawaii, is corporately sponsored, and the grand finale proves a textbook exercise in colossal waste (don't get much more wasteful than building something really really big just to watch it burn).

The author, Cameron Scott, doesn't resort to name calling; he remains respectful. He's simply illustrating how ecologically unfriendly Burning Man is.  Of course, I don't give two shits about that part.  In fact, being so wasteful and environmentally irresponsible almost makes me like Burning Man more.  But look at the comments posted beneath Scott's article.  Man, these fucking burners are mean!  They call for Scott's firing, call him a moron, tell him to stay away and how the playa is better off without him.  Mean burners.

What happened to inclusiveness and the right to express different points of view?  I thought Burning Man was about "kindness" and "community"?  Scott is on your side.  He only wants for a Greener world.  He's merely encouraging you to embrace the spirit of what Burning Man should be all about instead of the frivolous, decadent, morally bankrupt excuse to party that it has become.

Of course, like I, Scott hasn't actually been to Burning Man, which invariably prompted a slew of "You have no right to criticize Burning Man if you've never been" responses.  Which is kinda weak.  I mean, I've never been to a NAMBLA meeting, have no intention of ever going to a NAMBLA meeting, does that mean I can't criticize little boy fuckers?

Which begs the next question: did I really just compare Burning Man with pedophilia?  Yes.  Yes, I did.

Sorry.  Probably shouldn't have done that, might even come to regret it (probably should've used "war" as a better example), but c'mon, it's such a stupid argument. There are plenty of things you don't need to "experience" in order to criticize them. Do I really need to list them all?

I don't need to occupy physically the same space to know I wouldn't like hanging out with some people.  I can read and hear the way burners speak, like the secret language D&Ders used to have, only here it isn't "elf needs food badly," it's "see you on the playa!" and "enjoy the burn, man!" and know I wouldn't want to experience anything with these people.  (Except maybe the zombie apocalypse, because watching them try to get zombies into a game of hacky sack would be pretty funny).  I am not sure the legality of cutting and pasting comments from Facebook.  Plus, it's not really necessary.  You can go to that goddamn Facebook page I was telling you about and read firsthand what I am talking about.  Guys named "Rene" with an accent over the "e," or who make up their own nicknames, like "Jester" or "Jazzy," and all the goddamn wishes of "brightness" and "light-filled journeys," in between the pandering for rides and/or gas money.

Still, I am not a confrontational guy.  Don't let the muscles and tattoos fool you; I'm a sensitive mutherfucker.  And I am glad that privileged, upper-middle-class white hipsters have finally found something just for them.  (God knows they've suffered long enough.)

So here's what I'd like to do for the rest of the week on C & C.  I want to hear from you, the readers.  It's open solicitation time.  Instead of stories only about Joe, we are opening it up to stories about Burning Man.  Pro, con, whatever.  They can be essays, comments, anything (except poetry, because, y'know, it'd be poetry). Seriously, if you love Burning Man so goddamn much and think I'm using trite, tired cliches, the ol' "sabermetric geek living in mom's basement" defense, I welcome the discourse.  I am not above humility.  I'll even correct your grammar for you so you look smart.  Or if you just want to add your impressions of why Burning Man sucks, I'll probably run your piece first, even if it's poorly written.

Please send all submissions to, and put "Burning Man" in the Subject Line.

Now, in closing, I submit Prosecution Exhibit C.  Here is a picture of an actual flow chart found at Burning Man (confiscated by our staff).  Shit cracks me up every time...

                                         (Click on pic for a better view.)

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Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Burning Man

Well, it's that time of year again, when the teeming, crafting hordes load up the veggie-fueled caravan and make like Tom Joad in reverse, heading back to the dust bowl...

For the sake of full disclosure, I freely admit: I don't know what the fuck actually goes on at Burning Man.  I mean, I've never been there.  Best I can deduce (from the endless slew of Bay Area "burners" who won't shut up about it): a bunch of dirty hippies get together in the desert to take lots of drugs, have sex with strangers, display their shitty art, and not shower for a week, as they have deep discussions about the need to return to a more primal existence, before lighting some big wooden sculpture thingy on fire, which takes on religious significance as being symbolic of some kind of transcendence. What kind of transcendence?  Beats fuckall out of me.  How can I speculate on why people would want to spend a week stinking like hobo and shitting in scrub brush?

Burning Man would be bad enough if it simply existed somewhere far away.  Like the Tea Party or pirates, an abstract I only had to encounter when I clicked on a specific link to a Yahoo story.  Or if I still lived in Connecticut.  But I live in the Bay Area, where Burning Man is like herpes.  The shit is everywhere.

I am a grumpy old man who doesn't like fun.  I know that.  So feel free to keep that in mind as you read this.  But I used to like drugs. Lots and lots of drugs, and even back then, you couldn't have paid me to go to Burning Man.  (And considering you used to be able to pay me to do just about anything, that's saying something.)

My first encounter with Burning Man came via this guy, I think his name was Kevin, who was roommates with this girl I knew.  Kevin wore lots of flannel, smoked pot non-stop, repeated the same story 80 fucking times.  And had a soul patch.  I guess the only vital detail of that description is the soul patch, eh?  I'd just come from CT, and knew more about the GOP and finishing school than I did about Burning Man, so I tried to keep an open mind.

"Oh, man," Kevin said, "you being an artist, man, you'd dig it the"

Sure, I said, lay it on me.  I was an artist, and trying to open my mind was sort of a prerequisite for the grand journey of self-discovery upon which I thought I was embarking.

We sat in his filthy Bernal Heights' home, cluttered with dirty hippy crap, hardened old coffee cups, sixteen cats and giant stinky dogs, furniture that smelled like old people, the cold fog drifting in, as Kevin explained the magic of Burning Man, how a bunch of jackasses, most of whom probably also had soul patches or were dating a guy with a soul patch, or at least knew of a guy with a soul patch, climbed into a junky RV or van, where they pooled together change for the gas to drive to the desert to meet up with a bunch of other soul-patchers to partake in a spiritual awakening via a sharing of their "art."  And I guess this is where he lost me.  The art part.  Because, like I, Kevin also considered himself an "artist."  But whereas I tried painting trees that looked like trees, people who looked like people, and didn't suck, Kevin was more of a...crafter...gluing shit to paper, macaroni and bird feathers.

"Because, you and me," Kevin said, "we're the same.  It doesn't matter how 'good' you are.  Art is all about what what's inside your soul.  Rembrandt, you, me, it's all the same, man: art."

No, Kevin, it's not all the same.  Rembrandt is better than I.  And I sure as fuck am better than you.

Christ, I hate all that "art is equal" bullshit, drives me nuts; it's fucking commie talk. Like anything else, art is subject to hierarchy, quality and standards.  Crime and Punishment is better than Aunt Edna's self-published Homemade Jams of the South. Art is serious shit.  You work at it, you don't play at it.  Crafts are for Kindergartners and untalented girlfriends named "Lisa."  Just because you glue twigs to milk cartons when you are feeling "expressive," it doesn't make you an "artist" any more than giving yourself a paper cut makes you a surgeon.

Of course, I wouldn't have said these things to Kevin.  I would've just nodded, maybe said, "Oh," or "That sounds cool." Because at the time I was trying to shed my repressed strict Christian upbringing, and I was just a shy farm boy in the big city.

This would've been 19aught92.  I've lived in the SF Bay Area for the better part of the last twenty years, and Burning Man, instead of going the way of the pet rock in the '70s or breakdancing in the '80s, goofy fads like rap/rock fusion that enjoyed far more airtime than they deserved, Burning Man has only gotten bigger.  And if you live in San Francisco or any of its surrounding boroughs these days, good luck trying to escape it.

The worst part about Burning Man--I mean, besides the obvious part about the people who go there calling themselves "burners"--is how it's attained a religious-like status, is regarded as something profound; and admitting you have no interest in the process renders you an unevolved cretin.

"You've never been to Burning Man?  Why haven't you gone?  You have to go.  You have no idea what you're missing.  It's nothing like you think!"

Yeah.  It is.  I know exactly what's it's like because you people won't shut up about it.

And soon, the "burners" will be back, like goddamn grackles returning from pillaging sunflowers, posting their fucking pictures of guys with Dr. Seuss hats and pierced, dopey girls in pasties, standing beside some crappy junkyard sculpture, looking smug, like they've unlocked the keys to the universe just because they're not wearing pants.

Burning Man is the emperor's new clothes of new-age spirituality, an excuse for the pseudo artists, tattooed hipsters, and Ani Difranco wannabes to feel like they are doing something important with their lives because instead of fucking strangers and getting high in their rooms they are doing it in the sand.

Maybe I'm being hyper critical of something I just don't understand.  So if I'm overshooting the boat here, have gotten the particulars wrong, please feel free to write and explain what it is I am missing.  But that's a tall order, because when I look at videos like the ones below, I swear to God, it's enough to make me want to be a Republican again.

(* And to all my friends who are at Burning Man.  I am not talking about you guys! You guys are, like, way cool!  And your art is AWESOME!  I'm talking about...those other people.  And it's not like you're going to read this anyway.  They don't have the Internet [or electricity, or running water, or working toilets] in the desert.)

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Monday, August 29, 2011

Dropping Hats

Order of Sunday morning status updates across my various social networks:

8:26 a.m.: I am so sick of mental illness (double entendre intended).

8:28 a.m.: "The easiest way to get a reputation is go outside the fold, shout around for a few years as a violent atheist or a dangerous radical, and then crawl back to the shelter." F. Scott Fitzgerald

8:34 a.m.: Yeah, I'm done going "outside the fold and shouting as a dangerous radical." Holden just said, "Love Dada," and my heart melted. I have been tamed. Where's my 401K?


I received some distressing news in the mail on Saturday afternoon.  Not going to go into it much, except to say it was legal in nature (in the broadest sense of the word) and related to my anxiety condition, triggering a massive panic attack.  I get these attacks fairly regularly.  Usually they are health-related (various cancers, etc.), sometimes they event-based, but they always suck.  I can't overstate how bad they suck.  Nor can I adequately explain, logically, something that is brought about by something so often illogical.  

It's funny the amount of sympathy I receive(d) over the motorcycle accident. When I was laid up in Miami with the shattered pelvis, broken back, collapsed lung, etc., hooked up to the medicine machines and pump, everyone came to visit.  They brought gourmet, homemade meals and they stayed long, asked if I needed anything, and they kept coming back.  Their faces betrayed genuine ethos, pathos, and fuck, why not?--logos.  Because most of these friends were in grad school with me.  And I appreciated it; don't get me wrong. Nothing like seeing how much you mean to other people when you've almost died.  But the truth is, I'd take a lifetime of chronic physical pain over the mental stuff. (Fortunately, for me, I don't have to choose.  I get both.)

It's easy to see, regarding the sympathy factor I mean, why the physical trumps the emotional.  You can see a broken leg; you can't see a screwy brain.  I remember watching this comedian do a bit, and he was, like, "These days, everyone's bipolar, or they got ADD or OCD, or they got borderline personality disorder, dissociative disorder, whatever, but it used to be people were just assholes. You'd be like 'What's wrong with Bart?'  And someone would say, 'Bart?  Oh, he's just an asshole.'"  

I get sick of it too, everyone's whining about some psychological ailment.  You see someone's who's always depressed and whinging about not being happy, and it's like this Cracked article:  Which I agree with, wholeheartedly.  In theory.  So I get even more disgusted with myself when I fall victim to the same faulty, touchy-feely mindset.  I read what I've written above, and I think, What's wrong with that guy?  Oh, him? He's just an asshole.   

But I do panic.  Can't help it.  I have a severe anxiety disorder.  I see doctors for it.  Receive medication for it.  It's the real deal.  And when it is at bay, I look around and wonder what the fuck I was so worried about...  Until the next one strikes.

So I got upsetting news in the mail, and it was very foggy outside, the new house in the SF fogstream, and I became convinced "they" were taking away my money, my house, my wife, my son, and I was going to either end up A.) in prison, or B.) back under the bridge.  Which is where these attacks always go. Because I lived like a hobo in the '90s.  Entirely my fault, mental issues or not. I was a jackass.  I did very bad things.  I got what I deserved.  I know that.  But we got out.  Or rather, some of us did.  Some of the others shot themselves, went mad, took sleeping pills and put plastic bags over their heads.  Some went to jail.  Some disappeared.  But a surprisingly high number of us got out. Which always begs the question: why me?  Why was I so lucky?  When will God realize his oversight and ask for the payback?  Anyway, that should address Status Update# 1.

Then about six minutes later I thought of the F. Scott Fitzgerald quote, one of my favorites, and a life-path I followed to a T.  All the trouble I caused, which precipitated this unique brand of survivor's guilt, it was just another cliche in a lifetime full of them.  Even these posts I write now, I'm a goddamn phony.  I went outside the fold, shook an angry young man's fist at an invisible enemy, and as soon as the danger became real I crawled back to the shelter, tired of being cold and hungry, taking solace in the loving arms of the same world I railed against and spat on.  

Status No. 2.

Then my son said he loved me for the first time.

I know, I know, Ol' Mr. Stumpy.  Put the sap back in the tree.  If I was subjected to such schmaltz when I was a younger man, I'd have retched, too. But I am not a younger man.  Not anymore.  I'm just a mentally ill guy, who was in the midst of a wicked panic attack, when his son decided this was the time to give his daddy a kiss and tell him he loved him.

How much fucking better does it get than that?  The answer is...None.  None more...fucking...better.  


I'd gotten up early with Holden.  Or rather Justine did, because I was mired in the funk, having not slept, head not working properly.  And when she passed him off to me, I wasn't feeling any better, my mind taking me to bad places with worse fates.  It was early.  I was down.  Kids are pretty sharp, and I can't hide my emotions for shit (which is going to be a challenge raising a child, I know). But I'm typing away on my laptop, trying to salvage production at least (I work a job-job on the weekends), and he's hanging around, all snot-bubbly, because he woke up with the snot bubbles, and I'm just trying to type and he won't get off my feet.  Holden's got this new habit where he likes to watch TV standing on my feet as I sit, pinching the hell out of them.  

Then it happened.  He looked back and up at me.  I bent down, tried to smile, and said, "I love you, son."  Then he leaned over and kissed me, and said "Love Dada," in the sweetest little kid voice you ever heard.  

My mother talked about this for years, all that "nothing like the love you have for a child," and I'd be, like, Yeah, yeah, so can I borrow the $40 or not?  But Mama got the last laugh.  Like everything else, she was right about this too. Because nothing has ever come my way that made me feel like those two little words did yesterday.  The little hand on mine, the twinkle in the eye.  And hearing my son tell me he loves me.  (Anything makes you feel better than that, and I promise you it is illegal.)

Of course, I tried to get him to do it again when his mother woke up.  And he wouldn't.  He proceeded to spend the rest of the day in "little terror" mode, throwing food off the highchair, pulling the dog's ears, refusing to nap, and every time I said, "I love you, son" and would lean in for a kiss, he'd push my face away.  Or if he was holding a toy, he'd hit me with it, refusing to give me the satisfaction again.  Which made sense.  He is my boy after all.

And how many fathers have sat like I did on a Sunday morning?  The rest of the world asleep, isolated from the cold outside, sitting with your infant son on your lap, and promising not to make the same mistakes your father did with you.  Nothing but good intentions, pure and noble, implemented by the profoundly fucked up...  Saying the same things I do now: I will get it right this time.  And I promise you I will. 

Now who feels like crying with a little Cat Stevens?

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Thursday, August 25, 2011

Top Five Break-Ups

I spend so much time culling, paying homage to, imitating, alluding to, referencing, etc., High Fidelity, I figured it was time I outright stole from it.

High Fidelity is one of those very rare times when the movie is better than the book. And this is no knock on the Nick Hornby novel.  Which is damn good. The movie, however, is fucking great, a study in the power of restraint, proving that it's the notes you don't play that makes the real difference.  When you read the book and compare it with the film, you see the choices director Stephen Frears made regarding what to leave out, how to take 300 pages and make it into (roughly) the best 90 minutes possible, and you can't help but be impressed by his (as the kids say) mad editing skills.  He left a lot of good jokes on the cutting room floor, I'm sure.  But what he left though, as a whole, in my humble estimation, is virtually flawless, a perfectly crafted expose on the subjects of growing up, girls, and rock 'n' roll, three of my favorite things (most of the time).

When I was going through my second divorce, I must've watched that movie 50 times.  It became like a mantra, a new Breakfast Club, a movie my brother Josh and I saw so many times when we were kids, we could quote every line of it, from start to finish.

The divorce probably played a perverse part in how much satisfaction I garnered from watching High Fidelity, like listening to the sad songs after she's gone; it made me feel somehow less...lonely.  But everyone should see it, even if they're not getting divorced.  Because it's such a brilliant film.  It's so funny, and violent, and the soundtrack kicks ass...

Sorry.  This is about my personal humiliation.  Not my ability to steal, word for word, from movies and pass it off as my own.

So without waiting any longer, my Desert Island, All-Time, Top Five, Most Memorable Break-ups (in Chronological Order) are as follows...

1. Tracy B.
2. Amy K.
3. Julie
4. Hadley
5. Marla

(Do you see your name on this list, [insert ex-wife's name here]?  You could maybe sneak into the Top Ten.  But, I'm sorry, there's just no room for you in the Top Five.  It's reserved for the type of heartbreak you're just not capable of... Sorry, I should stop doing that.  It's mean.  I found out a little while ago that my ex-wife reads this damn thing, which is about the funniest shit I ever heard. I really don't harbor any will toward her.  She's just funny to use as, y'know, a punchline.  Not much else you're getting from a marriage that lasts six months. [But, really, (insert ex-wife's name here), you should stop reading this.  Ain't nothing I say is going to make you feel good...]).

I've decided to change names, or at the very least stop using last names.  Even though it's pointless since everyone knows damn well who most of these girls are (and even if they didn't, I will no doubt post a link to an old blog post in which I give her full name, which I won't go back to change, not out of any artistic principle, but because I am too fucking lazy).

1. Tracy B.  

It's hard to classify this as a "break-up" since we never actually dated.  And don't I mean as in "technically."  Didn't come close to dating.  No walks by the pond holding hands.  No love love letters.  No first slow dances in the Berlin High gymnasium (Melissa Cote, where have you gone [sigh]...).  We threw some snowballs at cars when we were 10, and once we went to the Berlin Fair together ( when I was 12.  My "relationship" with Tracy didn't even last six hours (not for two hours, neither before or after The Rockford Files, for 3 days in a row).  And there was no Kevin Bannister (there was this guy named, I think, Darnell, later on in high school, and I guaranfuckingtee you he's bald by now, but he didn't steal her, because by then I was firmly entrenched in the art room with the ugly kids, and Tracy had risen to the ranks of the ridiculously popular).  It would be nice to think times have changed, skin's thicker...but like Allison Ashmore, there has been an element of the heartbreak I felt over Tracy my whole goddamn life. She was the first girl to truly break my heart. I don't think she ever knew it (well, she does now, dipshit). I remember seeing her in school and wanting to say the right thing, but even then I was so riddled with insecurity, knew something wasn't right inside me, the black dog and darkness taking over; I felt like there was a spotlight on my every move, and the world was just waiting for me to say or do the wrong thing so it could pounce on me... Of course, the world wasn't thinking about me any more than Tracy was thinking about me.  But I'd still sweat and smell like Good Seasons salad dressing (, acting self conscious as hell.  She was just a girl  I could've probably asked out when I was 12, but instead I kept all that love inside, the poetry I wrote for her a secret, so that any time I did see her, I mostly stared at her shoes, smelled like salad dressing, and mumbled incoherently.  Like a kid who kept a box of pet worms and ate Play Doh. Fucking weirdo.  No wonder I didn't have a date to prom.

2.) Amy K.

If you want to know Amy's last name, you only need look at my song catalogue, which contains, last I checked, 412 songs written about her (including, but certainly not limited to, "The Last Song about Amy Krois, Pt. I").  But like Tracy, I didn't really date Amy either.  I had had actual girlfriends by the time I met Amy in college but no one I loved like her.  Jesus, I was crazy about her.  And at this point, you can probably note a certain obsessive theme emerging, and nothing--and I mean fucking nothing--scares off a girl like desperation.  And, oh, my brother, was I desperate. You could smell it on me the second I walked in a room (if you could distinguish it from the Good Seasons fragrance), frantically searching whatever I thought I could save me from myself at that particular moment.  I let nothing come to me, skin too tight, unable to relax.  I chased it hard.  So even when a girl did like me, like Amy did, very much at one point, I suffocated the life out of whatever chance we may've had.  But it all worked out in the end.  I got songs to write about.  I hear she married a bald dude and lives in China.  Win-win.

3.)  Julie

Julie and I actually did date (  We moved to San Francisco together.  And it was like a Tom Waits song.  We drank.  We fucked. We fought.  She'd cheat on me, and I'd get fucked up and throw all her clothes out into the street. Then we'd make up and fuck and one of us would move back in. Then I'd say I was moving to New Mexico, pack up everything I owned into my little red hatchback, and hit the open road and buy like, 18, cartons of cigarettes at an Indian Reservation in Arizona (American Spirits, of course), and chain smoke and meet weird dudes in motels and spend all night on speed in the dessert, conversing with cacti, and then when I'd come down, I'd go back to San Francisco, swearing I'd never see her again, only to end up at her place that night.  And for many many years after we broke up for good, through all the nasty exchanges and polite dinners, the lanes and the miles that separated us, I never really acknowledged just how much she'd meant to me, because it hurt too damn much.  I'd been young and wild and full of it, and I'm not any of those things anymore.  And it's only been recently that I've come to terms with the hole she left in my heart.  Because I loved her very much.

4.)  Hadley

Don't really need a last name for Hadley.  Everyone who knows me, knows about Hadley  And if you don't, you can read my memoir.  Though not published in book format (yet), you can find various selections scattered across the Internet (just look at the right hand side of my blog).  They say a man gets married a second time because he loved his first wife, and a woman gets married a second time because she hated her first husband.  I loved my first wife very much.  But we were young, and I had that drug problem, and she was...afflicted...and we were pretty much doomed from the start.  There's nothing I can write here any better than I wrote about her in my memoir.  I'm happy to send you a copy (or you can hunt down Big John on the streets of San Francisco.  I hear he's still passing them out...)

5.) Marla

This was a weird one.  She was the first girl I dated after the second divorce. And for most of that time, I took her for granted, didn't see much of a future for us.  She was pretty, I liked her enough, but we didn't seem to have a whole lot in common, and now freed from the shackles of a terrible mistake, I wasn't looking to jump back into another one.  Plus, I lived in Miami.  She lived in Berkeley. I met her through my buddy, Rich, while I was visiting SF.  She was a friend of his ex-wife.  We carried on this long-distance thing for a few months, and for most of it I was still getting over my (second) ex-wife.  Which is what makes this so damn odd, a wound that lingered long past unexpected.  Because that second ex-wife, once the initial hurt passed, faded from my memory.  It was like a bandaid over a scab.  One quick pull, a little skin ripped off, some blood, a scream.  Then it heals.  Marla?  She was a slow, dull ache, a motorcycle accident cutting the story mid-sentenc...

That's it.  Not terribly funny stuff, I know.  And now let me do a little damage control.  Because my current wife, the lovely Justine, reads all these posts.  And though I tell her (over and over again) that I love her most of all, Justine still gets a little emotional reading about my past loves, and understandably so. Can't say I'd be anxious to read about all of her heartbreaks and questions of what might've been.  But what my lovely wife needs to understand is this: I'M A MUTHERFUCKING WRITER.  This is what I do.  Mine the depths of personal humiliation and put it on public display.  Because my heart is a black, gaping hole of need.  And one love can never be enough.  I need you all to love me. More, more, more, more.  Plus, I want the hits.  I write, "And then I lived happily ever after in my big house, with my adorable son and loving wife, and it's all puppy dogs, sunshine, and (double rainbows)," I'd get less hits than Aunt Betty's Blog of Homemade Jams.

Now let's close with some delightful outtakes from a terrific, terrific film.

Who needs a drink?

Yeah, that about does it.

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Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Where I Get It From

It's been a while since I talked about my fractured relationship with my dad who's been dead close to a decade, and I don't think anyone has been clamoring for the return my father (and, God, that works on so so many levels).  It was...suggested...a while ago by a friend who reads this blog that I stop kvetching about my old man's being a prick; pretty much everyone had a lousy relationship with their father, especially artists.  I'd go a step further and say no one gets along with their dads except bullies, bores, and P. Scott Cunningham (a man who gets his own special classification).  You reach at point, or rather you should reach a point, where you accept this is who you are, for better or worse, and not that it precludes lifelong quests for self-awareness, but you really have to stop acting like Steve Bushemi in The Wedding Singer:

I get that.  But a few things have happened this week that bring the subject of how I got here back to the forefront.  Yes, my father and I still don't get along; we haven't spoken in years (and, in part, I am willing to chalk a lot of that up to the whole "he's dead" angle); yet, I spend every Monday afternoon with my shrink (yes, I still go. Shocking.  Apparently I still have "anger management" issues).  I like my doc. Goofy little old guy who reminds me an awful lot of the character I created in the my noir novel, the Book Formerly Known As The Lone Palm, WAKE THE UNDERTAKER (seriously, how much cooler and kick-ass a title is that?  Thank you, Jimmy!), the ex-newspaper reporter, Tulane Church.  Of course in this scenario, with Church as the mentor figure, I'd have to be the wounded, broken hearted, once-upon-a-time singer, who is now jacked up, embittered, and battling addiction, Colin Specter.  And clearly that is where the analogy falls apart.  I'm still singing. I'd worry about calling my doctor "goofy little old guy," except that every time when I go to my appointment and mention this blog, he'll say, "What's your blog's address again?"  So I know he won't read it.  We've been doing this same routine for six months.  Lately, I've switched it up.  Now whenever I start talking about the blog, I'll say, "Want that address again, Doc?"  And he'll laugh.  Then write it down again. I think he's helping me.  As he pointed out the other day, it's been weeks since I thought I had cancer.

We aren't talking about the doc today, either.  What's been on my mind is two-fold. One, Justine has been repeating the old Hillary catchphrase of late, how it "takes a village to raise a child."  Meaning she doesn't think she and I can do it alone, and wants, I don't know, my third cousin twice removed to play a bigger part in Holden's musical education.  I understand where she's coming from.  Justine was helped raised by various uncles, aunts, grandparents, etc.  I was too.  My grandmother had a big hand in bringing up my brother, sister, and I.  Like in Justine's case, I think it had a lot to do with having younger, less established parents, and so the load had to be shouldered somehow.  It sucks because Holden doesn't have grandparents (at least from my side) because they are not here anymore.  But on the flip side, he's got two firmly entrenched, financially (if one of them is not entirely emotionally) stable, responsible caretakers who are at stages in their lives where they can devote a great deal of attention in seeing the boy grow up right (meaning, as a Yankee fan who plays baseball [i.e., not soccer], and who never ever ever listens to Lady Gaga or watches one second of reality TV, or so help me, God).

But it's all good, yo.  Because even if I am hit by a bus, I have to believe God will put people in my son's life, like he did for me with Jim Petersen (awww).  Actually, most of the times Petersen is sort of a cockbreath, but I love the man and he's been the closest thing to a father I've ever had.  If you missed my earlier posts about how I met Petersen, here you go (

I'm not feeling all mushy this morning, and I woke up late (because the wife let me sleep in for a change, so I am behind the 8 ball), and I need to get a moving and start blasting my pecs, because today is writing day and I am trying to see if I can finish a piece for the guys over at Swill and Sean Craven (  I bring up Petersen because we had an interesting exchange last night (following the cocksucking Yankees' failure to come back against the pitiful A's, which I place squarely on the shoulders of Mark Texiera, the most overrated player in baseball.  The guy never gets a hit when it matters, making A-fuck, circa '05 - '08 seem clutch.  And for my Red Sox friends who don't think I ever give them props: A. Gonz is ten times the player Tex is).

We were talking about Petersen's upcoming trip with his son to Baltimore to see the Yanks play.  This Friday.  Which is when the hurricane is supposed to hit.  A few days after the freak earthquake.

"See"? Petersen said.  "I bought these fucking tickets months ago, and this is what I get.  A goddamn earthquake and hurricane.  This is why I never want to leave the house anymore.  My wife doesn't understand.  But I'd rather just stay indoors, with my own shit, my own things, and not have to deal with any of it.  Nothing good happens when I leave the house."

The apple doesn't fall far from the Community Center big chair...

Now let's close with a little "Boy Named Sue"as I wipe the tender tear from eye...

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Krazy Kuzins

Yesterday, I had a story taken by the very cool Thrillers, Killers 'n' Chillers (  You may recognize the piece, "The Exterminator," and that's because it was just published by the equally excellent Thunderdome just two months ago (  Normally this isn't allowed in the fast-paced, financially lucrative world of e-zines.  Most of you who read this are writers as well so you know the drill.  Those of you who don't, I won't bore you with the mind-numbing, generally humiliating (and rarely satisfying) process of packaging up the work you obsess and sweat over and love like a precious lisped child with a learning disability, and sending it off to nameless grad student rejects, who may or may not even read past the opening sentence (conversely, I won't tell you what it was like what I was a grad student star [literary magazine editor] and I had to slog my way through all the crappy, shoddy, lazily written stories and cloying, pretentious erudite poetry, which I may or may not have read past the opening sentence.  Perception is 9/10ths of the law).  Quick version is you finish a story, pick 5 - 10 places to send it off to, which is called "simultaneous submitting." When you're starting off, you're told 10% acceptance rate is good.  Five years into this shit, I am right at 10%.  (Which means I've received a total of about $200, 10 complimentary copies, and a couple dozen links to slather across my social media empire).  If one magazine takes your story (and or poem, if you write that shit), you write to all the other magazines and tell them to please remove your particular piece "from consideration as it has been accepted elsewhere for publication, Thank you." Which I did with "The Exterminator."  But Thrillers, Killers 'n' Chillers didn't get my withdrawal request, and accepted the story for publication, putting it up on their site, which was slightly problematic, since when Thunderdome took the story in July, they "bought" first North American publishing rights, which means exclusivity for six months before it can be published elsewhere.  Furthermore, most publications don't want reprints, meaning if you're story has been published somewhere else, it's off the board.  Fortunately for me, both Thunderdome and TKC have awesome, totally cool editors, and we worked it out where I get to have "The Exterminator" up at both places.  And since this particular piece might be my best short story to date, it's nice to have the added exposure.

There'd be no reason to post this process, the detailing of which, admittedly, doesn't make the most high octane prose, except that, as a lifelong pessimist (which has earned me several unflattering nicknames including, but not limited to, Debbie Downer, Joe Dismal, and Fuckhead), I try to, in this new blessed life of mine, accentuate the positive when I can.  Every grey cloud and rainbows or some shit. See, yesterday was the first time this happened, where I withdrew a story from a magazine, which in turn accepted that same story.  What usually happens is this: you get a story taken, send out the withdrawals, and then the magazines you withdrew from still send you a rejection anyway.  Might not seem like such a big deal, but the exchange rate is already lousy, the how good you feel for an acceptance paling in comparison to the devastation of the rejection letters, further compounded by the fact that "good" is getting one out of every ten pieces taken, all of which translates to feeling like shit most of the time.  So when you are enjoying that brief .05% respite, getting a rejection letter for a piece you already told them not to consider anymore sucks ten-fold, like getting turned down by a homely girl you only asked out because you felt sorry for her and her stupid horny glasses, crooked teeth and big feet in the first place (goddamn you, Margaret Turdwerth!).

(On the other side of this delightful coin, when I was an editor, sometimes when a writer sent in a withdrawal because their lame-ass story was accepted elsewhere, I'd still send out a rejection letter for the fuck of it, maybe even two if that writer was named "Chad."  I had a strict "No Chad" policy.  Real simple.  You're named Chad, I ain't publishing you.)

So you can see how yesterday was kinda special.  Additionally, I was also told I'd been selected for a couple print editions, one of which was an outright solicitation. All of which added up to a solid, nearly fifteen minutes of professional satisfaction for Joe.

My brief revelry was soon thwarted, however, by Krazy Kuzins.  If you don't have kids (and unless your name is Matt or Angela, I don't really have any friends who do), you might not have experienced the Guantanamo-esque horror of this..."kid-friendly hip-hip," four words that should never be strung together.  But KK is on Toddler Tunes, which means I am subjected to... 

Actually, words pale.  Let's just close with a little Krazy Kuzins and "Boys vs. Girls" (in honor of Maggie Turdwerth).

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Sunday, August 21, 2011

Get Set Go: Ordinary World

Continuing our series of awesome bands that haven't gotten their due (, and stealing a page from my buddies at shitforfuckheads ( (seriously, remind me never to piss these guys off with a shitty record.  Or, rather, don't let them hear anything I did from '91 - '99.  Check out the hatchet job they do on the Stones' Dirty Work.  Hilarious.  And totally true.), I thought we'd kick off this week with Get Set Go and one of the best records you've never heard, Ordinary World.

I am "friends" with Get Set Go on Facebook, and recently, I along with all the band's other friends, received a mass (highly apologetic) e-mail message, looking for help getting their next record off the ground.  Which to me is astounding.  I have no idea how a band this good, original and irreverent, does not have a major label throwing piles of money at them to do whatever the fuck they want to do next.

You very well may've heard of Get Set Go, especially if you watch Grey's Anatomy. I don't watch the show, but thankfully my friend in Miami, C-Love, does, or did, when he heard this gem:

I don't know if this is the original clip, because like I said, I don't watch the show.  But after C-Love turned me onto this song, I had a new favorite band, as this song played on heavy rotation.  So rarely has a song so deftly captured my innermost feelings.  OK.  Not so innermost.  Never been much of a people person.  But even those of you "every day is a gift; that's why it's called 'the present'" types have surely had at least three and a half fleeting shitty minutes where "I Hate Everyone" speaks to you.

If it were just this one song, I'd chalk it up to catching lightning in a misanthrope's bottle and go listen to the Replacements some more.  But after "I Hate Everyone," I went and downloaded the album from which it came, Ordinary World, which proved to be as complete and close to perfect a record as I've ever heard.  I've listened to the band's other songs and albums, and they don't disappoint (most notably "Fuck You [I Want To]"), but I don't have time to review their entire musical catalogue.  In fact I don't have time to even give OW the shitforfuckheads treatment and go track by track.  Because Ordinary World is over 20 songs.  Yet, I am doing all a disservice not doing so. 

One of the strengths of Ordinary World is just how well-cratfted and fucking good every song is on it.  Get Set Go is basically this guy Mike TV.  I mean, he writes it all, sings it all, not that the rest of the band doesn't bring a lot to the table (I know my brother, Josh, has a huge crush on their violin player, Emily).

Anyway, like DJ Lance, let's break it down.  Here are some of my favorite tracks.

Crying Shame

There's that scene in High Fidelity where Rob, Dick and Barry are listing the Top Five Track Ones, Side Ones.  And this would be on mine.  It captures what the record is all about through an economy of language seldom heard in pop.

'Cause I don't want to get a job / I've stolen all I can rob.
I don't know how I will get by.
Something in me thinks / I've had one too many drinks.
I've spent too much time getting high.

I wrote an entire memoir trying to express this sentiment.  It took me 60,000 words; it took Mike TV a couple dozen.  There's always the musical inclination, even an unwritten rock rule to want to kick off the record (like a mixed tape) with a killer, but here's it's just an acoustic guitar and vocal, a little harmony, and it yields more despondency and heartache than Gordon Lightfoot on benzos.  True ache without wallow.  Try pulling that shit off.

Get Thru the Day

Here's the killer.  Get Set Go's greatest asset (besides lyrical acumen) are the hooks that bore into your brain and don't leave.  I am a melody guy.  For me, pop (like commercialism) is not a dirty word.  I like big, catchy choruses.  And when you can do that with some heavy guitar chugging and driving force behind it, all the better.  This song is about every addict's dilemma: trying to find a way to get through the day (tougher than it sounds).  And you don't need narcotics to be an addict.  Addiction is about yearning, still being unsatisfied long after the dregs and lees have been lapped.  Drugs, sex, cigarettes, a goddamn milkshake.  Doesn't matter.  You want more more more. And the shelf-life for satiation ain't shit.

Ordinary World

Like I said, I am highlighting choice tracks, my best of the best.  Which means I am leaving off several terrific selections like the one that comes before this, "One Hundred Locks," which could easily be the single on a billion other records. But here it's like batting only .280 with 25 HRs and 87 RBI for the Yankees; you're batting 7th.  "Ordinary World" has the feel of "Crying Shame" without sounding anything like it.  It tells the story of Peter and Mary, two world-class fuck ups, and I know it makes my brother happy because it has a violin solo. Narratives in rock are not easy.  For every "Bobbie Jean," there are a hundred "Take the Money and Run."  But through the examination of two unrealized lives, Mike TV shines an unflattering light on the bad, greasy skin of an entire generation.

I Hate Everyone

We covered this one above.  But I'll say it again.  So rarely has a song so poetically captured how I feel most every minute of most every day.

Lift Me Up

I don't know Mike TV's life story.  But I don't think I'm going out on a limb to say we've battled similar demons.  I'm basing this simply on paying attention to the lyrics and not being a dumbass.  And whether that's drugs or mental illness, which are usually the same thing anyway, I can't say, but one of the defining characteristics of both is the wildly vacillating between extremes.  You can feel elated by a really good sandwich one minute, and crushed by a parking ticket the next.

So who's going to save me tonight?  It's usually a girl.  The Smiths figured out this winning formula a while ago: pair miserable lyrics with uplifting major open chords.  Get Set Go exploit this dynamic throughout Ordinary World, and it may be blasphemy, but I'll say it anyway: I'll put what Get Set Go does as on par with the best of Morrissey and Marr (the Gods of Emo forgive me). Although "Lift Me Up" is the rare instance where both music and words strike a similar upbeat chord: 

But it's not getting me down 'cause there's a girl /
Spins my world around and it's for sure /
That every time I'm lovin' her /
The world collapses under her /

And all that's left is her and me.

Not sure I believe the speaker.  Not sure he believes himself.  But the degree to which we can attain happiness in this life is often dependent upon the degree to which we can swallow our own self-prescribed bullshit. 

Murder by Millions

I saw Daniel Tosh last Thursday.  Fucking hilarious.  Nothing is off limits with Tosh.  Domestic violence.  Osama Bin Laden.  Kids with cancer.  He has this bit where he's like, "If you are one of these people who says 'There's nothing funny about blank,' we can't be friends.  Everything can be funny if the joke is written well enough."  I live in the Bay Area.  There are lots of things we aren't supposed to find funny.  Like when I take the food scraps Justine throws in the compost out of the compost and throw it in the trash just for the hell of it. Because there's nothing funny about global warming.  What I'm trying to say is we live in a sensitive world.  I try to find the joke in everything (albeit with dark, black humor) because if you don't laugh, you'll end up running out your house, screaming down the street, and so, outside of my kid, there isn't much I hold sacred (and Holden is a redhead).  This is all a long about way of saying that some people will see the humor in this song.  And for those of you who don't, we can't be friends.  Oh, and also, BEST CHORUS EVER.  Hook, catch, reel you in.

A Little More / Won't Let Her Go

Part of any album's success is contingent upon song order.  Even in this world of single digital downloads.  Because when you find a truly great (complete) record (admittedly a growing anomaly), it tells a complete story, and here the story is wanting too much, going down hard, and reaching up for those things you love and think can save you but never can.  It's about the shared sickness of the wounded.  One of Mike TV's lyrical gifts is an ability to straddle both worlds, to be both light and heavy-handed, comical and serious.  You never feel like his words are pedantic or didactic, but there is some real fucking weight to them. "A Little More" tackles alcoholism without sounding at all like it's tackling alcoholism.  Which is good.  Because (sincere) songs about alcoholism are practically impossible to pull off (notable exception, "Here Comes a Regular" by the Replacements).  "Won't Let Her Go" is every addict's love song, with the absolutely brutal opening lines:

She doesn't close the door /
As she visits the bathroom /
The sound of flushing water /
Comes a little bit too soon.

Man, I wish I wrote that.

And it gets even better when we hit the end of the song and the lament for days that ain't ever coming back ("When we were young / oh, we were young / and we were everything.")


Die Motherfucker Die

Having studied creative writing in a graduate program, I had the...pleasure...of reading many accomplished poets, Liz Bishop, et al, and I know Billy Collins, Robert Hass, and Sylvia Plath are good poets.  But one of my problems with grad school is I didn't give a flying fuck about "bats o'er a win'ers morn" or whatever the fuck poets talk about.  I am not saying Ted Roethke isn't a great writer, just that I don't give a shit about his subject matter.  And if I don't care what you're writing about, I can't care what you're writing about.  When I first heard "Die Motherfucker Die," I felt like Satan at the end of this Kids in the Hall clip:

At last, a song that speaks to me!  

This is rock 'n' roll.  This is poetry.  My favorite track on the record.

And here is the tune.  Learn the words and sing along.

Like I mentioned earlier, this record was on my mind because I received a message that Get Set Go, inexplicably, doesn't have a label sufficiently backing their next effort.  I normally don't get into social causes.  But this disturbs me greatly.  I see it happening more and more.  Another one of my favorite bands and singers, Brent Best of Slobberbone, recently solicited fans to buy his next record before it's finished.  Basically asking fans to send in their $10 just so he can get the damned thing recorded.  Which I did.  And I also contributed to Get Set Go's Kickstarter project.  Gladly.  Because while god-awful American Idol retreads and tone-deaf retards like Ke$ha have no expense spared, and the same goddamn Katy Perry song gets shoved down my throat daily (slowed down or sped up, it sill sucks), the fact that bands like Slobberbone/Brent Best and Get Set Go are forced to shill for themselves smacks of grave injustice.  One more reason for the motherfuckers to die.

So Candy and Cigarettes would like to do its part.  Here is the Kickstarter site where you can buy Get Set Go's next record, Fury of Your Lonely Heart, and do your part to promote the arts and be guaranteed some brilliance in return. And if you bid enough, the band just might come to your house and get drunk with you.

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Friday, August 19, 2011

Wake the Undertaker

It turns out nothing was wrong with my phone (  An internal connector wasn't properly lining up with the battery, causing it to shut down every time I tried charging it.  The Sprint Store wasn't crowded, its staff helpful, and the problem was remedied within six minutes.  But yesterday's problem/post perfectly captures the manifestation of my neurosis, how the slightest setback, deviation, obstacle, whatever, can fuck my shit up and ground me, sometimes for days.  I received a number of messages yesterday commenting on the post, most encouraging me to take a deep breath, shut the fuck up, and just go get the phone fixed.  All very good advice (although I always find it funny when someone [Esther] comments to "drop the Holden Caulfield voice."  I named my kid after the fucking character; he's pretty deeply ingrained.  If I were to do that now, I'd be a goddamn phony bastard).  And, of course, this blog is often played for laughs; it's a caricature where features and tendencies of my, for lack of a better term, "mental illness" are self-exploited and poked fun at, because people appreciate honesty and the willingness to admit one's shortcomings, especially when said shortcomings can simultaneously engender feelings of both camaraderie ("I'm not alone") and superiority ("Thank God I'm not that far gone").  And it's not like I was really that mad and displaced over a goddamn broken phone.  But I kind of was.

There's an old X-Files about a child champion chess player, a real whiz kid, able to beat all challengers.  Eventually Mulder deduces that the reason the kid is so good is because he can actually see a few minutes into the future, meaning because he knows his opponents next move, he has a head start to formulate his response to a move before it is even made.  Essentially, the kid's prodigy is nothing more than a psychic parlor trick.  And now for no reason, here' the theme from the X-Files because I A.) fucking love that show, and B.) am too fucking lazy to look up a more relevant clip.

The loose analogy is that repeating the same routine every day isn't all that different. I can't see the future, of course, but intimate familiarity with reoccurring events isn't that far off.

Among yesterday's comments, my former professor Dave Cappella (after telling me to take a deep breath, shut the fuck up, and go get phone fixed) remarked that he doesn't know how I am able to keep up with these (close to) daily blog posts.  To which I responded, Because I treat writing like a mutherfucking job.  Or at least I try to.  I've been ridiculously blessed, afforded a life (at the expense of chronic pain, which is extra chronic today--old people aren't lying when they say their joints hurt in inclement weather) to do just that.

Not that it's always easy.  Some days words are slow to come.  Today is one of those days.  Last night we (Justine, my friend Adam, and Wandering Jew keyboardist/vocalist extraordinaire, Jarret "Secret Weapon" Cooper) traveled to the land of the lost (San Jose) to see Daniel Tosh.

And it fucking wrecked me.  We didn't get back to El Cerrito until, like, 2, and Holden didn't care what time we got home, because he gets up at 6, every day.  So I get up at 6 every day.  Still, Dave, I write.  People check this site, and they want to see a post, and so I give them what they want.  Problem is, by the sheer volume, not to mention expediency with which I am forced to work, means that every post can't be a winner.  Like yesterday's (which sucked).  And today's (which ain't much better).  And I apologize.  But it's my job.  And every day at your job isn't always golden.  When I worked in the print shop, there were several days where I phoned it in because I'd been up too late, doing too many drugs, drinking too much, not sleeping.  Which is how I feel today.  Because I can't stay up past midnight anymore.  In fact, after 10 is rough.  Add to that, yesterday the Wandering Jews practiced with our new drummer, and I am in the middle of reworking my noir novel to send out; I am coasting on creative fumes.  So I hope you'll forgive an old man the lack of a pithy, neatly wrapped up summary.  Yesterday's genius was spent when I (i.e., Jimmy) renamed the novel.

The Lone Palm is now...Wake the Undertaker.  How fucking cool a title is that?

Now I have to go take a steam train to Santa Cruz.  It's family day.

But I promise I'll make it up to you.  We already have next week's topics all lined up.  Very exciting stuff.  I can't tell you everything.  But I'll give you a hint.  Four words.  Paula Deen.  Donut Hamburger.

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