Somewhere around 30 July I found myself in a car with a sleeping kid on 17, so I figured it’d be a good day to drive out to one of my favorite views in the world, southwest from Highland Way, which is in fact not what the Los Gatos crowd calls Summit Road, but indeed the road below it. At sunset the view to the south (left in the photo) feels like the end of the world. Not even the Hearst-Argyle tower is visible; just a curtain of pointy trees and the coastal fog.
This photo was taken from the well-known lookout point about a half mile southeast of “Mar Vista,” only about 14 miles from the bottom of Buzzard Lagoon, as the sign indicates. Recently it has been polluted by what appears to be a truckbed full of household refuse.
I wish I knew what that ridge to the south is called. I can only say that this deep valley heading toward the void Pacific (center of photo) is where the Hinckley and East Branch Soquel creeks slice down deep over the shoulder of Nisene Marks and help create the moat around the fortress of the Soquel Demonstration Forest. I went to a crazy crazy party up that damn muddy Hinckley/Amaya territory in 2007, let me tell you. But you wouldn’t believe it.
As you can see, nature is leading a successful roadfighting campaign, probably from winter 2017. I’ve tried this on my bike when I was a wee little boy, from the Mount Madonna Road side, which is a fucking puker. Not knowing at the time that said road becomes Loma Prieta Way and not indeed Highland, I made it only as far as Croy Ridge Road before I turned back (still don’t bring food or water on rides), and now I see why. This was before Google Maps or practical internet in my house.
Now that I’ve seen it and counted the miles from the Los Gatos side, I’m excited to try the escapade again by bike, this winter, using my old pal the Los Gatos Creek Trail route. Living in San José has its perks!
I saw fuckin Bill Laswell, the man, last night in SF with his frequent collaborator John Zorn doing a thing they call Konx Om Pax. I went with my old pal Diahrrio of A Fashionable Disease, the best band in Santa Cruz in the oughts, and his girlfriend Danielle, who together do various noise projects. One of my other old friends showed up at the Chapel by surprise and a fine time was had by all. Below is the lame cellphone proof photo of the Chapel, one of SF’s great newish venues in the face of so many old ones dying.
Laswell’s doing his Material bass thing with all the effects and Zorn’s farting into his thigh with those red army camo pants. Tell me he wears those around Manhattan.
The coolest part was after the end when the two retreated upstairs after an hour, having said not a fucking word to the audience. Me and this other cat waited at the bottom of the stairs and finally our main man, Security Fred, offers to take our records up with him and get them signed. Thanks Fred! Laswell signed my old Celluloid Records Time Zone single!! Fucking stoked. Thanks Bill!!! It was a once-in-a-lifetime show, and even benefited something about pretending to care about abuse and destruction of migrant laborers over the last 50 years.
For the uninitiated, it’s hard to put the scope of Laswell’s contribution to punk rock and alternative (in the true broad sense, not like the 1994 BMG catalogue) music over the last 40 years into a quick statement. Before and even with the internet, Laswell is the only reason we know about Fela Kuti in the US. He seems to have been playing a game of making the most connections throughout his life. His bands Material, Last Exit, and Praxis, just to name a few, touch punk, hiphop, new age, ambient, jazz, Coltrane’s biggest fans Pharaoh Sanders and Sonny Sharrock, Bernie Worrell, and the Primus guys. He’s all about collaboration and mutual aid amongst artists. If you play the six-degrees game in contemporary music, you will find Bill every time. That woozy light-funk bass he’s known for might sound goofy in today’s context, but remember that he did it first and never stopped. It’s further notable that both Bill and Zorn have worked tirelessly to unite musicians on both coasts.
Not until I saw the ad for the show did I really feel how much his stuff has informed my life. What a treat to see him play. You can look up the similarly-cosmopolitan Zorn, I’m not really an expert except to say that his record project Tzadik was the inventor of the $35 fucking CD in the 90s, so we never dared hear Naked City even though we knew it’d be the most badass hardcore skronk that we needed to hear. Diahrrio’s band A Fashionable Disease was just a little influenced by Naked City, as it happens.
It was an old-guy set, which I loved, done by 10, and we were in bed by midnight.
The next act of the night at the Clink is pretty bad by any metric, and Stretch has enough.
A comic about sniffing half a Peru and the outrage it caused listeners to daytime talk radio. Makes us wonder if Imus’d lived to be a DJ if he’d done the whole Peru…
Don’t know why it took me a week to publish this. The Jazz Fest this year will remain in my memory as starting with a raging, vacant-lot-squatting Friday, and as plagued by music-killing hour-late starts, but there were still several acts that I really liked. Here are the ones of whose sets I saw at least the majority proportion. See videos of all of them at SJ Jazz.
On Friday the standouts were Howard Wiley/Extra Nappy at the tiny boombox stage, and The Seshen at Stritch, where the drinks are overpriced and the ambience is perfect. What did we do downtown after Cactus Club and before Stritch?? It was great to have the Seshen to turn to when George Clinton’s band turned out not to be present. I don’t know what I expected, other than that they’d put some fire under it.
This below is the College Fund Street Band, as the sign says. From very little sister to dad, on bass, were singing pop songs. They had two gigs that I know of, this one Saturday in front of the Chinatown monument and one Sunday on the corner of San Fernando outside the art museum.
They weren’t at all as thrilling, nevertheless, as the stumbling drunk guy sitting on the history table fifty paces away. His buddy says that it’s like babysitting today, they’re both drinking Mike’s God Damn White San José Men’s Obsession Lemonade, and he’s got a guitar on his belly. So I sez do a song about Mike’s Lemonade. He asks me for seventeen cents, or a dollar fifty nine or any amount within that, and I find a dollar for his drunk ass.
He stands up on the history table, almost falls on his face, slams down on his ass to play the guitar, still can’t hold steady, and then gets down on the paseo. He gives his buddy the guitar like, PLAY, and DON’T BREAK A STRING, then stops him tells him to play softer, and his buddy is mad and hisses never make me stop. Later I thought that’s not what she said. Finally with his friend holding the guitar he does the Homer Simpson pose, knees bent, ass out, huge belly forward, head back and belting the words MIKE’S HARD LEMONADE, and he picks up the pop tune that the College Fund Band are playing. I sez thanks and walk away and he calls after me (reading my shirt) EYY!! GET BACK HERE GIZDICH!!!
Saturday felt like kind of a wash because the damned shows kept going on late. But Ray Obiedo was awesome. He had fusiony unison heads on clean texmex guitar, soprano sax and steel pans. Hip! Also at the hotel was Kalil Wilson, whose standard croons put lots of young children to sleep. And of course half the fest is just the Salsa Stage, where I saw, amongst others, Conjunto Karabali and Carlitos Medrano y Sabor de mi Cuba. Never miss Cubans playing in your town! I wanted to see a lot more people, such as Millennium Sounds, but again the gad damn late starts killed it. Standout of Saturday Night was vocalist Kavita Shah and her bassist Francois, who were so good that we missed Chris Botti entirely. Darn!
Above: Junior Dixieland Czech Republic, directed by Bedřich Smrčka. These kids got dragged all the way out in their school uniforms from the Czech Republic and made to play their stuff for us, and were incredulous when I told them how great it was and how much I loved the whole notion. I sed, it’s a shame when the Czech Republic across the world cares more about our awesome historical music than we do. The singer/washboard is probably 11 and the low banjo is probably 16, 17.
Above: Crowds were very warm for Jackie Gage, just happy to see a San José native making it and singing songs. Her bassist was very good. She did a shuffle version of Afro Blue, which was alright. Maceo Parker’s band was also pretty straight-ahead, but not as mechanical as George Clinton’s. Below is Sunday night’s Allan Harris, photographed as above at Jade Leaf, which remains way too small for the kinds of crowds at the Fest as long as they insist on seating, but sounds great. Harris’ high string licks were spot-on.
Lastly, can’t forget the “jazz noir” put on by Dmitri Matheny, who was so stoked to be there with his “bay area Wrecking Crew” of Ron Belcher, Leon Joyce and Matt Clark, that it was infectious.
I didn’t really see any acts that redefined my sense of music, such as Sonex ’15 and Miguel Zenón ’16, but it was still fun. I hope the organizers read this and crack down on the late starts. For those of you reading this out of town, the Fest is setup so you hear 2 different bands constantly, so late starts or false starts, like the band that never started at San Pedro on Friday, are a major buzzkill. Still it’s a hundred bucks for three days of music. That’s an investment, kids!
All photos by the author on a piece of shit Samsung shart phone.
Video by Nick Taplin, Post-Consumer Records
Saw a video a few months back of Brontez Purnell reading from his up-and-coming book Since I Laid my Burden Down and had to get a copy as soon as it came out. Tried to read it with his voice in my head. The book has been doted upon with a marvelous thick library jacket by New York City University’s Feminist Press.
The punk rocker, performance artist and otherwise notable Oakland figure, whom I remember as one of the few interesting people on Earth in the vacuous universal hell of 2005, published the zine Fag School beginning in 2003. He has also published the Cruising Diaries in 2014 with the collaboration of Janelle Hessig, from whose Tales of Blarg I first heard of his exploits, as well as 2015’s diary-style Johnny Would You Love Me if my Dick Were Bigger. Since I Laid my Burden Down is sort of a Bildungsroman framed in a memoir. Is there a word for that?
DeShawn, blessed with the emotional receptivity that marks a faggot amongst his church-centered community, reflects during a funeral trip to his Alabama hometown of his trajectory in making his life meaningful, and not wasting his faggot people skills in the office of a rural preacher. Regardless of his shifting relationship with his mother, there is the feeling that he thinks his mother has limited her life becoming a preacher herself.
DeShawn is drawn as a product of generations raised by women, with men absent or devoid of father quality. The protagonist seeks mentorship and trust naturally, nevertheless, through his everyday channels, even through an older married lover. Despite making his own way, fleeing Alabama for California, DeShawn never really feels like he can stand the weight of his life on his shoulders, and has problems with memory and scale. Like a lot of us.
The book is full of family, church, death, sex, and the perverse distortion of time and place unique to being in one’s early thirties. Particularly rewarding are the terse but deft descriptions of family members, such as “DeShawn’s mother always spoke recklessly when it was unnecessary, and coolly when it was greatly needed.” Wait –how do they ever know when is which? Does the narrator mean this in hindsight or…?
Throughout the story DeShawn visits two funerals and relates cleaning out several dead people’s houses, visits the gracious and lovable mother of both an early lover and an early abuser, and wears out the patience of a girlfriend in New York, all the while taking stock of the relationships he put on hold or fled when he left Alabama. Along the way he sees some ghosts that grow more vivid and some that thankfully fade.
The prose is unadorned and direct, more diary-like in the beginning, with creams of sly humor beaten in. The back of the book features quotes that I personally found a little hysterical, such as “foul-mouthed and evil.” Perhaps these refer more to Johnny. Purnell’s narrator swears a lot, but only in that the book irreverently records the living language, and is meant to be read out loud. This, in my opinion, is one of the book’s greatest strengths. Anyone obsessed with Pitchfork-level simile-spraying could find any great oral art in corners of Brontez’ sentences, from beat literature to Henry Roth to … I don’t even know, I hate that phony free-association name-dropping stuff. Altogether I appreciated that the prose, though steeped in contemporary slang and naturally-occurring humor, betrays none of the lascivious revelry of Johnny but rather a deep and true affection and understanding for most of DeShawn’s characters, regardless of whether he gets along with them.
He knew feeling good was a setup
Reading the sexual escapades and mentions of a youth steeped in punk rock, it was kind of hard for me, at least, not to place Brontez himself in for DeShawn –as he placed himself as close to the fictional glass as can be in Johnny –so I recommend the reader enjoy the book first and then go cyber-stalk the poor, highly-exposed author. The night their post-Loma Prieta freedom punk warehouse gets closed down, even a fictional lover tells DeShawn “everyone knows who you are.”
I also appreciated how Purnell manages to fit the realities of Deep South life into the story in tiny but excellent bites. This stuff is unimaginable for us west-coast types with our Hollywood-deadened intellects, and the author even points that out in a funny moment. He relates how the principal at the school would remind DeShawn, when he got in trouble, that “your great-granpappy used to raise chickens for my family…” This is the medium of DeShawn’s family’s story that must never be overlooked: in the south there are these horseshit relationships that can be evoked as if to show loyalty, but are really just threats of force. In turn, the protagonists internalize this doublespeak and wield it on each other with varying degrees of purpose (we’ve got this out west with Latino immigrants too). Maybe I just found this insightful and brilliant as a dumb Californian beach bum. What am I gonna school the reader with, the abusive roundabouts of various pelagic fish?
It’s probably clear by now that my only challenge for Purnell for next time, should he decide to do a next time, is to work out before writing who the narrator is. This way the key emotion, be it sex-crazed enthusiasm or reflective love, can really shine through consistently. The reader also could really get cozy within the work’s world if Purnell takes the above decision, moving on some from the format that seems to have begun with Johnny. Finally, this will doubtlessly also address some nitpicky tonal issues I have with some parts.
Since I Laid my Burden Down is a document of a unique life within its unique time and place, an effective and efficient balance of the personal and the universal. Cut that self-conscious crap out about “I don’t recommend every book to everyone.” Get Brontez’ new book and have everyone you know read it!
I have to say, for myself, that I feel that more of these kinds of stories are auspiciously coming into my life. Not necessarily being written, but coming to my attention. Maybe I just don’t get out enough, I don’t know.
But anyhow, when I read Since I Laid My Burden Down, I enjoyed it in one way the same as I so immensely enjoyed Malae’s What We Are: in that the books are full of people I would be friends with. It’s not so simple as “an outsider,” because the question would be, outside of what? Rather it’s a member of a certain socio-economic group who has made certain socio-economic choices within the flush of cash of the Bay Area, a consciously growing and becoming, empathetic scumbag, with no time for the oppression of success, health or other bullshit. Stuck in a phenomenological spiral. The kind of people whose extinction I constantly fear after years of living in Santa Cruz and San José. When I read these books I feel like they were written for me!
Incidentally they both dropped Bukowski’s name, who may well have been highly empathetic besides being a scumbag. Some scholar can comment below about that.
I feel, further, that this book’s approach belongs at least in part to the great tradition of “pack all my youth into some stories so I can stop trying to remember every last bit of it and get ready for the all-out fuckery of maturity.” Brontez certainly demonstrates in Burden the wisdom and ability to handle time and memory necessary to do so, and he certainly has a fascinating maturity and decline ahead of him, unlike most of us. The Savage Detectives is also a great example of this approach, and even I myself, at least as concerns dialogue, am dumping all the silly shit I ever heard from fifth grade up into the mouths of my characters in Byebye and Shlort, the thing I’m working on. I’m excited to see what Brontez comes up with next.