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WORTH REPEATING: This Is How Democracy Dies

May 19th, 2019



THE NEW YORK REVIEW OF BOOKS: For the American right, Donald Trump’s inauguration as the forty-fifth president of the United States was a moment of political rebirth. Elements of American conservatism had long fostered a reactionary counterculture, which defined the push for civil rights as oppression, resisted the equality of women and the transgression of conventional heterosexual norms, pilloried the hegemony of the liberal media, and was suspicious of globalism and its corporate liberal institutions, including the UN and the WTO. Already in the 1950s this reactionary politics had secured a niche on the right wing of the GOP. It was reenergized by the Goldwater campaign and the conservative backlash against the social revolutions of the 1960s. Reintegrated into the mainstream GOP by Ronald Reagan, it then flared into the open in the ferocious hostility to the Clintons in the 1990s. With Trump it finally claimed center stage. For the right, the explosion of “truth-speaking” by Trump and his cohorts, the unabashed sexism and xenophobia of his administration, and its robust nationalism on issues of trade and security need no justification. His election represents a long-awaited overturning of the consensus of liberalism.

Centrist Democrats also view the administration as historic, but for them it represents the betrayal of all that is best about America. The election of a man like Trump in the second decade of the twenty-first century violated the cherished liberal narrative of progress from the Civil War to the New Deal to the civil rights movement to the election of Barack Obama. This was a self-conception of the United States carefully cultivated by cold war liberalism and seemingly fulfilled in the Clinton era of American power. The election of a man as openly sexist and xenophobic as Donald Trump was a shock so fundamental that it evoked comparisons with the great crises of democracy in the 1930s. Parallels are readily drawn between Mitch McConnell and Paul von Hindenburg. There is talk of a Reichstag fire moment, in which an act of terrorism might be exploited to declare emergency rule. Such references to the interwar period are both rousing and reassuring. They remind us of good battles decisively won. Not for nothing does the anti-Trump movement refer to itself as “the resistance,” recalling memories of midcentury antifascist heroics.

But though this rhetoric is based in history, what is surprising is how recently it developed. Only a few years ago the mood in the Democratic Party establishment was not one of defiant resistance. What prevailed was bland futuristic complacency. The evolving diversity of America and the manifest political preferences of the Californian digital oligarchs would guarantee the Democrats’ grip on power. Trump’s supporters were not just deplorable, they were doomed to extinction. On both sides of the Atlantic, it was the job of centrist intellectuals to swat down critical talk from the left about the rule of undemocratic technocrats and the hollowing out of democracy.

America’s revived left wing, mobilized by Bernie Sanders and drawn to organizations like the Democratic Socialists of America (DSA), does not doubt the disastrous consequences of the Trump presidency. Yet for the left he represents not a historic rupture but a continuity. As Jed Purdy put it in Dissent last summer, Trump is “not an anomalous departure but rather a return to the baseline—to the historical norm.”1 Trump exposes starkly what the civility of Obama and his administration obscured—the subordination of American democracy to capitalism, patriarchy, and the iniquitous racial order descended from slavery. MORE

RELATED: The Republican Party’s rejection of liberal democracy will not end when Trump leaves office. A recent Gallup poll found that 91% of Republicans approve of Trump’s performance in office. Trump is not an anomaly within the GOP, he is the central figure that defines Republican identity. The Republican Party will not suddenly embrace liberal democracy simply because Donald Trump is no longer in office.

The toughest question facing all Democrats in 2020 isn’t who they nominate to take on Trump. The toughest question is how the eventual nominee will deal with an illiberal opposition party that will certainly control the Supreme Court in 2021, that will most likely control the Senate, that will almost definitely control enough Senate seats to filibuster any legislation under that body’s current rules — and that will use whatever power it has to sabotage Democrats and to sabotage democracy. MORE

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FEARS OF A CLOWN: Q&A W/ Bobcat Goldthwait

May 17th, 2019

AOL Build Presents: "Call Me Lucky"


meAVATAR2BY JONATHAN VALANIA Born in Boston in 1962, Robert Francis ‘Bobcat’ Goldthwait has been trafficking in frantic, anarchic punk rock comedy and, later, thoughtful subversion for more than four decades. His highly-combustible early stand-up persona — shouty, sweaty and stammering — was akin to a scared Chihuahua on bath salts: Hulk-smashing, fire-starting and definitely not housebroken. He was banned from The Tonight Show for lighting the set on fire.

After his early success in stand-up, acting and extensive voiceover work — including a recurring role as more or less himself in the Police Academy franchise — he transitioned to the other side of the camera, writing, directing and starring in 1991’s Shakes The Clown, a tar-black comedy that jammed econo about a depressed, alcoholic clown who works children’s birthday parties for a living, the high point of which is a rumble between a gang of clowns and a rival gang of mimes (more on this below). It remains a landmark of boozy gallows humor that was among the first films to pull back the curtain on the notion that clowns, and by extension comedians, are often dark and desperate characters, crying-on-inside, needy and self-medicating. The Boston Globe’s Betsy Sherman called it “the Citizen Kane of alcoholic clown movies.”

His 2012 film God Bless America is about an unlikely duo that go on a cross-country killing spree wasting assholes, bigots and sociopaths of every The Show With Two Headsstripe that foretold the grimly darkening onset of Trump’s America. His 2015 documentary Call Me Lucky told the true story of Barry Crimmins, a veteran Boston comic/childhood sexual abuse survivor turned online pedophile hunter. He is currently touring The Show With Two Heads with fellow stand-up comedian Dana Gould which stops at Underground Arts on Sunday. Last week, I got Bobcat on the horn.

DISCUSSED: Impeachment, Shakes The Clown, Reverend Horton Heat, time machines, Nirvana’s Bleach, pedophiles, Little Murders, AOL, prophecy, the Whiskey a Go Go, Kurt Cobain, the fall of the New Rome, Robin Williams, nude rappelling, Judd Apatow, RuPaul and The Psyclone Rangers.

PHAWKER: Howdy! How are ya?


PHAWKER: So let’s just jump right into it. You probably have no recollection of this fact, but you and I have a history. We met in 1993 backstage at the Whiskey a Go Go, where my old band The Psyclone Rangers were opening for Reverend Horton Heat. And you came up to me after our set and offered to direct a music video for us.


PHAWKER: Don’t know why it didn’t happen, or why we didn’t take you up on that — probably because we just assumed you were the crazy shouty, high-pitched-voice guy of your stand-up act back then, but then you turned out to be a deep cat and an in-demand director — but it was one of the band’s many, many regrets.

BOBCAT GOLDTHWAIT: [laughs] Let’s go back and do it!

PHAWKER: We could go back in a time machine and get it done. So I want to start out asking you a few things about the distant past and then I want to talk about the current moment we are in since you have proven to be such an insightful and incisive social critic of American life.

BOBCAT GOLDTHWAIT: Well, thank you.

PHAWKER: First, I want to just say for the record that the line from Shakes The Clown — where the clowns get into a rumble with the mimes, “you silent motherfucker!” — remains among the top ten funniest lines in the history of Hollywood comedies.

BOBCAT GOLDTHWAIT: I can’t even take credit for it. That was an Adam Sandler ad lib.

PHAWKER: Oh really?

BOBCAT GOLDTHWAIT: Yeah, most of that movie was ad libbed, so I can’t really take much credit for the dialogue.

PHAWKER: I was reading up on you and I didn’t realize that you had been hand-picked by Kurt Cobain to open up the west coast dates of the In Utero tour, which proved to be Nirvana’s last shakes_the_clownhurrah…

BOBCAT GOLDTHWAIT: I was in Ann Arbor and Kurt wanted to interview because he liked my stand-up so he interviewed me on a college radio station. He gave me a copy of Bleach, and my friend Tony and I were listening to it in the rental car, and we were saying how this is really good and rock n’ roll kind of sucks these days because we’ll probably never hear from them again — and then a year and a half later I was opening shows for them.

PHAWKER: I read that one night in Oakland that you were lowered down onto the stage on a rope stark naked while Kurt counted down or something…do tell?
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CINEMA: Point Break

May 17th, 2019


JOHN WICK: CHAPTER 3 — PARABELLUM (Dir. by Chad Stahelski, 130 minutes)

Dan Tabor_byline_avatarBY DAN TABOR John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum is the third and surprisingly not final installment of the action franchise directed by Keanu Reeves’ Matrix stunt-double-turned-action-maestro Chad Stahelski. The film once again stars Reeves as the namesake Russian hitman who was first sent down this dark path of vengeance when a group of thugs not only stole his car, but killed the puppy that was gifted to him by his recently departed wife. About a week has passed in Wick’s world since his rampage began so far resulting in roughly 205 on-screen deaths. The hard thing about making a sequel to a film like this is not only the requisite BIGGER, BETTER, MORE, but where do you go from here? While John Wick 3 exceeds all criteria in a sequel that feels right up there with the original, its level of absolute carnage and excess makes it a hard/impossible act to follow.

Parabellum, taken from the famous 4th century Roman military quote “Si vis pacem, para bellum,” which means, “If you want peace, prepare for war” is very poignant given the fallout of John Wick 2. After killing a member of the High Table (which rules over this world of assassins) on the consecrated Continental grounds (No business is ever to take place on Continental grounds), Wick has now forfeited his life and is “excommunicado” from this world. If that wasn’t enough there is a 14 million dollar bounty on his head that has the unstoppable hitman also known as the “Baba Yaga” (translated in the film as Russian for “Boogeyman) on the run from everyone who is out to try to kill him — remember, the operative word here is “try.” Wick isn’t the only one in trouble here when the High Table sends an Adjudicator (Asia Kate Dillon) to hold accountable those that aided Wick in the previous film’s killing of one of their members. What this ends up being of course is bad news for anyone that crosses John Wick or any of his friends, as those that thought Chapter 2 was a master class in action cinema now have to raise the bar again two or three more notches.

Much like the first two films, there are three primary strengths to a John Wick film that this film is careful not to stray too far from. Firstly, it continues to cast great actors, especially strong women (Angelica Houston, Halle Berry) in strong roles which translate into interesting characters. Secondly, the world building here that is almost unheard of in action films, and finally the action set pieces that are often times breathtaking for both their choreography and horrific over the top violence. I watched this film with a packed house of action junkies like myself and it was audible to anyone listening that we were bearing witness to some of the most face-melting action committed to celluloid in recent memory. Its Wick’s ability to improvise in almost any given circumstance that delivers some of the film’s most gnarly kills, since any and everything is a weapon to John Wick, from library books to horses.

Like Mad Max: Fury Road, which was essentially a two-hour car chase, John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum is an adrenaline soaked two-hour fight sequence that somehow manages to top what we witnessed in Chapter 2. It’s a film that while light on story and character development still delivers a few more parcels of backstory on Wick himself to let us get a little closer to what birthed this unstoppable force. These details also work to further the world here that will no doubt live on in some other form once Wick’s story comes to its final conclusion. Parabellum is a flawlessly paced ass-kicking tour de force that will no doubt leave fans both exhilarated, exhausted and wondering what these guys could possibly do to keep this momentum going? I mean short of having Reeves showing up and personally punching everyone in the face who buys a ticket one by one. I mean we can wish, right?

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TRIBUTE: Let Us Now Praise Joe Henry

May 16th, 2019



EDITOR’S NOTE: The following appreciation was written by the author in response to the sad news that acclaimed singer/songwriter and three-time Grammy-winning producer Joe Henry is battling Stage 4 prostate cancer.

Houlon2BY JON HOULON Got word yesterday that Joe Henry has begun a different sort of journey.  So I wanted to send a love letter, get well card, fan’s note, or whatever you want to call it as a form of support.

As bad as the 80s were, they still gave us Nebraska, Sign of the Times, Infidels, Let It Be, King of America, Sandinista and a few other records that somehow counter-balanced U2, REM, Spandau Ballet, Flock of Seagulls and a whole lot of dreck in general.

The ’90s seemed an end to me:  Seattle?  Please, no!  I couldn’t see a light at the end of the grunge tunnel.  And then around ’93 or so I picked up a cut-out cassette of Shuffletown by Joe Henry at Amoeba Records in LA.  At the time, it seemed like a way forward and Joe, who I have followed very closely over years, became a continual source of inspiration.

Sometimes his accomplishments as a producer (Solomon Burke, Elvis Costello, and Allen Toussaint among others of equally profound stature) overshadow his recorded work.  But make no mistake:  Joe Henry is an incredible songwriter, musician, and singer with a body of work that I would compare to that of anyone who emerged in the 90s (or really to any one at all).   There are few artists who have their own jurisdiction in terms of sound and vision – Joe Henry is one of ‘em.

I drove up to Maxwell’s in Hoboken once to see Joe.  I found him standing at the jukebox and went up beside him.  “Have you heard of this guy Joe Henry?” I asked.  He looked at me like I was crazy (I was and am), chuckled, and said, “No, is he any good?”  “I like his old stuff better than his new stuff,” I replied.  He offered to buy me a drink and tolerated my fanboy nonsense for a little while.

So, Joe, I’m sending 10 prayers your way.  After all the prayers you’ve sent me and many others over the years in the form of your incredible catalogue, it’s the least I can do – send ‘em, back.  I’ll start with two songs each from the first five records (Talk of Heaven and Murders of Crow don’t count, right?) and, if there is any demand, maybe I’ll write up ten from the next five.

1.”Spent it All” (audio n/a)  Shuffletown sounds, to these ears, like a shadow version of Astral Weeks.  It’s got the same light touch but deep deep waters at its core.  I picked it up because I saw that T-Bone Burnett produced it.  Turns out that Joe was his intern in the ’80s.  Running errands.  Learning.  “I’d rather be done than to have to be stronger.”  I doubt it!  I once called out for this song at the World Café Live.  Joe said he loved this song but would have to practice it in order to play it and would get to it next time.  I’m holdin’ you to that, maestro!
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TRAILER: David Crosby Will Not Go Quietly

May 15th, 2019

ROLLING STONE: David Crosby reflects on drug addiction, personal tragedy and conflicts with former bandmates in the new trailer for David Crosby: Remember My Name. The Cameron Crowe-produced documentary — which recently premiered at the Sundance Film Festival — will open in New York and L.A. on July 19th. The clip opens with an interviewer asking the rock legend, “Do you ever wonder why you are still alive?” Without even a moment’s pause, he fires back, “I don’t know, man. No idea.” The 76-year-old songwriter proclaims that, despite his three heart-attacks and eight heart stents, he isn’t planning to slow down. “The last few years, I’ve made four solo albums,” he says. “I’m going for five.” From there, the teaser jumps back to the darkness that shrouded his early career — from the tragic death of his girlfriend Christine Hinton to crippling substance abuse. “There’s just this emptiness,” he says of Hinton’s death. “It’s like a rip in the fabric. A friend of mine gave me a shot of heroin. Feels great, only the first time. After that, you’re just trying to catch it. And you never get back there, ever.” MORE


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NPR 4 THE DEAF: We Hear It Even When You Can’t

May 15th, 2019

Howard Stern REVISED

Illustration by DREW FRIEDMAN

FRESH AIR: Looking back on his early career, Howard Stern remembers being “petrified” that he wasn’t going to be able to make a living. “All the sexual antics, the religious antics, the race antics — everything that I talked about, every outrageous thing that I did — was to entertain my audience and grow my audience,” he says. “Whether you liked it or not, or the person down the street liked it or not — I didn’t care as long as I kept growing that audience.”

Stern ultimately grew an audience of millions over a four-decade career, first on terrestrial radio and now on satellite radio. At 65, Stern says he’s not the raunchy shock jock he once was. “If I hadn’t grown and evolved and changed … I don’t know that I could still be on the radio,” he admits. Stern’s new book, Howard Stern Comes Again, is a collection of some of his most memorable interviews with celebrity guests, including Madonna, Mike Tyson, Jerry Seinfeld, Harvey Weinstein and Donald Trump.

With two years left in his contract at SiriusXM, Stern says he’s not sure what’s next for him. “I’m kind of afraid of retirement,” he says. “It’s like on any given day I don’t know — and this disturbs me that I don’t know myself well enough. … I don’t really know what it is I want, and what I want to do.” For now, Stern is the happiest he’s ever been in radio: “I think where I’m at now is the perfect place,” he says. MORE

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EXCERPT: Requiem For A Tow Truck Drivin’ Man

May 14th, 2019


Tow Truck King Lew Blum photographed by GENE SMIRNOV

PHILADELPHIA MAGAZINE: One day, Lew Blum calls and says he wants me to ride along with Ray, his best tow-truck driver, to get a taste of what it’s like out there. This sounds like a capital idea to me — I’m picturing a scene out of Repo Man where we’re driving around all day snorting bathtub speed and blasting Black Flag while looking for aliens and rogue cars. Sadly, none of those things come to pass.

Bright and early one morning in late February, I show up at Lew Blum Towing HQ on North 40th in West Philly. When you walk in the front door to get your car back, you enter a dungeon-esque anteroom where the floor, walls and ceiling are all covered in reinforced steel diamond-plate. There’s a bulletproof service window that’s entirely blacked out except for a mail-slot-shaped peephole. It’s like walking into a secret society, or a snuff film. These structural impediments to direct human contact between the towee and the tower are intended to protect Blum’s employees from harm. Turns out, right or wrong — and nobody ever admits to being wrong — people get really, really mad when you take their cars and make them pay you $200 to get them back. There are often threats of violence, curses and imprecations. One time, a woman registered her extreme displeasure by urinating in the corner. Another time, an elderly man beat his cane to splinters swinging it like a baseball bat over and over against the blackened service window.

Two disembodied eyes appear in the peephole and want to know what I want. When I explain that I’m here to ride with Ray, the eyes tell me to wait a sec while he locks up two bluenose pit bulls, Marco and Princess. The door opens, and a young, dreadlocked man beckons me in. His name is Julian. He’s 27. He’s lived his whole life in West Philly. Before he started working for Lew Blum, he worked at the airport. “Believe me, this is 10 times better than working at the airport,” he says. The office is spartan in extremis, just the dingy light of a naked lightbulb illuminating an old chair crushed into submission by the dungaree-muffled thud of a million asses taking a load off and a matching desk that also looks ready to give up. Julian’s been monitoring the impending arrival of Bryce Harper. “He’s the LeBron James of baseball — no question about it,” Julian says, standing up and offering me the only chair in the room while we wait for Ray to show up for his shift.

Ray Sierra is, I think we can all agree, a perfect name for a Tow-Truck-Drivin’ Man. Ray is a sweet-natured, 50-something half Italian/half Puerto Rican guy who started out in retail before transitioning into towing when his knees started to go. He lives in Levittown — “Takes me an hour each way with traffic” he says — with his wife. Somehow, they’re putting two sons through Kutztown on a tow-truck-drivin’ man’s salary. Ray’s father was a Philly cop turned bounty hunter. Every week or so, a man would show up at the front door and drop off a yellow envelope filled with mugshots of bail-jumpers, and Dad would disappear for a few days or a few weeks. If you squint, you can almost see the Venn diagram where towing illegal parkers intersects with hunting fugitives from the law.

Ordinarily, Ray doesn’t go out until there’s a call from a lot owner to tow an illegal parker. When no calls materialize, we pile into a shiny cherry-red Ford 450 wrecker, load up on coffee at the nearest Dunkin’, and go looking for trouble. “At any given point in time, 80 percent of the cars in private lots are illegally parked,” Ray assures me. “It’s invisible to most people, but I drive around all day, I can see it.

“You see, nobody is afraid of getting towed because they know the cops don’t show up for hours, if at all,” he continues.

For the next four hours, we drive around looking for action. We hit a couple Rite Aids, the lot at Wing Phat off Washington, and the lot next to Aircon Filter near Edgar Allan Poe’s house — and alas, there’s no action to be found. To pass the time, I ask Ray to tell me some Tow-Truck-Drivin’ Man war stories. He doesn’t disappoint.

“We run into some hairy situations. People think that parking-lot enforcement is just a regular tow job,” he tells me. “We put our lives on the line. We run into some hairy situations. I mean hairy.”

He’s not kidding. One time, he cut a guy parked illegally in a Wells Fargo lot a break and lowered his car off the hook; the guy followed him for seven blocks before pulling up next to him near the Home Depot on Roosevelt, rolling down his window, pointing a 40mm at him, and pulling the trigger twice. Ray says one bullet went through the passenger-side door, through the seats, and nearly out the driver-side door, narrowly missing his legs. The second shot whizzed past the back of his head.

A couple months ago, at a different bank parking lot, a guy snuck up behind Ray, pulled his hood over his head, and put him in a headlock, all the while working the lever to lower his car. Ray throat-punched him, and they wrestled for a while until the cops showed up.

Then there was the time two summers ago that he was towing a black Toyota Camry “with very tinted windows” from a lot in the projects around 13th and Girard. “Five young men walk up to me — very young, like 15 to 18,” says Ray. “All five pull up their shirts to show me the 9mm [pistols] tucked into their waistband. They were like, ‘Let it go.’ I’m shaking my head: not gonna happen. And then two of them pull out their guns and smack back the chamber: ‘Don’t make us ask you again.’ We just stared at each other, and finally I just decided it wasn’t worth it.”

Plus, his wife would have killed him if he got shot. Unlike Harry Dean Stanton in Repo Man, Ray doesn’t pack heat. “It would just escalate the situation,” he says. “Safety is priority one. If there’s two guns, one of them is going to go off sooner or later.” MORE

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INCOMING: Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere

May 13th, 2019

Tuscaloosa_Cover- FINAL_


Neil Young will release TUSCALOOSA, from his ongoing live archival series, on June 7th. The previously unreleased, 11-track recording features Neil Young & Stray Gators recorded live at the University of Alabama, Tuscaloosa on February 5, 1973. The album can be pre-ordered now and will be available as a double album over 3-sides with etched artwork on side 4, as well as a single disc CD and on high resolution digital audio via NYA. During 1971 – 1973, between solo shows and dates with Crazy Horse, Young would switch up his sound to suit the material he would focus on when touring with Stray Gators. Comprised of Tim Drummond (bass), Kenny Buttrey (drums), Jack Nitzsche (piano) and Ben Keith (steel guitar) this lineup, most notably, would record Harvest and Times Fades Away with Young. Tuscaloosa features live versions of songs from Young’s self-titled 1969 debut (“Here We Are In The Years”) plus classic songs from his two most commercially successful albums of his early career, After The Goldrush (1970) and Harvest (1972). The album also contains a stunning version of the title track from the live album Time Fades Away that would not surface until later in 1973, as well as songs from the seminal classic Tonight’s The Night that would eventually be released in 1975. TUSCALOOSA is essentially a live greatest hits package with a stellar set comprised of some of Young’s best-loved classic songs.

Tuscaloosa Track listing after the jump…
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MUST SEE TV: ‘Safety Glasses Off, Motherf*ckers!’

May 13th, 2019

PREVIOUSLY: On Friday April 21st, 2017 Bill Nye — bow-tied science communicator, advocate for reason and critical thinking skills, wouldbe astronaut, bane of creationists and climate science denialists, not to mention superstitious kooks and cranks of every ideological stripe — returned to the small screen with Netflix’s Bill Nye Saves The World. To mark the auspicious return of reason and fact to American airwaves, we present this encore edition of our 2014 interview with Dr. Nye. DISCUSSED: Why he believes in evolution and you should too, Carl Sagan, marijuana, why he wouldn’t sign up for the one-way trip to colonize Mars, why better batteries and sea water de-salinization technology are crucial to the survival of the human race, the moral cowardice of climate science denialism, the societal dangers of literal interpreters of the Bible, whether or not UFOs have been visiting Earth and probing the rectums of rednecks, why GMOs make him nervous, and why he is the U.S. patent holder for the ballet slipper.MORE

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BEING THERE: Meat Puppets @ Underground Arts

May 12th, 2019

MeatPuppets-1776 copy

The Meat Puppets’ Curt Kirkwood by JOSH PELTA-HELLER

After the Meat Puppets’ first song at Underground Arts on Friday night, Curt Kirkwood’s son Elmo responded with a little cheek to a fan who called out his name to cheer him on. “What?!” Maybe he was annoyed, maybe not — but he almost immediately broke the tension with a fiendishly disarming grin, flashed from somewhere behind his cascading curls, and when the fan returned “We love you!,” the Pups’ heir-apparent backed down some more: “I love you too.”

They’re not much for stage banter, these hirsute Phoenix indie-rockers-cum-desert-mystics — in fact that early exchange would be just about the bulk of it for the evening — but they manage to charm and engage in their own way, not least of all through bassist Cris Kirkwood’s wild expressions, egging the crowd on from front-and-center throughout, as his flailing gray beard scrambles to keep up with his face.

Two years ago, the Puppets brought their psychedelic cowpunk to the same stage, co-headlining with southwestern-desert sun-dazed-rock compatriot Mike Watt, and played a fan’s set of old favorites that notably eschewed their biggest commercially successful single “Backwater.” This time around, the Kirkwoods — “the Brothers Meat,” as Kurt Cobain once affectionately called them — have reunited with original drummer Derrick Bostrom, after a hiatus of over twenty years, as well as 1969-era-Ray-Manzarek-adjacent Ron Stabinsky, to shine a hot lamp on newly released studio album Dusty Notes. It’s their 15th in almost 40 years, and everything about it feels instantly familiar on a first listen, from the Kirkwoods’ understated vocal harmonies to Elmo’s soaring solos. Top to bottom, it’s Meat Puppets for the soul.

Twenty songs of their beautifully strange marriage of hillbilly honky-tonk and psychedelic punk rock landed well after midnight, and with a wave and a nod the Pups retired to the green room. House music raised some eyebrows for those reasonably expecting some sort of encore, until the Kirkwoods and co returned moments later, strapped their guitars back on, and launched into the blazing first notes of “Backwater.” – JOSH PELTA-HELLER

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THE MAGIC PILGRIM: A Q&A With Damien Jurado

May 10th, 2019

Screen Shot 2018-05-19 at 5.58.13 AM

EDITOR’S NOTE: This Q&A originally published on May 18, 2018. We are reprising it now in advance of Damien Jurado’s performance at Johnny Brenda’s Friday May 17th in support of his new album, In The Shape Of The Storm.

BRIAN_HOWARD_BYLINERBY BRIAN HOWARD Damien Jurado is back. That statement is more literal than figurative. With his brand new album, The Horizon Just Laughed (Secretly Canadian), Jurado—the heart-on-his-sleeve indie folker who’s spent the last two-plus decades honing his signature style of spare, probing songs that are at once hauntingly beautiful and emotionally devastating—has returned to the real world, in a way. Jurado’s three previous albums, starting with 2012’s Maraqopa, were inspired by a dream that took place in a fictional land of the same name. The Horizon Just Laughed, however takes place in much more recognizable locales, with references to familiar places like the Pacific Northwest (where Jurado had long lived)—including the ethereal heartstring-tugger “Over Rainbows and Rainier” (SEE BELOW)—and characters, including Thomas Wolfe, Percy Faith and Ray Conniff. But lovers of Jurado’s strange, alternate-reality wanderings need not fear that Jurado’s just playing it straight. The singer reveals that this album, too, has been inspired by a dream. It features some Billy Pilgrim/Quantum Leap-style time hopping—and deeply Freudian signals about the singer’s eventual move to Los Angeles, which is where Jurado was when Phawker caught up with him via phone ahead of [his May 18th] show at Johnny Brenda’s.

DISCUSSED: Dream logic, Henry Mancini, time travel, Kurt Vonnegut, Mel’s diner, Mantovani, Chevy Chase, Percy Faith, Brian Wilson, heaven, Thomas damien-juradoWolfe, Mount Ranier, Flo, Armageddon, Tony Robbins, moving to California, moving sidewalks, Maraqopa, Ray Conniff, and trademarking the rain.

PHAWKER: The three albums directly preceding the brand new album were, according to the lore, inspired by a single dream. It’s my understanding that the latest album is also inspired by a dream? How does all of this dream-inspiration stuff work?

DAMIEN JURADO: The dream that inspired this new record is very much a trailer. My dreams are more like trailers, they’re not these long, drawn-out epics. How do I get a trilogy out of a trailer? I have no idea, but I did. My dreams are very snapshot-oriented—sometimes still pictures, sometimes moving pictures—just enough for me to get a grasp on the narrative, if that makes any sense to you.

PHAWKER: I’m following you so far.

DAMIEN JURADO: So, yeah. Man boards plane in nineteen fifty-whatever—or forties—and is bound for a city. He’s the last to get off the plane, and when he gets off, he realizes that he is in a different time period. So, if he takes off in 1956, he’s going to be landing in 1972. If he boards the same plane, he will go to a different location in the United States, and a different era. And he’s having conversations with people he sees on television. He’s having internal dialogue with composers he might know or actors he’s familiar with. The theme of this is that there is no home—home is over. Home is an over concept—he’s never going back. No matter how many planes he boards, no matter who he talks to, he’s never going back. And I think at this point, if this were to happen to me, I’d start to question whether I was even alive or not.

PHAWKER: Are you a Kurt Vonnegut reader?

DAMIEN JURADO: I am not a reader period. I don’t read fiction at all. [laughs]

PHAWKER: I ask because his novel Slaughterhouse-Five features a character, Billy Pilgrim, who is quote-unquote “unstuck in time,” and he hops around through different eras, which is very similar to what you were just describing. Anyway, a lot of the song titles on the record are names of people, like the composer Percy Faith and character actor Marvin Kaplan. Are these people that the protagonist of the dream is popping in on?

DAMIEN JURADO: Well, he’s not popping in on. He’s just sort of talking to them, by way of his own imagination.

PHAWKER: So based on this idea that “home is an over concept,” your song “Thomas Wolfe”… I guess that’s a pretty direct reference to the novelist who famously wrote You Can’t Go Home Again.

DAMIEN JURADO: That is actually a Chevy Chase reference from a 1970s-era Saturday Night Live bit that he did on the SNL news. And he closed out with—I don’t remember what he was even talking about—but he said, ‘Well, I guess Thomas Wolfe was right: You really cannot go home again.’ I do know that that is a Thomas Wolfe reference, but I am referencing Chevy Chase referencing Thomas Wolfe.

PHAWKER: So, I have a question that I thought sounded pretty weird, and I wasn’t sure I was going to ask it, but now that you’ve told me the album’s backstory, I’m asking it. You’ve got a song called “Marvin Kaplan,” and Marvin Kaplan was an actor best known, if he was known at all, for his role as a telephone lineman on the 1970s Linda Lavin sitcom, Alice, which was set in a suburban Phoenix diner. A character named Alice pops up in that song. In the song right after that, “Lou-Jean,” there’s an actual diner and fluorescent skies in a town called Apache, which is a ghost town in Arizona. And the next song is called “Florence-Jean,” which is the full first name of the character on that show, Flo, whose enduring contribution to pop culture is the phrase “kiss my grits.”

DAMIEN JURADO: That’s right.damien-jurado

PHAWKER: So… is this really a three-song arc about the TV show Alice? [laughs]

DAMIEN JURADO: It is not. That is a good question. I love that you’re asking this. So, during the writing of this album, I was watching a shit-ton of television. I don’t watch modern-day TV, most of the TV I watch is from another era, anywhere from the ’50s and going on until the early ’80s; that’s where it kind of ends for me. But yeah, obviously during that period of my writing, I was watching a lot of Alice, and during my watchings of the show, I start to feel a lot of connection happening with what’s happening in my life—also to the character I’m writing about. To give you kind of a backstory, during my upbringing I was moved around from state to state continually; I never had a sense of what home was, ever. And the one thing that remained consistent throughout my childhood was that, whether I was going from Phoenix to Houston, or Houston to Seattle, the shows were consistent, and the characters were consistent. The people and the landscapes and the environment could change, but the shows were my consistency. So, there’s that influence. But during this time, I found that my mind was wandering a lot—to the pay phone inside the diner in the show. Every time it rang, I caught myself wondering if it was me calling the diner. Like some other me. Some sort of parallel-universe-me calling the diner. So, the reality was that part of me realized that this is filmed in a television studio; but there’s another side of me that is not aware of that, where it is very much a reality, and that side doesn’t want to accept the fact that what I’m watching is on a TV show, but me peering into this alternate world. Does that make any sense?


DAMIEN JURADO: So, I began to really focus in on the extras in the background. Who was that guy getting coffee at the table? What was his name? What was his deal? What’d he do for a living? Was he married? I wonder what his house looks like. I’d go down these rabbit holes, you know. That’s kind of how the Marvin Kaplan-Alice thing took off. I started building narratives around just human episodes.

PHAWKER: Interesting.

DAMIEN JURADO: [laughs].

PHAWKER: [laughing] This interview has gotten more X-Files than I’d expected. So, is this an autobiographical album? Are you the person in this dream?

DAMIEN JURADO: Yes. I’ll say yes to the first question, and to the second, it is me. I wanna say it’s me coming from another time, but it is me. His name isn’t Damien Jurado, I don’t know what his name is.

PHAWKER: But it’s another iteration of you.

DAMIEN JURADO: On the album I reference to him by the name “Q.”

PHAWKER: The song “Over the Rainbows and Rainier” has got to be one of the most beautiful songs I’ve heard in a while. It’s also got some pretty heavy biblical themes. Is this a song about the end of the world, about Armageddon?

DAMIEN JURADO: You know, yes, in the way that it’s about ending. When I say lines like “We waited for Armageddon to go down,” Armageddon is a very loose term in my mind. It doesn’t mean biblically, it’s more that I’m talking about the shit about to go down. Now here’s what’s crazy: This album, although it was written over a year ago, ended up being very prophetic, and I still can’t wrap my brain around it. You know, the lyric “Over Rainbows and Rainier”; if you asked me two years ago, would I have ever left Washington State, I would have laughed and been like “Oh, hell no!” If you would have said a year ago, “Would you ever move to California, or anywhere else,” I’d be like “Oh, god no.” And that ended up happening, I left. I went over Rainier and I left. It’s funny. When I’ve talked about leaving to go on tour, I’ve always referred to it as “leaving the walls of the Pacific Northwest.” The mountains are pretty much like walls: the Cascades, the Olympics, Rainier, St. Helens: These are all walls to me. This song is me going over the wall.

PHAWKER: It’s almost like you knew, on some level, what was coming.damien-jurado

DAMIEN JURADO: I had no idea it was coming.

PHAWKER: I was thinking that “Over Rainbows and Rainier” almost sounds like a metaphor for death, or going to “Heaven.” With that in mind, there’s also a lot of bleak imagery in “The Last Great Washington State”: The building’s on fire, the sky gets turned off like a light. And you ask, “What good is living if you can’t write your ending?” It does sound very much like a goodbye.

DAMIEN JURADO: It is. And what’s crazy is that I didn’t even know it. You know, when I’m confronted with a line that says, “What good is living if you can’t write your ending,” I’m telling you, man, to even say that line, it really hits me emotionally, because I believe that’s true. Really. What the fuck is the point? There’s a line in the song: “You’re always in doubt of the truths you’re defending”? God, yeah, that is me, that was me. I always had to defend everything I was thinking or feeling. … This time last year I started watching these self-help videos, and some of these people were motivational speakers, like Tony Robbins and Les Brown. And they all have the exact same question: What is it that you want out of your life? Are you living the life that you want to live? And I just kept saying, “No, I’m not.” Now, if I’m saying no, well then what is it that you want? And even if you don’t know what you want, even if you have a smidgen of what you want, walk in that direction, and take a chance.

PHAWKER: So, you’re in California now. Was it the step you needed to take to live the life you wanted to be living?

DAMIEN JURADO: You know, that’s a very complex answer. All I can say about it is… I’ll say this: Love brought me to California. Love for my own life, for my own sanity, love for another person. Love. That’s what brought me to California, which I think is very big and powerful.

PHAWKER: Absolutely. In the song, “Percy Faith,” there’s a lot of angst about, to put it broadly, how things are and where things are going, which feels like a part of this personal journey you’re describing. You talk about rioting in the street, you talk about Seattle trademarking the rain. How people never look you in the eye, there’s no need to talk, the sidewalks walk for you. What does Percy Faith signify for you in this?

DAMIEN JURADO: This isn’t just Percy Faith. In this song, I’m talking about people like Allan Sherman, I’m talking about Ray Conniff, and these are people, in my opinion, that when we’re talking about the greats in music, we’re so quick—and honestly, it’s so cliché—even if deservedly [to worship] The Beatles, The Beach Boys, blah blah blah blah, blah blah blah blah, xyz blah blah blah, who cares? We’re not talking about innovators. And you know what’s funny? If you ask—and I know this for a fact because I’ve seen these interviews—if you talk to people like Brian Wilson, Brian Wilson will tell you, first and foremost, he is taking cues from people like Ray Conniff, like Percy Faith, like Mantovani, like Henry Mancini. It wasn’t Phil Spector. Phil Spector was of his time, no doubt about it. But, Brian Wilson was very much inspired by these very modern-day pop arrangers. And you can listen—you can put on a Ray Conniff record and be like “Oh, I get it. I now understand where the fuck he was going with Pet Sounds, or Smile, because this all makes sense now.” Now, on the flip-side of that, the commentary that I’m talking about with Seattle’s made a trademark on the rain, that’s a direct reference to Amazon. People never look you in the eye, obviously a smart phone thing. Sidewalks that walk for themselves: airports, escalators, you name it. Because of the Internet, I know everything, but yet I don’t know the guy who works at the corner store that I go to every damn day of my life.

PHAWKER: Having spent three records telling the Maraqopa story, was it liberating to make a record outside of that story arc?

DAMIEN JURADO: Yes, it was. I recently told this journalist working for the Foreign Press that it’s funny because me and the protagonist of Maraqopa have something in common, which is [that] we stayed there too long. We weren’t supposed to be there that long. I did, and it made me unhealthy. I don’t know how else to explain it, other than that I stayed there too long, so to move on, finally leave and sort of move away from that is very liberating.

PHAWKER: Why did you move around so much growing up?damien-jurado

DAMIEN JURADO: A lot of it, honestly, man, had to do with family circumstances. I basically had a father who wasn’t very present in my life, and a mother who wanted to chase him around the country. And during that time, neither of them could decide on a career, what the hell they wanted to do. My parents are polar opposites, but the one thing they have in common is that they are very nomadic. They love to move around, on the drop of a dime, and nothing’s going to hold them back. The trait that I pick up from them is determination. Once they decide something, good luck getting them to waver on their decision. If my mom or my dad decided, “All right. I’m moving to Arizona next week,” that’s what we did. Middle of the school year, goodbye everybody, see you later, have a nice life, see you never, you know, I’m moving to Phoenix. And then, the next year again, mid-school-year, “Hey, I’m going to go to law school in Houston.” All right, goodbye everybody, see you never, moving to Houston. And it was repeating itself over and over and over again.

PHAWKER: You were in Seattle for a good while, am I correct?

DAMIEN JURADO: Thirty-three years.

PHAWKER: Do you think that you stayed in the same place that long as a reaction to that?

DAMIEN JURADO: That’s a good question. I don’t know why. How about this for an answer: When you spend your whole life moving around all the time, you want to finally just stop. And for me, with as much moving as I did, not just from state to state, but within the state I was living—take Arizona, for instance: we lived in Surprise, then Glendale, then Phoenix. We’re going to move to Seattle, Washington, and then we’re going to move to Grays Harbor, and then we’re going to move back to Seattle. So that is basically my existence. I didn’t know it was always looking for that place to land and say, “Enough is enough. I just can’t do this shit anymore.” But I can say I’m home now.

PHAWKER: That is nice to hear.

DAMIEN JURADO: It feels good.


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May 9th, 2019

Man, this new Meat Puppets album Dusty Notes is the best thing they’ve done since Up On The Sun! The original line-up — which reportedly hasn’t played together since 1995 — plays Underground Arts Friday May 10th.

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INCOMING: Zep Doc Expected To Get The Led Out

May 8th, 2019



Now in post-production, the as yet untitled Led Zeppelin documentary, directed by Bernard MacMahon, celebrates the world’s best-selling rock band on their fiftieth anniversary. The documentary traces the journeys of the four members through the music scene of the 1960s, their meeting in the summer of 1968 for a rehearsal that will change the future of rock, and culminates in 1970 when their second album knocks The Beatles off the top of the charts and they become the number one band in the world.

With brand new interviews of Jimmy Page, Robert Plant, and John Paul Jones, as well as rare archival interviews with the late John Bonham, this documentary will be the first of its kind; the Led Zeppelin story told through the words of the men that lived it, with no outside voices or conjecture. Featuring never before seen archive film and photographs, state of the art audio transfers of the band’s music, as well as the music that shaped their sound, this documentary will be the definitive telling of the birth of the world’s biggest selling rock band. It is the first and only time the band have participated in a documentary in fifty years.

Jimmy Page: “When I saw everything Bernard had done both visually and sonically on the remarkable achievement that is American Epic, I knew he would be qualified to tell our story.”

Robert Plant: “Seeing Will Shade, and so many other important early American musicians, brought to life on the big screen in American Epic inspired me to contribute to a very interesting and exciting story.”

John Paul Jones: “The time was right for us to tell our own story for the first time in our own words, and I think that this film will really bring that story to life.”

PREVIOUSLY: THE DEVIL’S ADVOCATE: Meet The Man Who Sued Led Zep Over “Stairway To Heaven” & Lived To Tell



PHILADELPHIA MAGAZINE: The fact that Philadelphia barrister Francis Alexander Malofiy, Esquire, is suing Led Zeppelin over the authorship of “Stairway to Heaven” is, by any objective measure, only the fourth most interesting thing about him. Unfortunately for the reader, and the purposes of this story, the first, second and third most interesting things about Malofiy are bound and gagged in nondisclosure agreements, those legalistic dungeons where the First Amendment goes to die. So let’s start with number four and work our way backward.

At the risk of stating the obvious, ladies and gentlemen of the jury, let the record show that “Stairway to Heaven” is arguably the most famous song in all of rock-and-roll, perhaps in all of popular music. It’s also one of the most lucrative — it’s estimated that the song has netted north of $500 million in sales and royalties since its 1971 release. Malofiy’s lawsuit, cheekily printed in the same druidic font used for the liner notes of the album Led Zeppelin IV, alleges that Jimmy Page and Robert Plant — Zep’s elegantly wasted guitarist/producer/central songwriter and leonine, leather-lunged lead singer, respectively — stole the iconic descending acoustic-guitar arpeggios of the first two minutes of “Stairway” from “Taurus,” a song with a strikingly similar chord pattern by a long-forgotten ’60s band called Spirit. At the conclusion of a stormy, headline-grabbing trial in 2016 that peaked with testimony from Page and Plant, the jury decided in Zep’s favor. […]

But in late September of last year, the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in favor of Malofiy’s appeal of the 2016 “Stairway to Heaven” verdict and ordered a new trial on the grounds that the court “abused its discretion” when the judge refused to allow Malofiy to play a recording of “Taurus” for the jury. (Members were only allowed to hear an acoustic-guitar rendition played from sheet music.) The retrial is expected to begin in the next year, and Page and Plant, along with bassist John Paul Jones, are again anticipated to take the stand. Copyright experts say Led Zeppelin — which has a long history of ripping off the ancient riffs and carnal incantations of wizened Delta bluesmen and only giving credit when caught — should be worried. […] Ultimately, Malofiy doesn’t have to prove Led Zeppelin stole Spirit’s song; he just has to convince a jury that’s what happened. Assuming the trial goes forward — and that this time, he’s allowed to play recordings of both songs for the jury — there will be blood.

If Malofiy prevails in the coming “Stairway” retrial, he’ll completely shatter the Tolkien-esque legend of the song’s immaculate conception — that it was birthed nearly in toto during a mystical retreat at a remote Welsh mountain cottage called Bron-yr-aur, to which many a starry-eyed Zep disciple has made a pilgrimage once upon a midnight clear when the forests echo with laughter. It will be like proving that da Vinci didn’t paint the Mona Lisa, that Michelangelo didn’t sculpt David. Barring a last-minute settlement, many legal and copyright experts predict that Malofiy may well emerge victorious, and credit for the most famous rock song in the world will pass from the self-appointed Golden Gods of Led Zeppelin to some obscure, long-forgotten (and not even very good) West Coast psych band, along with tens of millions in royalties, effectively rewriting the sacred history of rock-and-roll. And the man who will have pulled off this fairly miraculous feat of judicial jujitsu is the enfant terrible of Philadelphia jurisprudence. MORE

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