Monday, September 25, 2006

VTK Sees Green Bay

The VTK Heartland Tour started out a little shaky with the cancellation of my connector flight from Chicago to Green Bay due to tornados and torrential rains. Many other flights were being cancelled too so rather than trying to fly stand-by, I booked a flight for the following morning and got a discounted suite at the Wyndham (I do love me a good hotel bar). Then the flight the next day was delayed too so I was cutting it a little close for the afternoon wedding. But I eventually arrived in Green Bay - my first time in Green Bay - and who do I run into in the airport within 5 minutes? Football legend Brett Favre. Walked right by him. I said "Good luck tomorrow, man", but he ignored me. Football legend in the zone on the way to his next game or asshole. It's a toss up. But I made it to the hotel in time to press my trousers and head off to the church, where I was met with a chorus of "you made it!"'s from friends old and new. The ceremony was a traditional Catholic one and very nice. The beers were cracked on the shuttle bus to the reception and flowed all night until a few of the wedding party guests got arrested at the hotel for their alleged involvement in some sort of altercation. A cab ride and a 10 hour nap later, I got my shit together in time to catch the 2nd half of the Packer's game at Coaches Corner, a local sports bar next door to my hotel, where I watched the Packer's game with my new buddy Lurch, a friendly giant of a man who had ordered a pitcher for himself and claims he used to hang out with hall of famer Ray Nitschke. Lurch is my boy! The local flavor? I went with the Coaches Choice: 1/3 lb burger with a 1/4 lb brat patty on top. Delicious! Actually it was nasty, but I loved the concept.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

VTK on the Road!

That's right, folks. I'm taking this little dog and pony and internet tube show on the road. In the great American tradition of going West, VTK will be headed to the Heartland and documenting the day to day lives of Real Americans. I'll be descending from the Ivory White Tower of the Elite Northeast and risking my neck in such non-elite places as Green Bay, Western Michigan, Chicago, and Nashville. For the next 3.5 weeks, I'll be reporting in depth on:

the people of Green Bay

the people of Western Michigan

the people of Chicago

and the people of Nashville.

Good people, one and all. Wish me luck.


AL East Division Champs: The New York Yankees.

Playoff preview forthcoming, but for now:

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Extraordinary Rendition - VTK Op/Ed

I don't do too many political posts because ... well, what can you say. The US government is vile. But there is the occasional specific news piece that is VTK worthy. Listening to Democracy Now! today, I heard two feature pieces that were related and deserved some coverage: the absolution of Maher Arar by a Canadian federal court, and a discussion with Michael Ratner, president of the Center for Constitutional Rights, about the practices being used by the US gov't, the congressional debate on the issue, and how the writ of habeas corpus would be abolished by both the Bush Administration bill and the McCain-Warner-Graham bill.

I can't say the Maher Arar case has been completely uncovered in US major media, because there was an article on today, but it certainly has not been the story that it should be, considering how ridiculous it is. Appropriately, it has been a huge story in Canada (here's some coverage from the Toronto Globe and Mail). Maher Arar is a computer engineer and a Canadian citizen, who was born in Syria, but lives in Ottawa with his family. He made the mistake of having a conversation with a suspected terrorist in a cafe about ink jet cartridges. The bastard. In September of 2002 he was returning to Canada from a vacation in Tunisia. The flight had a stopover in NYC, where US gov't officials detained him and based on faulty intelligence information from their Canadian counterparts, deported him to Syria despite his protestations that he would be tortured if jailed there. Tortured he was. And he was incarcerated for over a year before being returned to Canada, where he now lives in BC. Yesterday, the Canadian gov't finally admitted that he was a completely innocent man. So he's all set now. Except for the emotional scars. Yeah, that's too bad. But at least he didn't kill us. Which he might have done. This from a DemNow! interview from a few months ago:

MAHER ARAR: I’m completely a different person. I still have fears. I don't take the plane anymore. I don't fly. I lost confidence in myself. I feel overwhelmed. My -- there is some kind of emotional distancing between me and my kids and my family. They ruined my life. They ruined my life, and I have not been able to find a job. People try to -- you know, some people I know, they try to distance themselves from me. It's -- you know, I don't know how to describe it. I don't think there is any word I could use to describe what I am going through. And I thought when I came back it would take me a month or two months or a year or two years to get back to normal life. It’s been two years and four months since I came back to Canada, and there are things that are improved a little bit, but I’m still not the same person, and I’m still suffering psychologically.

Nice one, USA. Nice one, Canada. And this is just one case. I wonder if North America has botched any others. I guess we won't know until everyone gets their fair trial. Thank god for the writ of habeas corpus...

So, everyone's all psyched now that those Republican Badasses in Congress have stood up to the Bush Administration about their torture techniques and whatnot. From DemNow!: "The administration is facing resistance from three key Republican senators on the Armed Services Committee: John McCain, Lindsey Graham and John Warner. The three senators helped pass a measure last week affirming Common Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions, which prohibits inhumane treatment." Right on Boys! Maybe Americans are inherently good after all. Yet that rabblerouser, Michael Ratner, can't let us sit back and enjoy ourselves for one damn minute. According to his interview with Amy Goodman this morning:

In both the administration bill and in the McCain-Graham-Warner bill, in both cases you abolish the writ of habeas corpus. The government, the Congress, is abolishing the writ of habeas corpus. The habeas corpus writ is the right to challenge your detention once you’re picked up by the United States. It would apply to Guantanamo. It would apply to everybody in Bagram. And it basically says that anybody picked up, now or in the future or who is there now, no longer has the writ of habeas corpus.

For some reason, for some peculiar reason, nobody is really covering this in the media. Yes, they’re covering the McCain debate over waterboarding and torture and somewhat on the military commissions, but not really the denial of the abolishment of the fundamental writ. If we look at Maher Arar, his is one of the cases. I mean, there may be Maher Arars -- or are, as I know -- in places like Guantanamo and other places in the world, and without an ability to bring those cases to court, the United States can continue or the administration can continue doing what it did to Maher Arar.

AMY GOODMAN: Now, again, maybe part of the reason we don't hear much about this is a lack of understanding of writ of habeas corpus. I mean, it's not even in English. Explain, Michael.

MICHAEL RATNER: Well, it actually comes initially out of the Magna Carta in 1215. And it had to do with when the king just believed he could pick up people anywhere in the world, throw them into a dungeon, never give them a court hearing, and you’d never hear from them again, essentially disappear them. Out of a long struggle for peoples’ rights, the writ of habeas corpus emerged. Then, when we wrote our Constitution in the United States, it was considered the fundamental right essentially against a police state and can only be suspended in cases of rebellion or things like that.

And what it really says is that if a king or the president picks me up anywhere in the world, that I have a right to go into court and say, “What are your reasons for detaining me?” It doesn't say you have to be freed. But it says you have to come up -- government -- come up with a legal reason for detaining me. In other words, it takes detentions, disappearances and puts them into the light of a courtroom, where the government has to justify the detention.

That's the fundamental right that we at the Center for Constitutional Rights won for those people at Guantanamo and which this congress and this president have continuously tried to beat back. We won it in 2004. We got a legislation that Congress had passed to try and get rid of it. We won that again in 2006. And now they’re trying to get rid of it again.

It's really, Amy, the fundamental right that protects us against just arbitrary arrest and disappearance. It's absolutely crucial. And so far, unfortunately -- I just want to emphasize this -- both the administration bill and the McCain bill abolish the writ of habeas corpus. And there should be a massive, massive public campaign about that. People can go to the Center's website and get information about that and get to their senators and say, “Don't abolish the writ.” This is the protection that will protect the Maher Arars in the world, that protect our Guantanamo detainees and protect people who are really disappeared all over the world.

Jesus. 1215? Wow. Seems like we would want to keep that. Otherwise, y'know, the terrorists might win. They hate our freedoms, so we might as well bail on those, so they won't hate us anymore and will stop bothering us. Reminds me of what the Cambridge Cop said at our Area 4 Community meeting last week in regards to what they're doing about the shootings in the neighborhood park: "we're trying to keep the park clear, so you know, they won't have anything to shoot at".


I mean, is it me?

Monday, September 18, 2006

Business Casual Stag Devil Death Boy

I just officially finished the layout (184 pages) of BCSDDB. It kicks so much fucking ass, the world is seriously not prepared. Aw yeah!! (lucky I'm not getting all manic about this)

Friday, September 15, 2006


It occurred to me that I am about 2/3 through my jesus year and I haven't really posted much about the dude. It's also fresh in my mind because, on the eve of the AK Bachelor Party, we rehashed the old argument over what Jeff Mangum meant when he yelled "I love you Jesus Christ, Jesus Christ I love you, yes I do" to start off King Of Carrot Flowers Pts 2 and 3 on 1997's In The Aeroplane Over The Sea. The argument was over what exactly he meant by that seemingly obvious statement and whether or not it mattered. The easily dismissed interpretation is that he was saying he loved someone and using "jesus christ" for emphasis. It's pretty clear from the song that "jesus christ" is the object of his love. So, the question becomes is he a proselytizing Christian rocker or is he just making a personal statement without pushing it on anyone, or is he using it as a metaphor. Basically, is it significant to a bunch of athiest rock and roll fans? There are 5 relevant pieces of text to consider: a statement in the liner notes and 4 mentions of the lyric in Kim Cooper's submission to the 33 1/3 series on the album.

The liner notes contain one giant run on lyric of all the songs on the album. In lieu of the lyric in question, Jeff wrote the following and then continued with the other lyrics: "a song for an old friend and a song for a new friend and now a song for jesus christ and since this seems to confuse people i'd like to simply say that i mean what i sing although the theme of endless endless on this album is not based on any religion but more in the belief that all things seem to contain a white light within them that i see as eternal".

The first excerpt from 33 1/3 doesn't reference the lyric but is informative nonetheless. "Jeff spoke of the church camps he attended from age 11 through 17, 'where everything was very open. We talked about sexuality freely. It wasn't really hippie, it was just weird. You could spill your guts all over the place. People were leaping and freaking out. It wasn't so much a God trip as an emotional trip. Even if you were an athiest, if your parents shipped you down there, you could talk about it. You could talk openly about your athiest beliefs and there would be debates; and being an athiest was as beautiful as anything else.'"

The second mention was in reference to the performance at Jittery Joe's which I believe was the first time he played the song live. "When Jeff sang the lyrics 'I love you Jesus Christ/Jesus Christ I love you, yes I do,' Lance found it shocking. There's a lot of Christianity in the South, but within the weirdo musical subculture represented by the people in that room, such a naked expression of faith was completely unexpected. And compelling. Lance couldn't wait to see what Jeff would say or do next. 'It kinda made it clear that he was writing expressively, but maybe wasn't overly worried about what other people thought or crafting things to make it easy on his audience. Here was someone who was a bit more fucked up and challenging and visceral.'"

On the recording: "During the sessions, 'The King of Carrot Flowers Pts Two & Three' again raised eyebrows, Martyn Leaper's specifically. When he first heard Jeff sing "I love you Jesus Christ," he didn't know how to take it. As someone who'd always had problems with organized religion, he was repelled. But as a songwriter, he was stunned by the profound and fearless honesty with which jeff was expressing his faith. Jeff didn't seem to give a damn what anyone thought of him, or if it seemed uncool. And it's this naked honesty, Martyn thinks, that has brought so many people to the record - even folks who aren't themselves religious are touched by Jeff's faith and guts."

On the song: "'Pt. One' ends with a spacey drone that oozes into this track's initial gutsy cry 'I love you Jesus Christ,' which is the spot where aggressively non-Christian listeners have to make a conscious decision to stay with the music. But is the expression one of love for the Savior or for another person, punctuated by the emphatic invocation of J.C.? Jeff repeatedly made it clear that he was singing about Jesus, but the alternative interpretation is there for those who need it. Either way, it feels real and raw and fearless".

Again, it's pretty clear to me that he's singing about Jesus. It's also clear that the lyric cannot be abstracted from the context of both the album and of the culture of rock in the South. It's a wildly emotive piece of work, so it's not really surprising that he would include such a sentiment, considering other lyrics of note include "your mom would stick a fork right into daddy's shoulder and your dad would throw the garbage all across the floor", and "semen stains the mountaintops, semen stains the mountaintops", and "and I know they buried her body with others her sister and mother and 500 families and will she remember me 50 years later I wished I could save her in some sort of time machine", and other references to Anne Frank. The album is intense and all over the place, so the shocking lyric in question fits right in. In the indie rock world, particularly in the South, it's as radical as the rest of it.

Artists have all sorts of images and icons at their disposal when crafting their creations. The icon, the concept, the metaphor of Jesus is obviously a huge one in our Western society. When I first heard the song, I was taken aback too, but I figured that he was using "jesus" as a metaphor to represent all that the man stood for. Of course, I'm looking at this from a biased perspective, which is unavoidable. I was raised Catholic, later rejected my belief in god, but retained my belief that much of what Jesus the man stood for was liberal, progressive, pacifist, and generally righteous, as opposed to the image of him pushed on us by the co-opting christian conservative right in this country. I think that my Catholic relatives in the midwest, whose progressive politics come from their belief in Jesus and their interpretations of his teachings, have a more accurate understanding of christianity than the conservatives do. So, I heard the song and thought "oh, he must be using that lyric as an expression of his support for progressive ideals". Which is total bullshit obviously. Everyone hears the lyric through a loaded understanding of what "jesus christ" means. AK and other "aggressively non-christian listeners" hear it one way, conservative christian rockers hear it another, I hear it another. Does it matter? No. Jeff wasn't proselytizing, so it shouldn't concern us. He may or may not believe in Jesus, and if he does he may do so in one of many varied ways. What's weird is that, given the intensity of the delivery of the lyric, it's almost as if it's really got nothing to do with us. He doesn't seem to be talking to us. He's talking only to "jesus christ", whatever that means, and we're irrelevant witnesses to his conversation.

And this brings me to the really important thing: someone made a lounge chair that looks like a crucifix. That's really fucking cool. Jesus was way cool.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Tequila Ham Shot

I attended my 3rd bachelor party of the summer this past weekend and like the other two, this one was a rockin’. On Saturday, we rented a zipcar and shuttled the bachelor du jour, AK, down to the Cape for the festivities. We started in P-Town and worked our way back to Cambridge over the course of the weekend. With the exception of a little adventure at sea (we stopped our boats to help some douchebag who capsized his catamaran and we ended up losing an hour, our buzzes, breaking a thumb, and contracting an ear infection), everything was smooth sailing. The house party in Brewster consisted of official party t-shirts, bbq, bonfire, tequila ham shots, and an all night poker game, in which I took everyone’s money. I swear whiskey makes me stupider and smarter at the same time. Sunday’s hangover was eased a bit by Chinese food, beer, watching football, playing with the toddler, and lounging in the pool and hot tub in Sandwich. Throw in a burger and a beer at the Miracle back in Central Square and a braindead viewing of the Thrilla in Manilla at the Norfunk Compound and that’s one hell of a weekend.

Saturday, September 02, 2006

You're No Monet ...

I set up my show at the Middle East this morning and despite my stressing over the situation, I'm pretty happy with the way it ended up. I hung 14 paintings including two which I just finished in time for this show. The newest and biggest painting is a 4 foot by 4 foot rendering of my grandfather's brother and his wife, done from a photo my mother took in 1954 over in Ireland. It's a nice painting but it's an even better sail - something I found out as I tried to walk across Mass Ave this particularly windy morn. I was whipping around like Baryshnikov trying to navigate this thing through the air and down the street.

Later this afternoon, I returned to put up the title tags that I made and deliver some promotional postcards, which had Pan-Mass Portraiture - P-Town to Pittsfield written across the top. The bartender read it and said "Pittsfield?!?! Pittsfield suuuuuuuuucks!" I was like, you don't have to tell me, man, I'm from there. Turns out he's from Great Barrington and his father was an engineer at GE. South County. Bitches can't hang with the Pitts!

After the couple left from the last table that I needed to access to hang the tag, I went over to do so. There was a cute young Hispanic girl bussing the table while I hung the tag and we had the following exchange:

CYHG: Are you the one who did the paintings?
VTK: I am. do you like them?
CYHG: Ehhh ... They're ok. They're not as good as Monet.
VTK: Monet?
CYHG: Yes, Monet. Do you know him?
VTK: Yes.
CYHG: I saw his paintings at the Museum of Fine Arts and his paintings are better. I looked at them and it was like a photograph [what kind of impressionist camera does this girl have]; yours, you can tell they are done by hand. You can see the strokes and stuff.
VTK: So you're saying that Monet is better than me?
CYHG: No I didn't say that. He probably had more practice. If you keep practicing, you never know.
VTK: [*thinking* yes you did say that and that's ok. because he's Monet.] Yep. It takes practice for sure. What's your name?
CYHG: Lesbia.
VTK: Lesbia?
CYHG: Yes, Lesbia.
VTK: Well, nice meeting you, Lesbia. Take care.

Not that you'd doubt me, but I just want to point out that all of that text is verbatim. So, apparently I'm not as good as Monet. He's pretty good though. And I plan to keep practicing.

The show is going to be up for the rest of the month, so if you're in the area, check it out. And if you're in the area on Saturday, September 16th from 3 to 6 PM, definitely stop by because that's when the "reception" is going to be. I don't really know what that entails, but it is a bar/restaurant, so there will be food and drink (though you may very well have to buy that yourself - I'm unemployed). And if you feel like rockin' out, the Wrens are playing at the Middle East Downstairs later that night. I'm going and several other people have expressed interest in that as well. If you want to join in on that action, and I recommend you do because the Wrens wrock, I would get your tickets sooner rather than later because there's a good chance that it will sell out given their popularity and the fact that the college kids are back in town. You can come to the reception on the late side - 5:00, 5:30 - and then we can all either go out to eat or come back to my apartment, which is 4 blocks away, for cocktail hour(s). Seriously, the Wrens kick ass, so you should do that. But if you can't make that, I'd love to see all my little Von Trapper Keepsakes at some other time in the afternoon. Come on down.

(it's the Restaurant or "Upstairs" side, not the Corner Bar)

Friday, September 01, 2006

oh Poison.

Those of you who don't bother to read the comments sections of the VTK posts are missing out. This gem from longtime VTK reader and Poison fan, Kristin:

HOLY CRAP - Do I have a story about being old.

Picture this: Yesterday. 3pm. San Juan Airport. I was there with 12 of my co-workers (ages 23 - 30) and who should walk by but none other than CeCe Deville from Poison.

ME: hey guys...I think that was the guy from Poison

Young Co-workers: What's Poison ... Poison? you got Poisoned?

ME: No - like "Poison" the band.

YC's: Blank stares

I forget about it and think it's probably not the real CeCe Deville. It's probably just some shriveled Puerto Rican 90's rock enthusiast...because, honestly would the real CeCe Deville dress like it was 1993 and he was still the toast of the town?

So later on, I see him again...only closer this time and it's definitely him AND this time, he's with Brett Michaels, who is also dressed like he just left the video shoot for "Unskinny Bop"...So, sadly I have no ability to control the volume of my voice...especially after a 3 day alcohol soaked bender in the Dominican Republic and I scream "Oh my God Brett Micheals!!" - More in shock over my own ability to identify these people than the actual thrill of seeing them in person ...and he turns around and you can just see the sheer thrill on his face that someone actually recognized him and he didn't wake up this morning and squeeze himself into his tight white jeans for nothing.

Brett Micheals: "hey!"

Me: HEY BRETT MICHAELS!! (again only even more over excited)

ME and Brett Michaels stare at each other in the airport - not really knowing what to say. I don't really want to have the STAR/FAN moment with him because he looks like such a tool - so as he's walking away, I blurt out..."Remember when I fucked you in 95?"....and he turns around a again and I yell "just kidding"

Young CO-Workers: Staring blankly in confusion and disbelief.

One of YC's: Did you really fuck that guy?

Other than Allan, who is 30, not one of them knew who Poison was...but they knew "Every Rose Has it's Thorn" probably as a Karoke song. I'm so old.