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Music Reviews

Marc Olsen

Marc Olsen

didn’t ever… hasn’t since

My Own Planet

Replete with a haunting, small-universe, personalness, the songs of Marc Olsen ring with an easy authenticity. A muted mural in earthtones made bold by the artisan’s deft brushstrokes, didn’t ever… hasn’t since… is a Sistine Chapel ceiling of the soundsmith’s art, and as such, the artifices underpinning the creation are masterfully concealed.

On this, his second CD since shedding the skin of the lumbering prog-rock kimodo, Sage, which he fronted in the mid-Nineties, Olsen employs a rock stripped bare, a subtle homogeny of textures with just enough backing instrumentation and soundcraft niceties to provide gripping movement within his heartbeat-paced songs. “San Antone” uses the mournful wail and contraction of some understated lap steel and the barest suggestion of backing vocals by Anne-Marie Raljancich to create and punctuate, respectively, the tune’s communication of overwhelming longing. The more uptempo “No Surprise” crafts a bona fide rock riff out of some intensely warbled, arpeggiated guitar runs. On “To Sleep,” it is Olsen’s soulful vocals alone which create the ethereal hook under which runs, in stark contrast, a crisp and straight-ahead, dark pop backing.

didn’t ever… hasn’t since… is that rarest of songwriter discs: it is self-referential without stooping to self-pity, it strides at low volume without plodding at low energy, and it is undeniably American (with Jim Roth of the Delusions on pedal steel as a credential thereto) without becoming irreparably cornpone.

My Own Planet Recordings, P.O Box 95921, Seattle, WA 95921

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Features

It’s Time for a Softer, Gentler America

It’s Time for a Softer, Gentler America

A friend of mine at The Chicago Tribune who’s been upset with the unusual politics of 1998 and 1999, e-mailed the following to me: “The events of the last few months (Starr Report, et al) and the release of a far-reaching sexuality survey today (stating that “More than 4 out of every 10 women and 3 out of 10 men suffer from some serious sexual problem”) lead me to believe that we are a nation who can’t get it up, and we get mad when someone else can.”

This dovetailed nicely with a comment my friend John Siscoe made after Al Gore’s speech at the 1996 Democratic Convention. In the speech, Gore detailed his sister’s death of lung cancer after smoking for many years. Al was expressly saying that he knew the dangers of smoking and saw the damage it could cause. The subtext of what he was saying was “I may be the privileged son of an influential US senator, but I too have suffered, and I too feel your pain.”

John Siscoe grew up in DC and went to school with Al Gore. Siscoe could vouch for the fact that the Gore siblings were very close and that Al’s sister had in fact died of lung cancer. However, he said, it was a long time ago, and Al was reprising old griefs and exploiting them for political gain. John described this as “Severed Head Politics,” meaning that the ultimate end of suffering-based one-upmanship was for Gore’s opponents to nominate a severed head, kept alive with a respirator and artificial heart, because such an individual would have suffered more, would be able to empathize with more people who’ve suffered and would therefore make a better candidate.

What I would like to add at this point is that the news about Americans distrusting a sexually active man is the door into the White House which I’ve been eagerly awaiting. I am 35 years old and a natural-born citizen of the United States. I’ve been impotent for years. I understand the pain and the struggles of 30 percent of the men and 40 percent of the women in this country. I can empathize. I’ve felt the numbness. Numerous times I’ve had to make the dreaded, and never believed by the hearer, speech which begins, “This has nothing to do with you, I’m always this way…”

Therefore, I am officially announcing my candidacy for the office of the President of the United States. I call this an exercise in “Shriveled Head Politics.” I realize that 30 percent of the men and 40 percent of the women is not enough to get elected, but I’m hoping to amass a sizable, if limp, block of delegates going into the convention. As my “softie” delegates won’t be out soliciting hookers on the streets surrounding the convention hall, I hope to organize them into a lobbying force to get me onto the ticket of either party as the candidate for Vice President. When the time comes, I want to approach Quayle’s people with the suggestion they add me to the ticket and use the slogan, “Quayle and Liljengren: Where’s the Beef?…Not in the office of the Vice President!”

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Print Reviews

A Man In Full

A Man In Full

by Tom Wolfe

Farrar Straus & Giroux

Tom Wolfe and his books are given great deference because he acts the way we want a novelist to act. Articulate and media savvy, Wolfe gives good sound bytes wherever he goes. Clad in trademark white suit and borsalino hat, he’s the VH1 version of F. Scott Fitzgerald, belittling the rich as he gets richer and standing in our stead wherever people uncork beaujolais nouveau and are rich together. With each passing book, and each passing year that moves him further away from his “New Journalism” peak in the 1960s, this act is wearing thinner and thinner.

A landscape muralist of the first order, Wolfe is subpar at portraiture. He can scan sociological battlefields and deftly suggest the cacophony at work there. Unfortunately, he is less successful at focusing on the story of one particular soldier. At that point, his characters seem to be made less of flesh than of parchment. Their backgrounds read like composite files, and their actions seem to thrust out all too logically from the empty and sterile chamber where their center should be. You can almost hear the author wondering aloud how far into idiocy he can plausibly push a particular character while remaining consistent with the history he’s assembled for that individual.

Nowhere is this more true than in A Man in Full , Wolfe’s recent tome on race relations in the millennial south. Set in Atlanta, A Man sets up the meeting of a Zeus-worshipping escaped convict with a near-bankrupt real estate developer. Colliding with the actions of these caricatures are the struggles of a black athlete charged with raping a white college girl, the black civil lawyer who represents him, and the black mayor of Atlanta who must defuse the situation in an election year.

The action in A Man clips along successfully enough, and the physical details of the mayoral offices and country clubs forming the sets for this melodrama, are described in vivid detail. Wolfe is the technical master of terrain, fashion, architecture, and how they are immortalized in print. The people in the book, however, seem a little less real, as if they’ve been caught in a dreamlike movie where the backdrops are real and the actors are mannequins.

Wolfe creates no heroes, or at least he hasn’t since Chuck Yeager in The Right Stuff , and Wolfe only wrote about him. God created him. In both Bonfire of the Vanities and A Man in Full , Wolfe pursues the annoying habit of punishing all his characters equally. When every character is belittled, the reader doesn’t know with whom to side.

Wolfe has however, always managed to come up with works which seem immediately and electrically connected to the time of their creation. Bonfire was a lot more interesting and relevant in the Eighties. Similarly, The Right Stuff and The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test had a special connection to their place and time. Only A Man in Full fails to grasp at least one of the hot wires powering its age.

For this reason, perhaps, A Man already seems to have fallen from the public fancy. Released in hardback to much pre-Christmas hoopla last fall, A Man has yet to turn the corner and become the cultural front-runner his previous works have become. At this point in the hype cycle ten years ago, Sherman McCoy and Bonfire were still a struck match compared with the blaze they would eventually become. There are those who attribute this to Wolfe’s age and the fact that he may be losing the special powers of observation he’s always counted on to view the world. I think it’s just that the public is getting sick of white suits.

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Features

You Bastards!

You Bastards!

Planet of the Apes Hits 30

“I left both earth and the 20th Century without regret…” intones Charlton Heston as Astronaut Taylor in the original trailer to Francis Schaffner’s 1968 science fiction film, “Planet of the Apes.”

In this, the 30th anniversary year of POTA’s release, Heston’s stray promotional patter rings more true than ever. In two years, barring a nuclear flare-up of the kind said to have destroyed the humans in that treasured piece of simian sci-fi, all of us will leave the 20th century behind, likely without regret. And as Heston himself, born in Chicago in 1923, has spent 75 years with the weight of this world on his shoulders, it is probably not long before the Oscar-winning “Ben Hur” charioteer leaves this “green and insignificant planet” behind.

Meanwhile, back on what remains of terra firma and the 1900s, there is talk of a Hollywood “Apes” remake. Fan sources on the web say this project has been “green lighted.” A simpler effort in the direction of reawakening POTA interest would involve a simple theatrical re-release with digitized soundtrack, but no such buzz is circulating.

The thirtieth anniversary of POTA means nothing so much as the fact myself and my second generation TV baby cohorts are now comfortably in mid-life. For a generation of boys, now men in their thirties, POTA was our first free-vee taste of not only big-budget sci-fi, but of adult cynicism and the gripping power of unmistakable, O-Henry-to-the-tenth-power, ironic plot twists.

When we reached the stage of primate development where “The Wizard of Oz” as a children’s story ceased to fascinate us we turned on in droves to TV screenings of POTA and its four lesser progeny. The efficacy of POTA parodies on “The Simpsons” and elsewhere is modern day proof of this 70s boyhood phenomena.

Despite more of the heavy-handed gloom that had been so appealling in the first Apes movie– it’s hard to arrive at a more dour plot twist than Taylor’s doomsday bomb detonation at the close of “Beneath the Planet of the Apes”– the sequels never captivated me as thoroughly as the series opener. When my canon of unmissable reruns grew to include a dark little show from the fifties with an enigmatic narrator, I would understand why.

POTA’s screenplay was co-written by Night Gallery opening, Twilight Zoner, Rod Serling. The “You maniacs! You blew it up! Awww… Damn you… damn you all to hell!” ending to POTA is the grandest closing shocker in a career built on sledgehammer denouements. As the fullest development, the magnum opus, of Serling’s brand of preachy and allegorical, yet still accessible, science fiction, POTA’s place in the canon of mid to late-century American Environments is as secure as Bill “Major Healey” Dailey’s place in the eternal honor guard of comic TV sidekickdom.

Serling’s involvement with the Apes series ended (wisely) after the first movie. Because of this, the other four movies differ so sharply in quality and internal consistency that– while cocktail party Apes scoffers should probably not be allowed to make snide fodder of them– they are of little use in a serious Apes discussion. The qualitative distance between “Beneath the POTA” and “POTA” is as clearly defined as the distance between “In the Ghetto” and “Hound Dog.” One rocks and the other doesn’t. “In the Ghetto” and “Beneath the POTA” can both be entertaining in small doses, but they should not be confused with the genuine articles. Elvis’ legitimacy ended in the army and Apes’ ended at the Statue of Liberty. All else is epilogue.

But there is enough material in POTA to sustain worthwhile inquiry. A prophet of doom who succeeded best in warning us what not to do, Serling uses men in Ape masks to perfect certain of his quirky anti-themes. Religious tyranny, human intolerance, and human shortsightedness all take center stage in POTA.

Serling’s religious whipping boy is POTA’s enigmatic Dr. Zaius. When first we meet the bad doctor, the “Chief Prosecutor and Defender of the Faith,” as Heston’s Taylor will later call him, he is working like a medieval pope to squelch the Copernicus-like research of Cornelius and Zira, two chimpanzees pursuing the theory that humans evolved from apes. This theory is dangerous to Dr. Zaius because he, an orangutan, is the ecclesiastical numero uno of the ape civilization and the scriptural creation account for his religion, given to the Apes by The Lawgiver, (perhaps a Serling retro-snigger at Heston as Moses in “The Ten Commandments”) clearly states that Apes descended from the mute humans inhabiting their world.

But Zaius is not only a religious leader, he is the chief of scientific inquiry as well. There is a reason for this, we will learn. When Cornelius and Zira present their evidence of intelligent humans, Zaius does not behave in the way we would expect an inquiring scientific mind to do. He attempts to force their silence by threatening their careers. When Taylor breaks the rules of ape court and pleads for his sentient and reproductive life in the reverse Monkey Trial at the center of the film, essentially proving wrong Zaius’s assertion, lifted from sacred writ, that there can be no such thing as an intelligent human, Zaius refuses to listen and shuts down the proceeding.

Zaius then meets privately and talks ape to man with Taylor in the movie’s most moving scene. “I’ve known of your coming for years and I’ve dreaded it,” he says, explaining he’s been privy to evidence of a human civilization for years and has been actively covering up such ideas before they got to the ape populace. The apes need an ordered society and an unchallengeable religion, he says, in order to maintain an ordered society and not destroy themselves.

Later when Taylor escapes with Cornelius and Zira to revisit one of Cornelius’s archaeological digs. Zaius and a contingent of gorilla (literally) soldiers catch up with them. Zaius is forced to examine Cornelius’s irrefutable evidence of an ancient human civilization. Zaius responds by destroying the evidence and arresting Cornelius and Zira. In an out-of-character display of mercy, Zaius allows Taylor and Nova to escape in order for Taylor to find “his destiny.” The destiny to which Zaius is referring to is the half buried Lady Liberty and Taylor’s epiphany that mankind both has and will always destroy itself. Thus, as Jesus allows the the rich young ruler to go off and experience the spiritual dangers of wealth on his own, Zaius allows Taylor to ride the beach and confront the impulse to self-destruction written into the human genetic code and Zaius’s essential rectitude in deep-sixing ape inquiries into a human past.

While Serling may paint religious types as retrograde deceivers and members of a decidedly non-holy Tri-lateral Commission bent on impeding intellectual growth, it can also be said that Serling was no humanist. He was not shy about sharing testimony of his belief in certain nuclear annihilation. Such sermons loom large in both POTA and “The Twilight Zone.” Serling is the mad prophet warning of both the dangers of enforced orthodoxy and of unchecked human competition.

I’m guessing that Serling believed the societal acceptance of the theory of evolution and rejection of biblical creation accounts would bring about the end of religion. We’re 30 years past POTA and such late century phenomena as Louis Farrakhan, the Promisekeepers, and the rise of a billion dollar Christian music industry have already proven him wrong. If Serling were alive, (he left earth and the 20th century on June 28, 1975, perhaps without regret) however, such targets as those three would be high on his list of possible subject matter in any cable rebirth of “Twilight Zone.”

Serling’s take on rascism is found in the three-tiered ape society. In POTA ape society, orangutans, with their light colored fur, were at the top, holding most of the positions requiring intellect, while chimpanzees were relegated to glorified house servant status, and gorillas were left in the rain as strapping field hands and mercenaries. When Cornelius ponders the glass-ceiling he has reached at the University because he is a chimpanzee and not an orangutan, Serling wanted America of 1968– the year of the Martin Luther King assassination– to look at their own arbitrary distinctions based on skin color. These conflicts are not resolved in the course of the film. Rascism, even Serling seems to admit, is something which can’t be unwound in a screenplay.

Serling clearly had a soft spot for the fauna of this world. It’s hard to watch the caging of humans, and their use as test subjects, and not rethink our own failures of compassion regarding the furry, and non-furry, friends with whom we share this planet.

As for leviathan Heston and his acting skills, in POTA and elsewhere, I’m not going to champion them. His unusual range was larger than myth, yet still limited. When he took roles requiring him to precision tune the pomp and thunder theatrics– as was so in Orson Welles’ “A Touch of Evil,” where Heston tried to portray an emotional Tejano– the results were not for the squeamish.

But I will say Chuck was a bona fide movie star. His pompous demeanor and dulcet tones were popular for a time with directors and moviegoers. Movie actors, even the best ones– even moody Leonardo and beautiful Kate– are props that talk. The director is the artist at work in the cinema. In that context, Heston as a young hunk was a prop who spoke well. When mid-century movie makers needed a take-charge elocutionist to further their American Dream propaganda, Heston was ready, willing, and naturally gifted with Billy Graham’s patrician good looks.

If we ask how come he didn’t grow artistically and change with the times, we already know the answer. For one, there are few who can do it. Paul Newman is one, but the list is short. More accurately, it boils down to the range thing. Audiences can stomach pompous men when they’re cute. We’ll deal with them through their twenties, thirties, and a year or two into their forties, but after that, if there’s no wisdom of the ages, no likably vulnerable crack in their armor, no self-effacing charm or bright smile, we’ll look elsewhere when investing our $7.50 at the box office.

POTA came late in the game for Heston, (he was 45) and it was his last shining moment. It would take him decades to realize this, but it’s nonetheless true. POTA worked as well as it did because Serling was an old school Hollywood gangsta himself, still interested in fighting the ideological battles of the fifties even as “Tet Offensive,” “bad trip,” and “seriously overcrowded correctional facilities” became household phrases. And if a battle for the soul of the 1950s is being fought, anywhere, at any time, who better to have on your side than Charlton Heston?

There is a proto hippie ape in POTA, and an inter-species kiss, but Serling’s attempt at contemporaneity is half-hearted. Even as Taylor tells the simian youth at POTA’s end to “Keep them flying… the flags of discontent,” Taylor rides a horse into the sunset, his obedient, mute, fur-bikinied, woman cuddling close behind him. Taylor is no Acquarian age hero, he is the last Gary Cooper, the last western hero whom audiences will follow anywhere, even to the Statue of Liberty and the sobering realization that their destruction is inevitable.

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Music Reviews

Garbage

Garbage

Version 2.0

Almo Sounds

Like the generic software upgrade its name was intended to satirize, Garbage’s Version 2.0 improves on their wildly-successful eponymous debut in small and familiar ways. The hits download a little quicker. The songs interface more smoothly and move more intuitively from one interface to the next. Still, the total sound and feel of 2.0 stays firmly within the slightly disturbing, yet always memorable, sonic platform Garbage fans have come to expect.

“I Think I’m Paranoid,” explores several catchy new grooves while reprising the insouciant approach to psychosis which made the first album’s “I’m Only Happy When it Rains” such a gripping post-pop anthem. On back to back beat stompers, “Medication” and “Special,” Manson’s gift for making moments of sonic intimacy out of larger than myth angst transform two wistful vehicles, dangerously overloaded with self-pity, into soaring birds of triumph. “Wicked Ways,” an edgy, near-blues gem, oozes enough trad-rock authenticity to stand out from the introductory electronicisms elsewhere on the disc like a star sapphire among computer chips. Into “Push It,” an otherwise crispish, feedback-enriched ditty loaded with the nocturnal persistence and sensual urgency present in every song around which the divine Ms. M wraps her breathy, disarming vocals, Garbage has interpolated the chorus of “Don’t Worry Baby,” the Beach Boys’ early nineteen sixtysomething hit. Version 2.0 finishes with Manson as woman/child and eternal siren delicately beckoning listeners to come back on “You Look So Fine.”

The pink feathered boa, which appeared on the first album cover and which became a must-have grrrl accessory after having been draped across Manson’s alabaster shoulders in a video or two, has passed into history. Adorning the CD cover this time is a swatch of iridescent orange cloth quilted into tight squares. In interior photos, Manson vogues in a form-fitting jacket made of the same material. Knockoffs of the jacket will be appearing soon on high school campuses worldwide.

On the same inner CD page, Manson bares, before God and everybody, those creamy white, defiant, unmistakably fetching teeth. Gaps and fillings glare out, naked under the klieg lights. Apparently, as effective and musically strong as this new CD is, upgrades for Version 2.0 didn’t include dental work

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Music Reviews

Grant Lee Buffalo

Grant Lee Buffalo

Jubilee

Slash/Warner Bros.

Grant Lee Buffalo’s Jubilee, like all works of popular music crying out for the “A” word — art — is spun from the fine madness of its slightly touched and supremely gifted creator. GLB songs, all written by frontperson and songwriter Grant Lee Phillips, defy easy categorization. Coming off as three-minute novels of elation and reverie, Jubilee‘s songs open deeply felt worlds for the listener which linger long after the music’s over.

While much of Jubilee‘s sum total magic can be traced to Phillips’ apt songsmithing, deft delivery, and aggressive arranging, such vaporous and elusive hoodoo exceeds the rock-crit lingua’s descriptive vocabulary. Instrumentally, GLB remakes the rutted road of bluesy trad-Americana first paved by Bob Dylan on Highway 61 Revisited — and subsequently worn through under the lumbering Birkenstocks of legions of tributists — by piercing listeners with occasional slashes of trebly, distinctly nineties, feedback.

Gifted with a plaintive rocker’s voice and the ability to affect a Motown falsetto, Phillips manipulates pitch and dynamics for maximum vocal effect. On a confessional ditty like “Testimony,” Phillips the pop chameleon moves between the stylings of oppositional vocal polarities, Smoky Robinson and Neil Young, as seamlessly as he moves from verse to chorus.

The CD’s push song, “Truly,” is a catchy paean to love recaptured at the abyss. Weighted with autumnal imagery, it grips as an anthem of seasonal transition. “Everybody Needs a Little Sanctuary,” with its muted banjo and accordion intro, is nonetheless persistent, syncopated, and upbeat. As its title promises, “Sanctuary” is a still, small oasis amid the more muscular guitar chops elsewhere on the disc. Likewise Jubilee, a subtle, consistent, 14-song collection of freshness remade from familiar idioms, forms a welcome respite from the over-the-top sonic brinksmanship available elsewhere in recorded music.

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Music Reviews

Big Fish Ensemble

Big Fish Ensemble

State Bird of Big Fish Ensemble

Put It On a Cracker

Fans of eccentric, Atlanta-based quirksters Big Fish Ensemble, have known for a long time the band exists in its own world. Recently, BFE declared statehood, giving their unique cosmos boundaries, an eponymous capitol city, a state motto (“Hey, that’s my bike”), and a State Bird of Big Fish Ensemble CD with twelve new songs.

According to the map provided on the CD’s back cover, BFE’s newly-created governmental unit lies somewhere between Texas, Rhode Island, and Greenland. Such a place, difficult to locate via cartographic means, mirrors BFE’s difficult-to-pin-down musical geography. With a sound located somewhere between klezmer rock, trad-Americana, and early seventies prog rock and jazz pop, BFE plays song-driven rock that defies boundaries.

Utilizing the considerable gifts of violinist Sheila Doyle and bassist-trumpeter Leigh Finlayson, BFE moves beyond three-guitars-and-a-drum sameness, instead generating orchestral-ish sounds. Such instrumental approaches in rock, and the sturm and drang crescendos most frequently imprisoning them, are generally the exclusive domain of closeted jazz commandos and Allan Holdsworth tributists. BFE however, steals back the violin, trumpet, trombone, theremin, viola, and clarinet by placing each in a song-based setting so spare the more-expansive-than-rock instruments sound novel, even human-sized.

All of BFE’s sonic exploration is done in the service of the song. Absent from State Bird is any sign of eclecticism poisoning, the intellectual rocker’s blight necessitating perfectly fine and simple songs be sullied with idiomatic variety introduced for no purpose other than to advertise the diversity of the composer. For BFE, sonic and geographic exploration flows from a highly unusual, truly personal, and deeply felt, aesthetic vision.

Two of State Bird‘s catchier tunes, “Goodbye Mister” and “Normaltown,” evince winsome longing from the band to be part of the bland normalcy which clings inescapably to the rest of us. “Khosid’s Wedding Dance” is a catchy bit of garage klezmer capable of turning all music fans, be they Buddhist, Baptist, or Jain, into kazotski-dancing descendants of Abraham. The faux Tom Waits confessional, “Big Mac Daddy,” is worth a few grins even on the second and third listens. It’s the easy-flowing “June Birthday,” which rounds out the disc and solidifies Big Fish Ensemble’s place as a band possessed of the pop musician’s holy triad: a gift for writing songs, an ear for how they should sound, and the musical chops to perform them. Put It On A Cracker, PO Box 2944, Gainesville, FL 32602

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Print Reviews

Girlfriend in a Coma

Girlfriend in a Coma

by Douglas Coupland

HarperCollins

In 1990, Douglas Coupland incorporated the name of a semi-obscure UK rock band into the title of his first novel. In the process he popularized the phrase that would come to describe a generation of Americans and their propensities for directionlessness, narcotizing, self-pity, and reruns. Though only eight years have passed since Generation X: Tales From an Accelerated Culture, both Coupland and the late-born miscreants about which he writes have come of age. In Girlfriend, Coupland, a Vancouver native, deftly applies all of his prosaic gifts — a keen ear for dialog, a satirist’s eye for pop-cultural absurdity, and a profound love for his characters — to a story involving death, spiritual awakening, and the apocalypse as seen from British Columbia. While these elements have appeared in previous works by the author, such were fleeting cameos and mere preludes to the gripping drama and fully-developed story into which they are invested in Girlfriend. Previous Coupland works have succeeded best in helping those in Generation X to understand post-modern culture and their seeming need to fractionalize it into a primary school collage of high and low art. Despite a title taken from a Smiths song, and the mildly distracting sprinkles of other Smiths-related verbiage throughout the work, Girlfriend transcends the limitations of subject and demographics inherent in such devices, and addresses graver and more universally relevant questions, such as “From where does meaning come?” and “Now that we have all the consumer goods we ever wanted, what shall we do with the balance of our lives?” I would recommend Girlfriend in a Coma to anyone of any age.

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Music Reviews

Hominy

Hominy

Hominy

Ivy/Sounds of the American West

Like Missouri’s Bottle Rockets, Hominy launches a powerful American aesthetic from a solid rock footing. Crafted over several years, this eponymous debut pays tribute to the artists who’ve shaped Americana rock, revisits familiar outback geography, and furthers the hardtwang tradition by updating the desperate characters found there, giving them painfully post-modern stories.

Frontwoman/songwriter Jessie Sykes has a voice reminiscent of Grace Slick at her Volunteers best. The guitar playing of her husband, Jim Sykes, bends with the elastic grit and keen riffing sense of Neil Young at Zuma Beach. Jim’s glowing, dusky leads underscore Jessie’s soulful, midnight vocals. Drummer Kevin Blackwood and bassist Duffy Williams precision tune the rhythm section, grounding in metronomic obsidian the heavenward thrust of voice and guitar.

Named for a Southern dish, Hominy’s Bible-belt moniker misleads. Their sound is more western than country, more Hell’s Angels than Southern Baptist angels. The CD cover better reveals Hominy’s essence. High on the blood red liner rides the mounted head of a longhorn steer, international symbol for rangeland carnivores. Below that a girl points to Chinese characters on a wall. Together the images suggest both the band’s home in Seattle, the multi-culti metropolis where Montana meets the Orient, and the Democracy Wall of folk-country-rock, a genre with roots in the electrification of one-time protest crooner Bob Zimmerman.

Jessie’s ear for potent lyrics loads the CD with memorable phrases. “If I didn’t kill you in my dreams I’d kill you in your sleep,” she sings in “Sunny Days and Raisinets,” a manifesto of relational dissolution so bitter it should be heard in the soundtrack to any remake of Thelma and Louise. In “Trinity Pass,” the embattled heroine describes herself as “thrown like a baby off the Grand Coulee dam.” Suchlike dark eloquence descends on every song.

From the prostitute receiving a catty comeuppance in “Closing Day,” to rant-writing doper “Marty the Medic,” Hominy characters live large in the demimonde of Route 66 criminality. Even the band photo on the CD’s back cover is reminiscent of no human enterprise so much as Matt Dillon’s Portland-based, pharmacy-jacking, desperado gang in Drugstore Cowboy.

It will be a long time before rock’n roll marriages in Seattle will be compared to any coupling other than that of unwitting poster children, Kurt & Courtney. However, with this much bandito salsa enriching Hominy, Jim & Jessie Sykes go a long way toward differentiating themselves as the Emerald City’s new Bonnie and Clyde. Sounds of the American West, P.O. Box 1994, Seattle, WA 98111-1994

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Features

Gone Truckin’

Truckin’

This is my true confession.

I’ve made no secret of my love for detective shows in general, or The Streets of San Francisco in particular. Where I live, it’s aired from one to two in the morning, and there I make my home in Seattle’s wee, quiet hours. My provincial city has gone to sleep, and I’m seated at my 12 inch Gold Star television, a willing resident of Bay Area 1974 and devotee of Karl Malden’s tough, puritanical, old-school detective, Mike Stone.

Commercials at that hour are testaments to the vanity of the proprietors buying them. Advertisements for Vern Fonk Insurance, for instance, feature Vern himself exhorting us to “honk when you drive by Vern Fonk.” Spots for Younkers Nissan have the stiff-backed, poor-reading owner and his son in matching suits. They stare holes in what must look to them like the Rosetta Stone, but is, in fact, their cue card.

Poulsbo RV, a trailer and Winnebago dealer, has my favorite ads.

Poulsbo, Washington is a theme community, similar to Leavenworth, Washington or Solvang, California (or Leavenworth, Kansas for that matter, where incarceration is the theme). Washington’s Leavenworth is a small town that turned itself into a costume Bavarian Village to attract tourists. It’s cheap, it’s tacky, and it works. Every time I get there — which isn’t often, as I hate to leave both television and city — more stores and landmarks are burdened with the leaden German determinative “der” in their name. “Der Safeway” for instance, is the supermarket, “Der Mechanik,” the garage. All the while, more and more senior citizens chafe in their leiderhosen while selling stale biscotti behind mock Bavarian espresso carts.

Poulsbo, Washington and Solvang, California do the same with Danish kitsch. A valiant effort these, as the culture of tiny Denmark, pastry thin in its purest form, has little to captivate tourists after they’ve tired of classical music comedy in the Victor Borge museum.

All this is part of a larger, steadily proceeding trend to Walt Disni-fy every acre of this great land. A sterilized version of once-comical cocktail culture has lumbered from the wreckage of Jackie Gleason’s forgotten liquor cabinets and made nostalgia out of troublesome hangovers. Gen-X scenesters stuff their closets with outfits tragically modeled after seventies sitcom stars. Thus, the possibilities are endless. If leather shorts and Tyrolian hats be the stuff of geriatric nostalgia in Leavenworth, and small town America sufficient to anchor Walt Disney’s Main Street, why can’t a fresher panacea nurture a tougher, hipper, more slacker-friendly nostalgia?

Enter the strip mall. For future nostalgia purposes, at least. History teaches us strip malls, like every other fad in commercial architecture, will pass from the landscape. 7-11 stores and their trademark Slurpees will go the way of the Woolworth lunch counter and the nickel cup of coffee. Though the day may be far off, and successor stores unimaginable, we will eventually have to visit prefab nostalgia vendors to experience again the arid mix of bland decor, plentiful parking, and foreign-assembled merchandise so common to us today. Tomorrow’s Walt Disney will string up a skyway from K-Martland to the pavilion of forgotten burger novelties (“Honey, remember the ‘McDLT?’ It kept the hot side hot and the cool side cool.”) and start selling tickets.

Now for the good part. I am seeking investors for “Truckstopland,” a pet project. The success of chain restaurants is currently pushing roadside greasy spoons to extinction. To sate public desire for a glossed over past, I will provide a quality “wildcatter” experience, while trucking in my own fortune. There will be vitamins sold as mock amphetamines, audio-animatronic “Julies” delivering the Gettysburg address, and a laminated, one page, coffee-stained, “Adam-and-Eve-on-a-Raft Gourmenu” with Olestra dishes created by Wolfgang Puck. Mock diesel fumes will be pumped in from floor and ceiling vents. Overweight men will make eyes at you in the men’s room. Pancakes larger than sofa cushions will be served on carefully chipped dinnerware with sulfurous powdered eggs caked on the side. Low grade coffee will be boiled to its darkest, bitterest essence before any cup will be served. A distant soundtrack of sizzling, fatty burgers will be played at high volume from AM Radio speakers while bass lines to ancient country songs will be played from more numerous and more distorted speakers scattered at random throughout the restaurant. The ketchup will be warm and vinegary while the coffee cream will stay perpetually on the verge of curdling.

I hope to locate the establishment in a Sinclair station I will renovate. Located near an abandoned aluminum smelter, work will begin there upon receipt of EPA approval. It is currently a Superfund Clean-Up site.

Back to the Poulsbo RV commercials. They feature a smiling silver-haired gentleman, an individual who could easily play the part of an overeager church deacon on Hee Haw. Initially, I thought his ads were ludicrous, because his messages began with his breathless exhortation “Calling all RV People,” before he shared his low prices.

RV People? Was this a tribe of overweight snackers crawling the continent? I thought about it a while. What sort of sad sack would enjoy riding the cookie cutter American highway system, living off pretzels from Arco Quickie Marts and nine piece Chicken McNugget orders while camping at KOA Kampgrounds or the odd trailer park with a spare berth? What kind of person could take to that?

Then it hit me. Me. I was that kind of person. I could appreciate the sad hopes of a generation of senior citizens who thought mobility would spice up their golden years, only to find a uniform republic where temperatures change but cultures never do. I could laugh at the sad irony of a country where mass production, television, and instant communication have made our residential subdivisions and malls of commerce uniform nationwide. It takes a cross-country trip in a Winnebago to verify this. You have to see it to believe it.

It is that very uniformity which has created demand for theme-related towns like Poulsbo and Leavenworth, or a theme-related restaurant like Planet Hollywood or my proposed Truckstopland. Leave it to that televised church deacon in the late night RV commercials to figure out the scam that would cash in on it. He can laugh all the way to the bank selling his peers on wheels for them to scour the country in. When they discover the only variety available, at least the only type of variety safe enough for them to partake of, is found in synthetic burgs like the one where they bought their RV, the church deacon can get on the tube again, spout, “Calling all RV people!” and either offer to buy back the RV at a low price for resale to future RV People, or entice them to come in for high priced RV repairs and Danish pastries.