Saturday, June 26, 2010

The Residents Are Deadheads!

No. No, they aren't. But there are rumors to that effect... Back in the day, I did in fact have a Deadhead friend try to get me into the band by claiming that the Residents sometimes attended Grateful Dead shows in costume. Imagine my shock when I learned the truth behind the story -- a shadowy truth linking the Residents, the Dead and my very own guitarist, the hon. Richard Talleywhacker!

I have a vague feeling I may have told this story on the blog before, but I can't figure out where and when. It's good enough to be worth re-telling, though. For those unfamiliar with certain types of popular music, let me introduce our cast of characters.

First off, the Grateful Dead. They were a hippy-era band from San Francisco. They're one of those bands that's actually a lifestyle in disguise, kinda like (and predating) Jimmy Buffett. Their followers were a gentle drug-addled cultish group referred to as Deadheads.

Musically? They combined roots music with psychedelia, and were well-known for their live improvisation. I do enjoy some of their stuff, but the majority of their their oeuvre makes me feel as if I have the flu. They were skilled and gifted musicians -- it takes remarkable ability to do music as bad as the Dead at their worst.

(I am awfully fond of Jerry Garcia's solo work and especially his collaborations with Dave Grisman.)

The Residents, on the other hand, are exactly my dish of tea when I'm in the mood. Right now I've got a copy of their faux-Innuit folk music album Eskimo sitting next to the bed for listening-in-the-dark purposes.

I first heard the Residents back in the early eighties, on the Dr. Demento show. Even in that venue, their music came off as aggressively weird and willfully intelligent, so of course I fell for it. The Resident's are actually nearly as old as the Dead -- I think their first release came out in '69. And they have always been way, way avant guarde. They did some of the first videos, early use of synthesizers and sequencers, etc, etc. They have an admirably unified aesthetic, incorporating multimedia and design into their work. I fucking love them.

They are totally anonymous. No one knows who they are; I've heard that one of their core members is a really famous musician who you'd never imagine would be a Resident. I'm hoping it's Bob Seger, just for the shock value.

They perform wearing masks. Initially, the masks were all eyeballs wearing top hats. (see above) But when an eyeball was stolen at a live show, they replaced it with a giant skull, thus enhancing their mythology.

I've recently heard a theory put forth that at least one of them is a woman. It was an interesting theory, backed by intriguing rumors of circumstantial evidence. So I'm changing my mind. I now hope that Dolly Parton is a Resident.

So when Brian --

("Brian, you can play your fucking Dead until the cows come home, but you have played Sugar Magnolia six times today and if I hear it a seventh time I promise my behavior will be both shocking and spectacular." "But dude! Those were all from different shows! They're totally different songs!")

-- when Brian told me the Residents attended Dead shows in their stage costumes, I was troubled.

Years later, after the hon. Richard Talleywhacker and I decided to play music, we set up a studio at his house. (The special quality of our early recordings is due to the fact that the space we occupied could be described accurately as being both a garage and a basement, thus squaring our credibility.) And what did I find decorating the studio?

See the image at top.

It turns out that it was a costume that Mr. Talleywhacker created and wore in high school.

And Mr. Talleywhacker, may the lord pity him, is a Deadhead.

(When Jerry Garcia died, out of respect for my dear friend's grief, I waited more than a year to tell Mr. Talleywhacker what my initial response to the news has been. "Dude, I knew it was just a matter of time before you dragged my ass to a Dead show. So when I heard Jerry died, my first thought was that the band was finally living up to its name -- he was dead, and I was grateful."

He looked at me with great sorrow in his face, flooding me with guilt. "Dude, I knew I'd hear something like that from someone, but I didn't think it would be you."

Of course, our at-the-time asshole lead guitarist suggested that the Dead's best hope for continued success would be to put Garcia's corpse on stage and say it was the Touch of Grave tour...)

Anyway, it seems that for a number of years, Mr. Talleywhacker was in the habit of attending Dead shows while wearing the eyeball. We were discussing this last night and Mr. Talleywhacker expressed some disgust for the gullible Deadheads.

"Just look at it. The real eyeballs don't have that heavy stoner red-eye on them. And when did the Residents ever wear fucking tie-died shorts?"

I'd just like to remind Mr. Talleywhacker that all of the witnesses to his awesome presence were high.

Very, very high indeed.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

The Final Stage Commences

From time to time the missus says, "You're starting to look like your self-portrait." This is the self-portrait she means. I'm waiting to start two major projects -- the place mats and the illustrations for Swill -- so I figured I may as well start another large-scale print. This should be fairly horrific by the time I'm done.

So today I did the last advance plotting I'm going to do before beginning the novel. If I find elements I need to track as I go along, I'll be sure and do so. But right now I've got a nice fat stack of file cards in a clip and they tell me that I've got a novel to write.

(The fact that most of those cards were written in felt pen by Walter Jon Williams is a thrill -- hey, everybody! The best plotter in SF helped me plot my novel! So if it sucks, it's pretty much his fault. And if it's any good, well, I suppose the benefit accrues to his name as well. That only seems fair. Except to the roomful of skilled and gifted imaginations that did most of the work. I just stood back and said, "Yeah, that's fucking brilliant," and "No, he/she wouldn't do that," and "Oh, shit, there's this whole other thaaang I never told you bout." Actually, that's what I was doing today. Adding them thaaangs. And for the record, EF Kelley was the one who saved the goddamned novel.)


The main changes are to ditch most of the, "but it really happened!" stuff, to simplify the elements in order to unify the motives behind events, and to increase the cohesion and sense of connection between events.

In other words, I've decided that this is primarily a work of adventure fantasy rather than a thinly-disguised autobiography. I've been schooled on the plot and I think it will show. The elements that were most important to me during the mid-stages of creation will all be there, but they won't be as strident and overwhelming. Rather, they're like bay leafs in the stew. Yeah, you've got to have that flavor -- but you don't want to have your guests biting down on bay leafs.

When I was at Taos Toolbox, I was told that I need to rewrite the novel -- but that I need to rewrite it once and then send it out. And that is what I'm going to do.

Monday, June 21, 2010

State of the Oaf

So, whatcha think of the new look? Please glance to your right and notice the link to my spanking new Redbubble gallery, where the Bonelands series of prints is currently posted and ready for purchase. Also note a few changes in my blog roll -- I've added a couple of pals, deleted a few people who -- while certainly worthy -- were not particularly close to my circle.

See, it turns out that I passed 20,000 hits when I wasn't looking so I figured it was time to class the joint up. The banner? I didn't use 3D software; instead, I used Illustrator to draft a three-point perspective grid, then I drew the shapes in Photoshop, rendered them in Painter, and then brought the thing back to Photoshop for the lettering. Fun times.

So here's what's going on with me.

There's no need to go into the hell of last winter. If you're a reader, you've got an idea, if you're not, you don't need to read my pissing and moaning.

Things are different now.

I have a number of very specific plans to try and make some money. I'm going to be putting all my old art up on Redbubble and possibly DeviantArt galleries, and there will be prints available. My friend Deborah has recently approached me about doing a series of place mats with a dinosaur theme. I'll do those, and then use them as samples of my art when I try and sell a children's book on dinosaurs. And I'm entering the UC Extension editorial program this fall, and while I'm doing that I will be investigating the possibility of writing and editing manuals and tutorials for graphics software.

And I won't be going further into debt while pursuing these options. My sister has finally agreed to sell our family house in Merced, so I'll have enough money to get through the editorial program.

I will also be able to make a few changes in my studio that will make it a more effective creative space. Blinds on the west window so I can work in the late afternoon and early evening, a pillow to support a drawing board so I can sketch while at my workstation, a new stand for my light table so I can use it as a surface for blocking out plots with Post-It notes and file cards, and whatever I need to do podcasts. (That's right, by the end of the summer you'll be getting some spoken-word Oaf.)

The novel is cooking right along. I did some important writing yesterday, and will be doing a thorough re-reading in conjunction with the new plot outline generated at Taos Toolbox. I have every confidence that by the end of the summer, I'll be starting to circulate both the novel and the film script.

And Taos Toolbox was perfect. It set me back on my feet, made me feel that plot is learnable and the novel is under control, and the sheer pleasure of doing something well with people you respect is a difficult thing to beat.

I'm a little further along the process of coming to terms with myself. I am, like it or not, a classic crazy genius. If you were to go back and read this blog from the beginning, you'd find a fascinating if not always pleasant history of what seems to be a series of bipolar episodes. I run the gamut from sleepy croaks to extreme lucidity to hysterical ravings, and if you plot these out you do seem to get a sine wave.

So I am going to be experimenting with therapy, as well. But right now I'm riding the sweet edge of a manic state, and it's a hell of a lot of fun.

I'm grateful to all the people in my life who are patient enough to put up with me. I'm a rewarding person, I hope, but I'm not what you'd call easy on the nerves. Oh, well. Dealing with me is not always like dealing with a person. I'm a bit of a force of nature, a larger-than-life character, and that's just the way it is.

In the past I've felt kind of crappy about the fact that the personality I present to the outside world is one I deliberately tried to construct -- it's only bad craftsmanship on my part that keeps me from being arrestingly charismatic -- but I've come to realize that I had to assemble that personality from the parts I had laying around, and some of those parts are actually fairly admirable.

Yeah, I'm a weirdo. Even in the company of New Agers, stoners, junkies, writers, artists, and SF people I still stand out as an eccentric. What the fuck. You know what I am?

I am brilliant. Smart, talented, imaginative, and skilled. I have an excellent prose style, a fine control over composition, a rock-solid rhythm. I'm a brute, but I'm a good-natured brute. Having me around is like having a pet bear. And at the same time, I like to take care of people. I'm the kind of person people ask for advice, the kind of person children and animals automatically trust. People tend to open up to me if I'm around them for more than twenty minutes or so. That's because I really listen, and I really care. My raging insanity is balanced by a mind of exceptionally fine discipline, and the intense pressures involved in that balance are the source of my art.

I'm a man you don't meet every day.

My powerful drives toward self-negation and self-destruction are hard on the people who care for me. I'm sorry, I'm sorry -- but that is something that's going to come up. It just is. I can take responsibility for it, but sometimes I'm going to need help.

The thing is? I get that help. People think I'm worth the extra effort. I am so grateful for the kindness of those around me that it's hard to deal with sometimes, but it's enough to keep me going, to keep me motivated, to keep me interested in life. Every kind word and gesture extended to me carries a vital importance that I cannot ignore.

So think of it this way. If you're going to care about me, expect a fucking rollercoaster -- but you can count on a scenic ride. Yes, I make extra demands on the people around me. I wish I didn't. But I'm a rewarding person to be around in ways you won't get from anyone else. It's my job to be as good a person as I can be, but I simply am not going to be an easy person, and I'm through thinking I should be. I am big and hard and complicated and frequently difficult, because that's who I am.

I just have to try and be worth the trouble.


Guess what?

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Green Chili Ratatouille

Okay, someone asked me for the recipe so I did the art real fast, and then I remembered what my day's been like, and I started to giggle. Now aren't you sorry you asked? Jesus, I'm the goddamned king of too much information.

Okay, here's the deal. Since I'm not the kind of person who cooks by measuring and following recipes, I won't tell you how to cook anything until after you've cooked it. But I will tell you how I cooked it, and it is on that basis that I once wrote a recipe. I am starting to suspect I may have more of these in me.

And so...

Green Chili Ratatouille
for the Missus, my beloved Karen,
who puts up with me

So when you're shopping, the missus will ask you what vegetables you'd be interested in cooking. You've been struggling with a roasted zucchini, yellow summer squash, eggplant, and pepper salad, so you get eggplant, yellow summer squash, and zucchini.

When you get back to the cart, the missus is holding up a sack of ultrasoft tomatoes from the used vegetable section, where the produce is cheap and rotting. She asks if you would be willing to do something with the tomatoes and basil. Inspect the bag; cringe at the condensed droplets of fetid moisture on the inside surface; decide enough are salvageable to make a tomato sauce a possibility. Impulsively agree out of mingled culinary curiosity and the pliability induced by a waxing libido.

While in line, avoid staring at the young woman in the blue blouse and blue jeans two lines over by staring into the cart. Think about the idea that Mrs. Popeyehead is a sort of a Greek Chorus while Mr. Popeyehead is a Threshold Guardian. Wonder where the living fuck your copy of The Writer's Journey is; it seemed kinda shitty when you looked at it before, but Nancy Kress gave it kudos, and she's Nancy motherfucking Kress and all.

Looking at the eggplant, zucchini, yellow summer squash, tomatoes and basil, you suddenly remember MFK Fisher (oh, man. Back in the day... and she liked men. She liked artists and intellectuals, but the bit she did about that butcher meant that she also had at least an aesthetic appreciation of sweaty loudmouthed brutally masculine basically offensive types... Jesus. MFK Fisher. What would it be like to be with someone who could cook?)

The Missus will lean against you and ask you if you would want to be with someone who was really tall. Explain that as long as the woman is substantial enough so that it doesn't make you feel as though you're with a child, height is no issue. Remind her of the ex, who is exactly the same height as the missus. (Jesus, she was strong. You were stronger, heh heh heh, but it was always fun wrazzlin' around with her. Felt like you were accomplishing something. She always started it, and she always got mad when she lost. What is it in me that takes such delight in pissing off my objects of desire?) Look down at the Missus -- yep. Still the one you fell in love with. Give her a hug; yeah, we're in line at the grocery. Fuck you all. Go on; try me out, motherfucker. Ha!

Someone comes up and takes over bagging the groceries. Stare at the Missus. Yep, yep, yep. Stare around the store in general.

Oh, my lord. Does she even understand what that means, or is she just trying shit out? You're not complaining, just... Jesus. Fucking college kids look like they're twelve; briefly feel like the lowest, most bestial lecher on the planet.

Wheel the cart out to the car. Some motherfucker in a car just keep coming at you. Push the cart right into his fucking car -- his window's open, so you can grab his fucking head, pull it out, and lean on the motherfucker...

Jesus motherfucking christ, dude. Don't do that. That's horrible! You're a horrible fucking vicious animal and if they're smart they'll pin you down in a steel net and systematically blow you apart with a shotgun. Anyway, it would piss the Missus off and you want to stay on her good side.

What was that about MFK Fisher?

Eggplant, zucchini, yellow summer squash. Soft, ripe red tomatoes. Oh, yeah -- she had a recipe for something called Minorcan Stew, sort of a ratatouille thing with red peppers in it. You know who was hot? The Willendorf Venus. Don't kid yourself.

... it would be easier to just cut that shit up and put it in a crock pot than do the roast vegetable salad. And it would use up those tomatoes, and if you threw some of that fresh basil down on it when you serve it up...

So when you get home, you start off by taking the tomatoes -- oh, those are soft -- and sorting and rinsing them. The missus comes up and says she forgot to get tomatoes for her salad. Invite her to take her pick of those you've cleaned; damn. There's this and there's that and she's still fucking got it...

You're got two long Chinese eggplants, seven tiny zucchini, and six medium yellow summer squash. But you didn't get any fucking red peppers. Ratatouille? Minorcan stew? Oh, fuck, you need peppers, dude, or the whole flavor profile will be fucked. Maybe there's a jar of roasted red peppers in the pantry...


But there are those canned Hatch chilis from Trader Joe's. Hmmm... Hmmm...

You know who's hot? That lady on Modern Family, Sophia Vergera or something. She seems like she's got a sense of humor, too. Someone you could actually fucking stand to be around... Ruben's wife was hella cute but she was probably a total dope. Fucking a stupid person is the crassest form of bestiality... no matter how big her ass is.

Right. Right. Back to work.

Drizzle a bit of olive oil over the tomatoes. Rub it in until they're coated and slippery all over. Put 'em in the oven at 550 -- as hot as it gets.

Dude, get a fucking grip. Maybe you should think about pulling Nixon's face apart jowl by jowl. They'd stick together like Velcro...

Heh, heh, heh. You really are a sick fucker, you know? What a visual imagination -- 's like watching a movie. That paranoid fuck taught America to expect and accept criminal behavior from its presidents, and that legacy led directly to the horrors of the Bush regime. Bastards...

The missus comes in and asks if she can cook beets in the oven with the tomatoes. Sure, sure... Huh. This is okay; usually she just kind of barges in and gets in the way but this time it seems like she's got the dance, where both can work continuously without making each other get out of the way... Cool. You're not gonna expect it to happen again, but hey. She's got the dance.

If your hands weren't so greasy... She'd fucking kill you if you got greasy handprints all over...

Okay, chop up one yellow onion, and one Vidalia onion. Heat up the big skillet, then add a drizzle of olive oil and throw in the onions. Chop up two big shallots -- jesus, the shallots you bought today were pathetic, when they're that small they aren't worth fucking with. Wait until the big ones come back in season, dude.

Throw the shallots in with the onion; stir, scraping up the caramelized juices from the bottom. Hmmm... Add a little water and deglaze the pan. Let it brown again; deglaze again.

Thinly slice six cloves of garlic. Chuck 'em in the pan, stir, deglaze, caramelize.

Take the tomatoes out of the oven. The missus will come in and offer to peel them. "The peels come off the way skin skin comes off," she says.

You say, "Well, then, just imagine they're boils." She laughs. Some people appreciate a sick fuck, thank god.

Slice the vegetables. Remove cores from the tomatoes and squeeze the juice into the pan with the bouquet of stinking lilies, using it to deglaze. Damn, those are still hot. Ow, ow, ow -- pain is good for you, you fucking... Ow. Don't be a pussy, dude.

Crush the tomatoes. Use them to scrub up the traces of caramelized tomato juice from the bottom of the pan.

Get out the big crockpot. You were going to make beans today, but there's no way to fit all this crap in the small crockpot. Put down a layer of caramelized onions, etc. Put down one can of Hatch green chilis. You'll eat Ortega if that's what there is, but still. Fuck Ortega.

Put down a layer of squashes and eggplant. Put down a layer of tomatoes. Salt heavily. Repeat. Pour all the various deglazings and juices over the top and shit that smells good already. Put the top on the crockpot and put it on high.

You know who's hot?

Four hours later, it's the fucking green chili ratatouille that's hot. Oh, man. That's actually way better than the salad would have been, and the green chilis really work. Oh, man, that is sweet...

Is it you or did spring come late this year?

People Who Rocked My World When I Needed It

Behold the mighty meat from Fiorella's Jack Stack Barbecue.

I don't mean everybody. If I tried to give credit to everyone who's helped keep me on this Planet of the Dopes, I'd wind up forgetting a bunch of important ones. But when I was gripped in the jaws of melancholy this winter/spring, I had a couple of very nice things happen, and I'd like to give credit where credit is due. First off, Catherine Schaff-Stump of Writer Tamago and Viable Paradise XIII did a really nifty profile of me.

When she talks about my oscillation, I have to admit that I've wondered if people noticed when I did that... Basically, I can only focus on one thing at a time, and a lot of the time that one thing is inside my head. So I'm either hyper-grounded in reality or completely lost in the ozone, and the shift frequently happens in social situations. Ah, well. It could be worse.

To tell you the truth, I actually like green beans. I cooked these by putting salt into my big enamel skillet and dry-frying/steaming them -- the salt brings out the juices, which steam the beans. 's good, easy, and digestible.

And Brent Bowen, another Viable Paradise XIII veteran, sent his VP roomie good ol' Christopher Cornell and I a care package from the heartland. Real barbecue, my friends. I try my hand at smoking meat from time to time, but alas, skill and resources are limited. It's nice to get a notion of the standards of the field.

The ribs were the best. Tender rather than stringy, the fat perfectly melted into the meat, which clung to the bone before pulling off cleanly. The smoke ring was about three-eighths of an inch of ruby red goodness. Ahhh...

The burnt ends were dense and tasty nubbins that went particularly nicely with the sauce.

The beans really rocked -- I've done a similar style myself. Sort of smokey baked beans with shreds of beef.

And the corn casserole with ham and cheese? Chris described it as, "Macaroni and cheese, but with corn instead of macaroni." I've got to say that a) it tasted really, really weird to me and b) I wound up licking the pot clean.

So thank you, Brent and Catherine. Sorry to have been such a slug about this, but it's been all I can do not to go on a multi-state crime spree of a magnitude that would render the concept of punishment meaningless. Alas, simple human courtesies were beyond my feeble capacities.

So. Y'all can expect another post tomorrow. And I suspect you may be surprised...