October 26, 2012

In Defense of Hope & Change

Making the case for the re-election of Barack Obama--
so that we may not leapfrog backwards in time
            Imagine for a moment if you can, if in the immediate aftermath of September 11, 2001 we, as a country, closed our eyes, paused, took a long deep breath and with the lens of history thought about what had just occurred. We were attacked by a group of desert rats who waste no time in filling their hearts up with hatred for our values, our conquests, our loudness, our flexing. It was always our destiny as the country with the biggest muscles to get attacked in such a way. Let’s not kid ourselves.
            Now imagine if you can, if the Bush Administration had the foresight not to rush into enemy territory bombing whatever moved in infrared light. If they had not played upon public fears to flex their own muscles in an act of hot-headed revenge and instead made a more concise, calculated response, rather than the bumbled, disorganized mess we got, maybe we wouldn't be stewing in the financial calamities we stew in today. To think of the lives and the surplus money that could have been spared is to pound a fist angrily on the desk until it is nothing more than a bloody mound of flesh. The cloak of government in the Bush era was thick and black and draped over the public’s eyes to put into motion a misguided plan of attack. Troops were sent out and stationed aimlessly. Bumper stickers were pressed on mightily. We as a country were duped and we as a country suffered. Let’s not forget where we’ve been.
            Enter Barack Obama: the exact opposite of a boot-stomping, redneck, C student President. On the campaign trail he preached hope and change and caused rivers of tears from ecstatic supporters thrilled with the idea of being part of the electoral process, some for the first time in their lives. The landslide victory was always his for the taking because the contrast was just too strong to ignore.
The idea that his transcendent nature wouldn’t be dampened by the hard reality of politics, however, is just plain naive. If you thought he’d accomplish all he touted to get into office then you deserve to have the sinking feeling of shattered expectations follow you. No man running for president has ever been able to get done in four years what he promised he would. How could he? The world is a fluctuating jumble of variables. What matters is the intention.
From the very moment Obama took office, he advocated for a government of transparency. With his election the cloak of government came down and this country received what it so badly deserved: a truly open democracy. The relationship between you and your government is now, with aid from the Internet, more direct. Read about the Open Government Initiative here: www.whitehouse.gov/open. Everything this administration has done, plans to do and hopes to accomplish can be found online. It doesn’t matter if you agree or not with the policies, the point is that you, citizen, are being entrusted with the information to make your own conclusion. No filter. No Chris Matthews or Glenn Beck trying to sell it to you. You take what you learn, sculpt it and realize your own values. 
Overnight the global perception of America improved. We regained respect that had been backsliding because the election of Barack Obama meant we were willing to move on from where we’ve been and inhabit new terrain. Ushered in was a new era of focused thinking. The Obama Administration has been willing to analyze their failings and not run from their detractors. There have been no photo-ops beneath banners proclaiming the war over while the blood of troops dries in the dirt of Afghanistan. There have been no disinterested expressions reflecting off airplane windows as hurricane destruction appears, then disappears, below. This President genuinely cares, at least, as genuinely as any man in politics can care (and by the way, he did do a whole lot of what he said he would: end Iraq War, pass universal healthcare, trim the burden of student loans, refocus the terrorist effort, etc.). He’s built an administration that values honesty and reflection and wastes no time in assessing the events that come hurling forward, both domestically and abroad.
            And so it comes with great frustration that the race between Mitt Romney and President Obama is as close as it is. The onetime governor and lifelong business magnate worth millions—and with millions more stashed away in the Cayman Islands—is as conniving and robotic as they come. Romney hides a lot: his taxes, his religion, his unpopularity in the only state he’s been elected to office, his real agenda for the future of the country. His curtains have been up. His motives hide in the bushes. Virtually everything about the man is shrouded in secrecy and yet some people think his business experience alone gives him a leg up to fix the problems that’ve been gelatinizing for the past decade. The oil-can business man will march into office erasing the deficit by cutting programs here and regulations there and we’ll never know the specifics of these cuts until one day we realize those programs are gone.
To elect Mitt Romney as the 45th President of the United States is to have that cloak of government strung right back up again and go hurling back to the dark days of hunting for phantom weapons of mass destruction and limiting the rights of individuals. We as a society will be sent back to the shadows to allow our government to lurk in secret arm-in-arm transactions. With all policy aside, this alone should make your spine shiver.
[PROOF]

October 22, 2012

Comic Wyatt Cenac Teases Somerville

SOMERVILLESCOUT.COM--Wyatt Cenac, the stand-up comedian, traveled from Brooklyn—“the Somerville of New York City,” he teased—for his show at Johnny D’s Uptown Restaurant & Music Club (17 Holland St.) last Friday night. His smile grew with the jab and the audience could only laugh bashfully at the inside joke.
If you’ve seen The Daily Show with John Stewart in the last three years or so, chances are good you’ve witnessed the dry, race-flavored segments of correspondent and writer Cenac. He’s been on the show since 2008 after being passed up by Saturday Night Live when they went with Fred Armisen’s Barack Obama impression rather than his.
Immediately Cenac came out and reminded the audience of his hatred for Massachusetts’ sports teams, most especially the Red Sox. Given his heritage, he couldn’t help but take a couple swipes at the faltering team. Dressed in plain neutral colors and with an afro reaching for the ceiling, Cenac had a calm presence. He looked out from half-closed, uncaring eyes and scanned the crowd effortlessly. His delivery was cordial, even while joking about the Klu Klux Klan and their early monikers.
Cenac is highly aware of the world and culture he lives in and dissects it intelligently. He expressed disappointment that Kim Kardashian, on the merits of a sex tape alone, was now forever locked in the Zeitgeist. What’s the point of Twitter, he argued, when he can get a group of people together, charge them ridiculous amounts of money and read Twitter posts to them aloud? One example: I want to open a racist bakery and name it Cake Cake Cake. Tunneling inward, he discussed disillusionment with the nightclubs of the world. They were pointless, he argued. You’re charged an entry fee even if you won’t be dancing and before long the place becomes atrociously uncomfortable when all the ladies seem to leave at once.
He is not a simple one-dimensional comic ready to hand out one-liners. He stews in the moment and leads his audience into a trap of absurdity. At one point he sounded more like a columnist in Time magazine than a comedian when he philosophized on the potential backfire of over-sharing on the Internet, something everybody does, but him. He predicted political attack ads in the very-near future would only consist of the secret nude online photos of candidates and nothing more. When Cenac brought up the election he found a sweet spot when the room screamed for President Obama and only a couple hands clapped for Mitt Romney. He held frustration and befuddlement that the election was so close and used the alarming contrasts between the two men to his comedic advantage.
Jermaine Fowler, also from Brooklyn, broke the crowd in early hitting them hard with race and slave jokes. The laughter quivered at first but roared by the end for the up-and-coming comic, who relied mostly on personal tales growing up on the streets. Both comics took pleasure in pushing the boundaries for what was a mostly (probably) white audience. Indeed, much of the humor came from the discomfort of the crowd squirming in their seats, but still, it was nice to be recognized.
[ROOT]

September 26, 2012

Brian James obscures reality in "Headstone"


SOMERVILLESCOUT.COM--“The story you will soon come to be acquainted with is in part truth and in part fiction,” Brian James warns in the foreword to his short novel Headstone: October 27, 1915—August 30, 1984, “a large percentage of it is fact-based, while a significant portion is pure bullshit.” Over the course of reading the book those percentages fluctuate wildly creating a narrative of pure fact-based bullshit. It’s a quick, magic ride through eras: father and son, builder and inheritor. [READ ON]

September 24, 2012

The Phlegm Master Returns

Bob Dylan, disciplined and froggy, drops lyrical pint after pint of blood on new album, Tempest.
When Bob Dylan, 71, opens his throat to sing on his newest album, Tempest, the listener almost has to wonder if the songwriting legend is alright. Is he choking? Is that the sound of blood coughs? Did he just swallow a bunch of corrosive acid? Dylan the Phlegm Master. Dylan the Road Scholar. Never once known for a voice of gold, the man once referred to as Judas, returns with a stark, spooky album concerned with death and his rocky quaver suits it perfectly.
Dylan continues on his late-career surge with Tempest following the drawn-out story albums Time Out Of Mind, Love And Theft, Modern Times and Together Through Life. The new one, though, is less mid-afternoon bar band and more Sleepy Hollow night-croak. Its tales are of murder, suicide, revenge and longing. Times changed long ago and now we’re stuck in the pit of despair.
A light piano breeze opens the record on “Duquesne Whistle,” a warm, gauzy jangle. The guitars tangle side by side and sound like little birds laughing to each other. Dylan is breathing his first (and last) sunny breath as he carouses around town. It only gets darker from there.
By the next song, “Soon After Midnight,” Dylan is alone and contemplating a life of hardships with the utmost ease. His grin is chiseled as he wishes for someone not there. “Narrow Way” picks the mood up with a rolling snare shot and guitars like alarms. Throughout Tempest his voice is mostly a constant rasp, but every now and then it’ll settle into a wavering and ghoulish tone. At points, especially in "Scarlet Town," you can actually hear his lips curling above his teeth as he carefully enunciates. It's sinister, static spine stuff.
“I pay in blood, but not my own,” Dylan warns on “Pay In Blood.” If any other performer at this age wrote a song with that chorus it would come off as hokey. With Dylan, though, it’s actually believable. I imagine smearings of blood on his lyric sheet as he writes at some unknown hour.
If “Duquesne Whistle” feels like a serene day in early June, then by “Scarlet Town” the album has reached a dark late-October night. The song floats along with ghost-sense as Dylan bellows and cackles. The scene is filled with beggars, junkie whores, intruders and missed opportunities with the end very near. Midway through an irksome guitar solo worms its way to the front of the mix, electrifies the listener’s senses, then disappears.
“Early Roman Kings," the following song, keeps the dread from overtaking with a Mannish Boy stroll. Dylan’s playing master and commander. “I could strip you of life, strip you of breath, ship you down to the house of death,” he sings. I fear the moment this man dies and his soul is unleashed unto the world.
Truly triumphant is Dylan on "Tin Angel." The listener is carefully walked through a bloody knock-down scuffle with knives drawn, bullets grazing ears and faith drying up. The music is steady and ambient, built around a sweet recurring pull on the bass string that tunnels in on the density of the scene. The shadow of each character flares on the attic walls of the listener’s mind.
The album ends with two final odes to death: “Tempest” about the Titanic sinking and “Roll On John” about John Lennon’s passing. Much has been written about these two songs and they mostly feel out of place musically, but what’s an album of death without mention of two historically significant endings? One can only hope it’s still a long time coming before Dylan is himself the subject of such a song.

Key Tracks: "Tin Angel," "Scarlet Town," "Pay In Blood," "Duquesne Whistle"

September 11, 2012

THAT ONE MORNING

It was my mother who introduced me to the
Post World. Waking me up gently but with
sharp concern, Don't want you to worry but
something happened in New York.
Growing up in Arizona turned NYC into a
distant metropolis of magical realism. May
as well have been OZ far as we knew
sweating in the desert. I sat at mattress edge
seeing the broadcast hole burning and flaks
of debris spit, watching my mother practicing
her routine patterns best she could. Must
be accidental, we assumed. In awe and
naiveté I saw the second plane enter
bottom right of screen chuckling
at the prospect of it, too, crashing. When
it did just that the fear came tumbling: that
was no rescue plane. Jumping from bed
the images and news-anchor panic dawned
something uncertain weeks into my high
school existence. My thoughts, then, could
not form into the structurally cemented
opinions I have now. Then, it was all
blank. I fixed my hair in the mirror and
just before leaving to catch the school
bus a third plane cut the Pentagon like
a cake. *


from The American Rut

September 10, 2012

"Nibble" Paints Union Square in Delicious Colors

SOMERVILLESCOUT.COMUnion Square, with its farmers markets and art fairs, has come to represent the point in Somerville where all things food and art flow into. Nibble: Exploring Food, Art, and Culture in Union Square—and Beyond presented by The Somerville Arts Council looks to connect the dots between the two worlds. Primarily the 132-page book acts as a local recipe guide while weaving the reader through the stories behind the dishes and the restaurants they come from. What’s presented is a wide look at Union Square with food goggles. Make ‘em say, “Mmmm.” [READ ON]

August 27, 2012

SOMERVILLE SCOUT (July/Aug.)

Lopez shoots a scene for At Dawn. Photo from Lopez.
Climbing Rope:Rodrigo Lopez trudges through the secret jungles of filmmaking for his first major production, At Dawn.
   Rodrigo Lopez doesn’t waste time. When he gets an inkling, he goes. “I got this idea that I wanted to do something,” he said, looking out from a pair of sunglasses on a bench in Davis Square. “I blindly went into it and asked questions later.” The idea in question is the short film, At Dawn, currently in clockwork production and representative of Lopez’s giant creative leap forward. [READ ON]

August 22, 2012

Scout Profile//Jasen Sousa

Jasen Sousa Puts the Company on his Back
Cover of Jasen Sousa's novel-in-poems, "Fancy Girl"
SOMERVILLE//Jasen Sousa, a Somerville native whose novel in poems, Fancy Girl, will be published in September by his own imprint, J-Rock Publishing, fell into the role of writer unintentionally. He’d pass along stories to friends in juvenile detention centers and mental hospitals as a way of keeping them in tune to the outside world. “I used to bring them little wraps of writings of things that were going on in the neighborhood,” he said. The recipients were grateful and repaid him with compliments and encouragement to continue writing. “As I did more research I noticed a lack of urban literature out there.”
            Thus, a void he sought to fill. Fancy Girl deals with the livelihood of Deanna Keight, a teenager, as she turns to prostitution in a wholehearted attempt to save money for her and her daughter. She is driven by the choking desire to leave Somerville and the characters of her life behind. There is no holding back. Sousa keeps the story believable and is able to spool out compassion from moments of degradation. For him, writing in the voice of a female call girl provided the biggest challenge, but was offset by being the biggest reward. “Their life is tough to most people,” he said of his protagonist. “[I was] trying to be authentic and accurate as possible, tell their type of story, what they go through on a daily basis and how they do what they have to in order to keep their family together.”
            Deanna walks the tightrope of single-parenthood, leaving her daughter in the care of Johnny J, who may still harbor some past love for her, while she scuffles in bedrooms all over. Meanwhile, Machinegun Mike, the father of Deanna’s daughter, is about to be let free from jail. As her corrosive journey shifts, the people in her life uncoil right along with her. The reader travels along in the girl’s mind, experiencing bouts with doubt, humiliation, self-righteousness, misguided love and triumph. Sousa succeeds tremendously at bringing this more-common-than-you-might-think tale come to life.
            Fancy Girl has been available as an ebook through Sousa’s own website and Amazon.com since July. Come September it will be available in print form from J-Rock Publishing, the company Sousa started with the purpose of providing a platform for urban youth to stretch their literary desires. At age 17 tragedy put a dent in Sousa’s life when a close friend died from a drug overdose. “I felt that if he had an outlet to tell what he was going through then maybe he wouldn’t have come to that outcome,” he said. The loss helped Sousa to push J-Rock, which he’d start a few years later while still a teenager, into existence.
He sensed a lack of opportunity within the city for kids beyond high school, especially within the arts. “I wanted to create this small publishing house just to give kids an opportunity in a field they would normally be shut out of,” he said. “The whole point was to build this literature for urban teenage readers [and] to create this environment that urban kids from everywhere can relate to.”     Sousa looks to employ anyone with a solid interest in the market at J-Rock. “Even if you weren’t necessarily interested in writing you could do graphic design, photography for book covers, marketing. You could get experience in all these areas.” All work is done on a contract basis. Interested applicants need only email Sousa through his website.
            When sitting down to pen Fancy Girl, Sousa asked himself an important question: “How can myself, as someone who writes for teenagers, create a product that would get them interested in reading when they come from a family history where books are not in the household?” One answer was to feed them the story, line by line, in poem form, an idea he got while at Pine Manor College, where he earned his MFA in Creative Writing. He also has a Bachelor’s Degree from Emerson College.
“Teenagers are more receptive to things that are fast. I wanted [Fancy Girl] to be hard-hitting, easy to read for a teenage audience and something to introduce kids to books.” The book consists of brief one or two page poems, each one carrying the story along, each one a story in itself, and is divided by chapters. Often when a teenager is folded up into a book these days, it’s the otherworldly Twilight series or Harry Potter books, Sousa said. With Fancy Girl he wanted to provide a realistic story that kids in urban areas could relate too. They won’t know what hit them.


August 11, 2012

SOMERVILLE SCOUT (July/Aug.)

Art on the Run:Navigating the Convoluted Advertising of Geoff Hargadon
Geoff Hargadon will tell you advertising has misshapen the landscape. Signs are pasted all over, trying to pull your line of vision this way and that.“We allow ourselves to be inundated by visual propaganda,” Hargadon said. Relationship Advice. Uncle Sam Wants You. Mr. Smiles For Office. “It’s everywhere—in advertising, in every bus, every taxi, billboards, everything. I’m throwing myself in there saying,‘Alright, I’ll chip in to that.’”There is no escape, he said, but to join the melee. [READ ALL]

August 05, 2012

DRONE CONTROL

Crimes Against the Music Credential Hawk

When I mentioned to Person X that I had just been playing the drums to Frank Ocean's new album, Channel Orange, he picked up the newest copy of Rolling Stone, pointed to Ocean’s spot on the Billboard list and asked if that was where I learned of him. When I said, No. He replied, Good for you. Previously I overheard this same Person X use the word, Pretentious, twice, to describe others, in the span of about thirty minutes, but that’s just a side note.
In the last decade or so a new crop of music fans have become cynical little imps, overly preoccupied with everything surrounding the music—except the actual music. In a world of mass sharing and interweb interjecting, this just cannot be acceptable.
The tone in Person X's voice was intended to make me feel emboldened by the fact that I learned of Frank Ocean elsewhere from a major American publication. (I was first drawn to Ocean by his video for "Novocain," which I saw posted on Pitchfork.com.) His response made it seem that the origins one first discovers a certain artist or band by actually mattered, and somehow changed the power of the music; as if learning it from something popular made it less good. This is a problem because it feeds into the notion that good music can't be popular; which is a trite, unbecoming, shit-in-your-ears kind of statement to make. It's the exact kind of thinking that disallows the work of some glorious music to be heard by people who might actually need it.
Now, don't get this writer wrong: a lot of popular music is total trash. A lot of fourteen year olds are easily persuaded; they'll change their minds one day. But, some of popular music can be quintessential shit. I could list examples of bad and good, but everyone's got their own lists. What you listen to does not sound any better if only a few shmoes in Austin and Brooklyn listen to it and conversely, what you listen to does not sound any worse if every yoga mother or obnoxious preteen listens to it. When the stuff slides into your earholes none of that surrounding information should even be close to entering the equation. When you press play just shut your trapdoorhole and groove your knees into a funk. I want to see that sweat leaking from behind your kneecaps!
Music is not and never was meant to be a vehicle for division. It's not like politics where if I say I support Obama then a whole flood of perceptions can come into view (though they shouldn't). It's not as if I get all my music from one magazine my mind is being shaped by that one entity like it is for people who watch Fox News or MSNBC religiously. I’m not only hearing one side of music while the rest is tuned out. Getting music from a recognizable source does not brainwash you or sink you into category because its power is way bigger than all that. Music, more than anything else in this world, is meant to be shared. You don't hole it away in the corner of your room rationing it to yourself. You don't fear someone hearing your favorite song because then they might listen to it all day and then you'll just be hearing them listening to your favorite song. Music lives in the fucking air. No one can claim it. Lighten up and let go. It doesn't matter where you get your music from, it only matters that you got the music and that you love it ‘til death does you apart.

August 01, 2012

Scout Profile//Scott Mastro

The Writer Strung Along
Scott Mastro & His Dog 

"Blood Money," Mastro's book of short stories.
SOMERVILLE//Scott Mastro meets for our interview trailed by his five-inches-off-the-ground “terrier-hound,” Georgia. Georgia drags a black leash behind her, zigzagging in the shadows of her master. Mastro walks with a crisp jutting, as if bee-bop blares constantly in his head, and looks in every direction behind dark square sunglasses. He’s all distracted energy with a mouth like a motorcade and last February his first book of short stories, Blood Money: Tales from Two Continents, was published by Savant Books.
            “You get that big rush when you first get published,” he tells me, then catches his breath, “then the real work begins. Then the guilt sets in and you’re like, ‘Damn, I got a book and I can’t sell it.” Mastro lives the writer’s gutter lifestyle, traveling every which where inspiration leads and knows he’s stronger for it. “I sacrificed just about everything to write.”
The chapters in Blood Money could represent the small wisps of storylines Mastro has picked up in his travels. There’s the flash of love between a Korean girl and an Iranian man; the English businessman burdened by a bucket; the church-going pothead in Rome. The stories are loose and laced with odds-and-ends humor. Reading through them pin-balls your mind across the globe. The book can be found at The Book Shop (694 Broadway), Porter Square Books in Cambridge and online at Amazon.com.
Mastro lives in Somerville. But, he probably won’t in twelve months’ time. “I moved to Boston after college. I lived in Cambridge, across from Market Basket. I moved out West. I lived in L.A., Colorado. I lived all over,” he says. “I’m originally from Pittsburgh, but I’ve been mistaken for being from all types of places: Canada, England, France. Lately people say I’m from the South because sometimes I’ll have a Southern accent.” His voice falls into a slow drawl.
            Last winter found Mastro in Key West, Florida where a few sparks of inspiration jolted his senses. “I just came back to Boston and this time has been the best because not only did I become published, but one of my plays is warranting the possibility of being a stage reading,” he says. The play, Moon Over Mangroves, is based off his time in the swamp state. “I was down in Key West living a fairly precarious lifestyle. By that I mean I didn’t know where to go.” He soon found out after driving through the beach and spotting an aimless crowd of van campers.
“My people!” he shouted at the comforting sight. “I pulled in and fit in right away.” Some in the crowd were homeless, some, like himself, were there just to party in the beach sand with waves surrounding. When a heavy cop presence pushed them north to Stock Island, where the mangroves still grow thick, Mastro discovered his plot.
Video still of Mastro's tune from Christmas 2012 in Key West.
Four of the men he made friends with boasted about their getting a dinghy. “You can live inexpensively on a boat and live on the hook,” he explains, “which means, go out in the water and drop an anchor.” Thrilled at the prospect of life on the open water the foursome celebrated, but soon lost their composure and wound up brawling and bruising each other. Mastro just sat watching the scene unfold.
“There’s mangroves, the cove, a full moon was there,” he says, frothing excitement, “and it just dropped. I went, ‘This is a play.’ It was a gift.” Currently the play is undergoing edits, and Mastro has been working with a filmmaker in Cambridge to form it into a movie.
Writers today have to find a whole new hustle online, Mastro says. He has gained a little traction by using Craigslist to connect with editors and writers. It’s how he got in touch with Savant as well as his collaborators on the play. “It’s tricky,” he says, considering the financial uncertainty of the written word. “You have to follow up with every lead. You have to be diligent, kiss people’s asses, research your market.” Lastly, though, it’s simple. “Always show up everywhere with a pretty girl—or two—if you can,” he adds with laughter. Even if that girl is a dog named Georgia. 


Originally from: SomervilleScout.com, 2012

July 31, 2012

ar: LORD VIEW

Nothing but turmoil down on the grid.
Squares fiddle against squares whilst universal circles don’t bother to care less.
We grind in swollen counties asking the skies for help. They listen, but on their own
terms. Gunned down in movie theatre, I feel remnants of your pain Aurora. The hurt
more foreign than anything I could imagine, but as human to human, I hurt. Horror
appears like a ghost witnessed in real time. Firearms easier than fireworks through
the right channels so sliver of solution seems straight-forward, but politicians
balk at redrafting age-old gun law. Shame not visible in TV interview, but maybe somewhere
in the lonely bathwater night. Not right, not right.

Forced to consume another front-page atrocity, pundits dissecting
attacking every morsel of info. What’s the lesson this time?   What signs are we missing?
Are we really unfolding at the mercy of deranged lunatics?    Questions
fall infinitely in space.
Scared to pace the aisles of big box retailer; scared at the flight length from Boston to LA; scared of the city streets that make up a neighborhood, an American neighborhood. WHAT HAS HAPPENED TO THE UNION?! Enemy always listless. A super-morphing tidal wave of inconsistencies. Trust
nobody, now. Now the construction of walls in impossible locales. Now the bending of might. Now come the tunnels lacking final spots of light which we run through in human clusters.

Eyes of Heaven watch
these re-runs and they
even have the strength to yawn. But,
we’re going bald with each new catastrophic event.
Fucked up. Lumps pump up
from our scalps each time
these question marks of
corroded steel fall onto



July 16, 2012

DRONE CONTROL


Grappling with the Loss of Mother Nash

There were fireworks—yeah—they were going off.
“Lakers.” was all a text read sent from a friend in Arizona. In my absinthian July Fourth haze a few squabbles of information loosely gelled together. Free Agency had begun in the NBA and Steve Nash was at the top of everyone's wish list. A final tug of realization stitched them together as my computer turned on and flashed Espn.com showing Nash with purple and gold behind his grinning mug. Never in my young life have I felt such shock—a shock that diminished reality and turned everything one-dimensional. Nothing about the moment was real and it still haunts me when I see “Nash” and “L.A.” in the same piece. But writing is healing, God let it be so, writing is healing.
The two-time MVP put it succinctly: "Everybody knows there's no loyalty in sports." And if anybody in all of sports were to finally burn a period into the end of that sentence, it would be Mr. Loyalty himself after signing with one of Phoenix's longtime rivals. You're right, Mr. Nash, there really is no loyalty in sports, but as I watched Lebron James leave his hometown for Miami, then Carmelo Anthony demand a trade from Denver, then Deron Williams demand a trade from Utah, this year it’s Dwight Howard’s turn, I held out hope that MVSteve wouldn’t be the next domino to fall. Ray Allen skipped to Miami farting green the whole way, then Nash took the 10 West through scorched earth to his new residence. Oh, but it did happen. The air has left the lungs of amity leaving them deflated like two-week old party balloons. Yeah, nothing is cherished and who cares.
Get over it. I know. I’m trying. Undoubtedly, Nash will be a perfect fit in Los Angeles. He’ll never have to dribble over the three-point line if he doesn’t want to. Between Kobe, Pau, and Bynum he’ll have plenty of exit passes to take. They’ve easily wiggled into the top three of the West. It’s troubling, though, that I won’t be rooting for him, for to do that is to root for the enemy. Sorry, brother, but you’re not wearing my colors. Only in retrospect, maybe ten years after, will it be sensible to celebrate World Champion Steve Nash, because hoping for positive things in Lakerland just is not in the DNA of any Suns fan.
The post-Nash era in Phoenix has already had a few burps and snaps. Eric Gordon, for a moment, made everything feel okay. A decent consolation prize, but the New Orleans Hornets matched the Suns’ offer. We lassoed Goran Dragic back from Houston, stringing his teammate, Luis Scola, along in an amnesty victory and added Michael Beasley from Minnesota. A decent core is developing and Sarver’s got some money packed tightly into his back pocket. Let’s see what roster Phoenix ends up with and hope nobody comes in wearing number 13. We had Nash for eight straight years. By the rules of heartbreak, that means it’s going to take four years to get over this. To be continued…

July 15, 2012

Scout Profile//Ian Thal

Poet Ian Thal interviewed on Kosovar TV.  Photo by Yvan Tetelbom.
An
American
Poet in
Kosovo

SOMERVILLE//Ian Thal is big in Kosovo. The Somerville-based writer, mime, performance artist recently returned to the U.S. after reading at the Drini Poetik International Poetry Festival in Prizren. For one solid week in June Thal stormed Kosovo reading poems, checking sites of battle, getting a tan, swigging espresso and even stopping to shake hands with the prime minister. “Then I come back here and I’m essentially a nobody,” Thal said, his voice echoing in the back bank vault of Bloc 11 (11 Bow St.). “Some people say how grandeur is fleeting.”
            Thal conducts workshops in mime and commedia dell’arte for Somerville’s annual summer program, Open Air Circus, “when I’m not writing poetry and such,” he said. He’s taught for the organization since 2005 and moved to the city the following year. He is originally from Washington D.C. When speaking about the trip his eyes fill with wonder, but his vocal inflections try to play it down. Clearly the experience left an imprint on him as he walked me, photo by photo, through his spectacular journey.
            The reading gig came to Thal as a matter of connecting the dots. An Albanian-born playwright friend of his, Lediana Stillo, still connected to the area’s literary community, had been asked to dig up some contemporary American poetry for an anthology. She looked to Thal. He sent some poems; Stillo translated them into Albanian. His work appears alongside the work of other poets from around the country, including Chad Parenteau, of Jamaica Plain, and David Brinks, of New Orleans.
The volume, titled, Sounds of Wind: New American Lyrics, will be used as a textbook for advanced students of English at the University of Pristina. “It’s pretty exciting to realize that,” Thal said of the honor. “I can imagine late-night dorm room sessions.” His face torts into an angry grimace and his voice mimics a perturbed college kid, “’I hate Thal! What’s the obsession with the trains?’” Just as we study Frost, Ginsberg and Poe, students in Kosovo’s capital, Pristina, will study Thal. A twinkle spurns off the ball of his eye when the thought rises in his mind.
            The festival was held in the historical town of Prizren with some 178,000 inhabitants. “Soon after arriving I realized this was a cultural diplomacy mission,” he said. The festival coincided with Kosovo’s centenary celebration of their independence from Albanian nationalists. The country’s rough-and-tumble history stretches back into the Middle Ages and the Ottoman Empire. It was only declared an independent state in 2008. “I was like the U.S. ambassador there,” he said.
            Four other speakers, including Stillo and Brinks, joined Thal for a romp around the country, visiting the capital, checking out the Writer’s Union library and taking part in the common occurrence of coffee in a café. They traveled with the intelligentsia. “There was no one language all five of us spoke,” he said, “but somehow we made it all work.”
            Thal described his own poetry as a scenic route: New England landscapes passing through Amtrak windows; the view from a rooftop on Beacon Hill; the lowlands of New Jersey. He has worked with Bread & Puppet Theatre and maintains a blog where his writing piles. See him at this summer’s Open Air Circus.

May 28, 2012

Somerville Scout (May/June)

Sickert & The Toys in comic book form.  Illustration by Sickert.
Inventing Armageddon: Playing Dead with Walter Sickert & The Army Of Broken Toys ("Somerville Scout", May/June 2012, No. 15)
     How many ways can a guitar player look dead? Do they lie slouched with eyes crossed and an unresponsive tongue? Do they stand stiff, the guitar dangling, or do they fall draped and melting over the instrument?
     These were the important questions asked and tossed about during rehearsals for the post-apocalyptic stage play 28 Seeds, featuring steamcrunk collectiveWalter Sickert & The Army of Broken Toys. The production – a collaboration with Boston theatre troupe Liars & Believers – was described by Sickert as War of the Worlds meets Rocky Horror Picture Show. So, aliens and cross dressers? We’ll have to see. [CONTINUE]

May 27, 2012

NBA PLAYOFFS: Boston Celtics


          Now my biases will really spread to the surface. There has been no team more exciting to watch than the Boston Celtics in these playoffs, and no series more adrenalized than the Eastern Semi-Finals, which the Celtics took from the Philadelphia 76ers last night in Game 7. But let us not kid ourselves: it was always theirs for the taking. A hard-fought, panting battle with a team sure to implant themselves in the playoffs for years to come, it was Age & Experience vs. Youth & Excitement; but, in the end, it was a cherished victory written in green.
          Not only was the game streaming to me live online, but so was the suffocating fatigue of the Celtics. I could smell the old. But in the face of it, it’s the old, the experience, the cohesion that has kept this team pummeling through the post-season. I’ve got love for the 76ers, but this is not a changing of the guards. This is a lasting blast of grit in the eye of competition. KG was looking tired, almost dropping and sinking through the earth, bringing planks of TD Garden hardwood with him. Ray Allen’s ankles were smoldering, keeping him gated. With about five minutes left in the game Paul Pierce fouled out in a play that could’ve fully switched momentum towards the 76ers, but, as he begrudgingly took a seat on the bench, it was Rajon Rondo, the real star, who put Gang Green on his back.
          When the 76ers backed off him to clog the paint, Rondo held on to the ball and put two clean three-pointers in the hoop with the shot clock running down. He saw the KG screens setting Allen free and set him up for two three-pointers, causing a rumbling sigh of relief to blanket the city. Allen had been cold the whole series, battling injury and regaining his starting status only because Avery Bradley went down with a busted shoulder. Rondo was the magic man, the deliverer, the gift-giver, the shaman. He injects his team with an energy serum when they need it most. Oh and by the way, last night he fell into a category previously occupied by only Larry Bird: Celtics players with triple-doubles in Game 7. History reforms.
          Now we get what we’ve wanted this whole time: The Miami Heat. In just about every game during the season, the Celtics ran through the Heat like hot sauce and ice cream runs through your grandfather. The Heat have a Bosh-sized hole they’ve been trying to cram with wads of Turiafs and Anthonys and I don’t see it working. I’ll take your two superstars and raise you another two. Let’s battle.

May 24, 2012

My Cringingly Belated Gargamellian Recount of the Coachella Valley Music & Arts Festival—Weekend 2: April 20—22, 2012; Indio, California, U.S.A.

“Reality is like gravity: It’s almost impossible to escape” – unknown
Thursday, April 19, 2012
   Through the Sonoran in a sun-singed Nissan; ending up on a manicured lawn with tents all around…
           Friday, April 20, 2012
   The first act I saw full complete songs from was Jimmy Cliff & Tim Armstrong [5:10—6 p.m.]. Cliff’s smile was bigger than the hi-def Panasonic screens that went blurry in the sun. He swished around the stage in his Jamaica-colored clothing and looked happy as a clam up there. Armstrong and the band kept up a sturdy backbeat and everyone rolled [omit] when they started “I Can See Clearly Now.” After that I wandered distractedly, forgetting all about GIRLS [5:40—6:30 p.m.]. Luckily I snuck into the crowd just in time to hear the midnight creeper, “Vomit.” The back-up singers sailed away at the end. Arctic Monkeys [6:30—7:20 p.m.] gave a top-notch performance sweating as the sun went down. Alex Turner salted the audience with scrappy English asides. Matt Helders pummeled his drums relentlessly just grinning like a damn chimpanzee the whole time. They’ve evolved into one tough syrupy mother-[omit] rock & roll band. With the sun finally shut out, Madness [7—8 p.m.] put a dancing mood into the air. Pulp [7:50—8:50 p.m.], making another stop on their reunion tour, lit up the main stage. Jarvis Cocker brought his usual swagger, limping over monitors, then leaping into the air and landing in cat crawl. His black hair fell all over and the band played constantly submerged in lights that pin-needled up and down. A great rock show, but my mind was busy and I never heard the classic, “Common People.” Frank Ocean [8:15—9 p.m.] had the crowd whipped into a frenzy by the time I got there. I saw him through outstretched frantic arms and shaky camera phones. He delivered the two best songs off nostalgia, ULTRA: “Swim Good” and the catatonic “Novocain.” The timing was a blessing. Beautiful shit, Frank. Now, at this point, something began to rise up inside of me. Something clawed its way from the meat gates of my mind and I felt its full force walking in to see The Rapture [8:55—9:45 p.m.]. A casual listener from years ago I expected a twitchy rock band, but my legs and feet acted otherwise. The band’s clockwork percussion swarmed my senses and threw my body into never-ending cycles of dance. A consistent flourish of purple and blue lights both heated and cooled the panting audience. The singer had me gawking at his squirrely yelp that zigged+zagged through the musical elements. A true treat—going in with zero expectation I fell out of there fried. I was fried, fried, fried. I remember walking past and seeing the lights of M83 [10:15—11:05 p.m.] trickle out from under the tent, but found an entrancing solace in The Black Angels [10:50—11:35 p.m.]. The tent of psychedelic noir—tying hair to your ankles, pouring pure electricity onto your brain—was filled with fuzz and the bass lines crept up spine-ways. Oh, my word. Left that and just rocket-launched into Refused [11:20 p.m.], who were playing their first reunion show after drawing the curtain in 1998. The crisp Swedish hardcore punk band just blew up. Their presence was alarming and singer Dennis Lyxzén passed along so much gratitude. They brought lightning to the open desert. Swedish House Mafia [11:30 p.m.] was a little after-burner. They camped on the main stage for three hours escalating a smorgasbord of [omit] and blasting perceptions apart with their three-dimensional, Fourth-Dimensional, FIFTH-DIMENSIONAL light show. [help]
Saturday, April 21, 2012
   My only real focus on Saturday was to see Radiohead [11:05 p.m.], but not just see them play some songs, but get up front and center suffering strobelight seizures, flailing and hopping, hopping and flailing, and [omit]. When I got up to the railing it was clear that everyone else around had my same intention. Having gotten that far, a couple hours sun-roasting wouldn’t be too bad, would it? AWOLNATION [4—4:45 p.m.] [omit]. Kaiser Chiefs [5:10—6 p.m.] came out with that British fuck-all attitude, which is always pretty exciting shit to watch. Singer Ricky Wilson shouted out to the beer garden to get him a drink. He hopped off the stage and walked through the crowd—while the band was playing, mind you—and grabbed his beer. He ended up spilling most of the thing on the way back, but did get one solid gulp. Just before Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds [6:30—7:20 p.m.], some guy whom [omit] asked if I listened to the band. I said, no. He said, Oh, you’ll be surprised; they’ve got some great tunes. I showed polite enthusiasm. During the set all I could do was poke fun at it. The next Beatles? Achoo! The Shins [8:10—9 p.m.] would’ve excited me about six years ago. Still I was hopeful and then quickly let down. The James Mercer Clan are a hollow shell of what The Shins, at one point in time, could’ve become. Boring—sorry. If you weren’t in that crowd for Radiohead, then you damn sure were there for Bon Iver [9:30—10:20 p.m.]. They sort of fooled me with their hive-like art-installation set-up and then, yeah, let me down (not purposefully punning, swear). It was a whole lot of moaning with no climax; cell-killing. The best part was that horn section; at least there was that. Which, then, brings us to the main event; the event at which the entire experience is anchored; the centerpiece, smack dab in the middle of it all: Radiohead. Anticipation was high, but [omit]. The fandom within the first few rows approached Trekkie status. Some nerds tried guessing each consecutive song based on the color of guitarist Johnny Greenwood’s pants. Girls born when Kid A was released winced for transcendence. One fan nearby me collapsed. Up above, the band played splintered in chunks of video screen. Everything about it was demonic. Thom Yorke flashed that gremlin grin full aware of his power. Their precision, especially when exploring The King of Limbs, was numbing. The reconstruction of older songs with drummer Clive Deamer was phenomenal. “Kid A,” “The Gloaming,” “Idioteque,” all became thicker, muscular; the zeroed-out isolation still intact. “Staircase,” recently released, was an endless hallway of untold secrets. Ghosts and ghouls crept. They swept through all albums, OK Computer and beyond, offering an excellent cut-in-the-gut “Paranoid Android,” but no new songs. “Lotus Flower” was the point of total emotional domination. The song, off Limbs, just cut a hole right in time and part of me still lingers in that moment when the drums clamped down and Yorke let out his eerie clambering falsetto. “There is an empty space inside my heart where the weeds take root tonight I’ll set you free.” So good, I’m almost down on my knees crying. They created a vortex of magnetism right there in dry Indio and we were all sucked in.
Sunday, April 22, 2012
   And the sun grew three sizes that day, but was easy to shake off with the help of Seun Kuti & Egypt 80 [3:10—3:55 p.m.]. Their rhythms were punctuating and definitive, stretching out into the desert and gathering rivers of sweat from the audience. The horns, the back-up singers, the drums, the guitar and bass, all shared space in each sprawling song. Dancing feet kicked up the dust and I collapsed somewhere shady a few hours. God Bless The Hives [6:05—6:55 p.m.]. They came out in some sharp black suits and riled the slow-sliding zombie crowd into action. The energy their songs release is similar to what collapsing stars release. Coming off like a well-mannered version of the Stooges, they corrupted us with songs like, “Walk, Idiot, Walk,” “Tick, Tick, Boom,” “Hate To Say I Told You So,” and “Main Offender.” Oh what puritanical joy! The festival offered an impressive cast of front men (mostly Swedish), but none as boisterous and self-assuring as Howlin' Pelle Almqvist. He came out, cock’a’the walk, like Jagger’s rebellious stunt double, wearing a top hat and barking declarations of confidence. The crowd was thankful for the jolt. Definitely needed [omit] to enjoy The Weeknd [6:55—7:45 p.m.] more. Saw “Crew Love,” no special guest Drake, moved on. Justice [7:45—8:45 p.m.] didn’t quite slap the bass into me too effectively, but it’s always beautiful to see a giant electronic cross flashing before a massive spinning audience. After At The Drive-In [9:10—10 p.m.] announced they were going to hit a few festivals this year for a one-time reunion, guitarist Omar Rodríguez-López admitted it was all purely for the money—the honesty of which I can respect. However, during the performance, that statement was dreadfully obvious. They played, and they played damn well, but—except for Cedric Bixler-Zavala still exploding all over the place, tossing the mic stand and making gnarled expressions—it was a fairly tame performance. Tame, anyway, for At the Drive-In, one of the most antagonizing, destructive live acts to play. Maybe I’m foolish for expecting, or at least hoping for, total confrontational mayhem, but it was still an honor to see a band almost dead last on the list of reunion possibilities. The second those first notes of “Arcarsenal” and “Pattern Against User” hit, everything was on fire. [omit]! Dr. Dre & Snoop Dogg [10:35 p.m.] performed with a holographic Tupac Shakur—too much. That was the end. [shake, shake]


Key Moments: Frank Ocean performing “Novocain,” and stopping the whole thing after the line, “Met her at Coachella;” the tri-fecta live experience of The Rapture, The Black Angels, then Refused; Radiohead’s performance of “Lotus Flower,” “Staircase,” and “Kid A;” ATDI; seeing Eminem appear, as devil on earth, from under the stage after Tupac was digitally beamed back into existence.

May 22, 2012

NBA PLAYOFFS: Kobe Bryant


"I'm not fading back into the shadows," L.A. Lakers’ guard Kobe Bryant said to the post-game media after falling to the Oklahoma City Thunder in the Western Semi-Finals. No smile. No hesitation. Stone faced, dead-eyed. A loss for Bryant is never the end; it’s only the next step to winning.
I am forever a die-hard, by-the-gravestone Phoenix Suns fan. Therefore, a large chunk of my competitive hatred is saved for the Lakers and always will be. It warms my belly to watch them stutter and fail in those big Hollywood lights. The Suns and Lakers have historically been a playoff match-up almost as much as the storied Celtics/Lakers or Celtics/76ers rivalries. Bryant publicly decried his personal vendetta against Phoenix for reasons he couldn’t explain. The Lakers are pure enemies in Phoenix, falling in stature behind only the San Antonio Spurs (of course). You don’t talk to the guy strolling in purple and gold wearing number 24 because you’d have nothing nice to say to him.
I cannot, however, for the pure devotion to basketball, disrespect Bryant's will. There is no other player like him in today's high-fiving, re-tweeting circus, who plays every minute only to win, and who will do whatever it takes (see: German blood exchange; playing with broken finger; dealing with Metta World Peace) to win. Only Kevin Garnett matches (and rises above) him in intensity, but Garnett's a different animal entirely. Bryant is a true basketball player who lives life without distraction and remains focused on the goal. He’s not opening his thoughts to the public and making decisions on the fly so the press can have their field day. He’s stealth. He works hard and gets results and those five rings stand unquestioned. This league rarely puts out a player with that strong insane sense of determination that can put a shiver in your spine. The locker room must’ve been a cold, hard place after that game. They lost to a young team exploding with confidence and diligence, but the Lakers will still linger next year and, so long as Bryant’s still around, they’ll continue to be a viable threat. Ahem. But, next year, that Chump gon' be blinded by purple and orange in the playoffs.

May 18, 2012

NBA PLAYOFFS: Miami Heat

There is no “team” in Heat, though it's close. Rather, all you get is “he at,” as in, “Where the fuck he at?”
The “he” on any given night could be LeBron James, it could be Dwayne Wade, or it could represent the entire Miami Heat bench. Who are they and what are their roles? The bench (Chris Bosh's cawing ass included) are there only to beef up the two-headed, swamp-soaked egos of their two "perennial All-Stars." Well, here is it: Fuck the Miami Heat.
Nobody outside of Miami, Florida is rooting for this team. They had the privilege of letting loose on an even more disgruntled team in the New York Knicks for the opening round and now find themselves down 2-1 against the fresh Indiana Pacers in the Eastern Semi-Finals. When you get past the glitz and drama, the Heat are really not very threatening. They're nothing but a bunch of scallywags lumped together to give their two too-cool-for-you leaders a strong whiff of self-importance. Everybody is just trying so hard to please Lebron & Wade; you can see it all over their concerned faces as they tilt toward them in huddles. It’s like they’re watching their best friend go through a mental breakdown and they’re not sure how to comfort them. It makes one sick.
I can just picture each of their sorry asses in the locker-room. Joel Anthony contemplating shaving his head but stubbornly seeking Leron's approval first; Mario Chalmers has Dwayne Wade's words of wisdom echoing in his head, "OK Mario, be like 3D"; crusty Mike Miller just licks his lips stammering in the background; Juan Howard doesn't want to stand; Ronnie Turiaf constantly tries to make Lebron and Wade laugh with unfunny dead-end jokes; Haslem wishes he could kill them both; Mike Bibby (Oh whoops, forgot he went to the Knicks) and Chris Bosh is injured (so who cares). What a team, right?  It's Lebron & Wade and their band of undistinguishable cast-off lackeys and they're looking like cattle in mourning right now. “Aw, what do we do? We’re supposed to be the best.” I mean c’mon, they brought in Ronnie Turiaf to help fill the center void. That’s like calling on the guy who brings the shopping carts in to conduct a meeting with the chain’s top advisers. Watching the Heat’s lopsided, ego-driven, flat-lining rhythm collapse makes it all the more pleasing to see them get beat by a very well-rounded team in the Pacers. Either way; IT’S GON' BE A GRINDHOUSE.