Before the chop, noise labels

I just finished reading the new Henry Rollins book, Before the Chop, which is a collection of his LA Weekly articles from the last couple of years, in their longer, unedited form.  Previously, Rollins would write in his journals all year about his travels and whatnot, and then at the end of each year, dump them into a book.  I liked this format, and was hoping he’d continue to do that, but it’s also good to get the regular dispatches as they happen.  The writing is a bit different between the two, and he spends more time talking about his music collection and infatuations in the column.  This is bad news as a recovering collector, because it’s hard to get through reading this book without spending at least $500 on new CDs.

One of the things that he talked about a few times that really interested me was the concept of Noise, and microlabels that support this genre.  I don’t know the history of noise as a musical genre, and I’m sure there are a million different ways to approach it.  I guess I’m most familiar with the more musically-based grindcore-derived stuff like Old Lady Drivers, and I’m sure to the non-metal fan, any grindcore is considered noise.  What Rollins was talking about though was the post-industrial stuff that came from labels like American Tapes.  For a good example, go to and listen to the videos there.

American Tapes is now apparently done releasing stuff, but they put out a thousand titles over a dozen or so years.  Every title had strange artwork, and was on bizarre formats.  Boxed sets of cassette tapes, CD-Rs sharpied up with artwork, lathe-cut vinyl, freaky-colored 7″ records – they did a lot of weird stuff, all in limited editions, all carped-bombed out at a rate in which even a frenzied collector could not keep up with.  Their site ( still has stuff for sale, along with sound samples and pictures of releases and flyers.  Some of their stuff is pure art – miniature sculptures made with glued-on junk and spray paint that just happens to have a music delivery device of some sort wrapped inside of it.

This stuff amazes me.  I mean, I love zines and chapbooks and weird-sized booklets and anything like that.  Even if the writing sucks, tell me your half-digest gold-foil-wrapped broadside is letterpress printed and limited edition, and I’ll paypal you money as fast as I can open the web site.  I love collecting stuff like that, and to see someone who has done a thousand releases like that only makes me feel like a slouch for writing one or two books a year.

I wish I knew how to draw enough to do something like this.  I’ve been looking for some way of putting out cool little books like this, and spend too much time on eBay looking for a printing press, not that I’d know how to use it or have room to keep it.  I want to learn a lot more about design and find some way to crank stuff out like this, but it’s more of a distant dream, because even writing the books that I write takes a lot of time and effort.

I need to research this more, and find more places doing this sort of thing.  God damn you, Rollins.  This is going to be a huge cash outlay.  It’s bad enough a bunch of these albums are on iTunes and can be purchased with the click of a button.



Generation whatever

On Saturday, I went to the big Barnes and Noble at the Third Street promenade in Santa Monica, which I guess is just a Barnes and Noble like the one by my house, but it’s got the weird art deco letters on the outside, and I always go there when I’m at the promenade, which is about as stupid as making a special trip to a specific McDonald’s as part of an OCD ritual, when there are a million other locations putting out the same shit.  I also had a $25 gift card to use.  Anyway, I ended up leaving with a couple of books, one of which was Douglas Coupland’s Generation A, which I proceeded to read over the rest of the short trip this weekend.

The book wasn’t bad, a quick read.  I think every review said it mirrors Generation X, but I found it to be a much different type of book.  Maybe it’s because I haven’t read the former book in forever, but I seem to remember it as more of a series of transgressive vignettes that mostly bitch about how the hyper-accelerated culture of the post-boomer generation is… whatever.  This book seemed to have more of a story behind it, a thriller about five people who get stung by bees after bees are extinct, and how everyone is addicted to this new psych med.  The plot got a little stupid by the end, but it really made me miss Coupland’s writing style.  He’s an observationalist, and can really nail these little asides about life, in the way a comedian can in their material.  I don’t have any huge examples of this, but that’s the point; he dials in these little beats about the things his characters observe, and I always like how he can do that.

I think I got into Coupland’s stuff right around the time I left Bloomington, at the apex of the whole Generation X marketing movement.  It was a weird time, when grunge was alive (or was it dead by then?) and heavy metal was dead and everyone who was into heavy metal told the same stupid joke-slash-observation about how “alternative” wasn’t an “alternative” if it was mainstream.  I used to read Details magazine, I think because I bought a copy with an article by Henry Rollins, and I used to scan their various marketing manifestos of what items you were required to buy or consume if you were Generation X.  I used to think a lot of it was stupid, like that I’d spend $700 on a watch that did the same thing as a $19 casio from the drug store, but they also had some author interviews and book reviews that led me to stuff like David Foster Wallace.

I got into writing in part because of Rollins and his spoken word, but that led me to Henry Miller, and then Bukowski and Kerouac, and all of that made me feel like I needed to find some lifestyle or youth movement or culture, and I knew it wasn’t listening to John Mellencamp and getting blackout drunk on cheap domestics, so I knew it involved leaving Indiana.  So I fell into reading Coupland’s stuff, and I think I read all of his books within a week.  I remember the exact week, because it was right after Larry left Bloomington for Texas.  He left behind an apartment with a month of rent on it, and told me to use it for writing or whatever the hell, and I was trying to pick at my first book, along with filling up the spiral notebooks with whatever came to my head.  And right after that, I was driving over to his place on a Saturday morning, and my car died – it threw the timing belt, and I had to tow it to this repair place out by College Mall.  I walked to Morgenstern’s books, bought all three of his books, then walked to Larry’s place and sat on the floor to read.

For a good chunk of my college experience, I walked everywhere.  But then I got this car in 1994, and spent all year driving everywhere, or sometimes driving nowhere, doing lazy loops around the campus while listening to whatever death metal album I was into that week.  Not having the car made me feel like I was regressing, because I had to pound the pavement with the Reeboks, except now I was out of shape, and didn’t have a nice walkman anymore, and hoofed it in silence.  Plus I now lived way the hell west of campus, which meant a long day of walking.  I really absorbed those books, and they made me want to leave Indiana more than ever.  I didn’t know that a month later, I’d be in Seattle, interviewing for a job that I would get, that would relocate me 2400 miles away and into this world not far removed from the fictional places in his novels.

I should probably re-read Generation X now.  I am guessing it has not aged well, but to be fair, neither have I.


I hate it when the government kills the main characters in my books

Like I said before, I have a moratorium on “here is what I did last year”/”here is what I want to do last year”/”here’s how horrible the year was politically, even though I don’t know what the fuck I’m talking about” posts. I’m pretty sure you can read that at any other blog or site on the web. The one bit of politics I have is to mention that Hussein hanging. One, it sure hasn’t had as much coverage on the web. I thought for sure there would be a million weepy posts about how this won’t help anything blah blah blah and/or “ding dong, the witch is dead”, but it’s been very quiet.

The whole thing pisses me off because I am 36,000 words into this book, and there is a small sub-plot involving Saddam, and now I’m forced to either change it, remove it, or maybe add in a “no, that hanging was staged bullshit, he’s still around” or something. I seriously thought he’d be around for thirty years amidst a clusterfuck of appeals and technicalities. Hell, Charlie Manson’s still dining at the Corcorcan Hilton on the government dime, and his little helter skelter attempt was almost 40 years ago. But I suppose someone writing a fictional absurdist book about Elvis back in ’77 wouldn’t need to change much after he keeled over on the shitter, right? Maybe I should add that Sadaam and Elvis are hanging around somewhere in a Tijuana bar, trading stories and shots of codeine. Stranger things have happened.

As an aside, I was never any huge fan of Gerald Ford’s, but I do feel bad about what’s happening with his funeral. Because of the timing, pretty much everybody is out of town and they’re probably going to have to hire some homeless people to be his pallbearers. Nixon had five presidents to carry his casket; everyone’s too busy watching football to haul away Ford. I think the next Pauly Shore comedy show will have a higher attendance than Ford’s funeral. I always felt bad for Ford because he not only inherited all of Nixon’s shit, but he was the only person appointed the presidency, and I always thought that maybe he didn’t entirely want it. As a person who often gets appointed shit jobs that nobody else will take in my career, I can sympathize.

I now have so many books to read, I can’t really decide on any single book to read. In addition to the armful of Christmas gifts, I also decided as part of a solution to the population control problem on my shelves, I would pull all of the books I have never read, and that I want to either read, or maybe dump in the future. I have a lot of books I bought in the last year or two that I shelved but never read and then forgot, and I have other books that have been following me for over fifteen years that I have never read and might never read at all, which need to be dealt with at some point. So I now have this “to be read or eventually ditched” queue now. I also have a pile of books that are the “dead and gone” pile. I know at least one of you regular readers will mention the greatness of dumping this shit on eBay or Amazon used or whatever, but I’ve found it’s much easier to drag them to the library a block away, donate them, and make up a bunch of semi-inflated prices per book and take it as a tax writeoff. (I am now in the income bracket where I am forced to file long-form and take deductions, and since I don’t have a house, kids, a religion, any political party I’d give one fucking red cent to, or anything else, deductions are more than welcome at this point.)

The one thing I am reading now is the Portable Henry Rollins, a gift from Sarah’s brother-in-law Matthew. The book isn’t part of the Viking portable series (I wish it was so it would match my other ones) but it’s a similar concept – take the best of a dozen books and put them in one place. I think I own about 80% of the books anthologized in this tome, but it’s nice to see them all in one place. It also really reminds me of how I got started on this whole writing thing, almost 15 years ago, which was the Rollins spoken word tapes. Those escalated to his books, and the desire for me to start keeping a journal, and eventually trying to write my own stories and books. Some of the stories in the anthology are ones from his tapes, and that brings me back to that period when I was trying to define myself as a writer, or at least capture something on paper. The book is also printed with the ragged right paper (I don’t know the technical term, that shit they use in arty books and wedding invitations), which typically drives me apeshit, but it reminds me of some of the artsy paper and notebooks I tried to use when I was first starting out. For a little while, I thought the type of paper and type of notebook and type of pen would radically change my ability to keep a journal. Later I realized that Mead college-rule and a ball-point stolen from any bank or hotel would work just fine, and all of the “special” journaling stuff was just bullshit.

The Rollins stuff is interesting in a few different ways, once you strip away the typical egomaniacal layer that usually obstructs people. Below that, there’s this part that originally caught me, this thought that loneliness and despair are not only a pure form of pain, but they are also essential to the human condition. He always talks about the need to be alone, the times when he grew up in DC and worked at the ice cream store, how he didn’t drive or take the bus, because he needed to walk across the city in the night alone, to have the pain and pleasure of not being around any other humans. He would walk and relive the horrors that happened to him in the city, the times he got mugged or saw a dog in the street get nailed by a bus, the pieces he could not erase. I identified with that to an extent, because I would walk across campus alone at three in the morning, and would see the million layers and landmarks of what happened to me over the years, and that time at night was when I was most alive, and most depressed. But I also thought Rollins was full of shit, that he was a millionaire that could get any chick he wanted, and he was obviously crazy because he wanted to go back to that period when he was a lonely, confused little punk living in a shithole apartment and living on nothing. But now, 15 years later, my memory always pulls back to those times, and I realize that even though I’ve gained so much, I have also lost that overwhelming pain that defined me back then.

Anyway, this is starting to sound like some kind of new year’s bullshit, so I’ll leave it there. I am actually going out to dinner tonight at Alias. I could pretty much live on their BBQ ribs and onion rings (at least until I keeled over from a heart blockage.) Until then, I need to keep working on the still-unnamed next book. I think until it has a name, I will simply call it Book Three from now on. Anyway, Book Three is going good, and I hope to at least get the first third done in the next month or two so I can let some other people read it and see if I’m crazy or not.

(BTW, still thinking about that ten-year journal book. I’m thinking a good title would be “This is not a Blog”. From 4/10/97 to today, I have 702 entries and about 496,000 words. I think War and Peace is about 550,000 words, to give you an idea of magnitude. Of course, once I edit out all of the stupid shit, it’s like 32,000 words. I’m also thinking of pulling in some bits from my paper journals, and there will be a certain amount of new content, essays explaining things and why the hell I did this anyway. But I need to work on the aforementioned Book Three first, so this is a side project, as if I have time for side projects.)


The TSA and medical conditions

Bags are packed and at my desk, and I’m ready to leave for Milwaukee in a few hours. Sarah is in Philadelphia on business, so she will get back, get a taxi, and then come to my work and pick me up. Then, off to the airport and the hideous security crap. Wish me luck.

You know, I never had a problem with the TSA, until maybe a year ago. Before that, I always got through, no problems. Now, for some reason, they constantly fuck with me. The worst of it was when I was in California earlier this year, and I still had my knee brace. The brace has hinged metal pieces on either side, and sets off a metal detector more than a handgun would. And I can’t take off the brace without completely taking off my pants. Now, if you go to the TSA web site, there’s a lot of nice wording about how to treat a person with a medical issue: they can’t touch the brace, they can’t take off the brace, they can’t ask me to take it off, and so on. Well, on my return trip, they made me go into a little room, undress, and take off the brace so they could test it for explosives. I’m sitting in a back room with no pants on while some dumb fuck is asking me if I follow hockey or not, seeing as I live in New York. WHAT THE FUCK?!?!?!

So, yeah, I don’t like the TSA. We’ll see how it goes tonight.

Speaking of travel, I’ve been reading this Henry Rollins book that’s a travel journal over a couple of years, both from spoken word tours and from an effort to burn off a ton of frequent flier miles and go to weird places. He goes to Kenya, and then to Madagascar, sleeping in tents and seeing the wilderness. The sights and animals and native people all sound interesting. It must be something to sit on the shores of the Indian Ocean on an island that is almost untouched by man, with no pollution and nothing but green around you. On the other hand, he also did the tour group thing with a bunch of insufferable people, usually old, just wanting to take pictures of stuff they’d seen on TV, not really getting the context.

Rollins is a capable writer, and his life is interesting. This is where the whole “It’s not about what you write, but who you are” thing comes into play. People buy his books because he has this sort of cult of personality surrounding him. People want to be his friend, or be him, and because he’s been in bands and movies and whatever, he has that infamy. He could sell a hundred times as many books as I’d ever sell in my lifetime, even if he wrote a ten-word poem and repeated it for 200 pages. He doesn’t need to write anything marketable, because there are enough frentic completist record collectors who absolutely have to have one of everything he produces. People worship him, but they don’t give a shit about how his writing stands up against David Foster Wallace or Raymond Carver. He’s a celebrity, and people like that.

And Rollins is interesting, but he’s also a bit of a prick sometimes. (To be fair, this is sort of fading with age, though.) And he goes on and on about his need to be alone, how he wishes he could vanish in the woods or whatever, and while I find his life or his lifestyle or his travels interesting, I think a lot of this philosophy of his is bullshit. And I wonder if that’s what he truly feels, or if fame has made him feel this, or if it’s all an act. Maybe he’s a cool guy if you know him, but the closest I ever would be to knowing him would be getting him to sign my napkin and shake my hand after a show.

I think that’s the thing that bugs me about signing books. The people who most want me to sign something are the ones that least know me. How is a squiggle of ink on a page going to change things? Who’s going to rush home with an autographed copy of Rumored to Exist and wrap it up in 10-mil plastic? Maybe people want me to sign books because they think they will go up in value, or someday I’ll be famous, but the truth is, even if I went on a ten-state killing spree and got caught by the feds tomorrow, that book wouldn’t fetch more than $50 on eBay. (All of this is also rather stupid in that if I could sign every book and zine I’ve ever published in about an afternoon.)

Crap. Lunch is over and I need to go work. I’ll be back Monday (although who am I kidding, I never update this thing…)