Thursday, December 27, 2012

R.L. Burnside

In 1996 I went downstairs to the Philadelphia Record Exchange to look at the new releases. This was a weekly ritual; I was passionate about music and, although I didn't have much in the way of money at the time, most of my expenses could be attributed to the art form. I saw "A Ass Pocket of Whiskey"; a curious album with Jon Spencer and an old blues man by the name of R.L. Burnside. I had been a fan of Spencer for sometime and trusted his judgement. So without so much as blinking an eye I laid my precious 10 dollar bill down and took the album upstairs where I lived.

The music that leaped from out of the speakers was raw, distorted and beautifully live; as if taped with a handheld microphone on a porch in the south (which, as it turned out, it practically was). I was a fan of Jon Spencer at the time, and had heard blues legends like Robert Johnson, John Lee Hooker and Muddy Waters, but nothing had prepared me for this. This gut-wrenching rhythm bleeding out of the speakers, ripping my heart out of my eardrums. I kept the album on heavy rotation for the rest of the year.

Little did I know this was just a bookend to the long life of a Northern Mississippi blues singer that had spent his years in juke joints throughout the south, trying to make ends meet as a sharecropper and, for a time, a factory worker in Chicago. R.L. Burnside was born in Lafayette County, Mississippi in 1926 and picked up guitar in 1948 after hearing the John Lee Hooker single, "Boogie Chillen." In the late 40's and early 50's he lived in a rough section of Chicago, where he lost his father, two brothers and an uncle in the violence of the era. He returned to the south to raise a family, only to be thrown in jail after killing a man during a game of dice. Burnside later said, "I didn't mean to kill nobody...I just meant to shoot the sonofabitch in the head. Him dying was between him and the Lord." Well, just another example for the need of way-overdue gun control!

After enjoying some fame in the '90's from the indie-scene (thanks in part to Fat Possum Records and Matthew Johnson), R.L. passed away in 2005 from heart failure. I just want to feature some examples of his music I found online. The most striking thing about him is his sense of rhythm. All the pieces featured here showcase him as the sole instrumentation; just vocals and guitar. And yet he carries the whole thing by himself. You can hardly keep your feet still, the rhythm is so infectious. Go, R.L., Go!!!

Monday, December 17, 2012

Electric Delivery Bikes

Please allow me to go on a little rant here while I talk about these electric delivery scooters we now see all over our city streets. They're like a virus; menacingly slithering its tentacles across each and every neighborhood, putting us all in imminent danger of being mowed down.

These "bikes" are absolutely silent and they go..FAST. They often drive at night, in the bike lane or even on the sidewalks, never following traffic laws. I've seen them without lights on, going the wrong way on a one-way street, zipping by at 20mph. So dangerous. And, I've heard they're illegal in the state of New York. City politicians have managed to double fines on the owners, and apparently the DOT has even made visits to the restaurants delivery men work for, to make sure they're licensed and trained on traffic laws. But to no avail. I guess the restaurant owners have found it's financially worth the risk of getting fined and even occasionally sued in order to make a fast buck on quick deliveries night after night.

I have had so many run-ins with these damned delivery scooters, almost getting hit by them several times while crossing the street. You can't hear them coming and since they go faster than the average bicycle, you have little time to react. They scare the crap out of me when they come up from behind while I'm riding in the bike lane at night. 

I hate these things but I see them everywhere now. It's definitely a recent phenomena and I'm hoping the laws will eventually catch up with the trend and put a stop to them for good. Until then, watch your back people!

Sunday, December 2, 2012


Jeffrey Eugenides' novel, Middlesex, has me perpetually wrapped up in its pages and as each chapter unfolds I become more absorbed and anxious of reaching the inevitable end. I don't want it to end, I love this book.  

Eugenides' uses the gender paradox to explore themes of societal alienation, the battle of free-will versus conformity and, ultimately, the strength of the human spirit. He covers today's common affliction known as the fear of intimacy extremely well. The lead character's disconnected relationship with Julie Kikuchi, which pops up throughout the book, will feel very familiar to the many lovelorn people of the 21st century. A line that really hits home for many is one of my favorites; "I never know what to feel until it's too late."

Here's a passage that occurs during the lead-up to the story's catharsis. I was almost reduced to tears in the middle of the subway car on my commute to work reading this. The "Obscure Object" is referring to the girl who is the subject of our protagonist's affections. Again, the fear of intimacy is inferred due to the fact that this important character doesn't even have a name and is simply referred to as "obscure."

The stretcher was wheeled down the corridor and my arm stretched out towards the Object. I had already left on my voyage. I was sailing across the sea to another country. Now my arm was twenty feet long, thirty, forty, fifty. I lifted my head from the stretcher to gaze at the Object. To gaze at the Obscure Object. For once more she was becoming a mystery to me. What ever happened to her? Where is she now? She stood at the end of the hall, holding my unraveling arm. She looked cold, skinny, out of place, lost. It was almost as if she knew we would never see each other again. The stretcher was picking up speed. My arm was only a thin ribbon now, curling through the air. Finally the inevitable moment came. The Object let go. My hand flew up, free, empty.