Big in South Dakota . . .

Nice article about the Worst Bands Contest in the Sioux Falls Argus Leader this week, online version here. Thanks to Robert Morast for hunting me down and talking to me about it. His back columns are posted here . . . having perused them, I conclude he’s a writer worth reading. In particular, check out the article about Rock’s Great Moments in Time. Damned insightful stuff.

Potent Stuff . . .

I’ve been reading Doonesbury longer, continually than any other cartoon strip, since very soon after it made its national syndication debut back in the early ’70s. There are things about the strip that I can’t stand (the floating icons for the presidents, anything having to do with Mister Butts, Gary Trudeau’s periodic sabbaticals, mailcalls and dream sequences, etc.), but Trudeau has been writing about his characters so long and so well that they’re very three-dimensional to a longtime reader.

So this week’s sequence with B.D. being injured in Iraq is really intense stuff for the comics page, and I applaud Trudeau for tackling the issue of “why don’t we see the wounded” in this way. Today’s strip was an amazing piece of art and drama: the first thing you note in the third panel is that you are seeing B.D. for the first time ever (at least I’m pretty sure it’s the first time ever) without his football/army helmet on . . . and only then does your eye drift down to the bottom of the panel, where you see that he’s missing his left leg. Definitely the most powerful, potent and provocative development in the strip since Mark came out of the closet. Three cheers for Gary Trudeau for taking on such difficult issues with such aplomb.

Bio and Music

I finished reading Jimmy McDonough’s Neil Young biography, Shakey, while on vacation. It’s a great book, marred only in its final chapters when the biographer injects himself a little bit too aggressively into the narrative for my tastes.

The general consensus of all parties interviewed in the book was that the album Re-Ac-Tor is one of Young’s worst. I remain perpetually perplexed by that, and by the general disdain with which that record is viewed by critics and fans alike. Call me heretic, but it’s one of my all-time favorite Neil Young records, easily, and I love love love the much maligned nine-minute-one-riff “T-Bone” to boot. If given the choice of being stranded on a desert island with Harvest or Freedom or Rust Never Sleeps or Re-Ac-Tor, I’d probably take the latter. I’d have to think about it if it came down to choosing between Re-Ac-Tor and Live Rust, I guess.

In summary, I think folks need to rethink their reaction to this record. Everyone go buy it now. Ain’t got no T-Bone.

Off the Road Again

We’re back home after driving 1,974 miles in seven days (six of them featuring rain and/or ice), visiting eight states, seven relatives and one battlefield, sleeping in one historic farm house, one historic inn and two not-so-historic hotels, eating more in a week than I probably had in the month before I went on vacation. A good, full trip, all told.

We spent the first three days in Asheville, North Carolina, where my sister and her family live. My mother came up from South Carolina while we were there. Asheville is a weird and wonderful and wild little city, an eclectic blend of Western Carolina mountain culture and neo-bohemianism, where the number of tattoos in town is probably about equal to the number of pickup trucks. My mom has an apartment in an old inn that’s being restored there. It was a posh vacation spot back around the turn of the century, then was converted to a . . . (wait for it) . . . insane asylum, after which it lay abandoned for many years until they began rebuilding and restoring it a couple of years back. It’s an amazing building, and the apartment was great . . . and when you walk down the long, quiet halls, you can almost hear the little ghost children saying “redrum! redrum!” just behind you.

The next night we stayed near Samaria, North Carolina, in the farmhouse owned by my dad’s first cousin. They were about six months apart in age, both went to North Carolina State, and were very close growing up. My dad has told me about the farm probably 1,000 times over the years (maybe more, even, it was one of his favorite stories . . . and one of his favorite places), but I had never actually managed to visit it. It was amazing to do so . . . to see the places he’d told me about, and to learn a bit more about the Smith side of the family than I’d known before (my dad’s dad was a taciturn guy who wasn’t much for the whole geneology thing . . . I’d asked him at some point about his family history, and he gave me his parents’ names, but that was about it). Katelin slept in the room where her great-great-grandfather had died. His name was Samuel C. Smith, a merchant from Mebane, North Carolina. He moved to the farmhouse near Samaria (where his daughter, my great-aunt, lived) in his later days, and died there. People knew him as “Mister Sam.” I think that’s the name of a poem that I’m gonna have to write, along with a poem about Katelin returning to spend an evening where he spent his last one. My dad’s cousin gave me an amazing old portrait of Sam and his wife, and showed me a bunch of pictures of Smith relatives that I’d never seen. They were all tall, rangy guys (where I get that from, I guess), and I think I get my rather distinctive nose from that side of the family too. I’ll see if I can get a good digital photo of the portrait and post it up here once I get settled back in. It was a wonderful visit, all round. Thanks Manly and Peggy, if you’re reading this!!

We then drove up to Gettysburg and spent this morning walking the battlefield. I’d been there once before (that was the inspiration of the poem “Battlefield” that ran here back in January or so). Katelin’s getting ready to study the Civil War in school, and we figure that she’s probably one of a fairly small number in her suburban New York class who had multiple ancestors fight at Gettysburgh . . . for the Confederacy.

I’ll also try to get caught up on e-mail this weekend, so if you’ve got something burning a hole in my inbox, I’ll get to it soon.

From the road . . .

Apparently the “Worst Bands” survey from a coupla months ago was picked up by some large bulletin board and/or e-mail list and blasted all over the place, since when I checked my site stats yesterday, I’ve had thousands and thousands of hits on it, and dozens and dozens of e-mails about it. The interesting joys of the internet, I guess. Did a phone interview with a journalist from Sioux Falls, South Dakota about it yesterday. Look forward to seeing his article.

We’re on the road ’til Friday, so I don’t know if any of this will cause volume troubles with either the website or my e-mail account, but I’ll be back online Saturday and will sort out anything waiting for me then. If you’re trying to contact me about it, I will be in touch by Saturday night, unless you’re writing to tell me that I suck and [insert band name here] rules, in which case I probably won’t reply. Nothing personal.

Today we are driving to visit the farm where my father spent his summers as a kid. I’ve heard about all my life, but never seen it. His cousin still lives there and invited us over for a visit. Can’t say no to that, can we?

Stupid Press Quote of the Day

Regarding the 10th Anniversary of Kurt Cobain’s suicide (which is tomorrow), from Yahoo News via an AP pick-up:

[Cobain]’s songs “Smells Like Teen Spirit,” “Lithium”, “Come As You Are” and “The Man Who Sold the World” are constantly being played on radio around the world.

I think David Bowie might have something to say about “The Man Who Sold The World” being called Cobain’s song.