Beneath the Valley of Five Songs You Need to Hear

1. “Yuppie Exodus from Dumbo,” by Jed Davis. (2010). A brilliant bit of social commentary delivered by a once and future denizen of Albany, over a beautiful bit of 1920s-styled music, recorded by Tony Maimone (Pere Ubu, They Might Be Giants) and featuring the legendary Ralph Carney on clarinet. Bonus feature: this cut is actually available for purchase today via a limited edition Edison-era wax cylinder (no kidding!) designed by Michael Doret, for you really old school music fans out there. This tune caused a little stir in the Brooklyn neighborhood that inspired it, pretty much affirming in full the accuracy of its pithy observations. Excellent!

2. “Super Stupid,” by Funkadelic (1971). An under-appreciated cut off of the titanic funk-rock album, Maggot Brain. Guitarist Eddie Hazel sings lead vocals on a song about a junkie making a terrible mistake with his drug of choice, foreshadowing his own sad demise from addiction-related issues some years later. I love heavy organ music, and Bernie Worrell’s spectacularly swirling Hammond organ work makes this a masterpiece of the genre.

3. “Injun Joe,” by The Good Rats (1974). Long Island’s greatest live band to my ear, here offering a classic cut from their most-widely-heard album, Tasty. I’ve written more about The Good Rats on this blog before, and this is one the songs that first roped me in, with its weird lyrics, and blooze-meets-prog arrangements, similar to what Family offered on the other side of the great pond.

4. “A Human Certainty,” by Saccharine Trust (1981). One of the less-well-remembered groups in the early SST Records stable, this cut is from their awesome debut EP, Paganicons. Like the better-known Minutemen, they merged jazz with punk and created something wild and wooly in the process. The fragility of Jack Brewer’s vocals in this song, especially during the near-spoken-word section and wordless wails of fear and anguish that follow it, still gives me shivers, even as he hiccups that he’s okay now, he’s okay. Joe Baiza’s guitar is also surprisingly subtle on this tune, given the time and place of the recording.

5. “Cool Water,” by Marty Robbins (1959). Robbins originally issued this song on one of my all-time favorite albums from the country side of spectrum, Gunfighter Ballads and Trail Songs, which also contained the legendary “El Paso.” I’m not sure when this particular recording was made, but the three part harmonies are sweet, and the instrumentation differs from the studio version, so I think it may actually be live instead of lip-synched, though it’s often hard to tell on Youtube. In any event, this song is a masterpiece, like most of the album that spawned it.

My Favorite Movies That Don’t Make Any Sense At All

A friend recently did a post about his favorite sports movies. After reading his well-done article, I started pondering the film genres in which I might offer the most helpful commentary, and as a life-long devotee of the surreal and the incongruous, I decided that the best thing I could share with you, beloved readers, is a list of My Favorite Movies That Don’t Make Any Sense At All.

Viva, Bunuel! Making no sense for decades!

As wordy as I can be here, I’m really a very visual critter at heart in my private, reflective moments, so I’ll happily and eagerly watch movies with stunning cinematography, haunting soundtracks, trenchant social commentary, and all sorts of other film school values, even if the plots holding those elements together make absolutely no sense whatsoever in any world that real human beings inhabit. Plot schmot, look at the lighting on that rotting, dead zebra, will you?!?

So, without any further ado, here are ten of My Favorite Movies That Don’t Make Any Sense at All. Please feel free to share your thoughts about your own favorite movies that don’t make any sense at all in the comments section. Because, odds are, I’ve seen all of them already, since that’s how I roll, yo.

A Zed & Two Noughts (1985): Crazy sexiness from Peter Greenaway with one-legged women, swans, Vermeer, twins, zebras and OOZ at the ZOO. This movie contains perhaps the greatest film soundtrack ever recorded, by Michael Nyman; “Angelfish Decay” and “Swan Rot” are songs to absolutely die for, both of them variations on the same crazed theme, as is film closer “L’Escargot.”

Eraserhead (1976): David Lynch’s first full-length feature film remains the sort of movie one rolls out to test the stomach of someone who claims to be a student of disturbing film, though many of them quail before it’s completed its run. I’ve probably watched it at least a dozen times over the years, and it took at least ten viewings before I was able to see some of the humor in the thing. Now I chuckle, where I once shuddered. If they showed this in High School sex education class, I guarantee you that teen pregnancy rates would plummet.

The Fountain (2006): An utterly beautiful movie by Daron Aronofsky, featuring the lovely and talented Hugh Jackman and Rachel Weiss as a couple doomed by something to something, although I’m not quite sure what. I actually wept openly near the end of this movie, though I have absolutely no idea why.

Iron Man! Makes no sense!

The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie (1972): The best flick made by the father of film surrealism, Luis Bunuel. Every time I plan a meal with guests, I ponder this movie as a cautionary tale of how the simplest of life’s activities can go woefully, terribly wrong, when things don’t make any sense at all. Then I decide to eat alone.

Dead Man (1995): Johnny Depp! Jim Jarmusch! Star power aplenty, with loads of hipster-friendly cameos! But, uh, is William Blake dead or alive, and what about that Indian, and Iggy Pop wearing a dress, eating someone’s forearm? Do those things make sense? A: No, they don’t, but this movie moves me profoundly, regardless.

The Holy Mountain (1973): I debated about whether to include this film from acclaimed surrealist Alejandro Jodorowsky or his (slightly) more well-known El Topo. I picked this one, because it’s more visually spectacular, and makes dramatically less sense. Perfect!

Pink Floyd: Live at Pompeii (1974): Okay, so let’s take a really popular rock band, at the peak of their powers, and have them film a live concert in an ancient auditorium with no audience around. That makes sense, right? Uh, no. No it doesn’t. It makes no sense at all, though the results of this ill-conceived epic provide some of the best footage of perhaps the best band of the 1970s, making no sense whatsoever to anyone, anywhere.

Tetsuo: The Iron Man (1989): So, there’s this guy, with bits of metal stuffed inside him, and then this big drill thing bursts out of him, and he uses it to kill some woman, and then he becomes some sort of weird human/trash-heap hybrid, and some other stuff happens, and then there’s this scene that’s, like, stuff going on with this big machine-guy thing, and, uh . . . well, let’s just say that it’s beautiful and horrible to watch, but it makes no sense at all.

Mulholland Dr. (2001): David Lynch again! With some really pretty women doing some really sexy stuff, although why they’re doing it is left to trouble the imagination of the viewers, who, by the time they get to those scenes, won’t be in the least bit aroused, because they will be too busy pondering who the little old people in the box and the scary guy in the dumpster behind the diner were.

Zardoz (1974): The usually-dependable John Boorman’s Zardoz totally deserves to cap this list, if for no other reason than the presence of the giant flying stone head that lectures the exterminators about how the gun is good, and the penis is evil. You really, truly have to see this one to believe just how little sense a movie can make, right from its opening scene, no less.  Let me end this post with a masterpiece of nonsense and idiocy: the Zardoz trailer.

Doggerel Day

My friend Catbus in Chicago recently bumbled upon my Women of Spam poems, and was so moved by their idiocy that he declared today Doggerel Day over on Facebook, encouraging other would-be poets to create light verse on whimsical topics, such as his own fine “The Subatomic Highway.” Now, if you’ve been following me here for any length of time, or have bumbled across any of my other poetry, then you know that I take special joy and pleasure in crafting light verse about topics that absolutely, positively should not have poems written about them. So as the freshly-crowned Patron Poet of Doggerel Day, I proudly present from my archives a troika of terrible rhymes on tragically inept topics, and hope that they will inspire you to either (a) make your own contributions to Doggerel Day, or (b) get up from your computer to go outside and breathe some nice, fresh air, while shaking your head in pity.

I. TANK

Forget them stupid Humvee things, a tank’s the toy for me.
If Uncle Sam would sell me one, I’d conquer Tennessee.
I’d roll right into Memphis Town and knock down Graceland’s gates,
and set myself up as the King of all the Border States.
I’d drive my tank down to the mall and park right by the door,
then shop and eat and eat and shop and shop and eat some more.
At night I’d work in my garage to keep my tank well tuned,
and sometimes take it for a spin beneath the crescent moon.

I’d prowl the city every day to keep the peace in check,
then roll into Missouri, blow some stuff up, what the heck?
But best of all, I’d set myself a mission brave and grand:
to hunt down and destroy each stupid Humvee in my land.
The people in the Border States would doff their caps at me
whenever I rolled past them, chasing down those damn Humvees.
I’d blast ’em all, then ride off waving down the Interstate.
If only I could buy a tank, man, wouldn’t that be great?

2. LAMPREY

Oh lamprey, dear lamprey, my petromyzon,
thine round jawless mouth like a small setting sun.
Yon sun, though, has no rasping tongue in its midst,
like thine: gently drilling through prey thou has kissed.

Oh lamprey, dear lamprey, thine ammocoetes
(as thine larvae are called) are the belles of the seas:
armed with nary a sucker nor even a tooth,
they dost oozeth just slime that doth capture their foodth.

Oh lamprey, dear lamprey, thine seven paired gills
and thine one dorsal nostril dost givest me chills.
Thou art sleek and effective, thy perfect design
devastates evolution, and proves the divine.

Oh lamprey, dear lamprey, through manmade canals
thou hast swum from the ocean to finer locales:
to Lake Huron, and Erie, and Michigan too,
to Superior, via Lake Ontarioo.

Oh lamprey, dear lamprey, yon Great Lakes are thine,
thou King of the Fishes Who Don’t Have a Spine!

3. COUCH

That black shed out back, in the woods, it was old,
and my Grandmother said it was haunted.
But I didn’t believe in such nonsense and lies
so I walked back there last year, with curious eyes,
pried the door off and saw inside, to my surprise,
just a couch, like the one my wife wanted.

I drove my old pick-up truck back to the shed,
pulled the couch out, and wrapped it up tightly,
took it off to some store (where they cleaned it up nice,
sewed some splits, patched some stains, for a very fair price,
while I waited, exchanging small talk and advice
with the owner, who thanked me politely).

So that night after dinner, I unveiled the couch,
and my wife, she was quite pleased and tickled.
Then we moved things around to make room in the den,
and we found just the spot for the couch to fit in,
at which point we sat down to watch Oprah and friends,
and to eat the cucumbers she’d pickled.

Since that day, things around here have not been the same,
and that couch is the root of the issues:
it goes drifting around the house all through the night,
and it cries out whenever we turn on the light,
and it jumps out of closets, and give us such frights,
and it chews up our pencils and tissues.

So a day came when I caught the couch in the yard,
and, quite vexed, well, I grabbed it and tied it
to my truck, and took off, with it dragging behind,
and I guess that it seemed I was out of my mind
when the cops pulled me over. I’ve since been confined.
Damn that couch and the evil inside it!

Now I’m stuck here in ward seventeen (it is locked).
And the couch? It crawled home to Grandmother’s.
She walked it back out to its black little shed,
and she locked it away with a nod of her head.
And my wife bought a little plaid love seat instead,
where she sits, watching Oprah, with others.

This Is Where I Came In

"Good Morning" by EPSD. I own this one.

1. For those who don’t know or know of my extended family, my sole sibling sister is an artist and arts educator who lives in Asheville, North Carolina. She’s got a lot of works hanging in a lot of venues, but she’s generally taken a low-key approach to marketing, and her paintings have spread primarily through word of mouth between friends of friends of friends and the like. She’s recently started expanding her web presence, and has a small chunk of her recent portfolio online now, here: E. Paige Smith Duft. Check her out. She’s good. (And the “E” stands for “Elisabeth,” if you’re wondering. We Southerners are weird about that first and middle name thing, you know?)

2. Not to get all Seinfeld on you, but can someone please, please, please explain to me why some people choose to back into parking spots, instead of driving into them? It seems so intuitively wrong to me, as it’s easier to drive forward than it is to drive backward, so a driver should give him- or herself more room for error when reversing, hence, intelligence would dictate that said driver put the front end of the car into the parking spot, so that the hard move (reversing) is deployed into the big open lot, rather than into the small, tight parking space. Right? Right?!? Isn’t this obvious? Well, apparently not, because I can’t count the times that I’ve had to either pass on a viable parking spot because a backed-in car is angled across two spaces, or had to squeeze my ponderous frame into the tiny gap between my car and some minivan that’s been badly reverse parked next to me. And at the risk of being politically incorrect or inappropriately stereotyping, I have to note that, based on my admittedly limited observations, there seems to be something of a strong gender bias when it comes to reverse parkers. So how about we conduct a little non-scientific survey to see if my observations are correct. Readers: are you reverse parkers? And if so, (a) what’s your gender, and (b) for heaven’s sake, why do you do it?!?!

3. I mentioned Snog in a recent Five Songs You Need to Hear post, and I’ve been loving their latest disc, Last of the Great Romantics, which you can listen to in its entirety by clicking that link. Guiding singer-songwriter-conceptualist David Thrussell has been a creative scourge against the system for decades now, his dire view of our modern world ever uncompromised, but yet somehow very humanizing in its bleakness. He makes an extraordinary amount of exceptional music, which he encourages people to copy and share, as he refuses to accept the legal concept of copyright, all while generally acting as a recluse and avoiding the vapid trappings associated with what we call “success” in the music industry. Good for him.

Generic Smith

A canned blog-based bio from some years back, updated to 2014 data . . .

Real Name: John Eric Smith, which sounds like “Generic Smith” when you say it quickly, as if “John E. Smith” wasn’t generic enough. I use my middle name to avoid Pocahontas jokes and rolling eyes when I check into hotels.

Age: Old enough that it’s rude to ask

Personal Web site: http://www.jericsmith.com

Where do you work? I am the Executive Director of Salisbury House Foundation in Des Moines, Iowa.

What do you do when you’re not working? I work out at the gym, play golf with my wife, read books (mostly non-fiction, music-related biographies, natural history, and tales of human suffering), and occasionally indulge in weird spurts of coin collecting or fossil hunting or model rocket building or other equally geeky pursuits.

Where did you attend high school and college? I was a Marine Corps brat and attended four high schools in four years: two on Long Island, one in Rhode Island, and one in North Carolina. I graduated from the United States Naval Academy at Annapolis with a Bachelor’s Degree in Political Science, then attended the Naval Supply Corps School in Athens, Georgia, and (much later) received a Masters in Public Administration and Policy from Albany’s Rockefeller College.

Why do you blog? Because I love to write and tell stories, probably to the point of obsession, and if blogs didn’t exist, then I’d likely be filling up little notebooks that no one else would ever read. So why not share those musings publicly, since it’s so easy to do? Also, at this point, I blog from force of habit: 2014 marks my fourteenth year as a regular blogger (with a couple of break periods), and I still feel like I have something to share.

What’s the best / worst thing about blogging? The best thing is occasionally hearing from people who felt moved or inspired by words or ideas they found on my blog. The worst thing is occasionally hearing from people who felt hurt or insulted by words they found on my blog. Words have power, and it’s nice to be reminded of that fact every now and again. And at this stage in my life, I’d rather inspire than provoke. I did more than enough of the latter when I was young.

What’s surprised you the most about blogging? The fact that I’ve been able to do it for as long as I have, and that my audience, such as it is, appears to be sticking around. When I set up my first blog in September 2000, I figured it would be but a passing fancy, read only by a couple of loyal friends and family members for a month or two.

What advice would you give to other bloggers? I have been dismayed at how mean and competitive much of the blogosphere has become, and how much of it is made up of regurgitated content or Twitter-length bits of fluff and nothingness. I would encourage other bloggers to create original, personal, thoughtful material, rather than just pilfering and reposting the meme du jour, and to focus on the quality of your narrative, instead of doing whatever it takes to drive up your hit rates and comment counts. Such a lowest common denominator, bottom-line driven approach makes sense for those who get paid to blog by advertisers, but the vast majority of people blog only as a labor of love, and I think it’s important to hone and sharpen your own voices, rather than letting them be drowned out by the soul-sapping action in the comments section. You’ll be more successful (and happy) in the long-run if you worry more about your words than you worry about your stats.

What’s the last book you read? The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot, an extraordinary story of a woman whose cancer cells thrived and survived, long after she died, and without her family’s consent or knowledge. Stranger than fiction.

What’s most played on your iPod? In the past month, the most played bands on my iPod have been The Bats, Melt Banana, PAS/CAL, Frightened Rabbit, The National, Napalm Death and So Cow.

Favorite movie? I can’t pick just one, but favorites include Aguirre: The Wrath of God, A Zed & Two Noughts, Network, Cool Hand Luke and A Clockwork Orange.

Favorite place to get away from it all? The hot tub in my backyard. Nothing better than watching birds by day or stars by night while stewing in 103 degree water.

Coffee or tea? One 12 ounce cup of black coffee in the morning, then weird, decaf herbal teas throughout the rest of the day.

Your hero? I consider anyone who serves honorably and faithfully for the public good to be heroic. I also count Muhammad Ali, Robert Fripp, Abraham Lincoln, my late father and my wife as life-long inspirations and role-models, each in their own individual ways.