Jesse Jarnow

Archive for August, 2006

jerry garcia on comas

via David Jay Brown and Rebecca McClen Novick’s Voices from the Edge:

It just gave me a greater admiration for the incredible baroque possibilities of mentation. The mind is so incredibly weird. The whole process of going into coma was very interesting, too. It was a slow onset — it took about a week — and during this time I started feeling like the vegetable kingdom was speaking to me.

It was communicating in comic dialect in iambic pentameter. So there were these Italian accents and German accents, and it got to be this vast garbling. Potatoes and radishes and trees were all speaking to me. It was really strange. It finally just reached hysteria, and that’s when I passed out and woke up in the hospital.

a box i own, 8/06

The odds that a lighter or a pen might survive to its natural end — the diminishment of ink or fluid — are pretty slim. They get pilfered, left at bars, lost in couches. It’s no matter, they’re cheap. Empty, they are often scarred.

“nyc’s like a graveyard” – the moldy peaches

“NYC’s Like A Graveyard” – the Moldy Peaches (download here)
from The Moldy Peaches (2001)
released by Rough Trade (buy)

(file expires September 5th)

Like “I Don’t Wanna Leave You on the Farm,” the Moldy Peaches’ “NYC’s Like A Graveyard” might first be construed as a novelty anthem. And it kind of is. Certainly, the anti-folk Peaches — who wore bunny suits, among other costumes, during their performances — eventually broke up rather than trying to shrug off the stigma of humor.

I remember hearing this song everywhere during the summer of 2001. I think it got played between nearly every set at Wetlands, and RANA covered it once or twice. It made me buy the album, just before a solo road trip I took to New England during the first week of September. Driving through rolling green hills, none of the other songs on the album — all novelties (or at least mutants) — took, but “NYC’s Like A Graveyard” was every bit as good as I thought it was. The recording hisses, almost literally, between the abrasive guitar and crummy-sounding hi-hat. Listened to as a single, between songs by other artists, my ears cringe whenever “NYC’s Like A Graveyard” begins.

Then 9/11 happened, and the song twisted into vapor. It’s not that the Moldy Peaches were prophetic, like Dylan’s “High Water (For Charley Patton),” their song was just true. “NYC’s Like A Graveyard” is a utopian summer anthem (“all the rock stars double datin'”), and one of those random thoughts one has sometimes when looking at the skyline (“all the tombstones skyscrapin'”), but mostly it’s about being young in New York (“we’ve got it! we’ve got it!”). In that period of post-attack murmur, though, it went away, not censored so much as willed out of people’s minds. RANA certainly never covered it again. Five years later, the song now a playlist footnote, New York City has changed considerably, though it is still — among many other things — a graveyard.

“i don’t wanna leave you on the farm” – ween

“I Don’t Wanna Leave You on the Farm” – Ween (download here)
from 12 Golden Country Greats (1996)
released by Elektra (buy)

(file expires September 4th)

My friend Bubba Love once pointed out that — slowed and stripped down — Ween’s “I Don’t Wanna Leave You on the Farm” could be an Elliot Smith song. He’s totally right. Specifically, it’s the chorus: that mournful, mournful change and the lyrics themselves (“days go by and I’m still high,” “leaves fall to the ground, it’s a sound that reminds me of you”). Since then, I’ve wanted to hear it played that way. It’s completely typical Ween, able to set real emotion (there are days I can’t get enough of the chorus) inside this wholly absurd frame (Ween doing a country album to begin with) with self-consciously juvenile brushstrokes (“I’m alone… on the throne”). That’s pretty much Ween at their best.


The idea of playing with copyright — through mash-ups (musical, visual, or otherwise), pirating, mixes — occasionally seems the modern equivalent of psychedelics. Like LSD, which had been in circulation for two decades previous to the 1960s, the notion of reappropriation took some time to achieve critical cultural mass (and has been present, in some form, for all human history). There are people who exploit it on a strictly recreational level (such as downloading music), and those who have used it as a great springboard of creativity (such as turning that music into something new and redistributing it). Committing one of the latter acts, especially, one automatically enters into the dialogue, rearranging the symbols around himself. It is an instant ticket to the group mind. Mostly, playing with copyright makes one see the world differently, as something more malleable than it was moments earlier. Though maybe not as dangerous an idea as acid, it still makes for a dandy of a bogeyman.

have read/will read dept.

o Jonathan Lethem on Bob Dylan in the new Rolling Stone.
o Malcolm Gladwell on dependecy ratios in the new New Yorker
o Kevin Kelly’s newish Street Use blog, chronicling spontaneous technology.
o My dear friend DJ Power Possum/O’Diggity McPoindexter has begun marking Possum’s (totally bizarre) Travels.
o Sometimes, it’s really nice to read about the Beatles for no reason at all.

manual for the robots redux

I was not raised bi-platform. I’ve been an Apple user since the day my Aunt left her family’s IIe with us while they went on vacation. I was five or six. The next holiday season, one of our very own materialized in Dad’s studio. The hulking gray console now sits in the corner of my room on top of a closet. In the intervening decades, my family shared a IIc and two desktops. In high school, I got a desktop of my own, and am now on my fourth laptop. Just as I can only effectively communicate in English, I can only really function on Macs. I’m an ugly American and a brutish Apple rube.

With the death of my third iPod in three weeks by unprovoked harddrive failure, I think my faith in Apple’s hardware has been irrevocably scarred. There’s nowhere I can go, and — from now on — there will be a half-second of near-panic every time I turn anything on: Will it work? Am I about to get all stressed and shit or am I going to get that demonically sad icon again? Is my computer about to die on me? (Holy shit: did my back-up jump drive actually just die on me? What the fuck?)
Fuck you, technology. I’m going to bed.

some recent articles

Nobody Suspects The Cricket,” profile of Wilco drummer Glenn Kotche, Signal To Noise via
17 Other Things To Do With $226 (Besides Spending Them on Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young),” Times Herald-Record (see if you can guess which Dylan comment was added by my editor)

Song reviews:
Two Sheep Asleep” – Dirty Projecters (I’m reviewing songs for, with a bunch more already in the can)
Freckle Wars” – Ecstatic Sunshine
Wait For You” – The Mountain Goats
Bat Macumba” – Os Mutantes

Album reviews:
High and Mighty – Gov’t Mule
Radiodread – Easy Star Dub All-Stars

Columns and misc.:
The Island, micro-fiction
BRAIN TUBA: How I’ve Been Spending My Summer

Only in print:
o August Relix (Pearl Jam cover): “Plugging the A-Hole,” feature on Digital Rights Management; album reviews of Phish, The Sadies, and Thom Yorke; book review of Ben Fong-Torres.
o Paste #23 (Thom Yorke cover): album reviews of Sufjan Stevens, The Mountain Goats, Danielson, Elf Power, Yo La Tengo, Guillemots, The Ditty Bops, and Robert Fripp.

“freckle wars” – ecstatic sunshine

“Freckle Wars” – Ecstatic Sunshine (download here)
from Freckle Wars (2006)
released by Car Park (buy)

(file expires August 28th)

Maybe my favorite moment on Sonic Youth’s Murray Street is at the very end of “Rain On Tin,” when the drums and the bass drop out, leaving only Thurston Moore, Lee Ranaldo, and Jim O’Rourke’s guitars. For about 30 seconds, transcendent electric guitar arpeggios wrap around one another. The Baltimore duo Ecstatic Sunshine — just two dudes with axes, man — take that moment and derive an entire sound. Their MySpace page declares them to be “Black Metal / Trance / Jam Band,” which isn’t too far from the truth, either. .

The delirious two minute title track from their joyously slim debut, Freckle Wars is probably all one need know about Ecstatic Sunshine. From the first beat, it’s busy and chiming, like the Allman Brothers without all the extraneous drummers, bassists, organists, and predilections towards sounding soulful. Notes scamper and dive, chase one another through the air, and drop into rhythm parts when necessary, all while forging a sense of movement. Mixing the psychedelic punk jams of Television and Sonic Youth with post-White Stripes minimalism and hippie goodness, Freckle Wars is one of the most refreshing debuts of the year.

the library of babel

Sometimes, when I think of the vastness of the internets — that faith that nearly any piece of information I could ever want can be found behind some URL, some combination of letters, numbers, slashes, and tildes — I think of Jorge Luis Borges’ “The Library of Babel” (available in Collected Fictions):

When it was announced that the Library contained all books, the first reaction was unbounded joy. All men felt themselves the possessors of an intact and secret treasure. There was no personal problem, no world problem, whose eloquent solution did not exist — somewhere in some hexagon. The universe was justified; the universe suddenly became congruent with the unlimited width and breadth of humankind’s hope. At that period there was much talk of The Vindications — books of apologiœ and prophecies that would vindicate for all time the actions of every person in the universe and that held wondrous arcana for men’s futures. Thousands of greedy individuals abandoned their sweet native hexagons and rushed downstairs, upstairs, spurred by the vain desire to find their Vindication. These pilgrims squabbled in the narrow corridors, muttered dark imprecations, strangled one another on the divine staircases, threw deceiving volumes down ventilation shafts, were themselves hurled to their deaths by men of distant regions. Others went insane… The Vindications do exist (I have seen two of them, which refer to persons in the future, persons perhaps not imaginary), but those who went in quest of them failed to recall that the chance of a man’s finding his own Vindication, or some perfidious version of his own, can be calculated to zero.

Borges was obviously not a Googler.

the island, no. 11

(Short fiction in even shorter increments.)

The Island: no. 1, no. 2, no. 3, no. 4, no. 5, no. 6, no. 7, no. 8, no. 9, no. 10, no. 11

I do not know where the island went after it left our harbor. The next time I knew of its presence was many years later. I was sitting in my father’s old desk chair. It was a momentary vision — Caribbean waters, crescent moon, stars — and then the house’s radiators were singing again.

That island?” Elizabeth asked. We were in bed. My parents’ old bed, in my parents’ old room, on the third floor. The hot water rushed through the pipes below us. “You’re just daydreaming about a nice island,” she told me, stroking my chest. “I think about nice islands all the time.”

It took some months for David Mallis’s wound to fall away to its resultant scar. I watched the process with silent fascination. That is what I thought of when Elizabeth told me to think of nice islands. David Mallis’s scar was crescent shaped, the same moon I saw over the island.

He lives in Florida now, David Mallis does. Our town is no place for him. Even the hotel, once a proud center of commerce, now sits almost decrepit. The wallpaper peels, and still Jimmy Cavins, the day manager, demands payment a week in advance. It is likely Florida, where David Mallis lives, though it might be Atlanta. Even though he never felt the island, I will find him. Enough time has passed. I have some time yet, and I will have a boat. [/END]

the island, no. 10

(Short fiction in even shorter increments.)

The Island: no. 1, no. 2, no. 3, no. 4, no. 5, no. 6, no. 7, no. 8, no. 9, no. 10, no. 11 “Stop that,” my father said one morning several days

after the occurrence of the island. He had shaved. “Take those down,” he instructed, pointing at charts he’d made. The maps remain, organized and intact, in the attic of the house. I am unable to consult them.

He died just after the New Year. With the trees barren, I could just see the water from the second floor windows. It was a muted gray little different from anything else in the landscape. The wind rattled the glass. I thought of the effort it would take to disassemble his office.

“Just what the hell is wrong with you?” he asked me, the night of the tantrum, the last night of the island.

“Me?” I said. I was taken aback.

“I asked you to get me a goddamn boat,” he told me.


“Three weeks ago, for God’s sake.” My father had asked me to get him a boat three weeks previous, but I had taken it for dementia. I was ready to acquiesce to Elizabeth and my brother’s hypothesis. It was an opinion I held for many years. Its inaccurate truth formed the core belief of the household into which Lauren was born.

the island, no. 9

(Short fiction in even shorter increments.)

The Island: no. 1, no. 2, no. 3, no. 4, no. 5, no. 6, no. 7, no. 8, no. 9, no. 10, no. 11

The words David Mallis used to describe the sky over the island during the time it disappeared from the mainland’s view were twisted into numerous variations. “Blood red!” was one account. “Chalk black and starless,” another. I was not present for any of the interrogations that day. Elizabeth and I spent the afternoon pulling her trunks up Oak Street to the house on a red wagon. Between trips, we drank cold beers on the front porch, enjoying the chill.

That day’s utterances remained David Mallis’s final public thoughts on the matter until the day he moved from town, several years later, after the lobsters disappeared. “I knew what was coming,” he said on that occasion, as we watched the fire destroy the bulkhead. The water shimmered and distorted behind the heat. “After all, the whole sky looked like that,” he noted.

Elizabeth and I were on our final trip to the house when my father erupted. We were on the lawn. The floor lamp in his room flickered, as objects fluttered and fell in front of it. It was his worst tantrum yet. It would be three days before I could reorganize the maps for him. “It’s not you,” I promised Elizabeth, though I couldn’t be sure.

“I didn’t think it was,” she said.

the island, no. 8

(Short fiction in even shorter increments.)

The Island: no. 1, no. 2, no. 3, no. 4, no. 5, no. 6, no. 7, no. 8, no. 9, no. 10, , no. 11

The death of Andy Byers came as a result of his exposure to Carlos Dias. The two never spoke, Andy Byers’ sister Mimi told me, just sat facing one another under the pennants in Carlos Dias’s room. “He did not tell anybody what happened,” she said, “but Andy Byers knew.” It was said that they were lovers, but a lot is said.

David Mallis, for his part, knew the swiftness of rumor, and distributed his images like currency: jungle, storms, drums. In the end, though, it was clear that David Mallis did not know what he saw, either, or could not describe it. “Make it sound like air,” he told me in high school, as I crafted a letter to Suzanne Camer for him. “Like–” and he made the sound of an exhalation.

Harold Brown at the Ledger compiled David Mallis’s bits into a narrative. He printed it, two columns wide, on the front page. I read it aloud to my father. “This man is steeped in bullshit,” my father said, when the account reached the part about the attack. “Any man can see he does not know what he is talking about.”

“The island, though,” I protested. “It was there.”

“No,” my father replied, perhaps mishearing. “I was not there.”

the island, no. 7

(Short fiction in even shorter increments.)

The Island: no. 1, no. 2, no. 3, no. 4, no. 5, no. 6, no. 7, no. 8, no. 9, no. 10, no. 11

It wasn’t until the rain died down, Tuesday morning, that anybody realized David Mallis and Carlos Dias had returned. Arnold Laning had looked through binoculars from his upstairs window at the island, and noticed smoke rising from the beach. Arriving at the dock, he discovered David Mallis’s lobster boat tied in its usual spot.

Carlos Dias never told anybody what he saw. It was said that the transition from a tropical climate back to our own was too great. Three days later, he was dead. David Mallis’s wounds were more obvious: the deep cut on his forehead, burns on both elbows, and an even series of puncture marks across his upper back. Whenever he spoke of his time on the island, he never once mentioned the injuries.

Several years after my father died, Elizabeth and I had David Mallis and Suzanne Camer — briefly reconciled — over for dinner. “We woke up in the sun,” he said suddenly, admiring my father’s sketch of a strange bird that then hung in the kitchen (and which I took with me). “The woods — the animals, I mean — were just crying,” he said, sipping his Scotch.

I had found the sketch in a portfolio in my father’s bag, which he refused to unpack for a week after the island disappeared. “Took me a whole goddamn day to get everything in there, and fuck if you’re going to empty it now,” he declared. My father was rarely an angry man.

the island, no. 6

(Short fiction in even shorter increments.)

The Island: no. 1, no. 2, no. 3, no. 4, no. 5, no. 6, no. 7, no. 8, no. 9, no. 10, no. 11

Pastor Johnson mentioned nothing of the island’s continued absence on Sunday morning. Over the next decade, as the town went into a decline, many blamed it on the breakdown of the church, which was — in turn — attributed to the Pastor’s failure to explain the island.

“It was a crack in the egg,” Elizabeth confided to me a few weeks before Lauren was born. “I didn’t want to see what was going to hatch.” I was not in church that day.

For much of the morning, I sat outside my father’s door. Behind it, the radio played mournful music at unforgiving volumes: old standards about moons, lovers, trees. Occasionally, I could hear him moving around. “Soon,” is all he would say when I knocked, if that.

Only Elizabeth was there when he emerged. “Nails,” he said as he walked by her on the way to the bathroom. “Tell that son-of-a-bitch to get nails. It’s time to board the windows.” The storm that rolled in that night beat the eastern wall with such force that shingles I’d painted in the spring aged decades by morning.

Monday, the island was dimly visible among the clouds and whitecaps. Late Sunday night, an hour before the rain began, David Mallis and Carlos Dias rowed into the dock. No one was there to greet them.

the island, no. 5

(Short fiction in even shorter increments.)

The Island: no. 1, no. 2, no. 3, no. 4, no. 5, no. 6, no. 7, no. 8, no. 9, no. 10, no. 11

He was ready at dawn, my father. Getting him to town was a chore, but he was as eager to do that as anything. The walking was slow, down the long hill that fed into Oak Street. Both Elizabeth and my brother were convinced it was dementia. That day, he spoke little, scratching at the stubble on his face. It was getting harder for him to shave.

“No,” he said again, when the island was not there. Even Arnold Laning’s entreaties were not enough to convince him. “You know who this man is making a fool of?” my father asked me, when his former poker companion was out of earshot.

“No,” I admitted.

“He is making a fool of you and me,” my father said. It was another clear day, and the sea looked as it always had, an unbroken gray-green extended on a flat plane to the horizon. David Mallis’s lobster boat was nowhere.

When Suzanne Camer drove us home, after breakfast, my father kept touching his chin and cheek, as if constantly rediscovering his need to shave. Elizabeth and my brother may have been right. But they might not have. To claim my father expected the island would be inaccurate, though it is possible he anticipated it in some way.

koalas on a police car

(The Island will continue tomorrow.)

I have a totally absurd friend named Orf who once played an evil hippie named “Wyoming” on As the World Turns. He makes totally absurd movies. His latest — as I found out this morning, in a (predictably) totally absurd email — is titled “Koalas on a Police Car,” and features soundtrack excerpts from the most recent Funny Cry Happy album, On A Clear Night, You Can Smell For Miles. The film can be watched here as part of a “[blanks] on a [blank]” contest. Search for “koala” and listen for bits of “Xanadu Roadtrip” and “The Speed of Sunset.” Don’t forget to vote for it! Not safe for work, yo.

the island, no. 4

(Short fiction in even shorter increments.)

The Island: no. 1, no. 2, no. 3, no. 4, no. 5, no. 6, no. 7, no. 8, no. 9, no. 10, no. 11

They left at dawn on Friday, David Mallis and Carlos Dias in the red lobster boat, with three guns and four knives between them. One of the knives — given to me by Carlos Dias’s sister, Mimi, after Carlos’s death and long a paperweight on my desk — returned with its blade entirely dulled.

We all had excuses to be near the dock when they departed. The island was as clear as it had ever been. Its trees were turning, orange dabs speckled across the green, like a detailed jigsaw puzzle. I was next to Suzanne Camer again. “I needed eggs,” she explained, showing me the carton. We sat on the grass overlook by the park with a half-dozen others. The cold dew seeped through my jeans.

They were out of meaningful sight within five minutes. Arnold Laning — who had donated his old war rifle to the cause — stayed with binoculars for three hours, only leaving when it was time to open the sporting goods store. When the island disappeared the next day, his store remained closed, and Arnold Laning sat vigil on the dock in his fatigues.

Following the departure of David Mallis and Carlos Dias, I returned home. Putting the beer in the refrigerator, I made coffee and breakfast for my father. I did not immediately notice that he had ceased speaking of the boats.

the island, no. 3

(Short fiction in even shorter increments.)

The Island: no. 1, no. 2, no. 3, no. 4, no. 5, no. 6, no. 7, no. 8, no. 9, no. 10, no. 11

Thursday, the island returned, and David Mallis proposed an expedition. I was right there. He was a little drunk, though not so gone that we did not take him seriously. Under the bar light, the pores and pockmarks on his cheeks were an ageless stone. Three days later, under any light at all, once he’d washed the blood off, his skin was golden.

The lobster boat was inherited from his father. Once, before dawn, Andy Byers’ brother — who owned a rival operation — blew a hole in the hull with a small explosive. That was the height of the battle. “Doesn’t anybody want to know? Really know?” David asked, standing near the dartboard, his fingernails crusted with plaster. Only Carlos Dias would join him.

I could not go. My father would not hear of it. There were deliveries to receive, linens to air, a house to run. He was stubborn those days, hobbling bow-legged. The ballgames over for the season, there was little for him to do. Weeks earlier, just after the Series, he’d taken to looking through his atlases. When the island came, he’d been drafting navigational charts for some days.

the island, no. 2

(Short fiction in even shorter increments.)

The Island: no. 1, no. 2, no. 3, no. 4, no. 5, no. 6, no. 7, no. 8, no. 9, no. 10, no. 11

When we got to really drinking that Wednesday, we talked about the island. I was sure it had been there. Andy Byers got so drunk that he began the night believing it imaginary (“sailors have a name for that illusion,” he’d said, pulling foam from his moustache), was argued into thinking it real, and — by closing — again denied its existence.

“Yes,” Elizabeth told me many years later, the summer we decided I was moving out. “I remember that feeling, too. I could never explain it. It was like a light that was on and off at the same time.”

“Frost’s coming soon,” Andy said on the way home, when we stopped on the empty lot across from the gas station on Baker Street. The water was visible through the mostly bare trees, small dashes of light dancing. There was no moon. The horizon was blank.

Andy lived three houses down. I smoked another cigarette between his place and mine. He’d been a fool at the bar, Andy had. He had always been one and the same with the town — even when he died, not long after the island disappeared for the last time. I stamped the cigarette out, went through the kitchen door, and slipped into bed with Elizabeth. We tried not to wake my father.

the island, no. 1

(Short fiction in even shorter increments.)

The Island: no. 1, no. 2, no. 3, no. 4, no. 5, no. 6, no. 7, no. 8, no. 9, no. 10, no. 11

The island appeared Tuesday, solid and clear on the horizon, was gone Wednesday, and came back Thursday. “Ask me what the secret of comedy is,” I instructed Suzanne Camer, as we stood on the old dock. It was autumn.

“Haha,” she laughed, though never asked. Then she coughed. Later, her ex-husband, David, would attempt the first trip to the island in his lobster boat, returning with a deep gash in his forehead. “I think it must be the power plant,” she said. “The smoke. A trick.”

“Yes,” I nodded, “a trick. Somebody is tricking us.” Though the air was crisp enough, my beer was getting warm. I gulped the last third of it down.

There had never been an island there before. “This is the end of the world,” my father told me on the day I fell in the campfire and emerged miraculously unscathed. “Look,” he said, “there is nothing out there. Nothing. The next thing is Greenland, maybe.” He pointed and then went back to tending the fire.

“No,” was all he said when I told him about the appearance of the island, which he never saw.

stand in the place where you live (now face east), no. 3

(See part 1 for explanation.)

When I was a kid, I had a poster of Earth on my wall — a fold-out from National Geographic, I think. Clouds and storms and systems obscured parts of the planet. When it rains, I like picturing myself beneath some twisting gray-black cover that can be seen from space, no different from the atmospheric turbulence (give or take) on any other planet. We’re preparing for a heatwave now. I’m not sure what those look like from space, if anything.

21.) What was the total rainfall here last year?
56.01 inches.

22.) Where does the pollution in your air come from?
Cars and trucks, mostly, but also the endless factories (chemical and otherwise), incinerators, and other structures of industry all around the tri-state area.

23.) If you live near the ocean, when is high tide today?
12:38 am & 1:24 pm.

24.) What primary geological processes or events shaped the land here?
The water left behind by the melting of the glaciers, which pooled in lakes and carved rivers, valleys, and islands.

25.) Name three wild species that were not found here 500 years ago. Name one exotic species that has appeared in the last 5 years.
Mile-a-minute vine, giant hogweed (ooh, giant hogs!), pale swallow-wort are all recent arrivals. Japanese knotwood sounds pretty exotic, too.