Jesse Jarnow

new polaroids

all tomorrow’s parties, today.

The most stunning thing about the decay of Kutsher’s Country Club, the site of the American edition of All Tomorrow’s Parties, is perhaps its sheer attention to detail. In every corner of its 1,500-acre spread, something askew: peeling paint on a windowsill, an abandoned skating rink (the Kutsher’s Teenareena, per the signage, replete with Olympics logo), an out-of-order tag on a pull-out bed, a flooded baseball diamond, a stairwell with non-chronological floor numbers, a fire door off its hinges next to a forgotten and overflowing room service cart. One friend got stuck in the elevator, the car stuttering 250 times between the fifth and sixth floors before righting itself. We took the stairs for the rest of the weekend.

The result is one of the most singular places one can imagine seeing music. The fact that the Stardust Room, the site of All Tomorrow’s Parties main stage, is also a great-sounding, well-designed space–with gentle tiers, a spacious floor, and a twinkling moonscape on the wall–is gravy. Amid the decay, though, it also felt a bit like abuse. We wandered Kutsher’s freely, removing the cover of a jacuzzi, discovering a working sauna in the women’s locker room, totally unsure where we were allowed to be. In the basement, we found a stash of Paul Anka and Helen Reddy eight-track tapes in the winding, cluttered hallways beyond a room of ancient exercise bikes and stairmasters.

And the music? A peculiar continuum of nostalgia and indie noise of the moment. Headlining on Friday, Iggy Pop–63 and ripped–pulled his version of the James Brown cape routine: constantly diving headlong into the audience, only to be grabbed instantly by his own security guard and yanked back. There was a lot of crowd surfing and stage diving, for that matter. Hard to say where that act falls in the nostalgia continuum, but it’s back with a vengence. The next night, also featuring a host of stage interlopers, Sonic Youth–in their classic quartet lineup, with Mark Ibold still on Pavement detail–played a set entirely of ’80s tunes. Much like their Prospect Park gig over the summer, the concept scans uncomfortably, but was/is bitching in practice, with fierce improv, drawn-out transitions, and the usual explosive arrangements. Thurston Moore’s solo Sunday set, in the 1:45 pm bloody mary slot, hit the spot, too: three new tunes, played on a 12-string acoustic, followed by a Northampton Wools improv with Bill Nace.

The pleasures of ATP go on and on: a surprisingly incredible DJ set by hip-hop inventor Kool Herc late night at the poolside bar, filled with deep cuts, killer transitions, overlaid beats, and a few classics; the ear-blowing wall of sound belonging to the Sunn O)))/Boris supergroup with power chords cascading from amp stack to amp stack like minimalist blocks of orchestral sound; a mellow pick-up hardball game hosted by Shellac’s Bob Weston in a pasture abutting the flooded baseball diamond, bordered by a brook, and a shady knoll for spectators; the room-clearing obliteration of Lee Ranaldo and Alan Licht’s Text of Light; Wooden Shjips’ surf-kraut jams. Besides the occasional six-flight stair-climb, there were few downsides. (The second stage is too low, impossible to see the musicians except from the front row.)

Even the lack of internet and Twitter access was kind of nice. I got my news from the New York Times for the first time in years (and remembered my great uncle Herb’s sage summary of their sports section: “yesterday’s scores tomorrow”). Hell, if I’d had Twitter access, I probably wouldn’t have written a blog post.

No corporate sponsorship, good vibrations, and arguably the most fun music festival in the world.

Rebecca Kutsher:

hippie punx on the loose in bourgwick, 1/09

The hippie punx continue to roam Bourgwick. Maybe more MC5/fucking-in-the-streets style than (re)united Dead Freaks, they’ve nonetheless colonized a shredded subway ad at my stop with their manifesto-like graffiti.

rubulad, RIP?

Busted, down on Classon Street. Quite possibly the end of an era.

I saw lots of other people with cameras. Anybody got any better pix? Or, y’know, information? (Some more info emerging in the BV comment section. Anything concrete would be appreciated.)

The NYPD hauling away the fun:

Le sigh.

albuquerque sunrise, 2/08

One last photo set of my last trip, before I head to Austin in the morning. Posting coming sporadically. possibly some blogging elsewhere. Maybe a few YLT setlists here. Who knows?

a screening room in the mtv building, 1/08

bourgwick blows off steam following the state of the union, 1/08

a stop in springfield, mass, 11/07

a screening room in the brill building, 11/07

Sometimes, I get to go to work in the Brill Building.

white light at the sunshine, 11/07

Just down the block from the late CBGB (itself an ex-flophouse bar) is the Sunshine Hotel, the last remaining men’s flophouse on the Bowery. Gorgeously documented in Flophouse, the site next to the desultory residential hotel was, until recently, a vacant lot. As the velvet-roped clubs creep up the block, the anonymous cube of white light next to the Sunshine has a horrible logic, a constant reminder of the sheer inaccuracy of the flophouse’s cheery name.

mexican baseball in red hook after all, 10/07

dylan in the distance, 10/07

in which the spirit of doc gooden cries out for peace, love, and three more m’fucking victories through the medium of a beach towel, 9/07

a baseball field on the last day of summer, 9/07

“The postseason is all about extending the summer, ” my friend Russ said last night, waxing philosophical sometime not long after I demanded the head of José Lima. For being the best, the World Series teams are allowed the pleasure of going to the ballpark day after day, reveling in the mechanics of routines they perfected in earlier, golden light, even as the leaves die and the sun changes.

roadscapes, 7/07

pictures of a rotary telephone still technically owned by the phone company taken by a cellular telephone owned by me, 7/07

a neon palm tree found at an inexplicably fake beach on the banks of the east river, 6/07

yahtzee, 6/07

Examples of my handwriting, 15 years apart. The right two columns are from 2007, the lefthand columns are from 1992. The 3s and 8s are loopier, and I was more inclined to write in cursive, but not many differences besides those. That said, the 2007 version doesn’t really look (to me) like my normal handwriting anyway. Ah, the durress of Yahtzee.

mnemonic pinball, 5/07

What a specific, weird window of time: when the internet and pinball machines co-existed, and fantasies of one could be channeled into the other. Specifically, 1996, with the release of Johnny Mnemonic movie.

(Also, Centipede finally broke.)

the lamps of ben-bow, 5/07

get ahead, 3/07

“Mississippi Half-Step” – the Grateful Dead (download here)
recorded 20 October 1974
Winterland Arena – San Francisco, CA
from The Grateful Dead Movie Soundtrack (2005)
released by Grateful Dead Records (buy)

Even in deepest Williamsburg, Deadheads survive, here leaving their mark on the Brooklyn-bound platform of the Lorimer Street L-train station. Definitely a WTF?, but I’m glad the Deadheads are taking back the streetz. Or, as Boomy reminds: Dead Freaks Unite!

the moon

I’m kind of sick, so instead of a real post, here’s an indistinct picture of the Moon I took while lying in bed the other night.

“puzzlin’ evidence” – talking heads & 1986 nlcs, game 6

“Puzzlin’ Evidence” – Talking Heads (download here)
from True Stories (1986)
released by Sire (buy)

(file expires January 20th)

Watching 20-year old baseball games is way more fun that I’d suspected. In the case of Game 6 of the 1986 National League Championship Series, a 16-inning epic between the Mets and the Houston Astros, the overarching drama yielded dozens of miniature entertainments. Framed by the hyperreal green of the Astrodome’s Astroturf and its roof’s impressionist light slats, there was the simple pleasure of watching the 1986 Mets operate. There were small moments: Keith Hernandez making a routinely amazing grab deep in the hole, and flipping effortlessly to Roger McDowell, covering first. And there were the crowd shots, flickering portraits of the same characters that populated David Byrne’s True Stories, shot and set in Texas that same year.

The first picture, perhaps, is titled: the Starting Pitcher’s Wife in the Top of the 9th. In this case, the starting pitcher was Bob Knepper, working on a two-hit shut-out against the Mets who — moments after this shot — pinch-hit with Len Dykstra, who would triple to deep center, thus beginning a three-run rally that would result (seven innings later) in the Mets’ clinching of the pennant. But she didn’t know that.


(And speaking of cams at shows…)

“You fucked my girlfriend with a cellphone!” said GWAR’s Number One fan, upon encountering the band in Hell, shortly before they chopped into him and he squirted the sixth or seventh round of fake blood on the audience. Before that, though, the band clarified: “We didn’t fuck your girlfriend” (pause) “…we raped her. And it wasn’t a cellphone. It was a phone booth.” (Cheers.) Then blood. Like every between-song skit — which also included Adolf Hitler, Arnold Schwarzenegger, George W. Bush, and Jewcifer — it was scripted with the obvious punchline: cover the audience in some kind of fluid. There was also a fake cock and a lot of fake cum.

“There used to be a lot more blood,” said my friend, who’d seen GWAR “10 or 20 times.” “It used to start gushing as soon as they hit the stage. It was a lot better.” He’d never seen GWAR — who celebrated their 20th birthday last year — in any place larger than Irving Plaza, the small ballroom where we saw them tonight. It makes sense. After all, any bigger and the blood cannon (placed at crotch level and operated by a dude in a leather thong) wouldn’t be able to reach the back of the room.

Besides the wall of tee-shirts and branded underwear at the merch table, there was also a veritable metal record store. Besides discs from GWAR and their two openers, there were also long cardboard cases filled with their brethren like Cannibal Corpse, Cattle Decapitation, Born Into Pain, and Destroy Destroy Destroy. It was a one-stop subcultural shop.

GWAR have been doing this for twenty years. With their anonymity-granting costumes — which resembled, well, bad guys from Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles — they could tagteam members for generations (if they haven’t already). GWAR could still be playing in decades, when metal feels quaint, like bluegrass does to us. One can never underestimate the power of being covered in fake blood, though. If being covered in sweat is the sign of an authentic ecstasy, then GWAR do all the work, virtually guaranteeing that anybody who wants to can have a literally physical, visceral experience. And that is a pretty good concept for a band.

manhattan holidays, 12/06

on cell cams at shows, cont: western keitai

In the introduction to Personal, Portable, Pedestrian: Mobile Phones in Japanese Life, a fascinating collection of academic essays (mostly translated from Japanese), Mizuko Ito defines keitai networks:

In contrast to the cellular phone of the United States (defined by technical infrastructure), and the mobile of the United Kingdom (defined by the untethering from fixed location) (Kotamraju and Wakeford 2002), the Japanese term keitai (roughly translated, “something you carry with you”) references a somewhat different set of dimensions. A keitai is not so much about a new technical capability or freedom of motion but about a snug and intimate technosocial tethering, a personal device supporting communications that are a constant, lightweight, and mundane presence in everyday life.

Maybe, the relentless clicking of cell cams at shows constitutes part of what might be described as Western keitai. That is, along with mp3s both financially and corporeally devaluing recorded music, it is possible that concerts are slipping into the realm of the day-to-day. Taking pictures, then, isn’t an attempt to capture anything momentous, but to simply mark the occasion, like a diary entry. And, sure, maybe that’s a defiling of live music as sacred ritual/spectacle, yadda yadda yadda, but it’s probably time for a change, anyway. Wouldn’t wanna be late for the future, after all.

on cell cams at shows

My first reaction to Tom Cox’s “Don’t film it, feel it” editorial in the London Times was annoyance. And, after thinking about, it still is.

I get Cox’s point: if people are spending the whole shows taking pictures on their phones, they’re not listening. Admittedly, it’s frustrating. A few months ago, I saw my friend’s band, the Rolling Stallones, play at CBGB. During the opening act, a gaggle of girls up front spent literally 20 minutes taking pictures of each other in front of the stage. I don’t think it was even for the purposes of documenting themselves at the soon-to-closed venue. It was just obscenely narcissistic.

But were the girls taking pictures of each other really going to be “listening” to the show, anyway? Going to see live music is about far more than just the music coming out of the speakers, otherwise you wouldn’t fork your money over and you could just stay at home and listen to the stolen mp3s. It’s a social act, with all the attendant relationships.

Though I’m a big proponent of cell cameras, I almost never take pictures at gigs. But that’s just me. Even though there are tons of differences, I associate their use at shows with the act of smuggling a cheap cassette deck in to make a bootleg. The content is different, even the action is different — cell cams being condoned, bootlegs being, well bootlegs — but I think it’s the same impulse. The resultant tangle of Flickr pages, MySpace and Facebook pictures is obviously ephemeral. But so is live music. That’s sort of the point, right?

It all seems like a way of engaging with the music. And by “the music,” of course, I mean everything besides the music itself: one’s friends, the rest of the crowd, the band, the club. In an age where one’s relationship with music is more complex than just listening to albums and going to shows, it’s sometimes good to be able to locate herself in the noise.

Of course I was annoyed by the girls at the show. It wasn’t because they were taking pictures, though. It was because they just wouldn’t shut up. But that’s a much older problem.

well, i’m glad they’re selective about what they sell dept.

Looper in the Dark will continue next week…

phew (nlcs, no. 6)

Of all the major professional sports, baseball is easily the one with the most physical inactivity. That is, with the exception of the pitcher and catcher, most of the players are still far more than they are in motion. In that, it is also the professional sport best suited for lingering close-ups on players’ eyes. Resultantly, though perhaps I am saying this as one who never developed a taste for any other sport, it also seems the game with the greatest potential for articulated drama. It is not a coincidence, I don’t think, that the majors are known as The Show.

In terms of creating a genuine, truthful response from as large an audience as possible, mannered dialogue brimming with double-entendres and clever plot devices is always going to be working at a handicap compared to the evenly distributed nine innings of a playoff game. Storylines are ending, developing, and beginning, though not even the characters know which ones. Only the unwritten ending can contextualize the true meaning of the two-out rallies that begin on botched catches (as the Mets pulled in the 7th tonight), or advances that are temporarily halted (like a massive Carlos Beltran throw to the plate that prevented Juan Encarnacion from tagging) (though So Taguchi drove him in, quite futilely, on the next at-bat, anyway). Nobody knows the meaning, especially not going into game 7, but we’ve all got our suspicions.

return to the upper deck (nlcs, no. 1)

Keeping score is a Braille record of the game, feeling the innings and statistics stretch, one by one. It is something to hold onto, something deeper than the drunken mayhem of the far reaches of the upper deck. Out there — even deeper than last time, now behind the stadium’s speakers — Ivan Neville’s rendition of the national anthem is almost literally avant-garde. Whole notes form ill-fitting harmonies with those on either of side of them in the melody.

Even the echo of the bat is gone, as is the announcer. The scoreboard is an unreadable sliver. In the eighth, we figure out that Manny Mota is pitching because the name on the back of the jersey is short and the number is somewhere in the 50s. On my lap, the scorecard is a languid other-world, far from the chants (“En-dy C,” “En-dy Cha-vez” and just “En-dy” all compete after a Ron Swaboda-like miracle catch) and the chill (which will surely be worse at future games).

The innings occasionally widen, only once filled with the black wedges that represent runs (Carlos Beltran’s two-run shot in the sixth), and sometimes aberrations (Beltran’s 8-3 double-play from centerfield to first base) (booya!), but mostly they roll by like a river and keep pulse: the heartbeat of a season extended nine more innings.

glavine works the third (nlds, no. 2)

the upper deck (nlds, no. 1)

The drama of the upper deck is all misinformation. High above the foul poles, the sounds ricochet, like Branford Marsalis’s instrumental “Star Spangled Banner.” It echoes from the PA towers, all neutered soprano sax. “You suck!” someone shouts, but most people just stand, shifting their feet. Elsewhere, noises delay and cross, owing to the sheer size of the arena, like the polyphonic “Let’s go Mets!” chants that thunder at different tempos and from different starting points and collide like a Charles Ives orchestration. The chants, especially, are amazing: spur of the moment decisions by the collective, crunching names into a small library of flexible syllable patterns (“Car-los Bel-tran!” “M.V.P.!”). Sometimes, no consensus is reached, and the chants whither away like smoke (but not before more chaos).

Mostly, the game is far away and it is hard to see the ball. The mezzanine swallows the deep corner of right field itself. The crack of the bat is unreal, one sound in many. When the ball is hit in the air, it is like being thrust into an optical illusion, nearly impossible to tell if its movement is hard or soft, high up or just over the infielders’ heads, or even fair or foul. Adjusted to the dimensions, the ball still lands in totally unpredictable places, like David Wright’s bloop double into right in the seventh. A run scores, and the chanting starts all over again.

from a gas station on long island en route to grandma & grandpa’s, 10/06

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.

the trippy-ass light box at the tank, 6/06

willets point, 5/06

Walking from home plate at Shea Stadium, across second base, through the outfield, over the fence and to the other side of the parking lot, one arrives in Willets Point, a sprawling near-shantytown of car repair places. Before tonight’s five-hour, 16-inning blowout victory against the Phillies, Tony and I wandered through Willets Point at Magic Hour. The roads were unpaved and riddled with puddles. There were chop shops, pre-fab warehouses, body specialists, and lots filled with tires. Tony said it felt like being suddenly transported to a third world nation. He wasn’t wrong. It was pure urban anarchy.

When the Mets’ new stadium goes up in a few years, it’s a sure bet that somebody will have some whizbang revitalization plans that will involve the removal of the unsightly car repair places (the cheapest in the boroughs, supposedly) currently clogging up valuable waterfront real estate. For now, though, the scrap metal glows in the Queens County sunset.

You can see Shea’s upper deck in the distance…

penn station, rush hour, 5/06

a day at the races, 5/06

…an accidental experiment in extra-miniature New Polaroidism…

circuit bending festival, part II, 4/06

circuit bending festival, 4/06

eight o’clock, the lights are on at shea…, 4/06

museum of natural history, no. 3: the gem room, 4/06

One way the Museum blurs facts into emotional half-truths is through atmosphere. Ostensibly, the Museum is devoted to the scientific, but the theatrical presentation is extraordinarily important. My favorite example is the squid vs. whale battle in the Hall of Ocean Life, where a fake whale battles a fake squid in a dark display case with no glass between the viewer and the subject. But that’s unphotographable, at least with my cell-a-roid.

A close second, and another childhood favorite, is the Gem Room (which I think is actually called the Gem Room). It is dark and circular, with all kinds of ramps and nooks and miniature amphitheaters and artifacts you can actually touch. As a kid, the room felt like a respite, with numerous places to hide and sit (a welcome break for a young biped). Despite the obstacle course Rachel and I had to cross to get there, it still felt that way. I love the vibe of the room.

A few years ago, I made an ambient sound collage out of very quiet FM static and drone-organ designed to be listened to in the Gem Room (as well as with the collection of meteorites next door). Oddly, I still haven’t actually listened to it there. It was called “A Clear Night.”

museum of natural history, no. 2: ordovician snails, 4/06

Museums, and especially the Museum of Natural History, are intended to be places of learning. We look at exhibits, read the labels, and are educated. But we are bombarded with facts, and they tend to blur into glorious half-truths. On the mezzanine of the Hall of Ocean Life (what my inner seven-year old still calls “the underwater room”), there are a bunch of dioramas of what the bottom of the ocean maybe/mighta/kinda looked like in a few different prehistoric ages (one of them being the Ordovician) in various places (one of them being an ocean over present-day Ohio). Dang if I can remember the actual facts, but I sure remember the wild colors. Have I been educated? Absolutely.

museum of natural history, no. 1, 4/06

Last week, en route across town, a friend and I got stuck in rush hour traffic near Central Park. We hopped out of the cab, and walked across the park. Despite the warm weather, it was nearly deserted. The only people about were New York caricatures in garish jogging suits or walking hilarious dogs, all of us extras in a Woody Allen movie. Near the Sheep Meadow, the midtown skyline placid in the blue dusk, I felt transported to the timeless city that runs unchanging beneath the ever-shifting storefronts, advertisements, and neon. I might as well have been 12, visiting from Long Island. Today, the Museum of Natural History felt the same way.

(As Owen and I once discovered, while the other stuffed animals in the dioramas are posed vaguely naturally, the gemsbok simply stare disarmingly back. They almost break the fourth wall.)

matamoros puebla, 3/06

My old roommate Kristie and I discovered the secret bonus Mexican joint at the back of the bodega by accident one long ago afternoon. It’s in Williamsburg, right on the main hipster drag of Bedford Avenue. The whole place is crammed with bric-a-brac: piñatas hanging from the ceiling, rows and rows of Latin CDs hanging on the wall, a box of sliced cactus in the dairy case, a numbered cubbyhole nook filled with candy, miniature nativity scenes tucked between the plexiglass and the cash register, refrigerators filled with neon Jarritos sodas, and (if you’ll excuse me) damn fine tacos.

There’s a generic red “FOR SALE” sign taped inside the front window. In the space where one is supposed to write a phone number or an asking price, somebody has simply written “store.” I expect to go there for dinner one night and discover that it’s been shut down, boarded up, and soon to be gutted for a boutique or fancy-ass eyeglasses shop. Each taco could be my last.

spring suceeds, 3/06

The weekend’s proto-spring brought Polaroid blue skies, the kind that seem to rush down in greeting as you come out of the darkness of a subway station.

The moment after I took the picture, an MTA worker yelled at me. Taking pictures in the subway, after all, is illegal. You know, to prevent terrorism. It’s a stupid law. I hope the illegality of the evidence doesn’t hold back this shmuck from getting prosecuted.

talking heads: 75

Last week, Owen brought over a bootleg DVD of the Talking Heads performing in their original three-piece lineup at CBGBs in December 1975. Needless to say, I was bloody well psyched. What I wasn’t expecting, and what I kind of enjoyed about it, was how bad it was. That’s not meant as an insult.

If anything, it came as a relief. It’s good to know that the Heads didn’t spring from the ground fully formed. During this performance (filmed in black and white), in what appears to be a not-very-packed CBs, the band runs down their early repertoire. David Byrne looks incredibly nervous, far from the charismatic frontman he’d become. Tina Weymouth, though not staring at her feet, doesn’t look much more assured.

The only member of the band who looks (or sounds) remotely comfortable is Chris Frantz, who holds the half-formed songs together with remarkable panache. Even “Psycho Killer,” which pre-dated the Heads’ existence, isn’t quite done. The killer bassline is there, but Byrne doesn’t have the phrasing of the “fa fa fa fa fa fa fa fa”s finished yet.

With hindsight, one can see where the music would go, how those weird guitar patterns Byrne plays are his attempt to emulate African rhythms. But for anybody wandering in off the street that night, it must’ve just sounded like noise, maybe even to other punks. Of course, there were probably Heads fans who thought everything after Jerry Harrison joined the band was too polished.

It’s taken for granted that the Heads were art students, but they really look it here, maybe unsure how they ended up playing on the Bowery. It’s all very inspiring, of course, to be able to get that much closer to the germination of the idea, to know that — after the camera stopped rolling — they unplugged their gear and transported it the few blocks back to their loft on nearby Chyristie Street. “The name of this band is Talking Heads,” Byrne says (of course) before they begin. Who?

(If anybody knows where to find this video on the cybernets — it doesn’t appear to be on YouTube yet — please comment or drop me a line.)

winter olympics closing ceremonies, 2/06

jordan’s, 2/06

After visiting the Watts Towers, we hit an awesome local restaurant, Jordan’s, which has been in business since 1942. The red beans and rice and spicy-ass sausage was mindblowing. Upstairs, where we ate, there was a great (unplugged) jukebox that hadn’t been restocked since sometime in the ’80s. I wasn’t expecting to see a Beatles record.

watts towers, 2/06

Building in his Los Angeles backyard while belting opera, a 4’10” Italian tile layer named Simon Rodia constructed one of the foremost wonders of the modern world between 1921 and 1955: the Watts Towers. Using only a window washer’s harness to convey himself upwards, the towers — the tallest is 90 feet — have survived race riots, earthquakes, and bureaucracy to become a life-affirming marvel of the power of beautiful weirdness. Their complexity — all broken bottles and scrap tiles and shells and rigidly overlaying grids creating a surreal three-masted ship — is overwhelming, and literally awe-inspiring.

(Conceptual continuity fun fact #17: As a neighborhood kid growing up in Watts, a young Charles Mingus occasionally helped Rodia with his work.)

the museum of jurassic technology, 2/06

The Museum of Jurassic Technology in Culver City, California is a most peculiar institution, dedicated to the preservation of knowledge equally wondrous and arcane, simultaneously authentic and dubious. As is pointed out in their opening presentation, a museum is a “spot dedicated to the muses,” and the MJT’s darkened halls — which seem to get more convoluted with each visit — are an improbable sanctuary in deepest Los Angeles.

Exhibits chronicle convergences, such as between opera singer Madelena Delani (below) and neurophysiologist Geoffrey Sonnabend.

One room (“The World is Bound With Secret Knots“) celebrates 17th century polymath Athanasius Kircher, who — among other things — believed that Nimrod’s construction of the Tower of Babel, whose size brushed the heavens, could have altered the Earth’s axis and caused a literal, geophysical catastrophe that, in turn, may have been the cause of the lingual chaos of the Bible story.

Elsewhere, there are three-dimensional X-rays of flowers (glasses required).

Next door, the institutionally related Center For Land Use Interpretation applies the MJT’s sense of wonder to the contemporary American landscape, maintaining a detailed database of high weirdness. On a touch screen, I traced our path across I-15 from the Nevada border onto the Los Angeles freeway (including an entry for the World’s Tallest Thermometer).


baker, california, 2/06

We missed our connecting flight to Los Angeles, and would’ve had to wait it out a while for the next one, so we rented a car and headed out across the desert, stopping in Baker — a strip of abandoned and less-abandoned restaurants and gas stations — for improbably delicious gyros. The world’s tallest thermometer (bottom pic) — or so they claim — didn’t seem to be working, though sure was weird lookin’.

merrily we upload

Thanks to the good folks at BitPim, I’m now able to merrily wire myself pictures via USB cable, despite Verizon’s desire for me to pay them for the privilege. It’s a bit evil that they sell a USB cable and software and all, though still don’t let you officially upload your own pictures directly to your own computer. Fuck ’em.

With that, some pictures that have lived on my phone for some moons…

1. Macca on the monitors, 9/05.

2. A floating two, Las Vegas, 1/06.

3. The back of some dude’s camera, random member of Broken Social Scene on the right, NYC, 1/06.

4. Times Square, 2/06.

static, 2/06

We now return you to your irregularly scheduled weirdness…

With the innovations of digital feeds, and televisions, VCRs, and DVD players that magically go blue at the first sign of interference, static is gradually disappearing. It’s beautiful stuff, both visually and metaphorically.

“Electricity comes from other planets.” – Lou Reed

things i have found

1. A ripped up photograph of a couple.

Found at the corner of Broadway and Bleecker Street. I actually found one-and-a-half photos. I have an extra copy of the right side, ripped in the same exact place, as if both pictures were torn at once.

2. A dinosaur.

Found at a filling station in the northeastern Colorado desert en route to Boulder to make shadow puppets.

3. A postcard from Matt.

Found in my mailbox in Ohio many moons ago.

4. Aloha Moods

Found on the kitchen table the morning after a party, during which a drunken roommate discovered Aloha Moods and other fine vinyl selections in the stairwell of our building.

times square, 2/06

I’m in the minority of my friends in that I think that Times Square is actually quite nifty. It’s nicer empty, of course, late at night. When I started taking cell photos, Times Square was at the back of my mind. After discovering how cool bright light looks crammed into 1.3 megapixels, I figured Times Square would be a cinch.

I made my first stab last week, and I was utterly, entirely wrong. Making light distort requires that the lens be reallllly close to the source. Shots of buildings tend to look massively insubstantial on a cell cam. The scale of Times Square is gigantic, and its beauty is as much about its residual glow than the specifics of any one display. The light is in waves, visible only when they crash into each other or lap at the sides of buildings or windows. Photographing Times Square, I think, is like painting pictures of the ocean.

The first batch I took was uniformly bad, save one shot (the last below). The second batch was slightly better (I think) though still doesn’t capture it entirely. More next time I have an excuse to go to Times Square…

approaching manhattan on the long island railroad, 1/06

las vegas light, part 2, 1/06

las vegas light, 1/06

twilight flight, 12/05

(No Yo La Tengo for me last night. I stayed home and cleaned my room. True story. Scroll down for reports from the first four nights, or click on the new YLT link over thar on the right, and watch this space for reports on the Friday and Saturday shows. And email me if you have a Thursday setlist.)

I imagine twilight landings are sublime pretty much anywhere, but I especially enjoy coming down over sprawl. I love how literally one can see civilization’s grid wired across the landscape.

The following photos weren’t taken with my cell camera, though there’s a similar limitation. Since I was shooting through the plane window, I couldn’t use a flash. Given the speed of the plane, and the bending of the lights, the results are nothing like the magisterial order of semi-urban suburbia (what I was hoping to get), but are nifty nonetheless.


1. Would you like to be invited to a wedding?

2. Walk, human!

3. Rock and roll.

4. Midwood sunset.

holiday cheer, 12/05

1. Starlight on Union Square.

2. I wonder what the SC stands for.

3. Ghost trees on the Lower East Side.

saturday night in nyc, 11/05

1:02 am Asian markets provide respite.

1:04 am Jealous of silicon, neon broods behind grated shop windows.

1:24 am When society’s dominant sensual paradigm finally switches from sight to smell and cell phone manufacturers are forced to provide odor messaging, this picture will (retroactively) make a lot more sense. Flowers trapped under bodega awnings are just the best.

3:05 am On the First Avenue subway platform, MTA employees cluster, seemingly unmindful of what appears to be a human body several feet away from them…

3:06 am…or, perhaps, they put the dummy there to fuck with people (though that doesn’t explain the fishing twine) (nor the rectangular legs) who are waiting patiently to go home and crawl into bed.

a day in transit, 10/05

Perhaps because it’s so stressful, air travel is a mighty reliable source for Zen in the new, weird America.

1. An early morning shoeshine in MacArthur Airport’s imperial new extension.

2. Iconography.

3. In which we achieve levity.

coney island, 10/05

An early October trip to Coney Island.

1. We caught the bus by Keyspan Park, took it down Surf Avenue, got off at 33rd Street, made a right on 34th, and the first left onto Mermaid Avenue. We looked for #3520, formerly occupied by Woody Guthrie and family. We found the apartment complex that replaced it long before we were born.

(1a. Incidentally, if you enter “3520 Mermaid Ave., Brooklyn, NY” into Google Maps, and look at the satellite view, Coney Island is a lush blur, like a SimCity screenshot printed on sunbleached Kodachrome.)

2. We walked down the Boardwalk. The sounds of the Polyphonic Spree ricocheted between the projects. We walked through Astroland at dusk.

3. The Parachute Drop as the light disappears. The cell phone camera overcompensates with its usual granular aplomb.

more fun with light sources

1. In which the sun explodes over Bourgwick…

2. …and later sets behind the Metropolitan Museum of Art, sucking the foreground into pure, black silhouette.

3. And, of course: the (accidental, digital) agony of Paul McCartney.

the new polaroids

I’m a big fan of Polaroids, I have a few cameras, some of them even working, and my shelves are littered with boxes of pictures. With the ubiquity of digital cameras, all consumer-level photography is pretty much instant these days. Everything is a Polaroid. I’ve long thought, though, that lo-fi cell phone cams probably come closest to embodying what was special about the obsolete technology.

On one hand, cell pictures are silly and “cheap” (more on that in a moment), but — on the other hand — they present a series of technical limitations that can result in some great pictures. Polaroids are/were very good at capturing certain subjects and colors — rich blue skies, for example. I imagine that cell cams will prove to have their own specialties.

Like Polaroids, cell pictures are meant to be ephemeral. Where Polaroids generally cost $1 a shot and took a long moment to develop, one likewise doesn’t really know what cell phone shots look like until he sends them back to his computer (and, just as he had to be judgmental at a dollar a pop, barring the purchase of a USB cable, he usually has a limit of pictures he can upload each month).

All of which is to say: I got a new phone this week and have started to take some pictures. So far, I’m most enjoying the varying ways the low resolution distorts different light sources (a TV, a digital radio tuner, a candle). Check it.

More to come, hopefully! I think I need a USB cable…