No Show Ponies to Go On Hiatus

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It is with equal parts sadness and joy that I announce that my band, No Show Ponies, of which I have been a member of for probably close to 15 years, is going on hiatus while my brother, and partner in the band, attends law school in Pennsylvania.  I am sad that my best friend and band mate is moving away, but I am happy that he is pursuing something that he has a passion for.  I will be starting a new musical project, but I will talk about that at a later date.  For the time being I would like to talk about how much working with my brother has meant to me.

My brother, Ben Brown, is one of the most talented musicians that I have ever come across.  I’m talking about a guy that could learn a Beach Boys song with 15 chords in it in five minutes by ear.  I’m talking about someone that I have almost never heard sing off key in the 15 years I have worked with him. (And I personally know something about singing off key!)  This is someone that has cultivated an original voice AND an original guitar style.  These are not easy things to do.  He wrote great songs and always made my songs better by adding little twists and turns that were extremely musical.  If I got stuck on a bridge or a chorus, I would ask him what to do, and he would always come up with something inventive and catchy.

When we decided to become a three piece Ben moved to electric guitar.  He had very little experience on this instrument as he had primarily played acoustic guitar.  If necessity is the mother of invention, he soon developed a style that I have not heard anywhere else in Austin.  He could jump from the fast picking jangle guitar of someone like Johnny Marr to post punk art noise solos in the drop of a hat.  Listen to the way he works the fretboard on our song I Love You All the Same.  There is only one guitar going on there, but it seems like two.  On my song You’re Never As Good As You Think You Are, he manages to put both extremes of his playing in one song.  While most guitar players rely on stock blues and pentatonic licks, he just ignored those and went his own way.

You can hear examples of my brothers guitar playing, songwriting, and singing at www.noshowponies.bandcamp.com.  He plays all of the guitars on that record and is the one with the baritone voice.

Throughout the years we got to do some pretty neat things together.  We opened for some of our favorite bands in The Gourds and Marah.  We opened for Hillary Clinton at one of her political rallies, and one of our songs was chosen by her for a campaign commercial.  Jon Dee Graham and members of the Gourds played on one of our records.  We got a day dedicated to us by the Austin City Council and Mayor.  Numerous nights of fun are too many to mention.

For those of you that don’t know what it is like to sing and play with your brother, it is simply magical.  We could work without language.  We had the same rhythmic timing and could harmonize with very little effort.  Something happens when you play music with family that goes outside the normal realm of reason and explanation.

More than being just a great musician who I have had the honor to work with, Ben is my best friend.  It’s not anyone that you could be in a band with for 15 years.  Through low times and high times he had my back and I had his.

I have lived with Ben for all but three years of my life and in the same city for all but two.  Words can’t express how much I will miss him as my musical partner and as my roommate.  I will carry on, but just because that is what one must do in life.  We have had many ridiculous adventures along the way.  I wish him the absolute best as he moves on to this next chapter in his life.  I know at some point we will play together again.  This is but a momentary lapse in the proceedings.  I am not losing a friend or a brother, but just a band mate for the time being.  I know this, yet I still feel that these are titanic days for myself.  In closing I want to leave with a few selected lyrics from Morrissey’s song Forgive Someone.  Most of you might not understand why I am leaving it with this song, but it will bring a smile to Ben, and that is all that matters to me:

Use a weapon of words
Or a fight with your fists
But can you forgive someone?
Stand your ground and persist
And be the last one to blink
But can you forgive someone?

And if you do I’ll run to you
Betray you with a word
I would slit my own throat first of all
I will

Our truth will die with me
Our truth will die with me
Our truth will die with me

Fury Road

The new Mad Max: Fury Road trailer just came out, although the movie doesn’t come out till next year.  I’ll miss Mel Gibson, but Thomas Hardy is a fantastic actor.  He is someone that can completely transform himself depending on the role.  His turn in Bronson is one of my favorite pieces of acting in recent years.  Watch him in that and the see if you can find a clip of him in Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, and you’ll see what I mean.  (Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, although it featured some great acting, is not really worth watching in total.)  The new Mad Max film is also directed by George Miller, who directed the first two, and best, of the original Mad Max Trilogy.  

One of my favorite action movies is The Road Warrior.  It is totally batshit insane.  The sheer forward momentum of the storytelling is impressive.  It is completely relentless and completely entertaining.    It is full of unforgettable imagery and it is escapist cinema at its absolute best.  I am looking forward to the new film and the trailer makes me hopeful that Miller hasn’t lost his edge.  

She Doesn’t Want to be My “Friend”

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I am willing to gamble, when I get a friend request on Facebook, for which I don’t share any mutual friends, and picture two happens to be two hot girls with suggested lesbian intentions, that they don’t want to be my “friend”.  Call me crazy, but I’m pretty sure I’m not wrong…

And Now For Something Completely Different…

 

I like to mix it up on this blog.  I just got done writing about the death penalty.  A heavy subject, especially if you are at work and your boss is giving you the hairy eyeball.  One of the songs that fills me with pure joy is Mama Cass Ellliot’s Make Your Own Kind of Music.  I know that I have posted the lyrics before, but one should see this fantastic video from 1969, with a great Sammy Davis Jr. introduction at the beginning!  It’s campy, but it is camp of the most wonderful kind.  You may be flying around your office soon enough!  Don’t let the bastards get you down.

The Immorality of the Death Penalty

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Many executed here / by the awful lawfully good - Morrissey in his song Mountjoy

I was astounded the other day when I was looking up Governor Perry’s death stats.  If you read my recent blog on him you would know that last year, I’m not even sure what he is up to now, he hit the 500 mark.  Some of those people were mentally retarded.  

Right now I am reading Eichmann in Jerusalem by Hannah Arendt.  She talks about how the gas chambers began with the extermination of the mentally retarded and the terminally ill first.  It was talked about in terms of mercy killings and medical procedures.  

I also just finished reading Brendan Behan’s The Quare Fellow.  This is a play that takes place in the 24 hours before someone is hanged in Mountjoy prison.  The person that is to be hung apparently killed his brother and chopped him up.  It’s never clear if he is guilty or not.  In fact the person to be hung is never actually seen onstage.  What the hanging seems to do is demoralize everyone else in the prison, from the lowest prisoner to warders and prison officials, whether they believe the quare fellow is getting his just deserts or not.  The play may sound like a downer, but it is actually quite full of absurd comedy.  

I believe the death penalty is immoral.  In saying so you must face the fact that often the people that receive it, though not always as our justice system is full of flaws, have done absolutely horrible things.  Some of these people have killed children in the most horrible ways imaginable.  One shouldn’t think about these things in terms of abstract principles.  

But I can’t help but feel that after reading Arendt and Behan, that what the death penalty does is make our society more barbarous.  When you institutionalize extermination in some way you are saying that it is OK to kill people depending on circumstances.  

In you believe in the death penalty, but in no way participate in the actual process, you are also forcing other human beings, who may be altogether decent, to perform horrible tasks.  My Dad knew former Governor Casey of Pennsylvania.  He was telling me last night that one time he went into his office and the only book on the Governor’s desk was one about the pros and cons of the death penalty.  Clearly he was wrestling with that subject in some kind of existential matter.  As Governor it was his duty to uphold the law and sign off on the death penalty when the law recommended it.  What about the prison guards that must take those on death row to their deaths, or those in the medical field that must administer lethal injection?  If you support the death penalty, do you really want those people to have to carry out that act?  Do you think about how those acts might weigh upon their conscious?  These people are technically carrying out a legal act under the law.  However, the law is making these individuals carry out an act that is one of the worst things a human can do to another, which is to take someone’s life.  

Also, if we say that killing is OK under certain extreme circumstances, does it not make it morally easier to perpetrate acts of death around the world.  Are we not normalizing killing to some degree?  

Again, I want to go back to Behan, whose The Quare Fellow I believe is read that you should check out if you want to think about this subject.  It is entertainment because it truly does entertain.  I can’t say enough how funny it is.  But it also makes you think, without any of the soapbox moralizing that so many works that deal with this issue would normally do.  It is both seriously funny and dead serious.  In the play one section talks about how horrible death by hanging actually is, as many that hang do not die instantly.  Think of the botched executions that have taken place in Oklahoma and Arizona recently.  No human should die in such a way even if they are guilty.  But what about the smallest sliver of a chance, if one knows how flawed our justice system is, that they might not be guilty?  I think it was Andrew Sullivan the other day, that called it death by torture.  I am reminded of the torture museum I was in in Sienna Italy and all of the horrible ways they killed people in the middle ages.  

But why I want to bring The Quare Fellow back up most of all, remember the person that is executed in the play never actually is seen on stage, is that I think you can make an argument against the death penalty by removing the person at the very center of the argument, the condemned.  I believe this act of killing slowly degrades our society from top to bottom.  It again makes those that are forced to uphold our laws perform horrible acts.  It also gives the message to our entire society that revenge killings are OK.  It puts something immoral at the heart of our “justice” system.  We should be better than an eye for an eye, even if the animal inside all of us occasionally tells us something different. 

Smiles

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Smiles, I was taught never to smile
I was told the stylish smiles of buffoonery
chicanery and larceny abound

My mom said unless someone sticks you right in front of a camera
a smile is the last thing that you wanna do
Those smiles, those mirthless toothy smiles

Smiles, they all smile on TV
The quizmaster with his withered crones
the talkshow hosting movie stars, the politician licking feet

The mugger, the rapist, the arsonic lover
all smile out from the news, at one time or another
Those smiles, those garish sickly smiles

When I was young my mother said to me
never, ever, let anyone see that you’re happy

Smiles, never, ever let them see you smile
they’ll always put you down
With those smiles, never, ever let them see you smile
they’ll always put you down
With your smiles, never, ever let them see you smile
don’t you know they’ll make you go

Doo, doo, doo, doo, doo, doo, doo, doo
doo, doo, doo, doo, doo, doo, doo, doo, doo

Smiles by Lou Reed.  I was telling a friend about this song today, from his overlooked Growing Up in Public album.  Lou’s band was much better on The Bells, the album that came before, and infinitely better on The Blue Mask, the album that came after, but the writing on this album is still great.  When I worked in customer service for AT&T they used to always tell me that my voice didn’t sound happy enough, even though I was basically just listening to customers that were angry at having been ripped off all day.  We often put a lot of emphasis on appearance and not on what is going on beneath the surface in our society.  Those people would have been happy had I reduced their outrageous bill, whether I sounded happy or not.  The thing was I was actually trying to sound nice and pleasant to the customers, but I guess being from the North East, working in the South, it just didn’t translate.  It’s a generalization, but I think Southerners do the whole coming across as friendly thing better, at least in a superficial kind of way.  

The other night when I got offstage someone told me I needed to smile more. It made me think of this song, and I had a big shit eating grin, inside where no one could see it.  

Elaine Stritch: Shoot Me

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I found myself watching a documentary about entertainer and force of nature Elaine Stritch the other day.  It was called Elaine Stritch: Shoot Me.  If I’m being honest I only watched it because I read a particularly funny passage about her in Morrissey’s Autobiography and I was also aware that she had just passed away.  I was in no way overly familiar with her work before coming across the documentary on Netflix by chance.

The film not only dealt with her career and her one of a kind personality, but also with her unbelievable work ethic at the age of 87 and the struggles that she faced from aging and diabetes.  She was someone that had more than one memorable quote to say the least.  When talking about her diabetes she simply shrugged it off by saying something along the lines of everyone has their sack of rocks that they carry around.  When asked about aging she quoted Bette Davis and said, “Aging is not for sissies.”

One of the most memorable parts of the film was when her musical director talked about their first meeting.  He described how right away she stated that she wanted someone that was not going to bullshit her.  With her truth was essential.  In fact throughout the film she spoke openly about how the entertainment business is full of people that you can’t trust completely, and that it was clear that she valued people who would be straight with her.  She herself was not one to hold her tongue regarding her opinion to say the least.

The movie itself was a very interesting character study.  She was someone that went to a convent before going into acting, yet she swore like a sailor.  She was both extremely vulnerable and yet completely brave in many ways.  She loved attention, but didn’t suffer fake praise.

I was surprised at how moved I was at this documentary featuring an 87 year old woman whose work I had no relationship with.  You see her at times in the movie, especially as she is struggling with her health and talking about her battle with alcoholism, at moments of extreme human weakness.  It’s also clear that she undoubtedly liked being at the center of things.  However, despite whatever flaws she may have had, one can’t help but marvel at the hutzpah that she possessed.

She was dead within a year of this film coming out.  Throughout the movie the end of her career and life hover continuously.  If she didn’t exactly rage against the dying of the light, she definitely faced it with more balls than most.  I was glad that I discovered this tough old broad by chance, on a Saturday afternoon.