Tour Poetry Day 1: Packing

Not ready
35 years old
Awake at dawn
Tired as I would be at 16 years old
If I had partied all night till this very hour
Grumpy as an 85 year old man
With one foot in the grave
Grasping for the imaginary dagger
In Macbeth, Act 2, Scene 1
And wishing it was real
When the Chinese invented gun powder
Did they know
That in the year 2014
A white man
In a country that didn’t exist then
Would regret he hadn’t gone to Walmart
To buy some
Cheap and easy
Like it was just another item
In a store that also sells
Children’s toys
So that he didn’t have to pack?
Nah, they couldn’t have seen that one coming
What a country!
Off to see the Wizard

Austin 7/30/14

I am heading out to El Paso for the first of the Shinyribs tour dates today.  As I said before I am going to try and write at least one of these every day of the tour.

http://www.shinyribs.org

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes Review

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Last night my kid brother and me went to see Dawn of the Planet of the Apes.

“Hey Ben, I know you are moving back to Pennsylvania in two days.  Do you want to spend some meaningful time together?  Let’s go chew tobacco and see some fucking apes fight.”  I’m sure at this moment he thought it was the shittiest going away present ever, but hey, we had fun.

As far as popcorn movies go it was really good.  If you liked the first one you should like this one and vice versa.  It was more epic and battle oriented, but it was tied together with a solid story.  There is always a bit of ridiculousness when you see talking apes in a movie, and there were several parts where you could predict what was going to happen in the next scene, but overall it was done about as well as could be expected.  The special effects were phenomenal.  I hate when something looks like it was created with CGI and it takes you out of the moment.  Other than one or two shots in the beginning of the film, there wasn’t a moment when a visual kept me from being engrossed in the story.

Let’s not kid anyone and pretend that a movie that features apes riding horses is Shakespeare, but these movies feature a degree of intelligence that most summer blockbusters lack.  This movie, behind it’s summer entertainment factor, is a tragedy where we slowly see peace break down between groups over misunderstandings and rival factions.  In each group there are those that seek peace and those that seek power.  Much as in the real world, those that seek power rig the game so that the peace is lost.  Yeah, yeah, I know, as I said there are apes talking and riding horses.  But most of the time when a summer movie tries to be smart it only looks dumber.  This was one of the few examples where, and don’t get me wrong this movie is entertainment first, where a small degree of intelligence actually manages to be a part of the proceedings.

As a final note, I had a friend with a child ask me if this movie would be OK to take him to.  I think this movie’s PG-13 rating is earned, as it might be too intense for anyone younger then that.  Also, I’m usually not a fan of anything rated PG-13, as it usually means that they take anything adult or interesting out of a film to appeal to the widest possible audience, without a film having the magical whimsey of a kid’s movie.  However, I didn’t feel that this movie lost anything by being PG-13.  In fact, despite the fact that there was no graphic gore or nudity, I just had to double check the rating to make sure I was correct.

If they can maintain this level of quality for a third film I would be happy to attend.

 

Comic Radicals on the Left

I give the right a lot of shit on this blog.  I don’t feel guilty about it as the new right is batshit crazy.  However, there are those on the left that are figures of fun as well.  Even those that I agree with politically can often feel like another species when confronted with face to face.

One time when I was looking for a part time job to supplement my music career, I applied at Green Peace. (I want to say that I have no problem with Green Peace.  This story focuses on one particular office, although that office was typical of some other left wing organizations I have been to.)  First of all I wore a suit and tie to the interview, because it was an INTERVIEW.  I am someone that only wears ties to interviews, weddings, and funerals.  Most of the people looked at me like I was in the FBI when I walked through the door.  I instantly felt like I was in the Man in the presence of a bunch of radicals, even though my politics are in many ways as far left as Green Peace.  But these were very comical radicals as they all looked like they were trying to outdo each other in the how poorly they were dressed category.  I’m a jeans and t-shirt guy 99% of the time.  But they looked like they were having a contest to show how much they did not live by societies standards.  I’m talking sweaters with holes in them and jeans that were more ill-fitting than the jeans I have seen on homeless people.

The boss was the same, and yet somehow different.  He looked like a coffee house communist intellectual.  High and tight haircut, ratty sweater, thick 1950’s looking glasses, and an overly serious expression on his face.  In fact I don’t remember him smiling the whole time.  And this was a group interview, so even if he didn’t like my shit, he should have liked someone!

We were interviewed in a circle.  Questions that I had mentally prepared for, like why I would be good at this job, were never asked.  (If I had been asked I could have told them that I grew up with an environmentalist Dad talking over those issues nightly, I believed in Green Peace’s policies, and I had experience raising money, which is what the job was for.)  But we were asked who our political heroes were.  Not expecting that question I said Robert Kennedy off the top of my head, as most of my political heroes are people that are writers or artists.  I said this not because I am not aware of some of the earlier ill informed policies that Kennedy had supported, but because he was someone that was smart enough to evolve and change and become more progressive as he grew older.  Wrong answer!  I should have said Gandhi like the office boss.  Is there any more easy typical self-righteous answer that you could give than Gandhi?  Plus, Gandhi, for however great he was on so many things, had some pretty backwards ideas about women.  So clearly this intellectual wasn’t as smart as he thought.  His answer was no less complicated than mine, he just didn’t know it.

Anyway, I didn’t get the job as I clearly didn’t pass the holier-than-thou interrogation.  The whole thing left a bad taste in my mouth.  It was like a contest between people to show how righteous they were.  Even worse than this righteousness was a complete lack of any humor.  If you are going to take a hard look at the injustice of the world you need a sense of humor.  Not only because you need it as a shield against the insanity that is out there, not only because it will endear you to people that otherwise might turn away from your beliefs, but because there is so much absurdity out there, that the horrible is often outright funny.  These people, clearly without knowing it, were the exact kind of people that give the left a bad name.  Someone like that office boss was going to turn as many people off to his cause as he was going to turn on, if he ever interacted with the public at large.

George Orwell, who believed in socialism, spent a great deal of his time criticizing the left, exactly because of people like this person.  Orwell believed in the ideas of the left, but he was highly critical of how people went about trying to implement them.

That day was dispiriting.  We both wanted to “save the planet”, but if we succeeded, I was glad it was big enough that I would never have to see that fool again.

 

The Only Lasting Sin

I don’t think they hate Mexicans
Because they have darker skin
I think they hate them because they are poor
If Mexicans drove across the border
In European sports cars
While dressed in Brioni suits
They would probably kiss them
On the mouth
Sure there would be a some holdouts
A few dumb white mutants
With mixed up ideas
But the only lasting sin in this country
Is being broke

Austin 7/29/14

Shinyribs Tour and Poetry

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Starting this Wednesday I am going on tour with Shinyribs.  We will be in New Mexico, Colorado, and Texas.

For a list of full tour details here is a link to the Shinyribs website:

http://www.shinyribs.org

Usually when I go on tour, mostly due to lack of service, but also from trying to type things on my phone, and sheer exhaustion, my blogging input decreases.  One thing I am going to try to do on this tour is to post some kind of poem every day based on what I see on the road.  There may be a day or so without service, but if that happens I’ll just post two the next day or whatever.

Lately I’ve been posting poetry, which until recently I have never written before, although I have written plenty of song lyrics.  I don’t even feel comfortable calling it poetry as I have no experience in that field.  I think of it more as prose in verse form.  There is something Zen about it for me.  I enjoy trying to write something that translates some kind of image or idea without all of the explaining that comes with writing prose.  I’m having fun with it.  Hopefully you all will enjoy some of it as well.

John Oliver On Our Nuclear Arsenal

 

The above video is seriously funny and completely horrifying.  John Oliver does a piece on our nuclear arsenal.  Oliver’s first season has been consistently great.  He is another comedian using comedy to speak truth to power.  

One thing I’ll personally get out of this video:  If I ever have a poorly attended show, at least I can say that there are more people at my show than at the nuclear arsenal hearings!  

Tip of the hat to my Dad for sending this my way.  

 

A Level of Racist Violence That I Have Never Seen

http://mondoweiss.net/2012/02/a-level-of-racist-violence-i-have-never-seen-ucla-professor-robin-d-g-kelley-on-palestine-and-the-bds-movement.html

The above link is an interview with Robert D.G. Kelly, a professor at U.C.L.A. after he took a trip to Palestine.  Kelly, who is an African American, says that he saw there, “A level of racist violence that I have never seen.”  I have been talking lately about he Israeli/Palestinian situation, and if you are curious about the injustice going on there, this article is a must read.  However, more than just documenting injustice, this article is interesting on many fronts.  There is a wealth of ideas and information contained in it.  

In the Shade of Those Trees

If I want to possibly catch a glimpse of God
I’ll go out into Hill Country
Where the majestic oaks are more beautiful
Than any art made by man
How many people died raising the pyramids?
How many died building the cathedrals in Europe?
Not one died creating those trees
I’ll tell you where I won’t go
To church on Sunday
Where a person the same as me
No matter what kind of funny outfit they have on
Claims that they have some kind of
Supernatural information
Even though it was probably
Passed down to them
By some ancestor
That slew another
In the shade of those trees

Austin 7/28/14

A Miniscule Ripple

She never left her hometown
Like those mayflies
That see everything they are gonna see
In one day
Times a life time
She loved those celebrity magazines
The glamor they brought into her life
She loved even more
When those stars were crushed
By an excessive amount of glamor
When she died it was like a fish
Coming to the surface for a brief moment
Before descending
Leaving a minuscule ripple
Then nothing
Her funeral song
Should have been played
By a sad circus monkey
On a kazoo

Austin 7/28/14

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