Sunday, September 28, 2008

Update: Link to "Scene of Apparent Violence" from last night.

4:37 a.m.

All of New York City is a drunken circus right now. Tourist couples in too-tight clothing are arguing on the steamy, desolate streets of Midtown. The cops are responding to a scene of apparent violence at a club in Astoria, trademark red and white lights everywhere. Yellow cabs and livery cabs are ferrying drunks in any possible direction in all boroughs. Lights are still on in many homes. Even our usually quiet one-way street is jammed with pairs of headlights competing for asphalt. Everyone is awake or outside because they can be.

Amid these many chaotic scenes, the INFRASTRCTURE boys return home via the upper deck of the Queensborough Bridge. We have completed a marathon 12-hour recording and arranging session in a fancy Manhattan studio 400 feet above the hoochie-laden streets. When you play for that long, which I don't usually do, awakeness goes away and all that remains is muscle memory and punch drunkenness. You lock into your fellow musicians and the equipment you are using and you try to make something good.

Tonight, we made several very good things. A lot of remixing is required before we can share, and we didn't record vocals, but we're very proud of what we achieved. We need some serious sleep, though, before we can appreciate it.

It was also nice to find freshly baked brownies when E. dropped C. and me off at home. Things are finally beginning to work.

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Thursday, September 25, 2008

Next Episodes

I'm crazy busy with work and the next few projects that you'll see here. More specifically:

Untitled EP. An incarnation of INFRASTRUCTURE will be getting together in NY this weekend to start recording an EP. The oversimplified track titles, according to recording priority, are "Climber," "Busted," "Cul-de-Sac People," "Misery," and "Home." The personnel will be Erich Rastetter on keys and rhythm guitar, C. Bellinger on bass, Greg Caputo on drums, and myself on lead guitar. All of the personnel are angry young men from Queens. The band will sound like a combination of early Elvis Costello, early ZZ Top, and Wilco. What can I say? We're white people.

UP. Very soon, the blog switches completely over to a chronological retelling of the trip Dan Meade and I took to the Upper Peninsula this past June. Photos will serve as the main narrative element, with text filling in only where necessary. Any posts I've already put up will be re-posted to fit the narrative/chronological order of the trip. There are some really good photos in this set.

The Fall Excursions. If art-traveling is fun, why do it only in June? I have to clear the days off, but it looks like I'll be meeting up with some friends in SoCal, hosting the third annual College Point Class Conflict Pub Crawl in Queens, and putting together ABBQI, the first open-invite barbecue roadtrip to the Hill Country of Texas.

Read on (or listen, or view), or join me on one of these trips.

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Monday, September 22, 2008

The Bird and the Bee

$12 in Boston.
$35 in New York.

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Sunday, September 21, 2008

The 89/93

Sometimes, when I stay up really late, I see the 89/93. The 89/93 is a bus that doesn't make any sense.

The 89 is a bus that runs from Clarendon Hill, Somerville to Sullivan Square, Boston. The 93 is a bus that runs from Sullivan Square to Downtown Boston. Both of these buses start running around 5:20 a.m.

Once in a while I have a weekend visitor and we are sitting here in Teele Square, drunk off our asses, at around 4:20am. We will see an OUT OF SERVICE bus heading down Broadway eastbound, then returning westbound with 89/93 on its route indicators. This bus exists on no public MBTA schedule, and it rolls through Teele Square an hour before either the 89 or the 93 start running.

Sometimes, I am sitting here riffling through photos I want to post or working on song lyrics at, you know, 1 or 2 am. It is always under these circumstances that I remember the few times I saw this 89/93. Does it really exist, and, if so, what purpose does it serve...especially if no one knows about it? Should I stay up and see if it returns? Going to bed seems like conceding all types of defeat.

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Ed the Republican

C. and I sit down to dinner at the 99 Restaurant in Assembly Square. Unlike most national chains, the restaurant is impeccable and the floor sparkling. Soon after ordering, an older divorcee takes the open stool next to us. Before long, conversation happens. He's a republican. Ballots in multiple languages are an affront to his patriotism, since John Quinzy Adams made English the national language in 1786. The liberals want to build low income housing in Assembly Square and move the T stop to the projects so the welfare moms won't have to walk so far to the train. He knows a great bar in Bimini--it was featured in a famous thriller. He made his ex-wife become a Marlins fan after she abandoned Boston, her children, and the Red Sox. He rents out property in New Hampshire, the "live free or die, motherfucker state" and when his international student tenants lit charcoals in the gas grill, he showed up wearing a .45 to yell at them. The last mayor of Somerville, a liberal's liberal, tried somehow to cancel out his concealed carry permit but political connections prevailed. I'm not sure if he is packing heat at dinner, but I don't want to ask.

As I work through my turkey tips and 48 ounces of IPA, I think: I shall refer to Ed as my new Parrothead friend. Sailing the Virgin Islands and hanging out at the shooting range. It just fits.

When he gets up to leave, he puts on a dark green bomber jacket that had been draped over his stool. Three logos adorn the jacket: one on each sleeve and one on the back. All include Jimmy Buffet's name.

Somehow satisfied, my perpetual hopeful hopelessness justified, I leave. C. and I plot an awesome urban exploration of abandoned Assembly Square, chug Jim Beam in East Somerville, drink more at the Cantab. After all that, I finally get home to write this up, having traveled many miles using nothing but public transit and my own two feet.

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Thursday, September 18, 2008

East Somerville Bubble Wrap

Remember the simple joy of popping bubbles of air trapped in cellophane? In East Somerville, the locals have a slightly more sinister approach to stress relief.

Just minutes ago, while waiting for the 89 bus, my brother and I witnessed two young, heavily inebriated locals come acros a discarded mattress on Broadway. One, wearing plaid shorts, drew a boxcutter, got down on his knees, and began tearing the mattress apart. Broad blade strokes ripped into the covering, much of which the perpetrator tore off with his bare hands. Disturbed, his companion slowly backed away and moved in the direction of Khoury's State Spa, the "oldest bar in Somerville," famous for stabbings and men's room hand-to-hand drug deals. As his companion slunk away, the boxcutter wielder tore deeper into the mattress, ripping out pieces of yellow foam and throwing them on the sidewalk.

Soon, he noticed his friend had left him. PAUL! PAWWWWL! GET DA FUCK BACK HEA! PAWWWWL! GET DA FUCK BACK HEA! Even more enraged at being left to destroy the mattress alone, he put his back into his labor and the blade of the boxcutter soon snapped off, clinking onto the sidewalk.

Our protagonist paused for a second to bring out a new segment of blade, then went back to his anointed task, just cutting and tearing and ripping and stabbing on a cool late summer night.

This continued for several minutes. Eventually, someone came out of the house, stood menacingly on its porch, and told the young psychopath to get lost. Dejected, he trundled up Broadway to Khoury's and met some friends out front.

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1. The world needs more

Kristin Cifellis.

...which is to say: people who get it.



I think it would be awesome to do a dropped-D cover of Aimee Mann's "Freeway" into/out of Warren Zevon's "Jungle Work."

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3: Rob Bellinger

would rather be a realist than a total phony.

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Monday, September 15, 2008

Dignity Hunt XX: Coffee and Cigarettes, Waffle House, Wilmington, N.C.

Drying Shed

Near Kenansville, N.C.

Warehouse Golgotha

Outside Sandy Plain (uninc.), North Carolina.

NCBBQ Blogging Comes to an End!

For the first time ever, I've finished blogging about one of my road trips. NCBBQII lasted just four days but inspired a lot of material. Here is a link to the collection of photosets on Flickr. If you want to read more about the trip, just use the tag link below.

I'll post a few shots from NCBBQ Part XI: The Homeward Trek above. After that, it's on to blogging the UP--the Upper Peninsula of Michigan!

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Dignity Hunt XX: Monday Morning Card Game, Kinston, N.C.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

There really is nothing better than watching three horsemen ride past an abandoned, partially collapsed gas station during a driving thunderstorm.

Well, you could always take pictures of the scene developing.

Yes, folks, it's NCBBQII Part X.

Rob L. and I were drifting about the rural byways of coastal Carolina on a sweltering Sunday afternoon when we happened upon this gem: Latinos Gas Station in Chinquapin, NC. Where is Chinquapin?

Does it matter?

Probably not. What did matter, though, was the the station seemed to be retreating into the earth. The canopy over the pumps had collapsed, tearing the pumps from their moorings and, in fact, tearing one of them apart We ditched the car in the thick grass on the side of the road, and I began shooting from many different angles.

Almost instantly, the sky turned dark and opened up. Gigantic raindrops began pummeling the hot asphalt. Rob pulled the car closer to me, but I just kept shooting. My hair, shoulders, and camera got soaked, and I tried to keep the water off the business end of my lens. But the darkness provided an eerie feeling and I wanted to capture it.

I had just wiped off my lens and gotten back down low to the ground when a cry came from up the road: "Hey! Take a picture of us!" Three soaking wet horsemen emerged almost silently from the woods via a side street, and rode on past the abandoned gas station without ever once looking at the lens.

Yes, it was slightly surreal, but surreal is what these trips are all about.

Rob and I reached the ocean a few hours later, then spent the night in Wilmington as the rain poured down. When we awoke, it was Monday and we had to get home. Our northward route, which we planned to take us back to the Skylight Inn, also took us back through Chinquapin. There, Latinos Gas Station was basking in the sun once again.

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Thursday, September 11, 2008

Still More NCBBQII! Part 9: Knightdale, a North Carolina Town

Knightdale is one of many rural American towns caught in an identity crisis, and a perfect setting for serious American fiction. Formerly very rural, it's being subsumed into the suburbs of Durham. New money, sprawl, and housing subdivisions are encroaching on working farms. And the farms themselves are no longer staffed by American citizens. Mexican tiendas ("stores" in Spanish) serve as tiny bus terminals for the daily, 2,000-mile bus journeys that migrant workers take back to Mexico. They often pop up in former gas stations or general stores, sometimes right downtown.

So how does BBQ survive in this changing environment? It keeps up with the times. Knightdale Seafood and BBQ, first of all, has more than barbecue on its menu. And, it has moved from its downtown, small-town digs to a brick building out in the sprawlscape on a street called Money Court, next to a gas station and between two strip malls:

It's also open on Sunday, which is how we wound up there after waking up at noon in Chapel Hill and finding it to be damn near 100 degrees outside. We hadn't drank much at the concert the night before, but after eating nothing but smoked pork and vinegar for two days, we felt rather hung over anyway. Nonetheless, we started calling BBQ joints from our hotel to find out who was working on the sabbath. Most restaurants are family-run and closed on Sunday, so one has to be careful.

Knightdale was open, and serious hunger pangs set in on the 20-minute ride over. We found the place easily and were surprised by its Cracker-Barrel-like decor. After observing the huge, church-going family chowing down in their Sunday best, I took a look at the tattered menu...

...and against my better judgment ordered the chicken and pork combo with some type of potatoes and corn. We were back east: vinegar-pepper sauce appeared on the table along with the hushpuppies. The chicken and pork were good, but I could barely eat them. BBQ fatigue had set in after meals at B's (Greenville), Skylight Inn (Ayden), Roland's (Beaufort), Dillard's (Durham), A&M Grill (Mebane) and Lexington Barbecue No. 1 (Lexington).

I just sat there, dipping my hushpuppies in the vinegar sauce, chewing on cornmeal and ignoring my meat.

This would be the final new BBQ joint of the trip. From here, we set out on a sweltering Sunday afternoon land cruise of very rural eastern NC. I will remember some of the images we saw and created for a very long time.

Part X is next!

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Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Fulfillment in Wallyworld

Beyond the ghastly railroad suburbs* of southeastern Connecticut lies a place where people focus on their lives and not their careers, a place without ties to Boston and New York, a place where every other building isn't 30% parking garage and you're never more than 5 miles from a commuter train. That place is central Connecticut, and it's where a few of my good friends live and have lived.

It's also the home of Barnowl Studios, a rehearsal studio located in a sprawling, formerly industrial complex in Wallingford. In the dimly hit hallways of Building 14A is a community that blurs the lines between music and business, art and artistry. Having only found the place on MySpace and Craigslist, Erich and I thought we'd give it a shot.

Entering a "cheap" rehearsal studio means truly entering rock world. Empty beer cans, cigarette smoke, very low lighting, improvised sound dampening devices like old carpeting and foam blocks. It is in these environs that songs are written and performed. As indie rock and death metal and whatever else (often Latin music in Boston and NY) scream out from behind closed doors, I chuckle at how uncomfortable certain people I know would be in rock world.

Whenever you enter a studio, you wonder about what kind of room you'll get. Will the bass drum be destroyed and the cymbals ripped apart? Will the room smell like piss or weed? Will giant rats run up and down the brick walls as we play? I've seen and smelled it all.

At Barnowl, it's only $6 per hour to practice in a shared space (i.e. a space used by other bands at other times). Said space had a fully equipped drum set, a huge ass bass amp, plus some stuff we pilfered from another band, like a tiny Fender tube amp and a cheap old organ hooked up to a huge Fender amp.

We settled in fast and began casually working on a few songs and arrangements. As we played, people came and went, including a huge metal dude who wanted to try my Ampeg bass. Suddenly some young dudes who had heard us playing came in. One asked if he could play drums with us. We did a few of our tracks with me on electric, Erich on his newly wired acoustic, and this dude Jesse on drums. Shit sounded awesome. We got some serious compliments from the bystanders on these unfinished songs and then blasted out a crazy rock organ trio jam.

When we finally stopped playing, we realized we had been in the studio for four hours. Ryan, the owner, loved our story of meeting halfway at his place, and he wasn't even going to charge us for the session. We made a donation anyway.

This wasn't a show. Our arrangements and lyrics for the songs we worked on weren't even done. No one sang. But it was great to try some tunes out on other musicians, even with one other musician.

We're planning a rental car return trip to Wallyworld with CMike on bass and we'll see if we can get our new friend to sit in on drums again. Things felt good on the long ride back to Boston; the glacier continues to move.


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Friday, September 05, 2008

TRANSPORTES JUVENTINO ROSAS -- Main Street, Knightdale, N.C.



More blogging on this town and others like it coming soon.

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Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Concert Cameraphone

Shot at TRKfest, Pittsboro, NC.

Part of NCBBQII Part 8: Night Falls on the Tar Heel State.

Megafaun at TRKfest

From NCBBQII Part 8: Night Falls on the Tar Heel State.

Hop's Bar-B-Q, Asheboro, N.C.

From NCBBQII Part 8: Night Falls on the Tar Heel State.

Hop's Bar-B-Q, Asheboro, N.C.

From NCBBQII Part 8: Night Falls on the Tar Heel State. We didn't eat here, just shot the exterior.

Monday, September 01, 2008

NCBBQII Pt 7: Lexington Barbecue No. 1

Our hearts race as we pull into the packed parking lot that we have finally found for the second time. The white woodframe restaurant is still open and bustling--no chance of them closing on us this year! I slam my camera against the car door with nervous excitement as I exit the vehicle and stumble to my feet. I'm here; we're there!

Going Home Happy, 2008

Arriving at Lexington Barbecue No. 1 this past May was like meeting a famous artist whose reputation I'd long admired. The highwayside eatery is perhaps the most famous barbecue establisment in North Carolina, the most preeminent purveyor of what is known as Lexington or "Western" style barbecue. While barbecue aficionados will point out that no simple distinction exists between Eastern and Western styles, western cue often uses ketchup or tomatoes in both barbecue and cole slaw. Western cue also tends to use pork shoulders instead of the whole hog. To me the following characteristic is a requirement for all true barbecue: the meat must be smoked over hickory coals.

As the menu states:

This is the True Lexington Style Barbecue, 2008
We use pork shoulders only. They are cooked about nine hours over hickory and oak coals. We salt the meat before cooking but we do not baste. This is the true Lexington Style Barbecue.
People take this stuff seriously. After walking through the very green, 1950s-era counter and checkout area, we're seated at the first table in the wood-paneled dining room. Just across the aisle, a family says grace as they are served their Saturday dinner. Of the two granddaughters present, one receives an order of chicken tenders and the other, the one closest to her grandmother, receives a barbecue platter (chopped pork, fries, red coleslaw). Both children become immediately engrossed by their meals.

The grandmother leans over to the closer granddaughter, and says softly, "I'm really glad that you like barbecue."

Barbecue Family, 2008

And this is what's all about:

Lexington No. 1's Product, 2008

I hope you can find a thousand words within that picture, because there really is no way to describe the food other than to say that the individual elements represent perfection and the whole a delicate synergy achieved over many years of cookery. Can you imagine the subtle smoke flavor and tenderness of pork smoked for nine hours? Does the red hue in the slaw communicate the tang of vinegar and ketchup found there? Does the golden tincture of the crinkle-cut fries convey their crispiness and how they pair perfectly with the slaw, ketchup, or barbecue sauce? And what about the hushpuppies? They're not in the shot, but it doesn't matter: refills are free.

And those hushpuppies soak up the bitter-tasting house sauce perfectly:

Smokehouse Barbeque Sauce, 2008

Rob and I both agreed that our meal here totally delivered. It was everything we had heard it would be, and a sharp contrast from our first experience here. Back in 2006, we were heading east from Greenville, where B's was closed for July 4th. We got a speeding ticket along the way, and had the usual hard time finding Lexington No. 1, which is located near a junction of two rural highways where everything looks exactly the same. When we finally arrived, the parking lot was deserted and our hearts plunged through the car floor when we realized that it too was closed.

But our planning paid off this time. As we exited, we saw all types of local folk getting take-out orders at the lunch counter...

Lunch Counter at Lexington No. 1, 2008

...and the parking lot was still packed. Above the adjoining smokehouse, the half dozen shiny, rusty exhaust pipes, their brick bases covered with seeping wood tar, belched heat into the dwindling daylight as we loaded ourselves into the Taurus and shipped off with only one destination in mind: the night.

Smoker Stacks, Take Three

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