Frontier Psychiatrist

Archive for July 2010

They were Americans in Germany, eleven years after the fall of the Wall, young artistic types, setting out for a trip into the country, a night of camping and a day of hiking. Then they would return to their government-funded apartments. They would be led by an energetic very Germanic German named Marius. Marius’s girlfriend came, too: blonde and strong in the chin, bony in the body, solid stock. It happened to be Walpurgisnacht, the night of the witches, the Devil’s Sabbath, famous from Faust, famous in countries where they knew how to pronounce Walpurgisnacht.

The group of Americans and Germans met an unexpected trio of three Italian girls in the train station on their way back from another excursion. One of the Italian girls was known to the Americans from a German language class they had taken together when they were all in Dresden. The other two were her friends from back home, visiting Germany for the week. As can happen when young people are abroad and adventuring, the three girls spun on a dime and decided to join the Americans and Germans on their camping trip, going just as they were, in their shorts and t-shirts and backpacks from their last trip. The Italians knew it was Walpurgisnacht, too. They joked that they were witches. One of them said she had a copy of Faust with her that she would read to the Americans and Germans later that night.

The train into the country shook on the tracks, up the river, out to where you can look around and see only nature. It stopped and they all got off, packs swung over their shoulders, sleeping bags, water and other bottles under their arms and in their hands. They hiked into the camping area, amidst the rocks and trees and streams and found a perfect space to set up camp, an eons-old carved-out hollow surrounded by tall rock faces, empty and ready for them.

The drinking began in earnest as soon as they sat down. One of the Americans had marijuana. Another had a guitar. If anyone had to piss or shit, he or she went off into the woods. They could find a boulder to lean against or could just squat. The Americans were not so used to roughing it like this, but they pretended they were for the sake of the Europeans, who expected them to be like Americans in movies, cowboys.

Marius and one of the Americans took charge of building a fire.  They hunted for sticks and branches. The Italian girls laughed and chatted happily about their experiences of the last several days. The rest in the camp listened, not understanding a word, but enjoying the melodious voices.

At dusk, they heard the first scream.

“What the hell was that?” said Stewart, an American from New Jersey.

“Coyote?” said Julie, another American.

“What’s a coyote?” said Marius.

“An evil spirit,” said Trina, the Italian girl from German language class.

“Walpurgisnacht,” said another Italian girl, who had long stringy hair and no bra on.

“I’ll go check it out,” said Carlos, another American.

“You shouldn’t go alone,” said Marius’ girlfriend Sabine.

Carlos asked if she wanted to come with him.

“I’ll go with you,” said Marius before she could answer. He had been showing signs of wanting to keep Carlos away from his girlfriend since the Americans started getting high, drunk and loud.

“Nevermind,” said Carlos. “I’ll go alone.”

Carlos walked out of the rock enclosure quickly before anyone could stop him.

“Why did you do that?” said Sabine to Marius as Marius got up.

“Do what,” said Marius, now in German, so the Americans , whose German was pathetic, could barely understand.

“He was talking to me,” she said, also in German.

“I know,” said Marius, “He’s been talking to you all day and I don’t like it.”

Marius charged off into the dusk of the woods, leaving everyone else to sit and wonder at his abruptness.

Then came the second scream. It wasn’t the same as the first. This one was definitely human. And it sounded like Carlos.

“It’s starting,” said the Italian with stringy hair and no bra.

“Already?” said Trina.

“What’s starting?” said Stewart.

“The evil,” said the third Italian girl, who was short and stocky and covered with moles.

Carlos burst upon them, sweating, eyes-wide, throwing himself onto the earth as if it were sanctuary.

“There’s something out there,” he said.

“Marius,” said Sabine and made a move to go after her boyfriend.

“Don’t,” commanded the second Italian girl, “If you leave our circle, you will not be safe.”

Meanwhile, Julie said to Carlos: “What do you mean there’s something out there?”

“I felt it,” Carlos said.

“Did you see something?” asked Stewart.

Meanwhile, Sabine hesitated before leaving the circle, looking back at them all, then called out: “MARIUS!”

“It was like something touched me, but it wasn’t a touch,” Carlos said. “It was like a darkness passed into me and out of me.”

“You’re full of shit,” Stewart said.

There was no reply from Marius out in the wilderness.

“I have to see if he’s okay,” Sabine said.

“It would be better if you stayed with us,” said Trina, whose face was now flickering in the fire. It seemed that dusk had turned instantly to night.

Sabine paused a second longer, then ran off calling her boyfriend’s name.

They were all quiet together. Then Trina spoke:

“Listen, we came along to protect you. But you must stay in the circle we’ve made here.”

“What about Marius and Sabine?” asked Carlos.

The third scream sounded out. It was Sabine.

“It’s too late for them,” said the Italian girl with all the moles.

Jim Knable is a playwright, songwriter, musician, and prose writer originally from Sacramento. His plays have been produced at MCC Theatre, Woolly Mammoth, Soho Rep, NYC’s Summer Play Festival and other regional theatres, and published by Broadway Play Publishing and Playscripts, Inc. His band The Randy Bandits has released two studio albums: Redbeard (2006) and Golden Arrow (2009). He is now shopping his novel, Sons of Dionysus.

Illustrations: Beeb Salzer


In case you missed the news, here’s the short version: Kanye West rapped acapella this week at the Facebook offices, performing songs from his forthcoming album which will now not be called Good Ass Job. Before he sang, Kanyeze stood on a table, told his corporate claque to turn off their phones, and reassured them that while his songs do contain the N word, it’s OK. He’s allowed to use it.

Meanwhile, Robin Pecknold, the Fleet Foxes frontman, posted a 15-minute tour documentary from his current tour with Joanna Newsom, who nearly topped our list of Top 5 American Women. Shot in black and white (read: arty, thoughtful, intimate, retro) the visuals fit the Foxes’ throwback sound and Pecknold’s penchant for classic material. Here, he covers the traditional “Look Down that Lonesome Road,” Bob Dylan’s “Silver Dagger” and “Blues Run the Game,” the 1965 Jackson C. Frank song that has been done by Simon and Garfunkel, Nick Drake, and, mostly recently, Laura Marling on Jack White’s Third Man Records.

Back in the big city, Mamachas Del Ring screened last night at the New York International Latino Film festival. The documentary follows a group of  indigenous female wrestlers in Bolivia as they fight each other and the patriarchal power of the lucha libre scene. The film features an original score by our amigo M.G. Espar, as well as Brooklyn’s Chica Libre, the Barbes regulars who are now playing in Europe. Missed the show? There’s another screening tomorrow (July 31), along with a full weekend of films.

Finally, Monty Python alum Terry Gilliam will be directing a live webcast of Arcade Fire at Madison Square Garden on Thursday (Aug. 5). Watch out, D.A. Pennebaker and The National. What’s next? Clint Eastwood and Vampire Weekend?

Thanks to his brother-in-law, your correspondent was lucky enough to be at the Black Keys show at SummerStage last Wednesday night.  With the energy they put out, it’s not clear how they went and did another show at Terminal 5 that same night.  In any event, the show planted a seed for a drink that, like the Black Keys, is made up of two components that end up feeling like a hell of a lot more.  After all, as Rob Base & DJ E-Z Rock well knew, it takes two to make a thing go right.

Thinking along these lines led to a beer-based drink: the Black Velvet.  Created to mournfully mark the passing of the Queen’s Consort, Prince Albert in 1861, the Black Velvet is an equal-parts mixture of stout and sparkling wine, with the wine floated on top, a procedure allowed for by the two liquids’ differing densities.  The unlikely combination proved quite popular, and is variously known as a Bismark after a certain Otto von, said to have drained quarts of them daily.  The Iron Chancellor’s taste for sparkling wine perhaps leading to the annexation of French territories after the Franco-Prussian war.

As for the Black Velvet itself — unlike the members of London’s Whiggish Brooks’s Club, where the drink was first created and which was known as a place for gaming, male bonding, and political intrigue — we are not awash in funds sufficient to put expensive sparkling wine to such uses.  Enter, the Poor Man’s Black Velvet.  This drink better captures what we were looking for, substituting as it does hard cider for the Champagne.  The proportions, however, need adjusting because the cider otherwise makes the drink way too sweet for our taste, but feel free to play around.

Poor Man’s Black Velvet

1 part hard cider (e.g. Magners)

2 parts stout beer (e.g. Guiness)

Pour in the cider, then slowly add the stout, pouring it over the back of a spoon if desired.

The Poor Man’s Black Velvet is a great example of a drink combining two ingredients to great effect, similar to a Black and Tan, but more distinctive.  It’s a great summer drink, and, just like the Black Keys, it even has a Facebook page.

Drink up,

Rose's Pawn Shop

Rose’s Pawn Shop combines Angeleno energy with Appalachian sensibilities on their new, self released recording, Dancing on the Gallows. These five young California dudes rock out with traditional bluegrass instrumentation on original tunes that evoke artists as varied as Hank Williams and Green Day. While we usually associate bands coming out of the Whiskey Strip with neon pink Gibson flying ‘V’ guitars and large hair, Paul Givant and company speed off Sunset Boulevard wielding fiddles, mandolins and banjos (and sporting sensible hair cuts).

Rose’s Pawn Shop, Dancing on the Gallows

The crescendo that opens the title track hints at the blending energies and influences that typify the record.  A busy banjo, aggressive fiddle and electric guitar march towards us driven by the drummer Ulf Geist, making liberal use of the tom toms, which are the parts of a drum kit usually eschewed by traditional bluegrass. The figure comes to a head with a descending line reminiscent of the hook in “Devil Went Down to Georgia” but don’t be fooled. “Gallows” features none of the boot stompin’ caricatures of that hit song and instead delivers a sincere account of two friends facing the end together.  Another telling influence in the tune reveals itself through the use of triplet figures that break the verse from the chorus. The four-on-the-floor kick drum provides the thrust for a reeling fiddle which might light up the Celtic part of your brain and have you wondering where you put that Pogues CD you had in college.

Rose’s Pawn Shop, Ball of Flames

“Ball of Flames” best demonstrates how Rose’s performs a shot-gun wedding between Tinsel Town and Churchill Downs. A delicious psycho-billy opener combines electric guitar feedback and a crawling fiddle which launch us into an up tempo rocker that evokes Iggy Pop’s “The Passenger”. But unlike that erstwhile urban anthem, “Flames” takes a few twists and turns that indicates a sophisticated arranging style typical of this record.  Stephen Andrews expertly thumps throughout the whole track on upright bass; an instrument firmly rooted in old timey styles whose distinctive pizzicato always leads our ear home to mountain music, regardless of punk rock tempos or squealing electric guitars.

Rose’s Pawn Shop, Strangers

“Strangers” is a torch song anthem that belongs to the tradition of California country typified by Gram Parsons or The Eagles. The spare playing and atmospheric production provide the vehicle for the familiar story of a romantic relationship gone bad. The soaring chorus comes together with close harmony singing and earnestly strummed guitars. You might imagine “Strangers” as a late night feature  on some commercial country radio station if not for the ‘F’ bomb that gets dropped early on. However the expletive is an important indicator of attitude and helps to differentiate Rose’s from the myriad other new country acts that amplify their acousticity.

True to country form much of the lyrical content on this record features drinking, dying, traveling and heartbreak (not necessarily in that order). While these themes are ancient, Rose’s Pawn Shop presents them in fresh way, combining solid country picking with rock n roll attitude. Gallows is only the band’s second release and their Facebook page features fewer than 600 friends. But this strong and honest endeavor suggests that number is bound to increase very soon.

Rose’s Pawn Shop plays a free show tonight, July 29, at Hank’s Saloon in Brooklyn.

Play that punky bluegrass, boys

Hot Time, Summer in the City

No, this is not about Lebron James and his $110 million migration to Miami. We mean the heat wave that has swept New York and much of the country, a.k.a. summer in the northern hemisphere in the era of global warming. In honor of the season, our favorite summer-themed jams from the last decade.

5. Queens of the Stone Age, Feel Good Hit of the Summer

Nicotine. Valium. Vicodin. Marijuana. Ecstasy and alcohol. Also, cocaine. Why even bother with subjects or verbs? Also, we love the meta title.

4. Best Coast, Summer Mood

The retro pop of Best Coast is growing on us. Like many of the songs on their debut album Crazy for You, this one is short and sweet with only  a handful of lyrics. Five of them are: “There’s something about the summer.” Indeed. And with the way they channel the past, we bet Best Coast was thinking of this 1993 ode to summer. Ready when you are.

3. Nelly, It’s Getting Hot in Herre

When the temperature is so hot it hurts, take off all your clothes. Bodacious!

2. Animal Collective, Summertime Clothes

When Merriwether Post Pavilion came out last January, we were still bundled and eating Mrs. Ptak’s curry to stay warm. As soon as we heard this song, we were ready for summer. And we still want to walk around with you.

1. Jay-Z (Feat Li’l Wayne), Summer in Brooklyn

Sure, everybody loves Kings County. But how many people want to name their kid Brooklyn Carter?

Nostalgia ain’t what it used to be. Cereal boxes have their 60s logos. NBA teams have “throwback” jerseys. And Sly Stallone’s The Expendables is a lesson in geriatric bloodshed. Music is hardly immune from this culture of yesteryear, with bands reuniting left and right. At first glance, Cap’n Jazz and their current summer reunion tour seem no different.

When whispers of a Cap’n Jazz reunion began, the FC feared another one of those money grabs that aged musicians can’t seem to resist. Artists who can’t let go of the glory days often get the band back together. The difference with Cap’n Jazz is that despite their role as Chicago’s pop emo-godfathers, they barely had any glory days as a band.  This reunion is not about rehashing, but about finishing what they started.

Prior to the early-1990s, the emo (or emo-core) scene was defined by bands that are a far-cry from the guy-liner of today. Bands like Rites of Spring, Sunny Day Real Estate, and Jawbreaker were heavy, gritty, and power-packed. Just barely an offshoot of hardcore punk, early emo was abrasive and high blood pressure inducing, but lacked a wide appeal, due largely to its intensity. Enter Cap’n Jazz, five scrawny Chicago teens with nothing but learners permits, to teach us all a lesson.

The history of Cap’n Jazz has reached near mythological heights, but a few facts are considered canon. After releasing a handful of singles, Cap’n Jazz released their one and only LP in 1994, the breathlessly named Burritos, Inspiration Point, Fork Balloon Sports, Cards in the Spokes, Automatic Biographies, Kites, Kung Fu, Trophies, Banana Peels We’ve Slipped on and Egg Shells We’ve Tippy Toed Over; or more commonly known as Shmap’n Shmazz. A frenzy of an album, Shmap’n Shmazz overturns proverbial barricades, and sends listeners on a trip down memory lane. Only this lane is filled with juvenile feelings of inadequacy, fears of the life to come, and the general discomfort that comes with the coming of age. Then, at the beginning of their first U.S. tour, the band abruptly dissolved. But it was not the last we’d see of these boys. The break-up of Cap’n Jazz spawned many bands, including: The Promise Ring, American Football, Owls, Joan of Arc, OwenGhosts and Vodka, Vermont, Maritime, and Make Believe. In other words, these five kids shaped the Midwestern indie/emo scene.

As an active band, Cap’n Jazz developed a small following. It wasn’t until after their break-up that popular emo label, Jade Tree, released Analphabetapolothology, a retrospective two-disc collection of their entire career, including Shmap’n Shmazz. The record solidified their stance as godfathers, ushering in a new generation of emo rock that is inclusive, rather than exclusive. Gems like “Little League”, “Yes, I am Talking To You”, “Forget Who We Are” and “Rocky Rococo” showcase the band at their best, with full on wailing vocals, confusing power chords, bubbling guitar tapping, and killer drumming; all weaved into abnormal song structures. They simultaneously sound like innocent teenagers and wise prophets.

Throughout Friday’s electrified show at the Black Cat in Washington, fans pleaded for Cap’n Jazz to stay together in between songs, and band members kept brushing them off. They didn’t even call it a reunion. “Don’t break up again!” a fan begged. “We can’t break up if we don’t really exist,” replied guitarist Davey von Bohlen. “You can’t kill me, I didn’t die.”

Ultimately, the show allowed fans and bandmates alike to both admire and put an end to the days of our youth. The days of roller coasters and hanging out at the movies and cards in the spokes and ill-fitting clothes and annoying parents and Bruce Lee and life-encompassing crushes are over. We’re adults now. Time to move on.

[On your morning commute you could read a poem on the subway walls. Or you could ride your bike to work, then write your own poetry in motion.  Make that a sestina. And as John Ashberry once said, writing sestinas is like riding a bicycle downhill and having the pedals push your feet.]

Light Wheels: A 10-Mile Sestina

5:30, and the window lets in light
From streetlamps, and the air
is barely blue, sharp-edged. Stretch
And find your way to shorts, unlock
your bike from where its wheels
Have climbed the walls all night, suspended.

The start is hard, suspended
Between sleep and work, but wind and light
Will fix that as you coast on wheels
That rattle lightly (get that checked). Breathe air.
Feel things clear. Look
Up to fill your eyes with space and stretch.

Don’t dawdle. Push. Race an empty stretch
Of wide gray early road. Suspend
Your fear of traffic crashes, brakes that lock.
You’re flying, focused, muscled, light,
Invincible and runny-nosed. Approach the bridge as air
Bends to let in sunlight, glittering on high-rise windows, on your wheels.

At this point, pause. Consider. You could be underground. The wheels
That sail could screech instead and darkly brake. The stretch
Could be to arch away from human smells. (Fresh air’s
An urban legend on the subway.) They could suspend
Your service, leave you nervous, blind and lightless.
You could be buried. Look,

Instead, you’re pushing up the bridge approach, legs unlocking,
And everything’s beneath you: the traffic rush and hum, your wheels,
The river, wide and pale with light,
The bridge’s solid flying stretch.
Above it, you, suspended–
As close as you can be to mid-air.

Arrive at work cold-nosed, with flying hair;
They won’t care. Lock
Your bike. There have been thefts. Suspend
Your helmet by your desk, a trophy or a scalp: Wheels
Brought me here, it says, but my own wheels. And stretch
At meetings, sure, but don’t be a jerk. Stretch lightly.

And regarding light, and air, and stretch:
Look, it comes again. For now, just know: the wheels, too, savor the suspense.

Micaela Blei is a teacher and writer who lives in Brooklyn and will soon celebrate her 10-year anniversary in NYC. She rides a KHS Flite 220 Flatbar.

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Listening To:

Sons of Dionysus

A Transmedia Novel of Myth, Mirth, and the Magical Excess of Youth.