Saturday, October 25, 2014

Jon Griffin Dies at the Age of 43

I didn't like Jon that much. He rolled with a crowd that I didn't fit into and didn't like me. But he was an artist and a dreamer. He was always into something artistic, showing up anywhere art was being done or sold, or late at night when streetlight people gathered at bars and lounges after the tourists were mostly gone. Everyone in town knew him.

His death saddens me. Yes, it's tragic to leave behind a toddling daughter, but that's not what I'm on about. It saddens me because here was this sensitive, artistic, dreaming, jerky soul that was snubbed out in America like he never had a chance. Too many people in my life have gone out like this. 

There's just no place for artists. They don't last long; they have too many natural predators. Heroin ended up getting Jon Griffin. This country has no patience for people with addiction. We treat it like a family secret, like a dark skeleton in the cellar who rattles inaudibly as we turn up the party music to drown out the racket. But I didn't even like Jon. I knew he was on the horse from time to time, but thought nothing of it and have no idea if anyone ever tried to help him. But I miss Jon Griffin.

A while back he started a gallery with some friends that quickly became a kind of all-ages, semi-illegal, underground rock club called GONE Studios. I didn't like GONE very much, but I ended up there from time to time, one of my best friends became an investor for a time, my band played there, and it helped spawn other art projects in town that were cool and interesting. My opinion always was, it's not for me, but I'm happy it exists. You need an underground art scene. You don't even know you need it, but you do. And it's going to be dirty, and smoky, and you're going to want to take a shower if you get into it for any length of time. Having lived in the underground art scene for huge chunks of my life, I didn't want to spend that much time with the people of GONE. Plus, there were drugs.

I've never been against drugs, but our attitude about them in this country is so myopic it's sickening. And maybe people like Jon wouldn't turn to them if there were a different attitude toward art in this country. Maybe Jon Griffin could have made ends meet if things were different. Maybe better access to grants, maybe cultural subsidies, maybe just a larger group of Americans who appreciate art and are willing to pay to support it. But who am I?

So you know how I felt about Jon while he lived, but I am deeply moved by his passing and filled with sorrow, too. And a lot of my friends loved him so much.  

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Thoughts on the Napa 2014 Quake

By now you've heard of the 6.0 Napa Quake in August costing businesses there a conservative $80,000,000. It's probably a lot more. Firstly, let me just say to all those idiots out there who keep saying 6.0 ain't no thing: It is. I grew up in LA and went to school in The Bay, and I will tell you, a 6.0 is major. Half the structural damage you won't notice for years, and you're lucky to have lived through it. And if you're a collector of little glass figurines, and you've put thousands of dollars and years of your time into the collection, imagine how you'd feel picking up its shards. Now imagine if that was a massive cellar of aging wine you'd planned on selling as part of an investment strategy for your business, or worse, retirement.

But that's not even the worst of it. You might have harvested and crushed and aged for a year. You were about to bottle to make room in barrels for an October harvest. Too bad; you just lost your 2013 batch. And if you'd already started on your 2014, tough break, kid.

And all of that is why I think Napa wines will be 15-30% more costly from 2013, 2014, and maybe even 2015. And that is probably mostly going to be on the shelves because wineries have already maxed out what they can charge tourists in Napa (they've been fleecing visitors more and more each year).

On another note, I hope there will be a cool factor associated with 2014, maybe even collector's edition bottles commemorating the great quake. I personally would like to have a few bottles in my cellar like that, break 'em out at parties and have a story to tell.

But here't the other thing: If I were a winery in Oregon, Washington, New York, Virginia, or maybe even France or Argentina, I would DROP my prices ever-so-slightly. No one is taking down Cali any time soon, but I do think there is some brand development opportunity available to anyone willing to make a go of it next year. "Hey Napa's expensive this year, but check out this similar quality Cab from XYZ. It's usually more expensive than Napa, but they've actually lowered their price this year, and now they're CHEAPER than the Napa label." That's the pitch. EASY!

But I really do feel for the citizens of Napa and to anyone who loves Napa wine. It's a tragedy, it really is.


Gone Girl

Gone Girl is a scary movie, and that's perfect for an October release. It keeps you on edge throughout, and it proves once again that David Fincher is a genius. He's probably the best director of our time, and there are far too many people out there who don't know his name or his body of work. That should change.

My reaction to the big reveal was infuriating. It's weird how people who say they love you can turn into horrible monsters, pragmatic destructors, who are willing to destroy themselves to hurt you. In the film, they give this villain a motive, but it isn't necessary. I knew a guy whose ex-wife broke into his house, stole his dog and everything he owned, and then emptied his bank account out of nowhere. No cheating, big fight, nothing.

Gone Girl is kind of an extreme reflection. It's the fun-house mirror of Hollywood so aptly angled by the prestidigital Fincher that makes it worthwhile. The Trent Reznor contribution shouldn't go unnoticed either. This director/scorer team-up is the best we've seen/heard since Tim Burton met Danny Elfman.

If you wait until it's out on DVD (a mistake) make sure you play it loud.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Celebrating at the Top

Let's say you had something to celebrate. Plus, there's a perplexingly pulchritudinous person whom you've convinced to participate in the celebration. Pray tell, where should you ponder your recent approbation? To where will you and this prepossessing partridge perambulate to partake in a phial of Champagne?

Well, I might make at least one major recommendation: the Mandarin Sky Lobby. There's a mysterious lounge up there on the 23rd floor masked by massive lenses with magnificent views of Las Vegas. If I may, men go mad for it, and ladies love it.

I was here for Perrier-Jouët, which they graciously serve by the glass, but their cocktail list looked proper, including a section dedicated to tea. The views really are fabulous, or fabuleaux, as they say down the street in Paris. The service, attentive but elegant—not pushy or rushed. A place like this could probably get away with letting some things slide; enough people are willing to pay preciously for the sophisticated vibe and views, so it's a testament to their managerial acumen that there's a high degree of attention to detail and an art to their service.


A note on parking:
It's easier, in a way to valet at Aria. The Mandarin is a large building, but its decor is somewhat subdued. If you're not familiar with its precise location, park at Aria, which has far easier traffic access from Las Vegas Blvd, IMHO, walk past their gorgeous fountain, follow the little signs, and you'll be in an elevator heading skyward in about 12 parsecs (45 seconds).

Sunday, October 19, 2014

American Books One Might Want to Get to Before Others

I have a new friend from England, C. C admits to being woefully underread when it comes to "American Classics."

C wanted a list of American books I thought were worth reading, so I made one. I stuck to ten novels. Here's my list:

  • To Kill a Mockingbird: Harper Lee wrote one of those books you can never unread. It's simply the truest American story ever told.
  • The crying of Lot 49: Thomas Pynchon's shortest novel isn't his best, but it's the best to get to know this writer and see if you want to try out heftier tomes like Gravity's Rainbow and V., which is my personal favorite.
  • On the Road: Kerouac beats Thompson when it comes to writing about the American Dream. I think I've read everything by Kerouac, and I like Lonesome Traveler more than On the Road, but you have to start at the beginning.
  • Lolita: Nabokov wrote possibly the best novel of the 20th century, called himself an American novelist, and the book takes place in the US, so don't try to tell me this doesn't count. If you can read, you have to read this.
  • The Sun Also Rises: Fucking Hemingway had to write this one first. I think it's his best book, and I think the way the Lost Generation felt might be the way this one does in a lot of ways. Anyway, I think it's timeless.
  • Sea Wolf: Jack London wrote the greatest sea adventure ever written, according to Carl Sandburg. How he's more famous for his dog books, I'll never understand. Anyway, this book is about a poet trapped on a ship with Nietzsche, and supposedly the captain is based on a real guy who used to go to one of my favorite bars on the planet: Heinhold's First and Last Chance Saloon.
  • Huck Finn or Tom Sawyer: You have to read one or both. It's mandatory. Race, youth, class, yeah, Mark Twain had it all.
  • The Catcher in the Rye: They make people read this one too young. Then they bury you with criticism about it. I think I've read this book four times. Each time, I get something different and hate my teachers more. 
  • Moby Dick: Melville's better book might be White Jacket, some people say, but I never read White Jacket more than once. Moby Dick is possibly the greatest novel ever written and is experimental by even today's standards. If you say it's slow, watch a YouTube video instead. Yes, when I read this the first time as a young man, I struggled through some of it, but argh, thank god I did. 
  • A Movable Feast: I feel a little guilty putting Papa on here twice. I'm not really a Hemingway freak, but this book has so much going for it. Wonder what it was like in Paris after the war? Read this. Gertrude Stein is in it. I love this book.

On a personal note:

  • Legend of Greystoke: When it comes to prolific sci-fi writers, Edgar Rice Burroughs is, in my opinion, the best. I know, Lovecraft. Yeah, Lovecraft is wonderful, and everyone should read at least the Mountains of Madness, but I had to cut him because Edgar Rice Burroughs is just a better writer in the end.

Canadian Honorable Mentions:

  • Yann Martel: Life of Pi and Virgil and Beatrice.
  • Douglas Coupland: Microserfs, Girlfriend in a Coma, Life after God, Generation X
  • Margaret Attwood: Handmaid's Tale

White guys I wanted to put on this list but didn't make it:

  • Truman Capote
  • Cormac McCarthy
  • William Faulkner
  • Thomas Wolfe
  • Henry Miller
  • Others already mentioned and even more I don't want to.

Women I should have put on this list:

  • Zora Neal Hurston
  • Toni Morrison
  • Kate Chopin

Black guys I should have put on this list:

  • Chester Himes
  • Ralph Ellison
  • Richard Wright
  • Ishmael Reed
  • Amiri Baraka
Anyway, that's my list. The last thing is, I think Howl should be mandatory American reading. It's a book of poetry, but I didn't want to leave this post without explicitly mentioning HOWL by Alan Ginsberg. I'll have to find C. a copy somewhere.

Rilke, W.H. Auden, and Pynchon

I've loved the three aforementioned writers for all of my adult life.

  • Pynchon wrote V., which I think is one of the great novels of the twentieth century, and it was his FIRST!
  • W.H. Auden and his wrecked face is the poster boy for poetry and poets. . . maybe he shares the poster with Jack Spicer?
  • Rilke, who doesn't love Rilke? The angels and all of that in the Duino Elegies? C'mon. I read a good bit of it all in German years ago, and I just love Rilke.
But I never made the connection between them. I didn't know Auden and Pynchon were both totally into Rilke.

Today I was writing, working on my next book of poems, The Chris Hemsworth Sonnets, which I hope to have finished before they kill off Thor in the movies. And I was stuck on Rilke. I had Rilke on the brain. Jeder Engel ist Schrecklich! Was the newest poetical Ohrwurm. I decided to Google around and ended up at the bottom of a Wikipedia page and boom.

And things, loose strands of wire, broken synapses, copper sparking in the ether, all sprang to life in my tiny little head.

Also today, I was watching the latest episode of Dr. Who and an ad came on about a movie the BBC has done about Dylan Thomas. I'll be watching that. 

Rilke, Thomas, Roethke? Yeah, for some reason, this all reminded me of this short poem »

Friday, October 17, 2014

The Boulevardier

I met a delightful person today who claimed to love bourbon. Favorite bourbon? Bulleit Rye. "How do you like it?" "In a shot glass next to my beer or in a Boulevardier."

I adored this answer partly because it sounded honest and true, and partly because I had not heard of anyone drinking a Boulevardier in ages. It's one of those Negroni bastards you unfortunately don't see around very often, but it's a delicious cocktail and one worth exploring. Also, documented references to this drink predate the Negroni, which I find mildly interesting.

Here's a history of the drink »
Here's a recipe »
Here's a very slightly different recipe »

I have had it in a cocktail glass, but I prefer brown spirits in a rocks/old-fashioned glass for purely aesthetic reasons.

So, this person and I are going to get dressed up in the middle of the night, go to a whiskey bar, and order Boulevardiers. I'll take pictures.

Also, there's some controversy regarding Campari. So here's a link to that if you care about controversy. My personal take is I'd rather eat as few bug butts as possible. I mean, there's an acceptable amount of insect parts in everything we eat, but yeah, I prefer not to jump in and eat them on purpose. I don't see it as a betrayal that a company might change its recipe ever so slightly every hundred or so years either. Times, tastes, and what's acceptable to stick in one's mouth change, people.

Obligatory literary rye reference.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Liquid Nitrogen and Centrifuges

Liquid nitrogen is a toy I'd love to play with. I remember thinking it could freeze a person instantly like Sylvester Stalone and Wesley Snipes in Demolition Man. Now I want to chill glasses with it and make weird caviar things.

Maybe it's my love of science, maybe it's my love of good show, but I really want to have a go with it. What excitement people demonstrate when they see the explosion of gas or get super-cooled strawberries in their mouths and breath cold white smoke out their noses like dragons! And it happens to be useful.

I also want a centrifuge. I want to separate the solids out of juices and carbonate them in bottles. Once at Billy Sunday in Chicago I had a Fernet and Cola in a bottle that was made that way. I don't know if they used a centrifuge, but it was a perfect drink, and I think doing Gin and Tonics that way could be incredible. Also, punches might be interesting to serve in house bottles. ARGH! the possibilities are limitless.

If I get to manage a cocktail bar soon, or if I start my own speak easy up again, I'm going to get a centrifuge at the very least. I'd love to get a freezer cold enough for liquid nitro, but that might have to wait. They're a little expensive.

But the future of mixology is now!

Some of it's so old it's new again. Dave Arnold is also using hot pokers to burn up some hot cocktails the way they did in the olden days at his bar, Booker and Dax. I love this guy and what he's doing.

Here's a link to an article about some of the cooler cocktail bars I like out there »

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

The Dirty Martini

I've always enjoyed a Dirty Martini. It's one of my all-time favorite drinks. I fill a shaker with ice, pour in gin (usually Tanqueray), dash in just a bit of dry vermouth, and I give it a good dash of olive brine. I swirl the shaker, a compromise I settled on during a shaken-or-stirred discussion long ago. Then, I strain it in the art-deco ornament that is the towering, unwieldy cocktail glass. I throw two olives straight in, so they rest at the bottom.

Why dirty?
First, the saltiness is a reminder that this is an adult activity. This is not a saccharine sticky dessert. This is not a stash of candy to lure the unsuspecting tween. This is a true testament to alcohol and maturity. But that's not all. The olive juice can ruin the drink if you're not careful. A bartender can screw the whole pooch if he or she adds too much or too little. It's a challenge. Plus, you've got to have decent olives. No one wants nasty old stale olives.

But if you're making it yourself at home, what could be easier? Make it to your own taste and enjoy. If you're at a party, everyone will make it differently, which is kind of fun.

And there's something classy about this silver fox. It's one of the oldest cocktails, and all kinds of celebrities have uttered all sorts of wonderful quotes about it. If you like the Dirty Martini, you're in good company.

Here's a good short article I found about it »

Anyway, I've been drinking a lot of them lately.

It might be because I'm currently out of Fernet and the liquor store is sold out for now.

Monday, October 13, 2014

Paradise Falls

Every town you pass
was once a cute place
when the leaves were green,
and the mills and factories,
the hood ornaments of industry,
where men and women paired off
to pass up opportunities
in profit palaces,
where monied people
leave full purses
on your doorstep for smiling
like rainbows on Sundays,
to settle in a cute town,
raise families,
status symbols,
run lines of razorwire
round the perimeters,
kill possums with passion,
catch fish with sons,
hang balls on boughs come Christmas,
eat well at dinner parties,
wake up worrying about nothing,
to work.