Saturday, November 29, 2008


The last time I was in Portland, I had never used a cell phone. Elliott Smith was still alive. I spent my average night on AIM. My favorite movie was Good Will Hunting. I could count the number of drinks I'd had on one hand. I couldn't name you more than two Bob Dylan albums. Most of my favorite books -- Anna Karenina, Lolita, Watchmen -- I'd never picked up. Many of my good friends were strangers.

Five and a half years is a long time.

I remember walking around Portland in spring 2003, Either/Or on my headphones, thinking I'd never make it past 19. I remember the future feeling like something alien, something that didn't concern me. Something that other people worried about and looked forward to. Now I'm 23, listening to "Alameda" on YouTube for the 8th straight time, thinking I'll never make it past 24.

There's nothing like a person or place from the past to remind you of how little you've changed. Five and a half years is a long time, but some things just won't quit.

Friday, November 28, 2008

A summation of this trip

I'm sitting in wet boxers. On a Comfort Suite loveseat. In Portland. It is our first night in town. We went to a Rogue bar, which was really quite something. I got the hat from there. We tried to attend a Trailblazers game tonight, only to find out that the cheapest tickets left were $100-plus. About a half-hour ago, Sean and I hit up the Comfort Suites pool and hot tub, just before closing. Hence the clingy boxers. We also went to a Burger King across the street, where, I leading the way, we ordered steakhouse mushroom 'n' swiss burgers with veggie patties. The Burger King was completely empty, so I don't think the cashier minded the special order. Tomorrow, we head to the famous Powell's Books, as well as a number of breweries. Photos of Portland will follow.

Thanksgiving dinner and Rachel Getting Married

Sean and I had Thanksgiving dinner with Thomas (Sean's friend with whom we're staying) and his family. It was a warm, pleasant time. Every pissant bone in my body was melted.

After dinner, Sean and I went to Rachel Getting Married. I thought it was quite good, despite the severe case of motion sickness that struck me after five minutes of jittery camerawork. The director, Jonathan Demme, shot Married in the Dogma 95 tradition, a movement I've always liked in theory more than in practice (look, we use cinematic artifice to make the film look like a documentary. so natural! so real!)

The camerawork aimed for a psychological effect (intimacy) but instead got a physiological one (nausea). Assuming that you might be less prone to this side-effect than I am, I'd highly recommend Married. I loved how the film was political at heart, yet never once made any of its themes explicit. The marriage in Married, both the actual ceremony and the interracial union in particular, represents a liberal wet dream of multiculturalism and collectivism (notice how Demme incorporates video his actors shot into the final movie). So, in short, it's fun, devastating, and always engaging to watch Anne Hathaway self-destruct amidst the blue state Utopia.

Music I've bought this trip

This trip will be a bit of a last hurrah for me in terms of buying music. At least for a month or two, I plan to go on vacation from obsessive record store rummaging.

So here are the discs I've picked up -- all used, all under 10 bucks -- on this trip.

Sonic Youth: Sister
Pavement: Wowee Zowee
Patti Smith: Easter
Charles Mingus: The Black Saint and the Sinner Lady
Iggy and the Stooges: Raw Power
Wire: Pink Flag
Brian Eno: Here Come the Warm Jets

I think I could go a month only listening to these records, easy.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Wang Chung'd part deux and drive to Seattle

So, we went back to the auto glass repair place. The window was back to normal, though we noticed for the first time that the bandits had left a few items of their own for us. Perhaps they were trading: $1000 worth of electronic devices for a can of tuna and one bent-to-shit Hustler. Chris picked up the Hustler with the tips of his fingers, as our old friend the attendant smiled, "Oh ya, you'd be surprised how much stuff like this we find in people's cars." He then began flipping through the Hustler for a good ten seconds. "As long as they're not kissing each other..."

As we drove away, we spent several seconds theorizing on what that meant. Probably something homophobic, we decided.

Anyway, here are some more photos. These include our drive from Seattle, as well as one choice shot of Chris rocking "The M."

Monday, November 24, 2008

Getting "Wang Chung'd" in Vancouver

This morning, Sean had to wake up at 6am to renew his parking spot in a back alley lot.

At about 6:15am, Chris and I woke up to Sean's stammering voice: "Guys, my car got broke into. They shattered the back window."

Vancouver has been an interesting time.

The bandits made off with a number of electronic appliances, totaling about $1000 worth of Sean's stuff.

As the sun rose, we killed time in a coffee shop until Broco, a window repair shop, opened at 8:30am. We drove for quite a while to find a coffee shop with parking directly in front of it, so we could keep an eye on the car.

At Broco, we met a very interesting attendant. He referred to our encounter as getting "Wang Chung'd"; suggested that we kill the immediate hours at an "exotic ballet" club featuring "the extreme team"; expressed his disappointment with American strip clubs because the strippers "always had their underwear on"; riffed on his disgust of clean needle programs and drug addicts; and derided Canada's social welfare programs in general, joking "Hell, I bet you guys could get some welfare right now, and you're not even citizens."

Right now we are killing the hours until we can pick up the repaired car. We're considering asking this man for his thoughts on immigrants when we return, to bait him into another diatribe. Something like, "Man, there're a lot of people who don't speak English here. We're not used to that in Iowa. What's the deal?"

I'll post developments as they, well, develop.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

More photos from first day in Vancouver and the drive up

Drive to Vancouver

Here's what we saw on the long, long drive from Missoula to Vancouver. We took the scenic route through the mountains, the novelty of which pretty much instantly wore off once the sun went down and we were stuck in curvy, 45mph roads.

Here's our view from the Super 8 in Missoula.

We got stuck in mountain traffic in a standstill for about 20 minutes. To pass the time, we got out and took pictures.

Saturday, November 22, 2008


Just woke up from four and one-half hours of sleep. Have that three six mafia song that won an Oscar stuck in my head for no reason. It will be a long day.

Bro'd Trip Day 2: From Denver to Missoula

Evening, ladies and germs.

I am two days deep in a delirious, 12-day bro road trip (or bro'd trip) with two great friends, Chris and Sean. I will be updating this blog throughout our fun-ventures with photos and the occasional pithy insight. But, mostly, it'll just be photos like this:

Below you'll see Sean (seen above), Chris, and the sights of a 14-hour drive from Denver to Missoula, Montana.

Next up: Sleep. Then Vancouver.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Obama-as-cult-leader, meet Obama-as-anti-Christ

Some people just won't quit.

In the link above, you'll see a just-published Newsweek column on Barack Obama's similarities to the anti-Christ. Obama-as-anti-Christ, of course, is a sister talking point to the Obama-as-Hitler and Obama-as-cult-leader memes.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Wesley Pruden and the Obama-as-cult-leader meme

Of all the "conceptual scoop" stories from this past election cycle, none offended me more than the Obama-as-cult-leader meme.

Does it ring a bell?

If you recall, this narrative reached its zenith in February, when a slew of conservative and pro-Hillary columnists scrambled to frame Obama's popularity in negative terms. Faced with a candidate adored by millions, a candidate who inspired apathetic young people to become politically engaged, a candidate surging in the national polls against Hillary Clinton, these writers attempted the seemingly impossible: to use Obama's popularity against him.

In a 20-day span, stories exploiting the "cult meme" appeared in:

New York Times (Krugman)
New York Sun (Skenazy)
Washington Post (Krauthammer)
Los Angeles Times (Stein)
Boston Herald (Fitzgerald)
Politico (Lerer)
ABC News (Tapper)
Time (Klein)
Washington Times (Pruden)

This post focuses on that final name, Wesley Pruden. He's the editor emeritus of the Washington Times, a conservative daily with a circulation of about 93,775. Pruden has written a twice-weekly column titled "Pruden on Politics" for the Times since 1993.

From the Iowa caucuses on January 3 to Election Day on November 4, 2008, Pruden published 86 columns in the Washington Times, 84 of which mentioned Barack Obama, according to my search on LexisNexis. I read every single one of these columns -- don't ask me why -- and I can safely say that Wesley Pruden was one of the most ardent advocates of the Obama-as-cult-leader meme.

Here are the numbers:
  • Number of stories in which Obama supporters are described as members of a "cult": 7.
  • Number of references to Obama as "the Anointed One": 7.
  • Number of references to Obama supporters as "glassy-eyed": 10.
  • Number of references to Obama as "the American Idol": 11.
  • Number of references to Obama as a "messiah": 16.
And this is just a taste. There are countless, less enumerable examples. On July 15, for example, Pruden previewed Obama's Germany address by writing "Soon Obama is off to Berlin in pursuit of a Leni Riefenstahl to duplicate spectacle when he stands before the Brandenburg Gate." Riefenstahl, of course, was Adolf Hitler's propagandist. There's a lot of user-made bullshit online comparing Obama to Hitler (I thought about embedding a YouTube video, but I didn't want to up the view count. Feel free to Google the two men's names for a torrent of Photoshopped images and the like), but for a veteran editor and journalist to use the hateful comparison is astounding.

In his very last column before Election Day, Pruden went all out with an extended comparison between Obama and the Pied Piper. The comparison, he wrote, lied in both men's ability "to identify with children." Obama, thus, sends us impressionable young people into a trance, like the mythical Pied Piper. He elsewhere referred condescendingly to Obama supporters as "robots" and "crazies" who're duped into submission by their "orator Prince."

So what was the harm in all of this? Why have I spent so much time detailing Pruden's attempts to frame Obama as a cult leader and his supporters as cultists?

I have two reasons.

First, I believe writers like Pruden created an environment for this line of attack:

Pruden even linked Obama to Paris Hilton and Brittany Spears a full six months before John McCain's campaign.

Second, and more importantly, I found the Obama-as-cult-leader meme shockingly offensive. I worked as a new media intern for Obama's campaign in Iowa. I met dozens of young Obama supporters, college kids who took semesters off to work for the senator. According to Pruden and other right-wing columnists, we were a group of Kool-Aid-drinking drones. We worshipped Obama as though he were "born in a stable in Bethlehem," as though we were an impressionable mass of Obama Youth.

I can understand wanting to tear down a political opponent, but this line of attack was downright socially irresponsible. We are a country marked by low voter turnout among young people, no one can deny that. My generation, prior to this election, was defined by its apathy. So it is inexcusible for Pruden and other conservatives to have framed young political activism as fanatical and cult-like; their words did nothing but make apathy more appealing to people my age. Plenty of kids I knew internalized the Obama-as-cult-leader meme during this election -- some even cited it to justify their political detachment.

Pruden, more so than any mainstream writer I've come across, pushed this message mercilessly, week after week. Along with every other writer who propelled this opportunistic, destructive attack, he ought to be ashamed of himself.

Monday, November 3, 2008

YES: Video of Malkmus covering "Funk #49"

As I mentioned in my last post, one of the absolute highlights of Stephen Malkmus' Halloween set in Iowa City was a balls-out cover of The James Gang's "Funk #49."

Some good soul in St. Louis managed to do what I should have done that night: Get it on video.


Sunday, November 2, 2008

Stephen Malkmus in Iowa City

It was a perfect storm: Friday night // Halloween // Stephen Malkmus // The Picador.

The night began at about 5pm. I called the Picador to ask about tickets. Only 20 left, I was told. I got in my car, bumped "Black Book," and rushed to the Iowa City staple.

Just as I entered, a man exited the bar, looking eerily like the guy in this video:

I bought my ticket at the bar and neurotically speedwalked up the street. I wanted to prove to myself that it was him. I knew if I didn't, I'd bore friends the rest of the night with my "I think I saw Malkmus, but man, I shoulda said something" stories.

Malkmus, whom I've written about before, wore thick glasses, a plaid shirt, and had a backpack strapped tight up against his back, like a real nerd. A quarter-block up the street he stopped to get something out of his bag. I walked past him and pretended to read a text-message. I was 90 percent sure it was him. I flipped my phone closed and took the ticket out of my shirt pocket. Then we had this exchange:

Me: "I think I just bought a ticket to see you."
Malkmus: "Oh, yeah? Thanks."
Me: "I'm really looking forward to it."
Malkmus: "It should be fun. All the kids'll be in costume."
Me: "Do you have a costume?"
Malkmus: "You know, not yet."
Me: "But yeah, I think you guys are great."
Malkmus: "Thanks. You know, Blitzen Trapper's really good, too."
Me: "Yeah, I'm excited to see them, too. I hope you like Iowa City."
Malkmus: "Thanks. It should be a good night."

I can't imagine a better way to get pumped up before a show.

At the Picador, Malkmus performed songs from his four post-Pavement records -- Stephan Malkmus, Pig Lib, Face the Truth, and this year's Real Emotional Trash -- and one left-field cover. He shared the stage with his Jicks: Mike Clark, former Sleater-Kinney drummer Janet Weiss, and former Elliott-Smith-dater Joanna Bolme.

I can't provide a setlist because I didn't know every song they played, but I can tell you a few of the songs he definitely did play (highlights in bold):

Pencil Rot
Freeze the Saints
Church on White
Jenny and the Ess Dog
Hopscotch Willie
Dragon Fly Pie
Real Emotional Trash
Cold Son

And that left-field cover? Just picture Malkmus and the Jicks reemerging for their encore. Then picture the Blitzen Trapper gang trailing behind them. Then picture Malkmus, sans guitar, take the mic off the stand. From a crowded stage erupts a rendition of this:

Malkmus, who operated with relative restraint all evening, belted the lyrics to The James Gang's "Funk #49" while us kids went apeshit. He started busting out moves from the bravado rock 'n' roll playbook -- doing jump-kicks after each chorus, falling onto his back, singing on the floor, etc. It was perhaps the most over-the-top encore I've ever seen.

Exhausted with an uncontrollable grin, I left the bar and struck "Stephan Malkmus" from my list of artists to see before I die.