Saturday, July 17, 2010

The Great Albums of All Time in No Particular Order (entry #8)

Joy Division-Unknown Pleasures & Closer 1979/1980 (Factory Records)

So in 1980, at around the ripe old age of 16, I was getting into New Wave and Electronic music in a reaction to the same old “Cock Rock” that my annoying high school peers seemed to fall so easily into (when I was younger it was mostly only the Beatles that did it for me-my Dad had most of their stuff-though I also got in Queen and ELO for good measure). So yeah, it was stuff like Gary Numan, Ultravox and the Cars that were doing it for me and I was immediately an outcast with a very small horde of like minded folks at my typical, middle class suburban high school. I recall one day during a “do nothing in the school library class period” getting a hold of the latest issue of Rolling Stone and hitting the record reviews. There was a combo review of Joy Division and PIL (Johnny Rotten aka Lyndon’s new act). They were reviewing Joy Division’s “Unknown Pleasures” and “Closer” post the suicide of Ian Curtis and PIL’s “Second Edition” (or the Metal Box-a novelty in record packaging). All three records got 5 stars and they sounded, based on the reviews. to be even more alien that the New Wave and Electro-pop I was already measuring.

It didn’t take me long to hit my local record shop and seek these out. And boy was this a new sound to my young ears for sure. I’ll address PIL another time (Second Edition is mind blowing and also has easily stood the test of time) but Joy Division fit perfectly in my happy but seemingly bleak/dismal suburban circumstances and my black hole got blacker and better with each listen. I was on my own. The Metalheads could never understand and that was great as a budding elitist-they could never “get” Joy Division and they could never have it.

This is the first in my series to combine two albums and it is because the reality and mythology behind them are so very intertwined. As you should know, Ian Curtis, the lead singer, committed suicide after the release of “Closer”, on the eve of their US tour. He suffered from epilepsy and the main story of this is documented in the 2007 movie “Control” which does a great job of capturing the zeitgeist of the situation.

Regarding the tracks, I will not comment on all of them. For example, the first track on “Unknown Pleasures”, “Disorder” is a forgettable proto punk/disco/funk workout that doesn’t work out. But immediately, the rest of side one, is pure perfection-I can’t think of a string of 4 songs that are any better. “Day of the Lords” might be the best heavy metal song ever laid down. “Candidate” is a metaphor for how a lover is like a politician-“I tried to get to you, you treat me like this”. “Insight” is a post Krautrock nervefest-it drills and drills and works out a compelling urge. “New Dawn Fades” portends what will happen to Ian, of course, in hindsight. It is a completely enthralling, brooding track with this caveat- “Directionless so plain to see, A loaded gun won't set you free. So you say”. He used a noose instead of a gun.

Side Two is kicked off with “She’s Lost Control”, the track famous for the beat augmented by the aerosol canister effect make famous by their supposed “hippie” producer Martin Hannett. All happy accidents and random genius. “Wilderness” and “Interzone” are probably the most future seeking punk tracks out there and have stood the test of time.

And then we arrive at their second proper album and, of course, the last one. Funny thing about me-I always thought side two was side one and vice versa. After all, the last track on side one is “A Means To An End”. Ergo.

But I will not defer to my preferences but report out on the way it was. “Atrocity Exhibition” name checks the novel by JG Ballard who is best known for “Crash” which was adapted for the screen by David Cronenberg. If you want to see what Ian sees, “This is the way, step inside” as if he is at a total freak show. Which he was. “Isolation” is the epitome of new wave post-disco of that era. It’s bleak but you can dance to it.

Side Two is the piece de resistance. “Heart and Soul” is a droning, repetitive treatise on what might be considered “love”. This track racks my mind forever. “Twenty Four Hours” creates the quiet/loud formula that Nirvana worked so well. Again, the lyrics are very foreboding: “Just for one moment, thought I'd found my way/Destiny unfolded, I watched it slip away”. The tension and the rhythm on this track are very intense.

This album closes out with “The Eternal” and “Decades”, two of the most sad dour tracks ever laid down yet utterly poignant. This is not punk, not rock, not nothing. It is pure art. To be sure, there is nothing that was like this prior. Joy Division set a new standard with these tracks and nothing has matched it since. The End.

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Machu Picchu Man

Time for a change, mi amigos. For the last year, Lyz and I have been meeting up every 3 months approximately like clockwork. I get 3 vacation weeks a year so I leverage a week plus weekends minus travel time for at least a week together. Not perfect but thems the breaks. But this time, since she is coming to the US soon (!), I wanted to get her out of her comfort zone a little and have her travel outside of Colombia for the first time (San Andres Isla sorta counts since it is in the Caribbean but it is still a Colombian territory), so Peru was on my list and close to her, so hey, why not?

After all, Peru is considered a cool place to hang out and whatnot based on the fact that Machu Picchu is considered a lifetime must do. In short, arrangements were make for both of us to fly and meet up. Couldn’t arrange to arrive on the same day but close enough. And in our research, of course, the iconic Incan sanctuary of Machu Picchu, had to be on the agenda. Long story short, we were luckily able to book to go there. And it ain’t easy. Why? One, there had been a major, major set of mudslides in late January in the canyon leading to it that wiped out parts of the rail line, the only way to get there (ie: no friggin’ roads-that is how inaccessible it is). Therefore, ALL access from late January to late March had been closed. I mean, you could not get there at all (the National Park that houses it was completely closed to all visitors) and they had to evacuate all residents and locals of the area by helicopter about 20 at a time because no supplies could get it at all. No train, no bus, no car period.

However, they managed to fix some of the rail by the end of March and reopen the final stretch from Pisco Cucho where the last real road is. Therefore, you can still NOT take the full rail from Cusco in the way it used to be (and as shown on No Reservations a few years back with the soft lifestyle loving Anthony Bourdain). Anyway, I digress, let’s start with our original arrival in Lima a few days before Machu Picchu (ie: MP)…

Back to Lima. Lima is on the coast. It doesn’t really rain here. Yet Lima is grey based on some sort of microclimate I guess (like Paris, one of the places on earth with the worst climate, food, culture and people-yes, I digress yet again-but seriously, I was in Paris in 2004, thought it would be worse than it was but it is grey and ugly and boring and the women think they are fashionable but they are so spastically ugly, at least style-wise, it is time to agree that France may have had it’s heyday-about 50-200 years ago) and bland and not much of anything.

We went from the airport to pick up or car rental on a Sunday and proceed down the coast to the area called Miraflores and our hotel. My understanding is that Lima Centro is so sad that most every “turista” stays about 15 miles away in Miraflores, a more upscale and “safe” locale.

Miraflores is fine but the feel and architecture is wanting. In short, it’s a little leafy and serviceable but that is it.

That’s OK. I didn’t want to see Lima-I want to see Lyz! We drove along the coastal parks and then got some rest before heading to our reservation at the Huaca Pucclana Restaurante at the ancient ruins (from about 500 AD) of the same name:

Peruvian and particularly Liman cuisine have a great international reputation and for good reason. In Portland, Andina is great and in San Francisco, Limon is also awesome. Ceviche is the starting point (google it if you are not familiar with it) and the cuisine is generally seafood oriented and very fresh. This place has a great reputation and it is deserved. The quinoa (probably the healthiest grain on earth) and bean/queso salad I ordered as an appetizer was world class-almost a meal in itself with a universe of flavors.

However, our seafood dishes were not standouts and the coup de grace came with the bill. There was an item on there called a “cubierto” of about 15%. Essentially it means a “cover” and specifically in Peru it means a “silverware” fee I have learned through multiple local sources. In essence, it means everyone is paying for the “cost” of stolen silverware. I kid you not. I am not a millionaire, but I have never, ever stolen silverware at nice restaurants and I have been to tons. And I assume the other folks at these restaurants don’t need to do the same. Yet, this is the rationale. Well, when it came to tip time, instead of writing in numerals I wrote “cubierto”. I feel sorry if the servers got screwed but if so that is on management and I sent them an e-mail to such effect and, of course, they have not responded almost a month later. This is something that HAS to be communicated upfront and in advance. It is not an Anglo concept for sure.

So we got some rest and headed to Ica. Sunday traffic in Lima is manageable (after all, it's a nominal Catholic country and Domingo aka Sunday, is a supposed day of rest)., Monday morning trying to get out is a total nightmare. Peruvians of Inca descent are generally tiny (think Vietnam where I am a tall Mofo-it's the same here as I am short but tall by local measures). But they drive like they think they are 6'6”. At least in Lima, but my standards (and I have driven all over the world and can deal with most anything) this is depressing. Stop signs?! Ignore them at all cost. Actual traffic light? Well, they are mostly respected. I do argue that the average sad and soft American driver (the biggest pussies on the planet, natch, I curse them daily on our easy highways and freeways) in the middle of third or second world driving would, within 10 minutes, pull over and start crying and abandon their rental car. As I said, pussies/putas.

I can deal with it but Lyz thinks I am nuts. But I can deal with these folks. But I am not happy about it. I am supposed to be on VACATION. In due time, we exit Lima on the way to Ica (200 miles away) and all is “claro”. We are on the famous Pan American highway and all is well. Screw Lima. We are heading to Ica. Land of Sand And Sand And Sand. I can “dig” it.

On the way down the coast we encounter some pretty desolate sand. And more sand. Did I say sand?

At times we slowed down in local towns like Chincha. We bought some Pisco (essentially a liquor distilled from grapes-thanks to the Spanish who obviously were here and needed to get wasted and named after the very nearby city of Pisco that we drove by but did not have time to get off the Pan American highway and visit and where a very nasty earthquake hit three years earlier) for Lyz's papi. In short, I was digging the landscape as I love the open feel of a desert as opposed to the closed feel of big conifers and whatnot.

In Ica, we stayed at the noble and established, El Carmelo (not Anthony) Hacienda. Check out the website:

This dude has established a total compound to be sure with a mini-zoo, I kid you not and some of the most amazing cacit ever-I am a cacti fiend now that I live in the SW and I would kill for some the strains I saw and that I documented in my photos on my Webshots link.

It was off season (which it seems to be wherever I travel) and I think we might have been the only folks who checked in on that Monday or even the past week. This place is on the outskirts of town which is good and bad. This place has 50 or so rooms and we were at the end near the zoo yet it was still noisy. It has a pool which looked nice but maybe being in the desert water is a big commodity and the water was a little green and sitting at the pool we got a full afternoon sound of construction on one of the units where they seemed to be installing a new toilet. Lovely. So relaxing.

That night we drive into the Centro of Ica and park at the main parque. We need comida (food). We are definitely outcasts (a vanilla and a chocolate in the land of who knows what) here even though the Oasis at Huacachina (a few miles away) draws loads of turistas. We find a local restaurant with some local cuisine and I do try this pretty cool mix of arroz and frijolies called “Tacu Tacu” which consists of a rice and beans pancake, a thin "sábana" (sheet) of steak and some pickled red onions.

The next morning we are heading off for the event of the day. Dunebuggying and sandboarding at Huacachina-a real desert Oasis. Now I have been on rollercoasters. Cedar Point. Ohio. (BTW, the worst State in the nation for sure. But I digress yet again). I like rollercoasters. You feel like you are going to vomit. Vomiting is cool. But screw rollercoasters. Once you have been at the top of a sanddune strapped in and the guy drops you down the dune with his buggy, all rollercoasters are completely soft after that. There is no going back. This is the best ever. WOW. What a trip and at only about $15 per person for over an hour of manic fun. And don't ever get me started on the loco sandboarding. That is the bomb AND included in the preco. It's like skiing but not like skiing. It is all loco downhill action without the back and forth. I approve.

So we have to get back to Lima so we can fly out to Cusco in the morning. After getting pretty lost, we find and the car rental place and barely make our flight on Taca Airlines, a Central and South American line that has great prices, at least for this trip ($75 R/T each for an hour flight each way). We arrive in Cusco after some amazing Andian montana scenery and the altitude hits immediately-we are at 11,000 feet more or less.

We adjust and taxi to central Cusco to meet Julian, a German family friend of my parents who I have only e-mailed with before who is doing the young college student hangout thing of sorts, at a pizza place for lunch before transporting to Ollanta and our rail trip to Aguas Calientes (Warm Waters-or Machu Picchu town as it is now known). We arrange transport and manage to get to Ollanta just in time for the Perurail bus to Pisco Cucho . The temperature is cooling and we have to drag our bags down to the rail line. Pisco Cucho is far from a major rail station. We make it and we get to our seats and we are finally off to our destination. It was not easy but it worked somehow but not without some trepidation.

We arrive and check in at the Rupa Wasi Inn/Ecolodge

It's a cool place and they messed up our reservation (they didn't have our room ready so we got a free meal at their restaurant-the guy who runs it is a chef and the food was absolutely amazing-better than Huaca Pucclana in Lima-the alpaca was great-tastes like chicken!).

So we ate and were happy and were tired and ready to head to Machu Picchu in the morning (We bought our tickets that night-it ain't cheap $45 a person) and everyone says to go early to avoid the crowds and the sun so we were up at 5 am to leave at 6 am to get there before 7 am.

Of course, we had morning clouds but once we did the walk up, well, it was spectacular. I mean, an amazing combination of setting and history and architecture. The photos I have posted can not do it justice. It is simply awe inspiring. I have nothing else to say.

We did a group tour around and then had some time to hang with the llamas. The llamas were cool. We stayed about 4 hours and got tired out and headed back by bus to Aguas Calientes.

We proceeded to eat a faux Mexican lunch (every place in town advertised Mexican cusina-I guess because of the gringo crowd) and rest some more. The altitude was not good for Lyz (she took the appropriate medication in advance) but she did OK.

In the evening, we went to the official “Aguas Calientes” spa and it was fine but a little less than impressive. And we ate at the Treehouse yet again. I had an great quinoa risotto and Lyz had vegetarian lasagna.

The next morn we headed back by train to Cusco-another whole day event as we hooked up for transport with some Dutch doctors we met at MP and they already had transport arranged and paid for-we pitched in.

However, instead of high tailing it back to Cusco they are had some side trips arranged that “killed” some time for Cusco. We hit some natural salt flats. They were salty and dull. We then drove to a “moray” where the Incas developed some micro climates by creating some terraces down in a valley of sorts. While great feats of engineering, the diversion out of the way was just not worth it and left us with little time in Cusco as we had hoped to get there by 4 pm but now it was 5:30 when we arrived at El Balcon, our latest hotel. And we were supposed to meet up again with Julian at the Plaza de Armas at 6 pm so the timing was very tight and, of course, we were a little late.

But it all worked out. We started to make plans for dinner. But first I had to buy an alpaca sweater and I got a completely sweet one for about $15. So we headed to dinner and I ordered a platter of carnes including “cuy” better known as guinea pig (tastes like chicken!). After that we hit this totally locals place were we had pitchers of a hot local brew (remember it is 11,000 feet and pretty darn cold at night) that I think cost about $5 a pitcher or less than a dollar per dose! Then we hit this loco shot bar where we did shots. It was muy mal:)!

And then we hit this really nice disco where the techno was blasting in the best way possible and I could actually dance to music that was not stupido. I was able to stay up until almost two but after being up from about 5 the morning before I was toast. We got 3 hours of sleep and, unfortunately, had to fly back to Lima because that is how the flights were aligned. But remember, we paid $75 each R/T and yet we paid $96 each R/T just to go about 20 kms from Pisco Cucho to Aguas Calientes on a train each way. Talk about monopolies.

We went back to Miraflores in Lima and hit this famous restaurant called La Mar.

The seafood (calamari and cebiche) was great (and the owner is a bud of Anthony Bourdain-see season 4 of No Reservations) but the service was a mess. I ordered some sushi to go and it took 50 minutes to prepare! Luckily, our waiter was great and was also upset over the situation so the sushi was comped as well as dessert. This place is only open in the afternoon (ceviche is supposed to only be consumed in the afternoon as the acid in it is supposedly bad for sleeping) so we had plenty of comida for the evening before an early night of sleep.

The next morning, we got up very early (Lyz's flight on Copa thru Panama City was at 7 am) and headed our respective ways. In closing, right after we got back home, Lyz got notification that my application for her visa was approved and the next step, as expected, was for her to get her interview in Bogota at the US Consulate. They have until 8/12 to have her interview. We think she will get it in July and then once approved on the spot she can come right away. Then she should be here no later than late July and all will be cool. I am needing to see her bad!

Windsor is 15 on May 31st

I have done some research but can't find anything definitive about this breed of dogs and how long they have lived. When I had one as a kid, it lived till about 12 and even then it's health was very, very bad-poor Barney. Windsor will be 15 tomorrow and while her eyesight and hips are pretty bad, she is still doing quite fine and I am thinking she will make it to 16. Sometimes I have to pull her up off the tile or the carpet so she can walk but she can still move when she feels it and that is good. I adore her and I will cry for days when she leaves this mortal coil.

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Greatest dead people of all time (entry #1)-Rowland S. Howard

Well, I have to start somewhere. And Rowland's death at 50 really hits me. I mean this Aussie bloke is pretty much one of the greatest guitarist and musicians ever. Period.

I reacted here first:

And here is his myspace page:

Damn. I mean this guy is one of the best ever and his singular voice will be missed forever.

Friday, January 1, 2010

The Great Albums of All Time in No Particular Order (entry #7)

Bauhaus-Burning From the Inside (Beggars Banquet-1983)

Perhaps the title refers to the status of the band during the recording sessions-after all, they broke up after this release and didn't get back together until 1998 for two shows after numerous side and solo projects and didn't release another studio album for another 10 years. Some critics contend that the friction that was reported impacted the quality of this album. I argue that it lent it much gravity and diversity showing that great art can arise from great strife and adversity and this easily remains their recording hallmark.

“She's in Parties” was the first single and leads off the album. It's has a loopy, languid tempo that is reinforced by the dub rhythmic underpinnings which had been evident prior to this track, particularly on some of the more experimental EPs they had released. I was always impressed with how they seamlessly integrated this somewhat alien music style into their supposedly “goth” approach . In a way, this was their update to “Bela Lugosi's Dead”-all creepy and totally swingingly sexy. “Antonin Artaud” is all proto-punk with a propulsive beat and scratchy guitars with Peter Murphy wailing about the pre-post modern French provocateur who lead “The Theatre of the Absurd” telling us that those “Indians wank on his bones”.

The 20 second track “Wasp” segues into “King Volcano” an almost indescribable beautiful borderline sea shanty, pub chant that harkens back to an England prior to the Industrial Revolution when men were animals and all smashed. Side one closes out with the seemingly solo David J track “Who Killed Mr. Moonlight?”-a somber piece of mostly piano and effects that could certainly be the anchoring track to some noir movie of the same name that was never made. This is one of my favorite songs of all time.

Side two opens with “Slice of Life” clearly driven by guitarist Daniel Ash with it's emphasis on 12 string acoustic guitar and a complicated arrangement that shifts all over a dark musical landscape and even brings to mind the acoustic tracks of Zeppelin, though it is never derivative. “Honeymoon Croon” is all hardass glam and definitely Peter working out some more of his Ziggy stylings in a way that is catchy as get all. “Kingdom's Coming” is almost a juxtaposition to “Mr. Moonlight” as realized by Peter, though it doesn't possess the majesty of the latter.

The album closes out with the almost 10 minute title track-all meandering acid metal guitar licks and a strangely herky-jerky chorus that rolls on and on at the end. Definitely an opus to dirty carnal action. “Hope” closes things out with, perhaps some hindsight sarcasm, as this is a completely sunny acoustic ditty that “hopes” your mornings will be brighter from a band known for their general darkness up to this point.

In the end, they went out on top unlike almost everyone else. It took them 25 years to make another studio album (Go Away White, 2008) and while it does not measure up to their original prime years of work, they do acquit themselves well with an all original line up and who else can say that? They are alleged to be the fathers of “Goth” but they were and are always much more than that.