Saturday, May 26, 2018

Nurse the Hate: Doug Sahm and Blown Minds

This afternoon I was driving around listening to an old Sir Douglas Quintet CD.  Yes, it was a CD.  One of the compromises I have made in driving a car with too much everything is that I could only afford an older version of this beast.  The Germans were extremely hesitant to provide any electronic creature comforts in this car, and allegedly only provided drink holders very begrudgingly.  Sometimes when you turn the car off and sit in the silence, you can hear a German accented voice say “Why would we provide distracting electronics when the experience of driving this automobile is absolutely perfect?”.  Hence, I have to listen to CDs.

The Sir Douglas Quintet is one of Doug Sahm’s old bands, and they are great.  You are likely familiar with “She’s About A Mover” and “Mendocino”, but each of the hard to find albums is packed with meat.  I particularly like the records after Sahm arrived and set down roots in San Francisco in the late 60s.  The language is awesome.  “I’m Not That Kat Anymore”, “Lord I’m Just A Country Boy Living In This Freaky City”, “Can You Dig My Vibrations” and “You Can’t Hide A Redneck (Underneath That Hippie Hair)” come to mind.  He made the kind of music I like, which is mashing together all of your influences to make a distinctive voice.  He manages to take all his Texas home influences of rock, country and Mexican music and became a pioneer of what was later called “Tex Mex”.  Go out and get yourself some of this music. 

The lyrics of this late 60s period are filled with songs about “grooving” and things that are “heavy”.  Almost every song has a mention about having your “mind blown”.  It was then I realized I have not spent nearly enough time in my lyrics discussing having your “mind blown”.  I then reached out to Krusty and Bobby Lanphier with this epiphany via text, asking them if I needed to heavy up on “mind blowing”.  Krusty attached the photo of Sahm in full cosmic cowboy regalia and then contrasted that with me in a suit holding a bottle of Krug champagne.  “You’re going to have to do a lot of work on your look before you can seem credible talking about “blown minds”.”  He then noted the photo of me from last week.  “This guy is going to talk to me about “blown minds”?  C’mon.”  At that point Lanphier weighed in with “more like a guy talking to me about blown investment opportunities”. 

Those were both valid points.  As much as I would like to insert an occasional “blown mind” reference, it just might ring hollow.  That’s a damn shame as I have had my “mind blown” a few times.  Don’t even make me reference back to that ill-fated space cake episode prior to a Swiss border cross while on tour.  Oh yes, my mind was blown.  My mind was mostly blown because I thought a German TV program I was watching was about a man pimping out his girlfriend so she could succeed in show business.  In a number of scenes the boyfriend offered her up for sex to strange men so he could advance his own agenda.  It was a sick tale of betrayal and life in the abyss.  That's when Krusty turned me onto what it was all about.  I was a little off.  It turned out it was a home improvement program.  Consider my mind blown!

I will just have to temper my desire to pepper in references to “Sunday Groovers” and “freaks” in Daredevils songs.  I don’t think I can make it sound organic.  That’s a shame.  What isn’t a shame is that the Daredevils will likely move ahead with two new releases this year.  We have the record we recorded with Gary last summer, and before long the band is going to have to get in the studio to record all the new material we have been writing.  We are also going to make our return to Europe, as a plan is afoot right now for the end of September/start of October to hit The Old Country.  As I stated in my New Year’s Resolutions, I wanted to A) make playing music fun again (check with the addition of Hector), B) lose 7 pounds (check as I knocked off 10), pass the WSET Diploma (check), and travel to Burgundy.  Ideally I would like to get to France before the end of June thereby achieving all my goals in 6 months.  We are getting shit done and moving forward over here.  If you sit and think about it, it really sort of blows your mind.  Damn.  I guess I can't say that.

Thursday, May 24, 2018

Nurse the Hate: The NFL Anthem Fiasco

The NFL is generally adept at handling public relations issues with expertise.  I am not exactly sure what happened with this National Anthem thing.  Sure, they were in a difficult situation.  If they did not act, players would continue to protest police brutality and a segment of their customer base would freak out.  If they responded in too heavy handed a manner, they would be viewed as trying to silence the players right to peacefully protest in a democratic society.  It came down to two choices.  They could have the players off the field during the anthem to sweep the issue into the locker room OR they could force the players to stand at attention and levy fines against the team for non-compliance.  They chose the second option.

The players have voiced that they see this as their right to expression being squashed and their employer not supporting their cause.  The NFL has somehow made themselves bad guys to all their players, and pitted the employees versus owners.  Why they have backed these guys into a corner is hard to fathom.  They have taken what was once a small issue and now given it new life.  Making matters even worse for them was the release of a video from January of a Milwaukee Bucks player being roughed up by six cars of cops for no particular reason.  Sure, he double parked at a Walgreens, but my guess is that not too many suburban white guys get tased and arrested for that crime.  If Jerry Jones of the Cowboys had a nightstick shoved up his ass by six carfuls of cops after strolling out of Target, my guess is he might be OK with taking a knee for “awareness” of that issue.

My thought is that it might be a good idea just to scrap the entire anthem.  I have taken friends of mine from other nations to major league sporting events.  Seeing it through their eyes is sobering.  Imagine if you want to a soccer match in Germany in 1938.  Prior to the game an enormous swastika flag is unfurled as members of the Hitler Youth stand next to soldiers waving it as the anthem is played.  At the conclusion of the anthem, a wave of Luftwaffe bombers flies over the stadium to the roar of the crowd.  Later in the first half, the Jumbotron features photos of Wehrmacht troops with the announcer intoning instructions to “remember our veterans and thank them for their service”.  At halftime troops march out onto the field to present certificates to recently returned soldiers.  Whatever would be a German version of “Proud To Be An American” booms from the speakers.  An enormous swastika flag flies next to the scoreboard.  It’s creepy as shit, right?  What does any of it have to do with football?

The problem appears to be the disconnect between Trump Nation and reality regarding what the flag represents.  Somewhere after 9/11 many in the population decided that The Flag=The Army.  To not hold any flag ceremony in the upmost reverence indicated you were somehow “against the troops”.  My understanding of the flag was it represented the ideals of the nation in question.  In the case of the United States that means the right to protest, equality, and having a voice.  Isn’t the most patriotic thing to not only allow the players to protest during the pointless flag ceremony but support their right to do so?  At no point have the participants in that protest indicate they were against the nation.  They are protesting paid employees of the nation killing them in their communities unjustly.  It’s a legitimate issue.  I would argue that they are more active participants in what our nation is supposed to be about than anyone screaming about how anyone that has ever been in a uniform of any kind is a “hero” and are the ones being represented by a flag ceremony at a football game.

Nationalism is on a rise that doesn’t appear to be stopping soon.  The NFL owners caved in because it was easier than fighting for principles.  The Press is being attacked daily for reporting facts.  The justice system is under siege for doing their jobs.  The ideals of this nation are disappearing.  Maybe you can’t identify with the ones being silenced now, but if history shows anything, it’s that you will identify with them soon enough.

Tuesday, May 22, 2018

Nurse the Hate: Big Star

I think I bought the first two Big Star records at Singing Dog in Columbus OH in the early 90s.  I had never heard the records but had read almost every musician I admired name check them in the press over the last decade.  If Paul Westerberg titles one of his best songs after you, that’s a pretty good sign.  I had some of those Alex Chilton records that mysteriously popped out while I was a radio station music director.  The punk rock anarchist in me liked those, and that song “No Sex” should have been a hit if it wasn’t about the AIDS outbreak and include the lyric “come on baby, fuck me and die”.  Somehow Big Star had passed me by.

There is a terrific Big Star documentary that came out and details their horrible bad luck regarding their “#1 Record” named debut release and subsequent records.  In retrospect, naming it “#1 Record” was likely a curse.  I appreciate the sardonic wit though, and understood that record to be the motherload.  Chilton and primary songwriter Chris Bell painstakingly crafted this record, each one of the songs obviously slaved over by a group of people intensely focused on the end result.  These are guys that spent every night in a studio trying different ideas and needing it to be absolutely perfect.  They came about as close as four young men left to their own devices in Memphis can probably get.

The distribution fell apart almost immediately.  They had a deal with Stax that went South.  Even the few people that had heard of the record couldn’t find it in stores.  It died on the vine without the public even getting a chance to hear it.  Chris Bell had a breakdown.  He knew he likely could never hit those peaks again.  He took his shot and it missed, despite it not being his fault.  That’s tough to live with…  Chilton kept the band going with the rhythm section for two more records.  “Radio City” is probably underrated and has more great rock pop songs on it.  “Third” is a difficult listen at first.  It’s these broken little fragments that Chilton gave to producer Jim Dickinson that somehow assembled this stark, apocalyptic sounding record.  It’s fragile and lonely.  It’s really a beautiful record with no commercial potential whatsoever.

When I first bought #1 Record and Radio City, I didn’t get it.  They sounded just like dated 70s radio songs to me that I had somehow never heard.  I listened to them a couple times and put them away.  They just didn’t connect.  Every year I would give them a spin.  Eh.  What was the big deal here?  Then, like most of the very best music, it hit me.  Holy shit.  These records are brilliant.  I am not sure why records that have the most impact are not the most immediately appealing.  They need some time to grow on you to reveal their depth.  I have had similar experiences with “Highway 61 Revisited”, “Mendocino” and “Raw Power”.  It’s the ones that find you when their time is right that become your friends for life.

I’m sitting here listening to “Third”.  It’s dark and raining.  I am glad I found that record, and I suggest you do the same.  You might not be ready yet, but you will one day.     

Nurse the Hate: Hate The Cat

The cat had been a gift from her previous boyfriend.  The boyfriend was a young man it was easy to be dismissive of, with his passive aggressive manner.  He seemed meek, but that was just a con.  He always mentioned that he was either coming down with an illness or in the midst of recovery.  His dark sad eyes did the trick.  When he would look up at her with those wounded eyes, he would always receive comfort and attention.  I, of course, hated him and by default the cat he had left behind.

He always came up with reasons to come over to her house.  Thoughtful little gifts for her mother.  Returned cooking tools.  Used books.  It was always some flimsy manufactured bullshit.  If I happened to be there at the time of his drop in, he would skirt to the sides of the room, always avoiding direct contact with me.  He would shift topics of conversation to his strengths, areas that I had no experience or interest in.  Chamber music concertos.  Ethnic restaurant news.  Foreign film expos.  It was a game that he pretended he was not playing.  Just a nice fellow stopping by to offer considerate gestures.  No strings attached.  A quiet, thoughtful young man.  All the while the cat would flick its tail while sitting in the windowsill. 

I pretended it didn’t bother me, but it drove me insane.  I had never been in a conflict with no offense, no visible battle.  He was slowly gaining ground, working at solidifying his return, consistently demonstrating that he was the true match for this woman while I was some sort of beast.  It was easy to see.  I preferred dogs, while he was clearly a cat man.  Every time that goddamn cat walked across the apartment, it was like that passive aggressive young man strutted across the room declaring “I’m still here.”. 

The cat must have sensed my growing distaste for it.  If I slept over at the apartment, the cat would come roaring into the room at an ungodly hour and dive on my head.  It was like being attacked by a mongoose in the middle of a deep sleep.  This did not help solidify a bond between the cat and I.  In the morning, the cat and I would glare at each other while the woman obliviously sipped herbal tea. 

Making matters even worse, the cat loved the passive aggressive man.  Theirs was a mutual admiration society.  I would feel a slow burning fury when the cat jingled over to greet him when he dropped by with one of his thoughtful little presents.  “Oh, I just saw this used booklet of French poetry I thought your sister might like… Sure, I would love a glass of wine!”  The cat purred on his lap as he slowly sipped his wine.  He would never risk the outright aggression of smiling triumphantly at me when the woman left the room, but I swear to you that cat did.

Eventually he wedged me out of there, like we both knew he would.  I was ill-equipped for this drama.  I was a man from the late 20th Century that was taking part in an 18th Century parlor drama.  I didn’t know the rules.  It was like an act from the old theater productions they both loved whereas I was immersed in the films of Coppola.  I should have flipped the script and gone Godfather.  “Pauley?  Oh, you won’t see him round here no more…”

The last time I was ever in that apartment I remember walking to the kitchen table to retrieve my car keys.  There was a small round bistro table by the window.  It was one of those garage sale finds where if I had put it in my house it would have looked like garbage, but she had magically transformed it into something artsy and wonderful with a dash of paint.  The cat was stretched out across that table, my keys right in front of its head.  He flicked his tail with his eyes serenely closed.  As I put the keys in my hand he opened his eyes and I swear he smiled at me.

I still hate that cat.                

Saturday, May 19, 2018

Nurse the Hate: Texas School Shooting

As we know from past experience, now is “too soon” to discuss the consistent gun massacres in schools, the thought being that emotions are too raw.  We missed that brief window between the last one and this one when talking about guns would have been acceptable.  What no one is saying is that because of the routine of these shootings, it is becoming harder and harder to muster any legitimate emotions.  The Public becomes immune to the story after hearing it enough times.  Remember a couple of years ago when the population was flipping out because the President of the United States was telling lies?  Now it is just a known quantity and is essentially accepted as The Way Things Are.  School shootings have become the same.

I hardly even glanced at the headline when it scrolled across.  School shooting reported in Texas.  Yawn.  I knew the basic story line.  Quiet kid showed up at school with guns, shot a bunch of classmates and probably killed himself.  Interviews with crying teenagers.  Whatever.  My brain is now able to shove that in the same place as “Mexican Earthquake Claims 17 Lives” and “Tragic Plane Crash In Cuba”.  School shootings are just part of the daily mosaic of the news cycle.  It's a concept and not a real thing.  I feel much more outrage when I see the castrated politicians offer up their empty promises and false grief.

Trump immediately said the administration would do “everything in our power” to protect schools and keep guns away from those who should not have them.  Even if a moment of righteousness somehow flickered across that man’s brain, by this weekend the NRA will have him in line with their talking points.  I predict “a pivot” into suggesting this is a mental health issue, not a gun issue, and we need to do more to combat mental health issues.  As mental health issues are mostly undetectable, this is essentially vowing to protect a town from floods by offering to combat the rain. 

“We are with you in this tragic hour and we will be with you forever…” was offered up on the President’s Twitter feed.  I can translate this into “This is the gesture of empathy that the office dictates I make, and I am hoping this blows over by Tuesday as I have already forgotten about it as have most other Americans”.  Fore!  I barely glanced at the story, as I already know how it ends.  The bottom line is that not enough people care.  We have decided that thousands of shooting victims are an acceptable trade for gun enthusiasts to maintain their fantasies of vigilante justice where they are cast as heroes.  Come and take it.  Ka-pow!   

Wal Mart Nation has the steering wheel in this country right now.  America is becoming greater every day.  It’s pre-facism with a redneck fashion streak.  Self-delusion and ignorance rule the day.  There is no reason to believe this gun violence problem will be addressed because we have decided that no problem exists.  The same old rhetoric will get tossed back and forth next week with no movement in any direction.  The gun manufacturers will stick to their playbook of letting things cool down so the simpleminded populace will back burner the issue.  If the gun companies get lucky they might convince the lunatics in office to spend millions on guns for schools, turning lemons into lemonade if you will.  Score!

This weekend they will bury ten kids in Texas.  Crying parents will vow to fight for change.  Politicians will hide.  Cable news will devolve into pointless side squabbles about gun categorization, the false beliefs surrounding the Second Amendment, various smoke screens, and NRA spokespeople dropping their flimsy talking points into the stew.  We’ve seen this before.  Yawn.  Change the channel.  It’s just The Way Things Are.           

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Nurse the Hate: WSET Diploma, Completed

One of the great disappointments of this particular era is that personal news is often delivered via email.  I found it to be a bit anti-climatic to receive an email on my phone that I had passed my sparkling wine exam with merit and thus passed the WSET Diploma.  Immediately after my brief moment of triumph a smiling waitress asked if I wanted more iced tea.  I thought it would be different.  When I had pictured this moment, it was with me ripping open an envelope reading an overly formal letter while standing by my mailbox, not seated at the restaurant “Melissa”.  Further dampening the moment was the email said, “Congratulations Troy!  You have passed your exam!”.  Wait…  Did I pass or did Troy?  Who the fuck is Troy?  It turned out after several anxious minutes and a clarifying email exchange, that not only did Troy pass, but I did as well.  I guess my “iced tea re-fill of triumph” was justified.

I sat at my seat at the counter with my salad and tea.  All that work, and here was the moment of payoff.  I think I had a flicker of accomplishment for about 7 seconds before that faded.  I had five more hours left of work.  It was Tuesday.  I was sitting there by myself.  Most importantly, I didn’t feel like I had succeeded.  The waitress had this permanent yet genuine smile that had to be caused by either chemicals or a groovy yoga Zen.  “Is everything good over here?”  This placed me at the crossroads of saying, “It’s really good because I just found out I somehow passed the WSET Diploma, which is something I couldn’t possibly explain to you.” Or “Yes.  Everything’s fine.”.  I opted for the latter.

Rumor has it there are only something like 4000 people in the world that have passed this exam since the program started up in the late 1970s.  Part of the reason there are so few people is that I am sure it took a couple decades to get some traction and allow people to know outside of England that the program existed.  The other reason is that it is very difficult.  I don’t care about soil types or geological characteristics of locations in general.  When I first arrive at a new place, I normally don’t take soil samples.  Yet, this program forced me to remember all kinds of subtle soil differences.  I have used the word “schist” more often than I thought possible.  That information didn’t want to go in my head, but I pounded it in there.

Who wants to talk about long term oxidation of the sangiovese grape in Brunello and the variances possible with different barrel selection?  No one?  Well, I can if you’d like.  No?  How about the effect of morning fog on the Semillon grape in regard to botrytis in Sauternes?  Would you like me to tell you why a bottle of Chateau D’Yquem is so expensive and yet still underpriced?  Sit right down my friend…  While you wait let’s have a quick breakdown of low oxygen, low temperature fermentation within stainless steel for Northern Italian whites and the criminal over cropping in Soave.  I’m sorry.  Did I wake you?  It never ends.

So, why did I feel so empty?  The problem is now two-fold.  I had anticipated becoming some sort of expert in wine.  I suppose I am now.  However, what I did not anticipate was that the more I learned, the more I realized I did not know.  I feel like I have only scratched the surface and the problem is now that I will run out of time before I run out of information.  I have come to the painful realization I cannot ever truly master this subject matter as the waters run deeper than first estimated.  So now instead of feeling like “Ah-ha!  I’ve done it!”, I feel more along the lines of “You fucking fraud.  You don’t know a goddamn thing.”. 

The other issue is that I am perhaps too competitive.  I am not sure how I turned wine into a competition, but I have done it.  It is sort of like Leo’s idea of “competitive yoga”.  Inserting competition into something that has no obvious measurement is a very Whiskey Daredevil thing to do.  I have to win.  My thinking now is that since thousands of people have done what I have done, what’s the big deal?  What have I accomplished?  How can I beat these other people that are unaware I am competing with them?  The answer is obvious, by trying to breathe the rarified air of becoming a Master of Wine. 

There are 38 Masters of Wine in the United States.  Ever.  The exams are legendarily difficult.  I spoke with a woman that failed her last tasting exam partly because her mouth had broken out in lesions due to a combination of stress and too much wine tasting preparation.  There are stories of grown men weeping.  The challenge is so absurd, to essentially store into memory an entire planet of wine production’s tiny details while understanding how these parts all fit together.  Meanwhile you must be able to identify wines blind in a swift, decisive and most importantly, accurate manner.  All the while there is an undercurrent of not being worthy to join this secret society.  A difficult entrance exam must be passed just to have the opportunity to enter the program so you can torture yourself with further impossible exams.  You need to have a written recommendation from an existing MW, just like trying to get into a Mason’s Lodge.  Most MWs I have met look at me like I am a circus freak.  It would be hurdle after hurdle after hurdle just to get in for the chance to fail.  Clearly, this is something I will need to beat.

The nagging question is whether the organization would be willing to allow me to even attempt to enter.  In many ways, I represent the exact opposite of what has been the traditions of the wine world.  There is a certain pomp and circumstance that exists that doesn’t always mesh with my more punk rock sensibilities.  When I see authority figures, my first inclination is to try to knock them down.  Blame Joe Strummer, Jello Biafra, and Hunter S. Thompson.  I don’t tend to want to join clubs that want me as a member.  Yet, I clearly have the passion and the ability to succeed in this endeavor if given the opportunity to apply myself.  I must somehow trick these people into letting me in.

I have succeeded in getting the Diploma.  Why do I think the real struggle has only just begun?            

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

Nurse the Hate: The Gin Job


Hayman’s Distillery
8a Weir Road
SW12 0NA


First let me say that I am flattered by your interest in having me represent your gin to the no doubt wonderful people of Scotland.  I am certain I could build a natural rapport with the people as soon as I could figure out what they are saying.  I will be upfront and tell you that I have had limited interaction with Scottish people.  Between us, I even had difficulty making sense of what the members of The Proclaimers were saying in interviews during their heyday, and my guess is that they were trying their best to allow an American record buying public understand what they were saying.  I’m thinking I will have a bit of a learning curve trying to sell gin to people that prefer scotch while not having a clue to how the conversation is going.  Maybe for the first 6 months I could just “stick to the script” but if some customer says “haud yer wheesht” it will be an uncomfortable situation when I just blather on about the botanicals in the spirit.  I just want to set your expectations right out of the gate here.

The other stumbling block is my general distaste for gin after a series of “incidents” in my late teens.  An associate of mine at the time, a Mr. James Jazz, had decided that it would be in our mutual best interests to embrace gin as a recreational beverage.  He believed it to be an excellent choice when mixed with off-brand cranberry juice.  For a brief moment, this “New Golden Age of Gin” appeared to have endless possibilities.  Soon it denigrated into madness.  In retrospect, the move from rapidly drinking “value priced” beer into bottom shelf gin was a step backwards as the later written song by a Mr. Snoop Dog (a.k.a. “Snoop Lion”) would attest.  I will tell you with great authority that an overserved young man throwing up gin and cranberry juice in the early hours of the morning will believe he is throwing up blood and think he requires immediate medical attention.  Thus ended the “New Golden Age of Gin”.

Yet, I remain intrigued with your offer of employment.  As you no doubt have learned from my WSET Overlords, I am tantalizingly close to having earned the coveted WSET Diploma, something here in the United States that almost no one understands.  For the last time, “No, I am not a sommelier”.  It might have been worth being tested on opening a bottle of champagne in a fine dining situation in a Court of Master Somm exam just so I wouldn’t have to explain what a WSET Diploma is to people that stop paying attention mid-explanation.  You can’t go back in time though.  I have only a small handful of regrets in life, and choosing the WSET is not one of them.  (If a member of the WSET grading staff is somehow reading this, please remember to “keep it fair” when you get to my sparkling exam.  I clearly knew how sekt was made. I thought by "discuss production" you meant the end results.  If you can let me slide on that, I’m sure we can have a few laughs over it later this year in London where I can buy you a steak at The Ivy.  Seriously, it’s my treat.  Order whatever you’d like…)  The bottom line is I know enough about gin to be dangerous.

But what of a new life in Scotland?  As you no doubt have learned via my results, I am 78% English.  Besides finding myself suddenly infatuated with the Royal Wedding this weekend as well as almost breaking out in hives over the football matches, I am embracing what is clearly a genetic desire to take advantage of the people of Scotland and Ireland.  It is perhaps my destiny to levy the Scots with crippling alcohol prices and taxation.  I would be fulfilling a genetic imperative by accepting this position.  However, I need to temper this immediate enthusiasm with a healthy dose of reality.  I am going to require a wage well above what you are alluding to in your correspondence.  I have grown to become accustomed to a certain lifestyle, and I am not going to move into a depressing two room flat in Edinburgh just to fulfill my destiny like some sort of alcohol toting salmon.  The image of me coughing in the consistent rain trying to choke down a blood sausage in my flat while my indifferent cat looks on is too grim to think of for more than just a moment.  In this scenario, I name my cat “Mr. Bigglesworth” and he always moves away from me if I try to touch him.  Doesn’t sound like much fun, does it?

With this in mind, I am going to have to decline your offer.  Once again, I thank you for your consideration.  I wish you the best of luck in extending the reach and market share of the brand.  Your gin is no doubt a delightful way to spend an evening in Scotland surrounded by largely cheerful yet unintelligible friends.  I wish you the best of luck.

I remain,

Greg Miller