Saturday, April 30, 2011

Nuclear Risk-Ticker: Now w/ 35% More Irradiated Zombies


At Radical I worked with a fellow named Mike Peredo, wicked technical artist and creative sort all around otherwise. Eons ago he and his college cohorts hosted weekly game nights, board games, card games, table top games, until they felt they needed to develop something of their own, a perfect mash-up of their favorite games into something more robust, challenging, and inherently open ended. Essentially the game that never ends, just iterates, evolves, tries new things, returns to things that worked when fixing what wasn’t so broken after all got broken.

One weekday afternoon during a rare relatively calm period during the production of Scarface: the World if Yours, Mike asked LD Scripter Lead Jesse Russell, car tuning guru Richard Mul, and myself if we’d want to come by his house on Saturday for a game of Nuclear Risk-Ticker. Jesse had been a big Axis & Allies / Age of Empires fan, Richard had done his Warhammer time, and I’d liked all of those games for the artistry and detail of the little figurine playing pieces. So we all promised to show up, and I remain grateful we did. 

Ingredients needed:
  • A clear schedule for an entire Saturday, potentially well into the evening
  • 4 – 6 Players with an appetite for seeing Risk turned up to 11, or maybe 13
  • A few dozen varieties of beer, cider, pop, mead, and ethanol
  •  Bags, boxes, and bevies of snacks sweet and / or savory
  • A classic Risk board game with all pieces and all army pieces from a second Risk board game, particularly Black as those may end up representing Zombies from prospective & (eagerly) anticipated irradiated areas
  • A classic Stock-Ticker board game with all pieces and dice
  • A stack of pennies to represent Rads in countries that get nuked or suffer nuclear related accidents
  • A stack of custom made rules and items to purchase cards created by the hybrid game\s authors
  • A stack of blank cards for new rules each player adds to the game before the game begins, and once all players ratify each new card as viable for inclusion into the rule deck
  • Bottle Caps because there invariably is something that requires a marker along the way and nothing else is suitable. Fortunately the ample beverages will supply a cornucopia of caps
  • Monopoly money, heaps of it, to pay out to players as the economy flexed and floundered.
The first game session we showed up unprepared for how daunting the game would seem, or how smoothly the game would actually transpire. Initially as we arrived, claimed seats and piece colors, and unpacked our contributions to the snack and beverage pool, there seemed like too much gear for a board game.

Stock Ticker had been brought in essentially to instill an economy into the territories, which subsequently affects the cost of armies, allowing places with crap economies to stockpile troops cheaply while countries with great economies couldn’t stock up as fast, though received other perks, like better ability to buy nukes, or develop launch sites for said nukes.

Risk came in next providing countries, territories, continents to control. Everyone initially gets a few at random, and the deal making beings pretty much immediately after that deal out. Next everyone gets a small allotment of the card from the custom deck the mash-up game’s creators created, the deck that would include ratified new rule / goal cards in subsequent matches but weren’t an option in that first game. Some people get nukes, others launch sites, others various sorts of modifier or bonus or get out of peril free cards, others abilities related to radiation or zombies, and others methods to rapidly transport troops via ship, helicopter, or generally unreliable teleport ( I added that card in game 2 or 3, inspired by David Cronenberg’s version of The Fly).

Next people get their initial banks, some spending money to get things rolling, buy some troops, set up the nations they now control. Those familiar with Risk will of course recognize this step. However, what I forgot to mention is that the Stock ticker has had its first roll, as I recall, and some countries out of the gate have economic issues, good or bad depending on where you’ve landed. Get a small, defendable continent like Australia and have cheap soldiers available, you can stock up and hunker down while the rest of the world get’s their conquests on. Not far from real life, if you ask me. Small sustainable island continents with low population density seems like the perfect refuge when the zombies come calling.

The first game I brought a four pack of tall boy Boddingtons Cream Ales with the widget inside the can activated when the tab is pulled and a six pack of Heinekens to share. I also had a bag of cheese curls, some trail mix, and some peanut brittle. My contributions paled to the stuff Mike’s long time friends showed up with. Exotic tequila, mead with an unpronounceable name, gallons of Guinness, homemade Sangria, home maid lemonade, homemade honey tea, layered deserts I still have no idea what they’re called, just that by the end of the evening the baking pan had been scraped clean by tooth, fork, and nail. And to add that extra embellishment of geek class, Mike provided an array of Lord of the Rings souvenir glasses from, I believe, Burger King, pint sized burly beer thick clear plastic mugs laden with film themed iconography molded as reliefs replete with a switch on the bottom that turned on a light to glow up through the beer like the ring from the bottom of the river when Gollum first found it.

The second game I caught a ride with Richard and we hit the IGA on Main street behind Brewery Creek (and the Brewery Creek as well), and together we got a couple sacks of varied chips, more peanut brittle, and a box of heart shaped pink frosted day old donuts no one by Richard and I were brave enough to actually sample.

The first game I lasted about as long as my Boddingtons, and only then probably because I soldiered up and claimed the dark heart of Africa as my own, safe from adversity until the others got weary of contesting England versus France versus Germany like a recreation of War of Roses and the conquest of Poland, which I believe took an afternoon, horses versus tanks being something like rock versus paper or lemon versus cream.

Second game perhaps infused with the power of Sanrio pink frosted day old donut, I managed to make through to the final third. I suspect some of the seemingly naive deals I wrangled early showed good instinct, and the three rules I contributed to the custom deck never were played to my disadvantage, were the edge that helped me make it to the final third. Sure, winning would have been wonderful, however with games like this, as with road trips for any reason, should be the journey that matters, and the highs and lows along the way. 

The nukes fly like purple rain that day, I’ll tell you what. I bought every cheap nuke that became available, and being cheap nukes, that meant they had a 2/3 chance of not hitting their intended target, and a 1/3 chance of detonating on the launch pad, rendering the launch site invalid and irradiating the country, leaving any surviving troops converted into man flesh hungry zombies. After irradiating my first launch site I carved a bloody path to secure a second launch site in Northern Europe. Soon I had my ACME rockets bursting in air over pretty damn near every country I hadn’t aimed at, and all my opponents were dealing with the fallout, pardon the pun, as clear paths now teemed with radioactivity and / or zombies, safe borders now worrisome since all the allied troops on the other side of the line had become zombie cannibals craving relief from the pain of death through the squishy brain juices of the living.

Eventually folks tired of my spamming cost cutter nukes around the map with reckless abandon and formed a coalition of the unwilling to bring my dubious administration to an end. Inside a single turn around the table my controlled areas fell as though on clearance sale. And then, to grin and mock, left me in the top northwest corner of North America withered and sequestered like Sarah Palin’s sense of self respect. I sat through a couple more rounds trying feebly to muster some new troops while the stock ticker made my troops prohibitively expensive, and at long last someone put me out of my misery. 

The third game I lost out pretty early and had multiple commitments otherwise, two things that may have had influence on one another, so not a lot to say about that. Also the game happened not long after Richard’s funeral, a couple months anyway, and that left something feeling empty about it for me, since the last time I’d come out to play I’d had that zany whirlwind tour of the IGA and Brewery Creek with Richard before heading up to Mike’s place. A lot had changed before the third game, and the difference became too distracting for me, couldn’t get my head in the game, my head trip had other destinations, other exit ramps inbound.

I ran into Mike not long ago on Main outside Salt Spring Coffee, he and his Mom, the awesome lady that claimed the balloon I’d drawn a whacky skull on for one of Mike’s Day of the Dead / Dias Las Muertos parties, something I’ll write about another day. I expressed, without hesitation, my sincere belief another game is long overdue. I hope he’ll call one.


Thursday, April 28, 2011

The Fine Art of Losing


So I played some sports in junior high. I think we lost every game except the one where we piled off the bus in the rain to stand limp 70’s hair miserable on reclaimed strip mine land next to a still working strip mine and after 15 minutes of kicking up clods of roll-a-lawn soccer pitch the ref glanced at his watch and called it in our favor, clearly the Knoxville team had elected to forfeit. We piled back on the bus and enjoyed the couple hour bus ride back to Washington College Academy, glowing for the win regardless how we’d come by it, though might’ve been the glowing warmth of hypothermia versus the bus’s sole dysfunctional heater vent.

High school I took a pass, no pun intended. Though my German teacher also coached the Soccer team, or Fussball as he might’ve called it, the scarlet and white letter jackets didn’t grab me. Despite my sudden growth spurt between eighth and ninth grade, a bit late but welcome all the same, and the family relocation to Kentucky from Tennessee, from Christian private school to better ranked public school; I didn’t feel like towing anyone else’s teamwork line, had enough speaking when spoken too in the private school, not ready to rah rah for the alma matter quite yet. Turned to Speech Team, Debate Team, School Paper, School Plays, Yearbook Staff, and Mock Trial Team.

I may never have won the gold, never been best in state or best in show, never got the lead role, never wore the prom king crown despite attending several at a variety of schools, sometimes as Michael Anthony Hall, sometimes Duckie, and sometimes Ferris Bueller. Didn’t get to write the lead comedy articles, didn’t get to do the front page illustrations, didn’t get invited to the biggest parties or summer chalets or houseboat hootenannies. My highschool job had a polyester uniform. My summer vacations were piled in the back seat of a Ford Escort stationwagon with two siblings, a Walkman, and a 120 minute cassette tape full of Bau Haus Jim Shambhu recorded for me.

I’ve at bets been Assistant Manager over and over again, for movie theaters, for the corporate offices for the Limited, Layne Bryant, Structure, Abercrombie Fitch, & Lerner stores. I’ve been a lead for game studios for years, but lever The Lead, let along the Director of any sort.

I’ve designed and collaborated making toys with a company that’s a cornerstone of the DIY and Art Vinyl market, one of the earliest artists on board and the first American one, although Raymond still credits me as Canadian, did so even before I moved up here. Does anyone in that community know who I am? Largely only the ones I’ve given one of my toys too.

I’ve ridden on huge international flights, but I’ve scarcely even seen what business or first class look like. I’ve been flown across the continent for interviews and then not been reimbursed for taxi fare (LucasArts in SF). I’ve ridden in cars I’ll never afford, seen backstage to shows and events I’ll never be a part of or invited too. I’ve spent the night in a mansion owned by a Mob Lawyer with a Tommy Gun collection, with a master bedroom and elegant trophy wife, a man that slept on the couch with the TV turned to a satellite network rerunning hunting programs.

I’ve met celebrities, shared a smoke or drink or bowl of fries with artists I’ve idolized and been influenced by. I’ve been honored to sit with panelists of people I’m not remotely a peer too and speak from the perspective of the industry I’ve worked in the past decade and a half. I’ve taught classes for government funded instituted and advised on juries for students wrapping up projects at overpriced, non-accredited vocational schools.
And I’m OK with it.

Sure, I’m baffled why people would wind themselves up to tears over the over publicized, overly televised wedding of two rich folks living worry free on the backs of the citizens of England. I don’t know them, so I’m not surprised to not get an invitation to their wedding, though I hear it’ll be quite the bash. Why wouldn’t it, tax money is paying for it. Better spend money on entertaining the masses then buying more bombers or tanks or prisons. Except the government will still buy the bombers, tanks, and prisons.  And the Elite in North America enjoy many of the same unearned perks. The Bush daughters will have expensive, lavish second and third marriages, tax dollar subsidized directly and / or indirectly. Obama’s wife dresses in vintage clothing, but not from the Salvation Army, restored worn once by Jackie Onassis multi-thousand dollar throw rugs. Harper didn’t have to stand in line overnight to get his kids into the choice pre-school. Brook Shields, Queen Amidala, and most Olympic Gold Medalists for Ice or Water related sports got Ivy League educations for free. The Olympic archer kid ended up working for a Wendy’s I believe. Hopefully he’s got some great drive through targeting tricks.

I don’t mean to sound entitled. Just wish the playing field were a bit more even keeled, the opportunities more uniformly available until an individual has had ample chance to prove aptitude, ability, and worth. Instead of endless, needless foreign wars motivated more by greed than ideology, put the people’s money back into bettering the people. Education, humanities, athletics, hospitals, medical care, subsidized housing, advanced career training, subsidized / free higher education, and an earnest effort to remove non-constructive, hopeless situational cycles like Chavs, of getting on the Dole, or being able to get repeatedly rehabbed without being held accountable. Give people ample opportunity for people to prove themselves, to have access to the means to prove themselves, and then deal with them accordingly, compassionately, and fairly when they don’t, instead of relegating them to welfare hotels, minimum wage jobs, and gutter existences.  

Celebrities, politicians, old money families, royalty, they’ve gotten the golden tickets to all the great things, the open doors, the back doors, the VIP doors, and they’ve gotten to write the rules the rest of us live by. History isn’t the only thing written by the winners. Huffington and so many other press outlets regularly release discoveries about how little taxes the elite pay into the system, while living lavishly through loopholes in systems local and abroad. You can do this when you can afford the best lawyers. You can open multimillion dollar bed and breakfast retreats for other elite in Colorado and as long as you rent some sheep for a week during the summer qualify as agricultural land like Tom Cruise did. Maybe not have too long to wait for the farmer or rancher down the road to go bankrupt so you can pick up that acreage for a song at the liquidation auction, if the banker handling the deal didn’t afford your people a chance to bid over a cigar and a cognac in a room with hollow leather bound books and hand stitched chairs made of Navaho hide.

Around me more people seem concerned about the Stanley Cup playoffs and the royal wedding tomorrow than the imminent election here in Canada. That’s a strange thing. U.S. hasn’t been much different. Entire neighborhoods and municipalities going bankrupt, or foreclosed, or rotted through from inside out, and some royal shenanigans in England matter? Maybe the younger royal brother will get into a bachelor show looking for a wife in Detroit, or Vancouver, wouldn’t that be a hoot. Could happen, he smokes fatties doesn’t he? I grew up around a lot of kissing cousins in the South, they smoked fatties too. Only difference I can see is that royalty enjoy indoor plumbing and travel further than the next country. Yes, I’m saying royalty are inbred, possibly why a royal wedding is such a big celebration, finally some fresh blood in the royal gene pool. I’m kidding, I love England. I love their pints, their comedy, and their insanely dense, slang strewn pulp magazines.

I’m not a sore loser. I have a wonderful wife, stupendous son, fantastic friends & extended family, and a gargantuanly groovy gig. I mean, I make escapist entertainment for a living, an alternative for folks to funnel their energy into instead of sitting around feeling cheated to have been born into a life that requires effort, requires dedication, requires sucking it up and walking it off. A life that doesn’t care how well you were liked in high school, or how much you were bullied in a private Christian school, or how good you were at avoiding hazing in the Navy. A life with biweekly paychecks that will keep you just abreast of the minimum payments needed for your lines of credit and that tarot deck of plastic cards. A life with knowing how to use a broom, shovel, rake, mower, bolt cutter. Of knowing what a tetanus shot is, or an immunosuppressant, or dialysis twice a week, or chemotherapy before puberty, or cystic fibrosis tests before you can eat solids.

I believe I make a lifelong predisposition to second place look pretty good, and I take very little for granted. Some cats get the big life; born into it or luck into it or craftily work up to it, and while I’d love to experience some of the adventures they can take for granted, at the same time I’ve done a lot, and enjoyed a tremendous amount of generosity from friends and family and collegues through the years, throughout my life.

So fuck it, I’ll take being a loser, cause over all, I think I’m pretty happy with the consolation prizes.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

James Brown ist toht und Mein Hut, er hat drei Ecken

This post is about music, specifically three songs. Actually about four, but the fourth one comes later. Get some friends together and cue up these songs on your browser playlist:

Pop Will Eat Itself’s “Not Now James, We’re Busy”

Every time you hear the name of the hardest working man in show business, drink.
After you feel warm and fuzzy, which depending which song you played first, shouldn’t take long, sing this as sing-song as you can with your best Hogan’s Heroes accent:

Mein Hut, der hat drei Ecken,
Drei Ecken hat mein Hut,
Und hätt er nicht drei Ecken,
So wär es nicht mein Hut.

Or for the more English inclined:

My hat has three corners,
Three corners has my hat,
Had it not three corners,
It wouldn't be my hat!

And then play another James Brown themed song, maybe throw on the Inferno James Brown “Funk On Ah Roll” EP to mix things up, and get some more warm and fuzzy on.

And then throw down with whatever drinking song you remember from your high school language classes, most everyone has one or two burned into their brains for life. The three cornered hat song happens to be mine. Or mein as the case might be.

Our German teacher, also the high school soccer coach, taught us this song in 1st year German. Didn’t find out until much later that while a children’s song essentially, this tune is also a pub and Octoberfest favorite. Picture a bevy of burly Bavarians belting out, “Mein Hut er hat drei Ecken” while cleavage baring beauties two fist two dozen pints of pilsner past the merry picnic table planks piled high with a pithy plethora of pleasantly ploughed peoples.

This post isn’t really about drinking songs though. I would encourage you to learn some, as they’re ace even if no pints of brown pop are involved. Kids would enjoy tea parties all the more with some grand traditions taught through titillating bottom’s up ballads. Don’t have to be rune lyrics or anything, except in Ireland. Just sing-song, sort of preposterous, easy to remember, and fun to sway along to arms slung over one another’s shoulders like Can Can dancers gone crazy.

That particular group of songs were part of a strange trend, a sort of musical meme before Wiki or Google or social networks brought memes to the masses, or the sense of meme meaning a solution brought from posing a problem too or as by product of a lot of people influencing one another like monkeys trying to type up a draft of Macbeth.

Around 1989 - 90 there cropped up a dearth of X is Dead / Toht / Just Sleeping / Really Feeling Much Better Now, Thanks. “Michael Jackson is Dead” a couple decades prematurely. “Helmut Khol is Toht” where all those years of high school Deutsch paid off at last for more than sniggering over the phrase, “Ich Liebe Dich.”

James had some legal problems, a run from the cops for some reason, and a mix of gossip about maybe some DUIs, possibly some spousal abuse that would be darkly ironic as his wife died during a plastic surgery operation on the table. Isn’t dying pretty a Hollywood adage? James on CNN, James catching flak from late night talk show hosts, James getting all the wrong sort of attention, infamy really, and then society moved on. Or did they?

Something caught in at least three musical groups’ craws. OJ hadn’t happened yet. Not everyone necessarily had cable though market saturation of boxes promising even more channels of crap sat imminent and nigh. Internet as a concept had begun to befuddle television hosts on the Today Show and a myriad other media outlets. Video game systems still saw Mario as major innovation.

And three genres were evolving, mutating out of what had come before. LA Style, essentially one hit wonders despite the number of 12 inch remixes with and without rapping, were on the ripcurl of a mighty change to club playlists, not unlike Dubstep blowing up last year, or mash-ups & bootlegs a few years ago, or mash-ups done live on the fly a couple years ago.

Foetus has been around for a while in one form or another under various aliases, tied into the NYC art and punk scenes yet creating something new, something mean, something willing to experiment and put forward material that differed track to track as much as the patterns various items from the produce section might make against a concrete slab when hurled from passing jet cars. Wiseblood, Clint Ruin, Steroid Maximus, Manorexia, so many faces for an artistically inclined musical polyglot. In the late 80’s and early 90’s JG Thirlwell is making songs about sex, murder, god boys, and visiting lost lovers in the dead of winter in Eastern Europe. Producing demented covers of “I Am the Walrus” and “Don’t Fear the Reaper” with NYC icons like Lydia Lunch.  Jazzy swing EPs making double entendres about shooting up and bondage versus becoming the damsel in distress left bound on the train tracks waiting for the train to come. By mid-90’s Thirlwell is music directing for MTV reality shows, slicing non-mainstream artists like Meg Lee Chin into the shows’ segue ways. And by the 2000s Thirlwell’s posse is making soundtracks for cartoons, Venture Brothers most of all. 2002 Thirlwell approves of the use of some Steroid Maximus material in my film school documentary and short film, moody instrumental stuff. I remain eternally grateful. By 2010 Thirlwell has collaborated with artists from Ninja Tune and other labels to remake, rethink, reimagine, and re-engineer many of his post 2000 material, introducing electronic aspects from people like Amon Tobin and Kid 606. And as the music has evolved, I’ve remained inspired and loyal to it, and to the artists behind the library of it all. Music that challenges you, makes you think, and also keeps you invested, excited, moved, and motivated has merits far over any catchy jingle or commercial catchphrase.

Pop Will Eat Itself made waves for merging samples and wry, clever lyrics with poppy, accessible sounds, making them accessible for mainstream folks and college alternative fans alike. While I liked their more obnoxious material like “There’s No Love Between Us Anymore” or “Beaver Patrol”, the song “Not Now James, We’re Busy” has always been my favorite. It recounts a story and turns James into a bystander, trying to interject, to share his perspective, yet getting perpetually shushed. This use of samples to story tell reminds me of the Jams / KLF tracks “Whitney Houston Joins the Jams” and to a degree “Don’t Take 5, Take What You Want”. At the time, sampling had just become a contentious issue for musicians, rappers particularly. Hip Hop relied on pulling breaks from records and effectively looping them to create the backdrop soundtrack to MC tongue twisting tirades. To go a step further and use samples, particularly as the voice of the sources of the outtakes, James for James, Whitney as Whitney, as story telling elements, as more than a break or hook, impressed me. 

Meat Beat Manifesto anchor Jack Dangers once expressed the building of an audio experience from snippets and loops and pieces and parts of other audio experiences and narratives as Audio Collage. I love that expression, and have a long standing dream of being able to afford the luxury to just collect sounds and build ambient beds with emergent narratives using samples, sourced sounds, and manufactured new bits similar to the stuff my friends Rob Bridgett and Scott Morgan produce, just with more layers, frenetic frenzy, not unlike the transitional montages of KLF’s Chill Out album or Andreas Ammer & John Peel’s Radio Inferno or Meat Beat Manifesto’s Subliminal Sandwich. 

 Like Walker Murch creating the legendary 130 something track mix for Apocalypse Now that had to be made the hard way and won an Oscar nod and a Guinness World Record for the effort. And back then most of this had to be done with tapes and DATs and early incarnations of sampling decks. A far cry from the laptop rock Luke Vibert, Plaid, or Kid 606 could post 2005.

So take some time to look back, to play some songs from your youth and consider how differently they were likely made, and why they were made at all, as entertainment, social commentary, comedy, innovation, or just anthems for the toasts to raise too.

Goodnight, James.


Puck Me


Tonight the hometown team beat an arch rival, one that has stalled Stanley Cup dreams for year after year, and finally tonight during sudden death overtime (no one actually died) of game seven out of seven the Canucks managed to win that fourth game and get the green light to progress to the next round.

And here’s the funny thing. I’ve only been to a handful of games, and those games have just happened to be against Chicago, the team the Canucks finally managed to shut down tonight, and Nashville, the team Canucks just happen to be about to square off against in elimination round two.

I know what you’re thinking, I still can’t believe Tennessee has a NHL Hockey team either, just shows there’s money in strip mines, coal, and country music. Of course no one on the team likely actually grew up in Tennessee, though I’ll bet a few of them can’t read English either.

My first ever hockey game, a college varsity game on the relatively new rink in Lexington during my freshman year of college, I went along with a fairly affluent girl from Texas that spends her summers competitively kayaking, something I hadn’t known actually was a sport until I met her. I think she eventually went to the Olympics, hope so, that’d been her big dream as I recall, doing the white water rapids competitions. She could bend rebar with her bare hands. Anyway, a fan of all wet sports, even when frozen, she dragged me to a game watch her pal play and stand behind the rival goalie to slap the safety glass, slosh beer around like spreading holy water on the anointed ones, and basically get our rowdy on. I remember that you could smell the gear bags from outside the locker rooms as I passed. It was a fun game however I’d been distracted by some social aspects of the company I had fallen in with, like the fact that they all had time for sports and sports cars and sporty lifestyles while I had become precariously close to a trophy for a girl that terrified most men and could bench press me single handed. I didn’t mind her well defined triceps, and I respected her passion for her sport. I just felt out of place like John Cusack in a teen angst comedy. Hanging out with rich kids watching a fun yet utterly alien sport with a woman happy to out drink me and punch me when I fell behind. We didn’t date again much after that night, left things tuned to the We’ll Be Friends setting, no harm done. Particularly to her Izuzu Trooper, thankfully, though that’s a post for some other day.

From 1988 until 2000 something I didn’t see another Hockey game until I got in on the passes list at Radical to attend a Canucks game. I picked the night the Canucks would square off with Nashville, full well planning to root for who I perceived (correctly) would be the underdog, the team from the land of my childhood, though I would be quick to point out East Tennessee and West Tennessee harbor similar rivalries to anything identified as East or West.

I’m from the East finger point end of the state, from the oldest town in Tennessee. Bluegrass during the summer, blue collar livelihoods, short buildings, loads of families that remained after the state volunteered and freed their ancestors, what weren’t freed already when the plantation owners fled with their carpet bags full of loot for the hills as the Union and Confederacy treated the fields of East Tennessee as a thoroughfare to other places to throw down. A place with minimal racism because everyone too broke to start putting on airs. And yes, I definitely have my rose colored glasses duct taped on here. My Dad could probably better reflect the realities of Eastern Tennessee, but let him get his own blog. From my memories as a kid growing up there, that is East Tennessee.

My impressions of West Tennessee are much different. One caveat, though. My other Dad and his better half live in Murfreesboro, another small town with a city square and long winded history like Jonesboro. Sort of city square where entering the Christian owned coffee shop with a short sleeve t-shirt on since it’s both summer and sweltering, such that my artsy full sleeves can be seen, causes all conversation to stop and heads to track. When I got my coffee, I noticed text on the side of the cup peaking up from under the java jacket. Once outside I slid the jacket down a bit and learned the smiling barista with the under-lip steel ball piercings’ name and phone number. Now that is hospitality! Although to be fair, southern girls are always happy to meet out of towners, means there is less likelihood of turning out related. So while I might make fun of West Tennessee, that’s not counting Murfreesboro, as my family there and the photography studio they operate that spends vast amounts of time and effort helping to restore, preserve, and protect the history of folks and their families in the region is a noteworthy thing, a good thing.

The rest of West Tennessee, from my life experience, is basically Nashville, a drive through down town at night with a bride’s made with hair that came mostly out of bottles to see the big landmarks, like the mall, and the parking lot behind the administration building on Vanderbilt’s campus until the cop came to tap on the glass and ask about why they were steamed up. Move along, nothing to see here. The motel on the edge of downtown where the bride’s maid had nothing else to say to me, where a pile of people down for the shotgun wedding were piled on the carpet and beds in the tiny room, someone else passed out in the tub, one stop shop for bachelor’s party and playpen. The tiny rental room in a lodge outside town where a couple dozen hung over kids, except the with baby bride, were standing around shuffling nervously and looking over sunglasses to see if the hung over parents were still glaring at them reproachfully. My only shotgun wedding, confirmed when I saw the bride’s uncle loading the shells into the shaft below the barrel before putting the weapon into is jacked up Camero’s trunk and folding a blank over it the texture and color of Pink Panther insulation. And why this didn’t alarm me at the time, I’ll never know. The place had a bar but the bartender never showed up, so I volunteered to put my restaurant bar back experience to use, making everyone White Russians since it’s the only drink I’d learned to make yet at Charlie Brown’s by the University of Kentucky campus.

So, ill informed and under particular circumstances, my impression of West Tennessee is redneck living against a backdrop of unattainable opulence. I’ll stick with East Tennessee’s more middle of the road approach, and keep my rosy shades on as well, thank you.


So rooting for Nashville’s team with Jonesboro in mind, I watched the Canucks wallop a whole new song of the south out of those boys. Brutal. And so many vacant seats, like fans simply saw this as a foregone conclusion, like when you attend the Harlem Globetrotters, of course the other team is going to lose. Like those generic unknown wrestlers that show up in WWF matches to make the stars look good, since the titans can’t fight each other all the time, right? Secretly you know, just as you know it’s all staged, that those poor schmucks losing were paid to lose, paid to make others look good, and that while the generic names, jerseys, or masks and tights might change, it’s the same guys underneath, making a living out of taking the fall.

So to find out at the end of tonight’s game that the next round will pit the home team against Nashville is bit heartwarming to me. Not because I’m a big hockey convert or anything, I’m not that so much as I am a huge sucker for sports drama, for underdogs to root for, or people overcoming hardships, like how difficult it must be to get a rink to freeze in the summer in Tennessee. Surely won\t find any outdoor rinks there. And to learn Nashville made it to round two means they’ve gotten better, recruited better, raided more convenience stores for bags of ice. They aren’t Jamaican bobsledders anymore. Maybe they’re actually able to start charging for seats around the rink now, compel avid Nascar and college football fans, Go Vols!, to accept and embrace a sport that doesn’t involve engines or alumni booster scandals. Perhaps the physical contact and the way the players seem to go around and around the rink can find a resonance with the locals. 

Maybe instead of coming to town to a half empty stadium they’ll arrive to see a sea of blue peppered with acrobatic people in green body suits and college boys dressed as children’s television shop personalities. Maybe they’ll even win a few. Maybe even the whole thing. Maybe I should get a jersey, or would a burlap sack like the sort I wore as a kid be enough?

My next game after seeing the Canucks crush Nashville was a year later, versus Chicago, and Chicago won, also in overtime if I remember correctly, although after all that overpriced stadium beer from the tiny women staffing the White Spot counter, my memories might be a touch suspect.

Did you know if you go to a hockey game here the beer comes with a plastic lid, the sort that has an X to mark where the straw goes. I tried using a straw, wouldn’t recommend. Believe the lid is to help prevent sloshing your beer onto children as you climb over them to reach your seats because you didn’t know that if you’re sitting in Radical’s season seats you can waive and a person with a Tricorder will come by and take your food and drink order, return shortly after and accept payment with a credit card, preferably your own.

So the beer lid makes some sense, what doesn’t follow is that if you then order a bottled water, the staff removes and keeps the lid. This makes refilling the bottle awkward, because without the lid your neighbors will smell the pee. My insider expert pal Alex says it’s an insurance thing, so no one can huck a water bottle out onto the ice. I’d expect ice skating over a bottle full of Canuck fan pee might be pretty off putting. And slippery, though that wouldn’t really be an issue for this particular sport.

Hockey has certainly struck a chord with me, a few actually, considering Stompin' Tom Connors's greatest hits are on my iPod in the Rockabilly section all thanks to his beloved anthem for the game.

Not sure if this is synchronicity or not, Sting wouldn’t take my calls. What I do know is I’m excited about round two, genuinely, and since I’m not an enthusiast for the sport, this is a curious thing. Hard not to get swept up with the spirit a bit. Hard to have a choice, either. Get caught up a bit, or get aggravated a lot.

The town is ignited, all my local friends were posting frantically on Facebook at each major turn the game tonight took, and I can still hear the people shouting gleefully as Whoville and cars honking on the gentle evening breeze as I try to coax the utterly distracted dog to have a wee and come on back inside. Don’t make me get the water bottle, Boomer.

So I look forward to the next round, despite not knowing who to root for, really. I live here now, this what I consider the home team, though I by no means feel any part of my life is hanging in balance based on the successes of failures of this sports for profit team. They aren’t my prophets. Just entertainment, and that’s the affect living in the shadow of the stadiums has, especially when there is so much wonderful drama to see unfold. Take a pass on the stadium beers this year, enjoy what games we can after the baby goes to bed with the missus. And just as Tennessee’s governor waited for a sense of who would win to decide who to volunteer for during the Civil War, maybe wait until game four to decide which jersey to wear, what underdog to root for.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011


I love stickers. Big and small, matte, glossy, or sparkly, flat or puffy, I love them all.

I suspect my love for stickers came from the sorts of things I could get as kids, the one sticker card in the back of each pack of Topps Star Wars Cars, or full packs of Wacky Packages stickers making fun of merchandise, or the Garbage Pail Kid sticker cards, Colorforms, and those scratch off images like decals that came with a big backdrop to compose your superhero scene on. I remember the one for Hulk being particularly exciting, that version of Doc Samson a real ass kicker.

I have an entire drawer dedicated to stickers, and some of the stickers in there may never end up adhere to anything, nothing has ever seemed suitable. The anatomically correct Coop devil girls for instance. Or the Scratch ‘n Sniff promotional air freshener from De La Soul that can be peeled apart into twin stickers that both smell largely suspect. I have sticker books, sticker magazines, promotional stickers from companies, business cards that turn out to be stickers. I have stickers from Prague, London, Hawaii, and many other places we’ve travelled abroad.

San Diego Comic Con supplied bushels of stickers for my drawer, overflowing into a second drawer for a while, so much great swag, free and paid for, laden with snappy art and logos and text bits, website domains and all sorts of other tidbits. The cool thing about promotional stickers it that when they’re free, they’re also typically guilt free, customize, alter, excise, and mash-up to make collages like ransom notes of Dead Kennedy album inserts or David Hockney style photo collages to accurately capture a single thing, item or emotion, theme or expression. Purchased stickers become keyframes, highlights, the central jewels the rest of the visual noise clusters around, or beneath, or creeping over the borders of.

I only have a couple bumper stickers, one for the band Meat Beat Manifesto that I believe might have come with a 12 inch or perhaps I picked it up at their show in Cincinnati back in 1991. The other is for WRFL 88.1 fm. I believe Jed got me that one a few years after I’d moved on from Kentucky, something to remember the days with. I’ve not been willing to ever peel the backs off either of those and stick them to anything, though I have taped them via their corners to a few sketchbooks through the years the way my parents used to put photos into albums with those tiny black triangles, except my triangles were wide yellow swatches of painter’s tape.

Speaking of tape, love that too, and have a vast array of types and sizes at my disposal. Perhaps The Crow inspired all the black and blue electrical tape I used to occasionally wrap around my fingers like some Hot Topic fashion statement while bored in the office of the Kenwood Twin after the money had been counted, deposit made, and concession restocked. Or maybe KMFDM?

I have rolls of gaffer tape from my stint in film school, the plum, yellow, and magenta rolls are my favorites. A half inch wide, somewhat waxy, and easy to tear as paper, it’s the stuff PAs on film sets use to mark spots for actors or equipment, or tag equipment with when the tag is temporary. Takes a Sharpie mark like a dream.

I’ll be sad when I run out of it, as I use it to secure vellum or sheets of paper when I’m working larger scale to my big drafting table free cycled to me from the occupants of a house soon after demolished on 12th, replaced by Smurf scale townhouse condos to cash in on the Vancouver housing bubble. At least I saved something out of that house where once bands rocked out all night in the basement and where costume parties inspired greatness from geeks out of all walks of Vancouver hipsters and hapsters. And my pal Celine doesn’t work on shows like Smallville anymore so no good trying to steal rolls from her anymore. Hope she didn’t miss that plum color roll...

I have rolls of EZ tear rubberish clear medical tape, white cloth sports tape like the sort soccer pros tape their toes up with, or I use for climbing after ripping off callous on a bouldering problem I should’ve solved differently. Or at least, should have solved. Duct tape, scotch tape single and double sided, white correction tape, different widths of black designer tape intended for making print worthy boxes or underscores to graphic design poster challenges. Safety tape, hazard tape, electrical tape, holiday tape printed with tiny XMas trees and holly leaves and happily gaming reindeer birthday tape Technicolor banded like Fruit Stripe gum or billowing with balloons.

And it’s only one small step for man from tape to Band-Aides. Clear, pink, beige, cloth, flexible, narrow, round, wide, just shy of skin graft. Printed, patterned, thin plastic kid’s accompaniments to a kiss from Mama to make it all better. Pokemon, Scooby, Snoopy, Pac-Man, black Pirate ones with little skulls and crossbones on them. Bright colors to ward of hunters, dark colors for more formal nights out on the town. And no matter how many boxes and bags of bandages have been stashed in assorted cupboards and cabinets throughout the house, there never seems to be a suitable one when there’s fluid flow gushing with enough force as to measure your internal PSI through the arc and cadence of the output. As with fresh tattoos, n a pinch, cellophane and medical tape or Scotch tape for the win.

Stickers aren’t just a fashion accessory, though. There is a sort of therapy to picking out and arranging stickers on a new sketchbook, as though the choices you make and emergent outcomes somehow lays bare a part of your psyche and helps to infuse or charge up the blank book with something of your personality, an expression of self through adhesive labels, what gets displayed, or covered up, or cut away, or folded over.

A painter for Wizards of the Coast named Brom once chat with me a bit through email about craft, I’d asked some questions after seeing a write up on his work in How To magazine. I’d wondered why none of his blank canvases were ever actually blank. He’d said the first thing he does of kill the white, the blank. He picks a color and swaths the canvas with it, sometimes a solid tone, sometimes a gradient or splotchy, flecked tone with anomalies throughout. The tone of that base backdrop often carries through the whole piece, he said, though there is no harm in replacing the background entirely as the piece takes on a life of its own. The important thing is destroying that store bought white, the empty void of product, the threat of the blank. I talked briefly with David Mack once at SDCC as he brush painted a woman from the crowd with india ink onto a background canvas that appeared to be a page from a Life Magazine, or maybe the French version of Photo, something oversized with a big photo or two in the main body, something dark he’d smeared over to obscure with diluted ink before beginning the woman’s portrait. I asked about his background and he said it gave the canvas life before he built his own piece, gave the image a starting place, a note like Jazz. Since then I’ve noticed Ashley Wood and Dave McKean both have numerous pieces laid in on top of mixed materials, images, paint washes, photographs, old street signage, poster bills, even safety stickers like you’d see on the side of public transit.

I haven’t had the gumption to paint over stickers yet, but I do find that branding the new books with bands of brilliant stickers helps make the books personal, particularly when there are fond memories triggered from many of the stickers. The barrage of collage breaks down some of the intimidation a blank, crisp, new book poses, all that white, empty paper waiting to be filled with whatever I can best bring to bear. Waiting for meaning, purpose, integrity, content.

And sometimes, every now and then, aren’t we all?