Monday, June 30, 2008

The Whiskey Dregs Have Moved to Wordpress

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Tuesday, March 4, 2008

One Sweet Crush

“This song’s about getting your head chopped off,” yelled the vocalist for Thy Will Be Done before plummeting into a song called, “Guillotine Dream”. I wondered how he could know of such things. The guitars roared as the vocalist began to bang his head so hard that I thought it was possible for the skull to come right off the stump of his neck.

It was a Sunday night jamboree at the Knitting Factory. Five Heavy Metal bands in the heart of downtown New York converging upon the community of Chinatown with their brand of aural communication. What is this music and who are these people?

My writing desk was a wooden shelf, which ran along the wall across from the bar. I had to brush aside flyers in order to write anything. Distorted guitars screamed high pitched tones, which were manufactured for the purpose of awakening its audience to a new level of human strife. I was there with my friend Joe who knows all about these things. He invited me in the first place.

When we arrived our tickets were given to a man with a scruffy beard and eyeglasses. The two of us were thirsty so we went to the bar where men sporting tattoos communed. Girls with jet black hair and bright smiles stood alongside them but it was mostly a boy's club. Later on in the night, Joe and I went outside to smoke a cigarette when a cab driver pulled up to the curb and asked if it was a gay bar.

Near the entrance of the Knitting Factory were vendors who sold T-Shirts, banners, magazines, and CDs while fans crowded around the tables. One of the tables had a sign, which read, "Give us your drugs,” so I presumed that one could also barter with these salesmen for a brand new CD. I had my eye on T-Shirt with a design of a shark showing off its impressive collection of sharp teeth. The shirt’s slogan read, “Chum Fiesta.”

A man yelled, “Joe” and beckoned my friend over to the bar where he sat. The man’s name is John and he performs lead vocals for a hardcore band in which every member save one is named John. It was difficult to see how this man could be in a band named Turmoil when he shook my hand and said, “Nice to meet you.” After that it was a conversation about mortgages and old friends. John is an affable type; looks you squarely in the eye when he talks and is at times at least gregarious if not more pleasant. Somehow the name of the band doesn’t imply until you see them perform. It is then that one may begin to learn all of their tricks.

With beers in hand, we walked through a corridor toward the space where the stage was. As I entered, I was knocked back by the dank smell of a locker room. It was as suffocating as a humid summer night in the Everglades except this was human sweat and the only alligators there were the ones with the furious fists slamming into the air. They seemed to be maniacs set loose into a boxing ring from an insane asylum. When the bell dinged it was their go to box invisible entities which harassed them from somewhere near the ceiling… or so it seemed. In spite of all this thrashing, these men, as well as some women were pleased to be hassled by the raging sonic force of Thy Will Be Done. Their gritted smiles said so.

Turmoil began their set after Thy Will Be Done finished. Suddenly, John took the persona of the band’s heavy message. All five of them banged their heads at a steady pace with the music and then it lurched into speed as the room exploded with ferocity. The wallflowers drew closer to the stage and John wreaked havoc upon the microphone. I couldn’t understand the lyrics but I understood what he meant.

Turmoil’s set was full of incredible and rancorous drones. This intestine pulverizing music was composed by a band whose lead singer appeared to be one of the happiest people I’ve met in some time. Suddenly the room became a chum fiesta as human tornadoes dared to make victims of all those who stood along the unseen sideline where a circle formed to allow re-entry the ones wishing to beat the air once again.

This was John’s outlet. As people grind through the train systems to get to work, John is taking notes and interpreting our misfortunes. The deadly bombardment and aural crushing is the sound of a quintet dynamo explaining to its audience an alliance of understanding. This audience listens but unfortunately they don’t catch. The stage proved to be too small for him. He jumped down into the pit with every one else and slammed into a group of people in front of me falling over onto the floor. He stood back up and was back in action. He later recalled the story to Joe and me and said, “I expected someone to catch me but no one did. Oh well.”

I nearly became a victim of the audience’s emotional discharge during Turmoil’s set. I kneeled in the mosh pit to take some pictures. One of these fleshy hurricanes wore a blue bandana and a white tank top. His arms, built like tree trunks began to flail about remiss of any who could be struck. After some careful maneuvering I was able to avoid any combat.

The key to understanding the music of this band is that they aren’t trying to put people into a dark place where dreadful thoughts could manifest. Instead, they revive people by forcing them to confront and not repress their emotions. I observed explosion after explosion of thunderous release when these fans confronted their aggression and afterwards there was applause.

The breadth of psychoanalysis misses one thing: A relation to the client. It is easy to dispute, however unlikely to truly garner the exclamation point required to truly cure the patient. A release of all bonds for one evening can treat one’s desperate plea for help.

Although I do not consider myself a fan of this music, there is an appreciation for what these bands are trying to achieve. It is not monetary success. Many of these unsung heroes like John often have to support themselves by holding regular jobs just like the rest of us. They deliver their feelings to an audience who shares the same experience daily. The ones who listen call back to the band’s cause. The truth is that these bands will be a footnote in the history of Rock and Roll, however the mark that is left on their fans runs the highway of human understanding.

At the end of the show, smiles and overenthusiastic “Thank yous” were a sign of success. It’ll have to hold these fans over until the next morning when they must sluggishly return to their 9 to 5s and do it all over again.

As for me, I found myself smiling and charged with electricity returning to the cold night feeling warm and awake. After being in the ring, Joe went home with joy and a wounded knuckle. The injury was chump change for the exhilaration of temporary relief. I left without becoming a casualty yet gained a new respect for a music I hardly listen to.

Friday, January 4, 2008

The Last Day in Barcelona: Day 5

Lost in the triumph of Barcelona without a passport. It's not as bad as you think but then again, I didn't lose mine. Mike and I had a good run of the city and of course on the last full day there, his passport had disappeared somewhere deep in the labyrinth of Barcelona's transit system.

Gus, Joe and Miguel slept while Mike and I panicked. My job was to secure a room for the night at Kabul, in the middle-of-everything Las Ramblas. Placa Reial next door to the nightclub, Jamboree - better known by Miguel as "Donde esta Jamboree?!!?"

I told Mike to retrace his steps and see what his fortune could bring while I reserved our room.

Kabul is a hostel that most people imagine - loud music, young drifters leaning against pool tables and a machine that dispenses tickets for a euro in exchange for Amstel beer. The man behind the counter was an older Middle Eastern looking man who promised me a good room and handed me the keys. I walked to the room, opened the door and felt the sensation of being in a horror movie. The room smelled as if an arsenal of assholes were used to wipe the floor while its master - a guy in his early 20's - slept in one of the bunks. Bottles of alcohol jut from the floor like dark towers of disaster. The guy immediately got up, apologized and disappeared into the hallway while I stood there trying to kick my jaw up from the floor.

Mike entered the room and was smashed with disbelief as well. Partly because of the condition of the room but mostly because the passport was indeed missing. I had refused to stay in that room and imagined having to explain to the rest of the boys of my failure.

The man was back behind the counter. I complained politely because I was unsure what these savages were capable of. He was frustrated with me - the American expecting the best conditions from a hostel. "This is a hostel," he said. "Sometimes there's condoms left on the beds. Sometimes there's shit. Sometimes there's puke all over the place."

"OK," I told him. "But you have to understand that I'm not staying in there. Is there anything else possible?"

The man checked the computer and said, "Yes, there's an eight bed dorm on the fourth floor. Go look at it and see if this will be fine."

I picked up my 50 pound bag and climbed up four flights of stairs, hungover, tired and disillusioned. The previous room was that bad.

The room on the fourth floor was a garden in comparison. Although it didn't smell great, it certainly didn't smell like ass either. The sheets were clean. The beds were made and I was able to relax. I walked back to the first floor and told the man that it was a done deal. "I'll take the room."

Mike and I unloaded our bags and went to a restaurant that was on Las Ramblas.

Joe called and I tried to explain to him what had happened but the frustration caused by the traumatic memory hung in my throat like flem. "I'll just tell you when I see you," I told him.

The rest of the boys arrived. I handed them the keys and they dropped off their belongings in Kabul while Mike and I continued eating our breakfast. We were about finished when Gus, Joe and Miguel came back. Mike and I asked the waiter if he had any advice about what to do with the passport situation and he advised us to go to the police station. We didn't want to waste anymore time so the two of us left while Gus, Joe and Miguel placed their orders.

Once at the police station, we realized that we didn't know how to say, "I lost my passport" in Spanish. Mike did the best he could with my phrasebook. The cop told Mike to fill out some paperwork and come back.

We waited a long while for anything to happen. The cop took a cigarette break, chatted on his cell and then returned to tell us that someone else would be help. We waited some more... and then some more. I took advantage and bought Malena some gifts because I was missing her a lot of a lot. I felt closer holding something that I got for her knowing that she would wear or read or look at it when I gave it to her.

Finally someone gave Mike the official paperwork for him to take to the American embassy in Madrid. We decided that it would have to wait until we got there which wouldn't be until Friday.

I told the boys earlier not to wait up for us and they didn't. They had their breakfast and off they went to do their own tour. Mike and I were pretty much agreed on every site that we had wanted to see during the whole trip so I looked forward to exploring more of Barcelona with him.

We walked around the Barri Gotic. Nothing special to report on that unless you were there. More beauty. In spite of this, I started to feel dizzy. My body attempted to ditch me before I had the chance to check out the Parc de Guell where Gaudi's masterpiece park was so we hopped on a train and headed toward it.

Once off the train, we began our search. Apparently, the park wasn't as close to the train station as it had appeared on the map. We asked a man on the street and he said that it was on top of the mountain. "On top of the mountain???" Yes. All of these years my friends have said that I can't go to Barcelona without going to Parc de Guell and yet no one ever mentioned that it's a gut straining walk to the top. The huge hills really took a lot of the spotty energy I had left.

I was inspired by a group of five elderly people who walked and talked as if it was a casual Sunday stroll. Thankfully, there was an escalator about 200 feet from the entrance that we went on after that insane climb (note: must quit smoking before I go to San Francisco).

We entered the park. The entrance didn't look like anything special and some of the boulders were covered with graffiti. It was impressive to see that the tallest building within view was Gaudi's Sagrada Familia. This is an old tradition - churches must be the tallest buildings in town. Coming from New York where the skyscrapers represent America's true religion, it was impressive to see this continue in a city that values its modernism as well as its classicism.

But then there was a real beauty of a sight. I mean true "Welcome to Barcelona" stuff. A house that was directly in front of the park was covered with anarchic imagery and maxims but the real showstopper was the huge sign, which said, "Why call it tourist season if you can't shoot them?"

Mike and I continued to walk up the pathway, which led to three crosses on top of the mountain. Mike and I went up the spiral staircase and holy shit... I must note here that the view from Parc de Guell is really fucking insane especially from that peak. The clouds rolled in from the coast over the peak of another mountain miles away. Once it swept through a giant antennae was revealed from the top.

We on a stone and just enjoyed the view. There was a guy trying to read his book. I felt bad because we had begun to get a little loud - well, loud in Barcelona but normal in America. But he wasn't disturbed, in fact he started a conversation with us and mentioned that he was from Michigan and had been living in Barcelona since September. I would have loved to move to Barcelona just like that guy. He did it alone and wanted to use it as a launchpad to see the rest of Europe.

After Mike and I were full on an eye feast of mountains and the entire city of Barcelona, we left to find Gaudi's section that the park is famous for. Guell is the last name of one of Gaudi's friends who was an influential rich guy who lived in Barcelona. Gaudi was originally from Taragona, which is south of the Catalonian city but met him doing something. Can't remember what.

OK, no matter how many pictures you see of Gaudi's work in Parc de Guell, no matter how many people tell you how beautiful it is, it's nothing compared to what you see when there. Amazing. I won't say much because it won't mean anything and showing pictures just doesn't do justice You must see it for yourself. I believe that the architecture, statues and space design was an extension of Gaudi's mind. Anthony Bourdain, the famous chef, once said that you can tell a lot about a person from what they cook for you but I think that it's especially intense when you enter a park created by a master architect. You might as well ride a roller coaster through his gray matter. Pretty special.

I was really tired by the time we left. The night slowly drew while it shaded the day light of its glow. I felt that it was time to check up on Joe and see what the rest of them were up to. Joe picked up when I called and said that he was out to dinner with Gus at some excellent yet really inexpensive place. Miguel was somewhere out and about. Not sure what he did.

Mike and I journeyed back to the train station. We were hungry, tired and for the first time, I decided that it would be really smart of me to take a 15 minute nap. I looked forward to it.

Once out of the station near the hostel, we trotted to Placa Reiel. Just dragged our feet, man. Really hurt something awful. We stumbled up the stairs. I braced myself against the banister. I could hear music playing in the main room of Kabul and when I walked in, there the Boys were - drinking beer. The energy cracked through my body and I became revitalized like fucking Popeye. I grabbed my euro, shoved it into the Amstel beer machine, got my ticket, walked with vigor to the bar, "Here you go," to the bartender, he poured me a cup, I walked back with more vigor and drank it down with my brothers.

At 8:00, they began serving dinner, which wasn't too bad. I had a very un-Spanish dish of curry chicken that was damn good but who cares about that. Anyway, Mike, Miguel and Joe met up with Eva and Nudia for dinner while Gus and I hit the Barri Gotic bar scene.

First place Gus and I went to was some Jazz joint. It was the Euro version and it was OK. Heard better in NYC - speaking of which we also met two guys who live in Astoria. One of them lives the next block over from Malena, my girlfriend. Nice guys. Drunk and we were on our way there as well. We exchanged numbers and said that we'd call in each other once back in the States. It's January and I still haven't called them. They will always be a blip on a blog.

Next, Gus and I scoped out this other bar that was more my style. Dark, dingy and New Wave music rattled out of the speakers. The bartender was from Chile just like Gus. He didn't know how to make a Jager Bomb that Gus had requested so Gus instructed him how to do it. I thought that I'd had one before but no. Those suckers were good so we had another... and another. It was cool to hang with Gus. This was our trip from 10 years ago (like I mentioned before) and we had made it after all that time. I mention it again because it was still pretty fucking unbelievable for me.

K called me and said that she and A wanted to meet with us. We met up and went to a really tiny bar. Sat down and talked for a bit and then met up with Joe, Miguel and Mike. They were at some bar not too far away. Joe and Miguel saw some girl walk out of a bar and they decided that would be their alcohol reserve (aka bar to hang in). The bar was a lot of fun, however the poor service from aka "hot girl" was absolute shit. She talked down to Joe and tried to make him look like an ass. Joe went outside, chit-chatted with some random guy and vented about the bitch behind the bar. The "random guy" turned out to be the owner. He said that Barcelenos aren't fond of tourists. He also suggested Valencia as a place to go. We were only sort of certain we'd go there the day before. Joe and I wanted to check out Dali's museum in Figuera. The idea of the trip was to plan as we went along.

So we all danced, had fun, drank a little and celebrated our stay in Barcelona. But then a guy came along and tried to spoil our fun. The fucker went through all of our stuff. Joe told him, "fuck you" but the guy didn't understand English so he told Miguel to translate. It didn't make a difference. As we left, I saw him wearing a similar hat as mine. The thing was that if it really belonged to him, it would have been the first time I saw anyone in Barcelona with a similar hat other than Joe - and we're American. I said, "Where did you get that hat?" He shrugged his shoulders and gave me back my hat. Guy tried to steal it right before my eyes. He'd take more but that's for Day 6 if you want to know what else he took.
Eva offered me some weed but I declined, however one of us did not. I won't mention his name but it starts with a 'G' and ends with an 'S'. He took a toke or two, got really sick and went home with the little prize that Eva gave him - a little nugget of mary juana. In G's words, here's what really happened: "Wrong!! I didn't just go back to the hostel, I crawled back after taking a hit of that super Spanish grass that fucked me up instantly. They should put a warning label on that shit."

The bar closed up at about 2-230 AM. Places in Barcelona close really early. Thankfully, K and A offered their place for us to continue the party. Eva and Nudia had to work the next day so they left. I really enjoyed talking to them and I was happy to see them that night.

And then there were six...
We got to K and A's and I was floored by the size of the place and they only paid five hundred Euros for a whole week. We made some drinks and then walked upstairs to their terrace which overlooked a plaza. We had a lot of fun, took silly pictures but then it was time for us to go. The sun was slowly peeking from the horizon. We went back downstairs and said our verbal goodbyes. Miguel sat down on their couch, turned on the TV and began flipping the channels. I yelled, "Miguel, come on dude... Let's go. We have to leave. They're trying to get some sleep." He just laughed in my face and continued clicking until he finally listened and got up to say goodbye.

Mike, Miguel and I stood in line to say farewell to the girls. I gave a kiss on A's cheek and then went to kiss K who went for my lips. I turned my head so that she would kiss my cheek instead. She failed in her drunken attempt. Then it was Mike's turn. He went for the kiss on the cheek and she tried to kiss him on the mouth but she failed. Second time. Then Miguel. He went for the kiss on the lips and she did too. I said, "All right, Mike, let's get out of here." We headed out and tried to collect Joe who was talking with A. I saw him and knew that there would be only two guys walking home.

So there we were. Mike and I again walking down Las Ramblas while our two comrades did whatever they did (more about that on Day 6... A LOT more). Good night, Barcelona. Sweet urban crawl in the Iberian Peninsula.

Then Day 6 happened and I learned all that had really happened the night before but I'll save that for the next post. Good stuff.

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

Switching blogs

Hey, all. So I have moved all of my posts over to WordPress. I've had too much trouble with Blogger.

If you want to go look, you can go here: