Category Archives: Ramblings and Rants

The Blarg No. 93: LIVE with Andrea Scarpino and Matt Bell

The holidays are a problematic time of year for me, or at least they have been historically. The fact that my birthday is December 22nd didn’t help much, nor did a dysfunctional family life, or working in retail for more than 15 years. The season has pretty much been ruined for me—at least from a traditional consumerist and familial standpoint. The season and weather on their own comprise my favorite time of year. One of the perks of living in Arizona, I suppose.

Not working in a retail setting any longer, I actually manage to get Thanksgiving weekend off. It’s been great. I probably should have been doing a lot more work, but I needed a break. I edited and put up this episode of Limited Engagement, put up the new What the Fork?, but that’s pretty much it. There are manuscripts to be read, I’ve got a number of new podcasts to edit—it’ll all wait. I’ve decided instead to start watching James Bond from the beginning. As I’m writing this, I’m also watching Dr. No. I’ve seen almost all of the James Bond films, but it’s been quite some time for most of them, and there are a couple of the Daniel Craig films that I’ve never seen. This renewed interest, I have to say, was spurned on by discovering and listening to the James Bonding podcast with Matts Gourley and Mira.

There’s a lot of peril in revisiting something like this, because of the racism, sexism, and so forth. There are some properties best left in the past, but I couldn’t resist. Dr. No is exactly as awful and simultaneously wonderful as I could have hoped for. There has got to be some sort of allowance for the magic and power of classic cinema, or what have we got left? Nothing is perfect, it’s never going to be, and if I can’t enjoy an old film despite all of its inherent social flaws, what’s the point? Of anything? We can’t go back and fix everything, because that’s not progress. James Bond is a racist, sexist, bigoted, terrible human being. I’m still going to enjoy the films. I’m a pacifist, but I love a good war epic. I don’t think our entertainment necessarily has to reflect our values. Especially when it’s 50 years old.

I don’t know exactly where I’m going with that, and I’m going to go ahead and bypass the soapbox rather than stand on it.

Longtime listeners to the podcast will know that it’s been well over a year since I’ve done a live edition of Limited Engagement. There are a number of reasons for this, most of which I’ve already discussed at length, so I don’t see the point in going over them again. Having gone so long without doing one, though, I was more than a little bit apprehensive. With how stressed and anxious I’ve been lately, I had some serious doubts as to whether I’d have my mojo working. It seems like everything went okay. I apparently now have some sort of “podcast host brain” that kicks in as soon as the recording starts. The questions and conversation just flow. I don’t know, maybe I’m wrong. You as the listener will be the final judge.

Regardless of where you come down on the quality of my abilities as a host, there’s no arguing that Andrea Scarpino and Matt Bell are fantastic guests. This is another one of those indispensable craft talks for anyone looking to grow and learn as a writer. Andrea’s latest collection, Once Upon Wing Lake, has just been republished by Hoot n Waddle, so you can get that through our shop or locally through Changing Hands bookstores, and Matt’s latest, A Tree or a Person or a Wall, is available wherever books are sold. Matt and Andrea are both wonderful writers, and I cannot recommend their work highly enough.

I’d just like to round back to the holidays quickly before I wrap this up. They can often be extraordinarily stressful and depressing, and should you find yourself in a position where you need to reach out, I’d like to make myself available. If you write to ltd.engagement@gmail.com, I will respond to you and attempt to be useful to you in whatever way I can–even if that is simply being a sympathetic ear.

Cheers and best wishes to you,

Jared

Listen to LE 93 – LIVE with Andrea Scarpino and Matt Bell

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The Blarg No. 92: J. Gonzo

I’m waiting to be seated so that I can order some pancakes and more coffee. The reason for this is that I’m having my windshield replaced, and it’s in Scottsdale, and it made more sense to walk and get pancakes than it did to have Janell drive us the 20 minutes home, wait for an hour, and then drive the 20 minutes back. It’s irritating, I haven’t even had this car for a month, and already it’s costing me more money. This is when I wish I lived in a city that has a great public transit system, or where I could walk to everything, or that I worked from home. On the one hand, I love the freedom of being able to just hop in the car and go wherever; on the other, I would give up owning a car in a second. It’s such a headache! And if I really want to go somewhere, I can rent a car.

Anyway, pancakes sounded like a good idea, so here we are.

When last I blarged (how pretentious does that sound?), the Arizona senate race was still undecided. I’m happy to say that the state I call home, for lack of a better word, finally has a Democratic representative. I’m not so happy that it’s the problematically centrist Sinema, but what are you gonna do? It’s still Arizona.

Not too long ago, I had the immense pleasure or seeing Marc Maron at StandUp Live in Phoenix, and leading up to that, there was a Tweet posted by a local artist who’d created a poster to commemorate the occasion, which Maron re-tweeted saying something along the lines of, Let’s make this happen, which I was excited about, because it seems like everywhere else Maron performs gets a cool poster, but last time he played Phoenix, nothin’. I loved the poster, and purchased one the night one the night of the show, and was like, it’s been a while since I’ve had an artist on the show, I should check this guy out.

It turns out it’s a super small world, and even though J. and I had never met prior to recording the podcast, we have a ton of people in common—my buddy Ernie is friends with John Derrick West who’s friends with J.; J. is friends with and has worked with Alex Empty who’s the husband of my friend (and previous LE guest) Leah Newsom; and just the day before, I got my copy of Tapestry Comics’ A Flower in a Field of Lions with the limited edition alternate cover, and I noticed that it was done by…J. Gonzo. Like I said, small world.

A lot of you who listen to this show are artists, writers, musicians, creative types, and you, like me, are trying to figure out how to make a living with your art, and this conversation with J. is a great resource. He’s someone who has worked hard to make a sustainable living doing what he loves, and he’s done it. He’s worked for big design firms and Todd McFarlane’s company, and most people would be satisfied with that, but he’s gone on to create his own graphic design business and made a name for himself as an independent comic book creator with his series, La Mano del Destino. Along the way, he’s done work as a tattoo artist, done freelance work, worked the convention circuit, and at the end of the day, even though it’s a shit ton of hard work, he gets to say that he makes a living doing what he loves.

It’s Thanksgiving week, and I know that’s a tough time for a lot of us. I hope you enjoy the time off, if not the holiday itself. If you’re unfortunate enough to work in retail, I feel for you. I did that for a long time. It was miserable.

Best,
Jared

Listen to LE 92 – J. Gonzo

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Birdman Kicks Ass

I walked out of the theater after having seen Birdman, and I felt happy–not just because it’s a great film, but because it’s a great film starring Michael Keaton. I like Michael Keaton, and in many ways, being the age I am (and the rest of this statement will give you a ballpark figure) I feel like I grew up with Mr. Mom–I mean Keaton…

For those who have yet to see Birdman, fear not–this is no attempt to Siskel and Ebert things up here, there will be no spoilers. All I will say is, it’s a great movie. You should go see it. Trust me, I know these things.

Where was I? You’re always making me lose my train of thought… Right, growing up with Michael Keaton.

He was like the cool kid I wanted to hang out with. You know, the kinda weird one who was funny and smart, but also a little scary and given to the occasional bout of depression, but that’s cool, too, because it just means you’re, you know Deep.

I felt that way up through Batman Returns, and then he made some questionable film choices, so it was like, well, maybe we won’t hang out so much anymore, and then it was more, I’m moving out of state, but we’ll totally keep in touch, and then, whad’ya know, it’s been who knows how many years since the last time we saw each other.

Again, just like that friend, he’d pop up every once in a while in some great character roll or other that made me think, oh, yeah, that’s why we used to hang out. He’d come up in conversations from time to time–conversations populated with phrases like “totally underrated” and more often than not end with the words “and I still think he’s the best Batman.”

Then, when I began seeing previews for Birdman, I thought to myself, it’s time for me and Michael to hang out again, catch up, get reacquainted–awkward pauses and all. Now I’ve seen the film, and it’s great–we’ve sat down and had coffee, talked about where we are in our lives, and found out we still have a lot in common.

Whether or not Birdman is a commercial success, it is an artistic and stylistic success, and it gives me hope that things can be as good as they ever were–not just for Michael Keaton, but for myself, and, honestly, you can’t ask for much more from the price of a matinee ticket.

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How to Play Guitar with Your Idol

First of all, we’re gonna skip right over the fact that I haven’t written on here since July of 2013.

Instead, we’re going to launch into why Glenn Tilbrook–on top of being a vocalist of amazing skill and range–is a musician of the highest order, and one of the most underrated guitarists in the history of anything that has ever claimed to be underrated.  Mr. Tilbrook is the musical half of the songwriting partnership (the lyrical half being Chris Difford) behind the band Squeeze who are–in keeping with the theme–one of the most underrated bands in the history of anything that has ever claimed to be underrated.  Squeeze is best known for the singles “Tempted” (which has appeared in approximately a thousand commercials and has been covered by everyone and their grandmother) and “Up the Junction” (the song’s most recent notable use is in a pivotal scene of the show Breaking Bad, one of my all-time favorite shows, and so you can only imagine when I heard a song by Squeeze being used in the background of the scene where Hank, but that’s way the hell off topic). They had some success stateside in the ’80s, sold out Madison Square Garden, had some top 40 singles, blah, blah, blech. You interested in Squeeze? Find these albums and listen to them: ArgybargyEast Side Story, and Play.  Mind you, they’re all good, but those are three of my favorites, and so why shouldn’t you start there?

Anyway, I could (and do) go on at great length about how amazing Squeeze is, but this particular ramble is focused on the nimble fretwork of Glenn Tilbrook (and how I got to play guitar with him).  For recorded examples of Tilbrook’s genius, listen to the following Squeeze songs: “It’s So Dirty,” “Another Nail in My Heart,” “Pulling Mussels (From the Shell),” “Black Coffee in Bed,” “When the Hangover Strikes,” “Slaughtered, Gutted, and Heartbroken,” “Letting Go,” “Some Fantastic Place,” just to name a few; all of his various solo endeavors; the Aimee Mann album I’m with Stupid–he’s all over that one.

However, to truly understand the genius of Glenn Tilbrook, one must experience him live, solo, unencumbered by a band.  The solo stage is where Glenn spreads his fingers and lets them sail up and down the frets in a way that cannot be accurately described, it must be experienced, and I have done so on 5 occasions over the past 13 years. Next time you should go with me, he’s brilliant.

During solo shows, Tilbrook is known for his stage antics–stepping out into the audience, playing the final encore on top of the bar, taking the crowd out into the streets, and even inviting some lucky soul up onto the stage to play with the master.  I had never personally witnessed this last one, but on the night of Wednesday, October 8th, 2014, I not only witnessed, but actually was that lucky soul.  Just before launching into a blistering solo for “Take Me, I’m Yours” (another one of the songs you should listen to), the man asks if there are any guitarists in the audience, a few of us, including myself tentatively raise their hands, he wants one of us on stage.  Absolutely no one is going.  Glenn’s just hanging out on stage keeping rhythm on G minor, and the offer is almost gone.  Before my mind can comprehend what I’m doing (which is probably a really good thing), I am rushing towards the stage and mounting the stairs.

Here’s the blow by blow best I can remember it: Glenn asks if I want to play acoustic or electric (I’m pretty sure I just mumbled something and pointed to his beautiful, black Stratocaster), he helps me with the knobs so the thing makes sound (because I have suddenly forgotten how to do anything), at some point in this I let him know that I don’t know all the chords (one of the few Squeeze songs that I did not know all the chords to), he tells me the chords, he asks me my name, he introduces me to the crowd, and then we’re off and going.  I’m playing “Take Me, I’m Yours” with the GlennmotherfuckingTilbrook, and I did not totally embarrass myself.  Towards the end of the song, he asked me if I wanted a solo, and there was no way that was happening, but, urged on, I did mess around a little bit.  Song finished, the man gives me a hug, a shout out to the crowd, I put the amazing guitar back (I didn’t take the guitar pick–why didn’t I take the pick?), and back into the audience I go.

Down there in audience land, the disbelief sets in.  Did that actually happen?  It did.  My friends took photos, my girl shot video, fellow audience members accosted me and gave me pats on the back.

With all due respect to my friends and loved ones, and not to discount any other achievements I might have amassed along the way, this was probably the single greatest moment in my life.

Oh, and the chords? Verse: Gm Cm; Chorus: Eb D Gm Cm back to Gm; all solos played over Gm.  I will never forget those chord changes.

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I Liked it Better When Blood Spatters Were Red Pixels…

I must be one of the worst bloggers in the entire history of blog-dom.  My last log blog was posted over a year ago–it was all about how I was going to take advantage of the memoir-hoovering portion of the book-buying/publishing world.  I’ll give you all a chance to guess exactly what my word count is on that much ballyhooed endeavor.  Ah, you give me far too much credit.  Nope, you’re completely wrong.  Actual word count to-date: ZERO (I find that if you actually spell out the number and capitalize every single letter, it looks far more impressive than the abysmal state it truly signifies).  Now, it’s not that I have been resting on my laurels this whole time.  In fact, I’ve been very feverishly dashing off poems left and right and been integrating myself into the very welcoming Phoenix poetry scene.  Hell, I’ve even been a featured poet at some events, and there is more of this to come.

However, this does not excuse my lack of blog-iness in this very cutthroat, blog-eat-blog world.  Well then, all five of you lovely people who will read this post must be asking, what gives? What’s the excuse, Grumpmaster Flash?

Truth be told, there is no excuse other than the rather lame one that I give for why I don’t do just about anything that I end up not doing:  Life.  Life, says Marvin, don’t talk to me about life.  So I won’t.  If I’d wanted to, I could have made time for some pretty blog-tastic entries, but I didn’t.  Now, as the Germans said, on to bigger and better things…

Advancements in technology and I have never been more than cautious admirers.  When I was growing up, there was none of this MySpace, Facebook, Google+, Twitter, Spotify what have you.  Not everyone I knew owned a computer, and nearly no one had a cell phone.  Cut to me at age 30, and I have, very begrudgingly made moves to catch up with modern society.  As a writer and student, I have found it necessary to utilize several of the aforementioned services (primarily for the necessary evil of self-promotion), but I have never ‘friended’ anybody that I haven’t at the very least met and spoken to in person and I’ve never purchased anything (other than textbooks) or stolen media in a digital format.  In many ways I’m ‘That Guy’ who still prefers how things were back in the day, and while I’m not a technophobe, I certainly don’t trust the digital age.

Most recently I was reminded of the limitations of my acceptance of technological advancement while thoroughly geeking out at The Art of Video Games exhibit at the Phoenix Art Museum.  My family never had a video game system when I was growing up, but many of my friends did, and so the nostalgia experienced at seeing Super Mario Bros. on the original NES or the various pixelated DOS games was heartfelt and palpable.  Wandering through the exhibit as it moved on up to the striking, realistic graphics of today’s video games, this nostalgia transitioned to awe-inspired consternation and discomfort.  Why discomfort? I asked myself, because games should not ape reality, I handily answered myself.

We own a PS3, but while the kids enjoy playing games like Mass Effect 3 where people look eerily like people, I am most comfortable with the Lego games where, when character dies, there is no blood–they just break.  Blood and violence in video games is not my problem, the realism is–it is, after all, a GAME.  And this, I think explains where my unease with advancement in technology stems from:  Not the advancements themselves, but what is lost in the process.  Relationships are meant to be experienced in the flesh; music is meant to be experienced with artwork and liner notes; books are meant to be experienced with the rustle of pages; violence in video games is meant to be experienced in unrealistic red pixels.

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