Backstory

I was headed to Bloomington anyhow. I’d been planning an extended Indiana vacation to visit family this summer. I like having an 800-mile buffer zone, but even I have guilt feelings which must be assuaged at least once a year. Aside from family, the first person I planned to look up in Bloomington was my friend and collaborator Lee. He’d been working for years on a multi-volume DVD set of the first season of ROX. He was very close to getting this monstrous effort wrapped up, and I wanted to give him every bit of encouragement and support I could muster. And maybe, just maybe, I wanted to give him that little nudge that’s so often needed to wrap up a long-term endeavor. I know the value of deadlines. Not that Lee needs nudged.

And so then on March 8, I sent Lee an innocuous little e-mail message.
Continue reading Backstory

A Season on the Drink

Here’s an article I wrote which was published in the July issue of The Ryder magazine. You can also see the article as it was published with photos and layout and stuff. What follows is the slightly longer text I submitted, without editorial cuts, and with a few relevant links. Consider this a rough-draft preview from a forthcoming book, still several years down the road and more of a dream than a reality.
Continue reading A Season on the Drink

Sporting Chance

Probably the biggest surprise for me on this vacation was just how prosperous Bloomington seemed. (More on that later.) If I had any doubts on this front, they were laid to rest by my visit to The Rail.

Contemporary craft cocktails and tapas — in Bloomington? I was impressed. And I was even more impressed when it came out that our bartender, Colin Boilini, had won a contest with Tales of the Cocktail. They’ll be bringing him down here to New Orleans next week.

Naturally we commanded Mr. Boilini to prepare for us his award-winning cocktail — which he did.
Continue reading Sporting Chance

The Heat Up North

When I arrived in Bloomington, people were already complaining about the heat. “You must have brought this heat up with you from New Orleans,” they joked.

I wondered what they were talking about, because as far as I could tell the weather was pretty nice. If anything I found it a little chilly, especially in the mornings. By midday it was pretty comfortable. The sun was pretty intense, and not much cloud cover. In fact I got a little sunburnt just about every day.

What I noticed most of all was that the air was so much drier than what I’m used to in New Orleans. I mentioned this to a friend who’d just arrived from Montana. (No, it wasn’t J, it was Ben Murphy — despite what you may think there are more than two people who live in the state of Montana.) He guffawed, because he found Indiana downright humid. So you see, it’s all truly relative.

But all this took place before the Great Midwestern Heat Wave of 2012 began. It started to ramp up on the day I visited my sister and her family. When I returned to Bloomington it was in full effect. Temperatures soared into the 100s. I checked the paper daily (more on daily papers later, meanwhile see Nola Anarcha’s must-read series) and noted that the high in New Orleans was a good ten degrees cooler.

Madness.

And it was dry. So dry. It hadn’t rained in a month. My mom, who grew up on a farm and thus has some empathy for farmers, said the corn crop in Indiana was ruined. Today I read it’s the harshest drought in half a century.

That Friday afternoon, June 29, I rode my borrowed bike across town, maybe twenty minutes, just before 5PM, to meet a friend for cocktails. That was a mistake. I’m used to riding around New Orleans in some heat, but this was something else again. When I arrived at my destination it took a good thirty minutes for the sweat to stop pouring out of my body.

Easy to get dehydrated under those circumstances. I took a water bottle with me everywhere and drank a tremendous amount of water.

Given all the hype about climate change, it’s hard not to jump to conclusions. I know it’s a hasty generalization, but I can’t help wondering where we might be in a hundred years. Will New Orleans be under water, and the Midwest a desert? Fallacious logic, perhaps, but one can’t help speculating. Especially in light of those guys at Stanford who say we’ll have permanently hotter summers in a couple decades.

The following week was amazing, and not just because of the heat. I’ll fill in the details later. For now I just want to note that I was relieved to head back south to cooler climes. Never thought I’d say that. When we got back home, New Orleans had just received a good drenching, and the temperature was in the lower 70s. At 4PM in July? That’s just weird. Since then it’s rained almost every day and I’m seeing fairy rings everywhere.

As I write this now, it’s 85ºF in New Orleans with 48% humidity. Frankly that’s bone-dry for us. In Bloomington it’s 99ºF with 16% humidity.

And the drought goes on…

B-Line

The first thing I did when I got to Bloomington was to ride the B-Line. Lucky me, I have generous friends who let me borrow a bicycle.

Trailhead

The B-Line is the local greenway, a recently constructed urban rail-trail, 3.1 miles in length, running alongside an active rail line for its final stretch. Does this sound familiar to New Orleanians? It should.

Of course I took some photos.

B-Line Bridge

I was frankly astonished at how nice the B-Line was. Lights, public art, landscaping, interpretive signage, bridges, the works. I saw lots of people enjoying it too.

People on the B-Line

My most astonishing moment on the B-Line came when I saw a groundskeeper zoom up in a little motorized vehicle, hop off, pick up two microscopic pieces of trash with a damn forceps, and then ride off.

Groundskeeper

Did I make a wrong turn and end up in Disneyland?

I found this salient quote on the website of the City of Bloomington:

“This is the most significant economic development project on the City’s agenda. It’s monumental in its scope and importance.”
– Mayor Mark Kruzan

Anyhow, I hope the citizens of Bloomington appreciate the B-Line. I know I did.

Mellenscat

I’ve gotta give some props to Eric Spears for continuing to excavate such gems from his personal video collection. Here’s Christy Paxson Behind the Scenes at the Making of the Latest John “Cougar” Mellencamp Video.

Eric sez: “Between episodes of her access TV series, The Christy Paxson Show, Christy made several video shorts, and this is one of them. I sent a copy to MTV, but they never responded.”

This particular video cracks me up so much I can only watch about three minutes at a time before I’m racked with convulsive hysterical sobbing.

How Marxist Are You?

I was recently contacted by a college student at a certain large Midwestern state-sponsored university. It seems he was enrolled in a revolutionary film studies class, and was working on an assignment to give a Marxist reading of a radical media text, and he chose ROX.

His task: to compare us on a scale of most-to-least Marxist between Vertov, Eisenstein, Alvarez and Gutierrez Alea. He thought we were, perhaps, second to Eisenstein. His friend however, though that we weren’t Marxist at all; she said we were certainly socialist sympathizers, but not explicitly Marxist.

So he wrote to ask me the question: Just how Marxist are you, anyhow?

Never one to disappoint a seeker, I of course wrote back. Here is my reply.

Wow that is a really great question. I think Marx is absolutely correct in his theory of labor-value, and that perspective is essential to my understanding of how the world works. However, I don’t generally describe myself as a Marxist for several reasons. For one thing, Marx has a bad rap amongst a lot of Americans, and if you start quoting him you’re just going to turn people off. Another thing is the intellectual heritage of the left. I feel Proudhon’s analysis of property is just as fundamental as Marx, yet Proudhon doesn’t get nearly the credit. In fact, the rift between Marx and Proudhon is emblematic of a deep division between the authoritarians and anti-authoritarians, and I locate myself firmly with the latter. I hope that’s evident in my work, and in fact it’s made explicit in ROX #91 & #92.

This response caused the intrepid student to revise his estimate of my relative Marxianism downward several notches. He quoted me and got a B+ on the paper. I’ve always dreamed of being cited as “transgressive” in an academic paper, and now my dream has come true.

A Watery Grave

Sub Pub

Sometime way back in 1992 a co-worker of mine at DialAmerica, a freaky long-haired nipple-ringed Mormon dude named Rob, told me that he and another guy were trying to get band together. Next thing I knew I was in his basement with a mic in my hand. Rob was a drummer; he had a double-bass setup and wasn’t afraid to use it. And that’s how I met Jeff, a shaggy genius guitarist with some seriously heavy riffs. His daughter Alex was there running around the basement too, something like four years old and cute as a button.

I guess they liked what I was laying down because they asked me to come back fro more. Soon I was Alex’s newest “boyfriend.” Jeff and Rob and I started working up some songs. We advertised for a bassist: Jeff made a freaky, colorful, psychedelic sign and posted it in the window of his apartment in the Allen Building overlooking Kirkwood, above the Uptown Café. That’s how we met up with Marc, a kid fresh out of high school who had just arrived in Bloomington to study at the Big University, an insanely talented devotee of the Stuart Hamm school.

Before I knew it we were playing the clubs around Bloomington. (Marc was underage for most of the places we played, but apparently that’s legal if you’re in a band.) I think the first gig we played might have been a short set at ER Night at Second Story. I took the mic off the stand, jumped off the stage and paced back and forth on the dance floor ranting like a madman for all three songs.

We had a pretty aggressive sound. As for my vocals, I was mostly rapping. This may seem like a strange thing for a white boy in small town in the Midwest in the early 90s. And indeed it was a strange thing. I don’t know how to explain it exactly. I did not listen to a great deal of hip-hop, but what I’d heard I liked — De La Soul and Eazy-E, mainly. But I’d been rapping since the late 80s, mostly for my own amusement and the chagrin of my friends. I don’t know where I picked that up or what I thought I was doing. I can only say that rapping seemed so fresh and cool. Rap was virtually unheard on stages around Bloomington at the time, especially in combination with rock music. I had not heard Rage Against the Machine at the time; when I finally did a few years later, I was overawed. But by that time, our band was breaking up.

We called ourselves The Submersibles. The band name was probably Jeff’s idea, he had a peculiar sense of humor. As it turned out Jeff and I were the core of the band, because Rob soon dropped out. He cited religious differences; he was a sincere Latter-Day Saint and claimed to be offended by my lyrics, but I think it was really because he got a real job. (He also tried to save me with a team of other Mormons but that’s another story.) We got another drummer, a guy named Hans who played with a jazzier feel. But then Marc transferred to another school and had to say goodbye. We found a great but very different bassist in Mike. (He was also a bit more responsible and organized than the rest of us, which was hugely helpful.) I forget what happened to Hans, but eventually he departed and Bevan took his place. The lineup changes were challenging but at every turn we were fortunate to find such immensely talented people to play with that it didn’t slow us down as much as one might think.

We played mostly in Bloomington (here’s some video Sean taped at Second Story) but did a few gigs around the state. The most memorable of these, to me, was when we played to a huge audience at a warehouse in Evansville. I think it was an all-ages show. The kids there seemed incredibly turned on by our music, in fact they seemed almost rabid. I was a little freaked out by some of them, like the guy with a swastika carved in the side of his head. “I’m not a Nazi but I do believe in racial heritage,” he said after the show, or something like that. He loved my performance. That gave me the creeps.

Not everyone was a fan. Mostly I heard from friends and fans who loved us, but of course that’s the nature of showbiz. I’m sure there were plenty of people who hated us. When we got a track on Live from Bloomington 1993, we garnered the following review from Bill Zink:

"a confusion within the band itself"

You can read the complete article. It’s a hoot. I thought maybe I could get a song out of there somehow — “The Defunkifier” — but it never came to pass.

I’m connected with Bill on Facebook these days, and he reminded me that we managed to quote him on a flyer advertising a Submersibles show. The choice quote comes from later in the article — “Sorry, Submersibles. I take back everything I said. You guys rock.” Apparently we excerpted only the last three words, and put his name on it. I think that’s hilarious, and I wish I had a copy. All I could find in my files was the following collage:

Zink Flyer

We mostly did our own flyers, manged ourselves, booked our own shows. We recorded a number of times, but despite embracing a general DIY ethic, we never released any of these recordings. Jeff was something of a perfectionist, and I think he felt we could do better. After the band broke up, I put together a tape of some of our tracks for a couple friends, and he was not entirely happy about that.

I was never actually clear on why we broke up. It seemed to be a decision between Mike and Jeff. They just called me and let me know. I wasn’t too upset because I was increasingly preoccupied with ROX which had become a full time job for me at that point. I was also a very ambivalent performer. I liked making music, but performing live could sometimes be a drag. It was physically demanding, and my voice often was not up to performing an entire set. Also, being more of an introvert, I felt extremely awkward up on stage. And of course, since I didn’t have any equipment of my own, I always felt obliged to help our various drummers carry their stuff — and man, did they have a lot of gear. It’s a lot of work to move and set up and tear down and remove a full-size drum kit.

I lost touch with Jeff over the years. We connected once maybe eight years ago. He still was reluctant to share our music. Then I lost track of him again. When Musical Family Tree launched, I really wanted to publish those old Submersibles recordings, but I remembered Jeff’s reticence. I had too much respect for Jeff to do it without his blessing.

All that changed a month or two ago when Jeff appeared on Facebook. I broached the topic once again, and this time he was more receptive. We e-mailed back and forth a hundred times, sorting through our three studio sessions and one live performance recorded straight from the sound board, trying to determine which tracks were worthy of sharing with the world, and which should be consigned to the dark musty cellars of oblivion, never to see the light of day.

And so it is that The Submersibles have finally released a record, a compilation of a couple dozen tracks, most of which have never been available to the public before. (“Splinter” was on Live from Bloomington 1993, remember?) We’re calling it Totally Submerged: A Watery Grave. You can listen to the album (downloads enabled) via our band listing at Musical Family Tree. Important note to Mom and Dad: Do not, repeat do not listen! I love y’all, but you would not enjoy this music and would probably find it offensive on every level.

Totally Submerged: A Watery Grave

I apologize to the world at large for the muffed vocals on some of the live tracks. For the stupidity of the lyrics I must take full blame. Listening to this music takes me back to another time and has engendered many thoughts about how I’ve changed and grown over the years. Most of all I feel immensely fortunate to have collaborated with such talented and committed musicians.

Where are they now? Jeff is in Florida transforming himself into a manatee. Alex is in the Navy. Marc is playing in Mindwarp Chamber. Bevan is in The Very Foundation. I’ve totally lost track of Hans and Rob. Mike is still in Bloomington doing great things in the theater scene which appears to be thriving. Thanks, guys, I wish you all well and hope you enjoy listening to this music as much as I have.

J on 1370

I’ve been converting old cassettes to digital when I get a spare moment. Is that still called “ripping” as with a CD? Anyway, here’s the latest.

April 13, 1994, Bloomington, Indiana — Tom Gulley hosts Afternoon Edition on AM-1370. The topic of discussion was “J&B Get Baked” and the issue of marijuana legalization. J phoned in and eventually came into the studio. It was a two-hour show, but we caught only part of it on tape, and after removing commercials and news updates, it’s about an hour’s worth of audio.

Councilmanic

Three cheers for Steve Volan. He’s blogging again. He’s writing about a hot topic in New Orleans. And he’s the only person on the City Council that I look up to.

I mean that last part literally. They call him “Tall Steve,” and there’s a reason for that. Did I mention he’s on the City Council? In Bloomington, Indiana, that is. But trust me, the folks on the New Orleans City Council aren’t any taller.

Regardless of his physical stature, I’ve always been impressed by Steve’s towering intellect. I’d recommend his blog to anyone interested in local governance issues, especially as they play out in Bloomington, but also with an eye to bigger national and global issues.

In a recent post, Steve takes note of the current plan for a LSU/VA hospital. Even from a distance of 800 miles he can see the misguided nature of this plan. Why can’t our local leadership see as clearly?

I don’t share Steve’s inherent distrust of campuses. I suppose that’s because I work on a campus and love it. But I do understand where Steve is coming from. His perspective is undoubtedly influenced by the prominence of Indiana University’s campus in Bloomington. I think of Bloomington as a small (but sprawling) city wrapped around a big campus. When I moved to New Orleans I found the world I’s known inverted: Now I’m working on a tiny campus in the heart of a big (but shrinking) city.

The Lure of Bloomington

When we were stranded here three years ago, I was somewhat immune to the lure of Bloomington. I was focused on getting back to New Orleans and the tasks of rebuilding.

This time, though, I felt the attraction of the place as soon as we rolled into town. It’s an old familiar place that I love, a place I never wanted to leave. I know that in many ways, if we lived here, we might enjoy a higher quality of life than we do in New Orleans. We wouldn’t have to deal with this evacuation nonsense. The city has much to recommend it: great public schools, a great library, a great community radio station. The local paper has a section dedicated to “Eco News” every Friday. How cool is that? Seems like half the people I talked to were trying to gently twist my arm into finding a way back here. I found myself thinking that I could make it through the Indiana winters if I had a sauna.

I never wanted to leave Bloomington in the first place. But the general lack of economic opportunity drove us out. Bloomington’s labor market is dominated by Indiana University. There is a huge surplus of well-educated people. If Xy wanted to teach here, she’d literally have to wait around for someone to die. I suppose the main thing that keeps us in New Orleans is my job, which is the reason we moved there in the first place. I love my job, and that’s nothing to sneeze at.

Anyway. We are beginning our drive back home to New Orleans today. I hope we don’t have to turn around and evacuate again for Ike next week.

Thanks to everyone for their kindness and hospitality.

Revelations

I’ve been catching up with various friends and relations here in Bloomington. Met up with some roxlysters. Met up with Laura Dedelow, a fellow Gustavacuee. It was especially cool to meet Josh (goodhands) in person. And supercool to finally meet Lee (magic) in the flesh. Lee and I had a very near encounter three years ago, on the last day of our Katrina exile; we were thwarted by a tornado. He’s been working on the ROX 666 DVD project ever since.

But the biggest surprise came from my parents, who treated us to lunch today. They were here in Bloomington for a mysterious appointment. Turns out they’re selling their house in Morgan County and joining the Peace Corps. (Pending acceptance to the program.) I’m stunned and proud. My parents, the hippies.

Bloomington

Part of me wanted to get back home to New Orleans and gloat over the fact that we appear to have power while most of the city does not.

But I didn’t relish the idea of sitting in traffic with two million other evacuees all trying to get back home at the same time.

So when we got the news yesterday that neither Xy’s school nor mine will reopen until Monday, our evacuation turned into an evacucation. We decided to run up to Indiana for a few days and visit family. What the hell, it’s only 522 miles from Tuscaloosa, and we have four new tires.

So now we’re here. This is the first time I’ve been back to Indiana since we returned to New Orleans in November of 2005. Thus ends my life’s longest absence from the Mystical State.

If you’re game, meet us at the Upland Thursday night around 8 PM.

The Boboli Video

And now here comes a video from the unfathomable T Bill featuring Xy and yours truly at the Kroger grocery in Bloomington, Indiana, circa mid ’90s. I guess I gave this raw footage to T Bill when he visited years ago and then forgot about it. I never expected to see it again. But, lo and behold, he edited it together with some other appropriated video and posted it to YouTube yesterday. This was stuff we shot for ROX but never used. Never before seen! Enjoy.

Not Laughing Anymore

When I first heard about flooding in Indiana last week, and saw some pictures of IU students frolicking in the high water in Bloomington, with little indication of property damage or loss of life, I’ll admit I laughed. I used to live there, I’d seen canoes on Kirkwood before — I didn’t think much of it.

But now the situation has changed, as the rains keep coming. Seven or eight people have died, 29 counties have been declared disaster areas.

Suffice it to say I’m not laughing anymore.

Here’s a picture of my Dad wading. The water in this small lake on my parents’ property is overflowing the dam.

Walking the dam

Thankfully I don’t think they’re sustaining any real damage, but many others are not so lucky. Since we found refuge in Indiana when we were flooded out of our home in New Orleans, my heart really goes out to the Hoosier State now.

Bloomington Floods

Once again Mr. Magic writes with news of life in my former hometown:

I thought you might enjoy these pictures of the recent flooding in btown.

It was crazy here last night. I’ve never seen this town as wet in my life,

Maybe it can give you some comfort Katrina, as nobody is safe from flooding, even downtown Bloomington.

I found more pictures on Flickr:

Bloomington Flash Flood

Of course us folks in New Orleans have one universal reaction when we see pix like this:

How can those people live there?

Sorry, can’t help it. It’s become an ingrained reflex. From what I’ve read there was very little damage and no loss of life, for which I am glad. Stay dry, Bloomington.

DialAmerica Closes Shop in Bloomington, Indiana

Thanks to the Magic Man for pointing out this story in the Bloomington paper about the closure of the local branch office of DialAmerica Marketing. I worked there for seven long years. Truly it is the end of an era. Like the guy in the story, DM allowed me to keep body and soul together working part-time while I pursued my crazy dreams. To the dozens of people who are now out of a job with no advance warning — I feel for you.
Continue reading DialAmerica Closes Shop in Bloomington, Indiana