Monthly Archives: September 2008

Introducing Project Dylan: Bob Dylan (1962)

For some time I’ve toyed with the notion of doing a thorough sequential review of all my Bob Dylan albums. I initially pictured it as a day-long project, possibly on my birthday, and definitely involving several cases of beer. That vision lost its luster when I stopped drinking (21 months last week, by the by!), but it never quite went away. It’s occurred to me recently that I don’t have to do it all in one day, and instead of involving drinking maybe it can involve the compulsive activity I still merrily engage in, writing. I could listen to all the albums sequentially, record my ruminations, and post them here. And instead of all in one day, maybe over a month or two. Why? I’m not sure exactly. Maybe reengaging with one of my four muses (the other three being Kerouac, Ginsberg and Cobain) will kick-start my poetic voice, which has been stalled of late. At the very least, it will exorcise the years-long idea from my head. So here, without further ado, launches Project Dylan…


For a long time, I didn’t consider his first album, the eponymous Bob Dylan, to even be in the canon, properly speaking. After all, it’s mostly interpretations of traditional songs, with only two originals. Over the years though, I got older, which means that I got less snooty, more appreciative of the influence of blues, folk and country on rock, and more hip in particular to their influence on the development of Dylan’s vision. The real final straw though, was when the Sci-Fi Channel’s multi-generational alien abduction miniseries, Taken, made excellent use of a Dylan song I’d never heard before being played in the background on a record player in a scene in which some nasty shit was going down.

Said song turned out to be Dylan’s haunting version of Blind Lemon Jefferson’s “See That My Grave Is Kept Clean” from this album. On this song and many others here you’ll hear Dylan’s voice come across with a rawness and power that he rarely matches later. I think he was just too young to know any better- this is the sound of a young musician in his first recording laying it all on the line for the music that he loves. So, while his compositions here are interesting glimpses into proto-Dylan, it is definitely the covers that he pours his heart into. He got to a great “In My Time of Dyin'” thirteen years before Led Zeppelin, and “Man of Constant Sorrow” 38 years before the Cohen Brothers and George Clooney resurrected it. Another particular standout is “House of the Risin’ Sun”, which is made all the more arresting by the fact that Dylan sings it from the point of view of the young female prostitute who works there, rather than the dissolute young man who frequents it that Eric Burdon came at it from in the Animals’ version.

All in all, if you’re in the mood for a powerful, spare tour of Americana a la Dylan, Bob Dylan is a ride worth taking.

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September Writing News

It’s true there was no August news, but in my defense I was out of the country half the month. You can read more about reading (and seeing!) more about that below. Here’s the latest on my creative endeavors:

Film- Alas, the project I was writing for in this current round of independent film coop Scary Cow is on hold, and won’t make it in to this round. Perhaps it will next time, and perhaps I’ll even produce my own project for that round. Either way, I’ll let you know here what’s next.

Publication- I’m very excited to have just become a regular weekly contributor to the blog section of LEGENDmag, an online and offline publication covering the progressive urban independent lifestyle. You can read my first two postings here, and search my name on the site for future articles as well: http://legendmag.net/thelegendonline/category/music/This is the first fruits of my pledge to submit something for publication to a different venue, print or online, every week for the rest of the year. Which is on track so far, and I fully intend to continue!

Performance- I once again performed melodramatic poetry from the age of sixteen onstage for Mortified (http://www.getmortified.com/) August 23rd and 25th at the Makeout Room here is San Francisco. The show sold out both nights, which is particularly encouraging since it was on the same weekend as the Outside Lands Festival. This Friday I’m hoping to read a more thirtysomething era brand of poetry at the open mic after Poetry and Pizza at Escape From New York Pizza downtown. If that goes well, I may turn it in to a monthly occurrence.

Novel- My intrepid agent continues to represent my novel Out In The Neon Night to potential publishers. While nobody has said yes yet, they haven’t said no either. Stay tuned…

Blog- My blog has featured all kinds of things recently, including the latest installments from San Francisco Daze, a (nearly) daily reflection on life in San Francisco in prose and poetry form that I wrote in 2005, and reports from the road during the two-week trip to Peru that I took in August. You can read it all in any of the following three locations: http://chris-west.blogspot.com/, http://chrisw-insf.livejournal.com/, http://www.myspace.com/chriswest_writerinsf And if you want to see the pictures from Peru, they’re on both Flickr and Picasa, so you can view them whether you’re a Yahoo! or a Googler: http://picasaweb.google.com/chris.west.writer.in.san.francisco/PeruAugust2008#slideshow

http://www.flickr.com/photos/27093518@N04/sets/72157606985908164/show/

I’ll be back with more in October!

San Francisco Daze: August

Here’s August! And for those of you who see this at the end and didn’t previously know, my younger brother Josh died in late August 2005, so that’s what I’m referring to there. I still think about him every day…

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August 1-4

Nothing.

August 5

Realizing at last that the demands of my job and being able to write like I need to were never going to co-exist, I gave notice today. And so was able to write:

fog lies on Twin Peaks
like white fleece
over broad dark shoulders

August 6

Saturday Afternoon Hanging With Baby Brother Blues

1:30 PM Riding in car to Salinas,
radio blasting NOFX
backseat choked with trash and books
2:00 PM Thai restaurant in Old Town
with my brother and his girlfriend
two beers and fried rice
4:15 PM Still here
time passes so slowly
even when you add water
5:10 PM Afternoon drags
in younger brother’s
fruitless phone quest
for a pot connection
5:30 PM Poolhall
jukebox not live
brother and girlfriend fighting
bad omens and foreboding
6:45 PM Jukebox finally in gear
and that makes me happy, but
her in tears
him drunk and sneering
is like an apocalypse
that no amount of Buddy Holly
can set right
7:20 PM Dropped off at Hartnell College
to meet my parents for a play
thank God, thank Jah,
Al’lah be praised
and please be with that little girl
I left back in the car with my brother
sobbing

August 7

Seen from the platform, San Jose Diridon Caltrain Station, waiting for the train to go back home to San Francisco:

Banner
Bright, new
Orange, yellow & green
“centex51.com”
Unfurled Against
Three-story
Huge rectangular building
Hardscrabble red bricks
Broken windows
Covered
With vague patina of dust

August 8-11

Four-day casualty to the work-week. But there are now a finite number of work weeks left, which makes all the difference.

August 12

Polk and Vallejo, biding time before meeting Jen for dinner at Pesce. Biding time at a Royal Grounds Coffee that I’ve never been to before. I’m so excited. It’s like visiting a new planet.

August 13

There is a giant concrete pier at the beach in Pacifica. Gray, it goes out into the ocean. Which is gray. Fading against a sky that is gray.

August 14

Punk Rock DJ at the 540 Club! Rock, rock, rock! Go daddy, go! I’m sitting here with an almost gone scotch on the rocks, nine days after giving notice. I’ve been sitting here grooving to the DJ in his yellow checkered Howdy Doody shirt and his oddly 50s wholesome sideburns and short wavy hair and updating the musical portions of the dream website that is one of the projects I can finally turn my attention to. Soon, America will be brought my favorite albums of all time, hardest rocking album of the year for each year since 1987, and 20 reasons that the 2000s might not suck. America needs these things. God bless the 540 Club, even with the smoke from the barbecue outside slightly stinging my eyes, for helping to bring this into being.

August 15-16

The record of life in the city on these days, she is not there.

August 17

The birthday party
at the art-hung Canvas Club
burst hard candy noise

August 18-24

Missing in hard labor and stay-at-home sniffles.

August 25

August eighteenth through twenty-fourth was lost in hard labor and stay-at-home sniffles. But it was worth it, as the date was set today. At the end of the first full week of October, I will walk into a new life.

August 26

Sneaking out of work early, I saw in the 4:30 PM sky a blue that was milky white and seemed to be hollow, a backdrop to glinting-window marble-bleached downtown.

August 27

I drove all over the East Bay with Jen today depositing the newspapers for her nonprofit’s annual Expo For The Artist & Musician in locales likely to be favored by the intelligent and arty. Wealthy wouldn’t hurt either, as the Expo is the main fundraiser for her organization. It was a crystal perfect day. The highlight of visiting oh so many venues was having lunch at a small café somewhere in the wild hinterlands between Emeryville and Oakland. They served us chili lathered cornbread waffles. Now I don’t want to eat anything else.

August 28

Having just heard the news about my brother, I lie on the rolled out futon in my living room, listening to the ringing jangly harmonies of the Byrds as birds and airplanes make trajectories across the sky visible from my balcony window.

August 29

I have rarely seen The Plough & The Stars so thoroughly depopulated. It was charming to find it so on this hot Monday afternoon, the slow turning of the ceiling fans just barely leavening the heat. Behind the counter, the ridiculously fresh-faced cute and curvy barmaid made quick jokes with a motley assortment of customers in her charming accent. On the chipped lacquered wood wall, a flyer announced the Friends of Sinn Fein Annual Golf Tournament. My neighborhood, I love her so.

August 30

One of the stops on the Cal Train line between San Francisco and Gilroy looks for all the world like a little mountain chalet. The buildings huddle together in a little dell, pointy roofs and brown shingles. A grove of dark green trees on the hill behind the village defines a horizon that is very near. I will, I think, get off there some day. The thought comforts me as I speed toward a meeting with my family prompted by bad news.

August 31

Waiting at Hollister airport today for my brother’s remains to come in from San Luis Obispo. Waiting in the fading early evening heat and dry rattling wind was the worst part. At last the small plane with its v-shaped tail landed. The handsome white haired man and his dog greeted us. He smiled sadly and shook my Dad’s hand and then mine before he handed it over. Despite my dread, which had been growing as we waited, it wasn’t like anything at all. Just a slightly heavy silvery tin box. That’s all. It could have been filled with gravel. It could have been anything.

San Francisco Daze: July

Catching up now with the July and August entries from San Francisco Daze, a series of daily vignettes on life in San Francisco that I wrote throughout 2005. Here’s July, with August following right on it’s heels…

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July 1

July arrived with humidity, blazing blue, and butterflies floating in pairs above the mountain of flowers that is the base of Telegraph Hill.

July 2-4

The holiday weekend. I celebrated my independence by listening to rockabilly and writing, accompanied by the booming sound of the Marina fireworks in the distance. I couldn’t quite see them from my place— the hills and trees of the Presidio were jut a little too high. I must be further above sea level than I realize.

July 5

In Trader Sam’s tonight after the Writing Group, we saw a Japanese guy engaged in heavy conversation with a black guy with gold teeth. Later the same Japanese guy was dancing to Louie Armstrong with a blonde girl. Trader Sam’s, bizarre outer-avenues tiki bar of doom, oh how I love you.

July 6

International Café on Haight and Fillmore. Led Zeppelin III. Jen. Her ex. A Chilean named Maritza. And some Polish guy. Writing. All writing.

July 7

I’d like to think UFOs
Or signal fires
The flashes of orange
Glinting
In late afternoon
On the brawny front of hills
Across the Bay to the east

July 8

Morning Commute Synchronicity Blues:

Guy cuts in front me
disheveled oily hair, with glasses
Homeless man dashes across the street
Shirtless smelly man in doorway,
belly overflowing,
shouts, “hey” to guy running across street
Mr. Disheveled looks back at me
just as my foot slips into rut
in sidewalk
I trip
Light changes
Right on cue
bus pulls up
O O

July 9

Valencia Street, in Ritual Coffee Roasters, nearing 11:00 PM. Deep in the café that itself goes deeper into the block than one would suspect. Right wall lined with framed stuffed animals combined with various objects to produce gruesome chimera. Left wall featuring a series of paintings in which huge women’s dresses with little mechanical heads in different colors manifest starkly different moods. Back wall red. An enormous potted plant in the back, doubtless fake, curves up towards the 15 (or is it 20?) foot ceilings. From self same ceiling, light bulbs hang down from 10 to 15 foot long black plastic cords, incandescent spirals lighting their interiors. Conversation ebbs and flows, a sonic surface upon which ripples are caused by running water, squeaking doors and clattering spoons. The Rocky Road cookie, its crumbly remains now dusting the table, sinks deeper into my stomach.

July 10

Sunday morning brunch in the diner that time forgot. Aka Hamburger Haven, situated at a hidden location somewhere in the environs of greater Clement Street. Here the walls are red tiles and wood panels, the breakfast special is $2.99 and ceiling fans sluggishly beat back the summer. A waitress whose name might as well be “Margie” except that she’s Chinese pours coffee into a chipped white cup at my table. Everything smells smoky, which makes sense, since the grill is directly behind the counter. The whole place is at least 30 years out of date, and I have rarely felt more at home.

July 11

7-11! The city could have used a giant slurpie today as it was SO FREAKING HOT. Still in the 70s now at nearly 10:30 PM as I sit on the couch in underwear and a tee-shirt, typing to the uncomfortable feeling of my bare legs sweating under the hot laptop.

July 12

Abbey Tavern Blue
Writing with Jodie late night
Not such bad news

July 13

Pizza Orgasmica.
sipping a beer to calm nerves rattled by a twelve-hour work day.
Watching a video on the history of Maverick’s.
(It’s Surf Night at Orgasmica.)
Such gray-green magnificence.
Damn.
I need to find a way to get in the water.

July 14

Second of two twelve-hour days
in the office
redeemed
by work crew on road at night
white lights so bright
they made day out of
the huge square hole
excavated in the street.

July 15-16

Overworkus
Agonistes

July 17

Leaning against a tree in the sunny day of Yerba Buena Gardens, in front of the Metreon (but in the shade of the tree, and thus sheltered from the sun). There’s a light breeze, making it almost chilly in the shade. Light filters through the leaves of the trees and refracts off the grass is diamonds of green and blue. People are sitting, lying, napping, laughing, and talking. Full of joy in this earthbound paradise.

* * *

Now on the upper deck, where I have decided to take in the sun in the few minutes before I depart for the theatre. Yerba Buena Gardens. Damn it was well laid out. This deck itself is some sort of marvel of symmetry. And it (the whole park, in fact) faces dead-center. Saint Patrick’s, the old fashioned red brick Catholic church is directly across the way. The Metreon is on one side in aluminum glass glory. And on the other, in its own gleaming majesty, is Yerba Buena Center. My eyes feel droopy in the sun.

July 18-22

Overworkus
Agonistes II:
The Revenge

No, really? I really got down nothing of my life in San Francisco over a five day period because of work? For shame, for shame. I have got to get out of there!

July 23

“If there is a God, it’s an algorithm.”— Overheard in Blue Danube Cafe, on a summer Sunday afternoon.

If there is a God, you have to think that She loves this day just as much as I do.

She loves the squealing hydraulic hiss of the 2 Clement as it thumps to a stop in front of the café.
She loves the blinding gleam off of the dyed platinum hair of the woman who just walked by.
She loves the backwards facing beer logos on the banner outside through which the sun glows.
She loves the smell of bacon wafting through the café from who knows where.
She loves the goof-pot post-punk band playing from the speakers in the corners.
She loves the impressionistic paintings of snails and penguins hanging on the wall.
She loves the little wooden Indians holding back the overflow of books within the wooden carte bookcase against the wall.
She loves the sticky gummy black patches on the old brown carpet.
She loves the potted palm.
She loves the white haired old man in batik shirt talking to the computer geek who issued the quote above.
She loves the guy next to me, discussing his favorite science fiction shows and movies with me.
She loves the ice, glittering and melting at the bottom of my latte.

She loves me.
Here.
Writing it down.

July 24

Sitting in Ritual Coffee Roasters on Valencia Street, writing while waiting for David and Penny’s plays to begin at the Marsh. This follows Amoebapolloza last night. You almost don’t have to write a follow-up sentence to that, but for the record, that’s an annual event where the usually sullen and condescending staff of Amoeba Records actually get on stage and play music in various combinations. My sanity was systematically destroyed by the John Fogerty cover band, the tribute to Dolly Party, a New Wave ensemble in which a thin bald black guy sang Cure songs, the Postmodern Lovers (guess who they covered) and the tribute to Suicidal Tendencies, “Suicidal: The Musical”. Friday night I went to a screening of Washington Interns Gone Bad, a full-length indie-film produced by a guy formerly of Washington, D.C., and now of San Francisco. Thursday was the reading at Alibi Books, which will now be a monthly event. This is the best city in the world. So much art and creativity. Soon I will join the chorus.

July 25

This day was absconded with from work. Yee-haw! Phat beats in the neighborhood café, cartoon painting of a mer-man wearing a shirt and tie, girl behind the counter with her magnificent poof of curly brown hair, clear gray eyes, intriguingly slightly asymmetrical face and ring in her nose. Allah u akbar.

July 26

Cab Driver Into Work:
Young, black. Short hair and clean-shaven. Listening to jazz and talking about art and music- he loves the Queens of the Stone Age. Smart and friendly and funny. I love the ride.

Cab Driver Back From Work:
Young, white. Bushy hair with goatee and sideburns. Listening to radio talk show about Clear Channel’s attempt to block free San Francisco wi-fi and talking about the collective social good— he’s not sure we’ll make it another 50 years. Smart and friendly and funny. I love the ride.

July 27

The man on top of Telegraph Hill working on the balcony of a house dropped his vacuum cleaner attachment. He later scuttled down the hill to retrieve it. We hung out the windows of our office on Sansome Street and shouted directions and encouragement.

July 28

This is my Mexico City Blues except it’s San Francisco instead of Mexico City and not all are blues, or even poems. Still:

Mist
rolling over Financial District
this summer PM
made liquid layers
split in two
as
Transamerica Pyramid
&
Bank of America Tower
caused
eddies in the stream
at 700 feet

July 28-31

These days stand blank in their mute nonwitness to what transpired therein.

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