Blogging from deep down beneath the Greater L. A. hipsterpolitan region….

I’m a writer, but there are zillions of writers, perhaps you’ve noticed. This here is a bunch of my stuff. I hope you dig it.

I try to blog at least once daily so there’s a lot of stuff here. You can browse by category or look at some selected essaysstories (non-fiction), neuroscience pieces, jazz writing or smartassery. Some flash nonfiction even.

My LA Weekly stuff can be found here.

My email is My phone is 323-420-7410. I do a lot of short writing on my Brick Wahl page on Facebook, and really short writing on Twitter. I get all professional on LinkedIn, all pensive on Pinterest, and all whatever the hell it’s for on Google Plus. You can even look through my library at Goodreads. I’m all over the goddamn internet and all over this goddamn town.


So as always, I just went out to get the turkey. I always wait till Thanksgiving Eve, because I prefer a fresh turkey. The frozen ones are so plebian, so hoi polloi, so common. So I went to the Ralphs on Colorado in Glendale, since our Ralphs is now an empty shell where a Ralphs used to be. Made a bee line for the turkeys. Unfortunately the frozen turkeys were no longer common, they weren’t even uncommon, in fact they were gone. The fresh turkeys were gone too. All that remained were two organic, free range fresh turkeys for those easily guilt ridden, but $66 for a turkey seemed nuts. They had lots of hams, though, and even more chickens, and I briefly considered getting a roaster and a lot of breading. Instead, I got back in the car, and after a winding but traffic free excursion through hills with fabulous views of Forest Lawn, I made it to the Vons on Los Feliz. We used to shop there ages ago, but apparently Glendale is rich now, as the prices were ridiculous. But they had turkeys, lots of turkeys. Frozen ones. Ran out of the fresh ones days ago the guy at the meat counter said. He picked a bird out of the cooler. This one’s thawing nicely already. Just soak it in the sink and watch TV all night. Sigh. A people’s turkey. Feeling the Bern. I dumped it in the cart and headed towards produce. And what beautiful produce it was too. Lush and green and ripe and snappy apple red. All I needed were Brussels sprouts. They had one. One single Brussels sprout. It looked like an absurd little cabbage. All about were the bits and pieces of sprouts, like there’d been a Brussels sprout riot. I considered getting the last one and letting my family fight over it, but no. I even looked for frozen Brussels sprouts, but they too were gone, meaning there are more than a few people in Glendale who can’t cook. No one seemed to be interested in the frozen Brussels sprouts in butter sauce. So I wandered about doing some last minute shopping and marveling at all the beautiful women doing their last minute shopping too. Suddenly the Vons in Glendale, in the wrong part of Glendale at that, is a babe magnet, like an Armenian Beverly Center. Though they were of every race and color, actually, lovely, and young enough to be my daughters. Grand daughters. Life, even in a post-racial society, can be cruel.

In the car again, heading up Brand. How would I face my family tomorrow without Brussel sprouts? The only time anybody ever eats the damn things is at Thanksgiving when it’s the law. Somewhere in Atwater it hit me….Gelson’s. Maybe they would have them. They would be solid gold, but they would have them. Which they did. They even had parking. I grabbed two packages full of the things. Gelson’s wraps their Brussel sprouts in little mesh bags. Very neat. Not a hint of a riot. The pall of familial holiday disgrace fell away and I walked though the aisles full of confidence and swagger, two big mesh bags of Brussels sprouts dangling from my hand in one hell of a manly metaphor.

Incidentally, you can spend $120 on a turkey at Gelson’s. I saw one, eighteen pounds, $120. That’s twice as much as the organic free range bird at Ralphs. Maybe these turkeys were organic, free range and veterinarian-assisted suicides.

What an inane post. I wrote it in my head as I drove between stores. Maybe I need a hobby.


So I showed my wife an email from someone who is protesting the white man’s treatment of Native Americans by not cooking a turkey. It said beef, pork or lamb or chicken are alternatives to turkey. It recommended tamales too. Turkey, according to the email, is symbolic of colonial oppression. Don’t eat turkey.

My wife, a Yankton Sioux (and half Oneida) said she thought turkeys were a North American bird. I said they were. I also mentioned that Christopher Columbus had brought the first cattle, pigs, sheep and chickens to America (which he did, on the second voyage, in 1493). I’m a gold mine of historical trivia, which she tolerates. So how is it that eating something that Indians already ate is oppression, she asked, while eating something brought by Columbus is protesting oppression? I shrugged. My mother (a full blooded Oneida) cooked turkey for Thanksgiving every year, she said. We didn’t think it was oppression. Well you were Indians, I said, so it wouldn’t be. We didn’t celebrate Columbus Day, though. I said that was understandable. No white men discovered us, she said. I agreed. I think that goes along with why we’re not supposed to eat turkey for Thanksgiving. Then why not eat venison, she said. You mean shooting a deer? She said sure, why not, venison is delicious. Indians ate venison. We ate venison. Dad killed a deer or two every year and we ate lots of venison. Ducks, too. I said I doubt anyone protesting eating a turkey would suit up to go hunting. They probably don’t even have a hunting rifle, I said, or belong to the NRA. She sneered. My father went hunting every season, she said. He had several rifles, a shotgun, an NRA membership, and was a full blooded Sioux. I changed the subject. How about fish? I asked, fish is nice. She said no one eats fish for Thanksgiving. I said I think they had fish at the first Thanksgiving. And oysters. And corn. I’m not giving up corn, she said. OK, so how about a Vegan thanksgiving then? She gave me the Sioux death stare. Indians ate Vegans for breakfast, she said, cooked over a slow fire.

I’m gonna go pick up the turkey, I said.

Squirrel Bait

Apparently this is the only known live footage of Squirrel Bait, one of those hugely influential bands no one remembers anymore. But if you were around in 1985 and into the punk/post-punk/whatever scene–the rock’n’roll underground basically–you certainly do remember them. That self-titled debut 12″, especially, was incredible. It came out of nowhere, putting established bands like the Replacements to shame, musically and conceptually, and even had Hüsker Dü back on their heels because, well, Squirrel Bait were such better musicians and had such a natural grasp of composition and dynamics. But it was just raw talent. I read an endless interview with one of the guys that was done back when people would read endless interviews (the internet has changed everything) and it was apparent that the band didn’t really know what they were doing. None of it was planned. They’d always played this way, they just got better at it, and always written tunes that way, and just got better at that too. It wasn’t something special from their point of view. The five of them were just guys in a band making music. None of which would have made any sense to us at the time. We all assumed the obvious, that Squirrel Bait had been a well kept secret around Louisville (where?) for years and were about to be the biggest band ever. The fact that they were a bunch of high school kids (and had formed their first band in sixth grade, I think) was unknown to probably everyone on the coasts, not that we would have believed it. But it’s true, they were a local party band, basically. They didn’t get along too well, some of the guys were bookish intellectual types and some of the them were jocks into chasing girls. The nerds thought the jocks were immature, the jocks thought the nerds were, well, nerds. I’m serious. Just typical high school stuff. Yet they impacted us, or a helluva lot of us, in a major way, the way Nirvana impacted everyone else five or six years later. But in Squirrel Bait’s case, it’s as if Smells Like Team Spirit was right there on Bleach. Like the whole explosive Nirvana package on one goddamn debut EP. I have neither Squirrel Bait’s LP or that EP anymore, who knows why, but that EP especially I played every single day for a year. Before work, after work, late at night. Sun God was probably my favorite tune on the thing. And it’s still one of my favorite tunes thirty years later.

Squirrel Bait busted up after the LP (Skag Heaven) came out in 1987. They weren’t entirely happy with the results, you know how those things go, and then a couple of them went off to universities back east. The others I think still had a year of high school left. They’d played a couple dozen gigs, toured a bit, called it a day and broke up. I don’t even think their turn in the spotlight lasted much over a year. Maybe two years. There was still mystery in those days, there was no internet, no Google or Wikipedia, and information and news in the rock’n’roll underground was mostly by word of mouth or gleaned from dog-eared fan zines that got passed around. Squirrel Bait just appeared, out of nowhere, flamed brightly and were gone. By the time Nirvana came around five years later no one talked about Squirrel Bait anymore. No one played them on the radio, or pulled out the records at parties. As DJ culture rose they remained undiscovered. David Grubbs, one of the guitar players (who may have actually written Sun God, I’m not sure) actually went on to have a very productive career in Slint and other memorable bands. Yet Squirrel Bait remained forgotten, their records never reissued. If they were reissued no one noticed. I certainly would have had the CD, but I don’t. And when after thirty years in somebody’s closet this video began popping up on YouTube, kids thought it was OK, but not very original. Just another Nirvana wannabe was the complaint. The singer thinks he’s Kurt Cobain. I suppose it needn’t be said that when Cobain put Nirvana together back in 1985, he was (according to the Melvins) nuts about that first Squirrel Bait record. We all were. It was in the air. They were the American band that knocked all the other American bands on their asses that year. They were incredible.

So here it is, the only known footage, Squirrel Bait playing a rough version of Sun God somewhere in Kentucky back in 1985. It’s an animated crowd, you can smell the sweat and testosterone, and it’s obvious the PA sucks and the band can’t hear anything over all the feedback. You can tell that they really were just a high school party band, not professional in the least, which is kind of charming, actually. It’s also an intense and ferocious performance, and as the tune and as the band powerdrives the riffs to their smashing climax it’s hard to believe that these were just teenagers who had to find someone’s mom to drive them to the gig (the singer thanks her.) And then the tune comes to it’s sudden end, unresolved, leaving the listener hanging, unrequited. That’s an old bossa nova trick, leave the melody hanging in the air like that. It’s just not something you hear often in rock and roll, and you certainly never heard it in punk rock. Their heroes Hüsker Dü hinted at it in, say, Celebrated Summer (which always reminded me of Sun God, for some reason, or is that the other way around), but then Bob Mould resolves it in with his little acoustic coda. But Squirrel Bait take you right off the edge at the end there but there’s no finish. You can even here the finish in your head, you’re tapping it out with your foot, air drumming the heck out of it, except the damn things not there anymore. It’s over. It’s disconcerting as hell. It’s unexpected, it’s wrong, and you would have a helluva time finding another rock’n’roll band then or now or even before then who would have stopped that tune cold like that and watch all the air guitar players and air drummers topple into space. It’ll work with prose too, though I never figured out how to do it until I was past fifty. And not because it’s hard to do, but because I didn’t even realize it was possible. In American music and American prose we like our endings solid and punctuated, we like our sentences and melodies and ideas and even our movie endings to work themselves out. It’s tradition, going back centuries. It’s in the cultural DNA. And João Gilberto didn’t dream up that unresolved ending to his classic take on the Antonio Carlo Jobim tune Ligia on his own. Those couple notes on guitar and voice that hang there glinting in the sun, that that’s old Portuguese musical tradition, right out of fado, the ancient Portuguese ballad form that traces its own origins back to the Moorish occupation and the music of the Arabs. To this day you’ll hear Arab pop music leave melodies hang like that. Jobim reveled in it, and Gilberto just adapted it to his stripped down sambas where it worked beautifully. It was all a natural ethnomusical progression from the court music of medieval Moorish Spain to a very stoned Joao Gilberto in 1950’s Brazil. On the other hand, Squirrel Bait were in Kentucky listening to Ramones records.

There, I just did it again.

(You might check out the studio version of Sun God–it’s all over YouTube–to hear the tune as we heard it on record in 1985. I can hear that ending in my head as I type this, hanging there. Pretty hip stuff for the time. My fave Ligia is the take by Joao Gilberto and Stan Getz from 1976, and after Stan takes as gorgeous a saxophone solo as you swear you have ever heard he lays out and João takes up the verse again, the words in soft Portuguese, and you wish the thing would go forever, but it doesn’t, and the end is exquisite, guitar and voice glinting in the sun. It’s all over YouTube, 5’22” long. Please don’t tell anyone that I mentioned it in a discussion on punk rock, however.)


Cultural appropriation

I am still trying to get my mind around the fact that one of the leading proponents of the concept of cultural appropriation, whereby the adoption or use of elements of one culture by members of another culture is inherently a negative, oppressive act, is a third generation Jewish immigrant from the Bronx named George Lipsitz who is a professor of African-American Studies at UC Santa Barbara, teaching white students Black History. There is no room for irony in academic Marxism.

And apparently this is not funny. However, the pseudo-academic tone herein might qualify as an act of strategic anti-essentialism, being that I am a college drop-out.


Pacifica Radio

NPR’s audience, as the story in Sunday’s Washington Post says, may be graying, but at least they have an audience. The baby boomer radicals who once listened to Pacifica in their angry hordes have been scythed by death, dementia and grandchildren to the point that KPFK’s arbitron rating averaged only a couple hundred listeners at any one time. Well a few hundred, anyway. More than Mario Savio by himself in the back of a police car, but less by 99.9999999% than Woodstock. Soon no one will know who this Reagan was they rant of, or realize those Dead tapes are music, or that Alan Watts was speaking a comprehensible language at all. Oh, untimely death.

Please let this be the last thing I ever write about ISIS

(From my Facebook page…and it’s not very literary, I know.)

I keep seeing this line of thought on Facebook: “I firmly believe that airstrikes are only going to create more jihadist terrorists.”

That is so inane it’s infuriating. Bombing ISIS targets inside their Caliphate will no more create jihadists than bombing Nazi targets in the Third Reich created more Nazis. Just how stupid do we (and that’s a rhetorical we) think the 99% of the population in the Caliphate living under ISIS terror are? They are being executed by the hundreds by jihadists on a daily basis–shot, beheaded, crucified. So they join up when we start bombing? The US accidentally bombed a couple of Nazi concentration camps during World War 2, and the collateral damage was horrific, hundreds of dead Jewish inmates. Yet oddly enough, surviving Jews didn’t rush to join the SS. Of course, even had they wanted to they wouldn’t have been allowed. Then again, none of the apostates living inside the ISIS Caliphate (and nearly everyone there except ISIS members are considered apostates or potentially apostate, it takes very little to find yourself on the wrong side of a beheading knife) would be allowed to join ISIS anyway, even if they wanted to, because they are apostates. And that exclusion is the justification for executing them on a regular basis, either singly, in batches, or by the village full. It’s this tiny exclusive group (probably numbering less that 50,000 members) of extremely violent fanatics that is the source of the problem, actually. This is how it all began. The attacks on Paris and the like, going after us, the people who go to rock concerts and eat at little chichi cafes, those are new. Why this is so difficult a concept to grasp for some of us I do not understand. Perhaps we watch too much TMZ.

Nor do I understand what is it about so many progressives that they assume the rest of the world is way dumber than they are. Like these silly Arabs and Kurds and Shiites and Yazidi slave girls can’t be trusted to think these things through logically all by themselves. It’s interesting how no one assumed that the people living in the immediate neighborhood of the recent shoot out in St Denis went flocking to join ISIS when police accidentally shot up their balconies. But Parisians are smart and sophisticated, like us. It’s those Arabs you can’t trust. Blow up the guys who beheaded all the men in the family, and sure enough some of the daughters will run off to join ISIS…. Apparently there are some of us who believe that, thought perhaps they never thought of it quite that way.

I don’t believe we had this sort of misconception about the victims of Nazi brutality (or Japanese brutality) in World War Two. This is a new mode of thought. A whole generation of us raised on Howard Zinn who can’t get over the idea that we are the smartest people in the world. Talk about American exceptionalism….and you thought that was just a right wing thing. Well think again. Facebook anymore is awash in American exceptionalism from both Left and Right.

Oh yeah, if you are looking for somebody to endorse putting, as they say, American boots on the ground, I’m not the guy. I see a lot of that talk from these newly minted progressive hawks on Facebook too. But if that’s a consensus building, you can leave me out. I say we can bomb ISIS, arm their enemies, even use special forces for training and emergencies (as we saw working very well in Bamako a few days ago), but sending in regular US troops or Marines is nuts. This is not our war. ISIS is not an existential threat to the United States. ISIS terrorism in the US could be a serious problem (though it hasn’t been anything yet), but the Caliphate aka, in English, the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) or the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) is not an actual strategic or military threat to the United States. It is not worthy of us mustering an army and invading the place. We just did that twelve years go. I don’t recall you all being so gung ho then.

I say just let France (who crushed the Azawad jihadis in Mali a couple years ago) and the Kurds (who already have ISIS’s number) and Iraqis and Iranians and Turks and whoever handle it this time. ISIS hates most of them worse than us anyway (they really hate the French), and more than anything ISIS wants armies of Crusaders (their term) to attack them on the plain of Dabiq in Iraq so they can whomp us there as predicted in the Koran. When they attack us in Paris and elsewhere, and threaten to attack us in New York or London or Brussels, that is just to get us so stirred up that we send that Crusader army to do battle with them on the plain around Dibiq. Because that is where they will meet us in battle, vanquish us, and begin the End of Days. Dibiq is their Armegeddon, the battle that brings on the Apocalypse. And after beating the Crusaders there the invincible army of Jihad will re-conquer all the lands once ruled by the first Caliphate (in the 8th and 9th century) from Persia to Spain. Victory after victory. They will reach Rome (not the capital of Italy but Istanbul, aka Byzantium, which they call Rum, or Rome, as Arabs did in the 7th Century), and they will sack it as the Ottoman Turks did in 1453, which had brought to an end the Roman Empire. (Somehow the fact that Rum, aka Istanbul, Turkey, has been an Islamic city since 1453 is skipped over.) It is then, after the sacking, that the anti-Messiah, named Dajjal, will appear from out of eastern Iran with a vast army of apostates and unbelievers and rout the true believing jihadists. Finally the last five thousand jihadis will be trapped, besieged, in Jerusalem. But just as they are about to be overwhelmed,  Jesus appears (yes, the same Jesus, but in Islam, he is a prophet second only to Mohammed and not the Son of God). Grabbing a spear Jesus runs Dajjal through, killing him, and leaderless the vast army of the anti-Messiah melts away. Allahu Akbar!, God is Greatest!, the day of Judgment is at hand. The jihadists (and pretty much only the jihadists) attain Paradise, and all the rest of us (including nearly every Moslem ever) will burn in hell.

ISIS scholars (and they are real scholars) quibble about the geographic details, but the order of those events is the Word of the Prophet. So by definition it is the ISIS plan of action, their grand strategy. It may sound a tad looney to us apostates, unbelievers and Crusaders (even Al Qaeda thinks ISIS is nuts), but this is precisely how ISIS sees the near future happening. It’s not a scenario, not a possibility. It is how the future–the immediate future at that–will play out, inshallah, i.e., in English, God willing.

But of course Allah is willing. It was His idea in the first place. Mohammed was merely His prophet. Which means there’s no point in keeping any of this secret. That’s the thing about predestination, it’s not like anybody can do anything about it. So ISIS has explained all this, repeatedly, as it makes for a very effective recruiting pitch, apparently, if you are young and bored and not averse to slaughtering people in the name of God. So you can find it all laid out in very lucid English with maps and gruesome photographs in probably every issue of their magazine Dabiq, which is as disconcertingly beautiful an online magazine as you will ever see. Honestly, it is. Remember those gorgeous Lilli Riefenstahl paeans to Nazi madness, Triumph of the Will and Olympia? This magazine is that gorgeous, that demented, that evil.

Deep down, ISIS is just another Koranic literalist messianic cult who sees it as the duty of every true Muslim to kill everyone who is not a true Muslim. That is what they do. They’re not the first. They’re certainly one of the richest (they scored hundreds of millions in gold and US dollars when they seized Mosul and its banks) but they are not the first. There have been Christians like this too (and still are…imagine the Westboro Baptist Church with guns instead of signs), and  Jewish sects (like the Kach affiliated cult that today venerates Baruch Goldstein). It’s ugly scary deadly stuff. Abrahamic religion can be a motherfucker sometimes. Mostly though, it’s sweet. It’s important not to forget that. ISIS is not Islam any more than the Manson Murders were Beatlemania. It’s just that Charlie Manson and all those little mop tops listened to the same records.

God I’m sick of writing about ISIS. So I’ll stop. There’s more to life than death.

Swell Maps

When I was a kid, a 20 minute album side seemed to last forever. Now in the sudden silence I hear my joints creak as I get up to flip the thing over. Albums also didn’t used to cost $25. And the inner sleeves were full of tiny pictures of Tijuana Brass and Ohio Players album covers. Those were simpler times.

These LPs are heavy, man. Like those old Deutche Gramaphone platters we weren’t allowed to touch, Beethoven looking all scary on the cover. Real platters, those, thick as manhole covers. They didn’t waste that kind of vinyl on rock’n’roll, though. I remember I had a Jeff Beck album so floppy it couldn’t even frisbee. I tried it once, and it wobbled earthward like the stricken alien ship in Earth vs Flying Saucers. Then I played it and it seemed fine. Not this thing though, if you frisbee’d it you could hurt somebody. Delicately I flip the record. God if I scratch this thing it’s like dropping a whole bottle of Jamesons.

Damn, I remember this tune. “City Boys”. I had the 7″. Buzzsaw punk rock, baby, old school, the real thing. I had this shitty turntable back then turned up to 11 at four in the morning. Oh man, I’d hate to live next to the me then now. Amazing how great this ultra low fidelity recording sounds on high fidelity vinyl. If you’d told Swell Maps in 1978 that someday kids would pay twenty five dollars for this music on ultra high quality vinyl they’d think you were on drugs. Of course, you would be. Those were fun days.

Swell Maps somewhere in England way back when. Wish I knew who took the nphoto, but I do know someone who plays a saxophone almost that small.

Swell Maps somewhere in England way back when. And while I wish I knew who took the photo, I do know someone who plays a saxophone almost that small.