Ain’t never seen a dog chewin’ on a palm frond until I went to Mexico. Actually, I heard it first; the sound of something slowly and methodically tearing through underbrush. I poked my head outside and there he was, some lazy hound gnawin’ on leaf. If my prolonged stare made the dog self conscious he / she didn’t let on. On the whole, the animals of rural southwest Mexico seem unfazed by the human presence. Dogs, cats, chickens, goats, iguanas—even bugs are relaxed, refusing to skitter about like lunatics as they do in the States. America, we’re giving our pets complexes.
What brought me to Troncones, a beachside village slipping out underneath acres of lush jungle, a village so tiny most buildings have no proper address? My friend John and his wife Karen currently work at an area resort, teaching yoga, giving massages, fishing, etc. They invited me, and how could I decline this ostensible paradise? I’m working on a book about punk rock around the globe anyway, thus the extra incentive of potentially uncovering Mexico’s answer to Topper Headon. Don’t snort; screen legend Hedy Lamarr spent her final years in an Orlando suburb five minutes from my current home.
I learned a lot about Mexican culture from these eight days, a handful of which were spent four hours inland amidst terrain and altitudes comparable to America’s southwest. The least important fact: flat screen televisions have come to the quesadilla huts that line the Mexican backroads. Washing down chorizo with a torpedo sized Coke, I caught half an hour of prime afternoon tube during one lunchbreak. There were ads for college, ads for antacid, even ads for Kentucky Fried Chicken.
Just as my mouth began watering for those eleven goddamn herbs and spices, John announced the nearest city, Zihuatanejo, is bereft of the Colonel. No tenemos Harland Sanders.
So that shit happens here too. Commercials for stores that don’t exist.
Before departing the United States I made two purchases at my local dollar store: sunglasses and sandals. The sunglasses continue to work perfectly but the sandals could only handle about forty-eight hours of my oceanside trampling. In their defense, I’ve never been much of a beach person and I’m sure I was walking in them incorrectly. Maybe I’m just making excuses for shitty footwear. It doesn’t matter, I survived.
Will it surprise you to learn I am also not much of a yoga person? The resort where John and Karen work, Present Moment, is very yoga-centric. My brain has never been able to hook into that stuff—even when I was dating a high priestess of yoga who was known to yoga for up to nine hours at a time (I am not joking). This week was no different. I was assured my poor yoga aptitude is because I simply have not done enough yoga yet. So it’s like hard liquor. You must acquire a taste?
Present Moment, by the way, is not any kind of fortress resort keeping guests ensconced away from “the real” Mexico. There is little separation between its expertly landscaped courtyard and the local community of Troncones. In fact, there seems to be a good amount of symbiosis between the two.
It wouldn’t be a trip to Mexico if I didn’t try cacao, the magical base elixir from whence we get chocolate. Taken raw it can be a gateway to mind expansion, to hyper awareness and ultimate clarity, or so they say. I imbibed, sprawled on the ground, and felt…nothing. I mean, nothing aside from the usual weird slurry in my brain. What’s up with Daniel Radcliffe? Am I asleep right now? Are these girls next to me sisters or are they just friends who look alike? Is my t-shirt too tight? Is it too loose?
Driving from Troncones to the mountain area of Zirahuén was very scenic and exciting, the latter in part because we were stopped and searched at one point by men in fatigues with enormous guns. It was unclear who these men were, exactly, but I didn’t ask questions. I just smiled and sipped my bottle of Squirt as non-menacingly as possible. Military checkpoints aside, the rules of the Mexican highway are a bit fast and loose. Anybody can pass anybody else at any given time, and from what I heard DUIs are not considered a major sin. Driving at night can be particular trouble, so we didn’t.
Believe it or not the above photo was not staged—I stumbled upon the bottle just like that in the wild. As I was trying to capture the perfect photographic representation, a nearby construction worker paused from his job to try and figure out what I was obsessing over. Karen told him it was just a Star Wars bottle. The man chuckled but did not emit a full on laugh of recognition until I pointed to myself and said, “Mas loco.”
The million dollar questions about this Mexico excursion are, of course, did I drink the water and if so did the water make me sick? Non-filtered aqua is unavoidable if you’re ordering coffee from a bodega or roadside taco stand, and not everyone is boiling to ensure purification. Sure, I had some; it upset my stomach a little, but I’ve consumed things in New York that have made me far sicker. I haven’t had eggplant since 2011 thanks to some searing Manhattan Super Bowl dip. Ay carumba.
Not much else to say other than it was a fun, relaxing, and educational jaunt. Folks were incredibly kind and accommodating. Thank you, peoples of Mexico. My only regret is not buying the guitar pictured below.
I’ve been listening to the Germs nonstop for the past couple of days. Here’s a piece I wrote for Crawdaddy! about their singer’s legacy, published around the thirtieth anniversary of his death.
A lot of pop culture historians like to point out the fact Germs frontman Darby Crash’s dramatic suicide in December of 1980 was rendered almost inconsequential when the most popular member of the Beatles was shot less than 24 hours later, but the truth of the matter is Crash’s death would have been overshadowed even if John Lennon proved entirely bulletproof. After all, December 7th is the anniversary of the Pearl Harbor attack. Bring 12/7 up in front of any American and across the board the response will be more or less uniform: “Day that will live in infamy, 1941, FDR, World War II, shitty Ben Affleck movie.”
Never have I heard anyone say, “December 7th? Say, isn’t that the day Darby Crash and Casey Cola shot each other up with fatal doses of heroin in somebody’s pool house?” I don’t even say that, and I adore the Germs as much as clumsy puppies, double rainbows, and fresh morning dew. If Sid Vicious couldn’t permanently dethrone the groundhog after February 2, 1979, Darby Crash had no hope a year later against the most important piece of Pacific Theater in our nation’s history. Fact: Jimmy Carter did not declare war on opiates because they killed the guy who sang “Sex Boy.”
It’s no accident that I bring up Sid Vicious; many people over the years have written Darby Crash off as a hand-me-down version of that doomed Sex Pistol, just another barely educated weirdo in a dog collar on too much dope. The inherent difference between these two boy-men, though, is that Sid Vicious (at least towards the end of his life) didn’t seem to give a flying fuck about anything, whereas Darby Crash seemed to really care about something. What, exactly, is open to interpretation, but it cannot be overstated that the unapologetic slur of drunken pain and disgust Darby employed in most Germs songs wasn’t the sound of half-assery. That was the sound of a human being desperately trying to convey his message against a typhoon of inner demons.
Crash probably didn’t realize it at the time, but that was a staggeringly awesome subversive move. Singing in such an obviously terrible way forced fans to decode his actual lyrics from the drugged-out death cat moaning. When they did, what a shock it was to be confronted with the unexpected poetry of Darby Crash’s astute, mature songwriting.
Darby’s lyrics weren’t the knee-jerk “fuck this, fuck that” reactions you find in so many other punk bands. There was more honesty, more naked doubt. Look at “No God,” where he says he’s “peered in every window where I saw a cross” and admits he’d “pray to anything” if only there were some tangible evidence beyond what’s been “handed down…by some thoughtful blur.” Similarly confused feelings are expressed in “Communist Eyes,” wherein Darby invites the listener to the Soviet way of life despite his own personal misgivings. “I open my books but the pages stare…it’s a double edge,” he repeats of the hammer and sickle.
On the other hand, there were times where it was crystal clear what Darby Crash wanted: a religion based around his own divine greatness. He apparently looked at Germs fans as his loving congregation, asking the faithful in “Lexicon Devil” to “gimme gimme your hands, gimme gimme your mind” while promising to “build you up and level your heads.” Crash gets more to the point in the creaky mess “Forming,” begging listeners to “rip them down, hold me up, tell them that I’m your gun…pull my trigger, I am bigger than…”
Bigger than what? Bigger than any of Darby’s disciples or critics expected, probably. The Germs never played outside of California, but their music and message still managed to creep its way around the country (and the world) for years after the fact, due in no small part to the chipped tooth enigma that was front and center leading the playful / pointed cacophony.
The most notable mainstream artist to ever claim influence by the Germs was of course Kurt Cobain; you can certainly hear the Darby-esque approach Cobain took trying to mask his words with inaudible mumbling and/or howling screams of pain in any given Nirvana song. Kurt’s fandom was certified in September of 1993 when he invited Germs guitarist Pat Smear to join his multi-platinum grunge band. Sadly, eight months later Cobain would take another cue from Darby Crash and shoot himself in his Seattle greenhouse, claiming in his suicide note that he’d rather burn out rather than fade away.
Darby Crash actually did both, burning out and almost instantly fading away thanks to impeccably bad timing. That was actually sort of a good thing—Sid Vicious was just popular enough when he died to become an immediate fashion accessory, popping up on t-shirts and purses and, Jesus, now I’m sure his scowling face can be purchased on an iPad cover. Even John Lennon, that paragon of peace and humanity and other non-monetary concepts struck down so quickly after Crash, has now stalked New York City billboards shilling for iTunes. Darby, on the converse, remains purely an artistic figure (at least in the sense we’ve never seen his image sewn onto a hoodie on sale at the Gap). He’s still trapped in the grooves of the records, waiting to convert, offend, or disgust anyone willing to listen.
Whatever you stood for, Darby—freedom of indecision, the power / cult of the self, getting drunk as an act of terrorism—it’s still (mostly) in effect. In the next life, though, you might wanna check the calendar before you draw the final curtain.
– the first half of this doc (covering Cobain’s frenetic childhood and rise to pop culture ubiquity) is more engaging and interesting than the latter, though the back end helps humanize the Kurt who descended into tragedy (not to mention his widow Courtney Love, an immensely likable figure throughout Heck, even when discussing drug use during her pregnancy [and she was right, her kid turned out fine])
– the Scanner Darkly style animated segments, while very richly detailed and atmospheric, ultimately feel too clean (read: too Hollywood) for the rest of the film’s aesthetic (read: notebook scrawled punk rock anarchy)
– there are no revelations here concerning Kurt’s personality or approach to life; it all just reinforces how difficult the world can be for ultra altruistic and/or ultra idealistic figures, especially when they have major aspirations
– I’m enormously satisfied this prestige work includes that hilarious circa ’91 footage of Nirvana bassist Krist Novoselic videotaping himself in the rest room of an airplane, joking about “this bird [goin’] down”
– it was cool at the end when they credited every person who ever passed through Nirvana equally
– the worst thing you can say about Montage Of Heck is that it gets a little repetitive and ends abruptly—of course, this simply mirrors Kurt’s final years, so maybe this entire exercise is perfectly honest and unflinching
– as sad a figure as Kurt Cobain seems this documentary does a great job proving he could be just as funny and light-hearted as anyone else; in fact, his wit seemed so quick I could easily see him holding his own on “Whose Line Is It Anyway?” next to Greg Proops and Ryan Stiles; I for one would have lovingly embraced Kurt Cobain, Improv Comic
– it’s inevitable another doc on Kurt or Nirvana will be produced someday, but after Heck it shouldn’t be (Obama can secure his legacy by making this an executive order or constitutional amendment or whatever process this country uses to legislate movies about grunge)
Still the reigning champ of Nirvana songs in this cobwebbed mind. A stellar performance here, and also you can see Kurt clicking his jaw to keep time. Deceased celebrities: they’re just like us!
In Utero also debuted today in the ’93 season. I’m certainly not the first schlub to note that Nirvana’s final album is as angry, dense, and grotesque as it is amusing, touching, and melodic, and I’ll never forget bringing it home on cassette for the first time to experience it all in one jaw-dropping listen. Rather than debate “the greatest” Nirvana album, let’s just agree that In Utero is great unto itself, an exciting journey charting Nirvana’s attempt at musical purification, the emotional and real Empire to Nevermind’s blow-out Star Wars. Thank you Kurt, thank you Krist, thank you Dave.
– other books may summarize with great aplomb exactly what the music of Nirvana and Mudhoney meant to a generation but nowhere else will you find a more detailed account of the fistfight that ended Cat Butt
– Courtney Love is the Richard Nixon of grunge; can you imagine how powerful she’d be without the pettiness and the insecurities?
– I laughed when Natalie Portman died of a broken heart in Star Wars but I cried in this book when the same thing happened to Layne Staley
– speaking of Layne, the only grunge myth the author fails to bust, prove, or even address is the one where the Alice in Chains singer was ousted from “Celebrity Jeopardy!” for giving Alex Trebek the finger (actually I think this was disproven years ago but I want to keep the idea alive that Staley was an expert on the Dead Sea Scrolls, the alleged subject of the question in question)
– according to Chris Cornell, Kurt Cobain only disassociated himself from Nirvana’s game-changing Nevermind after its release because that was the cool “punk rock” thing to do, but also according to Chris Cornell you should wear breakaway shirts at all your concerts and rip them off dramatically even if it annoys the shit out of all your other band members
– Ben Shepherd is still pretty mad some people used to call his band “Frowngarden”
– the singer from Candlebox (who are from Seattle!) did not sleep with Madonna when he had the chance, something his then-wife admonished him for when Candlebox’s career went down the toilet (this woman and Mr. Candlebox are now divorced)
– Everybody Loves Our Town presents a fairly complete and undeniably engrossing map of grunge from messy start to even messier finish; I only wish the book included a rebuttal from Glenn Danzig regarding the alleged $12,000 guarantee Jeff Ament claims Danzig’s band Samhain had for a show in Detroit in the mid-eighties