We went to NYC for a week to work on Vice's 15th Anniversary & Halloween event in Brooklyn. First stayed in the West Village for a bit. Railroad apartment, bathtub in the living room/kitchen-style.
Then we moved to a sublet in Williamsburg. Corner of Metropolitan x Havemeyer. Directly above a dank Chinese fast food hole. The stench of sesame seed oil clung to the walls and windows. Fumes. Greasy skin. Headaches. Nausea. We tried to stay out of the apartment as much as possible. Oh well, it made it possible for us to walk to and from work there in the neighborhood. And it kept me out of Manhattan, which for now is probably a good thing. I've got too many ghosts good & bad on that island. Spent a bit of time with Nils and Kathy Mar. Saw Pat Riley and Jackie. Roy Dank. Christopher Roberts. Emi. Sunny Shokrae. Leslie Siu. The whole thing worked out to be a pretty top notch lurk.
As for the event production, it was fun and worthwhile in a variety of specific & non-specific ways. But it was also a total cluster fuck. Slick warehouse party floors covered in piss and vomit. Hipsters
dabbing coke on wrists in bathrooms. Teeth grinding. Huffing grizzlers. Shooting 600 photos. Jesus Lizard crowd
surfing. Bad Brains reggae jamming. Frontside grinds on the lil mini ramp.
Two clip lamps for an entire warehouse floor. Bartenders without enough light to properly mix drinks.
Subway riders wearing costumes, drunk as fuck at 3AM. Typical baloney.
The following night we went to see Where The Wild Things Are with Sunny & Emi. We sat with them and their friends in the front row like children. Indeed, all of us as excited as bedtime babies waiting to be read our favorite book. Sad to report that the movie is truly the most disappointing film I've seen in years. Spike made a wicked bad flick. Wicked bad. Had we not gone to see it with pals I'd have walked out. I never walk out of films. Never. This I would have, it was that unrelentingly bad.
Which leads me to this—I give Lance Bangs and Spike Jonze all the praise for having the foresight to shoot their documentary about Maurice Sendak. It was beautiful. It was brilliant. It succeeded in every way that the mauling of Sendak's beloved children's book failed. It is maybe a book that should never be realized on film, rather to remain a fantastic voyage in our kid brains, our imaginary worlds.
After New York we flew straight to Austin, TX for a week to work on Fun Fun Fun Fest. Waterloo Park. Texas tea. Barton Springs river swimming pool. Cream colored mid-70's Tele Deluxe with a broken headstock for $2795.00. 13-hour torrential rains. Mud. Danzig. Growing. All Leather. Kid Sister. This Will Destroy You. Antelope & Jack Rabbit sausages. Fish, Cory, and Daniel. Cheese grits. Peanut butter pie. Sleeping in a tree house, watching cable news. Making coffee in the morning before running errands. Having marvelous fun in the sun with TT & The Bubba. Staring at lil houses in cute lil neighborhoods. Bummin' on The Coug. Inhaling Tex Mex shame bowls at that cory/delicious Freebirds joint. Whipping in to the Whip In for Indian curry. Clawing through thrifty shoppes. Hustling preproduction on a two-day 20,000 cap music festival. Ninety bands and four stages. Spending an entire Sunday working 13-hours in the rain & mud. Watching Danzig be Danzig. Being tired. Being something else. Being not sure what... These are the things I can remember of the past two weeks.
While in Texas my grandfather passed away, he was 96. Though we had remarkably different ideas about life (apparently extending to what I should be doing with mine), I liked my grandfather very much. His passing, however, is not something I mourn too terribly. He was not doing well these past few years, a circumstance he resented tremendously.
To be sure, the man wanted to live forever but at his age he was damn angry about what the reality of doing so actually meant. Dementia, insomnia, loss of appetite, confusion, uncontrollable outbursts, heart medications, blood thinners, orthopedic shoes, shallow breathing, disorientation, dander, unrecognizable family members... The whole thing. For a man as proud as Arlie Lewis Carstens was, it was an uncomfortable situation. Much as I'd still like to have him here, I know damn well he'd have been moved into hospice care for the remainder of his time on earth, which is a real bullshit way to stare into the void.
On Tuesday this week we arrived home to Los Angeles for a brief 48 hours before heading up to Portland for the services. Today, Carmela in Innsbruck sent an email expressing her condolences. Here is a portion of what I wrote back:
"I am the last male Carstens, which was always something my grandfather was very concerned about. By his logic I should have been married 15 years ago and seeding the family name with male children every two years. As for my grandfather's death, he was 96. Suffering double pneumonia and the onset of dementia, he was not doing very well toward the end. For this reason I must say his passing is a good thing. He was confused and in pain. My whole life he was a very stoic man. We shared stories of his childhood and of his years of struggle trying to raise a family, but we did not share stories of my childhood. Likely because the circumstances of my youth were hard for him to discuss. Especially my sister's death. The mere mention of her name would send him into tears and he would leave the room in futile anger. He was often funny and insightful, but wouldn't say he was a warm person. He had very stern, simple, inflexible rules about how a man was supposed to live his life (marriage, 9-to-5 blue collar government job, kids, home ownership, death). He was a serious man. A very serious man. He grew up during the Great Depression and WWII, so it makes sense. Raised four kids. Worked in Oregon timber camps felling old growth forests until the falling trees claimed the lives of all his friends. So he moved the family to Washington State where he got a job in a naval shipyard building battleships. That is, until the asbestos crystalized his lungs. He worked his whole life and was extremely prideful about it. I work my ass off, but other than that we were dissimilar in most every way. Had almost zero common frames of reference. Nevertheless, I loved him very much."
If that sounds like a cold eulogy, it is not. On the contrary, it is as factual, stoic, and unsentimental as the man generally was himself. Above all, he was a man in full. He lived life on his terms, usually quite angrily so. He will be buried tomorrow, Saturday, November 14th, 2009 at 2PM in the Union Point Cemetery in Banks, Oregon.
His final resting place will be beside my grandmother Margaret Byers Carstens. I loved her more than I can explain. She was the heart and soul of my family. Though a mind blowing hard ass, she was very good to me. For the first two years of my life she raised me in the top drawer of a dresser. Devotion. Mentol cigarettes. Hands like claws. Knee-high sheer panty hose. Nurse shoes with thick oatmeal brown heels. Poo-colored brown skirts. Scottish grit & sarcasm. Button-up cardigan sweaters. Hair like a red flaming bush.
Twenty-two years ago she sat me down in my Aunt Berta's kitchen and told me a few things. She said I'd have to work much harder than most in life because I'd come from hard circumstances. She told me she loved me and had tried to protect me as much as she could. She said from here on out I would have to decide for myself who I was going to be, that I was shaping up to be different than the rest of the family. Why? Because my mother was a nightmare, my sister was dead, and my other sister was a derelict, and my father would always be too downtrodden about these circumstances to be able to offer much guidance. And, she noted that at my age I was already well past doing what anyone told me. I was fifteen years old. Her insights were accurate. It seemed like a reasonable conversation, even a timely one. Despite her age and diabetes, that night she appeared to be in perfect health. Lucid, talkative, intent, focused, and compassionate.
The following day, while sitting in her lounger reading a book, she quietly slipped into a coma. Within a week or so she was dead. I believe taking her off life support was probably the most difficult decision my grandfather ever had to make. He did not want to do it but she had always said "Hell no" to life support. Fair enough. They were together almost 50 years. He had to honor her wish.
He once told me he didn't cry for weeks and weeks after her passing. He would not let himself do it. But the day it came time for him to remove her dresses from the closet he finally broke down. The sight of her clothes, knowing he would be touching them in a way so foreign, boxing them up because she was no longer there to do it herself... the finality of it came crashing in on him. He broke. And, when he told me that story so many years after her passing, he broke again. He began crying, looking off into the middle distance, shaping his face into a determined scowl of pain and defiance.
Next to my uncle Gary, my grandfather was probably the hardest man I've ever known. Any time I've ever thought of him staring into the closet at her dresses, man, I just cave in. My psyche comes crashing. Real understanding. I know that pain. I comprehend the incomprehensibility of it. And just like my grandfather, I grit my teeth and get angry rather than allow myself to spill over into tears. A real classic Carstens family vibe. The day I saw him do that I realized I am not as much of a self-made sentinal as I thought I was.
It does my spirits good to know he will soon be beside her. My most immediate memory of her is the time I saw her sail a white china dinner plate at my grandfather's head full throttle. A moment rivaled only by the time I saw my grandfather grab my cousin Jodi by the hair and swing her off the ground a full 360 degrees. Mad as hell. A massive clump of her strawberry blond hair still in his hand as she went sailing across the living room. She fell in a heap screaming, crying, utterly bewildered. It was then that I came to understand my father a bit better. He'd been raised by a man who thought nothing of doing something like that. Which explained his uncertainty, his frustration. And his own issues with anger.
On an entirely related/unrelated note, Jerry Fuchs, drummer for Turing Machine, Maserati, The Juan MacLean, and !!! has died. Last Sunday, November 9th, while trying to leap from a stalled elevator his jacket got caught and he was flung backwards down the shaft. It is a very tragic passing; he was a phenomenally talented musician and an enormously loved person within the tight knit independent music community. Though we did not know one another personally, our bands shared stages a few times in the 90s. His drumming never ceased to astound me. Looking at a photo of him breaks my heart. He truly was one of the good ones.
Speaking of the good ones, I came across this today on vimeo— Lambchop at the XX Merge Records event. If you are a writer or musician, or for that matter creative person of any stripe... this will likely move you. If it does not, I'd be very interested to know why. Watching this, my sense of wonder at being alive leaps twenty fold. Staring at these people collectively working to conjure their music and create that vibe... I find it profoundly inspiring.
Being cognizant, being human...being able to make things, create sounds and channel thoughts and intentions into action... is all so unlikely. This Lambchop footage is technology and to a layperson like me, technology is the modern day equivalent of magic. Consciousness, sound, style, instruments, word placements, noise, hands, guitar amps, electricity, video cameras, Internetting... all of it coming together to manifest this clip... just astounds me. If there's a God, well then I suppose I thank God for Lambchop. That we are anything at all just amazes me. Tomorrow I will celebrate my grandfather's life, wish him well, and request he keep in touch.