Saturday, January 29, 2011

So Much Information

Everybody gets so much information all day long that they lose their common sense.
 -Gertrude Stein, Reflections on the Atomic Bomb (1946)

Is it my imagination or is the news cycle becoming more and more hallucinatory? Not just the news coming out of Egypt, which is mind-fucking enough ("Plumes of rancid, thick smoke billowed over the Nile River as, by nightfall, chaos reigned in the bustling metropolis," describes a feverish CNN wire dispatch) but the fluffier news as well; I presume my readers have been following, at least casually, the saga of the Florida piano? Abandoned atop a Biscayne Bay sandbar by some pranking teenagers, the dilapidated grand piano had become 2011's most Dadaist conversation piece-- until the authorities, playing their expected part, ordered it removed. Now the latest twist, yielding one of the most linguistically bizarre headlines (CNN again) in recent memory: MYSTERY PIANO IS NOW WAITER, TABLE. I don't recall the line betwixt breaking news and high-modernist poetry ever being so blurred--what a queer epoch is upon us!

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Give Up on My Girl

Not usually one to repost videos from the Internet, but I thought I'd share this 2:30 of punk-pop loveliness that I stumbled across, from totally forgotten Chicago band the Cleaning Ladys and featuring 10 year-old wunderkind Jason Narducy on guitar and vox. He was also a member of seminal Evanston kiddie-punk band Verboten, and a quarter-century later, Narducy, still living in Evanston, would end up as my boss at Inside/Outside Painting. He still plays music, a touring bassist for old farts like Bob Mould and Robert Pollard. But dig this geeky, exuberant video--and for a 10 year-old, Narducy delivers lines like Social Security/And creeping senility with startling conviction:

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Secret Beach Poetry Corner


Band on the rumpkin
Whiskers on a banana
Car means cloud,
Places parentheses in
a thousand eyes
that can surrender tears

A poison sent
A flower rolled
Awake on a wizard
a toad
These frogs don’t laugh at birth
They lie with thunder
and pitiful worth
that lay within the womb
I see--your funky
sacredness of life
seems lost upon the play
Those superficial, standing
With missiles for penis
want to play

Shadows o’er freight
my dusty, dirty one
You shall see the devil—
I’ve seen you with my son

Simpleminded center
Simpleminded such to think in words
I play your Shakespeare’s monkey mouth


Miserable tattoo upon this forehead
I laugh and pray
It’s all your lives I weigh
and I weigh your lives every day
with your concern with yourselves.
I see what I say
And I say what I see
From there
to eternity.

I am Frank Sinatra:
I left my hat
In Helen’s card room

Charles Manson - Excerpts from "I Don't Need Water Sprinklers in the Desert"
from his 2005 album One Mind

Fuck everything

-Liam Warfield - Excerpt from his 19th Nervous Breakdown

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Must-See Chicago

A heads-up for Chicago-area readers: screening for only five more days at the Art Institute, which is free all month, is Chicago-Scope, a collection of incredible films by Chicago filmmaker Tom Palazzolo that I can't possibly recommend highly enough. My friend Chip and I had the pleasure of a long chat with Tom Palazzolo on Vocalo in 2008, when we were organizing our '68 Democratic National Convention re-enactment. We knew that Palazzolo had been on the streets in '68, shooting the carnage, but I hadn't the faintest idea that he was such a legendary experimental filmmaker.

Palazzolo's footage from '68 is prominent in Love It/Leave It, the most haunting and effective of the four films shown here. It's a gaudy and disorienting collage of late-60s foment and excess, psychedelic cinema-verite that takes in the whole universe of weird vibrations going around that hot Chicago summer of '68--interweaving hippie marches and riot-squad training exercises with vaudevillian footage of suburban nudist contests and clown conventions, Independence Day parades and skid-row winos, all set to a whirling musique-concrete score featuring both Richard J. Daley and Merle Haggard.

Less political but equally mind-melting is O, made in 1967 and one of Palazzolo's earliest films--a dizzying paean to high-wire acrobats and Dada filmmaking. The other two films, while more stylistically conventional, are highly entertaining slices-of-life from a long-lost Chicago. Jerry's profiles a alarmingly manic south loop deli-owner whose epic berating of customers makes the Wiener's Circle look like a game of patty-cake, while Ricky and Rocky takes in a suburban, Polish-Italian wedding shower. The garish, early 70s fashions on display here--rayon floral-prints, severe eyewear and terrifying bouffants--are alone worth the price of admission. Which, as previously mentioned, is free.

Seriously--these films are absolutely brilliant and extremely difficult to find. Do yourself an enormous favor! Chicago-Scope runs through 1/9 in the Art Institute's modern wing.

Monday, January 3, 2011

Escape from the Aughts, pt. 2

A year ago, on this blog, I began a recap of the millennium's first decade as I'd experienced it. I only made it through 2004, promising a future installment that never came. Well I may be a shirker, but I'm no deserter. So now that another year has passed, I'll try to trudge through the second half, and throw in 2010 for good measure.

On a brief technical note, I just now realized that I've never turned on spell-check, in my year+ of blogging; nor have I ever much bothered in the way of proofreading--this thing has been lousy with spelling errors! Why does no one tell me these things? "Liam, you're an excellent blogger but your spelling is atrocious"--it would be so easy! At any rate, I'm using spell-check from here on out. Full speed ahead! Take a deep breath, because this post will be long and self-indulgent. Here's how it all went down:


Boy, 2005. I was 25 years old. This year, I'll admit, was hazy; I don't think I'd ever felt as lost at sea. I had literally no clue what I was doing. I mostly lived in a crowded apartment on Dean Street--bustling Wicker Park! The place was cheap because it was an absolute shithole, administered by the incredibly sleazy next-door neighbor and his sullen, thieving son. The whole apartment had an extreme slope. I lived in the close quarters of the pantry, which I classed up with a very successful mural--it was a nice nest but was right off the kitchen, right in the thick of all the parties and late-night guffawing. No privacy.

In my general frustration, I spent a lot of time at a timeshared practice space, often getting wasted and sleeping there. At some point I banged out what I thought of as my "punk album". It was pretty raw and gnarly, full of nasty couplets--There's a place I know where you can pay to see it all/You can watch the bodies writhing through a hole in the wall (sung to the tune of the place in France where the naked ladies dance); there was a bitter accapella number whose sole lyric was Love and courtship, sex and marriage, then comes the baby in the baby carriage, and a manic cover of Roy Orbison's Workin' for the Man.

While living on Dean Street I made a fascinating new friend--Tom, an older homeless man who lived behind the fieldhouse in the little park across the street. To the chagrin of some of my roommates, Tom started coming up to my house for morning coffee; soon he was hanging out there at night, and a couple of times, in especially crappy weather, he was allowed to sleep on the floor. Thing was, Tom defied virtually every stereotype of a homeless person. Not just defied--totally shattered. He was incredibly well-spoken. He didn't drink, though he was an enthusiastic pot-smoker. He was gay, though he didn't loudly proclaim it. He was incredibly well-read and well-educated, and was literally a walking encyclopedia on a whole spectrum of subjects, from Chinese history to Aleister Crowley. He did have the caricature shopping cart full of bags, but in his case the bags were full of expensive books, which he spent much of his SSI checks on. He also collected ancient coins, which he bought at a jeweler's downtown. He had currency from Ancient Rome!

He was also just a nice, sociable man, even if he sometimes dominated conversations. I felt we became true friends. Eventually I helped him move into an SRO near downtown, and for a while he'd call me begging me to visit and help him clean his room. He'd injured his back and couldn't bend over to pick things up, and his unit was honestly a total wreck. These visits became pretty depressing, to tell the truth. It was hard not to wonder about Tom's persistent indigence, when he could just as well have been a college professor. It didn't seem to be laziness; the life of the mind merely won out over more earthly concerns like shelter or food. In one of Tom's beloved Ancient Civilizations he might have been a monk, or a rabbi, or at least a penniless scholar; but in millennial America he was just another guy on skid row, eating microwave burritos. After a while he didn't call as much, probably sensing what a drag the visits could be for me. I haven't seen him a whole lot since, I'm sad to say, and I'm not sure I could find him if I tried. People, how they come and go!


2006 found me employed, and working my ass off--I didn't want to live on skid row! It was far-and-away the toughest job I ever had, sometimes the most exhilarating: I drove a horse-and-carriage downtown, carting around tourists, newlyweds and families with screeching children. I was also often called upon to play the part of an architectural tour guide, a role I was totally unprepared for. I did a modest amount of research, and could tell people obscure facts about the Jardine Water Filtration Plant, but much of my patter was heavily embroidered, if not flat-out fiction. People always wanted to know where Oprah lived--how was I supposed to know where Oprah lived! If I get into much detail about being a carriage driver I'll be here typing all night; I'll just say that it was a thoroughly grueling occupation, with extreme highs and terrible lows.

By late summer I'd quit the job and was once again drifting at sea, a dreaded twentysomething looking for his Special Purpose. A strong clue came to me in a dream, undoubtedly inspired by the listless afternoons I spent in the microfilm room at the public library--I dreamed that my mates and I started an underground newspaper, like the ones from the 60s in Special Collections, called the Skeleton News. Having no other direction in my life, I decided to go ahead and act out my dream. Much to my surprise, it worked! Suddenly all these brilliant writers and artists who I normally just drank beer with were coming over to my house (I'd moved a few miles south, to Pilsen) to plan and argue, scribble and scheme, cut + paste and line-edit, somehow in a great flurry of activity creating a totally beautiful and unique monthly publication that ended up running for almost two years!

It was in many ways, before core members quit or moved away and it imploded, a dream come true--a project that felt like real community, a rare chance to collectively create something tangible and meaningful. Unfortunately, as thrilled as I was about the Skeleton, I was also becoming a generally negative and cranky person, known for my antisocial attitude. The truth is that by my mid-20s I'd developed a pretty gruesome case of depression. It grew unchecked, like a horror-flick weed, enveloping me before I knew what hit. Others besides the Skeleton gang had to endure it--I'd recently joined not one but two bands, the cough-syrupy pop group Bird Names and the bruising, clanging machine that was Mayor Daley. Not a few band practices and newspaper meetings were soured or ruined by my loud complaining and drunken antics. I doubt I had a single friend who I didn't annoy the crap out of on some occasion. L'Enfant terrible!

My behavior aside, it was a boom year for the Chicago underground. There was a monstrous, three-story warehouse on Fulton Market that some friends and bandmates had rented out, christened Mr. City, and rebuilt with total whimsy. They'd go on late-night architectural salvage runs and bedeck their sprawling shantytown with weird statuary and antique molding. There was a lot of fierce music being played in those days, and the basement held epic concerts, as well as the occasional film screening, evening of theater or fish fry. From Shakespeare's Globe Theater to the Cabaret Voltaire, any arts community worth its salt requires a galvanizing venue, and Mr. City was, for a time, our very own.


I turned 27 years old! A turbulent year in anyone's life. Some famously never made it past 27--Jimi Hendrix, Kurt Cobain, D. Boon, et cetera. And I can see why! According to Austrian philosopher Rudolf Steiner, the human animal develops in roughly seven-year cycles: infancy and early childhood (0-7), childhood (7-14), adolescence (14-21), young adulthood (early 20s)--and then, around 27, dreaded adulthood. Much like Hesse's Siddhartha, one enters a state of prolonged samsara--triviality, repetition, pointless accumulation of wealth and gradual spiritual deadening. Basically the point at which rock musicians start to suck, bloated with excess.

I certainly had a turbulent year. It began quietly enough--I was working downtown, at an old-school health-food store called Kramer's. Now don't get me wrong--Kramer's is a gem, the rare place where you can share a vegan lunch with a bunch of black postal workers. But working there was an exercise in surreal tediousness. My coworkers were a bunch of weird older men, whom plant-based diets had rendered slightly vegetative. Subsisting largely on twigs and berries from the bulk snacks section, shelving pills for hours on end, I too felt myself slowly fading away. Every day I would drink these thick, grey, ungodly health shakes made up of expired powders and elixirs; they never made me feel any healthier or more energetic, they just did strange things to my urine.

Then in the spring I went on a semi-disastrous tour with Bird Names. Traveling in BN'er Eleanor Balson's box truck, questionably converted to run on vegetable oil, we suffered a long series of delays and mishaps, and I distinguished myself with increasingly hostile, antisocial behavior. By the time we returned to Chicago, I was well-primed for the first major Nervous Breakdown of my adult life. Like a drowning man seeking something to cling to, I decided to try the so-called Master Cleanse diet, then-popular at Kramer's. Aside from the maple syrup-sweetened lemonade that the diet prescribed, I renounced all food, drink and other substances, including drugs, alcohol, cigarettes and coffee. Of course, I felt I was dying after about two days and had to give up. The fad diet had clearly failed to thwart the inevitable and I slipped into a profound, month-long depression, which I'd later describe in my journal as "unmitigated existential horror... emitting waves of alternating menace and catatonia, I've managed to destroy friendships, get kicked out of bands and succumb to constant drinking and blinding self-hatred."  Yikes! Get thee to a therapist!

Eventually my nerves calmed somewhat, and I rejoined the workforce, now painting houses all the way up in Evanston with a sort of indie-rock painting crew. The easy bonhomie on the jobsite certainly helped me reacclimate to human society--and I was making good money. By late fall I'd decided how to spend it, too. My friend Dewayne and I were planning a 5-week trip to Spain, Portugal and Morrocco for spring of 2008, traveling in that grand tradition--the flight from caucasian ennui, into the great dark Other.

Which is where I'll leave off for now, with the promise (I mean it this time!) of a final installment to come.