Senior Ball

Dawn CollinsI didn’t even want to go to my high school’s “Senior Ball”, but I ended up going to two of them — mine, plus a bizarre, Christian-themed non-dance at Valley Christian High that turned out to be even more demoralizing than my own.

These blessed events occurred during the Reagan-era 1980s, somewhat after the values of traditional male/female courtship had started to crumble, even while the codified rituals of mating remained. I had totally bailed on attending my end-of-year Junior Prom the year before, in 1984. I told myself at the time that this was because I was too much of a self-identified “outsider” to actually care about what the normal kids thought was important. Perhaps there’s even a bit of truth there, yet it’s much more likely that I either couldn’t identify a likely date, or I was too chicken to ask one to accompany me.

What I mostly remember about the Spring of 1985 was how much I thirsted, yearned for high school to be over with. Matriculating from San Jose, California’s Gunderson High and getting the hell out of town and high-tailing it to college had reached a fever pitch, yet there was the informal yet significant pressure of the vaunted “Senior Ball” to contend with. Alas, I didn’t have a girlfriend, nor any likely candidate to become one at that juncture, and this caused me much internal consternation, frustration and even embarrassment. Perhaps college might bequeath the debut of my inner lothario, as I was mere months away from embarking on a move to Santa Barbara to attend the University of California (spoiler alert: it mostly didn’t).

As Gunderson’s Senior Ball approached, I contended with some very gentle parental pressure to attend (“It’s your last year — why not attend? It’s a tradition” etc.), which my internal teenage guilt and shame thereby magnified into some pretty intense pathos, forcing me into a tortured corner of my own making. I was going to have to do this thing, because damn it, I’m worth it. I’m a totally normal late-adolescent. Totally normal. I can take a foxy girl on a fabulous dress-up date. Oh, but girls mostly ignore me. I’ll probably be laughed at when I ask someone. Wait — what if I’m mocked by dudes for whom I’ve chosen as my date? Then what?

This sort of ping-ponging internal monologue was a shining hallmark of my adolescence. With hindsight, I’ve learned that this certainly was in no way unique to me. By the time I actually gathered the gumption to ask someone out, the 12th grade gossip mill had already churned out many of the names of whom was taking whom. Like a baseball draft, we were already down to the 42nd round. Virtually every girl I personally knew was “taken”, and those who remained either couldn’t hit the fastball, only had three of the five tools, or were too frequently fooled by the off-speed pitch. Or I was too lame and superficial to see the “lady” hiding inside of the girl.

But wait! Dawn Collins. Dawn was a junior (i.e. an 11th grader), the sister of a classmate and sort-of-friend of mine, Brian Collins. At this writing both reside in the where-are-they-now files, and appear to be completely unfindable on social media or the internet writ large (I tried really hard, for about five minutes). In 1985, Dawn Collins was an out-of-my-league beauty who, unlike most 16–17 year-olds, actually smiled at me in the halls and laughed at my rare and feeble attempts at humor in the infrequent moments that the two of us socialized.

I grappled with a massive bout of nervousness regarding how I might be perceived for inviting a mere junior, let alone Dawn Collins, to go with me, which reflected the tyranny of small differences in numeric age that are endemic to young people in my culture. Overcoming this, I somehow phoned to ask her to accompany me to the 1985 Gunderson High School Senior Ball, and to my delight and terror, she politely and immediately said yes.

Honestly, that’s pretty much the high point of this part of the story. Any ideas I had at all about what I was supposed to do in this scenario — the boutonniere, the suit, the etiquette of appearing at Dawn’s house and meeting her parents — all came via careful coaching from my parents. All I remember is the tension. Dawn and I pretty much ran out of things to talk about during the 20-minute drive it took to get to the hotel where this thing was being held, yet she was extremely gracious and cool in the face of what was clearly not destined to be the proverbial Night To Remember for either of us. The theme of the dance, in fact, was “One More Night”, after the recent Phil Collins hit of the same name. Indeed it was merely one more night.

There was some awkward 80s dancing, some fancy food on my plate that I didn’t eat, and this lone picture that you see at the top of this page. I recall sitting at a circular table with fellow students who weren’t my friends or even acquaintances. One of Gunderson’s few African-American students, a funny dude named Derek, broke a Hoover Dam-sized wall of tension by loudly complaining to a waiter about the rare meat he’d been served by proclaiming “This thing is still mooin’!”. Those seconds were the first, and possibly only, time I actually felt comfortable the entire night.

If Dawn and I talked again during my last two weeks at school outside of brief pleasantries, I really don’t remember it. There was no after-party, no chugging wine coolers in the parking lot, no rented limo to take her down to Santa Cruz to make out on the beach, nothing like that. My lasting impression of her was that she was a hell of a “good sport” for accompanying me to something I had no business attending, nor any true desire to attend.

CheriHowever, there was yet a second Senior Ball to take part in! In the week before mine, I was demurely asked by my Wienerschnitzel co-worker, Cheri, to accompany her to hers. Cheri — whose last name I’m sure I knew at the time, but don’t recall now — had the stones to actually ask me to my face, unlike me, who resorted to nervously calling Dawn, despite seeing her repeatedly at school every day.

Now I don’t pretend to know how it really all went down, but given the lateness of her invitation — the Valley Christian Senior Ball was only two weeks away — I got the sense that this time it was me who was the godforsaken 47th-round draft pick. Never mind asking out a junior, how about the dorky guy not from your school, from the greasy fast-food restaurant you worked at – a guy whom you’d never even flirted with before? Cheri was a shy, pretty, sweet and very Christian girl, and I have to believe that she too was suffering from the same internal torture/pressure I had.

I liked Cheri, I really did, but I was thrown totally off guard by her invite — which I of course accepted immediately (hey, I’m not a total heel). Perhaps I didn’t spring into action right away, or maybe it was her fault for asking me so late, but by the time I made it to the rented-suit store to grab something to wear, the only thing left was a foul, loud burgundy suit. Ashamed, I rented it nonetheless, hoping against hope that others might show up at Valley Christian’s soiree with the same color suit. (One other doofus did, but everyone else kept to smart & classy gray or black suits).

I’m able to call up even less about this event than my own, save for one jolting surprise. After the initial hors d’oeuvres were served, my extensive Senior Ball experience had trained me to expect that this was when we’d begin our dancing, likely to the Prince, Michael Jackson, Madonna and Eurythmics hits of the era. I hated (um, hate) dancing, but you know — at least I had a little bit of recent background in Senior Ball dancin’.

Instead, a motivational speaker climbed up to the podium, and proceeded to deliver a stem-windingly unbearable thirty-minute speech about accepting Jesus Christ Our Lord and Savior Into Our Hearts. As if these poor urchins weren’t suffering enough! Having been an atheist from the age of five, albeit a terribly naive one who didn’t expect such a performance at the Valley Christian High School Senior Ball, I quickly lodged a muffled complaint with Cheri about this turn of events. She didn’t exactly scowl at me, but she was decidedly less than pleased. I was not the Dawn to her Jay. I was, unfortunately, the Jay to her Cheri.

There was a dinner, I believe, and then a disturbingly quiet car ride home. Cheri never talked to me again at work (sensing a trend here?) aside from grunts of begrudging recognition, and then the summer was upon us. We both quit Wienerschnitzel right after the Ball and got on with real life, getting ready for college or to better ourselves with one last summer job.

I’d have passed on both of these things had I foreseen both my eventual discomfort and the anticlimactic nature of these Balls. I hold few regrets from this time, aside from wholly normal longings of the “if only I knew then what I know now” variety. I’d have brimmed with self-confidence, charm and outstanding sartorial choices. I’d have rejected the dog and pony show of the Senior Ball, and invited Dawn Collins — and hell, probably Cheri too — to drink Rolling Rocks behind the Oakridge Mall with me instead.

Maybe if they ever turn up on the internet, someday I will.

Graduation 1985
Gunderson High School Graduation, 1985 – San Jose, CA

A Reading List: May 19th, 2017

atlanticI have far too many magazines arriving at the house each month, and therefore far too many articles I really need to read.

Right now the current print subscriptions are too many in number, but then, that’s always been the case. Just ask my wife. Currently they amount to:

  • The Atlantic
  • The New Republic
  • New York
  • Bloomberg Businessweek
  • Washington Monthly
  • Film Comment
  • Little White Lies
  • The Wire
  • Draft
  • ESPN the Magazine
  • Howler
  • Eight By Eight
  • Vanity Fair (I only did this for $5/year after Trump bashed them in a tweet; I don’t plan on renewing)

…and that’s in addition to The New York Times print newspaper that comes Friday through Sunday, plus my paid digital subscriptions to the NY Times (it comes free with the print sub); The Washington Post, the San Francisco Chronicle, the Wall Street Journal, Slate, The Guardian and Longform.

Does it all get read? Of course not.

But here are a few things that did get read this week, not counting the 487 online pieces I devoured as the US Presidency began its meltdown (I will accept your argument that this actually began on January 20th, 2017). I’ll make this a regular part of this blog for anyone who’s interested in checking out some links. I’ve tried to helpfully “grade” each piece to help any readers decide whether or not to jump on that hyperlink.

(postscript: it’s only in reading this after posting it that I realize that every piece is in some way about race and/or class, and how societies continue to struggle mightily with these questions)

My Family’s Slave (Alex Tizon in The Atlantic; A+)

An intense and lengthy exploration of Tizon’s lifelong domestic servant, Lola, brought over by his parents when they moved from the Philippines. There’s no other word for what she was to them but slave. This piece will win awards, made even more devastating for the fact that Tizon died mere weeks before its publication. It’s an absolute must-read.

His Kampf (Graham Wood in The Atlantic; A-)

Wood went to high school with white supremacist creep Richard Spencer, and 25 years later, interviews him in his Virginia apartment. A look at the intellectualization of some truly noxious ideas, and how they reflect the zeitgeist in 2017.

What An Immigrant Murder in Kansas Says About America (Romesh Ratnesar in Bloomberg Businessweek; B)

A shooting erupted in an Olathe, Kansas bar this past February; a man looking to kill Muslims killed an Indian tech engineer and wounded another. I can vouch for the tolerant, diverse, friendly, sort of hip picture of Johnson County, Kansas painted here, having gone there for work many times over the past decade. Disturbing and yet still uplifting story and worth your time.

“The Only Good Muslim is a Dead Muslim” (Ted Genoways in The New Republic; B)

In the same vein as the previous: also in Kansas; also in Trump’s America. This plot was thankfully thwarted, but the hatefulness and misguided anger of the would-be murderers, who sought to bomb and shoot innocent Somali immigrants in one grand destructive act, is literally unfathomable.

The Last White Africans (Eve Fairbanks in Foreign Policy; B+)

“With 200,000 members, AfriForum is the leading civic organization advocating for the rights of Afrikaners in South Africa. Do the people responsible for apartheid’s crimes have a claim to their country’s future?”

The Return of Blogging

Blogging! It really sounds quite ridiculous in 2017, doesn’t it? Outside of the corporate sphere, in which keeping a blog is just sort of one of those things you have to do, people moved on from blogs at least half a decade ago, and then some.

Thing is, I never really got over ’em, even as everything shifted to social media and/or to longform writing on spaces like Medium and the like. The notion of following a blog, or of keeping one, was really a big part of web and writing/reading culture 10-15 years ago, but to say it now pegs one as a bit of fogey. Like me.

Anyway, I set up this particular site as a place to dump whatever, whenever. Hate-screeds about Donald Trump, “short pieces of longform”, scans of my 1990s fanzine and so on. I’ve decided to maybe narrow the mission a little bit, and focus The Word Goes Flesh on the written word – both my written words, and those of others.

This means I’ll get back into the swing of reviewing the books I’m reading again, which is something I did for pleasure for a while, both as a way to work out my reactions to them and to help me remember what they were actually about. I made a January 2017 resolution to read at least 35 book by the end of the year, and so far I’m somehow making good on that pace.

I’m also a ravenous consumer of longform pieces of journalism, first-person narratives, interviews, navel-gazing polemics and “think pieces” in many forms. I think maybe I’ll comment on those here as well, and offer up some helpful links to my many, many readers.

Maybe it’s also that I’m trying to suck myself away from Twitter, where I’ve been all too consumed with engorging myself with the countless ways in which I loathe the current President of the United States. It’s not good for me. I know that. (I’m still part of the #Resistance, though – don’t worry).

Anyway – blogging! It all gets underway this week.

Superdope #8 – 1998

superdope-8After four years had passed since my “retirement” from publishing SUPERDOPE fanzine in 1994, I got the urge, as I so often do, to make a list. I had this idea of compiling a Top 100 45s list, with a written paragraph extolling the virtues of each of them; once I’d actually made the list, however, I realized that a Top 50 would allow me to truly focus on quality. Once I started writing, the alliterative “45 45s” idea sounded even better.

SUPERDOPE #8, which you can download here, was written almost 100% during my December 1997 break from my first year of graduate school in Seattle, at my then-fiancée, now-wife Rebecca’s place in San Francisco while she was away at work. A few thoughts on what would be the final issue of this magazine:

  • There was some chagrin on my part even at the time that the list was so punk-centric, and so post-’77 dominated, but I tried to cover my tracks in the intro. This was what I listened to, and the forty-five 45s I was most excited to have in the home (or fantasized about acquiring for the home). I remember Eddie Flowers posted something on an early message board sorta taking me to task for my lack of breadth (“where are Augustus Pablo and James Brown??” etc.), and even now I tend to agree with him. Certainly in 2016 I’d be making a significantly different list, but I still love every record on here, and suspect that you might, too.
  • More adventures in cut & paste: the first entry on Pere Ubu had a glued cut out of the words “Pere Ubu” underneath the photo. It fell off during printing, which is why there’s a blank space where the words “Pere Ubu” should be. I used something affiliated with the MRR crew called “Punks With Presses” to print this issue.
  • If you examine the review near the back on Los Huevos, a Sacramento band I saw during that December 1997 break, you’ll see I take the “young lad” singer to task for his punk histrionics. Funny enough, that young lad is a year or two older than I am (but doesn’t look it, then or now), and happens to be, as I found out, Scott Soriano of the soon-to-be-created S-S Records. My good-natured “ribbing” and his acceptance of it started a correspondence and quote-unquote working relationship that continues to this day. He helpfully taught me how to use the nascent eBay within that year, so that I could start selling off all those amazing 45s I raved about in this issue (“death of vinyl”, right?).

After this issue came out, I retired from music writing for a few years before resurfacing with a blog in 2003 called Agony Shorthand, and eventually in 2013 with a print fanzine again called Dynamite Hemorrhage.

DOWNLOAD SUPERDOPE #8 here

Grab the other issues:

SUPERDOPE #7
SUPERDOPE #6
SUPERDOPE #5
SUPERDOPE #4
SUPERDOPE #3
SUPERDOPE #2
SUPERDOPE #1

Superdope #7 – 1994

superdope-7My scanning of SUPERDOPE fanzine, which I used to write and put out myself back in the 1990s, continues apace. Only two more to go.

Here’s the lone issue that came out in 1994, SUPERDOPE #7. It was a small digest-sized mag centered around two in-person interviews I did with the bands Doo Rag and Virginia Dare. The interviews are then followed by a few book reviews and then a whole mess of record reviews.

22 years later, it seems to read pretty well. I can’t say that I’ve spent a whole lot of time listening to either Doo Rag or Virginia Dare since then, but hey, that’s where my 26-yr-old head was in 1994, and I still like ’em both very much. Around this time I was also “running” a small record label called WOMB; you can see on the back of this ‘zine the ad I made for the Monoshock 45 I put out. A few months after this came out, Anthony from Past It Records and I put out a Demolition Doll Rods 45 as well, and that was the end of Womb Records.

Turned out it was pretty much the end of Superdope fanzine, as well – at least for four years. In 1998, I came back and published one final issue of the magazine, #8. Until a few weeks ago, I still had physical copies of it before finally selling out of them. I’ll post that next.

#7, the one I’m posting here – well, I’m afraid you’ll have to scour the fanzine aftermarket. Or just download it here.

DOWNLOAD Superdope #7 (1994)

The other issues:

SUPERDOPE #6
SUPERDOPE #5
SUPERDOPE #4
SUPERDOPE #3
SUPERDOPE #2
SUPERDOPE #1

Superdope #6 – 1993

superdope-6-coverHere’s another edition of SUPERDOPE, a print fanzine that I made from 1991 until 1998, in various sizes and formats and varying degrees of quality.

This issue, SUPERDOPE #6, was not only the one with the largest print run and the widest distribution, I’d have to argue it was the one that I think came out the best, all things considered. Outside of the then-modern computer I’d use at the very patient and gracious Kimberly MacInnis’s house, who very much helped with the design structure (like, teaching me how to make columns), it was completely and totally hand-made, up to and including the bold lines that separate one article from the next. I actually would type those lines out by hitting the “dash” button multiple times in a large font, then cut the long strip of paper out, then glue it down onto my cardstock proof sheet (or whatever the thing is called that you’d send to the printer). Just look at this absurd cover here and you’ll see what I mean.

Considering its size, this one came together in record time, too. I had just come off of a 2-month pseudo-gig in April/May 1993 as “road manager” for then-active rock band Claw Hammer, and had even kept a quote-unquote tour diary that I’d intended to use in this issue, which came out in August 1993. When I gave the band of whiff of this idea, the sour looks of disapproval and reproach that I received were most telling. What happens in Wichita and Boise stays in Wichita and Boise.

So I set about to doing a few interviews, banged out a ton of record reviews, wrote up the first piece on film I’d ever done, and solicited some great contributions from the likes of Tom Lax (“Gregg Bereth”), Doug Pearson and Grady Runyan, as well as multiple gig photos from Sherri Scott, who took on the “chief photographer” role for the fanzine and who was also my roommate. It ended up in a print run of around 2,500 copies, and my inventory-keeping skills were so bad that I now have a mere 2 of them left.

DOWNLOAD SUPERDOPE #6

A few notes on this one, in case you’re interested in downloading and reading it:

  • It’s a pretty big download, 248MB. Previous issues I scanned were well less than half of that, so it might take a few minutes to get to you.
  • The interviews I did with Don Howland and Jeff Evans from THE GIBSON BROS were both on the phone, fully recorded and fully transcribed. I’d never done that before, and somehow it ended up working very well. The interviews with COME, DADAMAH and HIGH RISE were either done via mail (the High Rise interview, which is a piece of lost-in-translation weirdness I’m very proud of) or on cassette tape, with the band reading my questions aloud and then verbally answering into a tape recorder.
  • Naturally, with the passage of 23 years, there’s a lot that looks silly now. There are bands I can’t even imagine listening to again that I make sound like godz and geniuses here. The Dead C are a band that I still sort of like, but not to the extent I did then. The Jon Spencer Blues Explosion, a band that only a drunken 25-year-old could worship. Rocket From The Crypt. Please.
  • I really like Doug Pearson‘s piece on 60s/70s heavy psych private-press records. The title I gave it, “I’m Going To Punch You In The Face, Hippie”, was not Mr. Pearson’s idea, nor was the photo of “him” that I used to accompany the article. He was kind enough to take it in good spirit back then, and I thank him for it. I would have probably flown off the handle.
  • The photo of World of Pooh used to accompany my review of them was actually given to me by guitarist Brandan Kearney to use. He didn’t want Barbara Manning to know he’d loaned it to me, for some reason, so the credit went to Nicole Penegor, Superdope’s former “staff photographer”. Thanks, Nicole! (It was used once again 23 years later in a World of Pooh oral history that I put together for Dynamite Hemorrhage #3).
  • Superdope #6 was the last large-format magazine I ever did under that brand. The following year I published a mini digest-sized edition, and then one more four years later, and that was it. I’ll post those here shortly.

DOWNLOAD SUPERDOPE #6

In case you missed them:

SUPERDOPE #1
SUPERDOPE #2
SUPERDOPE #3
SUPERDOPE #4
SUPERDOPE #5

Superdope #5 – 1993

superdope-5-coverFor those just joining the SUPERDOPE saga – a set of rocknroll fanzines I’ve been posting on my blog this past year – Superdope was a music fanzine that I personally published from 1991-1998. 7 of the 8 issues came out in a three-year period, ’91-’94, with one last one completing the set in 1998. I wasn’t trying to build any sort of empire, further a writing career or even make money, and as life would have it, none of these happened in any case.

Yet it was a pretty consuming part of my life during that time. I got especially serious with this issue and its follow-up later in 1993. Both were well-distributed, and if any of the issues still make their way around the fanzine-trading sphere anymore, it’s these.

A few notes on SUPERDOPE #5, which was written during the Fall and early winter of 1992, and came out at the very start of 1993:

First, apologies for the scan coming out a little “dirty”-looking in spots. I had some help from a pal who wishes to remain nameless, but neither he nor I ever got a perfect scan of this one.

  • I don’t believe there were too many interviews with the NIGHT KINGS and the THOMAS JEFFERSON SLAVE APARTMENTS in their day. This was back when I was still doing interviews by mail. Mail! I’d send a list of questions and a blank cassette to the bands, and they’d usually record their answers after a practice. They’d then put the blank cassette in the mail, and I’d transcribe the whole thing. Most would usually send along some flyers and photos as well, and that’s what usually ended up in the magazine. There were no (accessible) scanners, nothing digital at all – I’d copy them at Kinko’s and then carefully send them back to the bands. Part of the narcissism involved in the struggle making a ‘zine back then was the payoff in finally seeing your finished product, the one cobbled with scissors and glue and sheets of white paper surreptitiously printed at work. I’d get in the car and start immediately driving it over to friends’ houses and to San Francisco record stores to be sold while the ink was still smudging.
  • FLY ASHTRAY were a NYC band I’d gotten really into from their first two 45s. They didn’t want to send me any real photos of themselves (faces made for radio?), so they instead sent along a bunch of strange, clipped art and photos that I passed off as legitimate pictures of the band. I got more than one comment about the “band photo” that shows 4 stupefied zombies, two of whom are African-American, as being “surprising” since the readers didn’t quite expect the band to “look like that”.
  • I had some very strong contributors this issue – Tom Lax, who was running Siltbreeze Records in full swing at that time (he got a great back cover ad for free for his efforts); Doug Pearson, the designated “hippie rock” record reviewer (reissues of 70s private-press records were really big at the time and Doug had them all); Glen Galloway, who besides fronting the band TRUMAN’S WATER had his own fanzine “Zero Gravity”; and Grady Runyan, who submitted this weird and not altogether flattering piece on what was then my #2 favorite band in the universe, the THINKING FELLERS UNION LOCAL 282, which I published “under my breath”, as it were.
  • Then there were two excellent photographers – Nicole Penegor and Sherri Scott (my roommate!) – who contributed a ton of original photographs that I very much wish I could have represented better than with cheapo 10-cent photocopies from Kinko’s.
  • Finally, I find way more to cringe about in this issue than even in the earlier ones. I was getting cocky, with a fanzine that (a few dozen) people actually liked, and started writing a little over my head. I was just 25 years old, but should have known far better than to start cracking so many BANANAFISH-like dumbass in-jokes that I don’t even understand to this day. My credo at the time appeared to be, “If this line will make my friend Brett (or Doug, or Steve, or Grady, or Mitch, or whomever) laugh, then I’ll put it in there”. Other fanzines seemed to employ this trick, and perhaps at the time I thought it helped cultivate an air of mystery – like something I might want to get in on – but there are things in this one that would have made me just put the thing down and call the editor an insufferable bore. But it was a blast at the time, and perhaps you’ll like it better than I do.

I believe SUPERDOPE sort of returned to form later that year with Issue #6, and I’ll work on getting that scanned for you next. You can download this one – it’s a big PDF – as well as all the other ones right now.

Download SUPERDOPE #5

Previous issues you can download and print:
SUPERDOPE #1 – Spring 1991
SUPERDOPE #2 – Summer 1991
SUPERDOPE #3 – Spring 1992
SUPERDOPE #4 – Summer 1992