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EXILED ON MAIN STREET #4

"I wasn't one of them, I had never been one of anything. I distrusted being one of something; I knew it wasn't real, I knew the only oneness that was real was my own, being one of me."

- Steve Erickson, Rubicon Beach


DEAD UNPLUGGED

One night last week I drifted off to sleep, realizing that Unplugged is finally dead. (It must be: no unplugged album has been released in the last week.) I dreamt that now artists had to show up at the MTV Studios, plug in electric instruments, and play nothing but brand new and original tunes. No more softly strummed versions of their greatest hits, with the occasional oddball cover thrown in. No, just loud rock 'n' roll. You know, kinda like what Springsteen did when he did Unplugged, except all electric and all unreleased new stuff. Man, what a dream...

Metallica did the first show, Soul Asylum the second. Smashing Pumpkins mysteriously canceled doing the third show. Springsteen showed up and killed the house, and this time he made MTV serve beer. Pearl Jam wouldn't play unless the show was simulcast on PBS, because not everybody has cable. Neil Young did 24 minutes of one note of feedback. Lou Reed did 25 minutes of one note (different note than Neil's) of feedback. Kiss tried to play stuff from Music from the Elder and pass it off as new music, but got busted, and then begged out. Iggy Pop did all Robert Johnson tunes so bludgeoned into submission that no one realized they weren't his songs until after the broadcast and it was too late. PJ Harvey, sporting a Union Jack bikini top, did a show with just her voice and an electric slide guitar. Prince did his show using Semisonic as his backing band. Nobody (especially grunge acts) was allowed to sit in chairs. Also, no reunions were allowed, leaving the Clash, Janes Addiction, and Guns 'n' Roses on the sidelines, amongst others.

SLUMP

I've had trouble getting my writing going lately. My main excuse is that I daydream too much. For instance:

Should I demand that Spin do my photo shoot in black-and-white instead of color when they do their inevitable profile of me?

Should I make outrageous statements in Spin to stir up some controversy or should I just be myself so that I might come off as having a "genuinely nice guy" (non-shtick) image?

Another daydream is my one of giving a reading at the Loft literary center's auditorium:

I don't know what the hell I'm going to wear when I read at the Loft when they invariably ask me to fill an auditorium with my fans. As a studying member of this institution they'll want me there to raise some money for their coffers, ya know?

Should I pound a couple of cans of liquid courage out in the parking lot of the Loft before my reading to ease my nerves or should I hit the stage sober so that my natural wit will be uninhibited and also I won't worry about my buzz interfering with my reading (i.e. won't drinking to ease my nerves make me more nervous?)

Should I start off my reading with a rock 'n' roll quote from a Dylan, a Pirner, or a Westerberg, or should I rip off the Blasters and say "This here goes for the Killer - Jerry Lee Lewis!"??

SLUMP, CONT.

Guess I should explain why the Loft haunts me so. I've taken classes there the last year and have learned a lot. Like that my work has a "strong voice" and is also "language-driven," as opposed to being "plot-driven." This phrase works well when people point out that my work doesn't make any sense. I just say "you're supposed to pay attention to the language, not the plot!"

I took a short story class there last spring that was kinda fun. I wrote a story that was a barely fictionalized account of a night I enjoyed at First Avenue. (This is opposed to my nonfiction, which in many cases is a barely true account of a night I might enjoy at First Avenue.) When I got done reading this story for the class, one of the guys said "this story makes me want to go to a bar and get a beer right now!", which was one of the greatest compliments paid to my writing ever.

Then later during the session, still reeling and full of rage from the killing of REV 105, I wrote a short story about a pissed-off teenager who's at odds with his English teacher. Complete with class (ya know: the Marxist kind, not the this-grammar-class-sucks kind) resentment and references to marijuana and masturbation, the class loved it and commended me on my ability to let it all hang out (in the literary sense.)

Except for Literary Guy. He ripped my story, said it "wasn't adult," and that it "read like an S.E. Hinton story." (Like having teenage girls as a significant portion of your fan base is a bad thing and like The Outsiders isn't great.) So I was all set to be pissed off at Literary Guy (yeah I know I should be able to take some negative criticism, but still...) until I wrote a story that dropped a Head East reference and in the margin of his copy of my story he wrote "their lead singer is back and trying to unsuccessfully make it big again..." Literary Guy ruled!

Anyway, it would be cool to get up in front of the auditorium (in reality a gym, but it'd be full of people sitting in chairs and I'd be on a stage behind a podium) and read some of my stuff. This fantasy got fossilized in my head when I saw an acquaintance of mine read poetry there last winter as an opening act for a nationally-known poet. At the time, this acquaintance was the latest out-of-reach woman to torture my downwardly mobile life (though at the time I thought I had a shot - I'm such an idiot.) I went up to her after the reading to say hi. She was up by the stage with her parents. The small talk went cool until she said "you're John, right?" I made some self-deprecating aside to make her feel at ease, but all that ultimately did was make her mom think I was a cute-and-funny guy. And we all know that when the mom thinks you're okay, it's the kiss of death.

I had met this sparkplug of a young lady last Christmas Eve morning on an airline flight. Vibrant, intelligent, beautiful, and she was willing to talk to me to boot. She asked what I wrote; I said this, I said that, I said "and sometimes I just write whatever random thoughts happen to me as I drive around in my car." "You write about things you think of while hearing songs when driving around in your car?" she asked, her face had lit into a vision that somehow told me I was on my way, that we were linked in the cosmos somehow.... she then dropped a reference to a song she heard on REV 105. I hadn't heard this song, so she assumed I wasn't a Rev listener. (I could tell in the way her tone of voice changed.) I gained those lost points back by talking about Semisonic and my dreams of Semisonic (two distinctly different things.) Then as payback for her one-upmanship earlier, during a discussion about the ups and downs of seeing bands in clubs, I dropped a perfect Replacements reference and said "what's the cover / where should we park."

She missed it, (I could tell from her eyes, and you couldn't miss anything in those big brown eyes - they made Bambi's look small) but psychically she knew, she knew. She saw that I had been petty by wanting to pay her back for that Rev reference that I missed. (And I'm petty to this day, patting myself on the back for slipping that 'Mats reference in there soooo smoothly...) I gave her may email address (how nineties) and she said she would be thrilled to be getting my zine. Now everyday I get emails and hers isn't there. Oh well, I don't want to get a "Dear John" email anyway, so maybe it's for the best.

So anyway, this Loft reading daydream is probably my subconscious way of trying to be an equal to the beautiful poet and maybe also an in-your-face to Literary Guy. ('Cause I just read The Outsiders again and it's fucking brilliant and now I'm pissed off at him all over again.) Nothing like a passive revenge fantasy disguised as a rise-to-stardom success story daydream.

BUT CLEM DOESN'T LET THEM WEAR EARRINGS

I was a family reunion recently and my brother walked up to me and said "hey Bill, any Gophers get arrested today?"

POETRY BY PAULA BELMONT

three dollar cover

a city band in some dark bar.
the guitars are out, the drums are up front,
the singer pleading his case for a riot.
all your world is right here.
you think not of tomorrow, not of yesterday,
not even of tonight;
but of the moment.
(then you're not even thinking, are you?)
'nother beer?
you say yeah, you smile.
the drummer counts four, you tap your foot.
the clock says twelve-oh-three.

ACTION! NOT ERROR MESSAGES

8:05 a.m. You pop Def Leppard's Pyromania into your Discman, think about Mutt Lange, who produced the brilliant trifecta of Def Lep's High 'n' Dry, Pyromania, and Hysteria. He also married Shania Twain. Talk about your heroes.

8:15 a.m. After surfing the Net for sports highlights, you hunker down for another session of warfare with your PC and some slow, silly software.

8:55 a.m. Weird error messages appear in your software program, saying you're doing something illegal. You consider it civil disobedience. Cool. Although you have four other discs with you, you listen to Pyromania again.

9:35 a.m. You decide to declare Mutt Lange the "anti-Albini," although you're not sure what that means. You wish you had friends who paid attention to producers like you try to, that way you could argue your Mutt-As-Icon theory to them in late-night barroom discussions.

10:15 a.m. PC crashes for fifth time. In the old days, you would have said "stupid computer." But you want to live in a society where we don't blame so much. You decide that since you taught yourself the software, these errors are all your fault. Avoiding responsibility, you go for a walk around the office and grab a Diet Pepsi in the lunch room, pausing to read half of the sports page.

11:05 a.m. Your PC crashes when you try to run the new report you created. With Def Lep's choruses cheering you on (you're in your third listen of Pyromania), you say to yourself "c'mon you piece-of-shit PC: action, action, action not words."

11:40 a.m You figure out that your PC problems are caused by an apostrophe that you placed somewhere where you shouldn't have. You correct the problem, begin to recreate what you had just deleted in frustration a half hour ago, and rerun your program. It works, and even though you fucked things up in the first place, you decide now that it was the computer's fault. "IN YOUR FACE!!" you say to the monitor. It's now noon, and you took the afternoon off, so you go home.

IN DREAMS

A while back I had a dream in which I joined the Jayhawks as a guitarist. The indifferent feeling I had in that dream was uncanny, considering how I would feel in real life if it happened. (And the likelihood of that happening is about the same as me joining the Kansas Jayhawks hoops team.) My feeling of joining the band was like it was a temp job and I had been brought in to get things done. I was all calm, cool, and collected. I went to my first gig with them wearing jeans, a collared shirt, and a blazer. My big worry? Not whether I know the songs (I did) or whether I could sing the harmonies - hell, I was teaching the other 'Hawks how to do 'em; no, my big worry was: where on stage do I stand? (Note: in real life I can strum a guitar okay and can't sing worth shit.) I asked Gary Louris where I should stand on stage, he said they were putting a mike right up front and that my station was there. Then he showed me the playlist, with his last minute changes made in red pen. By this time, the rest of the band was mingling with the various glitterati, and he put me in charge of rounding them up. We hit the stage at dusk (an outdoor show), and the crowd was mostly anxious college-age kids. As we went into the opening chords of our first song, the dream ended.

I contrast this to my last rock star dream that I had way back in '92. Izzy Stradlin had just quit Guns 'n' Roses, and in the dream they brought me in for an audition. Dressed in ripped jeans and flannel, Slash and I tore through "Nightrain." Slash loved me, Axl warmed up to me after a bit, and I was in the band. That dream ended there. As I wasn't a songwriter in that dream, I can assume my version of GNR went on to do a couple of tours and release one album of covers before disappearing.

I don't know what the meanings of these dreams are. To be honest, I've haven't given it much thought. I do know that I don't daydream about being in the Jayhawks (or for that matter, any other band these days) and that when I listen to their new album I think "this is kinda cool, but it sure is music for grownups." Maybe that's got something to do with why I looked at joining them as just another job.

In contrast, when I had the GNR dream, I was stressed out about my stupid job and unhappy with my lifestyle. So GNR must have represented some sort of an escape. Take me down to the Paradise City, dude.

On the night that I was rewriting this piece, I was driving my car down Hennepin on my way to the grocery store and the Jayhawks' bass player was in the car behind me. An omen, for sure, but what it means I also don't know.

INSPIRATION

Along with my writing slump, another thing that's been dragging me down is that I feel a little out of touch with rock 'n' roll lately. I don't know if it's my delayed sense of loss of the REV or what. I guess I'm waiting for that next big moment to come along. Some artist to come along with some swagger, make me wanna dance and keep hitting the repeat button on my disc player. Like Semisonic's Great Divide did last year. So I've been grasping for inspiration from elsewhere than beyond music. (Coffee will only get me so far, and music moves my writing like you wouldn't believe.) Here's cool stuff that's been getting me going in the summer heat and humidity:

* Genius Lessons #15: "Get Psyched Landers" - the last page of Spin is the best. It's away from all those artist profiles ("we're influenced by the Velvet Underground and Big Star..."), fashion pieces (indistinguishable from the ads) featuring clothes reserved for those stupid enough to think the seventies were a golden age of fashion; and the album reviews of those bands you tell your friends you listen to. Sean Landers is an artist/writer whose rambling pieces poke irreverent fun at what seems like everyone, most importantly and most frequently himself. Hand-written and featuring his own artwork, Sean's prose makes me laugh out loud. Hey Sean: can I have your job when you hit it big?

* The Valley Girls - there's these three girls who invariably end up on my morning bus (unless they're in the coffee shop and miss the bus and I watch with a grin as the bus drives past them...) I don't know their names, but they're a lot younger than me and wear nice clothes and lots of hairspray. Their apparent goal on the bus is to talk loud and talk often. They succeed brilliantly on both counts, unknowingly entertaining (or annoying) the entire bus with frank, detailed discussions of their sex lives, arguments with boyfriends, bitchy bosses, and what they hope to be doing when they're twenty-five. Party on, girls.

* Raw Power, Iggy and the Stooges - finally got this one on CD. Ig and the boys drop a bomb on the opening track "Search and Destroy," one of the greatest high-energy rock 'n' roll songs ever. Other tracks feature tasty slowed-down Detroit-industrial-age blues and manic, lurching punk/metal/powerchord psychotic damnations. Ig seems on the verge of a breakthrough (or breakdown) (or both.) The title track is "Louie Louie" as a self-affirming blitzkreig and everybody should own an album with a song titled "Your Pretty Face Is Going to Hell."

* Howard Stern vs. Tom Barnard - the winner is Bob Yates on KFAN 1130 AM from 6-10 weekday mornings. "The Fabulous Sports Bob" will talk about anything, up to and including sports. Wittier than the Two Loudmouths combined, Yates and a cup of joe is the way to wake up.

* La Femme Nikita, USA Network, Sundays 9 p.m. CST - is this show cool, or is it just noirish, with moody music and a leading character - 5-11, blue-eyed, blonde, pouty, athletic - who could do me major damage and I'd die smiling? Who cares?

* Rude Radio, 770 AM Radio K, 10-12 Saturday mornings - ska past and present hosted by Jessica, whose enthusiasm is right in tune with the beat-happy fun that is ska. She plays your requests, too, and when I heard my request for The Clash's version of "Wrong 'Em Boyo" it made me pull over to the side of the road and listen.

* Coffee Gallery 710 West Franklin, Minneapolis - a coffee shop that's a throwback to 1992, before the Coffee Craze hit big and parents still took their screaming kids to McDonald's. Decidedly rundown and catering to us slackers, the only clatter here is the noise of the city, best enjoyed on a cool summer eve while sitting at a table out on the sidewalk.

* The Basketball Diaries by Jim Carroll - "... the (Communist Party) speeches bored the shit out of me. I went home and told my old man how the government suppresses the proletariat from his due. 'I am the proletariat, you dumb bastard,' he said 'and I think those motherfuckers are off their rockers. Now get the hell inside and do your homework."

* My new neighbor across the hall - I introduced myself to her on a Monday and on Friday she smiled at me with a smile that acknowledged that she knew who I was, or at least knew that I existed. The next out-of-reach woman to torture my downwardly mobile life.

* Adrienne Rich's letter to the NEA - poet and essayist Rich refused accepting a National Medal for the Arts from President Clinton "because the very meaning of art, as I understand it, is incompatible with the cynical politics of this administration." The fervent letter in its entirety can be read at the National Writer's Union site at http://www.nwu.org/nwu

* Schlitz in a can - oh boy, nothing like having a couple, three, four of these while sitting on my folks' patio and visiting with mom and dad and their neighbors. Dad keeps a plastic bucket over by the door, and you toss your empty over there, hoping to score. If you miss, you crack another cold one and try again when it's empty. If you make the shot, you go for two in a row...

* Damaged Goods #2 - smack dab in the middle of essays and poems by and about strippers, hookers, junkies, and tattoo artists, is one Bill Tuomala's statement of purpose - an essay titled "birth, school, WORK, death," which he pieced together from his 1996 zine work. $3.75 to Damaged Goods, PO Box 46277, Los Angeles, CA 90046.


INFO



Everything written by me, except where noted.

In an attempt to break even, print readers are going to be paying $1.00 to read future issues ($4.00 for five issues.) This is going out free to you email readers as there are no postage or photocopying costs. However, donations to the cause are glady accepted.

Correspondence:

Bill Tuomala
354 Emerson Ave. S. #9
Minneapolis, MN 55408
wyman23@wavefront.com

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