Saturday, April 30, 2011

Pig in the City

by J.S. Holland

Around this time last year, we discussed the Bacon-infused Old Fashioned cocktails served at PDT in New York. Now here's a Bacon-infused Manhattan, which it was my pleasure to gargle with during a Don Draper-style late business lunch today at Blind Pig in Butchertown.

Whereas PDT uses bacon-infused bourbon for their confectious concoction, the Blind Pig uses bacon-infused Sazerac rye, homemade coffee bitters, and vermouth. Simple. Elegant. And delishmus. But was it worth ten dollars in an Obama economy? Wellllll... maybe for a one-time treat just so you can say you did it. And you really should try it at least once.

The bacon is very subtle, so don't worry, you're not going to get high blood pressure or trichinosis from this. Needless to say, however, the drink aint kosher and it sure aint Halal.

In the final analysis, I think I would have rather squandered my ten-dollar bills on their Smokey & The Bandit cocktail, made with my beloved Del Maguey Mezcal. Now that's a drink worth wasting your wages on! For this price, I really feel like they should have placed a generous rolled-up piece of fried bacon on a skewer floating in the drink.

Don't let my mixed message here dampen your enthusiasm for the Blind Pig - it may well be my favorite restaurant and bar in town. Tell 'em I sent you by!

Friday, April 29, 2011

The Henri Bendel Collection

by J.S. Holland

In Victorian times, men wore fragrances like lavender, rose, lilac, honeysuckle, violet, mint and magnolia, daubing themselves from a tiny perfume-soaked sponge stored inside a silver scent box they kept in their pocket. Logical enough, right? Since, after all, these are things generally universally regarded as smelling pleasant.

I haven't really studied on the historical timeline of men's colognes, so I'm not exactly sure at what point it was decided that men should stop smelling like a rose and start smelling like diesel fuel and ass. I do know that most of the men's fragrances I first came in contact with as a child of the 60s and 70s - Old Spice, Trouble, Turbo, Woodhue, and whatever junk they put in those God-awful Avon bottles shaped like automobiles - smelled virtually indistinguishable from furniture stripping solution. Later offerings, like Chaps and Polo, don't smell much better to my nose. You may say my olfactory's gone womanish on me, but I'd rather smell like Lafayette than LaCoste.

And smelling like a waffle cone's pretty darn good too.

I do admit a certain fondness for Fahrenheit 32, one of the very few contemporary scents that speaks to me, for whatever reason. There are hints of that modern-stuff bitterness, yet also a certain spicy-floral charm that somehow manages to smell au courant and great-grandfatherly at the same time. It also appears to be what the KISS Colognes were shooting for in their formulation (now's a great time to get 'em cheap as they're in that limbo of being discontinued but not quite collectible yet.)

But for several years, my fragrance of choice was the signature series from Henri Bendel, who also is known for some of the most amazing candles in the Universe. Back in the day, like, those halcyon days of the year 2003, you could find Bendel products at any Bath & Body Works location. Then, one day, the distribution deal ended and they disappeared from the shelves. And why I've never known.

I'm down to my last two bottles of Bendel now; all that remains from my once mighty collection of nine or ten. There's hardly anything left in my Blackberry Cassis bottle, which means Vanilla Flower - my least favorite - is all I have left to remember Henri (is he even a real person, or is he made-up like Betty Crocker?) by. And looking at Bendel's website, it would seem that Vanilla Flower was everybody else's least favorite too. That and Rare Mimosa are all that's left. Wild Fig was recently available but has sold out. My favorite, Mandarin Verbena, left this world long, long ago.

Fortunately, new-old stock still can still be found on Amazon and eBay. I believe I'll dust my credit card.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Hall of Justice

by J.S. Holland

Carter Hall was the secret identity of the golden-age DC Comics character Hawkman. Carter, an archaeologist, was studying ancient Egyptian artifacts when he suddenly had a past-life regression to a previous existence as King Khufu. Seeing the knife that killed Khufu restimulates his past-life memories and brings it all back home to him.

Using lost technology involving something called "Nth Metal" that originally came to Earth from an ancient saucer crash, Carter Hall resurrects the Egyptian secrets of anti-gravity flight, and becomes a hawk-masked superhero. (Years later, KISS experimented with drummer Eric Singer being a very similar Egyptian hawk-faced character as well, but never went through with it because it just looked too darn silly.)

In 1951, Hawkman is brought before the U.S. Congress at the height of the anti-communist hysteria, and refuses to reveal his identity as Carter Hall. He subsequently retreats to a series of complicated alternate-universe versions of Earth and after that, well, it gets to be like explaining Mongolian trigonometry. Somehow, during all this time, Carter Hall also manages to maintain chairmanship of the Justice Society of America.

Oh... wait. Wrong Carter Hall.

Start over.

Carter Hall is a grand plantation located in Millwood, Virginia and built on a 5,800 acre estate in 1782 - that's when a smoke was a smoke. It served as headquarters for Stonewall Jackson during the Civil War, but was raided and sacked by Union troops.

Not only is Carter Hall the only plantation I know of to have not one but two Navy ships named after it, it's also the namesake of here this fine, fine pouch of golden goodness brought to you by those geriatric gents at John Middleton, Inc.

Carter Hall, like Half & Half, is one of those stately old-codger boxed terbackys you've seen all your life at Walgreen's, gas stations, the bottom shelf at tobacconists, and on the dashboards of the trucks of retired railroad engineers, and wondered. Plunk down two and a half bucks and sniff for yourself - it's the next best thing to a time machine back to 1792. And I should know, 'cause I just got back from 1792 myself and everybody there is smokin' the stuff like it's goin' out of style. (Which, of course, now it is, two hundred years later.)

To open the pouch and breathe its powerful aroma, you'd think you're about to smoke a rough-and-tumble ramblin' rounder rag like Half & Half. But to my surprise, it's astonishingly mild. Tame, even. Almost too tame. But it's tasty and goes down easy like Sunday morning. It's an excellent compliment to my morning coffee, and is so soft-spoken that I can easily puff it in between bites of my breakfast. How many backies can you say honestly that about?

The yokels over at Tobacco Reviews are largely on the money with this one, with most voices rallying to its defense and championing it as a solid stalwart entry in the much-maligned "drugstore tobacco" genre. And I can testify that the "Kiowapipe" gentleman is spot-on when he says:

"...this blend is famous for building cake. The stories are true, CH is a cake-making monster. I don't know what it is about this stuff, but if you want to build some cake, a few bowls of this will have you on your way. Surprisingly, it's also pretty good about not leaving a ghost."

"Cake", for the novices (I was a novice myself just three months ago) is the tar residue that builds up on the interior of your pipe bowl. Just as you want a wok to be "seasoned" and just as you want a Griswold skillet to be "blackened", you want a briar pipe to be "caked". Once you get a good layer of that natural protective coating on there, it protects you from smoking the acrylic sealant that lines the bowl fresh from the factory. Yum! Next pipe I get (you're really supposed to have a whole armada of them and rotate them, actually) I'll break it in from the start with good old Carter Hall and get it cakey in a shakey.

Now that I'm cellaring tobacco as well as wine, C.H. will surely be a leading staple in my collection. Reports are that it cellars very well - one guy on Tobacco Reviews said he opened a box he'd bought thirteen years ago and it was still moist and delicious. Truly, a timeless taste that stands the test of time, for the end times.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Comics Round Up #4: The Horror of Sitting and Talking with Julia Gfrörer

by J.T. Dockery

Oddly enough, when I started this idea of documenting my forays into reading what I consider to be the cream of the contemporary underground comics crop, I never thought I'd do an interview in this contex. I'd interviewed Hubert Selby, Jr., Ivan Brunetti, and Sexton Ming in the dim past of the 20th century, but it didn't seem to be a form that appealed to me anymore, at least in actually conducting them myself (I read and enjoy interviews regularly, however). But there was something about last year's Flesh and Bone by Julia Gfrörer from Sparkplug Comics that monkeyed with my mind. Ostensibly a horror comic book, it had a narrative flow, deceptively simple, that begged questions, which I didn't have to answer to enjoy the work, but they kept on begging me until I finally found myself begging the author with these questions. Ms. Gfrörer agreed to a conversation.

J.T. Dockery: Flesh and Bone reads on some levels as a gothic horror tale, reminding me of genre writers from the turn of and the early years of the twentieth century (and earlier) and early horror films. When I'm constructing stories or working on music I habitually put together what I term "totems of influence"--that is, touchstones of a few different sources and inspiration which I'm consciously allowing to inform the work. This may just be my autistic brain at work, but did you have any inspiration, or set of inspirations, which led to this story, or did it arrive less consciously? Is there any way you can describe the process (or processes) of its origin?

Julia Gfrörer: This is an incredibly challenging question because I feel like the details of Flesh and Bone are culled from a lifetime of trivial obsessions which would probably be boring for you and embarrassing for me to enumerate here. I guess the initial seed of the story was when Arcana Perfumes hired me to draw a label for a perfume based on the old Irish ballad "I Am Stretched on Your Grave" in early 2009. (The drawings are here, they ended up using the first one.) Around the same time, a friend had asked me to draw an eight-page porn comic for an anthology, and I had been reading about occultism a lot (maybe as a result of devouring Foucault's Pendulum a few months earlier? I forget) so I wrote it about a mandrake root. After it was thumbnailed out it didn't exactly look like porn to me so I didn't submit it, but that eventually became the penultimate eight pages of Flesh and Bone. (The final page scene with the mass grave came later.) When Dylan Williams asked me to write a forty-page book for Sparkplug, it occurred to me that the guy with the ghost girlfriend and the death erection guy could be the same guy, so I wrote the rest of the story with the goal of connecting them.

JTD: Well, don't hold back on further enumeration with me. I enjoy that kind of thing. That said, I realize that the process is sometimes an internal thing, more of use to the artist than is otherwise of use to a reader/audience/viewer. If that were the case, we'd all just publish lists of things that fascinate us instead of creating narratives.

JG: Well, one of the cultural touchstones that was influential on Flesh and Bone was the movie Antichrist, which came out at the same time that I wrote my book. I wanted desperately to see it but I had a newborn baby, which makes it tough to go to the theater, and I knew that the violence in the movie and the fact that the plot hinges on the death of a young child would be too much for me emotionally at that time. Fortunately I live upstairs from Sean Christensen, another comics artist and a beloved friend, among whose lesser known talents is included an ardent and insightful movie buffism. So he saw the movie and indulged me with a vivid hour-long retelling (immortalized in his diary comic here) and the vision I had of Antichrist in my imagination, the idea of nature itself as an antagonist by virtue of its unimpeachable amorality, became part of the story I was writing. (I did see the movie about a year later and I loved it, but it was very different from what I had originally imagined, which is good, I guess.)

I listened to Clint Mansell's soundtrack for The Fountain almost every day while I was drawing the comic (again, I hadn't seen the movie yet, and in this case I didn't know anything about its plot that was not revealed in the song titles), and that certainly had an impact on its overall mood. Or maybe I ended up with a book that's gloomy and takes itself too seriously. On second thought, I think those traits are inherent to me.

JTD: That said, I 'm interested to ask another question, which may pertain to your development. Do I understand correctly, and this is pure digression, that one of your parents was a Jungian analyst?

JG: Yes, my mother is, and she taught me early about symbolic interpretation, to analyze my dreams and to consider people's actions from a psychoanalytic perspective. It's not something I enact consciously but Jung's philosophy is fundamental to the way I perceive and interact with the world, and I'm sure that it comes through in my work. I also made my first zines with my mom.

JTD: One aspect of the work that is immediately striking (and I know this from passing around the book in social situations to other cartoonists or those interested in art/comics--which is a favorite hobby of mine with books that I enjoy) is the sexual content. In a contemporary age in which every movie aims for PG-13 and the United States seems at once caught in a dualistic whirlwind of free and readily available pornography, on one hand, and a repressive fundamentalism in regards to depictions of sexuality, on the other, was there any intentional design to the portrayals of sexuality in the book or, again, was it more natural? Much of the sexuality in the book, for me, brought to mind rituals of a sexual nature from old folklore.

JG: First of all, thanks for sharing my book with your friends. It wasn't until I read the reviews of my book that I knew my treatment of sexuality was peculiar. My personality is very earnest and matter-of-fact, and it's difficult to shock me because I tend to assume that all people are trying to act reasonably and in good faith. (Also because I wasted my adolescence on Usenet and Portal of Evil.) So I think that my attitude, towards sexuality and everything else, is simultaneously romantic, permissive and practical, and that's reflected in the way sexuality is depicted in my book, but I didn't do it on purpose, no. Frankly I was just trying to draw what turned me on.

JTD: Of course, this wasn't an "accusatory" observation about the sexuality. I quite like the frankness of the sexual content. I didn't realize it had origins as a porn story, at least not before my first reading of it, but I did note you alluded to that in one of your blog posts.

What I was trying to get at was that I felt the sexuality of the book flowed very naturally within the narrative, and I mean it as a compliment as I don't think very many artists of any genre, especially in America, deal with sexuality all that well. I like the idea that at the end of the day, you just drew what "turned you on." It's something I've noticed in your stand-alone images as well, a very natural sexual, overt or covert, content. I'm struggling for a question here, but instead it's more I'm just saying, "Bravo."

JG: Well, thank you. I feel like I'm taking credit here for something that I can't really help doing, but I'm glad it works.

JTD: The dialogue between the witch and the lion head's entity stuck in my brain, returning to me over the course of several days after my initial reading (and are we talking Jadwiga of Poland and Buer as in the Germanic demon here?). And each time I re-read the the scene with the Hansel and Gretel type children, I am reminded of how abrupt and brutal that bit is (my mind somehow wants to gloss over it so I get a little shock when I read it again), and also by how effective both these two digressions seem. Can you speak of these two scenes, what was the process of their creation and inclusion within the larger narrative?

JG: There are two questions I kept asking myself when I was writing this story. The first one was, "What would a witch do with herself during her work day?" and the other was, "What is the worst thing that could happen now?" When I wrote Flesh and Bone I had just had a baby, which can make you very empathetic, especially towards children, and the scene with the children was one of the worst things I could think of, so I put it in partly because it upset me so much. The scene with Buer was because the story needed a sustained moment of intellectual dread to balance the visceral horror the characters were surrounded by. My book and I neither endorse nor denounce Buer's gloomy view of love, but I think the possibility that he's right is the most gruesome of the horrors the book presents.

JTD: I like the visceral versus intellectual horror tension. That's what I was getting out of it as a reader but just couldn't quite articulate as a writer, couldn't elucidate it in a linear fashion. I don't have much of a tolerance for other people's pain as well...especially children. And even animals. I always think of the line from the film Night of the Hunter: "It's a hard world for little things."

JG: It was difficult for me to draw, but in a way it's also a funny scene. Jadwiga is so perfectly phlegmatic throughout.

JTD: I was reading the scene with Buer at a particular time in the throes of the painful death of marriage, and I found myself on a dry and cynical rebound, so that it read to me at the time very logical. To the point of conjuring dread, but in a cold clean manner. I'm a bit more hopeful now, but he touches a horrible truth, or at least partial truth. Also, I really enjoy the approach of the witch that you mention, that sort of "all in a day's work" mentality that she as a character and you as author treat the material. Giving oral sex to Baphomet out in the woods, as much as I love that opening and it makes an immediate statement, it's also just treated in the narrative as business as usual. Again, there's not much of question implicit here; I'm reflecting on your answer.

JG: Well, I'm sure there are plenty of things I do as a matter of course that an uninitiated observer might find shocking or strange, too.

JTD: I still don't grasp the significance of the hanky slipped into the pocket with the resultant dogs and men removing it. Does this speak to mental deficiencies on my part as a reader?

JG: J.T., I'm sorry, but yes. The kerchief is dropped by the little girl as she's running away from Jadwiga's house, does that help? I don't want to ruin it.

[JTD smacks his own forehead.]

JTD: And this is the reason that you are the first person in this "Comics Round Up" series of reviews that I've wanted to interview as opposed to just simply write about. Flesh and Bone plays tricks on me. Things that don't make sense, make sense upon revisitations to the story. I forget aspects which I then remember. And then I missed a very obvious point which I reread a couple times specifically trying to resolve. At first, while I enjoyed the book, I thought that it might be faults within the narrative, and the more I study the work, the more I realize that the narrative has some way of messing with my perceptions.

Is it just me, or does Flesh and Bone have a happy ending?

JG: It has an ambiguous ending, which is my favorite type of ending.

JTD: It does seem like everyone gets what they want. But that might not be a good thing. Maybe we'll leave it at that.

JG: Heh, okay.

JTD: I've not read Ariadne auf Naxos. Can you tell me about it? Is there a connection to Strauss's opera? Or is it better to be appalled at the ignorance of someone willing to interview an artist when that someone is only familiar with one book? Is the third volume the only one in print?

JG: Ariadne auf Naxos is my series published by Teenage Dinosaur. It's about me befriending my favorite characters from literature, history, and pop culture, it's completely self-indulgent and silly and I'm thrilled that it entertains anybody other than myself. Yes, there is a connection to the opera, in part because it's about overcoming the loss of one relationship by throwing yourself into the next, and in part because, like in the opera, the characters in it can't really agree on whether they're in a comedy or a tragedy. I think you can still get all three volumes from Tim of Teenage Dinosaur. I'm nearly finished with a fourth.

JTD: I'm looking forward to acquiring and reading them.

What can you tell me about your new book, Too Dark To See? I didn't realize it was available for purchase until just before sending these questions out to you. Being that I live on my own internal sense of the passing of time, I'll review it or ask specific questions about it a year or two from now, I predict.

JG: It's modern-timesy. It's about a succubus. Like Flesh and Bone, it subtly addresses the subject of supernatural procreation, which is a topic I find fascinating. Also like Flesh and Bone I think the scariest part is when the characters are just sitting and talking.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Hey Brother, Pour the Stein

by J.S. Holland

Given that I'm at the point at which my disdain for contemporary culture has hit a new all-time luddite high (or low, depending on your viewpoint), and also given that my coveted giant-size KISS Army Mug got tragically broken awhile back, I think the proper posture for a gentleman such as myself is to start drinking out of oversized stoneware-and-metal monstrosities that look like Kaiser Wilhelm's hat.

This, then, is my latest acquisition in the quest for superior alcoholic technology if drink we must for a better Kentucky: a ceramic stein I've come to nickname "The Captain". It features a bas-relief mural depicting a good old lodge meeting of another era, and best of all, it has a music box in its base. (Someone should invent a country-music-themed stein that plays tear-jerking songs to cry in your beer to. And that someone will probably have to be me.) It bears the inscription auf der alm, da ist es schon which roughly translates from German to "On the mountain pasture it is beautiful."

Even though a man can only drink one beer at a time, I feel strangely compelled to start collecting these contraptions. I foresee rows and rows of them lining the walls of my wine cellar. Steins make good friends, and as Bernie Bernbaum wisely said, you can't have too many.

Bring your own next time you visit the JSH Plantation and we'll clank tankards and sing along with old Heino records.

Monday, April 25, 2011

The Year of Hasil #1: 6 Years We Knew Him, 6 Years He Died

by J.T. Dockery

Today marks the sixth anniversary of the death of Hasil Adkins. The one man band from Madison, Boone county, West Virginia. Architect of the Hunch, He Who Proclaimed There Shall Be No More Hot Dogs, the Sultan of Slop. To put it country simple, Hasil single handedly made of rock and roll a personal post modern horror side show brain damaged boogie before personal post modern horror side show brain damaged boogie was cool. All within the context of the original first wave of 1950s rockabilly, even. It's prounounced, "hassle."

I met Hasil for the first time in 1999 at the Empty Glass in Charleston, WV. Jeffrey Scott Holland was running a record store in Berea, KY at the time, and he discovered in those heady days of the late nineties internet, when the big geographic divide of news betwixt Kentucky and West Virginia was falling away, that Hasil was to play this gig. We idolized the man, a figure prominent on our respective totems of influence and our hillbilly bred cargo cult sense of rock and roll. JSH laid some scratch on me to fund my field trip as Kentucky ambassador.

When I first saw him at the Empty Glass, what sticks out first was his dress code; a coon skin cap and white frame sunglasses. What I also noticed off the bat: Hasil was sitting off by himself to the side of the stage, although he was seemingly glad to chat with people walking by him. He seemed restless, completely comfortable with himself while somehow at once also seeming uncomfortable in his own skin. A peculiar energy.

I worked up my nerve and introduced myself to the man. We chatted about his records. I told him I played him regularly on my radio show at WRFL. He asked me to send him tapes of the radio program. I gave him JSH's business card. Told him we'd like to get him to play Lexington. On the following Christmas, he called Jeff thinking it was me to say merry Christmas. The rockabilly myth was becoming a three dimensional figure. The wheels were in motion for him to play his first Lexington at the now defunct Yats (which would be followed by several more on a regular basis right up to the last year of his life). This sixth year anniversary of Hasil's death also marks the point at which he's been dead for as long as I actually knew him: the last six years of his life.

Hasil's parents were originally from Kentucky. We can claim him. This is something he told me on the various drives between Madison and Lexington (that was always a condition with Hasil for shows, he never travelled to them on his own, or made arrangments for himself, other than you had to come get him if you wanted him to play). I think he also told me he was born in Kentucky, but did he really say that (Holland and I have searched high and low for some definitive record of birth which has only led to more questions and various dead ends)?

The problem with travelling with Hasil and trying to recall his stories is that Hasil ALWAYS TALKED. He never stopped. Especially when travelling. His mind was a run on sentence, peppered with anecdotes spanning the decades mixed in with jokes and surreal observations from having taken the dirt road less travelled in life.

All of this in a deep backwoods West Virginia dialect with a twang all Hasil's own. Even with somebody as well versed in deep holler hillbilly slang (in fact becoming often Hasil's "translator" when working together) as myself (the county seat of my stomping grounds growing up was pop 500, with one stoplight in the whole territory), yet even I sometimes could find following Hasil's dialect to be a head scratcher.

Hasil never gave directions ahead of time. He always said, "Get to Madison and call me." When I rolled into Boone county for the first time, before the era in which I was burdened with a cell phone, I found myself at a pay phone by the main road, trucks whizzing by, trying to decipher what Hasil was saying. Something about take a right at the guardrail past the second big curve to the left. This was dramatized with Hasil playing himself in the film, "Die, You Zombie Bastards!"

Oddly, those directions panned out, and after steering my car down a dirt trail that looked like a logging road, I was only sure I was on the right track when I saw the "Hunching Bus," a New York city transit bus (go figure), that Hasil made a few special modifications to himself that had been immortalized for me in the Appalshop documentary on Hasil.

Hasil had three trailers. One was for storage. One he actually lived in, and the other was the nice trailer which he was perpetually preparing to be moved into but never seeming to get there. Also, there was the original family shack that had been there as long as the property had been in the family, which was the late 40s: the "Hazel Hotel," he at some point dubbed it. There was a bathtub in the "yard." A creek ran through the property. Hasil fished it, keeping a monster of a bottom feeder he'd snatched from the water in the freezer, not stuffed or mounted, just flopped in the freezer. He'd pull it out to show visitors to prove the magnitude of fish swimming through the heart of the Adkins plantation.

The trailer in which he actually resided was a space which respected no void, filled floor to ceiling with memorabilia from a life time spent just a little southeast of show business. A reproduction of Joe Coleman's portrait of Hasil hung a few feet from the original first fan letter the painter penned to Adkins. A photo of Hank Williams the third was inscribed to Hasil, "my hillbilly hero." Album and single covers along with flyers and posters from various gigs held up the walls (later flyers I made would occupy space on these same walls).

Hasil had the trailer rigged with his own version of "surround sound," and he would blast demos of his home recordings for visitors...a special room in the back (the only one he kept locked) comprised his home studio. Hasil, in those last years when I would visit him, alluded mysteriously to a "one man opera" upon which he said he was working.

Hasil often had a reputation for being crazy and/or violent with concert promoters. I never had issues with Hasil. Perhaps it was because when I knew him, although sipping beer like water and smoking more cigarettes than any one person I've ever witnessed, he never touched "that vodka" which he ascribed to having caused him lots of problems in the past. Perhaps it was simply because he was in his later years, an older, more sedate version of his previous self. Perhaps it was because I was a hillbilly myself and he felt comfortable with me, or perhaps because I gave him respect and never let him pay for his beer and smokes and meat when in my care.

Meat, you say? That was one lesson a body learned quick around Hasil. Whenever you asked him what he wanted to eat he'd just say, "Meat." What kind of meat Hasil? "Any kind of meat." If you brought him a cheeseburger, he'd remove the bread and toppings and just eat the hamburger meat. I finally settled into a routine with Hasil in which I'd buy "family size" packs of bacon and constantly be frying them up for him on his visits (he would go through one of these in about two days). When travelling from Lexington back to Madison, I'd often buy him a large order of bacon from Tolly-Ho, which he thought was the best notion ever.

I think Hasil enjoyed his time in Lexington with me and my gang of Hasil supporters. We had some wing ding after-parties in his honor, usually with Hasil retiring early to what we termed the "Hasil Adkins suite" in our home on Preston Ave. But he wouldn't go to sleep. He'd be calling some girlfriend long distance on our phone, with us keeping him supplied in bacon. I'd sometimes get tired and hand over the bacon frying duties over to someone else. I remember Joe Turner, a pal and sometimes bandmate, taking over the duties and going whole hog and making biscuits and gravy for Hasil, taking them upstairs to the room like an offer to royality. At that house I had a shrine to Hasil on the wall. He took it in after the first visit and said, "Thank you, Todd."

One of the times he didn't stay with us, he stayed with my cohort Brian Manley, and those boys stayed up all night making home recordings with Manley on mandolin. The home recordings survive in excerpt with a funny bit of dialogue between the two as a hidden track on the Smacks! "Ejaculations" CD.

Of course, speaking of recordings, the real testament to these "Hasil years" of ours, was the album which would come to be called "Night Life," eventually released on vinyl with a different track listing on the french label Hog Maw and in an expaned official version in a limited edition package on compact disc by Creeps Records.

Hasil bought a banjo the morning before the recording session, so two tunes ended up on the record with banjo. JSH was ostensibly steering the ship, but I think the notion of "producing" Hasil would be like unto herding the proverbial cats. That said, Hasil liked Jeff's ideas, felt comfortable with us, and listening back to those recordings today, I think one can hear the fun he was having.

I'm not the first to suggest that it was the strongest LP of all new material since 1987's "The Wild Man." While because of Hasil's unexpected death, we never quite pushed these recordings as far we would have liked with the mission statement of including lots of instrumentation not usually associated with Hasil's discography, between the banjos and the keyboards and the secret weapon of Brian Manley's various stringed accompaniment (and to some extent my own drumming and additional percussion, which actually sounds a lot like Hasil's being that, despite what ever plans I had, it become apparent that Hasil had for so long developed his own peculiar percussive timing, I had but one choice to try and mimic his approach), so that instead of an album that sounded nothing like Hasil's past, it now sounds to me like a summary and statement of all that came before, with a few previously unheard of flourishes, a master at the end of his life capturing a broad breath and flow of what made Hasil whom we call Hasil. How was that just two sentences?

(above: JSH's portrait of Hasil used for the Creeps Records edition of "Night Life")

We didn't know it was going to be Hasil's last. With all the endless cigarettes, beer, broads, bacon, and the wild life and the night life, it seemed if he hadn't died by his sixties, he'd go on living like an Appalachian Buddha for years to come. It wasn't meant to be. Reportedly run over by an ATV on his property by a teenager 10 days prior to his death, and despite having gotten a clean bill of health at the doctor, Hasil left this mortal coil.

This stunned us all. We had no choice but to focus on the last bit of work that needed to be done on the album. After getting it out there, it seems like we all stepped back from his legacy and our involvement in it. Readers will note he's barely been mentioned on this blog, but JSH and I now claim this to be the "Year of Hasil" in which we pay respect both to his legacy and how we played a part in it. Expect more yarns and memories and recountings of anecdotes in the year to come. I'm currently sorting my archives to locate and preserve photographs and memorabilia that I will be sharing at this location.

Six years in, and I personally miss him now more than ever; it's sinking in, truly (ruly). Hasil liked to randomly call me up on the phone and talk for hours. He'd take it upon himself to ring and give me notes on recordings and demos of my own that I'd handed him, always enthusiastic to share his musings about that, this, and other things. The long car rides and endless monologues in which I'd sometimes wedge in a word. Playing roadie for him at his shows. Frying up a steady stream of bacon for him. Having a beer and a smoke with the man on my porch or in the backyard in Kentucky or his trailer in West Virginia. These moments are not going to come back this way again, lost like coal dust down the holler washed away by the rain.

Sunday, April 24, 2011


by J.S. Holland

When you're living in a fundamentally uncivilized society, sometimes you find yourself putting up with more crap than you should - simply because you become used to it. After awhile, the crap becomes the status quo for you and for others, and it passes on into common use.

Take McDonald's, for instance. Please.

Chrissy Lee Polis, a transgender woman, was brutally beaten by a pair of women (one of them only 14) at a Baltimore McDonald's recently. According to the New York Daily News, an employee did nothing to break up the fight, but just watched and took video of the fight with his phone - not for evidentiary purposes, but for his own jollies. He can be heard laughing on the video as the woman is beaten and nearly killed.

Of course, maybe breaking up fights isn't such a good idea - Raymond Mitchell tried to break up two men fighting in a London, England McDonald's and ended up getting shot to death. According to the U.K. Mirror:

One neighbour, who saw the shooting but was too terrified to be named, said: “He was begging, literally begging for his life. I didn’t dare look out my window in case they saw me. I heard them laughing and swearing at him, calling him a ‘bitch’. I heard them laughing afterwards as well.”

Raymond’s partner, who asked not to be named, said: “I’m terrified. They’re still out there and they’ve not been caught. I’ve been told how they were laughing, actually laughing after they beat him and shot him. How could anybody do something like that?"

Two days ago, in Conroe, TX, Troy Bishop was shot multiple times by an assailant in a McDonald's parking lot.

Last week in Cleveland, OH, a fight broke in a McDonald's parking lot between four women. When the manager and the owner came out to break it up, Stacey Mathews got in her car and proceeded to run over everyone with it, and then fled the scene.

And yesterday, at a McDonald's in Sacramento, CA, a 60-year-old man exposed his genitalia to a 10-year-old boy in a restroom stall. According to KXTV, "the police who used surveillance video to identify the man, who they described as a transient."

Everyone - regardless of age, gender, race, or social status - pretty much openly acknowledges that a trip to Mickey D's can sometimes be quite an experience with the worst elements of our fellow man. In theory, it should be true that the same could be said for any other fast food joint, but in reality, it's just not so. Similar Google News searches for other places could only find one incident of violence at a Hardee's and two at Waffle House. But the McDonald's horror stories never end. I bet you have a few yourself from your own personal experience, I know I sure do.

Nevertheless, all fast food places could equally benefit from my advice to McDonald's: they need to clean house from the top down and completely restructure the way they do business. It's time for these places to stop being overrun by stupid teenagers congregating en masse, and homeless people taking up full-time residence. Restaurants are not babysitters. Restaurants are not homeless shelters. It also doesn't help that often the people running the place are themselves the same bunch of dumb kids and marginal characters, thrown together into an unhealthy and dysfunctional mix, usually half-assedly overseen by a slightly older manager who has become numb to it all and doesn't dare speak up because it's probably the best job they've ever had, sad to say.

Having been, shall we say, marginally housed myself more than once in the many lives I've lived, in no way do I mean to sound insensitive to the plight of the homeless. Far from it. But different people are homeless for different reasons. Some were sociopaths before they became homeless, and this contributed to their downward spiral. Others, driven into apathy at the seeming hopelessness of their situation, became sociopaths after hitting rock bottom. The distinction doesn't really matter, because unless you're mentally ill or have given up on your own humanity, no one should really be able to tell that you're homeless anyway. (You may disagree with me on that, and I'll explain it in greater detail in a post to come.) Then again, I also agree with Jerry Seinfeld when he notes that people who go out in public wearing sweatpants have essentially "given up" on life as well.

McDonald's has come to represent all that is dreary, depressing and dullardly about America. Anton LaVey said much the same when, years ago, he made a rather sarcastically Swiftian defense of James Huberty, who shot and killed 21 people in a McDonald's in 1984.

And hey, I love the food, don't get me wrong. I'm not of those knee-jerk liberals who protest McDogfood's strictly on an ethical or health basis, like the dope in the photo above. After all, my concern here is with incivility, and I consider obnoxious protests to be the apex of incivility.

I'll still eat there occasionally, albeit via the drive-thru. There's nothing more satisfying as a guilty pleasure than an occasional McDonald's cheeseburger, and I swear they must have some sort of a sweetheart deal with Coca-Cola to get superior-tasting Coke formula. Do a side by side taste test and you will find that a McD's fountain Coke kicks butt against a Wendy's fountain Coke every time. But as for the ambience and clientele, it's pretty embarrassing on a global scale that the restaurant most successful in the USA and most identified worldwide with the USA is well known as a haven for some of the most dysfunctional people on the planet, on both sides of the cash register. Until something major is implemented at McDonald's from the top down and bottom up, that "Safe Place" logo with that disgusting clown of theirs smiling on it is nothing but a very sick joke that has no place in the 21st century.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Mixed Martial Arts: a Symptom of America's Decline

by J.S. Holland

There's a cancer on our society, and it's growing.

No, I don't mean artificial sweeteners or reality shows, though they do promote brainlessness and societal decay. I mean that mutant "sport" that's sweeping the nation, Mixed Martial Arts.

I first became aware of the creeping MMA infection a few years ago, when I got the all-channels cable TV package. After a few days of channel-surfing, I gradually became aware that boxing matches were harder to find than they used to be, and even wrestling now seemed to have a diminished role, both of them being eclipsed by this ultra-violent MMA crap.

It was humorous at first. I remember the first time I inadvertently tuned into a PRIDE match. I saw two barefoot men performing a warped and weak sort of bastardized kickboxing that seemed, like Calvinball, a mishmash of various disciplines randomly stitched together. At random intervals, the kickboxing would abruptly turn into a no-holds-barred wrestling match, but more often than not, it ended up with some sort of porn-star headlock between legs, with one guy's face buried squarely in the other guy's package.

"This must be some sort of joke," I thought. Sadly, it wasn't. This poor man's bathhouse floorshow is what passes for serious fight-sports nowadays. (And paradoxically enough, in my experience, it seems many of the people most drawn towards MMA are often the types who are the most aggressively homophobic.)

For a boxing enthusiast such as myself, the growing MMA-ization of everything is pretty frustrating. I went to Borders to look for boxing magazines and couldn't find a single one. Even wrestling magazines were few and far between. But there were no less than sixteen periodicals devoted to this MMA goofiness.

Even Butterbean, who used to be one of my favorite boxers, took off his shoes and joined the dark side a few years back.

I put boxing above all sports because of its inherently superior mythic resonance - which is sorely lacking in sillier sports that involve chasing after a ball like little puppies fetching a squeaky-toy.

It's always a great comeback, too, when some drunk at a bar gives you the condescending "whut's a-matter witchoo, boy, why don'tchoo lak the Cats?" or some such banter. There's no more gratifying response than to return their condescension and coldly reply that childish games of mere "ball" is for wussies and girly-men, and that you prefer the manly pasttime of watching two guys beat the holy hell out of each other.

And, of course, most importantly: betting on the winner. Now that's American.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Predatory Parking Meters

by J.S. Holland

Couple years ago, I parked my car at a metered spot on Bardstown Road, with the purpose of quickly handing a flyer for a show to a shopkeeper. I put in a dime, knowing that I'd be back in literally a minute, two at the most. But when I came right back, not only had the time run out, but a meter-lady had swooped in, seemingly out of nowhere, and placed the Green Envelope of Death on my windshield.

On a hunch, I put a nickel in and this time, I timed it closely with my watch. Sure enough, the meter was off. Way off. And as the incident demonstrated to me, a meter only has to be a little off - even 15 seconds off - to be capable of causing you a ticket that could in turn lead to a restraining boot being attached to your car.

I then made a phone call to PARC and found out that the process to appeal a parking ticket is a real pain; enough so that most people for whom time is money, myself included, end up deciding to just pay the sharks and move on.

According to

Broken or malfunctioning parking meters can be reported to PARC (Parking Authority of River City) at 502-574-3817. Please provide the meter number that is found on a metal plate on the back of the pole. The meter number is usually a combination of letters and numbers that indicate the location. Example: J-601 is the meter located in the 600 block of W. Jefferson Street. Reports of broken meters are forwarded to the Louisville Metro Department of Public Works for repair. Reporting the broken meter will not keep the parked vehicle from being issued a citation. There is an appeals process (see Parking Tickets) if you choose to stay parked at the meter. However, it may be wiser to move your car to another meter rather than risk the inconvenience of having to file an appeal.

Unfortunately, what this charming advice doesn't take into account is that in most cases, one doesn't know a meter has malfunctioned until it's too late and you've already been ticketed. The majority of people victimized by faulty meters may not even realize that they've been swindled - when they get back to their car and find the meter has run out, most probably just grumble at themselves for having seemingly lost track of the time, and leave it at that.

And that's exactly what they're hoping you'll do.

Reread what it says on the city's site above. They're gambling that you won't want to go through "the inconvenience of having to file an appeal," and are in fact trying to steer you against it from the getgo.

It goes without saying that predatory lending is considered an unsavory practice, and a tool of usury employed by organized crime groups and credit card companies. Why? Because the game is played like this: the lender lends you money knowing full well that you may not be able to pay it back in time. And when you don't, you're saddled with exorbitant interest, known as "the Vig." And when you refuse to pay the Vig, then Paulie Walnuts shows up to rough you up and confiscate your belongings.

And how is the game played in the parking meter scam? Almost identically. The city charges you a fee to park on a street (that you as a taxpayer already partially own), knowing full well that you may not be able to make it back to your car on time. And when you don't, you're saddled with an exorbitant penalty fee, known as a ticket. And when you refuse to pay the ticket, then Paulie Walnuts shows up to confiscate your car by putting a boot on it.

Now, reread once more what it says on the city's site above. It states that there is an appeals process if you claim your ticket was a result of a meter that is broken or malfunctioning. And yet, when you go to the city's webpage regarding that appeals process, it clearly states in plain English:

Not reasons for an appeal:

1.Lack of knowledge of the City's parking regulations.
2.Appointment conflicts or tardiness going or returning from appointments.
3.Inability to find a legal parking space.
4.Failure to have appropriate or sufficient amount of coins.
5.Broken or malfunctioning parking meter.

Can you say Catch-22?

How, in the name of all that is ethical and legal, can the city claim that you have to put money in a meter, but then also insist that they are not responsible if the meter mischarges you?

The meters, and the regulations regarding them, are the city's. Regardless of any disclaimer language on their website, the city can - and must - be held responsible for the accuracy of their meters and for any hardships on citizens caused by inaccuracies.

Which parking meters in town are wrong, and how wrong are they? That's something I'm going to be investigating, dear reader. And when you report one of these faulty meters to the PARC phone number above, how much time elapses - and how many more tickets are given to other suckers - before something is done about it? This, too, is a question whose answer we shall endeavour to learn. All in time.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

The Pros and Cons of Pubcrawling

by J.S. Holland

Last year I learned to pace myself for the 2010 Transylvania Gentlemen Pub Crawl. As the cute bartender gal said to Agent Mulder, "you've got to work out for that kind of heavy lifting."

Even though I'm of hardy Irish stock just a few generations off the boat from Cork, I'm not as adept at power-pubbing as my ancestors - not to mention I actually don't approve of outright drunkenness. So, then, when bar-hopping or pub-crawling, what to drink is a huge concern. If you drink serious beer you'll get schnockered and fold in the stretch before the night is through, but if you drink lame-ass beer you'll just be sick, bloated, carbed out and pickled in commercial preservatives.

Part of the key is to drink medium-quality beers, neither soopa-fine nor soopa-sucky. Another big part is to go slow. Like the fella said, nice and easy does it every time. Don't be like those hipsters who swan into a place, throw back a quickie and swan right back out again to be seen at the next place. When I enter a joint I prefer to be there for the long haul. Which is probably another good reason why I'm not wired for pub-crawling.

And then comes the inevitable "having said that..." A couple weeks ago, I was romping around town with a couple of girlfriends and ended up paying the price for not staying put in one spot.

The festivities started early, with a Duvel at F.A.B.D. Smokehouse in the Highlands. The grub there is grrrrreat, but I was really put out when the woman there tried to serve Duvel to me in a plastic dixie cup. I don't mean to be a snob, but damn, get real. You gonna serve a fancy beer that costs as much for a single bottle as a six-pack of a gas station beer, you'd better pour it in the proper official Duvel glass. She rummaged around, found a regular (non-Duvel) beer glass of some sort, gave it a half-hearted wash in the kitchen, then handed it to me steaming hot from the hot water. Sigh. I thought about asking her to stick in the fridge for about 15 minutes to chill it - I was willing to wait - but she was already acting like I was Little Lord Fauntleroy or something over the plastic cup thing.

The whole experience was so unsatisfying that I voted (Ron Whitehead style, that is - when ol' Ron says "My vote is..." you know it's not really going to be up to a democratic vote) we go to Ernesto's and throw back some happy-hour margaritas. On the way there, however, while passing through Clifton, it was decided that we might as well hit Sol Azteca on Frankfort Avenue rather than drive all the way to the East End. Initially, I was thrilled with Sol Azteca - the place is beautiful, clean, modern and elegant inside, both waitresses were charming and helpful, and the menu was a cut above the usual Mexican restaurant fare.

I noticed that the tortilla chips tasted weird. Knowing that I should keep the foodstuffs stuffed in me to cushion the alcohol, I kept pokin' em in anyway. Then I noticed there were a few green chips in there. "Oh, no biggie", I said, "they're just leftover from St. Patrick's which wasn't that long ago". But at the bottom of the basket I hit a red chip. Green and red chips could mean Christmas leftovers. Ugh. And the margarita also tasted weird - in a way that I am simply unable to describe. Its color was also unusually opaque and white, rather than the usual translucent yellowy-greenishness. I didn't give it much thought at the time and slurped away at it happily.

A couple hours later, we made our way out the front door of Sol Azteca. One of the gals suggested we nip into El Mundo for a bit since it was right across the street. El Mundo's upstairs has always been a little hit-and-miss for me over the years, but I went along. I took the mission; what the hell else was I gonna do? But as it transpired, the drinks here were not only the best thing I'd had all evening, they were the best margaritas I've had in a long long time. We all got different margaritas and passed 'em around amongst ourselves sampling each other's, and they were all three superb. My favorite would have to be the Blood Orange Margarita, which I recommend the highest.

Then I'm not sure what happened. Inexplicably, I became violently ill and also felt far drunker than I should have based on the amount I had imbibed. Some unknown something was acting as a co-factor and heightening the effects of the alcohol. And that's the problem with having been to three different places that day: there was no way to pinpoint with certainty what happened and where. And none of the three places could have had anything to do with it, for that matter. But in doing some research online, I've learned a lot about tortilla chips made with genetically-modified corn, which can turn ammonia-smelling and foul-tasting when stale - combine that with alcohol and that's enough to explain it right there. I also learned that some frozen margarita mixes used in restaurants contain evil artificial sweeteners like splenda and aspartame, which are literal neurotoxins and should never be consumed with alcohol, says me.

Mind you, I'm not necessarily saying anything was wrong with what Sol Azteca served me. As I say, whatever happened to me could have been caused by any of the places I went to that night, and it could in fact be none of them. I do know that now more than ever, I'm going to take a greater interest in what's in stuff.

And by the way, yes, there will be a 2011 Transylvania Gentlemen pub crawl. Watch this space for details.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Dew Nuggets

by J.S. Holland

Had a bit of a traumatic moment today. I was out and about running errands, and had a can of Mountain Dew along for the ride. I was parked on Sixth and Jefferson waiting for a friend. And then I took a slug of the drink and felt something solid, not liquid, transfer into my mouth along for the ride. I felt one of them go down my throat. I freak out about such things and immediately opened the car door to expectorate it all into my hand.

Sure enough, there in my palm were two tiny glistening nuggets of yellowy-orangey mystery WTF, with a slight tinge of pink and brown. I felt like vomiting right then and there, as the worst thoughts entered my mind about what this could be. I gently poked at these globs with a thumbnail, examining their texture and trying to identify this unwanted nostoc from Mt. Dew. I tried to tell myself that this was fruit pulp that somehow fell into the vats at the bottling plant, but parts of my brain screamed at other parts of my brain that I knew damn well there's no real fruit involved in the manufacture of Mountain Dew. Then I started having thoughts about it being mammalian in nature, like maybe these are fragments of mouse brains, or perhaps lipid fat from an errant possum caught in the gears of soda progress.

I took dozens of pictures immediately, as "evidence" for a complaint.

Feeling my blood pressure rise, I drove home in a panic. I opened a beer and chugged it, rationalizing that the alcohol might kill whatever deadly germs I was certain to have swallowed. I got online and started scoping out labs that could analyze the sample. I pondered which one of my attorneys would be best to contact about this affront.

And then I looked down on the floor. There, around my feet, were more of these identical tiny yellow globs. Then I remembered that while having some heated-up leftovers of Arni's Pizza just an hour prior, I'd sat the Dew can on the floor at my feet. These globs were bits of cheese off the pizza that had fallen off during my wild dog-like feeding frenzy, and into my soda unawares.


Ahem. Yes, well. Movin' right along. Hated to waste these cool-but-gross macro shots though.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

She Smoked Blue Velvet

by J.S. Holland

You all know me, I'm not really a smoker. Oh, I puff a fancy cigar now and then for kicks, and I've been experimenting with a pipe, doing tobacco-tasting in much the same way that a wine fancier enjoys his/her hobby in moderation, as opposed to drunkenness.

Compared to these heady delights, I can't abide the shrill harsh nasty chemical radioactive formaldehyde crap that they put in the common man's cigarettes. (Brother Dockery rolls his own from big bags of the good organic stuff, so he's alright.) However, strictly in the name of science and all its wonders, I've bummed entire packs of Kentucky's Best from good old Vicki-toria and found them to mostly live up to their home-grown rep of being crap-free. They do have a rather raw Earthen taste though, even compared to the punchiest Oscuro cigars. And my dabblings in Florida with fly-by-night local cigs have been nothing short of a disaster - they tasted like smoking discarded diapers marinated in a colloidal suspension of asphalt and burnt urine.

But today, hanging out the offices of JSH World Headquarters, I noticed my attorney puffing some far-out crazy brand of smokes I'd never seen before. Berley Blue. What kinda Frito-Lay off-brand is that? It said on the side that it's manufactured by the Tantus Tobacco Company in Russell Springs, Kentucky, so I thought I'd give it a try for patriotism's sake. And though I'm still not a fan of cigarettes, I have to say these were an exceptionally tasty and smoooooooooooooth diversion, like smoking velour or velvet. (Well, no, probably not, really; it's a metaphor.)

If you wanna smoke local and not choke vocal, I recommend this Berley Blue whatever-the-heck-it-is. At least use it as a stepping stone to wean yourself off of corporate death utensils and get onto our good stuff.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Wait, What?

by J.S. Holland

As the late Howard Finster remarked to me during my audience with him: "I'm an old man; I don't have time to listen, I only have time to talk." That's how I'm livin' now. It's approximately eleven-something in the p.m., broadcasting live from the JSH Plantation in sunny ('cept it ain't) downtown Anchorage, land of cold gin and warm women.

The reason I've gathered you all here today for this emergency meeting is to inform you that as of tonight, the Transylvania Gentlemen blog will cease operations as the official online presence of Cheeseburger & Fries.

However, as you've obviously gleaned by now, THIS is the new official online outhouse of Cheeseburger & Fries, so keep yer pants on, Mabel. Or not. We're following the example of Billy Childish and sidestepping ourselves like a crab. While the T-Gent blog goes on strictly as the official online vessel of that noble gentlemen's brotherhood, that will free us up to devote this blog to more holier pursuits like arguing about beer and gossipping about KISS and ranting about comic books.

Capish? No? All in time; you'll see how elegantly this works. Look at it this way - now you're getting two Transylvania Gentlemen blogs for the price of one. Now drink up, ladies, it's post time. LATER IS NOW.