Wednesday, March 15, 2017

KONG SKULL ISLAND: Don't EVEN Think About Not Seeing this Fucking Movie!

We might as well cancel Christmas. When history is finished with 2017, Kong Skull Island will have been the greatest thing to have happened this year.

In the early '70s during the end of the Viet Nam War, Preston Packard, played by Samuel Jackson, is a US Army Lieutenant Colonel who suddenly finds himself at the end of a war and without a mission. 

Well, for his sins they gave him one.

As the leader of the Sky Devils helicopter squadron, Packard's final mission is to escort a small group of explorers to Skull Island, an uncharted mass of land that until new satellite imagery uncovered it's existence deep in the Pacific Ocean, had gone undetected. The group of explorers is led by Bill Randa, played by John Goodman, who secured the excursion with the help of a prominent senator. The senator feared that if he didn't send Randa, the Russians using their own technology would find and lay claim to the island's vast ecosystem and natural resources, making them unavailable to the United States. 

A massive perpetual storm constantly surrounds the island, and for the most part, it's violent enough to keep ships and aircraft away from it's shores. Anybody who might have landed on the island - or as the case may be, crashed into it's beaches during a WW2 dogfight - has never made it back to the mainland to tell it's story. (spoiler alert - insert John C. Riley) But Randa is persistent, and with the determination of Lieutenant Packard they, along with Packard's helicopter squadron, hammer through the storm and make it to the beautiful shores of Skull Island. The flight through the storm is a bit lackluster compared to what one might expect, but let's just say that the storm is the calm before the real storm that's about to happen.

Of course the squadron immediately encounters Kong, and if history has taught us anything about this mammoth ape, it's that he absolutely despises aircraft. Especially aircraft that is dropping bombs and shooting at him. People began to die rather quickly on Skull Island.

"You shouldn't have come here." 
Now I'm not about to spoil the rest of the story, but let's just say that things get extremely violent right away and pretty much stay that way right up until the final scene.

Kong isn't the only menace that our heroes (and villains) encounter. There are giant spiders to deal with, humongous mutant lizard-like creatures that are pure evil, blood-thirsty pterodactyls, bats, insects, giant octopus and at one point it appears that our group of explorers is about to be wiped out by an enormous charging water buffalo. Not to mention the spooky tribe of natives that paint themselves to blend into their surroundings...

Go see the movie. Unpredictability, creative violence and impossible imagery makes for great adventure, but it truly has to be seen to be appreciated. And just when you think that your visual intake can't get any more epic than it already is, you are rewarded with the greatest fight scene in the history of cinema.

Seriously, go watch this movie. Then, cancel Christmas.

Saturday, March 11, 2017

Rock n Roll Neanderthal & Card Counting Genius: The Brilliance of Spencer Robinson

Spencer Robinson is a filthy animal.

Perhaps he is best known for being the bass player for The Lords of Altamont, a band of rock and roll neanderthals from LA who, in the spirit of an outlaw motorcycle gang, re-energized a scene that had been dead since Guns n Roses dropped F-bombs on live TV during the 1990 American Music Awards.

This band of misfits was transformed from a very rare pedigree, featuring ex-members of the Bomboras, Fuzztones and the MC5. The Lords' website says that they are the "final nail in the coffin of hippie culture." Their music says that they are a loud and mean force to be reckoned with, more hideout rock than garage.

Spencer Robinson has slogged with the Lords off and on for 5 years, earning himself several nicknames throughout his tenure. Most notably perhaps, he was known as "Dealer" - a nefarious name to be sure which conjures all kinds of outlaw motorcycle gang bedlam - but to be clear, the name is more likely derived from his ability to count cards during a game of Black Jack than it is from the extra-curricular money-making illegal side job that instantly comes to mind.

He's been counting cards since his early 20's:

I had a neighbor who asked me if I wanted to join the blackjack team.  He started by teaching me basic strategy, which is the mathematically correct move to make on every blackjack hand, and also all the times you deviate from basic strategy according to the count. While I was memorizing all of that, I also learned the value of each card when it comes to card-counting.  The first thing I did was run drills for myself where I removed a few cards from the deck, and quickly counted the cards, using the removed cards to check myself at the end.  Eventually, I moved to counting the cards as somebody dealt them blackjack-style, while also playing 2 hands, using correct basic strategy."
Robinson says that he practiced this for 3 months before even attempting to take the test to get on the Black Jack team.

"When I got out to Vegas to take the test, I failed for 3 days straight before passing. After I passed the test, I was taken to a low stakes casino to try all that I’d learned in a live setting before being sent out to play for big money.  As I moved up the ranks of the team, there were more complicated tests that I had to pass. Also, every gambling trip we went on started with everybody having to pass a test again, just to make sure that we were all ready to play. It was an amazing group of really smart people."

Card counting is no small feat. A group of MIT students became famous for it when a movie was released in 2008, and in many aspects, Spencer Robinson has lived out the exact glorious and danger-filled scenarios that are featured in the movie. If counting cards is not genius ability, it's definitely one of extreme discipline; not a trait typically associated with members  of a junkyard rock and roll band.

Robinson recently released a solo recording on Solid 7 Records called Standing At The End Of The World. He says that the songs are "about drinking and dying" - and they seem to channel a melancholy Kill Bill-ish, Carradine/ Tarantino-esque vibe more than they do anything associated with the Lords.

Former Lords guitarist
 Johnny DeVilla joins his longtime friend and lends several haunting licks as does drummer Tom Hernandez from LA's The Superbees. It's also apparent that Nick Cave - at least in spirit - was lingering around the studio during this recording. Check it out on Soundcloud. It's better than anything that is being played on FM radio these days.

Robinson let me ask him a bunch of questions: 

What is the weirdest experience you've had as a professional gambler?

I guess it’s all been a little weird, to be honest. I feel like I’ve lived a few lives in this life.  When I was gambling for a living, I was on a blackjack team.  If you’ve seen the movie “21,” about the MIT blackjack team, it was an offshoot of that.

Well, we were playing at Caesar’s Palace in Las Vegas, and I started seeing the other people in the team getting backed off from playing.  Counting cards isn’t illegal, but casinos will kick you out if they realize it’s going on.  I got up, and started heading to the cage to cash out.  That’s when 8 security guards surrounded me, and told me that I was going to the back room with them.  The whole thing is so silly because they can’t legally do that, but they don’t care. The real drag of it all was that they were standing all around me, and if I physically pushed through them to leave, then they can detain me and call the cops for “assaulting” them.  It’s a stupid game they play.

They told me they were taking me to the back room, and I just said “nope.”

They tried to tell me that I had no say in the matter, and that I was going. Again, I said “no.”  I asked them why they thought I was going with them, and one of the security guards replied “prostitution,” which actually made me laugh out loud.  I had one of those “come on man” reactions.  That’s when one of these goons tried to grab my wallet from my pocket. I assume they wanted to get my ID, but I also know the law well, and know that they can’t do that.  I whipped around so fast, and snapped “now you know you can’t touch me,” so the guy pulled his hand away like he’d touched a hot stove.

By this point, I was pretty pissed off.  These idiots know that I’m not going with them, and they just wouldn’t let up.  They were wasting my time!  Finally, I pulled out my phone, and I said “ok guys; I’m calling 911, and I’m telling them that the security team at Caesar’s Palace is attempting to kidnap me.”  They parted like the Red Sea, and I headed to the door.  All of these guys trailed behind me as I walked to the door, and one of them even attempted to sort of push me out the front door as I let.  It was all pretty stupid. I’ve been kicked out of a lot of casinos, but that one was particularly memorable.

What is the tell-tale sign of any card game opponent that alerts you that you are about to cash in big time?

I played professional blackjack, so you’re playing against the house.  It’s different than playing poker.  That being said, I’ve played a fair amount of poker as well, and finding somebody really drunk is always interesting.  I was in poker room once, and the guy next to me was so wasted, he was showing me his cards.  Every hand that he didn’t fold, he flashed me his hole cards  It was a beautiful thing.  I won a fair amount of money from him before one of his buddies came to retrieve him from the table.  It was such easy money, that I even made a pretty lame attempt to get him to stay and keep playing.  Sadly, it didn’t work.

What goes through your mind while you are bluffing when there's butt-loads of cash on the line?

Again, I played blackjack on the team, so all the big money was on 21, and that doesn’t have any bluffing. What I did when I was the guy betting big was to play some sort of character.  So, while I’m doing the card counting math in my head, and paying attention to the cards to make sure I’m making the correct play, and keeping track of how much money I’m betting to make sure I’m not getting ripped off by the dealer, I’m also trying to keep in mind what type of person I’m disguised as, and how that person would react if they win or lose the hand.  The “acting” part of the gig was my least favorite part.

Tell me about the inspiration behind wanting to create this new album.

So I played in The Lords of Altamont for 5 years, and I love garage and rock n roll; but I felt like, if I was going to do something for myself, it should be different than the music I’d played before.  I listen to a lot of Nick Cave, Tom Waits, and Leonard Cohen; guys that write/wrote about some of the darker and more odd things in life, and I really wanted to explore those thoughts and ideas in myself.  Everyone deals with dark stuff, and writing about some of it was cathartic for me.  I like to say they’re songs about drinking and dying.

Where would you bookshelf it between two established all-time great recordings?

Wow, that’s a hard question to answer without sounding like a complete narcissist!  Not that I think my songs are anywhere near as good as these records, but I would put it somewhere between Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds’ Let Love In, and The Scientists’ Blood Red River.  It definitely has somewhat of that swampy Scientists feel, greatly due to the amazing guitar work of former Lords of Altamont guitar player Johnny DeVilla, but I like to think the lyrics have a little bit of the edge and darkness of Nick Cave’s writing.

What was your biggest challenge in regards to making solo record?

It’s funny; it was not as challenging as I thought it was going to be.  The songs came fairly easily, and we recorded the thing very quickly.  I wrote and demoed a lot of songs at home before choosing the ones I wanted to record.  I guess the hardest part for me was then having to play them for the musicians I wanted for the EP.  I’d co-written songs in the Lords, but never the lyrics.  This was the first time I’d be reaching out to musicians that I knew and respected, and asking them to give up their time to come play on my dumb little songs.  It was all a little intimidating. I liked what I’d written, but it’s hard to tell if people will dig it or not.  When Johnny DeVilla from The Lords, and Tom Hernandez from the Superbees agreed to play on the record, I was thrilled. They were my first choices for musicians, and they really delivered.

What's the most memorable roadside attraction you've visited?

I haven’t visited a lot of roadside attractions; this probably sounds pretty cliché, but the first time I went to gamble in Mississippi, I flew in a few hours early so I could go to Graceland.  It was a lot of fun.  Sure, it’s gaudy and some of the tour is silly, but when you get to the hallway of Elvis’ gold records, it’s pretty damn impressive. Once you get past the floor and ceiling shag carpet of The Jungle Room, and the slightly ridiculous videos of Elvis doing karate, the gold records remind you of how big he actually was.  It’s sobering.  The song “Tunica” on my EP is about that gambling trip.

Tell me a punk rock story.

One of the cool things about being in The Lords is that I got to play everything from little punk rock bars to huge European festivals.  I did a few shows at this great punk bar in Las Vegas called The Double Down Saloon.  It’s a smoke-filled dive bar with no windows, and they serve something at the bar called “ass juice.”  They would just push the pool tables off to the side, and have bands play in the corner.  I was setting up my bass rig, bending down to plug something in, and I leaned against the wall with my hand; well, as I did this, my hand literally sunk into the wall.  That bar has been there for a long time, and the walls were littered with so many punk rock fliers from bands that had played, that my hand got swallowed up in the rotting paper. Yeah, it was kinda gross, but it was also a cool reminder of the countless bands that had set up their gear in the corner of that place, and played rowdy ass shows.

Another amazing memory was a West Coast tour we did opening for The Cramps.  They were such an incredible band, and getting to play with them every night was something really special.  There were a few bands that I got to play with that were like “dream come true” situations for me.  The Cramps were definitely one of those bands.

Monday, February 27, 2017

ELECTRIC CANDYLAND: Experienceing the Mind Manifesting Art of WAYNE COYNE

The Waterloo Center for the Arts (that's Waterloo, Iowa) are currently hosting an exhibition of artwork done by Wayne Coyne. Maybe you know him as the singer for the band the Flaming Lips, or maybe you don't. The band has been around for something like 30 years... and they've run the gamut  from drug punks to lysergic cartoon shamans, and who knows what else in between. They are definitely one very experimental band. But whether you love or hate the music, there is another facet to the world of Wayne. And you can check it out if you're so inclined and maybe you should be.

The first night of the exhibition had a reception where Wayne came and talked for a few minutes about the project, a little Q +A session, and then he made himself available to anyone who wanted to talk, shake his hand, and get an autograph and/or a picture with him. Wayne does seem like a pretty genuine guy who appears to really deeply appreciate the people who are interested in the things he does. I had arrived fashionably early for the reception as to check out the art. I did not get to experience it all as the crowds were a bit large, so I went back a day later to watch the movie in its entirety and to sit and check out the King's Mouth exhibit for the full recommended 15 minutes. There was a fair amount of stuff to check out. As to what was on exhibit, well:

A small booth type area was set up in which the four record project was set up to play. The four records were designed to be played simultaneously on different record players or cd players, or whatever type of devices needed per the type way you have the music. Have fun setting that up to play at your next party. It is a pretty neat idea, and although weird, it was no weirder than their regular stuff. However I did not listen to the whole thing so I really can't comment on it that much.


Wayne had two issues of a comic book on display, titled THE SUN IS SICK. Two copies of each issue were available so one could check out each issue's cover plus some of the interior. The comics were under glass and I really would have loved to have been able to sit back and read them, but security is the word of the day here. If they were just left out to peruse some punk would most certainly have copped the issues for himself. The artwork was thick and rich in color and texture. It reminded me just a little of the pre-code horror/sci fi comics with a little spirit of Steve Ditko thrown in. My appetite was surely whetted but I have no idea if it shall ever be sated. Wayne if your out there and reading this, any copies floating around for this humble narrator?

A film written, directed, and produced by Wayne and some other folks. It stars members of the Flaming Lips (Steven Drozd, Micheal Ivins, and Kliph Scurlock) as well as guys like Fred Armisan and Adam Goldberg. The film is pretty good in my humble opinion and I'm glad I went on another day and sat and watched the whole thing. Still not under the best of conditions due to all the other exhibits being cranked up pretty loud but the headphones helped some. I may actually get this thing on DVD. I could definitely have seen this thing being something they would have played on Night Flight back in the day had this thing been a thing back then. Midnight art film goodness. If the promise of a vagina-headed marching band doesn't make you want to see this then I guess nothing will.

This exhibit was sort of the marquee artifact of the whole shebang. An immersive sculpture kind of thing made out of all sorts of stuff including foam, Mylar, aluminum foil, lights, and god knows what else. I went back a day later to check this out along with the film because trying to get into this thing on the night of the reception was not going to happen. you crawl inside this thing and spend a really nice fifteen minutes being dazzled by lights and sounds synced up in a way that at times, and if in the right place can make you feel like your on some intergalactic journey. Some people said it is a nice simulation of tripping on LSD, I don't know if it felt quite like that, but it is certainly a nice and groovy thing indeed. I found it pretty relaxing and I think I want to build one in my basement to hang out in. On the wall across from the sculpture(?) are a group of pictures that are hung sequentially and they have text beside them telling the of King's Mouth. Having the myth added another dimension to the sculpture.

The exhibit runs from Feb. 16, 2017 to April 23, 2017. It is worth checking out if you have a little free time. If interested maybe you can contact your local art center and find out what it will take to get this exhibit in your neighborhood. Even better yet, go out and create some of your own weird art. Art is a link between the conscious and the subconscious, so the more links, windows, bridges, tunnels, and roads we have between them the cooler kind of world we get. 

Sunday, February 12, 2017


The cover lays it out for you in visuals and words. "A quagmire of heavy dope and dark satanic poop sliced up into 14 slabs of shameless stonage" Not sure how available this thing is anymore but if you see it you may want to do yourself a favor and snag a copy if the price is right for you. This record drips atmosphere - and oh what an atmosphere it is. Dredging up 45s from 1969 -'77, some of them probably so obscure that the bands don't even remember makin' 'em.

This is a nice compilation of garage psych madness that sounds like it being made by a bunch of devil worshiping hippies during a free form black mass jam; or zonked to the stratosphere Hell's Angels partying in Death Valley with a bunch of reptilians that live inside the hollow earth. In other words this is a fine record and is lots of fun. When  I was a little kid and didn't know really anything about rock n roll, this is the kind of sound that I heard (or imagined I heard) coming out of my friends older  brothers basement bedroom while we were playing with Hot Wheels. this is the sound of rock n roll that I have been chasing ever since I got into listening to the stuff.

The sound quality is not bad but at times can be a bit murky, but mostly it sounds good. I've heard much, much worse (like those old Stooges bootlegs that sound like they were recorded with a cassette recorder in the trunk of a car in the parking lot of the club they were playing). Ultimate Bonehead is related to the Bonehead Crushers and Bonehead Crunchers compilation also put out by Belter. So pick this up and make your record collection the envy of your neighborhood.