The Random Griffith

I am the Barry White of Sacramento

Posted in Uncategorized by Jackson Griffith on 29/01/2010

I would like to talk to you about love. You see, I am the Barry White of Sacramento. No, my complexion is far more ruddy than ebony or teak, and near-starvation has stripped away any potential Love God girth way back to lean — but not so mean, because I am all about the love rather than the fighting — Iggy Pop levels. I also don’t have my own shimmering disco orchestra currently, although it’s in the back of my mind, and is somewhere on my “to-do” list. And I don’t have myself a Glodean; I’m dee-vorced, and my ex lives on the opposite coast now (thank you, deity, whoever and wherever you are). And although my life has endured a paucity of pulchritudinous pleasures as of late, within the past 24 hours I’ve run into two former girlfriends, one with whom I had a nice little sidewalk conversation, and the other I merely enjoyed a ride-by but semi-sweet hello — which, coming from her, kinda surprised me and quite pleasantly so. Ergo, perhaps my personal mojo may be changing for the better.

Those encounters, of course, are random, and logically one cannot infer anything from them; it would be like imagining you spotted the J-man on a tortilla when really it was just some umber pattern that vaguely resembled a hippie dude’s face. That is the sort of thinking can get a person into serious trouble. And my awareness of my incipient Barry Whiteitude has nothing to do with those brief encounters, except to indicate that I may be on some kind of right track. For example, I’ve felt the universe pushing me toward starting a certain creative project lately, and when I make moves in that direction, things seem to begin falling into place.

And, just maybe, this is a byproduct of that.

But I believe there may be more to the story. While I personally have not reaped any of the benefits, I’ve observed some strange and wonderful things happening around me lately. For example, there’s this thing about spontaneous sexual intercourse: for some reason, whenever I walk into a room, I’m such a lightning rod of erotic energy that people around me are prone to disrobing on the spot and coupling up. And not only that, but sometimes the energy turns entire roomfuls of people into writhing and humping masses of naked flesh. I haven’t been privy to any “action” myself, or at least yet; I’m guessing that I have become, and am now, such a seething transformer of pure erotic radiation that women fear jumping my bones, knowing they may undergo some uncontrollable nympho-mystical metamorphosis, never to function normally again in polite society. Yes, I am like that.

Sometimes the effect can be unsettling, to say the least. About to step out of the building where I currently reside, I opened the door inward, at the moment when his pelvic thrust into her propelled the both of them through the door into a quivering and grunting heap before me. I laughed, knowing they weren’t in possession of their faculties, compelled by my rapidly oscillating orb of lascivious mojo to do something so stupid as attempt carnal union against the door I was about to step through. As I walked down the street afterward, the bushes shook and shouted with pleasurable moans. Even animals were dialing into the juju. Insects, even.

The major problem arising from having this particular anomaly rocketing from my loins into the cosmos has manifested in my job search. People want to hire me, but there’s an issue in the workplace whenever I show up for an interview, and then spontaneous coitus breaks out around me. “We really like you, and would like to hire you,” one businessman told me, “but our human resources department might have a fit when they find out that people start screwing like bunny rabbits whenever you set foot in the office.” I understood, feeling the weight of my strange karmic appointment. “Perhaps you might land a gig like, oh, Teddy Pendergrass, or Lou Rawls?” he added.

So when Barry White visited me in my dreams last night, I understood. Money will soon be flowing into my accounts, money to pay off everything I owe, and then money to transform me into that icon of tumescent bliss that is so needed for these uncertain times we live in: fine velour suits in various shades of purple and lime green and vermilion and goldenrod, jewelry to accent those suits, hats, shoes and stylish sunglasses, along with a new Cadillac CTS-V coupe in either black or silver, both colors that will accentuate those velour suits. An orchestra well versed in the nuances of rhythm and blues along with throbbing pagan beats will also materialize, ready to help me carry the vision of the Love God forward that came to me in dreams.

A while back, I wrote a song that addressed the thematic material. Perhaps clairvoyantly, I’d channeled this impending future, or maybe I invited it by writing the song. It’s called “Barry White,” and I do hope you enjoy it:

Something’s got into me
Happens each time that we
Hook up to spend some time alone
Something I can’t explain
Something as right as rain
Oh girl you got me going

Every time I’m lying next to you I can’t get enough
Get up get up get up wake up ooh
Baby baby baby every time we spend the night
You make me wanna sing like Barry White

Singing so deep and low
Moving all deep and slow
Oh baby you take my breath away
Time to stir up the juice
Give it up turn it loose
And let the music play

Every time I’m lying under you I can’t get enough
Get up get up get up wake up ooh
Baby baby baby every time we spend the night
You make me wanna sing like Barry White

Oh baby baby I got so much love for you
I’m gonna make you cum all night girl that’s what I’m gonna do
Oh baby baby baby girl you know it’s true
And when the morning comes you’re gonna know I’m so in love with you

So in love with you
I’m so in love with you
Girl I surrender I can’t hold back
Got to give it up
Living to give you love
My train’s rolling down your track

Every time I’m moving inside you I can’t get enough
Get up get up get up wake up ooh
Baby baby baby every time we spend the night
You make me wanna sing like Barry White

Oh baby baby I got so much love for you
I’m gonna make you cum all night girl that’s what I’m gonna do
Oh baby baby baby girl you know it’s true
And when the morning comes you’re gonna know I’m so in love with you

Oh baby baby I got so much love for you
I’m gonna make you cum all night girl that’s what I’m gonna do
Oh baby baby baby girl you know it’s true
And when the morning comes you’re gonna know I’m so in love with you

At the time I wrote that song, I was merely hoping that it would be a powerful cupid’s arrow in my musical quiver, a warm moisture-seeking missile I could indiscriminately pull back and release into a crowd at one of my gigs whenever I wanted to find that sweet carnal release that musicians sometimes like to achieve with a willing person of the female persuasion after a long and satisfying evening of playing music. But so far, I have not gotten laid as a result of this, or any other songs I’ve written. However, other people seem to be, and this effect has accelerated dramatically in recent times, as have the intensity of these strange occurrences.

Now, the above-mentioned infusion of money and velour suits and a new Cadillac may not be happening by next weekend, but I do want you to know that I will be playing Luna’s Cafe on Friday, February 5, and I will play the “Barry White” song upon your request; I go on first, around eight-ish. Being mindful of what typically happens in my presence these days, please be sure to bring enough salad oil for the whole group if you plan on making a spectacle out of yourselves. –Jackson Griffith

Sorry, headaches

Posted in Uncategorized by Jackson Griffith on 28/01/2010

I couldn’t get it together to post anything yesterday. I’ve had an intermittent nasty headache that makes difficult the kind of concentration that it takes to persevere to the finish line on my longer and more ambitious posts. More soon, I promise. Hope your day’s going well. It looks beautiful and non-rainy here. –Jackson Griffith

The doom bird and the buffalo

Posted in Uncategorized by Jackson Griffith on 27/01/2010

Last weekend I went to Old Ironsides, a fine old bar in downtown Sacramento, to see DoomBird, a new band that’s been making some seriously wonderful noise in these parts. I’d seen the last three or four songs in a set by the same band a week before, at Luigi’s Fun Garden, which left enough of an aftertaste that I made it a big priority to get down to Old I on Saturday. And having a copy of the the band’s unreleased album really helped convince me of the wisdom of that decision.

I’ll make no bones about my love for Baroque pop music. Brian Wilson is still my number-one guy in the record-making department, with the Beach Boys’ 1966 masterpiece Pet Sounds, along with Smile, which Wilson reconstituted from a cancelled 1967 Beach Boys release. Van Dyke Parks’ 1968 album Song Cycle is another favorite, along with Randy Newman’s skein of Reprise albums in the late 1960s and early ’70s. And I love all those Jimmy Webb songs that people like Glen Campbell were covering. Not to mention more obscure SoCal Baroque sides like “My World Fell Down” by Sagittarius.

So, well, I just have to go on and on with how completely knocked out and bowled over by this 10-song album from DoomBird that someone passed my way, which I’m presuming is self-titled. This is a great album. To nick what David Watts Barton said a year ago about Christian Kiefer, Jefferson Pitcher and Matthew Gherkin’s sprawling song cycle about the American presidents, Of Great and Mortal Men, I think this may be the greatest thing to ever come out of this town, musically speaking. I don’t like to blather with the hyperbole like a dog slobbering over a nearby steak dinner, but homina homina, this thing is fucking brilliant.

The album opens with a bit of plainsong, songwriter Kris Anaya singing over a fingerpicked acoustic guitar figure juxtaposed with an electric on “Crooked Heart,” with cellos and flutes. Very Beatle-like, with sweet little dissonances popping up for nice flavoring. “Naked” follows, a stunning track that rides on a shimmering wave of orchestration anchored by a piano, with oscillating instruments out of the Steve Reich or Philip Glass playbook rolling under the incredibly catchy “Too many mistakes have ripped off all of my clothes” chorus. Jeebus, two songs in and I’m thoroughly enamored. It’s like Animal Collective meets Smile. A trippy instrumental figure in the middle, a fake fade, and then the chorus comes back in. Third song is “Petty Lies,” which lopes along like Neil Young’s “Harvest Moon,” with acoustic guitar, with angelic backup vocals. The song stops and starts, with a simple orchestral interlude that’s Van Dyke Parks meets Ennio Morricone, and then the guitar and organ: “There’s no place for me in your life/ I can’t beg you for mercy/ You told me not to try.” Fuck. Devastating. “Sick of Fighting” has an andante pizzicato thrust, driven by what sounds like a harpsichord. “If the candle burns at both ends, which flame will burn out?” Anaya asks. “Are you running scared?” There’s a lot of space in the track, which coalesces into heaviness on the chorus, and there’s more of that Sergio Leone-movie guitar and organ. I really love what follows: “Mood Ring” opens with cello and flute, which flower into a string quartet, an effect that’s beautiful and dreamlike. “I would walk for miles to hear you sing,” Anaya sings in a gentle melodic figure that soars upward in Wilsonesque fashion. But it’s the way the track finishes that’s truly jaw-dropping; after a very nice, sailing-into-the-sunset melodic vocal tag comes a string arrangement that rises from the ocean like Botticelli’s Venus.

So that’s the end of what would be side one; side two begins with “Receive,” a slow-moving track that stops and starts like a throwaway from David Bowie’s Hunky Dory, then bursts into an atmospheric stomp toward the end. Again, a simple figure rendered profound: “We can grow if we receive,” Anaya sings. A bass clarinet signals an imaginative brass and percussion arrangement on “Meant to Be,” a fairly short track that moves slowly beneath Anaya singing his wishes for a bucolic existence. Very Randy Newman. Dunno if the next track is called “Loose Fur” or “Lucifer,” but it’s a dreamlike waltz that’s been rattling around in my head for a week, until I finally realized its melody reminded me of Grant Lee Buffalo, or the kind of John Lennon-meets-early Elton John thing Grant-Lee Phillips might write. Then, “Shape of Hearts,” a dirge with a plaintive, minor-key, almost Japanese melody and a spare but exotic arrangement. “I don’t want to beg for you, I can’t hold my promise/ I don’t want to beg for you, I can’t hold my pride,” Anaya sings. Incandescent. That song segues into the closer, “Cruel Mistake,” which makes for a pretty transcendent way to go out: gentle guitar, a little organ, Anaya’s voice singing one of the record’s most winning melodies. Then the track builds, with background vocals. “Just give me a little sign/ I’ll leave myself behind.” Then, the fade. Beautiful.

It’s a short record, clocking in at a little over 35 minutes for 10 songs. But with music this good, who says you need a double album with a die-cut gatefold cover to make your point? And while I never caught the bug of An Angle, Anaya’s previous band, I’m going to have to revisit everything that band did as a result of this one. And one more point: Anaya’s a brilliant songwriter, but I’m told Joe Davancens did the arrangements, which are nothing short of masterful. He’s like Ben Mink to Anaya’s k.d. lang, a comment that will make sense if you’ve ever heard lang’s 1990 album Ingenue.

I think I can confidently say that this gets my vote for the best album of 2010, by anybody, anywhere. I can’t imagine anyone topping this, and if they do, it will be a very, very good year for music. It’s the kind of record I wish I could walk into Lenny Waronker’s and Mo Ostin’s office at the Warner/Reprise ski chalet circa 1975, lay this on their desks and say, “Lads, have you had your massive musical boners today? Because, boy, do I have a treat for you. Here.”

I do hope this comes out for public consumption, and soon. Because you’re just going to melt. –Jackson Griffith

Everybody needs safe ground

Posted in Uncategorized by Jackson Griffith on 26/01/2010

Since today I probably won’t get around to finishing any of several long think pieces I’m in the process of writing, I figured I’d post more song lyrics. This is something I wrote last fall, and I don’t think I’ve ever played it in public. Thematically, it’s along the lines of “Sleeping Under the Stars,” and both those songs I’ve now arranged for finger-style guitar, which gives them a real folkish feel. I should have busted out the following, “Safe Ground,” when I played a gig with G.P. Bailey and Earl Brooks at Luna’s in December, but I thought G.P. had a song with the same title and didn’t feel like stepping on his toes. Here are the words:

Safe ground, everybody needs safe ground
A place to rest our weary heads and lay our burdens down

Some people look at this life like there’s winners and there’s losers
That’s the way it goes
I’ve even heard it said that the Almighty points His scepter
Where the money flows
I guess that wrathful God that they imagine has forgotten
Some of us down here
Where we endure the wind the rain the police and their dogs
In this climate of fear

Hard times for those of us the gravy train has passed on by
No mercy for us now
While to them that have, much more shall be added to their riches
Holy bailout
Here on the street the hunger builds there’s not enough to eat
The system’s all broke down
Entire families turned out of homes are showing up now
Where is there safe ground?

Safe ground, everybody needs safe ground
A place to rest our weary heads and lay our burdens down
Safe ground, help us find safe ground
Like you, we’re good people, please don’t run us out of town

These days a sad and endless caravan of shopping carts
Is always rolling through
But for the grace of something I can’t explain much larger than us
I might be there too
I see the lives of everyone around me fraught with fear
And hanging by a string
So many people say they’re only one paycheck away
From losing everything

Ain’t never seen things this bad it looks like the Great Depression
Returned for our time
So many hands outstretched as voices sadly whisper
Brother, can you spare a dime?
While others bailed out by government that favors them still
Throw that cash around
Don’t turn your back on those of us who cannot make ends meet
Please help us find safe ground

Safe ground, everybody needs safe ground
A place to rest our weary heads and lay our burdens down
Safe ground, help us find safe ground
Like you, we’re good people, please don’t run us out of town

I know there are good people who don’t find it entertaining
Watching others bleed
I know there’s folks out there who volunteer their time and money
To help those in need
And every day I hope and pray that we can pull together
And turn this ship around
May all of us share peace and happiness and ease of well-being
We all need safe ground

Safe ground, everybody needs safe ground
A place to rest our weary heads and lay our burdens down
Safe ground, help us find safe ground
Like you, we’re good people, please don’t run us out of town

I’m gonna break this out sometime soon, and hope to get that and a few of my other more socially conscious numbers together so I can play them at benefits or put them to use to help raise money for people who need it.

Oh, and if you’re interested, I’m playing Luna’s toward the end of next week, on Friday, February 5, with Tyler & Katie Ragle and James Cundiff. More on that later. –Jackson Griffith

Sleeping under the stars

Posted in Uncategorized by Jackson Griffith on 25/01/2010

Cold and rainy is a bad time to be stuck outside in the elements. In my travels around this city, I see a lot of people whose fortunes have taken a sharp turn downward, who are left to fend for themselves. In a sense, I’m one with them, having been out of work for pretty much the entire Great Recession, which — according to the people who track these things — began in December 2007. I’ve been lucky enough to find places to stay, and help from caring people, and I pick up writing jobs here and there (and here’s hoping that, in 2010 and beyond, there will be a lot more of those).

But I now know what it’s like to go without. I now know what it feels like to walk by a restaurant where you see people stuffing their faces with food, when your own stomach is aching and growling and you only have a few bucks in your pocket, but you’ve got to got to stretch those bucks until your next payday, so you eat one meal that day. I now know what it’s like when someone comes up to you and tells you not to lose any more weight, because your face is looking thin and wan, and you want to tell them that everything’s under control and will be okay, but in your mind you’re not so sure it is, or ever will be again.

On the positive side, I dropped some serious weight under this diet. Going into 2009, I weighed 260 pounds. The last time I got on a scale, I tipped it at 190. I’m afraid to get on one again. But if anyone wants to know my secret, I’ll tell you: involuntary fasting. It works, for sure I know now. But really, I’d rather eat than not eat.

See, I’d like to be working. I prefer to work. I’ve worked all my life, and I function better that way. Like my mother and father, I’m a working class guy, and like Merle Haggard has often sung, there’s a lot of dignity in that. As for quiet dignity, I’m clean and sober and smart and kind, and I have a lot of other very positive qualities. But the jobs aren’t out there to be had, or if they are, I just haven’t found one yet. And this isn’t a bunch of mewling self-pity from me; it’s just a statement of fact.

So I ride around the downtown-midtown grid on my bike quite a bit, because some guys in an office tower in North Carolina decided that it was better for me to ride a bicycle than drive, and in that biking I begin to see the same cast of characters day by day. Like Michael, who pushes a shopping cart and curses the heavens. I haven’t seen or heard Michael in a week or so, and I’m guessing most people might be afraid to talk to him, but when I have talked to him, he warms up and smiles. Even the forgotten like to be treated like human beings.

Below is a video for a song I wrote last year, titled “Sleeping Under the Stars.” I was trying to learn three Merle songs to play a Haggard birthday show that local promoter Jerry Perry staged at Old Ironsides last April, and I got inspired to write a song. This is what came out. My friend Josh taped me playing it next to the railroad tracks off Freeport Boulevard near Vallejo Street last spring, when I had a beard and more weight than I have now. We almost got arrested, but the security guard was cool and let us off. I also sang the song at a rally for the homeless at the State Capitol, and when I saw the wonderful experimental pop band DoomBird play last night at Old Ironsides, the group’s Kris Anaya remembered me playing it.


And here are the lyrics, for those of you who like to follow these things.

Always loved that camping life, sleeping under the stars
Until I lost the job I had and soon all I held dear
I lost the house to foreclosure, then they repossessed the car
So I grabbed a bedroll and some things and found my way down here

It’s not so bad, I heard it said, there are ways to survive
It takes a bit of readjustment but you’ll do just fine
Just keep your wits about you, it’s a different world outside
Trust those worthy of your trust, and don’t drink strangers’ wine

I’m sleeping under the stars again tonight
The crickets and the bullfrogs singing like a symphony
Alnitak, Alnilam and Mintaka are all right
They keep Orion’s toga on while my fortune has come and gone
And that distant train whistle’s song feels sad and warm to me

It used to be you’d have to drink your way down to this place
Yeah, back when jobs were not so hard to come by like today
And now that wrecking crew in Washington’s laid us to waste
Left here in weeds and creosote and gravel by the way

Yet for all the hardships in this life, a man can feel free
But you won’t find me singing “Hallelujah, I’m a Bum”
I still hang on to tattered threads of my integrity
Even if the powers that be now treat me like scum

I’m sleeping under the stars again tonight
The crickets and the bullfrogs singing like a symphony
Alnitak, Alnilam and Mintaka are all right
They keep Orion’s toga on while my fortune has come and gone
And that distant train whistle’s song feels sad and warm to me

Now, Officer, I know you’ve got to do things by the book
Yes, I know we’re trespassing but we ain’t got no home
Can’t you go arrest those politicians and them Wall Street crooks?
They’re the ones who put us here, please leave us folks alone

And when your shift is done you’ll go home to a nice warm bed
And perhaps to loving arms with enough food to eat
While those of us whose luck has turned will shiver here instead
So won’t you show compassion to the homeless on your beat

I’m sleeping under the stars again tonight
The crickets and the bullfrogs singing like a symphony
Alnitak, Alnilam and Mintaka are all right
They keep Orion’s toga on while my fortune has come and gone
And that distant train whistle’s song feels sad and warm to me

The city council’s up in arms, the mayor’s all upset
How could this grim scenario come to America?
Where did that thing go that we used to call a safety net?
How did we lose this essential part of our character?

The cameras came, the story made it to the nightly news
The talking heads looked quite concerned as they furrowed their brows
Then everyone moved on to something other than the blues
While those of us still stranded were left praying for safe ground

I’m sleeping under the stars again tonight
The crickets and the bullfrogs singing like a symphony
Alnitak, Alnilam and Mintaka are all right
They keep Orion’s toga on while my fortune has come and gone
And that distant train whistle’s song feels sad and warm to me

As I said, things are getting better for me, or at least they seem to be. I’m a reasonably talented writer, and I can do a lot of other things, too, and sometime soon, someone will figure out what a worthy addition I will make to their company or organization. But until that day arrives, it’s likely it will remain hit and miss for me like it’s been for the past year.

One thing is certain: I’m forever changed by what I’ve gone through. I just wish I had that pocketful of money to give to the people I meet in my daily travels. Some of them could really use the help. –Jackson Griffith

No real post today, sorry, just gibberish

Posted in Uncategorized by Jackson Griffith on 24/01/2010

My apologies, but today, my mind was on vacation, with a nod of amends to the great Mose Allison. I wanted that mind to be seriously on task, and I had a laundry list of agenda points, not to mention some great ideas for blog posts, but the poor thing kicked his boots up on the desk, flipped me the middle finger and mumbled something along the lines of “Suck one, podna.”

Some days are like that. You wake up, you’re about six miles behind the eight ball, and what are you gonna do? Maybe you got lucky last night, or in my case, maybe you didn’t; maybe you turned in early instead, practiced some guitar, ran through a few tunes, had a couple of online conversations, posted some weird shit on your Facebook page, and then laid down where you sleep and listened to drunks on the sidewalk below. Maybe you drifted off to sleep, only to be awakened by the pinched loaf of Steve Perry’s voice over a harsh sea of amplified Velveeta, emanating from the tape deck in the same cab, the same goddamn cab that keeps blasting Journey at 1:45 in the morning when it’s picking up fares.

Yellow Cab No. 219: You’re on motherfucking notice for this shit. I’m serious as Rush Limbaugh’s pilonidal cyst.

So my sleep patterns wre slightly disturbed. Had some weird dreams, too; nothing like the quasi-religious experience from the night before, though. Woke up, decided it was too late to do the normal thing I do on Saturday mornings, instead prayed, meditated, did Metta (this Buddhist lovingkindness affirmation thing I’ve done for a while), farted around online, bathed, fixed a sandwich, got my skanky laundry together and went down to the laundromat.

Blogged, or tried to. Had the attention span of a highly animated insect. Couldn’t stay on task. Wrote a postscript to my blog post on Russ Solomon speaking at Time Tested books last week, because something was bothering me and I had to amend it. Eventually, I listened to the brilliant debut album of DoomBird through earbuds, finished drying my stuff, folded it, and overheard the attendant and his friend talking about Jersey Shore.

So, of course I had to join in.

More on this subject later; it actually was what I was trying to write — some sort of postmortem for the only good thing MTV’s done in years. And now it’s done. I’m going to go into withdrawals. Anyone have any vegetarian baked ziti? I feel like not only am I being excluded from surf and turf night, excluded from ravioli night and excluded from chicken cutlet night, but I’m being excluded from some essential wrinkle in the time-space continuum wherein I am about to turn orange. I need some gel in my hair. I have been praying to obscure saints I’ve never heard of, imagining Dino himself coming back in a giant rabbit suit and visiting the MTV programming cabal and saying, “Y’know, you guys have seriously foisted the stupid with this show The Hills, specifically with Spencer Pratt and Heidi Montag, and you need to atone for that shit right now, or the universe is going to collapse in on itself in 28 days, 6 hours, 42 minutes and 12 seconds.”

One imagines MTV central got that memo, that they had to move. And they did. But we need more. I’m starting to turn orange. I’m smelling pickles under my bed.

Anyway, the laundromat conversation was the coolest. These kids seem to think Ron Ron Juice was the key male character, even when I argued in favor of the toolbag with the blowout, Pauly D. Ron was roided up and got pussywhipped from jump, and he was dumber than a wrestling coach, too. Whereas Pauly D had a chill guido aspect that more closely synchronized with the Rat Pack cats and other suave Italian-American cultural figures. He just didn’t give a shit, in that way that Dino didn’t give a shit. Plus you gotta give bonus points to anyone who gets “Cadillac” tattooed down his side, or maybe you don’t, but I will. As for The Situation, we all agreed that he was a megadouche, a tool to a laughable degree. But a self-aware tool, nonetheless. The kids also agreed that Jwoww was the coolest female on the show, and I’ll go along with that. And she could kick The Situation’s ass, and should have for all the bullshit he stirred up.

But I don’t want to tip my hand here, because I still have half a blog post good to go when I finish it on this very subject. And it’s getting late, and I want to run through a few things before I head down to Old Ironsides to see DoomBird and By Sunlight. If you’re reading this before too late this Saturday night, I’m the tall bloke in the tan fishing hat. Say hi if you like. Kiss me if you’re beautiful. –Jackson Griffith

Rosebuds in the devil strips

Posted in Uncategorized by Jackson Griffith on 23/01/2010

It’s weird. Waking up this morning, I came out of a dream where I was walking along a sidewalk between frost-covered lawns and a similarly frosty grass median, what my late and sainted mum used to call “devil strips,” with a series of stunted rosebushes along the way. The leaves on the rosebushes were frozen, too, and the sky was cold and gray like it’s been around here lately.

At some point I looked down and noticed buds on the rosebush branches. And I was overcome with the kind of tears that well up and burst when, well, dunno about you, but for me it’s when I hear the music of Bach or Barber or Brian Wilson, or the time I was walking through the Museum of Modern Art and saw all those Picassos and Pollocks and Van Goghs and even Christina’s World by Andrew Wyeth in person — tears of joy, of absloute gladness and gratitude to be alive in that moment.

And then my surroundings started warming up, and the buds started opening into flowers, and the frost evaporated and the gray hues became animated with more vibrant colors. I was crying in the dream, something I don’t remember ever happening before, crying because the impact of birth and life and death and rebirth hit me to the depth and core of my being.

That’s the best I can explain it. I had other dreams, too; in one, the boyfriend of a friend I stayed with this past summer was selling off all my old stuff, things left over from my past life as a writer and editor — most of those clothes and accoutrements have been gone from my life from a while, anyway: after the bad marriage, the house fire, the divorce, the financial collapse from not being able to find work, et cetera. And in another, I was trying to cross the rain-slicked intersection where Stockton Boulevard crosses Alhambra Boulevard and turns into P Street, except it was as wide as the Amazon and choked with too-fast cars.

Then I woke up and remembered what happened yesterday, when the Supreme Court essentially struck down any prohibitions that have kept corporations from buying every elective office in this godforsaken country, from president to dogcatcher, and from flooding elections with a bunch of bullshit initiatives and ballot propositions that buttrape the average joe or betty even further than they’re already fucked. My first impulse was to root around for a bottle of bourbon and a pack of smokes, but I quit drinking 17 years ago, and it’s been almost 11 years since I sucked on a cig. And I remembered that all things pass and, like the weather, things change. Constantly.

Still, what I felt this morning was not unlike watching the coach for the opposing team slip the ref a few benjamins, and then suddenly the scoreboard has 50 points added to the other team’s column, and as a player who’s just gotten shafted, you have the choice of either throwing a world-class ing-bing, which would result in your getting your ass tossed from the game for a technical foul, or else hanging back until the next step becomes more clear.

I don’t know what that is, friends. I really don’t.

A few days ago, I wrote a horribly nasty review of the new Heidi Montag album, Superficial; it may be the most vicious thing I’ve ever written. And if you knew me personally, you’d grasp that I’m generally kind and gentle and go out of my way to avoid hurting or killing things — insects and spiders, even. I don’t go off unless I have good reason, in this case on something by total famewhores with big money and a big distribution system behind them. If there’s any solace, it’s that people aren’t stupid, and that the record reportedly sold a grand total of 658 copies in its first week of release.

What this Supreme Court decision does is pave the way for Spencer Pratt and Heidi Montag, or their political equivalent, to serve as frontstooge for whatever malevolent corporation or keiretsu wants to foot the bill. And while I know that there are some very smart people who are burning barrels of the midnight oil to figure out how to keep this toxic stinkbomb from killing what little is left of American representative democratic process, and that nothing is over until it’s over, and sometimes it’s best to hang loose until things get sorted out, my initial impulse is to panic. The paranoid idea that, if Tila Tequila or Jon Gosselin could be controlled in ways that would serve overlord interests, then what’s to stop a consortium of Monsanto and Halliburton and Service Corporation International and Xe (formerly Blackwater) and the rest of the Wall Street rogues gallery from installing either of them? It kinda detonates in my momentarily alarmed brainpan like a buzzkill of brown acid, butyl nitrate and a few bong hits of skanky ragweed. Goddamn bad juju, Maynard.

And three words unless this shit gets dealt with straightaway? President Sarah Palin. Roast that bud, podnas.

But, of course, the secret, at least for me, is not to panic. The dream was a good sign. Things will get better. All is not lost. The wheel turns, and then it turns again. Cheers. –Jackson Griffith

Corporation warm and fuzzy

Posted in Uncategorized by Jackson Griffith on 22/01/2010

It’s still goddamn raining like the dickens here in Sacramento on this late January night. The past few days have been nothing but wind whipping through bare trees and over roofs, flapping anything that’s dangling loose, with rain coming down in bucketfuls, then backing off into the sprinkly stuff before dumping more buckets. Everything’s wetter than a confused old dog. Damn puddles everywhere on the Sacramento midtown grid, which can be hell on dry socks if you don’t watch where you step.

I managed to make it through some meetings at The Urban Hive, where in the first one. I spoke with another guy who’s about as excited as I am on how the iPad — or whatever the rumored tablet device will be called that Apple may or may not announce next Wednesday — will revolutionize the magazine publishing world. Being an out-of-work magazine editor and writer, I’d really like to, or am literally champing at the bit to, get back into that line of work, and the multimedia possibilities, and graphics potentials, have me about as giddy as I get this side of a popcorn-fueled Elvis movie marathon, or the prospect of eating vegetarian baked ziti and watching all the episodes of Jersey Shore in sequence.

After that, I joined a small group, called RAW, I think that’s what it’s called, that met for the first time to work on presentation — the conceptualizing and refining of presenting ideas to people — as a vehicle for transmitting ideas. As a songwriter who likes to sing and play original songs in front of audiences, I’ve become painfully aware of nuances over time, and how important it is to really move a song from its gawky early form to a far-smoother second-nature iteration, where the melody and lyrics and inflection thereof merge with the guitar’s chordal and picked accompaniment; there’s a point where everything just comes together and starts to breathe on its own. It’s a marvelous moment. Presentation can make a huge difference on how your songs are received by the people you play them for. After an architect spoke about the importance of buildings that suit the local environment where they are sited, and then a political blogger outlined the breakdown in our voting system and some possible remedies, I gave a four-minute shpiel. Of course, being as rain-soaked extemporaneous as it was, ’twas nothing to write home about.

Still, it’s important to keep your skillset sharp, and it’s good to bounce ideas off of people. One never knows when that great new job will surface, and I’ll be called to step up and frame some difficult conceptual construct in front of a group of people. Dunno about you, but if I kick back and leave things to bang around in my head, what may come tumbling out will be fuzzy and unintelligible. I need to continually refine my craft, whether that’s speaking in front of people or sitting here like this, typing into a keyboard on a Thursday night.

So now I’m on a counter stool in a coffeehouse, looking out the window on 21st Street, thinking. There’s a whole cafe of activity behind me, but I’d rather look at the way the streetlights play on the rain-slicked street amid the enveloping darkness, because that’s the way I roll. At least sometimes, like tonight. Rain-slicked streets and enveloping darkness make me happy like some people get off on rainbows and butterflies and unicorns.

And while I could be sitting here listening to some Elliott Smith or something suitably Northwestern, somehow that sounds slightly cliched. Don’t get me wrong; Smith’s oeuvre boasts some great stuff, and I’ve whiled away too many hours with that soundtrack. But what seemed like the perfect music for tonight was 16 Biggest Hits by Lefty Frizzell. Kinda weird, but lately Lefty’s name has been coming up a lot when I talk with other singers and music-fan friends. He’s like the perfect singer.

There are times when nothing hits the spot, to me, like good shitkicker music. Truth be told, there are lots of times for me; must be that Stockton Okie vibe I picked up by osmosis while growing up. And I’m a bit of a connoisseur of the nasal baritone, what with Merle and Buck and those cats oozing out of F-150 radios courtesy of KRAK Radio 1140, which you couldn’t get away from in this goddamn valley.

Because, well, this goddamn valley gets under your skin, like they say Texas or Oklahoma does if you ride around those dusty roads, and pinched voices like Lefty’s are a big part of the area’s agrarian charm and romantic appeal. At least I have that twisted redneck script bouncing around between my ears — ears that are currently wrapped around quality tunes such as, well, “If You’ve Got the Money, I’ve Got the Time,” “I Love You a Thousand Ways,” “Look What Thoughts Will Do,” “I Want to Be With You Always,” “Always Late (With Your Kisses),” “Mom and Dad’s Waltz,” “Travelin’ Blues,” “I’m an Old, Old Man (Tryin’ to Live While I Can),” “Just Can’t Live That Fast (Any More),” “The Long Black Veil,” “Saginaw, Michigan,” “She’s Gone, Gone, Gone,” “I’m Not the Man I’m Supposed to Be,” “How Far Down Can I Go,” “I Never Go Around Mirrors,” “That’s the Way Love Goes” … pretty damn hard to top a playlist like that, doncha think?

Which is a pretty nice comfort blanket on this dark day in American history. I guess, like a lot of people, I haven’t fully comprehended the ramifications of Thursday’s Supreme Court giveaway to the Republican Party and their corporate overlords, except that we’ve been drop-kicked back to the Dark Ages once again by these evil bastards. I’m in shock. So the best I can do is give you the lyrics to a song I wrote back when Newt Gingrich was Speaker of the House in the mid-1990s. It’s a song that people still ask me to perform, and I’ve half-assed it until now. But after today, this one’s going back into my repertoire as a priority number:

Corporation warm and fuzzy, corporation is our friend
Corporation will stand by us all until the bitter end
Corporation, corporation

Corporation is like mumsy, corporation just like dad
Corporation loves when we are good and hurts when we’ve been bad
Corporation, corporation

From the cradle to the grave, from the scion to the knave
By its grace are we all saved as we stumble down roads that it paved
To a bleak industrial park where we’ll thank with open hearts
Charles Darwin and free markets

Corporation eats another, corporation grows in size
Corporation bread and circuses spoon-feed the people lies
Corporation, corporation

Corporation is religion, corporation thinks it’s god
Corporation buys the politicians and rewrites the laws
Corporation, corporation

Like a spider snares a fly in its web then sucks it dry
Till there’s nothing left inside then it catches another poor fly
Corporation drops a line to us, we think “I got mine”
Then it robs us fucking blind

See the mighty CEO tell the workers where to go
So the stockholders will know that a tough guy is running the show
Hail the lean and mean machine, hail the championship team
Wall Street’s favorite wet dream

Corporation warm and fuzzy, corporation is our friend
Corporation will stand by us all until the bitter end
Corporation, corporation, corporation, corporation

Well, fuck it. There probably are a few other places I’d rather be than sitting in this cafe on a cold and wet night, but that’s where I am until they kick me out of here, which is soon.

Anyway, Lefty’s music is the perfect salve for a day when, as I stated upthread, I haven’t fully internalized how today’s Supreme Court decision is going to play out, but as the old cliche goes, I got a bad feeling about this. Fucking assholes, wiping their crapped-up sphincters with the Constitution again. Sometimes I really hate these Republican pricks with the heat of a thousand suns. And you? –Jackson Griffith

I really would like to find some work

Posted in Uncategorized by Jackson Griffith on 21/01/2010

Hi, everybody. I’ll get right to the point by saying that if anyone out there knows of any work available, from a steady job to temporary thing, whether that’s writing and/or editing, or getting up on a ladder and cleaning your gutters, or waiting on tables, I’m game. I’m working on restarting my life from pretty much scratch, and I’ve got to get something going right away, so that I can once again become self-supporting by my own contributions.

In addition to being trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly, courteous, kind, obedient, cheerful, thrifty, brave, clean, and reverent, I’m also smart and a quick study, and I am a positive person, and I will be a worthy addition to any organization.

I really would like to stay here in Sacramento, if that’s possible. I’m part of a very nice community of friends, and there are people here that I love, and I feel loved by in return. I’m not wedded to staying here; if someone offers me a job elsewhere, I will consider it. But I do have roots here in Sacramento, and I guess it’s important to acknowledge those.

While the last few years have been kind of difficult, I hold no grudges, and the only path in front of me goes forward. I have a daughter in her final year of college who I would like to be able to help, and I have friends whose generous help I would like to repay, in addition to other obligations I need to cover. To do that, I really need to make some money. So I’m not begging or anything; I’m just putting the word out there. I can be reached at jacksonbgriffith@gmail.com.

Thanks for reading this, and have a wonderful day at whatever you do. –Jackson Griffith

Notes on an evening with the wisdom of Solomon

Posted in Uncategorized by Jackson Griffith on 20/01/2010

Last Sunday night, I went to the maiden event in this year’s Sacramento Living Library series at Time Tested Books, the first in a series of monthly events that take place at 7 p.m. the third Sunday of every month in the bookstore’s Midtown Sacramento location, at 1114 21st Street. On this night, the featured interviewee was Russ Solomon, founder and owner of the new-defunct Tower Records, Video and Books chain. The house was packed, or as packed as I’ve ever seen Time Tested — which, given the tremendous affection this town still has for Solomon and his contributions to retail and popular culture, from local to international — came as no surprise.

David Watts Barton, the onetime pop-music critic and then feature writer at The Sacramento Bee, now Editor at the Sacramento Press.com website, was a capable choice as Solomon’s interviewer; Barton* — like so many of us in Sacramento — once worked at Tower, and early on, he wrote a pop-music column for Tower Records’ Pulse! Magazine, the free music monthly that employed me as an editor, writer and columnist for 16 years.

They covered plenty of familiar ground, starting with Solomon’s current venture into business, R5 Records, which occupies the old Tower Records location at Broadway and Land Park Drive, and then backward in time, from selling 78s at his father’s Tower Drug store (where the Tower Café is now located) through a failed one-stop distribution company across the street, in what later was the music room in back of the old Melarkey’s club (it’s now a sushi joint), and then to Tower Records, which began in 1960.

Solomon also described the circumstances that led to his expansion into San Francisco in 1968, which segued to Sunset Boulevard in what’s now West Hollywood two years later; he didn’t really go into the big move to New York in 1983, but talked about some of the chain’s international expansion, including Buenos Aires, which turned out to be a debacle, and the Far East, which was so successful that the bankers who’d begun the process of seizing the Tower chain around the end of the last century demanded that that be one of the first assets offered for sale to help pay down debt. It’s still successful, and still branded as Tower Records.

Solomon was reasonably straightforward with what he called the failure of his company, candidly discussing some of the painful postmortems that came in the wake of Tower’s downfall. And here the difference between interviewer and subject became apparent: While Barton gleams with a patina of confidence that occasionally edges into the self-congratulatory, Solomon was self-effacing by comparison, taking pains to point out when others should get the credit for ideas that sometimes get attributed to him — for example, full-catalog record retail, which was pioneered by the original Sam Goody store in midtown Manhattan. (Still, it can be argued that if Solomon didn’t invent the full-catalog store, his Tower stores perfected it.) And there were plenty of “I didn’t know that” moments, like when Solomon explained how the ad-man pal who developed Tower’s back-slanted logo chose the company’s red-on-yellow color scheme: from Shell Oil gas stations, because you could spot them from far away.

If there’s a criticism from me, it’s that Barton’s perspective is somewhat rockist, which imposed a limitation on the narrative to “Wow, a lot of Beatles and Pink Floyd records sure got sold,” and tended to overlook the significance of customers who developed music-buying habits that branched into other sections of the store. But Barton and Solomon did touch on the shift away from singles into albums, which Solomon decried, and the recalcitrance of the labels to offer songs to customers apart from full albums, which hastened the demise of record retail. It’s something that Apple’s iTunes service was able to break open, allowing the a la carte purchase of album tracks via digital download — something that gave online retail a distinct advantage, even if the sound quality wasn’t nearly as good.

After Barton and Solomon’s back and forth, the audience was invited to ask questions. Some of these were cheesy, perhaps inspired by old feature stories on how Solomon would take the neckties from visiting bankers and executives. Others were touching, like the woman who’d worked for Tower, whose husband got sick and Tower kept her on the payroll while she cared for him during his convalescence; these kinds of stories abound, like the man I worked with who died from AIDS-related complications, and was kept on the payroll and company health insurance plan through his long illness until his death; I should state flatly here that Russ Solomon was and is a mensch.

I raised my hand, but unfortunately Barton never got around to calling on me. What I’d wanted to address was Tower’s role in shaping the marketplace for non-rock and pop recordings, specifically catalog reissues.

By the 1980s, the decade when compact disc replaced the vinyl long-playing album, the music business had consolidated into six major distribution combines (for my fellow nerds, these were BMG and CBS, both now owned by Sony, EMI, MCA and PolyGram, both now owned by Vivendi Universal, and Warner-Elektra-Atlantic). Those companies went on buying sprees, snapping up smaller labels and defunct catalogs, with the idea that huge troves of tracks could be cleaned up, remastered, packaged in new contexts and sold to an audience hungry for quality reissues and compilations. The CD made it possible, because of its added time-length capabilities as a sound carrier, and because multiple-disc packages — boxed sets — could be put together that combined copious amounts of tracks with illuminating essays, photos and background information.

The beneficiaries were any music fans who wanted to go deep in various genres — country, folk, blues, jazz, folk, world music styles, classical, old rhythm and blues, doo-wop, Latin; you name it, and you can add non-warhorse classical music and the works of modern (post-1900) composers to that list. In many ways, these were the first time these collected bodies of work were packaged for sale, and much of the material had been off the market for years — because the issuing labels were defunct, or the titles were out of print; some records had never seen distribution outside of regional markets. Rhino Records, which started in the 1970s as a reissue and weirdness label out of a West L.A. independent record store and ultimately became the wholly owned catalog-reissue arm of Warner Music, was an early driving force in re-contextualizing vintage titles for a new audience.

But without Tower Records, those companies probably wouldn’t have had the retail distribution setup to sell their wares, and it’s safe to say that the majors — along with large independents like Rounder and Rykodisc — may not have gotten into the deep-catalog business if Solomon hadn’t rolled out its emporia of full-catalog record stores in urban centers across the country, and later, in Europe, Asia and Latin America. If no Tower, then the entire focus and thrust of the mainstream music business may have been much more present-focused, and centered around far narrower parameters of music — unless another retailer had stepped in to drive the market the way that Tower did.

Now, with the rise of the Internet, starting with Amazon-style retailing — which Tower had pioneered, first with an America Online store, and then with an Internet presence — and, later, with digitized file sharing, beginning with the free but intellectual property-disrespecting Napster-style file-sharing matrixes, and then royalty-generating digital retailers a la iTunes and Amazon or subscription services like Rhapsody, what Tower accomplished is easy to minimize. But talk to any modestly voracious music fan in his or her 20s or 30s, and there’s a depth of knowledge about many genres, and an understanding not only of musical history but of interconnectivity of various styles, that doesn’t exist on such a mass scale with older generations. Much of that can be credited to Internet access, but Tower laid the groundwork, both by providing a retail field for a much more diverse palette of musical forms to be merchandised and sold, and by encouraging and even demanding that the suppliers — the record companies — provide something more deep and tantalizing than mainstream big-sellers.

Left to radio programmers and swing-for-the-fences record executives like Clive Davis — whose tenure at Arista Records perfected the marketing of the sort of superstars who sell to people who only buy one or two albums a year, a model adopted by the American Idol franchise — the music business would die eventually. It is dying, in a sense, or it’s almost dead. What Tower provided, and what the Internet now provides to a degree, is access to music’s vast Library at Alexandria.

The problem that hasn’t been solved yet is how to duplicate the accidental discoveries provided by thumbing through the racks at a Tower store. Apple iTunes Genius or Pandora-style recommendation engines can only go so far, but (and this is only my opinion, mind you) there’s still no equivalent to the tactile thrill of pulling albums out of a rack and looking at the artwork and wondering what the record sounds like. The beauty of the Internet, however, is that you can listen, without having to convince one of Tower’s notoriously helpful clerks to play the music for you.

It would be easy to credit the Internet for the spread of musical diversity and knowledge on can find today with ease, but there is at least one pre-existing factor in the cultural penetration of that knowledge, and that factor is Tower Records. I’m proud of the work we did there, and I was only one employee among many. Russ Solomon, for his vision and persistence in manifesting that vision, deserves a lot of credit. Anytime you hear music that falls outside the parameters of American Idol mediocrities or pummeled-to-death radio fare, you can thank Russ Solomon and Tower Records. –Jackson Griffith

* I feel the need here to make a point about David Watts Barton, because in the text above I called him self-congratulatory. He does exude confidence, sometimes to the point where someone historically less brimming with confidence, like myself, might get a little rankled. But that’s what I really like about the guy. And I also need to point out that in my crash-and-burn experience of 2009, David was one of those kind people who stepped up and was a real friend to me, who offered some sage advice, and who pointed out that a little swagger is not a bad thing. So, post-haste, a gentle thank you. –JBG, 23 January

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