The Random Griffith

Yeah, cranky ol’ critical me sez “Blow me, Speidi.”

Posted in Uncategorized by Jackson Griffith on 17/01/2010

I never thought I’d hear any music that makes the Aqua song “Barbie Girl” and the Gummibär tune “I Am Your Gummi Bear” sound like the Beach Boys’ “God Only Knows” and the Beatles’ “In My Life,” respectively, but I think I’ve finally found a whole album where every cut achieves that lofty objective. It’s called Superficial, and it’s just been released by famewhoring plastic-surgery addict and wannabe popstar Heidi Montag via — according to Apple’s iTunes service — the once-respectable Warner Music Group.

What’s great about listening to and reviewing this record via Apple’s iTunes page is that the songs are only 15 or 20 seconds long, which is to say that I cheated and didn’t listen to the entire album in real time. That would take too long, and life is short, and I’m already giving it much more consideration than it merits just by sitting here typing this. And besides, there are thousands of other albums I could be listening to where I wouldn’t be thinking, “This is 45 or 60 minutes of my life that I will never get back, ever.” With the appropriately titled Superfacial, it is all I think about. So the song snippets are all I need for various reasons, and wouldn’t it be true that Montag and her equally famewhoring Svengali husband, the Jack O’Lantern-headed Spencer Pratt, exercised great care in selecting precisely the correct and most representative song fragments to use to sell this self-basting wonder of the large poultry sciences? I am utterly convinced of that, and thusly in the rightness of my approach.

Let’s start by stating that if the wags at The Onion were trying deliberately to concoct the absolute worst dance-pop album in the history of civilization — human, subhuman or bivalve — I’d like to think they’d have fallen far short of whatever mark Team Speidi set with Superbukkake, a collection of 12 numbers that Montag compared favorably against Michael Jackson’s Thriller in a recent interview. This magnum opus of turboshopping narcissism and malevolent-machine bubblegum swill has emerged straight from some demented auto-tuned cartoon-music hell to reptilian-buttrape your sorry-ass brains but good, and I am certain that I could find plenty of authorities in the scientific community who would warn any being, sentient or otherwise, away from listening to this thing in its entirety, lest they incur severe brain damage and even death. So I’m kinda taking one for the team here.

Appreciate that, motherfuckers.

And now for the particulars. Superfishoil opens with “Look How I’m Doing,” from what I can glean, the first of many perky fuck-yous directed toward former beaus and other “haters.” Something about “Now it’s you who’s sweating and it’s me who’s not concerned.” And then “Look at me how I’m doing” yadda yadda, followed by a robotically percussive “ha ha ha ha” — ripped off from “All Your Base Are Belong to Us” — that, well, I don’t want to invoke any Godwin’s Law nonsense, but there’s a certain Nazi girlfriend vibe at work on this.

It’s followed by “Turn Ya Head,” which posits that “I’m the bitch that you don’t wanna miss, so turn ya head” blah blah meow, something about “aint nothin’ like a show” and, uh, well, fuck, it’s already gettin’ pretty fuckin’ grim between my ears with this aural projectile vomiting, oy vey, crimony. Something about “exhibition,” and I’m sure Spencer Prattfall is seeing dollar signs, imagining he’ll be collecting royalties from every stripper joint in the country, but this pensive jam’s a surefire boner softboiler so I’mina betcha the guids that run some of them poonjoints will be saying no-go with that robot beatweeny shit.

Song three, “Fanatic,” rides on the same satanic dingleberry of a nyah-nyah-nyah melodic arpeggio that seems to infect most of these faux-Scandinavian cybergum doglogs, and apparently it’s the “hit.” “I want you so bad that my hands start to sweat,” robo-Heidi mewls, to which I say, well, at least they’ll be lubricated for the jacking, y’know?

The title cut follows. After a gratuitous and non-sequiturial reference to “breakfast” over Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea-style sonar bloops, Nyarlathobarbie oozes the multi-tracked chorus like a freshly lanced carbuncle, something along the lines of “You say I’m superficial, some call me a bitch, you’re just mad because I’m sexeh, famous and rich, I fuck the latest fashions and I set the latest trends, they say I’m all conceited because they really wanna be me, they say I’m superficial because I’ve got money ….” Ahem. Fuck you, Spiedi. No, wait: Blow me. No, I’m sorry. Just fucking die. Go away. Eat shit. Swallow a stew of dog vomit, termites, rusty nails and scabs from Courtney Love’s snatch, Tila Tequila’s bleached bunghole and Kevin Federline’s dick. Whatever. Just shut the fuck up already.

Next up is the only “explicit” track on Superpooper, “More Is More.” I suppose this is supposed to be some Minnie Mouse “crunk” shit over the robo-crepitation that’s the hallmark of this sonic butt-butter, but it wanks as hard as anything that’s preceded it. “More is more on the dance floor, it’s fucking dance swill, more is more in my arsehole, it’s fucking fuck my fucking fuck,” or something like that, before making a dumbass reference to a “Jack and Coke.” If I were a representative of either Jack Daniel’s or Coca-Cola, I’d be on Team Speidi with the cease-and-desist orders post haste, as no smart corporation wants this kind of negative association.

It’s hard to think that “One More Drink” only marks the halfway point through this graveyard of doomed popular culture, that this miasma of bleeping hellchirp will continue for another six “songs.” This one’s apparently about getting too fucked up in the clubs: “One more drink and I think that I’ll be in love,” Bar-belial drools in Doubly. “I’m getting lost in this liquid high … high … high … high,” and if you’re this bint’s bartender, please toss in a roofie or two — followed by a bouncer with a meathook straight to the goddamn Dumpster. Sorry, but I’m fighting back a vicious wave of impending chunder, and this writing’s not coming easy.

Annie Ross should fucking sue Spiedi for appropriating the song title “Twisted,” which on Superswill isn’t the wonderful hairpin-turn ride on the shrink’s couch made famous by Lambert, Hendricks & Ross — and, later, Joni Mitchell — but instead the same bogus Max Martin junk and Britney-in-a-blender outtakes we’ve been subjected to for this album’s first half. There’s a line about “you want to strangle me” here that, although I am extremely dead-set against violence toward women, children, pets, men and anything else, in the context of this album’s existence it may not be such a bad idea. The “you’re twisted” chorus is the closest thing this album comes to any kind of a “soaring” melody, but the Society for Twisted and Otherwise Perverse and Rabidly Omnisexual People Who Will Do It With Anybody or Thing, Even a Hand Cranked Tonka Truck Cement Mixer Packed With Warmed Liver Bits From the Butcher Shop should sue this bitch for maligning such a good word.

“Hey Boy” sputters along on an assembly-line aerobic jizzercize vibe before Heidi Ho downshifts her vocoder into more trash-talking to random Ed Hardy-wearing douchebaggery: “I don’t wanna be wit’ you, watch this, I’m quittin’ your scene, before you even know, you’re on the D-list, watch me, gettin’ treated like a queen ….” But this ain’t the Rodeo Drive version of The Dozens; it’s more like the time when my daughter was six and got all butthurt at some friends and pouted while making a list: “You’re not coming to my birthday party, and you’re not coming to my birthday party, and you’ll be really really sorry.” But my daughter grew up to be beautiful and smart and level-headed and not insane, while Spiedi quite apparently has stayed mired in early grade-school emotional conundrums.

Golden showers are what came to mind upon hearing the next track, “My Parade,” a loping digital dungheap that Speidi must think is some kind of empowerment anthem for entitled rich celebrity bitches and their dickwhistle svengali colon-nodule hubbies to go shopping and clubbing without being bothered: “Hoi polloi, you suck, but give us your money anyway and worship us, because we are worthy and you quite clearly are not.” “I won’t let you rain on my parade,” Metal Machine Minnie Mouse mews. Beg to differ, Barbiezonker; I’m inviting anyone who’s reading this blog to join me in Beverly Hills or Bel Air or wherever youse vile pieces of subhuman excrement go shopping, and we’ll stage the world’s largest golden shower party, and we’ll even line up some of those stand’n’pee funnel thingees for any ladies who’d like to join us, along with whoever in the science world would like to measure exactly how much piss it will take to drown or otherwise obliterate you, Heidi Montag and Spencer Pratt.

Fuck. Three tracks left to go. I’m not sure I have it in me. Oh, well; time to hold my nose and dig in: “Blackout” is what I want to do right now, but duty calls. More ersatz IKEA-meatball disco, with a variation on the old one-six-four-five progression. Since it’s probably the least offensive track on this record so far, the idiots who made this shit buried it toward the end of side two so no one would notice.

Gag. I can do this. “I wanna let my hair down if that’s all right, if that’s OK. I’ll be a blonde tonight” …. Ah, shit. I bet this “I’ll Do It” pantsload ends up on the hit parade of whoever’s squaring away the playlists to fuck with future terra-ists at tomorrow’s Abu Ghraibs and Guantanamos, because that recurring descending synth line is surefire fucking torture when juxtaposed against Minnie Maus’ voice. This shit could be really harmful in the wrong hands. Harmful in any hands. It’s fucked up. So’s my head from subjecting myself to this android jism, and I’m only listening to excerpts. (Which illuminates the major drawback of my only-listen-to-excerpts approach: Apparently this song contains the line “eat my panties off me,” which was not apparent on the Apple iTunes page for this album; one wonders what other fucked-up lyrical constructs I missed.)

Ah, fuck it. At least here’s the last cut, “Love It or Leave It.” I’m reasonably sure that Speidi are right-wing Winky McFuckmepump-, I mean, Palin-worshiping tools, so I was hoping that this would really up the “sieg heil” factor with this record, but as is characteristic of this particular plastic audio-animatronic construct, it’s a big fucking disappointment. I thought we were in for some fucking jingoistic flag-waving bullshit here, but no: Speidi nicked craigslist for the lyrics instead. “Independent woman with massive beef curtains seeks short-term relationship with erect penis of large barnyard animal onstage in Tijuana, you bring the pharmaceuticals,” the Speidi vocorder intones, and I have wood — not because this record has stimulated any tumescence in me at all but because I’m fucking done with this chore and I can do something else.

And it isn’t because I am a hater. No, it’s because I care about music. I write and play music, good music, and I’m too goddamn broke to go into the studio and record one measly EP, much less an entire album. And market it? Forget it. But let’s leave me out of this. I’m pissed off because I can walk down the street in Midtown Sacramento or probably any other city in America, and in a half-hour randomly round up two-dozen genuinely talented musicians whose contributions to the popular-music canon will never see the light of day. And that, my friends, is a goddamn tragedy.

In fact, there’s so much good music being made, and yet these assholes get some kind of deal with Warner Music Group (fuck you, Edgar Bronfman, Jr., and fuck you Lyor Cohen, too, for killing what’s left of the music business with this vile piece of shit), and this plastic-surgery casualty and future Jocelyn Wildenstein monstrosity is on the cover of People magazine, and people are interviewing her about her “album,” and someone is promoting it, and you know these fucks are going to be on the revived corpse of The Tonight Show With Lanternjaw McDoritoshill the first week NBC begins airing that weeknightly colostomy bag.

Now, I’m not advocating that everyone involved with the making and marketing of this grim shithole of an album get the kind of punishment meted out in certain parts of the world to thieves and moral reprobates with big ugly scimitars and other sharp knives, or via ravenously hungry jungle beasts in coliseums filled with drunken yobbos in Tapout, Affliction and Ed Hardy shirts, but if something like that were to happen, I would understand and, to be brutally honest, I would not be terribly upset about it.

So Heidi and Spencer, fuck you for foisting this shit. Seriously: Fuck you. —Jackson Griffith

Advertisements

“Butthurt” is a pretty great name for a band

Posted in Uncategorized by Jackson Griffith on 16/01/2010

Perhaps the coolest thing about the so-called indie rock aesthetic is that there’s no such thing as a “bad hair day.” I mean, you can leave the house with the most fucked-up excuse for an unwashed mass of hair on that stump of stoopidity above your neck, and no one will be the wiser. You can dress like ass, too, and some people will think you are in a band of consequence, and perhaps not even the drummer.

Of course, there are people who track that sort of thing more seriously than do casual hammerheads such as yours truly, and they can tell you the difference between a guy who, oh, dresses like an itinerant expert in ciggy butts and Dumpster-derived cuisine, and a guy who dresses like an itinerant expert in ciggy butts and Dumpster-derived cuisine but has a trust fund that keeps him in good smokes and out of Dumpsters even though it may disingenuously appear that Dumpster diving is his gastronomic preference. And they can tell you that one’s probably a bum, while the other is an up-and-coming rockist icon.

Now, I would prefer to be the lad with relatively unlimited bank, but perhaps the world is lucky that I am currently more of a power pauper. I say this, because we used to sit around and dream up what my friends would call the ideal “dope’n’roll” combos, usually with bong placed judiciously on the coffee table with a bag of decent jumby and also with a bunch of pens and colored pencils and paper so we could dream up the album covers and song titles. Concept albums were typical fodder, and a Deutsch-English/English-Deutsch dictionary was quite helpful, because after a few good bong hits, the prog was flowing like Anchor Steam, with multi-disc delineations of future possibilities resulting from an exegesis of the Popul Vuh juxtaposed with the Gilgamesh framed through a lens of H.R. Pufnstuf sprouting like mushrooms after a warm rain, with corresponding Roger Dean and Hipgnosis visuals, 23 Envelope if we were in more of a Kenneth Anger mood but 4AD hadn’t been invented yet (but 4WD was relatively commonplace).

I am feeling the need to dream up some thrilling new dope’n’roll bands, and then do what I can to manifest them in the physical universe, but lucky for you and the world, I don’t have a huge pile of cash so that I can foist every crazy musical idee nonfixe I get, lots of which I am getting, um, lately. For starters, well, I’m still kinda astonished when I hear new bands that sound like Radiohead, or when I walk into a public place and hear Radiohead or Thom Yorke. That’s some pretty powerful musical memeage, those pensive too-many-bong-hits-and-now-I-can’t leave-this-chair diminished and minor chords, those haunting melodies, those headmaster-just-paddled-my-already-sore-bum vocals with the abraded quality of angst and weltschmerz and schlechtverletzterschließmuskel, still rattling around the collective wouhou like a whole season of Cagney & Lacey episodes.

For the first band in this new dope’n’roll project, I’m thinking that “Butthurt” might be a pretty good name, which also will work as branding for a corresponding wave of products and merchandise. If you’re a musician and you’d like to hop on this bus, or an entrepreneur who can’t wait to jump on this irresistible business opportunity, please contact me through this space.

Choice parcels still available. Send money — wheelbarrow loads. Call me. —Jackson Griffith

Gym, tanning, laundry: Oh, well, got one covered ….

Posted in Uncategorized by Jackson Griffith on 15/01/2010

Yeah, you guessed it. I’m at the laundromat, getting my blog on. I had a gym membership once, at Capital Athletic Club when I worked at the News & Review, and I used to go work out there and crack up at the smooth jazz soundtrack, and once I got in an argument with some crazy ginge who switched all the TVs in the elliptical room to Fox News during a Giants game, and she told me that, unlike me, she was in “media” and I pressed her on that, and it turned out she worked for KCRA Channel 3, the local NBC affiliate, and when she threatened to get me kicked out for switching a TV back to the Giants game from the O’Falafelly Factor or Insanity & Comatose or whatever other Rove rants Team Rupert was puking out that day, I countered by offering to drop by Channel 3’s studios to ask about some crazy-ass redhead who worked there who was making people at the gym watch Fox News against their will.

But, once again, I digress. Clothes are in the dryer, just ate a banana, and so this prose should get a little more grounded shortly; my writing can take on a watch-out-for-low-flying-aircraft quality when I’m mildly hypoglycemic.

Gym, tanning, laundry: According to Mike “The Situation” Sorrentino on MTV’s wickedly fun massengill-fest Jersey Shore, one must first go to the gym to maintain that crucial “six-pack” and other attribues of being in shape. Then, one must climb into Betty Crocker’s giant Easy-Bake Oven for guidos, e.g. the tanning bed, in order to maintain that much-desired orange complexion. And then, one must hit the laundromat, in order to assure that one’s clothing — here, Rush Couture and Ed Hardy douchewear, along with track warmup pants — is clean and not skanky or smelly or otherwise funky. Fresh and mint: That’s what you’ve got to be, because when you feel fresh and mint, there’s a certain intangible quality of awesomeness that manifests.

You can teel that I’m deeply into this Jersey Shore shit. I mean, part of me was thinking that MTV should be nuked off the fucking face of the earth for foisting that The Hills pantsload, especially Heidi Montag and Spencer Pratt, on popular culture, but also Lauren “The Author” Conrad and Audrina Patridge and the rest of those vapid skanks.

If i am going to watch vapid skanks in action, I’d rather that they be served up with sausages and peppehs, along with plenty of guido fist-pumping to “house music” and melodrama dumbed down to sub-Elvis movie level. I just don’t have the bandwidth to watch stupid rich kids emoting over entitlements gone awry and other dumbass shit (sorry), and I am increasingly getting to the point where some kind of trainwreck programming involving drunken angry rabble, various Kardashians and random guillotines is beginning to make a weird kind of nightmarish sense. But I’d rather not go there; perhaps Lindsay Lohan can take the Kardashians and Tila Tequila and Paris Hilton and Perez Hilton and everyone on The Hills and a bunch of other entitled twits I can’t remember on a big old Airbus party plane to Uttar Pradesh or Bihar or Haiti or somewhere far from Los Angeles but close enough to a camera crew so we’ll have to watch it later but just not right now. Get into service, kids. And maybe take Talibangelist Pat Robertson with you; I was going to mention some kind of coliseum entertainment featuring Bert Lahr-like but hungry rather than cowardly animals and said gantrys, but again, I’d rather not go there. Not me. I’d rather see Robertson gagged and forced to listen to sitar music and Deepak Chopra talking about chakras instead of anything overtly violent and karmatically incorrect. Call me a hippiedip already.

So, yeah, I love Jersey Shore, even if I don’t have a TV or a place to watch it and the show’s on tonight but I’ll have to wait until tomorrow to watch online.

Sorry. Rambling. Stayed up writing a new song until after 2; woke up at 5 and found some Chet Baker vids online after watching Let’s Get Lost at the Town House with friends, and then getting into a nice rambling conversation online before hitting the laundromat. Which I’m not at now; currently, I’m at my usual Midtown office, listening to Doom Bird (which is playing Luigi’s on Saturday; can’t wait) on earbuds, because they’re playing old Elton John on the sound system. I could rant about how coffeehouses should opt to play and promote music by local acts like Doom Bird and others, but that might be falling on deaf ears.

More later, when I make better sense? Fuggit grumble grumble. —Jackson Griffith

How you gonna keep ’em down on the FAWM?

Posted in Uncategorized by Jackson Griffith on 13/01/2010

The album is dead, say the pundits. Yes, and water is quite wet. Music consumers, or people who love music enough to spend money on it, may have migrated to an a la carte singles model, but some of us who make music still think about framing our songs in album contexts.

Whether you’re talking about a simple longplayer, or collection of songs, or something more overarching with a consistent theme, what’s often called a “concept album,” albums are pretty cool things. And if not for a greedy record industry, which (quite arguably) killed the album by letting marginal acts put out $15 or $17 CDs with one or two good tracks, the album, along with record stores, might still be around.

Anyway, in one little corner of the universe the album still lives, and there’s this annual thing called February is Album Writing Month, or FAWM; you can find its website at FAWM.org. After hearing about some other local songwriters who’d done it, like Christian Kiefer, who’s done a couple of them, one of which resulted in his Of Great and Mortal Men project, I got a hankering to give it a shot.

The idea is that you write 14 or more songs, and then record them if you can. Last year, I began on February 1 and wrote a song a day for 14 days, and then I think I wrote one or two after that. I didn’t have a setup to record them, until I got a USB mike and was able to record all the songs and mix them in Apple’s GarageBand program over the course of a day and a half at the end of the month. I’d wanted to post them, but I didn’t have a place to upload the tracks, so I just burned some CDs and gave them out to friends.

I had no idea what I was doing, but I did it anyway.

So, now February 1 is less than three weeks away, and I just got an e-mail from FAWM letting me know that the album-writing festival — better to call it that than a competition, which it is not — is commencing to begin. I’d begun thinking about it in earnest right after New Year’s Day, so no need to pitch me, but I appreciate the reminder nevertheless.

Okay, so the beauty of participating in FAWM, for me, was that I learned a lot about how the creative process works for me. First, when you set a goal of writing a song every day, you have to figure out how to turn off that internal editor so that the ideas can just flow. And second, you have to be willing to live with the idea that this is the best you can do on that given day, and if you have all month, you can get your song-ideas down early, then go back and revamp.

I’m thinking this year I’m going to record the songs I write as I go along, which will differ from last year. This way, I can post them as I go along, and I’ve got a couple of weeks to line up some server space where I can post the MP3s.

Last year, I made a decision that what I would come up with would be songs that showed up in my cranial inbox at the time, rather than take half-baked song ideas — I’ve got a whole bunch of those — and shape them into finished tunes. I haven’t decided if I’m going to repeat that process this year; it seems like an honest one, but then using FAWM to finish work on some songs that might not otherwise see completion might not be a bad idea, either.

So when I began last year, I was still rather freshly brokenhearted, or let’s just say that the depths of hurting from a relationship that had ended a few months before, one that I figured would be much more long-lasting, was beginning to hit home with me, so that theme surfaced in a number of the songs. This year, I still have residual saudade, but most of that has worked its way out, and now I’m writing from a much more grounded place again, at least emotionally and spiritually.

How I usually go about the writing is that I sit down with my guitar and start playing around with chords and chord progressions, what Beach Boys composer Brian Wilson calls “feels.” When I get something that sounds promising or worth pursuing, I’ll start humming melodies until I find something that fits. Next comes the structure; I try to figure out the verse melody and underlying chord progression, and then the chorus melody and progression, and then a bridge or “middle eight” if that seems appropriate or fits.

And then comes the lyrics, which are the hardest part. It’s kinda weird and ironic; you’d think that someone who’s been writing for as long as I have, and under pressure of deadline, would be able to come up with words as easy as turning on a faucet. But I’m the worst kind of perfectionist, and I get locked into rhyming conventions and internal rhyme sequences, which is akin to me doing a Houdini by binding up in several straitjackets before I hop into that barrel that’s about to be pushed over Niagara Falls. (And, yeah, my metaphor blows, but so what.)

Before I get started on this year’s FAWM, though, comes the “feed your head” phase. Since I’m a pop songwriter, with aspirations to grow in the storytelling tradition of Ray Davies and Difford & Tillbrook, and maybe Elvis Costello and Graham Parker, but would like to throw some Brian Wilson and Elliott Smith and Todd Rundgren and maybe Alex Chilton in there, too, I’ll be listening to a bunch of those artists’ stuff, along with some other things — old country tunes by Harlan Howard and Merle Haggard and Willie Nelson, newer ones by Townes Van Zandt and Jimmie Dale Gilmore, some jazz and classic Tin Pan Alley, and maybe Argentine tango orquestras tipica and Italianate singers like Domenico Modugno and my favorite guy, Dean Martin. And perhaps some Jonathan Richman and Leonard Cohen and even Bob Dylan for some perspective, and a little Thelonious Monk and Miles Davis and John Coltrane and Judee Sill and Joni Mitchell and Sport Murphy and Stephens Malkmus and Foster and my old standbys J.S. Bach and Scott Joplin. And I’ll go hang out in coffeehouses and listen to what’s playing there, just because you never know what you’ll be exposed to, like the Norah Jones song “Dont Know Why” I heard yesterday, and then backtracked to its writer Jesse Harris, and then checked out some of his other stuff on YouTube. I’ll shut up now; you get the picture. It’s an exercise in preparing the field.

I will post links and progress on this when it comes. I did FAWM last year, and I know I can see it through until completion. Which is more than I can say for National Novel Writing Month in November (NaNoWriMo.org), for which I got 16,000 words (out of 50,000) into a ridiculous story about some Midtown Sacramento twentysomethings who were being pursued by alien life forms crawling out of sewers, squidlike Lovecraftian creatures, and some of them were being taken over by anthropomorphic crustaceans from Davy Jones’ Locker who could assume near-human form but not quite; I got going pretty good, but then tried to complicate the story with a loose squadron of psychic Sikh cabdrivers, and things went too awry to continue. Then I got the writer’s block that resulted in me starting this blog a month or so later.

At any rate, stay tuned if you’re interested. If not, well, hey: do something else, no? —Jackson Griffith

Man, it’s fricking cold

Posted in Uncategorized by Jackson Griffith on 12/01/2010

Blinding flash of “duh” moment: It is winter, January even, and it’s a) colder that a witch’s tit, b) colder than Kelsey’s balls, or c) so fucking cold that my goddamn brain is frozen, my teeth are chattering arrhythmically to even the most rudimentary of beats, my fingers are so popsiclized that I cannot bother to tweet every random little misery, and, oh, I’m fucking cold.

Were I a betting man, I’d go with c), because a) I once enjoyed the regular carnal company of a practicing witch, whose breasts were quite warm and heaving, and rather inviting, if I recall correctly, so that one’s a fallacy, and b) the only Kelsey I do know does not have outboard plumbing, and if she did, I would not be at all curious as to the temperature of her dangling junk, because I’m just that kind of guy.

Shit howdy. Did I mention that it’s fucking cold?

Cold, of course, is a relative term. I’ve hung out with Chicagoans who, upon mention of frigid and inclement for California weather, dismiss it automatically: “Aw, this’s nuthin’, man; shorts and tank-tops weather; you people are pussies; yadda yadda yadda.” STFU, Cubbies fan. And I’ve spent time around La-La landlubbers, the kind of folks who arrive at a Dodger game in the third inning and leave in the seventh, who whine about a hint of wind slightly cooler than a Malibu breeze.

As for yours truly, I’m the one who usually spouts the lines, “Ach, I’m Scottish. My forebears were fucking Vikings. I happen to like the cold, when it’s gray and overcast and barely gets above freezing. It’s good fer ya. Go warm yer frozen bones with a piping-hot bowl of porridge and quit yer complainin’.”

Which, at this moment, I will confess, is bullshit. I’m not liking this shit one bit. Riding over here to Cafe That Only Plays Radiohead, I felt a bone chill that set me to whingeing, and as my fingers unfreeze, the full measure of my wanh-wanh-wanh may unspool to an embarrassing degree.

But enough of that. It is indeed a beautiful day, isn’t it? I mean, there’s rain coming in, according to the prognosticators, which will make the plants happy; water, unlike electrolyte-enhanced sports drinks, has a beneficial effect on the future growth of flora, and the fauna that depend on that future growth of flora are made quite happy, too. Yes, the sky is gray, and the air is cold, but the knowledge that I can hitch a ride up the hill above the fog keeps me from sinking into any kind of fogbound torpor.

So perhaps my general happy frame of mind hasn’t been absconded by the seasonal affective disorder. Whenever I get twinges of that, a random Elvis movie clip or two can go a long way in pulling me out of that creeping funk.

So even just sitting here in this cafe, looking with heightened aesthetic appreciation rather than outright perverse leering at several quite fetching ladies who have graced my humble eyeshot, while fixing to look at more listings for jobs on craigslist before contacting a few editor types for whatever freelance writing jobs they may be able to throw my way (yep, I think the drought is over, both in my fingers and in the clouds), makes this a gosh-darned spiffy day.

I am at my core an optimist, believe it or not. Even when I struggle to scrape together money for coffee and chow, and then I can click on a web page and see that Snooki from Jersey Shore just got paid $10K to show up at some Florida casino to get fucked up and pose with a stripper pole, I still have the quiet confidence that life is going to get better — even on days when all the evidence seems to indicate otherwise. Even when it’s goddamn cold, and there’s no amber and toasty fireplace in sight.

So skål, ladies and gentlemen. —Jackson Griffith

For a guy who doesn’t drive, I still love cars

Posted in Uncategorized by Jackson Griffith on 10/01/2010

“Have you ever thought to write about cars?” The other day I was standing on the sidewalk on 21st Street, in front of the Press Club, when Chris Macias walked by. Chris is a feature writer for The Sacramento Bee, whose current beat, I believe, has something to do with wine and argyle clothing, although he wrote about pop music for a while there.

I guess he knows me well enough to make that comment. My response went something like, oh, yeah, but to write for the big car mags, unless you’re Jamie Kitman or Bob Merlis, you pretty much have to have a degree in engineering.

Then I thought about it. Even though my relationship with the automobile is somewhat torturous, even though I’m currently not driving and get around on a bicycle, even though I know we’re killing the planet by sucking all that oil out of the ground and refining it into gasoline and burning it our cars and trucks and choking the atmosphere with our carbon monoxide and raising the temperature of the planet and melting the glaciers which pretty much ensures we’ll end up living like a bunch of hippies on leaky-ass boats at the mercy of hungry sharks and giant monster squid if we don’t do something soon, I still love cars. So maybe I could write something about them once in a while.

Okay, I figured I’d start with the American automobile industry, which has gotten slammed pretty hard by the economic downturn. It must suck on a macro sense, because on this micro sense I currently don’t have a job, which as made things like insurance and car payments difficult if not downright impossible, thus giving me the Hobson’s choice, or hobo’s choice, of riding a bicycle or walking. So if other people are in my predicament, it must be harder to sell cars and sustain a healthy auto industry.

Y’know, I could be a grumbling two-wheeled hater, but I dig the automobile and car culture. Not so big on racing; the Euroweenie stuff like Le Mans seems to embody the old joke question, what’s the difference between a porcupine and a Porsche? (With a porcupine, the pricks are on the outside.) And NASCAR, well, let’s just say that I love comedy, but certain forms of comedy can get played out pretty quickly although Talladega Nights is pretty goddamn funny, especially after Sasha Baron Cohen’s character shows up.

I guess for my first entry on cars in this blog, I’ll go over where I understand the car industry is in this country. We’ll start with the healthiest company of the former Big Three and kinda move downhill from there. After that I’d planned to go into how Volkswagen plans to rule the world or at least become the world’s biggest carmaker and then how Toyota is all butthurt that it’s lost its juju a bit and then kinda segue into Honda and Mitsubishi and then Renault which controls Nissan (which is pretty funny whenever you see some wingnut driving a Nissan product and there’s some buttholic teabag party bumper sticker on the back and you just know the driver has no idea he’s behind the wheel of a Frog-made vehicle) and Peugeot-Citroën which doesn’t, and then of course go into Daimler (Mercedes, jawohl, formerly Chrysler) and BMW and some others. But I don’t have the bandwidth right now, so that’ll have to wait. Besides, this is the eve of the North American International Automobile Show in Detroit, so maybe it’s best to keep the focus on the historic American manufacturers. At least we can talk about Fiat, the Italian company that now controls Chrysler.

This is all pretty much off the top of my head, so grab a cup of coffee or whatever you like to put in your cup, as ’70s waterbed icon Tom LaBrie used to say, kick back, and dig:

Ford: My mama used to tell me the first word I spelled with my blocks was “F-O-R-D,” but as I grew up I was more attracted to the renegade Mopar vibe than the classic dichotomy of “Are you a Chevy or a Ford man?” which was like when people always asked “Beatles or Stones?” and my answer was “Kinks.” Nevertheless, as we enter the second decade of the 21st century, Ford is the only American car company that wasn’t such a goddamn dog’s breakfast it had to get bailed out by the U.S. government. Part of that came from the Ford family hiring Alan Mulally away from Boeing to run the car company; Mulally saw what was coming, put loads of money in the bank, and sold off a bunch of brands: Aston Martin to a consortium of Kuwaiti and English investors, Jaguar and Land Rover to up-and-coming Indian manufacturer Tata, and now Volvo to Chinese automaker Geely; Ford also sold off most of its stake in Japanese carmaker Mazda. Which is interesting, because most of the car platforms Ford has used for models from its core brands Ford, Mercury and Lincoln are either Mazda (small cars) or Volvo (larger cars).

Ford‘s strength, however, is its European division, which develops products like the forthcoming Fiesta small car and the Turkish-built Transit Connect small commercial van (already selling here; just saw one drive by), so the input (or reduced participation of) of Volvo and Mazda may be missed. Mulally figured that the smart thing would be to make Ford’s product offering consistent across the board, which basically means selling the same popular cars here that they sell overseas. This will mean that cars like the Volvo-derived Taurus (a beautifully done but overpriced sedan of which I’ve only seen one on the street to date, and that was a rental at a hotel), Mazda6-derived Fusion (which offers a nice hybrid version) and Mazda3-derived Focus will be replaced by whatever Ford is selling in Europe when those products are refreshed. Ford’s other strength is its truck division, because the F-150 is always competitive with whatever the other light truck makers — GM (Chevrolet, GMC), Chrysler (Ram), Toyota and Renault-Nissan (Nissan) — are selling here (and the SVT Raptor option looks like a pretty ripping, albeit kinda douchey, guytoy), and its cop-car franchise, which pretty much owns the U.S. market with the Crown Victoria, a model that also used to have a pretty nice following among indie-rock types in New York and New Jersey.

Mullally reduced Ford to three brands sold through two dealerships in the U.S.: Ford, the closest analog of which is Toyota, with a complete product range, and Lincoln/Mercury. Lincoln, as the luxury division, or Lexus analog, makes sense, but Mercury‘s lineup looks like Ford models with nicer trim levels that give Lincoln dealers something less pricey to sell. Mercury’s waterfall grille is blandsville okay, but its logo is kinda meh, and when was the last time you heard anyone talk about getting tumescent over a Mercury? I mean, James Dean’s character drove a ’49 Mercury in Rebel Without a Cause, and blues singer K.C. Douglas wrote a great blues tune titled “Mercury Boogie,” later covered — and retitled — “Mercury Blues” by the Steve Miller Band, and David Lindley and a bunch of others (and then covered by my pals Jeffrey Clark and Grant-Lee Phillips on their old band Shiva Burlesque’s second album, Mercury Blues, but that’s another story), and then FoMoCo bought the rights to the song and let suburb’n’western singer Alan Jackson record it as “Crazy ’bout a Ford Truck.” Which should give you an idea of Ford’s commitment to the Mercury brand; as they are wont to say in France: “That’s fucked up.” Um, you have a marque with James Dean and a fucking classic blues tune to draw from, and you can’t figure out how to develop some hot product to capitalize on that mojo? Remind me again why I’m unemployed, while there are people, nay, idiots who get paid biggum bucks to fuck things up like that no-brainer?

Lincoln as a brand is kind of an also-ran to GM’s Cadillac, perhaps the brightest marque in the General’s reduced arsenal. The new split grille design is nicely polarizing, and time will tell if Lincoln can compete with Caddy. The key to luxury-marque success in America seems to lie in cultivating products and imagery that appeal to an audience steeped in hip-hop, R&B and other artforms that accelerate the bling factor (like Lincoln did with its most recent Navigator SUV), while offering product that performs competitively when compared to the luxury cars built by European and Asian manufacturers. It’s weird that Lincoln is named after a very famous Republican president, at a time when part of the car-buying public might be turned off to that marketing hook, and more button-down Republicans are opting for BMW or Lexus over Lincoln; that said, one suspects that a luxury-car division named “Reagan” or “Nixon” or “Hoover” or “Coolidge” — or, god forbid, “Bush” or “Cheney,” but not “McKinley,” which already is an upscale trim option at General Motors’ GMC division — would be a non-starter, or at least those would go over like a massively brapping Carl’s Jr. fart in the boardroom. I could be wrong. And driving a Nixon might be a cool act of subversion for certain iconoclastic types. Like, uh, yours truly. I’d drive a Nixon, especially if they had the cojones to name the topnotch model the “Dictator Coupe d’Etat.” If Ford really wants Lincoln to emulate Toyota’s Lexus division, though, the secret is in the dealership experience. Up the ante with cocktails, nude massages and live cool-jazz combos (just trying to make work for my musician pals), and you’d have a real winner.

General Motors: Okay, let’s talk about the General. What can you say about a company that went from owning, what, 60 percent of the U.S. market half a century ago to getting its ass taken over by the government? Yep. Sad. Pathetic. And what Chairman Obama, or one of his Kremlin apparatchiks — or, uh, czars — told ’em in Detroit was you’ve got too many brands, which is Urdu for you guys have staggered around for so long like a gaggle of 13-year-old paint-sniffing morons, and you already fucked up by killing off the coolest brand you had, Oldsmobile, that we’re gonna put your ass on a short leash. So, GM got winnowed down to three divisions: Chevrolet, Cadillac and Buick/GMC, which were surgically split from the remaining “bad GM” — Saturn, Hummer, Saab, Pontiac and Opel/Vauxhall. So, as a result, a first order of business was that The General tried to sell Saturn to racing driver turned carbiz magnate Roger Penske, who was planning on using the marque to sell whatever off-brands he could find on the international market in the U.S., starting with Ssangyong, the Korean division of Renault-Nissan, but it was a no-go and Saturn got sent to Uranus.

Then, Hummer, the brilliant idea of offering monster SUVs based on AM General’s HMMMV military cruiser (the Hummer H1), then fattening the line with boxy, more expensive versions of the Chevy Suburban/GMC Yukon/Cadillac Escalade (the H2) and Chevy TrailBlazer/GMC Envoy/Oldsmobile Bravada/Buick Rainier/Saab 9.7x (the H3), so that armchair generals and patriots, made woodrowescent from watching way too much Fox News military cheerleading, could support the war effort by tooling around in faux-martial hoopties, running bicyclists like me off the road, proved to be an Edsel move once George W. Bush and Dick Cheney and Arnold Schwarzenegger — the original mover behind the brand — lost their luster once the war in Iraq turned out to be substantially less of a cakewalk than was originally projected by administration dopesmokers; Hummer currently is in the process of being sold to Sichuan Tengzhong, a Chinese heavy-equipment manufacturer. Go figure that one out, Hannity.

The General’s Swedish yuppie car division, Saab, or Svenska Aeroplan AktieBolaget, looks like it’s either going to that auto graveyard in the sky, or it will be picked up by Spyker Cars, a tiny Dutch premium carbuilder owned by Russian and Saudi investors. And Pontiac, well, not even Oprah Winfrey could save that one; too many years of ugly cars with way too much ribbed plastic cladding on the sides, culminating with the Aztek, which looked like what might happen if a Volkswagen “Thing” could mate doggy-style with an old bathtub Nash Ambassador and then reproduce. Too bad, because John DeLorean-era Pontiacs from the 1960s (think “wide track”) were hot-shit wheels, and the G8 GXP, Pontiac’s version of the Holden Commodore, an Australian V8-powered rear-wheel-drive sedan, was the best thing GM has offered in years — even cooler than the new Camaro or some of Cadillac’s latest cars, which are fairly fine. I saw one on the street a few weeks ago, and immediately wished I’d been wearing looser-fitting trousers. Requiat en pace, Pontiac.

GM tried to unload Opel, the German division that sells Opels in Europe and Vauxhalls in England, to Magna, a Canadian-Austrian company that manufactures cars under license and sells auto parts — I think Magna builds the Audi TT in Hungary for Volkswagen — but Magna had big plans for Opel in Russia, where one of its key investors resides. And then Ed Whitacre, the autocratic Southwestern Bell executive who reassembled AT&T from Baby Bell components (SBC, BellSouth, Pacific Bell, etc.), who got tapped by GoldmanSachs the government to run the new GM, woke up and figured out that the real heavy lifting on product development at GM these days was being done by, ahem, Opel: The Saturn Aura, Astra and Vue, Pontiac G6, Chevrolet Malibu, Buick LaCrosse and Regal? All rebadged or reconfigured Opel products. So Whitacre smartly put the kibosh on that idea, and Opel will stay for now. No one talks about Holden, GM’s Australian division, which makes some pretty kickass cars. Which is good, because GM would be stupid to unload that, too.

(It should be pointed out that GM is a near-complete fuckup when it comes to buying or investing in foreign carmakers. It had a dalliance with Fiat before Fiat got revived recently and picked up Chrysler, and also had messed up some other carmakers, like Isuzu — remember that make? — which GM pretty much totaled and left by the side of the road, hasta la bye-bye Joe Isuzu. GM also owned a good-sized stake in Subaru, which it strong-armed into building a mini-version of its ugly-ass Chevy Avalanche-Cadillac Escalade pickup called the Subaru Baja, and then it — GM — unloaded its Subaru stake, which was promptly bought by Toyota. Way to go, General! More recently, GM got rid of its stake in Suzuki, which immediately got picked up by Volkswagen, which was prowling around the Yellow Sea in a UBoat looking for an Asian carmaker. If GM laters its stake in Korean affiliate Daewoo and Hyundai/Kia picks it up, well, don’t be surprised, because there’s a history there.)

GM’s big worldwide brand, under the new “good GM” regime, is now Chevrolet, which it will use pretty much globally outside of Germany, England, Australia and, well, China; more on that a few grafs down. From the microcars built by Daewoo, which makes the tiny Aveo and has a few other Fit-Yaris-Versa killers in the pipeline, to the much-larger Impala and Opel-sourced Malibu, along with the Cruze, GM’s entry in the Civic-Corolla sweepstakes, Chevy is back in the car business big time. The front ends of those cars all look similar, with a grill opening shaped like the old Chevy escutcheon from the mid-1950s bisected by a horizontal crossbar upon which a gold Chevy bowtie is mounted. Unfortunately, to these eyes, the effect is butt-ugly, and when you put butt-ugly on the front of the car, people get confused as to whether you’re coming or going; remember Studebaker already. But the cars themselves are huge improvements over the iron that preceded the arrival of septuagenarian product czar Bob Lutz at GM a few years ago. Lutz is the “car guy” credited with turning Chrysler around in the 1990s, before Daimler (né Daimler-Benz) bought the company, ran Lutz out and ran Chrysler into the ground. Lutz was partially responsible for bringing the G8 to Pontiac, and there was talk that it would get a different front end and be sold as a Chevy Caprice. It was merely talk. Too bad. (Side note: Is there anything currently in the Chevy lineup that can be dropped and chopped by lowriders? Because Señor Whitacre might want to put that in his pipe, spark it and ponder its significance. Just sayin’.)

Nevertheless, Chevy doesn’t have to worry too much, because it has the Volt. Even with a theme song stupider than a Mentos jingle penned by the people who wrote Elvis’ lamest hits for his movies, even with people doing bad dancing and calisthenics routines around it, the Volt sedan is like an iPod, iPhone and MacBook Pro rolled into one, with four wheels on it. Seriously, if GM fucks this one up it deserves to be euthanized, or at least placed under the aegis of Mahindra & Mahindra, an Indian manufacturer of goofy-ass trucks. I wouldn’t say “Bye-bye Prius,” but the Volt is a lot better looking, its gasoline four-banger is only there to charge the battery, and your Fishsticks Paltrow contingent of Hollywood trail-mix munchers will be migrating there tout suite.

Chevy makes trucks, too, and SUVs. If they made cool pickups like the Apache from the mid-1950s, or even the rounded ones circa 1950 or so, I might be writing more about them. Forgive me for not giving a shit, although the new Equinox small crossover is an improvement over its predecessor.

I do give a shit about Cadillac, though. For a while, that marque’s sharp-edged origami styling cues bothered me, but I’ve warmed to them considerably. To these eyes, they’re some of the freshest looking designs on the road, if a bit ostentatious, and aside from the played-out Escalade SUVs and trucks, Cadillac’s alphabet-soup models (a naming convention now emulated by Lincoln) are giving American luxohoopt fans an alternative to German or Japanese (or now Korean, e.g. Hyundai/Kia, which is underselling everyone with Bimmer-killers like the Genesis) cars. The new CTS-V coupe? Wood, motherfucker. I want one, and if I wasn’t broke and unemployed and so far in debt I’ll be lucky to get my hands on a shopping cart for a while, I’d be getting my guido on behind the wheel of one. You think Cadillac ain’t cool? When überdouche DJ Pauly from MTV’s Jersey Shore pulls his shirt up, he doesn’t have “Lincoln” or “BMW” or “Hyundai” tattooed in script down his right side. And Caddy will be even cooler if it gets a version of the Volt, the car-show version of which was called the Converj, but I’m guessing will get a production name like “VTS” instead.

A new GM comprised only of Chevrolet and Cadillac would make perfect sense, but The General started selling a lot of cars in China, where I’m guessing those marques were difficult to pronounce, or else they phonetically sound out as kanji that translates as “drop the razor, gramps” or “Tila Tequila is licking your daughter silly.” So Buick became a big-selling brand there, and when our Chinese overlords were asked to give us another few years before they put the screws to us, the word came from Beijing: Buick stays.

The problem here was that, since the late 1970s, all Buick models here have been designed by the Batesville Casket Company, and the people buying Buicks were so damned old that they were confused as to whether they were shopping for a new car or their own funeral. With an average age of 86 and not getting any younger, the target Buick buyer made a good argument for embalming the brand and parking it in Forest Lawn for good. But thanks to Bob Lutz and the Chinese, Buick picked up what’s arguably the best-looking GM cars in its refreshed lineup — courtesy of Opel, which almost got sold off. The new Regal, a rebadged Opel/Vauxhall Insignia, gets a lot of power from a four-banger, and the redesigned LaCrosse is pretty sweet-looking, too. The Enclave crossover, which Chevy (Traverse) and GMC (Acadia) also sell, and now-defunct Saturn (Outlook) was selling, does well for Buick, but, well, forgive me for not being excited about another station wagon on steroids: Mommy, can we drive the entire girls’ soccer team over to Chuck E. Cheese in one? And I may be the only one bummed by Buick dropping Tiger Woods as a spokesman, which it did before his recent tabloid bonanza. Can you imagine writing scripts for Buick ads featuring post-skank parade Woods? Sounds like fun to me. (A cop TV “buddy” show starring Tiger Woods and Jon Gosselin, with Tila Tequila as the chief of police, might be a pretty entertaining idea, too, but again, I digress.)

Speaking of lack of excitement, what’s the reasoning behind keeping GMC? Bundled with Buick as its analogue truck brand, Jimmy is just a rebadged version of Chevy Truck. “We Are Professional Grade”? Who got all squinkadelic on Rush Limbaugh drugs and came up with that brilliant tagline? And what the hell is the GMC version of Chevy’s redesigned Equinox — a make-work gig for unemployed Pontiac designers from the 1990s? The Terrain, as it’s called, is Aztek ugly.

That said, GM now has some really good products. It’s a far cry from the 1980s and 1990s, when upper management decided that the best way to sell cars was to hire “brand managers” for each model, who would come up with snappy taglines to sell cars that had three or four or five identical save for front-ends and badges versions for sale at other GM divisions.

Which brings us to ….

Chrysler: At one time, I was a Mopar man. Fuckin’ Dodge, man. Plymouth. 426 Hemis, 413 Wedges, shit howdy. Little Red Wagon. Richard Petty. My late father used to preach the superiority of the Dodge Dart with the unkillable Slant Six engine, not to mention the superiority of the torsion-bar suspension, but he drove an El Camino. Go figure.

So how did this American religion disguised as a car company wind up in the clutches of the Italians?

Well, after almost going out of business a hundred times, with the most well-known example being in the late 1970s whe Lee Iacocca took over and parlayed one platform (the K Car) into a buttload of cars (Dodge Aries, Plymouth Reliant, Chrysler, uh, I forget, plus the Plymouth Voyager and Dodge Caravan and Chrysler Town & Country minivans), Chrysler struck gold in the 1990s with the LH or “last hope” sedans — Chrysler Concorde and New Yorker, Dodge Intrepid, Eagle Vision. There were also a set of “cloud” cars, too: Chrysler Cirrus, Dodge Stratus, Plymouth Breeze. And Dodge and Plymouth shared the Neon. Somewhere along the line, Eagle got killed as a brand; Eagle was what was left over when Chrysler acquired American Motors, aka Nash-Hudson, later Rambler, after the Frogs, aka Renault, had messed it up in the 1980s; why they tried to call it “Eagle” instead of “Rambler,” which was a far cooler name, is a mystery, but Eagles were cars for Jeep dealers to sell. Anyway, Eagle went down, even though I’d sent whoever was the CEO at Mopar a letter when I was half in the bag one time explaining why Chrysler should kick Ford’s ass in the cop-car department by bringing back a rear-wheel-drive Dodge Polara, and then making a totally jacked-up four-wheel-drive version of the Polara called the Eagle Enforcer. You don’t think cops would get boners over that shit? Fuck yeah, they would. Anyway, I never heard back from them, but what the hey. Then they killed Plymouth, or I think that by this time the Germans were running the show and they were upset about the Mayflower or something. Before that, Dodge had dropped a truck V-10 engine into a beast of a car called the Viper, which they still haven’t killed off. Then, let’s see, the Germans left the roofie’d and raped carcass of Chrysler by the side of the road, where it was reanimated by Cerberus, a gaggle of Bush-Cheney banksters whose racket company was named after the three-headed dog that guards the entrance to either hell or Dick Cheney’s underground lair.

Then, basically, Sergio Marchionne, the guy who turned Fiat from a joke into what’s arguably the up-and-coming kickass car company in Europe in less than 10 years, knew a good opportunity, which cost his company zip, because the U.S. gummint would have let Fisher-Price take over Chrysler at that point, and Fiat had more experience in cars other than plastic toddler models. Fiat’s been out of the U.S. market for a while now; a few years ago, GM was toying with buying Fiat, and had drafted plans to sell Alfa-Romeos (that’s a Fiat product, as is Maserati, Ferrari and Lancia, along with Fiat’s performance brand, Abarth) at Cadillac dealerships, but the wheels came off that juggernaut before it happened. So now Fiat has a chance to re-enter the US market with an established dealership network. Dunno about you, but if they can get their reliability thing under control, I think a combined Fiat-Mopar combo, with superior Italian design, could be pretty damned exciting.

Chrysler’s halo car is still the 300, which I think still looks pretty swell; that one was a product of the Mopar-Mercedes clusterfuck, but it turned out pretty cool. A redesign reportedly is due for the next model year. The rest of the Chrysler-brand lineup? Not so good. Rumor has Chrysler refreshing its lineup with rebadged Lancia designs, which would be an improvement over the godawful Sebring. Maybe the Fiat Nuevo-500 can find an expression as a Chrysler. Hell, build a scaled-down Airflow to replace the PT Cruizer, and put a high-revving Fiat four-banger under the hood, and you might have some kind of movement.

As for Dodge, now it’s just a car division. The Challenger is, to me, the best of the three retro muscle cars; yeah, Ford’s Mustang and Chevy’s Camaro are nicely tooled, but I prefer the Challenger. Too bad there’s no ‘Cuda option, which would have been even cooler. The Charger should be rebadged the Polara when that Chrysler 300 analog is refreshed. Other than that, what? Kill the ugly Caliber and replace it with a Fiat product, and same goes for the Avenger, Dodge’s version of the Sebring. Next, get rid of the played-out crosshair grille, and come up with a new logo (don’t opt for the old Dodge Brothers Star of David, which might not fly in certain parts of the country where Glenn Beck is taken real seriously), because the goat-head got hijacked. (Clue for the Italians, gratis pour moi: There was a time when Chevy’s ad slogan was “The Heartbeat of America,” and the acknowledged subtext was that Dodge was the hard-on of America. Know this; make future decisions accordingly.)

Which is to say that “Ram” is now a separate brand. No more Dodge Trucks. I wonder if the executive who floated this idea just got back from vacationing on San Francisco’s Folsom Street, and bonus points if he wore full-body leathers with exposed butt cheeks to the board meeting where this brilliant idea got approved. Of course, it makes sense to peel off your truck brand in case Sichuan Tengzhong comes shopping for another marque. Ram Trucks? Um, yeah. The trucks themselves are pretty nice, so keep the Italian fashion consultants away from the ads, perhaps.

Which leaves Jeep, another brand that could get sold off. Yeah, the new Cherokee is a nice design. The Wrangler is the iconic model, though. The rest is kind of useless, no? And those new commercials will go a long way in killing Jeep, or driving the price down far enough for some renegade Libyan manufacturer to pick it up on the cheap.

Advice for the new Chrysler: Just bring Alfa cars here. Lots of them, and Fiats, not to mention certain Iveco (Fiat’s big truck brand) and Fiat Commercial models to replace Daimler’s Sprinter van, which Dodge and Freightliner were selling. Bring more diesels, too. And Fiat goofy vans and everything. Just bring all that shit over here.

So that’s my long-ass rant-cum-ramble on the car biz. Links to follow when I feel like it. It’s Saturday night, it’s cold here, and I’m feeling kinda crummy. Sorry. —Jackson Griffith

Note: I’m updating links on this when I get around to it. Partially done now. More later, eh?

Tagged with: ,

Goofy status updates and other random gibberish

Posted in Uncategorized by Jackson Griffith on 10/01/2010

So I’ve bonked on writing about cars. I mean, I have 3,000 words of gibberish on Ford and General Motors, and then I was just beginning to swerve into Fabbrica Italiano Automobili Auburn Hills, and I realized it kinda defeats the purpose of blogging. So, uh, lemme get another cup of coffee, settle in and go off on a different tangent.

Oh, and while I’m at it, I should put my earbuds in and find a little background music more suitable, because they’re falling down on the job here at Temple on S on this overcast Saturday afternoon. When you hear “Hotel California” by the Eagles at any time, perhaps that should be a signal to bail and go elsewhere, but I’d already ordered coffee, and it’s bloody cold outside for us pussy-ass Sacramento people (sorry, Chicago, yeah, you’re tougher and this is short-sleeves and shorts weather for you) and I’d already settled in. The music here didn’t get any better, if you can believe that, and so I’ve popped in the buds and queued up Elliott Smith’s Either/Or album, which is my default setting for cold overcast days with coffee.

So: It’s important that some measure of spontaneity be at work here — Jeebus, isn’t “The Ballad of Big Nothing” a fucking perfect song? — sorry, uh, the point I was trying to make was that I’d gotten stuck in a rut because I keep trying to be precise and focused, and what happens is that my inner editor jumps in and then my inner perfectionist shows up and they open the refrigerator and get into whatever the antithesis of vodka is — Marmite, most likely, on grainy and “flavourless” toast — and then I’m sitting here wondering why it’s been a week since I wrote anything.

Got up this morning and was fixing to get cleaned up, had half my clothes off to get into the bath, and I have no idea why, but I changed my FB status to “Jackson Griffith wonders why ‘random sportf**king and occasional dinner dating’ isn’t an option on the Facebook relationship status update?” It’s always interesting what people respond to, and that one kinda struck a chord with a few fine ladies by the time I’d gotten myself cleaned up and good to go.

Now, I’m not trying to be a skeeze or skank magnet or anything, but the options “single,” “married,” “in a relationship” and “it’s complictated” are somewhat limited, don’t you think? And isn’t it all “complicated,” as one person who answered me put it? (Yeah, I know what people mean when they post that, but still.) And why isn’t there an option for “seems to suck at relationships but definitely likes to fuck”?

(Uh, I’m probably getting myself into trouble here, so I do hope some of you are entertained.)

Anyway, so I played a gig last night at Luna’s. It was quite nice; I was the opening lad, and some friends old and new showed up. I played a cross-section of originals, and realized in the middle of the set that I need to, ahem, retool some of my more, uh, romantic repertoire. I mean, I’m not David Houston, or Ricky Berger. The key to writing song lyrics, I think, rests in the reaching for emotional honesty. And while I’ve written my share of broken-hearted songs, and before that straight-up love songs, they’re not quite cutting the mustard these days for some reason. I need to move past that particular mental construct toward something less clichéd, and more nuanced.

I did bust out a couple of horndog original tunes, but unfortunately the females in the audience were all attached, because apparently word hasn’t gotten out to the footloose and fancy-free that I am the go-to guy for the music the ladies want to hear — all six-foot-six-point-six of me, with size-13 feet, too. So the first of those, a blues number I wrote a few years ago titled “I Am Almost Fixing to Get Ready to Rock and Roll” but never mastered well enough to play in public until recently, was somewhat wasted as an arrow in my quiver of musical seduction:

Hey pretty baby I been watching you dancing under the stars
Been sitting back undressing you with my eyes
Don’t stop dancing now come on baby you’re breaking my heart
You caught me off guard, yeah, took me by surprise

Hey lawdy mama I been watching you shaking your moneymaker
Yeah sweet pussycat this hound’s feeling that bone
And this doggy might growl if you won’t let him paw that fur
Dog’s gonna moan

Girl it’s time to be pulling your damper down
You better start turning your bread around
’Cause I’m almost fixing to get ready to rock and roll

Hey naughty lady I been watching you strewing your mess to the beat
Don’t know what I can do I’m losing my mind
You got something I want so bad, yeah, something I need
Can we make it happen, girl, show me a sign

Hey hot goddess I been getting all worked up watching you move
Caught you peeking at me to gauge your effect
I know you know what you’re doing to me by getting on your groove
So tonight let’s connect

Girl it’s time to be pulling your damper down
You better start turning your bread around
’Cause I’m almost fixing to get ready to rock and roll
Yes, I am almost fixing to get ready to rock and roll

Blues tunes, of course, tend not to be the métier of Barry White types; go to a blues show or bar, and a lot of the female contingent there seems to be a liquored-up version of what they called “hippos” on Jersey Shore the other night (and to be fair, the males in the audience often have the bearded and slovenly look of the perpetually scribbled, and I’m gonna get myself in some hard luck’n’trubble wif all you blues fans … you do know I’m joking, right?), so … uh, what was I saying? This beautiful and elegant looking blonde woman just sat down at the table in front of me; she’s drinking hot tea and, uh, what’s she reading? Eat, Pray, Queef? Um, yikers. No.

Anyway, the point I was trying to make before I became, uh, distracted and stuff was that sometimes when you’re busting out the Barry White intentions, it helps to stay away from the 12-bar form, opting instead for serious rhythm and blues ninth chords and more direct and to the point lyrics. It may even help to title the song “Barry White,” to avoid any confusion. So the next song I played was such a composition. And even though I did go home alone once again, and nothing came from my sincere musical ministrations of lust and other thangs, the tunes were fun to play:

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

And of course you do know I’ve only been writing here to entertain you, right? Yeah, I probably do need to go out and get myself laid, just for the gosh darned heck of it. But what’s more important, maybe, is me keeping a steady stream of writing going. Bottling things up, whether we’re talking about jam or jive, is not conducive to flow.

And these days, I’m all about the flow. —Jackson Griffith

Of rabbit holes and other random stuff

Posted in Uncategorized by Jackson Griffith on 09/01/2010

Sorry. I haven’t been able to whip this car thing into shape. I wrote a long kudzu unravel on the American car biz, then got a massive headache last night, and ended up falling back into the whole “Tila Tequila” Nguyen-Casey Johnson-Courtenay SemelJazmine LeonardNicky Hilton Hollywood clusterlick on the tabnet or interloid or whatever the sordid part of the net is called, and then I kinda fell into snooze mode.

I’d say shame on me, but shame is overrated. I will say that I’m so ngognog ngogn right now that I haven’t even gotten ’round to watching Episode 6 of Jersey Shore, which is mildly distressing in the grand scheme of things. What’s next: forgetting to eat breakfast? I will also say that the internet connection, or connexion, as our English friends are wont to put it, at this Old Soul Weatherstone Coffee joint is somewhat crinkly, as our friends in the fast-food potato processing business are wont to put it, and I am reasonably crestfallen about this unfortunate turn of events. But, again, I digress, said digression being a hallmark of my ping-pong ball in a clothes-dryer frame of mind this midday.

I’m playing music tonight. I will finish the car thingee later, I promise. Got some other jive if you want it, too. But if you’re in the neighborood of Luna’s Cafe, located at 1414 16th Street just north of O Street in scenic midtown Sacramento, I will be playing original music at 8 p.m. It’s an intimate all-ages venue, and the cover is $6. I’m not sure I’ll sing “When I Lost Everything,” one of my more recent songs, because I haven’t learned it yet. But here are the lyrics:

Watching the leaves fall to the ground
Listening to the mournful sound of a train whistle
Off in the distance
What will tomorrow bring?

Been staying in the spare room of a friend
Sleeping on a massage table and praying for change
My life sure turned strange
When I lost everything

This world I thought I knew turned out to be a hall of mirrors
Filled with nothing but a hundred cold reflections
And then I found myself facing the sum of all of my fears
Fumbling for an exit and some new direction

Trying to find some gratitude
For what I’ve got left but I blew all my chances
These circumstances
Feel like the end of a string

Goodbye to the house the car the job
Hello to the knowledge I got robbed of my old life
Tossed into the cold night
When I lost everything

When my old world went away I found myself standing naked
Searching for the motivation to keep going
Hoping a treasure hidden deep within might be awakened
Some way to tap into a mighty river flowing
Where does it flow?

I had nothing left to lose
I could surrender to the blues
Or else choose to accept my life
Hoping I’ll be all right

I’ve learned a lot in this past year
Like if I pick love over fear I’ve got good friends
I came to no bad end
When I lost everything
When I lost everything
When I lost everything

Please don’t get the idea that I’m some miserable, self-pitying bastard. I’m not. I’ve got a pretty healthy appetite for all the good things life has to offer these days, and I’m one of the most optimistic motherfuckers I know. And I am ready and willing to rock your world if you’ll let me.

So, well, I won’t tell you what to do. But I can suggest, right? —Jackson Griffith

Figured I’d post something now on Elvis; more substantial post(s) later ….

Posted in Uncategorized by Jackson Griffith on 08/01/2010

So I wanted to put something up today, because I got into a really great yammering session on politics and art in this coffeehouse where I was working on a piece about cars, and it’s going to take some work to get it the way I want it, and sometimes I’d rather shoot the shi-, I mean, converse with people than knuckle down and write, so I’m going to repost something I wrote on August 16, 2005, which seems like another lifetime ago now, about the King of Rock’n’Roll, which is and forever shall be: Elvis Presley.

We were sitting here looking at The Sacramento Bee, and there’s a piece on Elvis, who would have turned 75 tomorrow if he’d have lived. Somehow, when you die at age 42 from a mix of opiates and Southern cooking, the idea that you’re going to live to 75 and beyond becomes reasonably unlikely. I thought, man, I’d, well, not kill, but sing “Rock a-Hula Baby” in a Hawaiian shirt to an editor for a shot at writing a newspaper piece on The King, but nobody had the smarts to call me. So, here’s something I wrote a while back. Enjoy.

@ @ @ @ @ @ @ @ @ @ @

It was 28 years ago today that Elvis Aron Presley fell off his toilet in the shag carpeted sanctum sanctorum of his second-floor bathroom at Graceland and achieved immortality.

Actually, that immortality morphed into a kind of pop-culture ignominy: The erstwhile Adonis with a guitar, gone fat and stupid on fried banana sandwiches and prescription painkillers, then squeezed like sausage into a sequined jumpsuit and shoved out onto a stage at the International Hotel (now the Hilton) in Las Vegas in an opiated stupor: “Well. Well well well well well. Well well well. Lemme have a drink of water …”

But where I come from, we worshiped The King, and we still do. And not just the electrifying Sun sides and the first vivid records he cut for RCA, but even some of the crummy tunes he cut for all those movies in the 1960s, songs with titles like “Rock a-Hula Baby” and “Do the Clam” and “Viva Las Vegas” and “Fort Lauderdale Chamber of Commerce” and “(There’s) No Room to Rhumba in a Sports Car.” And a few of us are old enough to recall that NBC special in the late fall of 1968, when The King came out onstage dressed neck to toe in black leather. “If you’re looking for trouble,” he growled, “you’ve come to the right place.” And he meant it.

Once this writer, in angst over a busted relationship or the looming draft and the Vietnam War or teenage life in general, tried to induce mental retardation in himself by watching as much of a three-day weekend marathon of Elvis movies on KTXL Channel 40. It worked to some degree, as anyone who’s ever sat all the way through Harum Scarum or Change of Habit can attest.

Which brings us to that fateful day in the late summer of 1977. I’d been at the dentist getting a root canal, and in preparation for that grim ordeal, I’d given myself a little pharmaceutical cushion. Nothing spectacular, mind you: four or five blue Valiums, a Percodan, a couple of Codienes, a few shots of Jim Beam and a joint of what passed for pretty good weed in the 1970s. Hell, I’d bet money The King would have done the same thing.

My new dentist was pretty cool; he let me come in an hour early and sit in a big chair with a mask that pumped my thobbing skull full of nitrous oxide that, along with all the other stuff I’d ingested, sent me tripping off to a really cool place. I think the girls in the office there felt sorry for me, because my previous dentist had been like that Laurence Olivier character in the Dustin Hoffman movie Marathon Man; he’d hung creepy clown paintings up all over his office that he’d painted himself, and he played Dixieland jazz records really really loud and he didn’t use nearly enough anesthetic; imagine your dentist leering at you as he presses the drill through your mouthmeat to your jawbone and you scream “Aaaaaargh! Nooooo! The pain! The pain!” as he cranks the knob on his stereo and snaps his stubby fingers and sez: “Man, that Firehouse Five + Two is a moving outfit, baby!”

So in my nitrous haze, I heard something about “Elvis” and “drugs” jump out of a news report on the radio, but I was so far into the ozone that it really didn’t register.

I’d forgotten that I had to go to work, which my then-girlfriend reminded me when I poured into the passenger seat of her car when she picked me up at the dentist’s office and mumbled, “Uh, get me home in time for Ultraman.” At the time, I was clerking at Tower Records in Stockton, California, and my shift was supposed to start at three, and I was a half-hour late. When I walked in the door, or stumbled as it were, the person behind the counter bluntly told me that I was on cash-register duty until six, then high-tailed it out the door.

I soon learned why. The store seemed a bit packed, and there was something strange going on. I focused my eyes on the people standing at the counter, and they all seemed like they had some form of Down’s Syndrome, and they were all tightly clutching Elvis records. “Love Me Tender” was playing softly in the background. I took a quick visual scan around the store, and everyone there seemed to be, well, mentally retarded, to be politically incorrect about it, and many of them were weeping rather loudly and disconsolately. I asked the guy in front of me, whose Elvis soundtrack to Clambake I was about to ring up, what the heck was going on.

“Elvis is dead!” he barked.

The following three days were a blur. We got cleaned out of Elvis records rather quickly, and I remember patiently explaining that just because a person dies, that doesn’t mean you can’t buy their records anymore; that most likely the RCA factory in Indianapolis was working around the clock to press new Elvis records to meet demand, because the Colonel was not about to miss out on this big-ass payday. At one point a couple of us took Victor Elvis, a serious fan who used to hang out in the store and demand that we pay homage to The King by playing nothing but Elvis, down to Dok Shoons, a local Armenian hot-dog joint, and we bought him a foot-long and talked with him. It was hard to console a fan whose love for The King ran that deeply. But we understood.

It was a month or so later that I knew that Victor was going to be OK. He came into the store wearing new white Angel’s Flights, and he insisted we hoist his five-foot, 250-pound frame up on the counter and that we put on the soundtrack to Saturday Night Fever and turn it up so he could disco down and show everybody his new moves.

Then came the years of Elvis as laughingstock. The King soon became the butt of jokes for every terminally unfunny, limp-dicked comic who ever shamed a stage at a Ramada Inn lounge trolling drunken fertilizer salesmen for cheap laughs, and his name was invoked by morning zoo morons on chain-operated radio stations across the country. “Lemme have ‘nutha sammich,” the fools would slur, too stupid to realize that it was a revolution started in Memphis by the very hepcat they ridiculed that made it possible for them to spout their inanities in the first place. Of course, being in radio, they were way too intellectually hampered to comprehend the irony.

Funny thing, but I still think about The King, even today. It’s pretty convenient to snark on him like he was some stupid hillbilly who got famous for no reason, but if you go back and watch old footage of Elvis, especially from his Sun Records days, you can figure out pretty quickly what all the hoopla was about. The man had the moment. He grabbed those bolts of lightning from Zeus on the mountain and hurled them at us lowly mortals down on the plain. He wasn’t some bullshit creation of a bunch of bored record-company flacks and radio weasels and marketing monkeys. No, Elvis was the real deal.

It’s easy in 2005 to forget that fact, because Elvis made a bunch of spectacularly crappy movies, then after a brief Indian summer comeback of Memphis-style secular gospel, he got fat and stoned and he fell off his potty upstairs at Graceland reading a book of Kama Sutra positions while trying to squeeze out an honest dump, which I’m told is hard for serious abusers of opiates.

Elvis died alone. Nevertheless, what was great about him still lives. Rest in peace, King.

@ @ @ @ @ @ @ @ @ @ @

At some point, I’ll resurrect a piece of fiction I wrote, a short story about Elvis firing the Colonel in 1955 and signing with Ahmet and Nesuhi Ertegun’s Atlantic Records instead of RCA Victor, and what happened when some really brilliant record men were steering his career. I hope you liked that little blast from the past. And I’ll have something else here later today, or this evening.

It is a pleasure writing for your enjoyment, let me tell you. Cheers! —Jackson Griffith

The suffering of poor little rich girls

Posted in Uncategorized by Jackson Griffith on 07/01/2010

No, I’m not being ironic.

Like a lot of people who have been reading stuff on the ‘net this past week, I’ve gotten sucked into the tragic story of Casey Johnson, the 30-year-old heiress to the Johnson & Johnson fortune whose lifeless body was found in her home in the Hollywood hills last Sunday. Apparently she’d been dead for a few days; her last “tweet” was on the preceding Tuesday, December 29 — the ceasing of which, at least in the context of narcissistic, hard-partying contemporary Hollywood, should have triggered a few alarm bells among people who cared about her. The operative word in the preceding sentence, of course, is “cared,” although sometimes a person’s behavior can alienate even the most caring of friends and family.

So Casey Johnson was found alone and very dead in the squalor of her house, where the electricity had been turned off and the pool was green with algae. Her Porsche Cayenne SUV had been repossessed. If filmmaker and writer Kenneth Anger was working on a sequel to his 1959 book Hollywood Babylon, her death and the life story that preceded it might have provided one of the more memorable chapters. And sometime later this year, a well-written account of her decline and fall most likely will appear in Vanity Fair, which in September 2006 chronicled an earlier feud she’d had with an aunt who she accused of stealing her boyfriend during a trip to Cambodia.

But by 2009, Johnson was a self-described lesbian. In early December, a few weeks before her demise, a quite stoned-looking Johnson had appeared in a video with “Tila Tequila” Nguyen, wherein Nguyen — a bisexual stripper turned pop-culture icon and entrepreneur who some astute observers have branded a “fame whore” — announced the pair’s “engagement.” While Nguyen’s troll-like visage and skanky presence are inescapable, at least to consumers of junk culture, Johnson was more of a head-scratcher: Who? You say her dad owns the New York Jets? Her family’s company made billions on Band-Aids and other consumer products?

But, as Suzanna Andrews’ Vanity Fair article described, Johnson was a member of of new generation of rich kids — Paris and Nicky Hilton, Courtenay Semel, Brandon Davis, the various Kardashian sisters and others — who prefer the fame and celebrity available to the possessors of massive wealth and entitlement over the quieter anonymity their preceding generations generally sought. These fast-track, celebrated-only-for-family-money so-called celebrities are able to take advantage of trashy entertainment media that circle the lagoons of Hollywood and New York like sharks with a voracious appetite for any programming chum to fill their 24-7 content holes, and there’s enough of a public dumbed down by a constant fusillade of entertainment-kairetsu swill that makes it easy for, oh, a Paris Hilton to go from hot-party attendee to household name virtually overnight.

But I digress.

Before Nguyen sunk her greedy little fake nails into Johnson, the latter already was in accelerated decline. In November she was arrested for grand theft in Los Angeles, accused of stealing jewelry, clothing, shoes, underwear and 600 pages of a legal document from the residence of supermodel Jasmine Lennard, leaving a used vibrator in Lennard’s bed and a wet towel on the floor — a fair exchange, some might think. Apparently Lennard, who by her description was a concerned someone trying to help the troubled Johnson make it back to rehab or otherwise get help, is a friend of Courtenay Semel, the putatively not-so-nice heiress whose father once co-ran Warner Bros. Pictures before assuming the CEO reins at Yahoo!; Semel and Johnson were once a couple with, by some accounts, a less-than-sanguine relationship. And, to add another layer of the Byzantine, Semel and Nguyen were at one time a couple, too.

By her life’s end, Johnson’s family had either washed their hands of her, or else they were practicing the kind of tough love you put in motion with a family member who just won’t get well otherwise: She apparently was cut off from the gravy train, with the orphan Kazakhstani daughter she’d adopted taken away from her by family members concerned by her public unraveling. Rehabs hadn’t worked. And so poor little rich girl Casey Johnson, who had survived childhood-onset diabetes, and who had written a book about it with her parents in 1994, was left to die.

I write this from a laundromat, where I’m washing a couple of loads; I’ve got this thing about having clean clothes. There’s a large black woman here with her granddaughter, who looks to be around six or seven, and they’ve shlepped in several giant plastic trash bags filled with dirty clothes; the woman is very kindly coaching her granddaughter through the process of washing and drying. “We just drove here from New York,” she says. “I wanted to start our new life in California with clean stuff.”

There’s also a homeless man named Faygo, by his description an alcoholic who suffers from bipolar disorder, and his dog Cosmo, an Australian shepherd mix that is barely out of the puppy stage; Faygo eats a prepared dish he bought and microwaved at the bodega next door before folding his now-clean clothes and placing them into a duffel bag. When he doesn’t have a couch to crash on, he sleeps on the street — “in alleys, wherever” — with Cosmo keeping watch while he dozes. Having a dog for a companion while living on the streets apparently is a good thing, or at least it’s highly practical.

All of us in this urban laundromat are poor folks; none of us look like we’ve got trust funds to tap into when times get lean. The good thing is that, as the cliche goes, being poor builds character. What I think that means is that when you’re forced to endure the hardships of economic drought, you’re less likely to do stupid things with your money once the gravy starts flowing again, and you’ll always have that memory of wanting, not to mention a heightened sensitivity toward others who currently are enduring the vicissitudes of misfortune.

That’s a gift that the Casey Johnsons of this world never will have. But that doesn’t make them any less human than you or I. So when I stated at the beginning that I wasn’t being ironic, I meant that. All of us suffer, in different ways. Everyone is born and then progresses toward death, and we arrive there after whatever journey toward that end we choose, or is chosen for us. People born with all the advantages to life, who always have cash at their disposal to throw at their problems, still grapple with the emptiness of existence, and still experience pain for which money is no anodyne.

And while it’s easy to tut-tut the death of someone so privileged who floundered on the dock of life like a fish out of water, it’s probably a little harder to muster compassion for struggles that some of us find laughable. But that’s the appropriate thing to do; wealthy, entitled people have beautiful and radiant inner Buddhas just like you or I do. Even Paris Hilton and Dick Cheney have Buddha natures.

Of course, you think I’m kidding. I’m not. —Jackson Griffith