Iceland

Subject #22: Penney Balmes

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Filmed December 22, 2007
11:11 Teahouse
Atlanta, Georgia

Penney Balmes is the owner/operator of 11:11 Teahouse, a teahouse/venue in Atlanta, Georgia. Before I arrived at 11:11, I suspected that this "teahouse," like many so-called "teahouses," would really be a generic coffeeshop in a hippieish, new-age disguise. I am happy to report that America's ubiquitous bourgeois coffee culture has not polluted 11:11, which, is it turns out, is truly tea-focused. I spent four hours at 11:11 on December 22, 2007 and, if this Teahouse does furtively play host to lattes, Americanos, cappuccinos, or cups of Joe, I did not see them. There wasn't even a coffeemaker!

I suspect Balmes' influence has prevented 11:11 from deteriorating into a generic urban coffee-klatch where self-employed individuals in search of caffeine fixes and wireless connections bustle about wielding Macintosh laptops and mugs emblazoned with pseudo anti-capitalist slogans like "Fuck Work." A trained herbalist, Balmes moved from the Northwest to Atlanta to bring the benefits of camellia sinesis, a.k.a. tea, to ATL's stressed-out citizens, most of whom are employed by a corporation that peddles super-caffeinated high-fructose corn syrup sludge (Coca-Cola) or a corporation that invented the 24-7 news cycle with the aid of severe computer graphics (CNN). Perhaps due to the influence of her own herbal recipes, Balmes seemed particularly un-stressed when I filmed her in the Teahouse's "green room" next to a stack of guitar amps.

Subject #21: John Iskander

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Filmed December 20, 2007
City Tavern
Dallas, Texas

John Iskander is a promoter in Dallas, Texas. I played a "Christmas show" John Iskander organized with Attractive and Popular, a hardworking band from Hot Springs who claimed to have been on tour for five months straight, and Oklahoma's own El Paso Hot Button, one of the best one-man bands I have ever seen. 'Twas the season to be jolly, and all made merry on December 20, 2007 in downtown Dallas, rockin' a Christmas party a few football fields away from Dealey Plaza which, as you may be aware, distinguished itself amongst plazas by playing host to John F. Kennedy's assassination on November 22, 1963.

Of the 22 video portraits I have filmed, I find John Iskander's most fascinating. I did not know John Iskander before playing in Dallas and, though I consider him an able promoter and will return to Dallas if he will have me back, did not speak to him much while in Dallas. Since I left Dallas, we have had no contact. Yet, John Iskander makes for a hell of a portrait subject. Before we began filming, he was in a fine mood. Once I turned the camera on, he suddenly seemed infuriated. For the entire length of my three-minute portrait, he stayed infuriated. Then, once I turned the camera off, he was in a fine mood again. Was his anger real, or some kind of remarkable put-on? Because I do not know John Iskander, I cannot say. However, this uncertainty about John Iskander's "true self" versus the "John Iskander" he presents to the camera is the stuff of good art.

Subject #20: Soundperson

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Filmed December 19, 2007
Emo's
Austin, Texas

In our society, recorded sound is everywhere. Frequencies low, middle, and high are routinely emitted by televisions, radios, computers, CD players, cell phones, cars, subways, airplanes, department stores, roller coasters, and, I suspect, the Hubble telescope. However, recorded sound is, by definition, artificial. Every time we hear a sound that is not natural—"natural" as in the delighted coo of a contented baby or the threatening caw of a hungry bird of prey—a technician recorded, manipulated, and reproduced that artificial sound. This is why soundpersons (or, if you prefer, audio engineers) are not only an important part of the music industry, but human civilization.

Though I cannot be sure, I estimate that I have played over 1000 shows in my lifetime. A soundperson was not only present at, but was a vital part of an overwhelming majority of these performances. For example, the soundperson portrayed above mixed my band at Emo's, Austin's premier indie-rock venue, on December 19, 2007. However, due to circumstances beyond my control (a poor memory, a lost reporter's notebook, and depression related to the declining dollar), I have forgotten his name. Though I have been remiss in securing this soundperson's personal details, I offer this video portrait in celebration of him and soundpersons living and dead around the globe.

Subject #19: Matthew Fleeger

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Filmed December 18, 2007
Limelight
San Antonio, Texas

Matthew Fleeger is the operations manager of KRTU 91.7 FM in San Antonio, Texas. When Matthew contacted me about playing in San Antonio, I was enthusiastic. I had "guerrilla gigged" in that city one night in the late 1990's—that is, shown up at a concert unannounced and jumped the bill—and felt that this miserable experience didn't appropriately represent the home of the Alamo.

Fortunately, my scheduled show at the Limelight, San Antonio's premier indie-rock venue, was more successful then the unscheduled show I had played in San Antonio ten years before. I chatted with Matthew and his wife—who, like me, is from suburban Philadelphia—about suburban Philadelphia high school sports. Later, I filmed Matthew below an enterprising painter's "Great Dictators" series. Joseph Stalin's mouth is visible in my video portrait.

Subject #18: Colour Revolt

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Filmed December 16, 2007
Modified Arts
Phoenix, Arizona

Colour Revolt (Jesse Coppenbarger, Jimmy Cajoleas, Len Clark, Sean Kirkpatrick, and Patrick Addison) is a five piece rock-and-roll band from Oxford, Mississippi. Though I have played in Mississippi, I had never played with or met a band from Mississippi until I met Colour Revolt. For this reason—and because they regaled me with descriptions of "juke joints" where one can still see North Mississippi bluespersons perform—I was happy to share a bill with these five strapping young lads.

When Colour Revolt gathered in front of a white wall at Modified Arts for their video portrait, its members first seemed unduly serious—that is, they looked a band trying too hard to look like a band. Happily, this façade of seriousness devolved as they engaged in youthful hijinks for my camera. The tall guy in the back looked consistently uncomfortable, though.

Subject #17: Steven Eye

 

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Filmed December 15, 2007
Solar Culture Gallery
Tucson, Arizona

Steven Eye is a sculptor and the Oz-like figure behind Solar Culture Gallery, Tucson's premier all-ages arts/performance space. Eye is known both for his intricate metalwork and inclination to cook for musicians that play at his venue—an inclination all-too-rare amongst American concert-hall promoters. Eye usually makes delicious burritos or a delectable sort of Tex-Mex casserole. His meals are not to be missed.

When I first heard of Steven Eye, I assumed he had been born in the Southwest, raised in the Southwest and, as a Southwesterner, naturally evolved into a "Southwestern art figure." I was surprised and delighted to learn that Eye and I are from the same Philadelphia suburb and, unless I am mistaken, he grew up around the block from my parents. Thus, I find conversation with Eye uncanny in the Freudian sense (i.e., eerily foreign and familiar)—though we might discuss punk, the Tucson scene, or aesthetics, Steven Eye has the same accent and general demeanor as Steve Wolfson, my motorcycle-riding uncle.

Subject #16: Dahlia Schweitzer

 

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Filmed December 15, 2007
at her Los Angeles apartment
Los Angeles, Calif.

Dahlia Schweitzer is a musician, academic, and author of erotica. She has lived in Washington, D.C., Connecticut (where I met her at our liberal arts university in 1994), New York, Berlin, and, currently, in Los Angeles. I've slept on the floors of Dahlia's apartments in the latter two international capitals repeatedly while on tour. Last month, I stayed at her apartment for three days while playing shows in Southern California, one of which was cancelled because the entire staff of the venue "caught bronchitis."

Dahlia has a dog named Dylan. Dylan, who looks like a miniature golden retriever, is very friendly to all visitors and lies down on the floor to have his stomach rubbed. However, after fifteen minutes, he retreats to Dahlia's bedroom, where he lurks underneath her bed for hours on end, seemingly depressed. Such Greta Garbo-like behavior is not typical for a canine.

Subject #15: Jasmine Watson

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Filmed December 14, 2007
The Smell
Los Angeles, Calif.

Jasmine Watson is a Whole Foods employee and a showgoer/promoter at the Smell, an all-ages venue in downtown Los Angeles. Though she recently left her hometown of San Pedro for the much colder city of San Francisco, she found time to attend four concerts I played this month in California, and, pre-performance, shared entertaining Whole Foods insider gossip. I filmed her under acceptable lighting conditions against a brick wall.

During Jasmine's portrait, I was distracted by the Smell's proximity to the Greyhound Bus Station in downtown Los Angeles. As readers of Philip Carlo's The Night Stalker will remember, serial killer Richard Ramirez used motels around the Los Angeles Greyhound Station as a base of operations for speed-fueled murder sprees from 1984-1985. Ramirez, now incarcerated on California's Death Row, once shared a cellblock with celebrity paparazzi-puncher Sean Penn.

Subject #14: Christina Zamora

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Filmed December 12, 2007
Cheers
Moreno Valley, Calif.

Christina Zamora is a concert promoter and record store operator in San Bernardino, California. When I heard Christina booked shows at a venue called "Cheers" nestled near an In and Out fast-food restaurant in a strip mall, I was initially skeptical the prospect of performing at a place where, as the song says, "everyone knows your name."

"Is there a myspace or a website for cheers [sic]?" I emailed Christina. "I googled it and found a scary sports bar."

"Hahahahaaa [sic]," Christina replied electronically. "...its a dive bar...not scary at all...we do shows there all the time."

Trusting Christina's judgment, I performed at Cheers on Wednesday, December 12, 2007. Few San Bernardino citizens attended, but those that did proved friendly and interested in my aesthetics. Though light levels were low, I filmed Christina at the back of Cheers while she consumed an unidentified liquid.

Subject #13: Joshua Boyden

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Filmed December 11, 2007
XOXO Bar
Reno, NV

Joshua Boyden is part-owner of and booker for the XOXO Bar in Reno, a.k.a. "the Biggest Little City in the World." Though I am a graduate of an American public high school, no teacher ever explained that Reno was so close to San Francisco. Who knew that this gambling and ski boomtown was located less than four hours from the Golden Gate Bridge, and can boast of the biggest little punk scene on in Nevada? Should friendly music enthusiasts continue showing up at XOXO—a most decidedly un-diveish dive bar—the venue will remain a viable detour on any band's West Coast routing.

After my show at XOXO, I enjoyed some hours of gambling at Peppermill Casino, Reno's premier cardroom. Later, a cab driver informed me that global warming had shortened Reno's ski season. "You can buy a lift ticket for the season," the driver explained, "but they only sell them in September. Who wants to buy a lift ticket in September when air temperatures so high that the season doesn't start until December?" Though I once viewed An Inconvenient Truth, a popular film about our planet starring Nobel Peace Prize-winning ex-Vice President Al Gore, I had to admit that I was unaware of climate change's effect on the length Reno's ski season.

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