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Are You a Serious Comic Book Reader?!

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If you get a chance, please check out the new comics blog Are You a Serious Comic Book Reader?, written by myself and five of my friends. Expect shorter, more frequent posts–at least a few every day–but the same general attitude and critical eye. We’re kicking things off with a feature called the “Better Than List”, swiped from Armond White’s year-end movie wrap-ups but instead, we’re taking a close look at the comics canon and shitting on the ones that don’t really deserve the hype.

Written by Brandon

September 10th, 2008 at 8:25 am

Posted in Comics, links

Leaf: A Twisty Story of a Baltimore Record

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The best record store in Baltimore, True Vine sends out a weekly sometimes more than weekly e-mail “digest” that lists all the great new releases and new, old LPs they got in and is often, accompanied by some engaging and exciting descriptions or anecdotes about those LPs, from co-owner Ian Nagoski. In the latest digest, he wrote about the discovery of a break from an obscure Baltimore artist and how it went from some weird record in his store to just recently showing up on a Breaks compilation. It’s an interesting and affecting read and because I don’t think its available to anybody not on their digest, I thought I’d copy and paste it here. If you are or know Mr. Nagoski and would like it removed, please contact me and I will do so. Oh yeah, just for the sake of clarity- when he mentions “The Golden West”, he means this restaurant a few stores down from True Vine.

If you’re ever in Baltimore or the area, I’d highly suggest checking out the store.-brandon

‘LEAF: A Twisty Story of a Baltimore Record’ by Ian Nagoski of True Vine

On a sweltering afternoon two summers back, a guy – white, about 50, with several gaudy rings and one ear superglued to an expensive cel – walked in with a box of records for sale. There were a dozen more boxes in his car, and I helped him load them into the shop while he told me that his uncle had died and this had been his collection. I flipped though them, found the stuff we could sell, and made an offer, based largely on the presence of a stack of local 45s that looked good. The man got his money, and I started sorting the stuff in the boxes. Most of it was shot – just in lousy shape -and a lot of it was junk, but the first thing I noticed was that the earliest stuff was hard rock, dating to the early 70s and the last of it was pop-r&b piffle from the mid-90s. No way this was the collection of an older family member of Mr. Fancy Cel. Whoever owned this stuff was about 15 in about 1972, making him not yet 50 years old in 2006 – about the Verizonmeister’s same age. But it wasn’t HIS collection, since he didn’t watch me go through it. Everyone who sells their entire life’s record collection wants to see what the Record Store Guy pulls out of the boxes. Even if the decision has been made to sell everything, it still matters whether the collector’s taste is being affirmed by the buyer. This is always always always true. This guy’s body language gave away that he probably didn’t know or care what was in the boxes. So, it registered that I had been lied to, but whaddaya-whaddaya. People have millions of reasons for lying to strangers. You think I’m the monk in Rashomon, agonizing over the morality of mankind? Nope. I buy records, and I sell records, plain and simple, and I just notice when things are weird, and I file it aways for future reference.

One wierd thing about the collection was the profound predominance of two personalities: George Clinton and John Lennon. Over and over, the visionaries of P-Funk and the Fab Four looked out from the stacks. Whoever had collected these things worshiped those two to a discomforting level for an adult. But again, healthy or not, wacky hero-worship is just part of the job in the record biz. So, with the first level of sorting done, I got to the good part of any big buy: listening to the stuff I didn’t recognize. And in this case, it was a couple local 45s by a band called Leaf. Right off the bat, it’s a good name for a band, cause it’s clearly the name of a band that smokes weed, right? And aesthetics aside, just in terms of sheer market-demand, stoned records are salable records, because anything “psyche” is in demand, because serious record-heads are, generally speaking, serious doobie monsters, or at least guy with a lot nostalgia for their days under the old smoke tree.

So, in one hand I had a stack of about twenty copies of one 7″ by Leaf and in the other hand, I had half a dozen of another of their releases plus a 1/4″ mastertape reel with their name scrawled on it. Clearly, I was dealing with the collection of one of the band members. (Musicians always have odd and interesting record collections.) The title that was only the half-dozen copies strong was a four-song EP, released as a Christmas record in 1982 here in Baltimore and dedicated to John Lennon, according to its title. The music was goofy power-pop, notable only for an out-of-nowhere lyric instructing the listener to “throw your tits up and down” during one track. (Whut thuh?) The other record, however, issued earlier the same year felt immeadiately like something special. Each copy was sealed across to the top of the white paper sleeve with one sticker and had another sticker on the front, orange with a picture of a cleaver in a slab of meat that said “PRIME CUTS,” clearly taken from the meat section of a supermarket. Inside, there was a xeroxed sheet printed with info in an awkward/awesome combination of type-writer and handwriting. Side A was labeled “Funk” (good sign!) and was titled “Food Stamps” (‘nother good sign!) I put the needle on it and smiled at the first sound of a wah-wah guitar comping. The recording was a crude basement affair, but the damn thing swung hard like too-fast Go-Go with some seriously funky in-the-pocket drums. The singing was inept, but the vibe was fun and loose. After a harmonica solo that sounded like it must have been performed after the player had first picked the instrument up about two weeks earlier, all of the instruments dropped out except for that funky drummer. This, in record parlance is what they call an “open break,” and on a scarce, locally-produced independent record, for hip-hop heads, producers and diggers, it is pay dirt for hundreds of hours of listening. Before the track was over, my tounge was hanging out as I starting hitting all the big web sites for rare records and drum breaks looking for a trace of “Food Stamps.” And I got nada. Nothing. So, then I flip the record to the side labeled “Rock” and lo-and-behold, it started with another giant, heavy open, mid-tempo drum break before decending into some oozing fuzz-guitar riffing nearly worthy of Jungle Rot-era George Brigman and what one friend described as “glazed, sub-Ozzy basement vocals.” A closer look at the credits showed that both songs were penned by a certain Billy Senger and that he played all the instruments except for the drums, which were played by Joe Senger – Billy’s brother, I guessed. I kept listening to both sides and started to really dig the good-times-in-the-basement party vibe – boys having fun, playing at being rock stars and cranking out some wicked-sounding stuff.

Within 20 minutes, I had called every psyche and funk 45 collector I knew and asked them what they knew about Leaf. Again, nothing. In a few hours, several collectors and arrived to hear it. Almost everyone agreed – it was the real thing, a monster. Several people called everyone THEY knew. But no one had heard of it, and no copy that anyone knew of had ever sold, so there was no established price – an unknown commodity. So, over the next few weeks, I started playing it for collectors and beat diggers, and I sold about a half-dozen copies for about the cost of a dinner at the Golden West or the cost of a new CD. A few months later, I started getting phone calls saying that those copies were already changing hands for a hundred bucks a throw. We consigned a couple copies to an ebayer who posted them with soundclips of the drum breaks and sold them for more than $100 each. Here’s one of them:

Around that time, we had a visit from Joe Vaccarino, the author a Baltimore Sounds, a beautiful, labor-of-love discography of local bands from the 50s to the early 80s. I asked him about the Leaf record, of course, and since he didn’t know it, offered him the mastertapes (which turned out to be for the inferior EP, rather than the killer “Food Stamps” single) as a gift for his archive and asked whether he wanted to buy copies of the records. He listened carefully to the records but left quietly without even taking the the tape. A month later, though, he emailed me and asked if I had seen that month’s issue of the free local music rag – Maryland Musician or something, I forget the name. I hadn’t. He said there was a letter to the editor from the Leaf’s drummer, saying that his brother had recently died and that his landlord had absconded with his posessions, including the only tapes of their old band, and would anyone with information on the whereabouts of documents of the band please contact him. So, I sent Billy Senger an email and said I had a master reel and copies of the two 7″s, and he was welcome to them. He wrote back, very gratefully, and said that he’d be in Baltimore in a couple weeks and he’d meet me at the shop then.

Sure enough, a two weeks later Joe Senger and his sister arrived mid-afternoon in business clothes. They had come to Baltimore for a court date in an attempt to sue Billy’s landlord for theft of Billy’s possessions. They’d lost the case. I gave Joe a copy of each of the 7″s and the mastertape, and in exchange he told me a little about his brother, the author of the records. Billy had worked for years at the Mondawmin branch of Bernie Schwartz’s 25-year record shop/institution Music Liberated. Over the course of the 90s, he lived down by the Enoch Pratt and kept getting himself into trouble while he dealt – and failed to deal – with some serious mental health problems and pretty well alienated everyone in the family with cockamamie middle-of-the-night calls to bail him out of some bullshit or other. So, when he finally succumbed to his demons, his family didn’t hear about it for some time afterward, in which time the landlord – appearantly Mr. Celphone – had grabbed Billy’s earthly posessions and started selling them off, partially to recoup backrent I would guess, and partially cause the landlord was a louse. Joe lives in Florida and continues to play drums and plans to reissue what he’s been able to salvage of his old brother’s life’s work. Joe has a myspace page, which includes a tune called “Guardrails in Heaven,” which I take to be a tribute to Billy:

A bittersweet story, ending in resolution for the talented kid brother and the gratified record dealer who was still sitting on about ten copies of a record that he was selling periodically for $100 a throw. Until last week, when I got a call from a well-known DJ and record dealer in England. He asked if I was still in touch with the fella from Leaf. I said I was, why did he ask? Because “Food Stamps” had been reissued on a breaks comp. Turns out the copies we ebayed had gone to a DJ named Mr. Thing who had included the “Funk” side on a comp called Strange Breaks & Mr. Thing. The first of two discs had a bunch of profoundly obscure tracks; the second disc was a continuous mix using the breaks from those same tracks. He said that Joe Senger ought to contact the label and collect his royalties on the release. “Gee, I feel really loyal to Joe Senger, but BBE has done a lot of great stuff, too. I hate to cause trouble for them,” I said. “No trouble,” he replied, “he writes to them, and they’ll have money for him. Simple as that.” So, I wrote to Joe, and he wrote to BBE, and he should be seing a check from Jolly Old England in the near future.

So, the music lives on. And we got in copies of the Strange Breaks 2CD set, now available for $17 – the cost of dinner at the Golden West – and it’s got a bunch of nice stuff on it. They did a great job cleaning up the sound of the Leaf record. Or, for $100 you can still buy a sealed copy of the real thing and get that shitty xerox insert and that “glazed sub-Ozzy” basement sound on the B-side.

Cyrus Alexander’s ‘Black Terminator’ Trailer
And while I’m pushing other people’s great shit. Producer Cyrus the Great, who I wrote about a bit on this entry Some Ol’ Terminator Shit, made a movie based on his song ‘Black Terminator’! Cyrus somehow found my entry and contacted me and told me that indeed, my dream of a cheap, blaxploitation-esque movie to match his song was already in the works! Here it is:

This just looks really, really incredible. I like how it’s funny, even hilarious at times (“270 with the coat”) but never winks at the audience too much. I’m very excited about the finished product of this…the camera work looks really good, there’s lots of quotables just in this trailer and the acting is the perfect for the project, and the music, which I’m assuming Cyrus made is fucking amazing, these warm, fuzzy synths and gurgles that emulate the original ‘Terminator’ score really well and kinda ups it because it more on some John Carpenter ‘Escape from New York’ shit…

Written by Brandon

February 27th, 2008 at 7:02 am

Graduation Is Really Good…

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-More on ‘Graduation’ next week. I’m going to do “Kanye West Week” because my previous week-long themes weren’t total disasters or anything…

-A New entry on Masta Ace for my Biographical Dictionary of Rap project/thingy. It’s written by DocZeus and it’s really great. He touches on Masta’s history, reinvention in the past decade, and briefly goes autobiographical, discussing when he “discovered” Masta Ace. Doc also added a “Songs You Should Have On Your iPod” section to his entry, which was a great idea and if anyone plans on contributing, feel free to do the same. I’ll probably go back and do it with my Beanie Sigel entry. If you haven’t been reading Doc’s blog Not a Blogger, you’re missing OUT.

-My conceptual Kanye posts didn’t really work out. It was supposed to be a joke or partially a joke. The way Kanye mentions so much about reactionary bloggers and how Kanye himself talks out of his ass and is honest to the point of it not even being honest anymore. I was sort of doing that but it ended up being about as successful and “deep” as ‘T.I vs. T.I.P’ (just kidding, still haven’t heard that album)…I don’t know, they can’t all be winners, alright? But next week, I’ll go all-out with ‘Graduation’, should be fun.

-I’ll be back with a real entry around 3am, Wed. Morning when I usually update. I go back to teaching English tomorrow so I should probably start preparing some sort of lesson or something…


-‘Caedom’ (from Beezer B’s ‘16 33 45 78′): Beezer posts about a bunch of records of authors reading from their own work. I’d rape my mother for that Hemingway one. The cover is great too.

-‘A Sunbeam in the Abyss’ (from Matt Soller Zeitz’s ‘House Next Door’): This is a really smart piece about Owen Wilson’s recent suicide attempt. I’m a big Wes Anderson fan, especially ‘Bottle Rocket’ (wrote an Undergraduate thesis on the movie as a matter of fact) and always find Owen Wilson entertaining and affecting. Seitz just really kind of “gets it” and is very respectful and smart.

Written by Brandon

September 4th, 2007 at 12:41 am

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Links & Lists

I’m in Roanoke, VA for the summer, beginning my Masters in ‘Screenwriting & Film Studies’ which is exciting but also annoying because seriously, the only thing I hate more than “hip-hop heads” are people into “Film” (sorry guys, but they are MOVIES). At least hip-hop heads have good taste, you know?

So yeah, I’m a little busy, so you get a fake post…

-‘Political Song for Paris Hilton’(from ‘Voguing to Danzing’)

“Also, we’ll need a rapper. Have you met Lil Wayne? Dude’s put out 125 mix tapes this year so far, never seems to sleep, and is apparently down for whatever. I know this because on a whim I sent the teen pop, zydeco, and bluegrass mixes of this song to his email addy – along with a zip file of Lightning Bolt’s Wonderful Rainbow – and a month later I got a freestyle tape from the guy where he’s freestyling about hobbits and unicorns and shit. I mean, he’s rhyming about buying coke from Shrek and hunting gnomes and Emerald City detainees testifying before Judge Wapner! Apparently our collabo – I Can’t Feel MySpace – has been downloaded 2,899 times, so even though you’ve yet to put your inimitable stamp on the track, it’s already blazin’ hot on the streets! Or Same thing.”

- ‘The Beauty of Sean Kingston’s ‘Beautiful Girls’(from ‘Excite the Feds’)

“Kingston gets involved in a relationship, goes to jail (OK, maybe that’s not so innocent) and then tries to work it out with the beauty. Of course, it doesn’t work and he’s “suicidal” over what she does to him – mentally, physically, etc. I’d like to think 99% of men were once at that point. Incarceration aside, the topic at hand is refreshingly blithe and universal. And just like Lil’ Mama’s excellent single “Lip Gloss,” Kingston uses no double entendres or blatant sexual euphemisms to appeal to an older crowd, making the song pure and that much more enjoyable.”

‘He Was Right, You Really Can’t Tell Him Nothing’(from ‘Until the Train Stops’)

“Kanye West is the most relevant rap artist in popular music today. Well, Timothy Mosley might argue otherwise, but he transcended rap—i.e. got sick of it—a long time ago. Then again, I’m sure ‘Ye would be disillusioned with rap too if he was surrounded by rappers the likes of Magoo and Sebastien (familial ties or not). But forget Curtis “Interscope” Jackson, and forget President Carter. Definitely forget Weezy F. Baby (please say the Baby!), who for all his recent MF Doom-meets-French surrealism-meets-southern-fried-rap verses has yet to make a meaningful dent outside of rap (though this could well change with Tha Carter III). Kanye is the one working with pop artists—and making good music with them—and is probably the only rapper under the lens of the mainstream who can honestly claim to be making important music. So Kanye West Singles are important events, and lend themselves to be endlessly critiqued. Because it’s not just the forthcoming Graduation that’s riding on the success of his singles—hip-hop is too.”

‘Astounding New Theory On Why Rap Sales are Sinking’(by Sacha Orenstein, from ‘Oh Word’)

“But I have a radical new theory. Something that’s going to crack this case wiiiiide open. This is something the industry has never even contemplated before. It’s proof that rap can be fixed if they listen. But what I’m going to say now will rock music to its very core…All current rappers are douchebags.”

‘Puritan Blister #27′(by William Bowers from

“A guy in Cosby sweaters with an appalling toupee, who talked constantly of Elvis’ singularity, had lent me his vinyl copies of Abbey Road and Let It Be, which I replayed and replayed, and which spun themselves in my brain while I did chores or rode to the corner store for bubble gum cigarettes on my thin, banana-shaped skateboard. After my mom broke up with him, he came by for the albums with a dour expression, refusing to enter, and making me pass him the records through the cracked screen door.”

Dunno if this is interesting to anybody but one of the hardest things about moving for only six weeks, was choosing which records to bring. I tried to make the rule “bring only 25% of your collection” but I ended up, somehow, bringing less than that. Anyways, I thought it was interesting to somebody, somewhere. I know I love lists no matter how boring or banal…

-Pete Rock – Petestrumentals
-Field Mob – So What Single
-Raekwon – Only Built 4 Cuban Linx
-J Dilla – The Shining Instrumentals
-Eric B & Rakim – Paid In Full
-dead prez – R.B.G
-Death Comet Crew – This Is RipHop
-Common – Resurrection
-Del Shannon – Runaway
-Emerson, Lake, & Palmer – Tarkus
-Gastr Del Soul – Camofleur
-Geto Boys – Mind Playing Tricks On Me Single
-Rolling Stones – Sticky Fingers
-Arthur Russell – Calling Out of Context
-Arthur Russell – World of Echo
-Keith Fullerton Whitman – Schoener Flussengel
-Modern Jazz Quartet – The Sheriff
-Marty Robbins – Gunfighter Ballads & Trail Songs
-Outkast – Elevators Single
-Nice & Smooth – Sometimes I Rhyme Slow Single
-Mount Eerie – With Wolves/In the World Single
-New Order – Substance
-Charlie Parker – Bird Is Free
-Camel – Rain Dances
-David Bowie – Heroes
-Gene Pitney – Looking Through the Eyes of Love
-Charlie Parker – Archive of Folk Music: Jazz Series Vol. 2
-Talk Talk – It’s My Life
-Donny Hathaway – Extension of a Man
-Fennesz – Live in Japan
-Goblin – Dawn of the Dead OST
-Gustav Mahler – Symphony No. 1
-Sven Libaek – Inner Space Compilation
-Thelonious Monk – It’s Monk’s Time
-Christopher Cross – Self-Titled
-Beach Boys – Surf’s Up
-Camel – A Live Record
-Spinners – Mighty Love

Written by Brandon

June 18th, 2007 at 7:20 pm

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Blah Blah Blah Blah Blah.
Yeah…another lazy post…sorry, I’ve been kind of busy…
-Armond White’s Review of ‘Knocked-Up’: Speaking of good in-theory, I have a similar ambivalence to ‘The 40 Year Old Virgin’ and what I’ve read and seen of ‘Knocked-Up’. I WANT to like these movies because I like the idea of offensive comedies that also deal with real emotions but I feel like these movies always fall short…they also have a weird predilection towards kind of offensive black jokes (which according to the linked review, happens in ‘Knocked-Up’ as well). I’m aware of Apatow’s career and I used to love ‘Freaks & Geeks’ but now I sort of see it as the kind of show that is a) only good becuase it’s on television (that’s like being the tallest midget) and b) makes its viewers feel smart. Anyways, Armond White’s review highlights a lot of my conflicts with these movies. Also, his unfair, curmudgeonly, asshole writing style is something I’ve no doubt, stolen a lot from…

-‘Excite the Feds: Wes, who commented on the Lil Wayne entry and works harder for his college newspaper than any one else EVER, started a blog. He’s got a good entry on Lil Wayne that acts as a kind of contrast to mine. Check it out.

-The Kanye ‘Can’t Tell Me Nothing’ Mixtape has got me excited as balls. Seriously. I take just about everything back that I said here and here. I’m going to have a review of it for Monday.

-Besides the Kanye mixtape, the only new thing I’ve been listening to is ‘Cendre’, a collaboration between electronic musician Christian Fennesz and composer Ryuichi Sakamoto. It’s basically Fennesz playing shards of electronic noise and buzz underneath Sakamoto’s super-clean piano playing. A lot of douchebags are worried about it because it sounds too “new age” and of course, that’s not very cool. The reality is, if you love this glitchy, farty-sounding, pleasant electronic music then you’d be full of shit to not like some (SOME) new age-ish type stuff. Fucking hypocrites. I couldn’t give two shits about Wilco anymore but it’s similar to people complaining that the new one sounds too close to the The Eagles. What’s wrong with that? Does everything have to be cool or avant-garde? Fuck everybody.

It also is hardly new-age music because it isn’t designed to make you relax. It’s really weird, even scary at times. Sakamoto plays some Three-Six Mafia-esque horror movie chords and when you put Fennesz’s bubbling menace of electronics underneath it…there aren’t a lot of good vibes. I think this was the intention of the album: make scary new-age music. Everything about it seems designed to offset one’s ears. Sakamoto’s piano is mixed way too high and Fennesz’s noise too low, so your ears are always bouncing back and forth, trying to hear one or drown-out the other and it really kinda fucks you up.

The only actual complaint about ‘Cendre’ is, it doesn’t make me want to gobble painkillers like sweet tarts and totally bliss-out like the other Fennesz releases. However, it is good for driving or walking, especially around 8:30-8:50 here in Forest Hill, Maryland, when the sun is setting and it gets grey-blue-orange out; what my friend Jesse called ‘Maryland Vice’…

Written by Brandon

June 1st, 2007 at 3:59 pm