Thursday, September 29, 2005

Welcome to the Bay Area :) we'll be needing that kidney

I just can't get over . Literally, I can't get over how much my beloved hometown has changed since the late 70's. The Bay Area is now the number one destination of people who want to live well, eat the best food apart from France and raise their kids with diversity. These transplants know how important Berkeley and Oakland's liberal/leftist legacy is in the scheme of an rapidly narrowing US political climate. They also know that the East bay has the best weather almost anywhere in the world. They'll commute and work, work, work to bring home Silicon Valley money. They've driven rents up so artists like myself are backed up against the wall.
Chris Thompson of East bay Express said it best:
But let's face it no one has fetishized middlebrow fine living -- browsing the aisles at Restoration Hardware, choosing from among a hundred types of microbrew, knowing which plantation grew your chocolate bar, for God's sake -- more than the Bohos and foodies of the Bay Area. No one hikes, eats, drinks, reads, or decorates better than us. We were country -- wine country, that is -- back when country wasn't cool.
Oddly enough, our obsession with Bobo staples such as gourmet coffee and slow food grew out of a '70s antimaterialist impulse, a desire to drop out of the rat race and enjoy simpler pleasures such as organic gardening or backpacking in Mongolia. Then a funny thing happened. So many people developed a taste for these off-the-grid pastimes that consumer capitalism made a fortune commodifying them and turning them into vast industries. That took some of the fun out of fun. Lonely Planet started off as two Australian mods following the Hippie Trail through Central Asia, and now it's a major player in the cutthroat world of travel publishing. Even now, a Starbucks is about to open in your guest bedroom. And have you tried shopping at the Berkeley Bowl lately? Nothing will spike your blood pressure faster, but there once was a time there when you didn't have to shiv someone grabbing for your heirloom tomato.

Then something else happened: sticker shock. Partly because we succeeded so fabulously at living well, the Bay Area became a global destination and housing prices shot through the roof. Suddenly, the Bobos had to work extra hard. From lawyers to sales associates to coders, the Bay Area middle class works its ass off. Especially in Silicon Valley, especially if they want that Maybeck home in the hills. The bohemian generation that so valued leisure and creativity, for whom Rolling Stone was the house organ of sex, drugs, and rock 'n' roll, became the generation that created the balls-to-the-wall, sleep-is-for-the-weak work ethic celebrated in Wired every month. They're spending so much time coding and commuting to afford their Bobo lifestyles that they've lost the time with which to enjoy it. "There have always been people that worked deathmarch hours," says Pauline Borsook, who was present at the beginning of the foodie craze, wrote for Wired in the '90s and is the author of Cyberselfish, a critique of the Silicon Valley ethos. "It didn't become the model of how life ought to be until the '90s, when there was a celebration of all that. ... Wired tapped into some of that thinking, but they heroized it in a way no one had ever done before."

No one better exemplifies this development than ex-Merry Prankster, Whole Earth Catalogue publisher, and tech entrepreneur Stewart Brand. After hanging out with Native Americans in Oregon and dropping acid with Ken Kesey, Brand remade himself into the tech ur-guru, organizing the seminal 1984 Hacker's Conference, cofounding The Well, and consulting for industry about how to embrace the future. According to Brand, the endless hours Silicon Valley employees put in these days are actually a blessing in disguise. "I think it's probably a sign that work has become more interesting since the '70s," he says. "Writing software, coding is absolutely gripping. You get into a flow state. ... Starting businesses is absolutely exhausting and totally creative, whereas you get to be creative maybe once a month working for somebody else."
Back to SuperAmanda:
This is all making me very sad beacuse I'm killing myself to make it down here and have not been able to afford a voice lesson for ages. I've become addicted to these instant pleasures because I refuse to become an artist that never has anything fun or beautiful to enjoy after a hard day's work. plus I have massive astonishing nostalgia for the bay Area of my childhood and the real hippies and parents that made it such a great place to be a little kid. There was this guy on Telegraph who thought he was a clock and a there were always people singing in the streets. I guess I'm starting to sound like Sean Penn lauding Iraq but please bear with me...this is my childhood I'm letting go of, okay?

Saturday, September 24, 2005

Open windows/Pete and Dickens

In honor of the 'windows of my mind' being unlatched today , I just opened my real bedroom window and as soon as I did, some bloke, who was probably just noticing movement, had to look directly in as he was taking the rubbish out. I had to then slam the blinds back together in a flurry of haughty indignity, my plunging black house dress swishing about as it accidentally cascaded of my shoulders...
Who needs the internet, when SuperAmanda lives nearby?
But I need my window open as today has been fun and I want no stuffiness.

With the first installment of Pete's novella now up, Who fans everywhere can finally look upon their musical hero they've held so dear and know he is also a great writer, on par with Updike and Irving, Bennett or Sedaris. The Lifehouse concept is now fully illuminated and as clear as day. My friend who is, among many things, a Stanford educated Joyce scholar, found the first installment of The Boy Who Heard Music to be bleak but agreed with me that Pete Townshend is worthy heir to the writing style of Charles Dickens.
Like Sophia Loren being told by Noel Coward that she should have been sculpted with chocolate truffles, a higher compliment could not be paid. Like Dickens there is that savage bitterness towards the hellishness of industry that shackles the poor in Pete's writing. Pete is thinking of the artist though, where do they stand now? Charles Shapiro wrote in an afterword to Hard Times: "...while the schoolroom is to dehumanize its little scholars, the circus,all fancy and loves, gives humanity back. It is in the journey between the two worlds that we have presented the grown-up actuality of an industrial town whose frightening,hard, pragmatic values, almost parody utlilitarianism, are being transmitted-undistilled-to the children."

So now what to do with this knowledge? Remember that is is fiction? Or should I say 'pretend' it's fiction? I just like reading what Pete has to say and feeling like I'm back in England for now. It's one place I can always return to. Saturday's alright for writing.

Thursday, September 22, 2005

Being a kind person

I am always amazed when i see myself being a grump or walking about with resentment-I was one of the happiest , cheeriest folks around. I am now trying to be happy and have as little negativity as possible..ALL THE TIME! I'm calling it my 'new improved beauty treatment...'
(That's me with Boris who passed away at age 18 this past Feb. He made t to the end of the Chinese year of the Monkey. I miss him so much.)

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

Kicking The Habit

Well, I have not been to the gym for nearly a week and I've lost 5 pounds. Amazing but I think i have one of those bodies that swells when I work out, get's bigger and then gets smaller-where's the fun in that? Anyway I'm not going to worry about my body anymore, that is what men are for. Just kidding. That shot on the right is at my lowest adult weight and I look, for me , boyish. The left is me right now as I go back into Pilates school for the next semester. Internships and certifications in this method take a long time or else you just end up being a personal trainer. Pilates is the Harvard Law School degree equivalent of a certification in fitness. (photoshop by Justin K)

Monday, September 12, 2005

The Afternoon I Met The Spirit of Brian Jones: A Happy Ghost Story Part Four

There are two types of employees who work or have worked for famous people;those who sell others out incessantly and those who do not. The Tony Sanchezs and Geoffrey Giulianos of the world have their place in the used book store of life but that's not my scene. The only thing I'll elaborate on in working for a time in The Stone circle is that seeing all the Rolling Stones cds in one place , lined up in order was pretty damn cool. The average fan goes into records stores and sees some of the famous decca reissues, buys a few, lends a few, loses them, scratches them (in my case) and there they all were-even 'Sucking in The 70's.'
I also had my fever for cowbell cured as the very one that opens 'Honky Tonk Woman' was in my daily life, at least that's exactly what it sounded like, though I never asked.
If Brian Jones' spirit had played a practical joke on me by guiding me directly to The Stones camp it was a good natured, kindly one. And ultimately his memory and the Rolling Stones legacy takes on less of a big bad black voodoo daddy vibe with each year too (change is good) .As mocking skeptics fall silent , the truth is starting to shine a light.
With very notable exceptions the press always got it wrong and seemed to rarely listen to the fans or the music. The Rolling Stones were the first white pop culture figures to be unabashedlyPro Black America, and pro third world in some of the last hardcore days of Fascist colonialist Western Europe . Not to mention totally celebrating homosexuality with no excuses, long before it was safe, one can even argue that they are one of the straight allies that made it safe. They illuminated different sub- cultures for many kids in a way that Margaret Mead or even National Geographic never could.
Trapped in a redneck California town for a few years as a teenager, I was obsessive about The Stones, to the point of always mimicking Mick.
A classmate asked one day at recess
"Why are you always walking like a nigger?'
"I'm walking like Mick Jagger" I replied without flinching
In those Neo Con years I had tools with which to adapt and the Stones to throw. AE Hotchner completely missed this essential part of the Stones lagacy in his well written 'Blown Away.' After the usual gory Altamont opener and supposed death keil of the 60's spiel. Various voices attempt to explain the cryptic JFK like demise of Brian Jones .Ultimately Mick Jagger and collegues are labeled apolitcal and selfish iconoclasts. This has about as much truth as Ashlee Simpson covering 'Bitch'' in a Zepplin T-shirt (sorry for that image) or being touted as 'groundbreaker' for getting a makeover every year (somebody had to finally say it).
To state that the great rock stars never changed the world for the better is too miss the same thing that sadly the archticts of communism did;without color, without sex, without drama and comedy people are not able to be social and thus won't get together, feel good about life and get things done..
With the world now irrevocably illuminated by the internet the great musicians and artists pre-mtv are tuning out to be more of a remedy for societal ills than most politicians.
Fireman and entertainers are getting to the scenes of disasters and mass death before
most world leaders are these days.
I'm sure Mick Jagger will continue to be held to the most unfair standards by some journalists, as with Pete Townshend ,these are standards that are usually met and easily surpassed.
And what of Brian Jones and his Winnie the Pooh Wonderland? After everything I've read (and the things I've seen..) I sincerely feel that unless the Rolling Stones had been an all girl band and Brian a chick, that there was no clear way to do a good ol 1990's style crisis intervention. If Mick and Keith had not been two of modern histories most focused and dynamic performers perhaps but those two were and are on a mission. And the biggest lesson for any fan, especially an artist who wants acclaim, stay as focused as the Glimmer Twins and don't let anything get in the way except a good loyal accountant.
But Brian Jones will soon be the subject of a new Stones approved bio pic and famous once again. He may even have many more visitors to his forest palace in Southern England, maybe even a new crop of pretty girls. I still remain a wishy washy agnostic but I never will forget his spiritual presence that rosy English day in 1997. And while his death may always be unresloved like my own brother's that does not have to be the summation of one's entire life. Brian Jones and his amazing musical legacy, coming to a stadium near you can and does live on. In encouraging budding musicians to take up the dulcimer , in inspiring young buxom women to trespass on sprawling British estates and most importantly to add even more color and glitter to The Valley of The Rock Gods where a fans a fan and the children dance to the pipes of pan.

Amanda Casabianca September 2005

Sunday, September 11, 2005

The Afternoon I Met The Spirit of Brian Jones: A Happy Ghost Story Part Three

AA Milne's house at Pooh Corner had only changed hands twice when London financier Alistair Johns purchased it. An Italian couple had put the swimming pool in during the 1950's. As I write this John's and his wife are selling pieces (numbered and authenticated in a laminated certificate) of the pools 320 original blue tiles aka 'Brianstiles'. I frown upon this and I'm perplexed that anyone would want a piece of someone's tragic death and the energy surrounding it. (Trent Reznor owns the doors to Sharon Tate's house which were last in New Orleans, I wonder if they survived the flood...) Someone endured great pain and anguish- they are buying and selling that suffering and the immense pop culture maelstrom that encircles it. I seriously question these 'black magic Ebay finds.'
So while Alistair may be a salesman he is not a keen surveyor as he somehow missed me while looking directly at me. I waved my arms, I danced around...I realize now that Brian Jones' spirit had made it possible for me to blend seamlessly into the landscape-regardless of my height, bright blue jumper and lindy hop. I even started singing and no one heard me. His ghost looked out for me and was glad that I was paying a visit. I came with no crystals, joss sticks or black clothing. i had no selfish agenda.He seemed to communicate that he was here to stay as a specter squire. It was the place he had loved but had only enjoyed in mortal time for a short while. He had felt his bandmates struggle with their own demons and still keep going into the ages of the penisioners they used to take a piss out of. He laughs at them and misses them all to this day. Like one of those TV psychics 'I was getting' resigned, resolute and pliant expressions of energy. It was so sunny when I felt this spirit communicate to me. In my mind Brian Jones was happy and here to martydom, no tears.
At some point in my" rock god Vulcan mind meld" the sun went behind the clouds and I felt myself calmly being directed back to the main road through the bluebell wood. The wind picked up and the leaves were crunching at my feet, which is to be expected in the UK. To my left Mr.Johns was racing towards my partially hidden figure, his senses suddenly sharpened but it was all for naught as I was way ahead of him. I touched the main road and trotted briskly back to the bridge and my BnB.
That night I laid in bed terrified. Why was that stupid scary pool still there? It seemed so murky and fearsome... But then I remembered what Jim Morrison had written about Brian:

The gardener
The body, rampant, floating

Lucky stiff
what is this green pale stuff
You've made of
poke holes in the goddess
Will he stink
Carried heavenward
Thru the halls
of music
No chance
Requiem for a heavy
That smile
That porky satyr's
has leaped upward
into the loam

Brian Jones' spirit does not 'cry out' from the grave for justice he simply relaxes and watches the parade from the vantage of Grand Marshall, the pool can go screw.
The next day I found myself in front of the house with two fellow Yank girls I had met on the bridge throwing stix earlier that morning. I breifly mentioned Brian Jones but it was of no relevance to them. The house looked friendly (the pool, gratefully is not visible from the road.)
The owner of the BnB was one of the most oddly stoic chaps I have yet to meet in my travels. By my own admission of frivolity I had packed gobs of makeup, shoes and clothes into an enormous frame pack worn previously by a Christian missionary who'd gone through Africa with it. B and b owners will normally go out of there way to help out guests (especially if you are the sole lodger as I was) but the usual offer of a lift to the bus stop was not extended, in fact he seemed to relish my pained back when I departed.
I caught a coach to East Grinstead and then a train back to London. I would have to find work within the next few weeks as I was not traveling with a great deal of money. I rang up Danny and his partner Steve in New Cross, found a Youth Hostel in Earl's Court and pretty soon Brian Jones was just another cool adventure and few photos that none of my Australian bunkmates really cared for. My first job interview came around via an ad in TNT magazine which usually caters to young Aussies on the prowl for quick holiday jobs (this was pre-Craigslist).
I was unable to make out the directions from the class optional, sofy British accent and mistook 'Ladbroke Grove' for 'Lambeth.' One sixty dollar cab ride later I arrived about a half an hour late to find a instantly familiar face opening a big red door and great me with a big smile. Into the kitchenI strolled and there seated ,in all the Hyper-Dickensian glory you could fathom,the one entity who will easily be the heir to the legacy that is the Rolling Stones and the keeper of the embers once the fires cease to flame.
To be continued...

Saturday, September 10, 2005

The Afternoon I Met The Spirit of Brian Jones: A Happy Ghost Story Part Two

(to the left is AA.Milne and Christopher Robin and The House at pooh Corner aka Cotchford Farm that Brian lived in)When Brian Jones was on his way out of The Rolling Stones it was primarily because he was doing too many drugs. (No matter how many times one hears that it is still 'piss yourself with laughter funny' how many drugs DOES it take?Bloody hell!). The Rolling Stones, especially Mick Jagger and Keith Richards have been given an unfair or should I say incorrect rap about Brian's demise from the group and life. Being in a band is hard enough without one member out to lunch, granted Brian Jones was the soul of The Stones but it is also clear that he was displeased about how The Stones had progressed and that his massive originality and talent as a performer and explorer of third world sounds would be better served as a solo artist. It was also clear that he had an entire other life as an adventurous and occasionally abusive party animal..
As a kid , I felt bad reading John Entwistle's quote that he missed Keith Moon 'personally but not professionally.' I had to grow up to understand why Keith Moon and Brian Jones became constant detriments to their fellow bandmates and that only the most balanced, professionally educated person , standing far apart from the situation would be able to intervene and save them (though that in and of itself might not have worked). And in the 1960's was anyone balanced enough on these new roads being charted to see what was coming up? (Yes, Altamont was a major fuck up but if I was that age with my childhood friends in a band that had become superstars stuck in the middle of the 60's dropping Owsley Sunshine I'm sure I would have done the exact same thing The Stones did-or worse).
The members of Brian's band had no idea that Frank Thurogood , a forty something gofer, hired to mind Brian's home and business affairs post Stones would have been murderous. We may never know why Thurogood chose to become an oppressive, domineering and malingering presence at Cotchford Farm as he spent Brian's money and played nasty mind games with the already troubled young man. Many blame the class system others feel that Thurgood was instrinsically screwed up and jealous, deviously imploring Brian to pay out money for erroneous charges and 'home improvement' projects gone mismanaged because he could 'afford it.'
And no one really knows what actually happened in the swimming pool . Was it a game of 'dunk' that went awry or was it sheer rutting male energy that became deadly?
What is clear is that only till recently, when the internet shown a light in this dark place in rock n roll history, many attached to the situation were still very scared to discuss it. I'm positive that after it happened The Stones were terrified and wisely decided to 'let it go.' We think of that group as the impentratable force they are today but back when Brian Jones was killed they were almost as vulnerable to 'the mob' as anybody. Sadly, that is were the band may have beome stratified and cut off from their audience in a way The Who would never be. But that's why we love The Rolling Stones... aloof and jet set while still being dodgy. Despite all rumors, Mick and Keith were no real position to 'help Brian', they obviously had their own stuff to work on.
So, back to 'those in the black cloaks...' They were horses, beautiful prize winning staliions coming towards me in the sunshine at the back of the estate to greet me. The gardens and ornate garden sculptures adjacent to the house were now visible as I made my way to the green, green grass and lay down. And then I fought not to fall asleep. It was so peaceful and calm. Coming from America nothing is old , these fields had been worked for centurys upon century's and I was finally face down in them feeling totally welcome;like being a kid again. Whatever sorrid event had happened a few yards away, whatever young boy (Christopher Robin or Brian Jones) had felt that his father had been too cloying and selfish none of that mattered now. The positive energy of the place was too powerful and joyous .
The horses became a bit ansy and wanted to see me actually do something instead of lay about in rock star/Winnie The Pooh lala land. I had no sugar cubes for them it was perhaps better for me to move on. Brian Jones's presence was one hundred percent there with no wierdness. I suddenly felt like skipping about with happiness but as I did I looked directly over at the back of the house and saw the estate's owner (and supposedly ardent marksman) Alistair Johns looking directly at me....
To be continued.

The Afternoon I Met The Spirit of Brian Jones: A Happy Ghost Story Part One

I'm not going to tell you where it is. It's one of the most beautiful , least traveled parts of ancient English forest and I would like to see it stay that way. I had to search for days to get directions and a travel plan there so if I can do it you can too. My mom asked me before I left the States on my first journey to the UK in 1997 not to visit Cotchford Farm. That if I was going on even the slightest negative , scary rock dead rock star hunt that it would be disrespectful. Plus I had been having dreams of tall figures in dark cloaks coming out of the woods ala a bad Led Zepplin video . Mainly she was worried about me in a foreign country doing wacky things. "But mama thats where the fun is..." quoth the Boss.
I do not believe in ghosts and I really am a bit of an agnostic. My parents embraced many Eastern religions and at the same time gave me freedom of thought so I shirked the afterlife growing up despite knowing about the Tibetian Bardot and numerolgy etc etc. Don't get me wrong my mum's practicing of Zen Buddhism for nearly forty years is admirable, I just think many kids like to rebel.
And rebel I did. . The Bank Holiday weekend on the South Coast had seen me befriend Dan Hardie, a Gay skinhead, who took me to all the fun boy haunts in Brighton, Kent and Hove. We strolled at night under the promenade in near darkness when suddenly the sounds of Chuck Berry's 'No Particular Place To Go' was heard from a small cafe/dance spot where Teds and their gals danced into the late hours. The weekend was magical. Dan did not want me to leave for what sounded to him like a dodgy adventure but as I was already falling in love with him it was time to depart.
The veil of shadow and overcast weather descended once I arrived in Tunbridge Wells , the city nearest to where Brian Jones' estate lay.People were distant, I was given a nice room in a basement of a BnB with a door that did not lock quite right. With a rapist on the prowl in the nearby walk according to the daily papers I did not sleep well. HELLO magazines with updates on kids and folks connected ironically to The Stones, kept me company. By the next evening I was esconced in a B/B on the edge of the forest near Cotchford farm. The BnB was run by a married duo who had seen all four daughters become riding champions. Paddocks were everywhere and so were horses. Why was I here he asked "To see Pooh Stix Bridge and The Hundred Acre Wood and the house at Pooh Corner" I replied
I was told the latter was a 'private estate' and that 'the owner will probably shoot you if you trespass.' He said cheerfully.
I recalled this last bit months later. Nothing could stop me.
Why was it so important to me to see where Brian Jones died? The Rolling Stones had been the band of my puberty/early teenage years. The Beatles had been earlier and after The Stones would come the Who who remain the most important and influential artists in my life. I loved them all simultaneously from about age 9 or so. But because The Stones affected my in the most dramatic way at the most morphing time, I made a pact with myself to never forget that crazy, sexually free/Robert Johnsonsey deal with the devil vibe long after I had left them for The Who and the outer reaches of rock. I still have them in my blood as a performer very deeply, I just feel more effectual and commanding when I sing The Who's music. To sing the Stones songs I prefer(Some Girls, Let it Loose) is to get really intimate with an audience. I can still get sensual doing the Who but I have that undefinable facet they alone have as well as the deep voodoo behind me. And sadly my oldest brother, who lead a life similar to Brian Jones, had been murdered nearly ten years prior in equally murky circumstances. His 'friends' had claimed 'drugs.' But an autopsy and subsequent rumors would reveal otherwise. It remains unresloved to this day. So perhaps through Brian Jones I was tieing up loose ends with my late brother.
So I was paying my respects to the many. I knew how important Brian Jones had been in that trail blazing legacy and that he was truly the first modern media rock star. He had retired to a house that also resonated deeply in my heart 'The House at Pooh Corner' a distant second to Potter's Lake District (the world's most beautiful place) but still an important locale in the history of children's literature. As I made my way through the lush clearings and emerald meadows I hoped to feel the good spiritual prescence as opposed to the creepy tabloid rumors of murderous workers and apathetic glamorous deserters.
My lush forest path lead to one beautiful grove or home after the other. It not only looked EXACTLY like Shepherd's illustrations but it also looked like the Disney animation as well. I found the legendary Pooh stix bridge eventually. Rebulit with a historical marker and there I stayed for a time. The wind was quiet and then I started up the road after the bridge. The homes were larger now but still no House of Pooh Jones.
In the land of Pooh I am Tigger. It is a done deal , determined in one of those previous lifes I don't really believe in. Tigger just bushwacks on his own and asks questions later. He is so lovable/loving and so demonstative with that love. I started to feel really happy and the sun was back out as it had been since I arrived in England.
'Was this place just another home " I thought as I strolled closer.
I came upon a path by what looked like the front of some kind of large property and made my way into the bluebells. Like the lampost in Narnia I saw what looked like the first marker of my journey; large brick couch. A bit mossy but inviting . What greeted me next was a pile of rusted old wheel barrows. Could those 'killer workmen' have used these? I thought
Then almost at once there it was on my right-the swimming pool- creepy and crusty looking. 'Yuck!' I thought to myself. If i were this home's owner I'd cover it up with bricks or fill it in with dirt and make a garden out of it. So much starkness emanated from the just looked wrong. But the I crept the more I realized there was a spirit nearby. Furthur up the path, standing at the crossroads. I quietly crept back to the trail and made my way deeper onto the estate. I could not turn back now or to rephrase that , the negativity would not be turning me back. i felt that a spirit wanted me to keep exploring and that the spirit did not want me to care about or spend time around the scary swimming pool.
I came to a large clearing a few minutes later and it was then that I saw the ones in my dreams 'those cloaked in black.'
To be continued

Friday, September 09, 2005

Beyond The Valley of the Rock Stars


Monday, September 05, 2005

The Sea of Katrina

The animals at the New Orleans Zoo are safe because the keepers stayed behind and risked their lives to guard them. They had been planning years in advance for this plus they had the forethought to build the zoo on higher ground. To those who stood by their animals and are risking their lives I salute and pray for you.