Monday, December 20, 2010

Hungry Brain, Elbo Room: Good Apples Wrap Up 2010 In Style

First, if Good Apples didn’t exist, I’d pretty much dream of there being a band like that, whether or not I was in it. Awesome no-nonsense songs (lyrics are sometimes a kind of no-nonsense nonsense… if that makes sense), varied material, sludgy, raw, fun sound, a DIY approach to everything. I’d either be in that band, or go to all their shows.

Second, I’ve been writing my blog entries for the past year as if I were a rock journalist who happens to be in the band she almost exclusively writes about. But now there are bloggers who, completely independently of us, support Good Apples. Check out SouthSide.

Third, I might try some different approaches to writing about the band next year.

Hungry Brain, 11/22

Bob Rok organized the first out of hopefully many crossover gigs, as there should really be many more club shows where you can see great indie hip hop and rock (so, outside of a festival setting). The two genres have much more in common than not, we’re in the same social circle, and we have nothing to lose by joining forces. The issue on 11/22, however, was that no DJs could show up, so it was left to two solo MCs, Bob Rok and Mega, to represent. And they did!

Good Apples played a (for us) quieter set, to accommodate the limits of the small bar in a residential area. The guy there, like Esmeralda and Kevin, were very hospitable, and Esmeralda did a really good job with the sound to boot. We opened with “Gem,” and we also did “West Wind,” “Happy Ending,” “007 BC,” “Dream,” “Used to Sing,” “She Crashed My Car,” “Mountain Killer,” and “Once Is Enough.” Maybe I’m forgetting something, but we did them all with a kind of slightly subdued but intense energy, beautiful at moments, but (as at ease as we were) somehow serious and a little stern, atypical for us. At least that was my feeling afterward. I’m glad we ended the set with the very upbeat “Once Is Enough,” it was a welcome bright coda to the set.

Once again, the Hungry Brain people and their welcoming vibe really make me want to come back to the venue, preferably on a weekend night.

Awesome pics by John Mikrut!

Elbo Room, 12/09

Pete and Gabor, and possibly Dillon as well, have played the Elbo Room before in their prior bands, but it was a first for me. Again, friendly staff, a hospitable atmosphere, and even the gentleman repairing the heating glitch was in a good mood, joking around with us (he said my Theremin was crying for its mommy, for example). The heat did get fixed, but on a witch’s tit cold night, the venue was sparsely attended. There was in fact no one in the upstairs lounge were a pretty awesome acoustic trio was doing a jazzy folk set. A few people gathered by the time our set was about to start, after a solid set by the Canadian troubadour Mark Perak.

When we launched into “She Crashed My Car,” we indeed stepped on it—the song moved faster than ever, fuelled by the adrenaline. “007 BC” followed, and by this time the light man began to really have fun: fog machine, different colored lights, twirling spot lights, the whole shebang. After some new and old tunes (“Metal Man,” “Used To Sing,” “Happy Ending”), we unveiled out medley cover of “Symptom of the Universe”/”Buggin’ Out,” followed by the new instrumental, “Collosal Black Hole,” and right around then strobes kicked in, and Dillon and Gabor actually had to focus harder, because the lights had their won rhythm that they had to ignore in order to keep the desired tempo.

I wore the T-shirt my brother had made, wherein he had Good Apples printed below the picture on the cover of a Crvena Jabuka (Red Apple) album, which features a girl’s naked butt with a big red apple painted on her skin. One person in the audience, Dillon’s friend Ankica, actually recognized the reference/rip-off.

For our next show, at The Double Door Dirt Room, we’ll bring Bob Rok back, this time accompanied by Mar. Powers will headline, and D-Nick the Microphone Misfit and Ray of Light will also perform.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

It's That Time Of the Year Again

This time last year, I felt angry. Today, just sad and defeated. Time to sing the blues away with The Klezmatics and "An Undoing World"!

Saturday, November 20, 2010

What I Remember: 11/11/10

Chad Heltzel picked a perfect venue for a poetry reading: Open Books. This spacious bookstore packed with second-hand books, located near the Chicago Brown Line stop, is a part of a larger organization that provides literacy programs, and Chad had apparently stumbled upon them on his way to the gym one day. Like a lot of literary events in which Chad has been involved, this too had a great turnout, and Open Books helped make it a success by creating and disseminating posters, placing ads, and even getting the event announced on NPR.

It was the Little Red Leaves event, and since the journal is online and its editors scattered around the country, the Chicago reading was one of many designed to promote the journal and its contributors.

Now I wish I wrote this the day after the reading, because, here’s the problem: there were two awesome poets, one opened and one closed the night. Their names? Judith Goldman and Laura Goldstein. I don’t know which face goes with which name anymore. Idiot me.

Also awesome was Brain Mornar, but I am not confusing him with anyone now, almost a week later, because he was the only man reading, plus the remaining two poets featured were Ixta Menchaca Rosa and Tasha Fouts Marren, my UIC buddies. I was coming back from a great Good Apples practice, in a good mood. After I realized that most of the poems I picked for the night had an element of humor in it, I decided to try to play it up by my delivery. It worked! My fave that night—yes, I’m being biased, but I don’t think it’s only my love for the girl—Tasha Marren. Her poems deal manly with fear and language. In equal measures: language is not used to depict only fear, but also itself, until one theme embodies the other. And this is not just an interpretation, my reading of what goes on in her poems; it’s what the poet intends, and then executes masterfully. Kudos! (Tasha didn’t want anyone to review the reading, and I didn’t even mean to, but what the hell, she’s not the boss of me.)

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Good Apples vs. Capitalism: The Saga Continues

So, in the previous episode, Good Apples are asked to quit playing due to the corporate types complaining that they can’t hear the sound of their voices that they enjoy so much while discussing whatever it is they’re discussing over overpriced beverages in obnoxious sports bars.

In this episode, Good Apples are asked to host a Halloween costume contest and then play a set to close the festivities that include a comedian and a burlesque performance in the intimate confines of Reggie’s Music Joint, a rock’n’roll bar just south of the Loop. Sounds like good old Halloween-oriented fun?

In reality, it was a Pabst-Corporation-oriented promotional event. Everything else--the comedy, the burlesque, costume contest, the music—was just backdrop that can allow Pabst to peddle their product under the guise of “edgyness.” A familiar scenario.

Since we were all there in service of Pabst, obviously any changes that had to be made on the spot wee made without any consideration for the performers. Long story short, the costume contest, along with the majority of the crowd at Reggie’s Music Joint were moved last minute to the venue next door, the main Reggie’s stage. I don’t know who ended up hosting the event, who ended up winning, when the contest ended, whether people knew there was a free late-night show next door, all I know is we played after midnight to a few friendly faces, by the bar and scattered around the mainly empty room, some friends, some strangers. I know the promoters were simply doing their job, and their job is to please the sponsor while keeping the audiences as happy as possible. They might have gotten into the business due to their enthusiasm for music and performance, and I certainly appreciate Elle getting back to Good Apples quickly after we first inquired about playing at Reggie’s, and it felt good that she was full of confidence that we would rock, simply based on what she heard on Myspace. But the reality is that bars are in the business of selling booze, and everything else is little more than décor.

But the décor had a good time after all. Johnny the soundman was awesome (as was our waitress, whose name I don’t know, sorry, honey—the one with a bob hairdo). Chill and friendly, he helped us set up, and stayed alert at his post during our entire set, doing the job he obviously loves and knows how to do. Dillon played under the influence of Dayquil and triple-digit fever, which explained his lack of costume, but he still played as if he was completely healthy. Gabor rocked as The Tecate Man, Pete as Colonel Mustard, and I was wearing the tutu I made myself. It looked ripped up, which is perfect for the undead ballerina look I was going for.

The set was: Mountain Killer (new version, with lyrics), Epic, Happy Ending (my Theremin debut), 007 BC, Dead Already, Used to Sing, Industry, Metal Man, Cosmonaut, She Crashed My Car, and Spectacle. It was the biggest stage we’ve played on so far, with ample space for me to jump and dance, something that’s hard to resist when Good Apples play. The relatively well-lit bar allowed me to make out happy faces enjoying them some Apples for the first time. No hecklers this time, only love.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Slime Oozes From Leaders' Mouths Again

Divide and conquer. Instill fear. Scapegoat the powerless. Poison young minds. Use the economic crisis to put your pathetic self on the map of global leaders. More after I track a translated transcript of Merkel's nauseating speech.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Cortland's Ain't No Garage

Hearing the name Cortland’s Garage and finding that it’s close to the highway in Bucktown, combined with the fact that Good Apples were invited to play a 2-hour set there, created in my mind an image of a rock’n’roll bar, maybe a bit upscale as compared to our prior venues like Ronny’s and The Mutiny. We did have to bring our own PA, so I knew it wasn’t a club that has regular live music, but the prospect of getting paid to play a Friday night gig made the extra effort worthwhile. We haven’t played in public since May, so we were ready to show off our new material, some of which incorporates my Theremin: as opposed to this time last year when we were just starting, we actually have both the number of songs and the stamina to plan for 2 hours, no problem. Okay, a bit of a problem: my broken elbow, so no second guitar on songs that usually have it, but that’s a minority of tunes anyway. Who can resist a Theremin player/vocalist with her right arm in a splint, fronting a band that combines the best of the heavier side of punk and the darker side of heavy.

Kristy and I get off the Ashland bus, walked up Cortland, and we can immediately see the sign. Too bright for my imagined slightly-upscale rock bar. Indeed, as we walk closer, the block looks like a transplant from Lincoln Park: trixies and frat boys in a cookie-cutter sports bar with about ten big screen TVs lining the walls. Well, our friends will come, I figure, and even among the present clientele there are regular-looking people who came for a Miller or two on a very warm Indian summer night. Dillon, Gabor, and Pete have already set up our gear in a designated corner in this stageless establishment.

We don’t get a chance to do the sound check, which means that the first two songs with vocals, “Gem” and “Spectacle,” are our sound check effectively, with my vocal mic cutting in and out. We fix the mic and the levels, and then the promoter asks us to play less loudly. We oblige, and from “Dream” onward it’s smooth sailing. It says a lot about Gabor, Dillon and Pete that they maintain the same intensity in performance even when they’re much less loud, to the point that people can still have conversations while Good Apples rock in the background. A group of people leaves soon after we begin playing, but our friends keep trickling in, as well as more trixies and frat boys. We get a request to congratulate a brand new PhD, so we lead the crowd into an applause, and I think, being a bar band is really not bad at all.

“She Crashed My Car,” “Rock Hard,” “Epic,” “007 BC,” “Happy Ending”—we’re revved up, could go all night. There are two parallel scenes in the small bar, with our side populated by people listening to our show (the bus boys love us) and the side closer to the patio and the street doing their thing. But after we play “Happy Ending” (the song is best described as sung by the 18-year-old love child of Sneza and Iggy Pop, backed by the love children of The Slits and The Stooges) the show promoter approaches Dillon and now they are talking, but I can’t quite hear. I know it’s time for the last song in our first set, and then we’ll take a break before Elliott joins us and we do the second set. I say into the mic, “I think they’re asking us to tone it down some more.” But then Dillon explains to me that in fact the promoter is asking us to stop playing altogether, and we’ll still get paid the agreed amount.

Gabor: “So we’re getting paid to stop playing?”
I can’t hear what the promoter says.
Gabor: “And if we keep playing, will we get offered even more money to stop?”
Me: “Yeah, we play for free normally, so you’ll have to pay a lot more to stop us.”
Promoter: “You can play one more song.”

We decide to play “Used to Sing,” and Dillon prompts me to dedicate the song to “the suits.”

“This one goes out to those who are not even hearing that we’re dedicating it to them,” I say into the mic and then shout: “This one is for the suits, and the ties, and the shirts!!!” And while the audience thinks I’m being punk rock, the fact is, I don’t get off of antagonizing the yuppies, nor am I harboring illusions that they will hear anything, be offended, and stopped in their tracks for a millisecond. I’m aware that we are not more than annoying white-noise mosquitoes to the yuppies, and their purchasing power is enough to convince the managers/promoters to get us off the stage and turn Katie Perry back on. Our “resistance” consists merely in the fact that we don’t have it in us to dumb down and overproduce our sound in order to make a living out of music. That’s why this is Katie’s world, we just subsist in it.

“Used to Sing” is Nick’s favorite, and some other of our friends’, and they bop and sing with me.

The promoter later explains to Gabor that the reason they cut our show in half is because that group of people who left early on. The fact that the bar refilled very quickly didn’t sway the owner, so it must have been some regulars who drop a lot of money on the $12 burgers and $7 beers that left. More of Dillon’s friends come expecting to hear the second set, but it’s not going to happen.

Back home in Pilsen, Kristy and I meet my new next-door neighbor Alex, a musician and future sound engineer, and he asks us whether there is a music scene in Pilsen. And I have to say, no. Even though there are a lot of musicians, there is no venue in Pilsen where we all can congregate, play regular shows, hear each other, and reach some local music aficionados. Whenever someone tries to put an impromptu showcase in the neighborhood, it’s usually poorly organized, and finally broken up by the cops. As far as Pilsen goes, Leo’s Café Mestizo might be a part of the solution when it comes to acoustic acts. For the loud indie rock and underground hip-hop acts, we need to invent something, so that we don’t have to only rely on city-wide promoters unable to properly match artists with the clientele.

Nick’s idea: Bobbing for Apples, a Halloween show in Pilsen, featuring Bob Rok and DJ Mar and Good Apples. A barrel of apples floating in water, and some smart, intense rock and hip hop, anyone? But one thing is for sure: Bob Rok and Good Apples at the Hungry Brain, 11/22.

I can’t help but think about some of the people left behind in the small towns of Ohio or Missouri when the trixies and the frat boys move to Chicago to make it in the big city. Not to romanticize the long-decayed Rust Belt or The American Heartland, far, far from it. But perhaps there is a circuit of hidden dives in small towns where there are still people who’d feel the same kind of temporary but powerful relief when listening to Good Apples that the band gets from playing, so the listeners and the musicians become equally revved up in the process of converting the dread of the world into this strange, gripping sound our instruments create in our hands.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

New Renga

I started the new renga. The theme? Time. Time renga begins. My partners in crime are waiting until the fall, but I couldn't resist.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Banalization of Frank O'Hara

I never watched Mad Men, except for various clips here and there, and what I've seen seems like a lamo pseudo-artsy exploitation of some white Americans' nostalgia for the relatively recent past they don't even remember. I might watch a few episodes in order to see if there's any plausibility to my hunch. Maybe it's a genius show. Maybe it's just not my kind of a show. Maybe I'm too indoctrinated and stubborn to enjoy good shows. But the clips are not helping the (non-existing) "make Sneza fall for Mad Men" cause. Case in point: this clip.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Historic May 17, 2010

Yesterday marked a great Good Apples practice, the first one in which Dillon played as an MBA, Gabor played without one of his teeth (four stitches where the tooth used to be! That's what I'm talking about, a great big Yugoslav-Hungarian-American tooth!), birthday boy Pete turned 35, and I played drums for an extended jam.

Back home, Nick verbally buried a young man prone to using slurs.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Good Apples at Chicago Hot Glass, March 27, 2010

Set List:
Mt Killer
Used to Sing
Rock Hard
Metal Man
West Wind/Algiers
She Crashed My Car

Thanks to Dillon’s buddy Nick Paul, we got to play the Chicago Hot Glass annual benefit, opening for Stone Free. The industrial setting of this Westside mini-factory fits Good Apples perfectly: furnaces blazing in two spacious, brightly lit halls lined with metal, with beautiful glass objects of art and utility displayed all around, and artists blowing glass on the premises for everyone to see. Immediately we were greeted by friendly and accommodating Chicago Hot Glass members and leaders.

The space was filled early in the evening, all the seats facing glassblowers were occupied, but there was still standing room by the stage as well as on the opposite side of the room. In the adjacent room, the hosts served food and drinks.

We hit the improvised stage around 9 o’clock, opening once again with the instrumental “Mt. Killer.” This was only our second full-length show, and que la difference it is playing in a large space with high ceilings: we filled every inch of it with our noise, but the sound appeared relatively crisp, from what I could tell. Our friends and supporters rocked out with us in front of the stage, but I kept seeing people on the opposite side of the room bopping to our schizo beat. I know I jumped and danced whenever I wasn’t singing—when Dillon, Gabor, and Pete are on, I can’t stand still.

Along with the songs we wrote and practiced last winter, including our cover of Alex Chilton’s “Rock Hard,” we tested three newbies, completed literally in the week prior to the show: “Metal Man,” “West Wind/Algiers,” and “Cosmonaut,” the latter featuring the chorus inspired by the “Moon Calling Skylab” (“Mjesec zove Skylab” in B/C/S) episode of the Alan Ford, the cult Italian graphic book that is unfortunately unavailable in English; we’re cool and esoteric like that. What’s new about our songwriting process now is that I began writing lyrics mostly from scratch, as opposed to cutting, pasting, and modifying Kristy’s found lyrics. (That process is still alive and well too, as will be heard in our upcoming newbie “Epic.”) I’m saying mostly from scratch, because how can anything be written completely from scratch? Not only was “Cosmonaut” inspired by Alan Ford, the first like of “West Wind,” which goes “between two wars is another war” in a nod to The Leaving Trains’ “Always between wars.” And since I’m talking about lyrics, let me disambiguate the first line of the second verse for “Metal Man.” As opposed to what some people heard (Kirsty, ahem), I don’t sing “he ate my pussy, and now I’m yours,” I sing, “he WAS my pussy, and now I’m yours.”

Keeping things tight and on the short side, we closed with “She Crashed My Car.” To my pleasure, Caren and Lyndee were both creating a new dance to go along with this song, although I don’t think they could see each other. Another proof that great minds think alike.

After our set, we passed out our brand new CDs. They were so new, we were cutting the labels and marking the burned discs minutes before the show.

Pics and more at the Good Apples online HQ.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Family Lore

Mom tells me that her Tišma family line (her mom's maternal grandpa and his folks) were also known by the last name of Varuna. To say it more simply, my great-grandma's maiden name was Mika Varuna/Tišma. I google the name and find out Varuna was the Vedic "god of the sky, of waters and of the celestial ocean, as well as a god of law and of the underworld." Nice! (Tišma is just a Serbian and Croatian last name referring to "tišina" meaning silence. Lame by comparison.)


Balkan winter, you were supposed to be mild. But no, you snow-stormed in both February and March. If you've been waiting for me to leave the premises to become your usual wimpy self again, go ahead. Just tell your Midwest sista not to plan to come back with a vengeance just because I'll be back in Chitown on Monday. Deal?

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Oh Yoko

While I'm caffeinated and compelled to blog, let me note this. The Žabić family had the first Plastic Ono Band single, "Give Peace a Chance" on A side and "Remember Love" on B side. I could understand one level of those songs when I was in kindergarten, and I still appreciate them now that I understand more (I'm in 27th grade now, if my calculations are correct).

The way I see it, Yoko was at first a non-musician but nevertheless a true artist who got to write and record a lot of songs, with the help of, in her and their heyday, some great musician friends. During that experience she definitely became a musician, albeit non-conventional. It doesn't matter that she didn't rock an instrument (though I suppose she took mandatory music lessons as a young girl, given her blue-blood background) and didn't sing like a powerhouse rock chick. Yes, she liked to make strange sounds with her voice. We all do it all the time, but most of us are too scared to shit to call it music. All of that only made her stand apart from everyone else, and made me appreciate her when I was a small child and obviously I keep appreciating her.

Another thing that gets overlooked is that while most rock and folk chicks of her generation, as well as those younger than her, distanced themselves from the feminist movement (even while they embodied feminism perhaps more than Yoko did privately, take Joni Mitchell or Patti Smith for example, but that's a long story), she embraced sisterhood and wrote bad-ass feminist songs. It's complicated. She was probably oblivious to the fact that her open feminism would only alienate people more. Of course, she didn't have to worry about bringing food to the table etc., etc., but whatever.

I guess I'm trying to say that I understand her impulses. I wish there were more people who approach music and songwriting intuitively, and don't care about being either rock or folk or experimental, but who get a chance to break out of their bedrooms, who get support from open-minded but more conventional musicians to get their music heard widely (and hated more than loved, but people are crazy and don't know anything), because judging from Yoko Ono's career, the results are outstanding.

Too bad nowadays she's surrounded by super-rich hipsters who can't hold a candle either to her or the people she hung out in her heyday. (No offense, Yoko. Damn it, I hope she or her loved ones don't read this. I hate it when bloggers are mean like I am now, as if they don't know they're publishing their mean thoughts for the whole world to potentially read and for strangers' feelings to get unnecessarily hurt. Yoko, if you are reading this, who cares what I think, I'm sure your young super-rich hipster friends and son are wonderful, and I'm just jealous they get to play with you and I don't, plus you don't want me to play with you, my guitar playing is pathetic.) But that's okay.

Plus, it doesn't matter that Yoko's hipsters are super-rich, that's not the point. Why do I even keep bringing the wealth up? (I'm being such a stereotypical blogger-ranter here, totally not my blog persona normally. It's the coffee talking.) I mean, Yoko grew up and stayed super-rich too, but I guess the difference is that she wasn't spoiled like some kids get spoiled nowadays (not Sean, he really seems like a nice guy, from what I can tell from interviews with him I saw on Youtube, and I mean it). In any case, I understand that Yoko's parents were super strict by today's standards. Which makes me think: dear Spurious Bastard readers, if you are wealthy and you have kids and you'd like them to become great artists, for godsake be as strict as an early-20th-century Japanese aristocrat banker.

Thank you for reading this rant. I love these and other songs:

"Remember Love"
"Death of Samantha"
"Mrs. Lennon"
"Children Power"