Monthly Archives: March 2010

Al James the Unfazed

The difference between Portland artist Al James the Unfazed and Al James’ larger group, Dolorean ? “With me, it’s much more direct,” says James – so direct that he tells you how it is and transfers a heart-wrench that puts you back in the moment like Patsy Cline or Hank Williams. Al James is right on top of the ability to make music with the authenticity of the old-timey crooner while avoiding the perilous trawl down memory lane that is the right-now move for alt-folk artists. His music walks down a highway at midnight because his lyrics naturally waft into night air without raiding the drug-store jukebox. Just listen to “Are You Really Real?”, several times. This music is all his own. Unphased, and unfad. I dig.

You can hear Al James live and in person at the Birds on a Wire Folk Festival in Pullman, WA, 26 March.

Here are his answers to a couple o’ questions:

-What inspired you growing up?-
“The main theme in all of these [interests] is that whatever I did I wanted to be really, really good at it. Halfway doing something always frustrated me. I’ve always figured that you should do or make something that has the possibility of being given to someone else, and maybe has the ability to last after you’ve gone.” -Hey, that is one good answer. Hip hip Al James!-

-What motivates you to sing now?-
“Currently, I’m motivated by the desire to better what I’ve done in the past and to simply write and sing the best songs I’m capable of creating. At this point my journey is completely singular and solitary. I have almost no social ties with other musicians or the scenes in Portland or the Northwest. I’ve outlasted lots of my peers, but am completely out of touch with the newer acts in Portland and the NW. I’m unknown to them and visa-versa. It’s a solo trudge from here on out.” -Good. Individual artist. Very sweet.-

-Hmm, what do you generally read or watch?-
“My favorite books are “Solo Faces” by James Salter, “The Human Comedy” by William Saroyan “Rock Springs” by Richard Ford. I like to read Non Fiction, Music and Film Biographies, Crime Novels, Short Stories, Graphic Novels, well written and researched Blogs, and U.S. Weekly. I watch movies like “The Hired Hand”, “McCabe and Mrs. Miller”, “California Split”, and “Sometimes a Great Notion” and lots of TV series on DVD… the ones everyone in the world loves – “Weeds”, “Sopranos”, “Mad Men”,”Sex And The City”, “The Wire”, “Freaks and Geeks”, “30Rock” etc…. oh and lots of Blazer Games when I can.” -EVERYTHING.-

-What is “dolorean?” is it the mountain chain in Italy? a link from an interview took me to an Italian tour-guide website, so I thought – mayhaps – there might – be a connection.-
“No that Italian site is just a cyber-squatter. I forgot to renew the website a couple years back and with the traffic they want a few thousand dollars to buy it back. So the new site is “”… A lot cheaper solution. The word “Dolorean” doesn’t mean anything in particular. Just a word that felt good, sounded nice, and looked balanced when spelled out.” -Now you know. No googling Dolorean.-

-Do you have a dog or a particularly beloved pet?-
“No dogs or pets. Not around enough to be a good pet owner. Growing up I had two dogs although neither were particularly beloved because my mom wouldn’t allow them in the house… Bummer.” -Too bad those were before the days of cyber pets.-

-What is your favorite place in the world? or you could tell me what you really, really love about Portland.- “Portland is certainly not my favorite place in the world. It’s home or feels that way, but it’s not my favorite. If we lived in our favorite places in the world they wouldn’t stay our favorite places. They’d lose their luster. My current favorite place is either on Bainbridge Island in the Puget Sound on the West Side facing the Olympic Mountains…. Or out East in Fossil, Oregon during the summer when the swimming is really good on the John Day River…” -FYI: I have no problem living in really, really cool places and being quite at home. If you have an extra room in Paris, Sydney, London, or any Pacific Islands, feel free to give me a call.-

-Can you explain your relationship to Dolorean?-
“If I understand the question right, I’ll explain the difference between myself and ‘Dolorean’ the band…Dolorean was always meant to represent more than just me. It’s always been loose. It’s always been the name of the group of musicians playing the songs I wrote. It’s been a pretty consistent group over the years with an occasional cast of excellent contributors that help out when needed. It’s wide open when other musicians are involved. Tempos change, arrangements are different, and it’s never the same twice…

“When it’s just me it’s much more direct. The focus isn’t on the arrangement or playing or even the guitar… It’s just about getting the words out to the listener in a meaningful, engaging way. Sometimes I’m on, other times it’s more of a struggle, but that gets us back to the first question… Can I get better and better as I go along… I hope so. That’s the goal…”

-Thank you, thank you, Alex James. You are unfazed, and your music is first rate. Are you really real? I like it, I really like it.-


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Covington: it’s home. I haven’t found a chai worth mentioning or a yerba mate to speak of, but it has other things. Gush. Mud. Rain. Creeks that ooze through nondescript neighborhood parks and meander into magical forests. Storms – wind – thunder. They’re all real. It makes me remember what a real rainstorm is, and why you would be afraid of thunder. The trees speak in the wind because there are pines to talk to one another.
These are considerations of things that the northwest is without.

In Baton Rouge on Saturday Kathleen and I walked about her neighborhood, and down by the creek. Plash. Did my heart just leap at a turtle? Yes it did. I haven’t wanted to strip off my shoes and stockins for a muddy creek in a long time – but we went on a turtle hunt. The minnows were elusive brown slips. The algae sparkled, discs of green life layered on living brown water. It bubbles! Jeremy is gleeful and thrilled by bubbles. Me too. This is a real creek.

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See Hippo Swim

While I’m putting up old posts, I might as well add this… it’s kind of cheating because it’s prolly coming out in “Fermentations,” but, oh well – – –

An enormous grin alights Jeremy’s intense two year-old face as we step up the floor of the humid concrete cave to the indoor hippo house. There they are – right there: two four-thousand pound tubs of bristled plum gray blubber, four feet away. Jeremy stops his fidgeting, riveted by the weight, the bristles, the blubber. Jeremy will watch hippos sleep for half an hour straight.
Tonight, the hippos do tricks. They stand up; they clobber to the gateway like over-grown pot-bellied pigs on their short pug legs. Abe Lincoln is reputed as saying that you only have to be tall enough for your feet to reach the ground. For hippos, this is only applicable if it gives your tub belly at least a three inch clearance. These two are fine. They squeeze through the gate, one at a time, and lumber down the plank. See hippo swim.
A pair of arched eyes beckons at the horizon of the great gray greasy water, one glaring at me, the other glaring at her mate. The line of her gray back echoes the arch of her eyes. Her nostrils are flared like a mustang’s. A line of her graces the water’s edge – beneath it, she explores and reigns in a watery world that I don’t fathom despite the shallow depth.
This, my friends, is a water-horse: a mythical creature christened by those bizarre ancient Greek-people who thought in a world of which ours is only an echo.
“Throw apple at hippo!” says Jeremy suddenly, breaking the reverie. Foappo atippo! His two-year old talk is Greekling. “Hahahaha,” he chuckles. This is his latest and favorite joke. He repeats it several times a day in a tiny guttural voice, grinning wickedly. But now he stops, mesmerized again. There are two gigantic gray stallions rippling at the water’s edge, turning a watery turf in the concrete pad.

The moment just makes me think that we ought to consider what we know more as cryptozoology than to a closed coloring book left in preschool when you learned how to distinguish a hippo from a rhino – but please, please don’t relate this fancy to Sir Nikola Tesla or to too much yerba mate chatting in Manitou Springs! I only wish I had gotten the cam earlier to show you what I mean.

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Status Quo

I caved. I finally gave up on my schnazzy digital Polaroid that never ever works, and my parents gave me an early birthday present. A new cam – that works! Calloo callay. I got it before I left Colorado… and so it’s became the new excuse for not blogging. I need to download pix – and then
I need to find a wifi connection to put them up – and now, I’m going to blog sans personal illustrations. Boring. But they’ll come at some later point of organization which pictureless posts should push me to, so cross your fingers.
A picture of cookies which I did not take.

If you know how to rev a Polaroid, please, let me know and in exchange I will bake you cookies.

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Tesla: The Sequel

Here is a quote from the movie to put you in the mood for black capes, twilight, and Hugh Jackman, or at least mega magnetism and electricity:
“Every great magic trick consists of three parts or acts. The first part is called “The Pledge”. The magician shows you something ordinary: a deck of cards, a bird or a man. He shows you this object. Perhaps he asks you to inspect it to see if it is indeed real, unaltered, normal. But of course… it probably isn’t. The second act is called “The Turn”. The magician takes the ordinary something and makes it do something extraordinary. Now you’re looking for the secret… but you won’t find it, because of course you’re not really looking. You don’t really want to know. You want to be fooled. But you wouldn’t clap yet. Because making something disappear isn’t enough; you have to bring it back. That’s why every magic trick has a third act, the hardest part, the part we call “The Prestige”.” – Michael Caine, The Prestige

When I rang the doorbell to the “vintage” b&b that houses the museum, I felt like I was an accessory to the pledge of a magic trick. It struck me as an eerie piece of dramatic flair. The museum entrance was the turn.
The inn-keeper gave us a tour of the b-and-b. The rooms include prime balcony views of Pike’s Peak, romantic sunsets from the hot-tubs, and authentic steam showers. These produce hot water like other modern appliances, but are powered by steam – just like a calliope, which is also powered by steam. Factoid compliment of the host.
After awkwardly pausing at door-ways and exploring the honey-moon get-a-way rooms, we trooped downstairs to the basement. And what awaited? Downstairs, the lights were off. The room was unheated. The table was covered in books and light-bulbish things, and fronted by a row of chairs. The room definitely upped the ante that the door-bell had slapped down. The museum master was the prestige.
He was a man who looked like a Monty Python Hitler in rumply black jeans, a tightish zippered black polo, and black Nikes with a white logo, just like a badly-dressed high school science teacher with a great grey greasy mop of pepper-and-salt hair. He was so awfully glad to see us he didn’t know where to start, and so excited to continue that he didn’t know where to stop.

By the end of the tangled web of conspiracies I actually was overpowered by a burning desire to know about Tesla. After a while I couldn’t resist. My hand shot up again and again. I was the prize student, the one that everyone really hates. I knew – or at least I should have known – all that St. Tesla wasn’t, because the Tesla Ex had made that very clear. Right now I am pretty sure that he was from Mars. But what was the name of the cat?
That was when the Tesla Ex turned on a movie and left me to it. I’m going to have to read one of those 500 page biographies, I guess. But I was his favorite. He asked ME to lick the light-bulb. It was a fuzzy taste, with a furry zap – like licking the swing-set in a playground. Like really, really dirty iron that has a nice zing.

When we left the Tesla Ex asked us all to return to be a part of Tesla: The Movie: a production to be filmed this summer. But since the movie won’t have a heroine so I can’t be her, and besides all of that sexy Hollywood jazz is a b.s. conspiracy, I’ve instructed my agent to decline.


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Abra Cadabra!

Nikola Tesla (July, 1856 – January, 1943) was a mad Serbian genius. During childhood he was fascinated by lightning, by wind, by the fact that the fur of his cat would spark and light a dark place. He was touched by the devout Roman Catholicism and mystic Spiritualism of his family and the darkly forested land. He went to school with his best friend. There is no girl friend to speak of, although scads of girls angled for him, viied for him, and slit their necks for him, but Tesla was a devotee of celibacy for the sake of science, as well as a devotee of pigeons. He would special-order seeds for his favorites in Central Park.
As an adult, Tesla experimented with the electro-magnetic field, and is acclaimed for the invention of alternative current. His entanglements within the field of scientific inventions led to rivalry with Thomas Edison, and a great friendship with Mark Twain. He invented several things. He might have invented several others. He also might have thought that these were inspired by UFO.
His life was, and is, peppered with conspiracies and riveting, ravishing El-Dorado-almost conspiracy theories. Murder and betrayal nipped his heels like a terrier, and we sat in a row of at the back of the table while the Tesla Ex filled us in on nearly every one of them at the Tesla Museum Tour. “Tesla opened the doors to ‘Men in Black.’”
At length Tesla was chased to Colorado Springs, and inspired a great deal of the magickery in the movie The Prestige, which you should all watch again to catch the allure of the Tesla Museum, which is officially closed, but opened for us upon very special request. Cf. Tesla: Part II. The Sequel.

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