Clean-Up On Aisle Seven!

Ever since iTunes made some unauthorized update to my computer several months back, causing me to get pissed off and attempt to delete the program, and thus allowing my techno ignorance to further muck up things, I have been unable to play CDs on my computer.  Unlike PCs, Macs don't come preloaded with a basic default CD player.

Were it not for a request from Jennifer Saylor's blog, wondering what interesting Christmas music her readers might know of so she could start on her annual holiday mix CD, I'd not have gone to the trouble of finally tracking down a free piece of audio software that's compatible with my old and creaky OS 10.2.8.  For those who may be in a similar situation, I recommend Audion.  Check it out.  Screw you iTunes!

Thanks to Audion I am now listening to The Flaming Lips doing their wonderfully low-fi rendition of “Little Drummer Boy” from their rather obscure 1994 EP, “Providing Needles for Your Balloons.”

I'm not terrible keen on Christmas music, but I have to admit that there have been some great rock and roll Christmas songs.  “Father Christmas” by the Kinks is a perfect example.  And right now, as I was trying to remember how it went, I did a Google search.  All I got were printed lyrics.  Of course!  YouTube.  And first on the YouTube list was a version of the Kinks' song by OK Go (you might remember their killer video of recent months, “Here it Goes Again” — my sister pointed that particular gem out to me).

Yeah, “Father Christmas” stills hold up fairly well.  But it wasn't the Kinks in top form.  They were sounding a bit desperate at that point in their career, trying to recapture their youthful brilliance.

As I was checking online for the date of this Kinks song (1976), I stumbled on a couple of other power-pop Brit '70s Christmas tunes.  “Merry Christmas Everybody,” by Slade, and “I Wish It Could Be Christmas Everyday,” by Wizzard (AKA, Roy Wood of The Move fame).

It is, of course, too early to begin speaking of Christmas music, or for that matter Christmas anything.  Especially for someone who so despises the holidays as do I.  But it is impossible to escape.  And so, Wednesday evening, I got a snootful of Holidays, both barrels (or, to avoid the mixing of metaphors, I suppose I mean “both nostrils”).  I was shopping at the HEB supermarket.  Yep.  The night before Thanksgiving.  Pete and Lisa invited me to their place for Thanksgiving dinner.  I thought I should bring something.  A pecan pie.  That'd fun to make.  The problem is, I didn't have much of the ingredients.  I'd have to make a run to the store.

And may God have mercy on my soul.

As I pulled into the parking-lot, I leaped upon what proved to be the only available parking space.

This wasn't shopping for amateurs.  You have to keep moving.  There are no second chances.  Don't even think about pausing to scratch your head and ponder over whether you want Kayro Dark Syrup, or Kayro Light … and, wait, is that a low carb Kayro?  Nope.  You will get caught up in the riptide of shoppers and become carried away down the aisle, but not pointed in the correct direction, facing sideways or backwards, and if you lose your footing, you will be instantly trampled into a chunky marinara, and with a staticy announcement over the PA system for “clean-up on aisle 7,” you will never be seen again.

So, I kept my head and stayed with the ebb and flow, and watched, with the detachment of a social anthropologist, as people scurried to add items to their shopping carts they'd never think twice about for the other ten or eleven months of the year, such as cans of jellied cranberry sauce, boxes of stovetop stuffing, huge disposable roasting pans, and any items with the word “giblets” in bubble font of an autumnal hue.

When I had made the rounds from the north side of the store for the the frozen pie crusts (and even down here in Bexar County I can hear my sister gasp — but I tried to call you, Paula, to get your cold water pie crust recipe, but you weren't answering the phone), to the south side of the store for the finest butter Falfurrias, Texas offers for export, I finally let the current move me to the lines queued up at the cash registers.  The truth is, it didn't take nearly as long as I thought it might.  The little girl seated in the grocery cart in front of me only made her way though “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” twice (although I do believe “White Christmas” was the tune playing on the sound system).  The kid had it down pretty good.  She accompanied herself with a box of Friskies Seafood Medley, shaken like maracas … until the checkout girl reached for it and trigged a tearful tantrum.  Perhaps that little girl should have held back her sobs two beats until the call went out for “clean-up on aisle 12” — another casualty of Black Wednesday.

Oh, this brings me to yet another Flaming Lips Christmas song playing on my computer.  “A Change At Christmas (Say It Isn't So),” from the EP “Ego Tripping at the Gates of Hell.”

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Wednesday I met Deborah and Ramon for lunch.  We are trying to come up with a new art and / or video project.  By the fourth coffee refill this guy walks up and asks if we wanted to buy some tickets for a barbecue plate to raise money for a particular religious organization.  I quickly recognized the book the man was carrying.  Outcry From the Barrio, by Freddie Garcia of Victory Ministries fame.  About a year back in this blog I wrote a short passage about a guy with Victory Ministries who approached me in a parking-lot on the southside.  I had been intrigued to see him clutching the book which I have seen for years in used book stores throughout Texas.

And Wednesday, this man standing at our table had the same book.  The Spanish language version.

Deborah was reaching for money, but Ramon just grinned.

“I painted that,” he said, tapping the book.

“You're kidding?” I said.

“Naw, it's mine.”

The man holding the book, paused, a bit rattled by our reaction.  We weren't letting him explain how he overcame his drug addiction and was now on the straight and narrow.

Ramon took the book from the fellow's hands and began leafing through it.

“My name's in here somewhere,” he muttered.

Deborah suggested he look at the acknowledgments section.

The ex-addict mumbled that his copy was in Spanish.  Then he became a somewhat curious.  He asked Ramon if he knew Pastor Freddie?  Ramon just nodded.  Deborah said maybe it was in the back.

Finally Ramon found the passage where he was mentioned.  He pointed it out to the guy.  And then he picked up Deborah's pen and, though not requested to do so, he scribbled his autograph inside the front cover of the book.  The man seemed thankful and somewhat confused.  Ramon handed him a couple of bucks and he wandered off.

“Did you ever get paid for that?” I asked Ramon.

“A hundred bucks,” he said.  “It was small.”  He showed me with his hands.  “There was no scaling down.  It was the same size as the book.”

“More people have seen that than anything else you have done,” I said.  I knew a shitload of those books had been printed.  And, apparently, they are still being published.

“They didn't let me sign it,” Ramon said of the original art work.  He just shrugged.

For some reason the images on the book's cover remind me of the religious comics of Jack Chick.  Even though I believe Ramon did it in the '80s, it has a decidedly '70s style.  Very Chicano iconic.

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Ah, now we have the greatest of the Flaming Lips Christmas songs.  “Christmas at the Zoo,” off the excellent “Clouds Taste Metallic” album.  There is a very fun video of the song posted on YouTube.

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Ramon told me that he would be spending Friday night in a tipi with other members of the local Tap Pilam Coahuiltecan Nation.  I'm not exactly sure what the ritual will be commemorating.  But he told me he was planning to bring plenty of blankets because of the cold front which was coming in.  I hate to hear that sort of stuff.  It looks like it will be a cold and damp and miserable weekend.  Oh well, at least I won't be spending it in a tipi.  However, the Coahuiltecans will be well provided with peyote, and I'll have … well, nothing much along those lines.

As we were each getting into our cars after lunch, Deborah asked when we should meet again.  “Sometime next week,” I said.

Ramon agreed, but said Monday would be bad.  He shook his head, bugged out his eyes to us, and he made a little circling motion around his temple in the international crazy symbol.

“Oh,” said Deborah.  “The peyote.”

Ramon nodded.  “It takes it out of me … for a few days.”

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