R. Kelly: A Retrospective

Friday, January 13, 2006

Last night the Alamo Drafthouse — the best movie theater in the nation — hosted a sing-along to R. Kelly’s epic Trapped in the Closet cycle of music videos. And more. They showed the videos for all of his greatest hits from “Bump n’ Grind” to “Sex Me” to “Ignition (Remix)” (hot and fresh out da kitchen). Let me hear a beep-beep. They also had the Dave Chappelle “I wanna piss on you” spoof and a shot-by-shot remake of the first episode of Trapped put together by some kids at Reagan High School (in Austin) that was great. Sold out show. Loud crowd. Everyone got a free “oh my God, a rubber” condom — several of which wound up blown-up and bouncing around the theater during the course of the show.

I purchased my ticket Wednesday afternoon, fearing a sell-out, and e-mailed a bunch of friends in town with the Good News. Only Eric Hawthorne responded, and only to say that he couldn’t go. So the night of the show I called around and got a similarly blank response — so my dad got curious and decided to join me. I don’t think he really knew who R. Kelly was or what, exactly, he might be getting himself into… But we went. I had an iced tea at the theater to keep my mouth cold and relatively numbed from the surgery I’d had that morning (which had been very painful through the day, but all but went completely away at the Drafthouse.) And we watched the absurdity play out.

I had seen the first five chapters before — Christin introduced me to them a couple months ago. But seeing them on the big screen with subtitles and people singing along… Well, it’s a whole other experience. And once we got off into the chapters that I hadn’t seen. Well. R. Kelly has a certain kind of genius, I have to admit. And on one level you sit there, like, “This is a train-wreck — R. Kelly is a totally clueless, pompous dumbshit.” But on another level, it’s so compellingly rediculous, and R. Kelly does apparently have some solid chops as a producer and (obviously) a promoter that you can’t count him out as a total moron, so you think that this must be some kind of prank or intentional comedy piece or something, right? (I mean, look at the driving scenes. Surely, surely he knew those looked absurd.) But then you’re watching and your mind goes “nonono-way” this is terrible — unintentionally terrible. Because it seems R. Kelly’s buying into his own bullshit. And you loop back around to point A and the whole experience becomes a horrible, unending interpretive Möbius strip — and that’s the fascination, I think: What the hell is going on? And then they show some of the “artist’s commentary” from the DVD (which actually features R. Kelly sitting with his back to the viewer watching along with us and puffing on a cigar). They show the commentary and he says something like, “I decided to give Sylvester a Baretta because it rhymes with ‘dresser’.” And your mind explodes. Up is down. Left is right. Black is white.


Four Teeth Lighter

Thursday, January 12, 2006

Fu-uck. My mouth hurts. My four wisdom teeth were extracted at about 10:15 this morning. I’m supposed to stick to cold, liquidy foods for the next couple of days. And no straws.

The satisfyingly rich, meaty taste of the blood draining out of my tooth-holes (of which only one was stitched closed) and back down my throat offsets this a bit.

My mom’s been treating me as if I had my legs amputated and has converted the den into a medical station. She’s also stocked the fridge with Odwalla juice drinks and those Starbucks® Frapuccino™ drinks that I asked for (I need non-hot caffeine). Dinner tonight will be a combination of those, I imagine. I haven’t had one of those Odwallas in a while — they cost, like, $18 in Manhattan — so that’s not so bad, I guess.

But right now I really feel like I’ve been kicked in the face. I don’t like painkillers because they make me too foggy-headed to do much more than watch television, so I took my amoxicillin tablet around noon but forwent the Vicodin. And so, the pain has not been killed. And with my unshaven face and swollen jaw, I look much more like an auto mechanic than usual.

I’m at Austin Java Company, now, sipping a Dr. Pepper (no straws!)… Once I relearned how to drink without dribbling liquid all over myself (yay, numb mouth) I decided I had to get out of the house. I’m not doing terribly much here, but it’s good to be off the sofa, away from the small-claims court shows and terrible mid-day crapumetaries on the Discovery and History Channels. I did get to watch a few minutes of Son of the Mask, though. What a piece of crap… I can understand that people have to earn a living, but why put your name on such a thing? Just pick up your check and “Directed by Anonymous.” Jesus.

But this is the first time that I can recall ever having the full dental-surgery treatment, including the nitrous oxide mask over my nose, about a dozen anesthetic shots, and a couple instances of the dentist just grinding into my fucking head with some medieval metal device as if he needed to punch a hole straight down through my jaw. “How you doing?” “Mmmffgh.” “Great. You’re going to feel some pressure…”

The combination of painkilling shots and N2O turned the whole quick event (15 minutes or so) into a kind of hazy scene out of a movie: two men hovering over me with sharp steel and buzzing instruments in front of a medical spotlight aimed right at me, mottling my vision with sharps of color and lighting flares and reflections when I would open my eyes to see what was pulling and tugging on my maxilla and mandible so hard. Cinematic. Would’ve made for some great photos if I could’ve shot through my own eyeballs.

Anyway, I’m tired of writing about this. And my mouth still hurts.

Yesterday, nothing hurt. Except the usual crushing weight of mere existence.



Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Cities that I’ve spent one or more nights in during 2005:

  • Alexandria, Egypt
  • Austin, Texas
  • Barcelona, Spain
  • Berlin, Germany
  • Cairo, Egypt
  • Columbia, Missouri
  • Eilat, Israel
  • Krakow, Poland
  • Mars*
  • Nazaret, Isarel
  • New York City, New York
  • Northampton, Pennsylvania
  • Tel Aviv, Israel
  • Tulsa, Oklahoma
  • Warsaw, Poland

That’s about five months in Austin, four months in New York, and three months abroad in various places.

No San Francisco. That’s surprising.

* Not a city.


Adventures in Modern Dentistry

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

I’m sitting at Spider House tonight, working on a few things. Turns out I lost one of my potential web contracts. Crap. Well, I’ve still got the other two. I hope.

Anyway, it’s about 11pm and I’ve been sorting through some files on the laptop. I came across a stash of screen-grabs from a month-or-so ago when Paris and I were working on some concepts for our failed motion-tracking interactive video piece. We had been working with Quartz Composer and had planned on buying a powerful IR LED lightbulb — but the company couldn’t get the bulb to us quickly enough and we just kind of ran out of time and Dan O’Sullivan had concerns (shared by Paris) that she might be leaning too much on the user-friendliness of QC instead of learning to deal with video herself in Processing and, well, it all fell apart. Sadly.

Here, though, is a QC-processed still of me sitting in front of my computer at about 3am one night. You can see my Atari Pole Position poster in the background, there, and my floor lamp. Right behind my head is the window out onto the balcony out onto SoHo.

Pink Josh

I miss New York already and I’ve only been gone four days. Austin’s just a bit boring without anything in particular to do and few people to do it with, anyway. The weather’s been wonderful and I enjoyed sitting along the river at Mozart’s this afteroon as the sun set over the hills and the ducks, swans, and coots jibbered around looking for hand-outs and squabbling. I read another chunk of You Remind Me of Me and ate a chocolate-chip cookie.

This after my appointment with the dentist — Dr. Shaw — this afternoon. See, I’ve got a big cavity in one of my far-back molars. It doesn’t hurt at all, but I can tell it’s there, so my mom arranged for me to get it dealt with while I’m here in town.

Dr. Shaw’s assistant, a big bouncy guy from South Carolina who enjoyed hearing that I live in NY, probed my maw for a minute or two with the scrapy-pick-thing and mouth-mirror and then the Dr. came in to check again and inform me that my back molars — my wisdom teeth — had to go. One (upper-right) has the obvious big cavity. One (lower-left) has a smaller cavity. One (upper-left) has a fissure. And one’s okay, but should probably go before something comes up. (Seems like good symmetry, anyway.) So we set a date (Thursday morning) and I got my face x-rayed. Twice (after something went wrong with the first try). There you have it.

There’s something deeply unsettling about having any part of one’s body taken off, so I don’t very much care for the idea of having four molars removed. Otherwise, I guess I really don’t care. It’s not like they’re removing my hands. So much for my perfect mouth, though — this is my first-ever cavity.



Monday, January 9, 2006

Today wound up being another non-day, as far as interesting events go. I fell asleep in front of CNN’s coverage of the Alito confirmation hearings and wound up dreaming about Sen. Biden, but otherwise I woke up late, didn’t go out — and when I did go out I read and fiddled with my computer.

Josh Knowles: rock star.

In the future I should coincide my Austin visits with those of other out-of-towners — Brenna, Meri, Mason, etc. Most of the folks I know who’ve remained in town have become so domestic… Yawn!



Sunday, January 8, 2006

Not much happened today. Woke up. Worked on some mock-ups for a potential web-work client at Austin Java Company. Walked down to Book People and bought Breakfast at Tiffany’s. Etc.

Not every day can be an adventure.


Best American Non-Required DJs

Saturday, January 7, 2006

I’m running consistently two days behind writing these posts (it’s January 9th right now) — but I am sticking to my resolution to write about each day this year. Seven (or nine, depending) days in. Fantastic.

So it’s really Monday evening and I’m sitting at Mozart’s in Austin, sipping my way through a latte. Sitting outside on the covered patio overlooking the black Colordao river and the constellations of porchlights out over Westlake Hills. Since I got into those holiday-seasonal egg nog lattes that Starbuck’s has been hawking a few weeks ago, I’ve switched my coffeehouse beverage straight black coffee to a nice, mellow latte. Skim if I remember to mention it.

Maybe I’m becoming too bourgeoisie, drinking my latte, reading my trendy-ish new serious fiction with the ambiguously melancholic earth-toned cover and serifed titling (the new book by former National Book Award Finalist Dan Choan, You Remind Me of Me — if you must know). And don’t get me started about what I read in Mawreen Dowd’s column the other day… (Not really.) Thank god my hair’s an uncut, shaggy disaster and I haven’t shaved in a week. This gives me “edge.” Like David Foster Wallace. Or Viggo Mortensen.


Yeah, I ordered You Remind Me of Me several weeks ago after reading the short story from which the novel developed in Best American Non-Required Reading 2005. I like this series and I’ve picked up the new one each for the past few years. It’s a mix of off-kilter short stories and news articles and comix and political rants and just kind of whatever the editors happen to feel fits the vague “non-required reading” categorization. Anyway, Dan Choan had a short story called “Five Forgotten Instincts” in this about a twenty-something who had been horribly mutilated in a dog attack as a youngster and bore the scars over his whole adult body at the seams where the pieces had been sewn back together.

I like the metaphor, the image. A person with the psychic tears as visible on the outside as they are appart to him on the inside. Sounds corny? It kind of is. But Choan handles it all fairly well. So I picked up the book. Which is quite different, of course, but is still framed around the experiences of Jonah the reassembled man. The image of Jonah has a kind of super-hero tint to it (in my mind, not the book so much): In much of our popular mythology when a person has to endure an unfair tragedy, they either become a caped hero or super-villain thematically connected to the original injury. The Incredible Sexually Molested Girl fights Unloved Adopted Man. Etc.

I’m only a third into the book. So far, no crime-fighting.

No crime fighting on the night of January 7th, either, fortunately. At least, not where I was… Robert Mueller Airport.

Or, rather, the remains of Robert Mueller Airport.

(Involved in law-enforcement in Austin, Texas? You’ll enjoy this.)

Hillary calls Saturday evening with an URGENT message to go to Quack’s to pick up a map to this AWESOME renegade at an undisclosed location (well, the airport) that he and Eric were going to DJ and to not be a PUSSY like some other people and bail on them. The word “mangina” was used in description of those who were not planning on attending, so I knew it was serious. So after bouncing the idea around in my head (and having a cup of coffee with Eric Hawthorne and Susan Buck up at some livingroomish new coffeehouse on Anderson Lane called Genuine Joe’s), cruised down to Quack’s, picked up the secret map with directions and instructions of what to do once arriving at the airport (turn off lights immediately, watch out for potholes, etc.).

And so, after a few minutes of wondering whether to abandon the whole stupid plan, I went for it. Whatever.

Anyway, here’s what’s going on at Robert Mueller Airport. For those of you not in Austin, Robert Mueller is the old Austin airport that had been built on the edge of town many decades ago. Austin grew like crazy for twenty year — suddenly the airport’s, like, nearly downtown and the neighbors hate it and the U.S. Government decommissions Bergstrom Airforce Base in south Austin so the city closes Robert Mueller and now it sits as a huge decaying field of runways and old hangars on a slight plataeu that overlooks the Austin skyline — UT Tower, State Capital Building, Frost Bank Building, etc. Much of the old airport building itself is gone — except the control tower, which still stands rather ominously unlit when walked past at night). So, anyway, people throw parties in the hangars. Because they’re isolated and some have water and power and because it may be the only place in Austin where you can have a loud noisey DJ-fest with a bunch of people that lasts until 6am without having the police called (which is, I suppose, ironic).

“Renegades” are what they call ‘em, now, “rave” being a bit dated by this point and not sounding quite… outlaw enough, I guess. About fifty or seventy people showed up. Hill and Eric DJed for a couple of hours (and really got the crowd wound up, I must admit). Then Merrick went on at 2:30 or so (and I took off). Big, dark room inside a hangar with some blue Christmas lights here-and-there and, later, a big projection over the DJs showing footage that the person handling the visuals had apparently taken from artist work shown at the AMODA Digital Showcases and had been using for his own stuff recently. Funny. So I recognized some of it up there. Pliex. Flora+Fauna. Etc.

Mr. Digital Showcase himself Todd Simmons turned up around 1:45 and we spoke a bit about AMODA and what he’s been up to. It hasn’t been that long, but it’s weird how some people seem so much… older. I also realized that I’ve known Todd, now, for about five years… Since I first performed at a Digital Showcase during the summer of 2001. (Ah, halcyon days.) Cosmic.

Anyway. I knew Hillary, Eric, and Merrick, of course, but I did meet some of the others responsible for the night. The Oscillate Night series still sticks in people’s minds, it seems, which is good. So I have some cred. I should participate in one of these, I was told. Maybe I should. I live in New York most of the time, these days, you know. But you’re here fairly often, right. Yeah, probably more in the future that in the past six months. I’ll be back for SXSW. Cool.


To Austin. And Beyond.

Friday, January 6, 2006

My inability to get up at the right time bit me in the ass this morning. After waking up at 10am for my 11:30am flight, I made a mad-dash and hit the check-in counter at about 11:15am. Early enough, right? No, apparently. And not early enough for the cranky old woman running the counter to forgo an attempt to impart a lesson about arriving early to catch a flight… Wait, I’m supposed to show up before the time printed on the ticket? Well, hot shit! Who knew? Can you stop lecturing me and just get me on the fucking plane?


So I got bumped onto the next flight. And then had to wait in Dallas for a seat to open. So I got into Austin during the evening rather than during the late-afternoon. Ah, so.

Anyway, waiting around airports isn’t quite as tedious as it once might’ve been. Both Newark and Dallas offer the wifi now so I could send a few e-mails and tinker with the War Against Evil blogging code that I wrote up for this-here site you’re looking at. Someone from the Leonard Bernstein Office sent me a message to inquire about my availability to do some web work. Jack Gottlieb (and Dan Shiffman) tipped them off to my existence. It’d be nice if that developed into a nice little contract. I need to remember to call them on Monday…

Not much to say about flying except that after several years of having a deep primal neurosis towards air travel, I’ve mellowed out about it in the past six months or so and was able to actually enjoy the long stretches of turbulence-free flight. The plane would occasionally bump around like on rocks and my mind would be instantly filled with a million replications of “I hate flying I hate flying I hate flying” — but it was generally smooth going… Few problems. (Although my ability to visualize the aircraft I’m in cracking apart in the sky and opening into shards and fragments of engineering as I enjoy the few windy minutes between me and hard oblivion below remians quite acute. I’ll become famous and then when I die tragically in a plane wreck my fans will marvel at my Ritchie Valens-like prescience.)

Brenna’s fine. Meri’s fine. But sick. Meri called to invite me out for a drink at Six, Lance Armstrong’s new bar at the location of The Lounge (once my favorite martini bar). We didn’t stay long. Some other people were there, including a high school classmate whom I hadn’t seen since 1996. So it kind of turned into one of those “what happened to everyone?” roll-calls that I find increasingly tedious. Someone got married? Someone had a kid? Someone still works at Best Buy? After a certain point, most lives seem to fall into familiar ruts and become more-or-less boring stories. A few people transcend all of that an remain interesting and always worth keeping tabs on, but those seem fewer every year…