Wednesday, December 20, 2017

Classics Revisited: Eraserhead

I was twenty-one and a half-assed film student when I first watched David Lynch’s cult classic. It was 2001. Back then, Eraserhead—Lynch’s first feature-length film—was so difficult to find in the East Bay suburbs that the only copy I could get my hands on was a LaserDisc from the library at San Francisco State, which is where I watched it between classes. I remember it being an exceedingly bizarre movie, as expected, but I wasn’t swept up by it like I had hoped. Or much disturbed by it.

Seventeen years later, I decided it was high time to re-watch it. I am a far different person now than I was when I first watched it. The obvious difference is that I’m much older now—grizzled even—and seen a lot. And I’m now also fortunate to be the father of a nine-month-old boy. Over the summer, while holding my sleeping son against my chest, I had watched Lynch’s first two seasons of Twin Peaks for the first time. I also re-watched Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me (Lynch’s most ghastly, atrocious work that I’ve ever seen) and his terrific unsung film, The Straight Story. Altogether, that was the experience, the new life lens I brought into re-watching Eraserhead late into the night while my wife and our son slept in our bedroom.

Throughout the nearly two-hour-long film, I was continually delighted, surprised and astounded by how much of Lynch’s cinematic language from his latter films was already on full display in his first feature. On one level, that alone deeply entertained me. And as I got swept up in the film, which is basically a surrealist horror film about the fear of fatherhood, I couldn’t help but see how the cinematic elements in Eraserhead would ultimately resurface again and again in Lynch’s latter works. Just look at all the Lynchian elements I spotted in the film’s first hour and six minutes:

Monday, October 16, 2017

2017-2018 NBA season predictions

Well, that was, by far, the most eventful offseason in recent NBA history. First, the Celtics traded the top pick in the 2017 NBA draft to the Sixers. Then D’Angelo Russell and Timofey Mozgov’s ridiculous contract were traded to the Nets for Brook Lopez and the 27th pick in the draft. (This trade was particularly significant since it opened the way for the Lakers to draft Lonzo Ball, aaaaaaaaannnnnd, to offload Mozgov’s contract for next year’s free agency season, when a certain King of Passive Aggression from Akron, OH will become a free agent.) Jimmy Butler was traded to the Timberwolves. And then Chris Paul, Paul George and Avery Bradley were traded. But the whopper of them all was Kyrie Irving’s polite request for a trade after going to three straight NBA Finals with LeBron and the Cavs. The 2017 NBA Finals concluded in Oakland (yeah!) on June 12th, and I was absolutely rapt by the NBA’s offseason until late August when Kyrie was traded to the Celtics for Isaiah Thomas, Jae Crowder, some chump and the Celtics coveted unprotected 2018 Brooklyn Nets pick. Goddamn, man. The NBA won the offseason!

But sweet baby Jesus, we’re finally here. The 2017-2018 NBA regular season kicks off with the juiciest opener I can remember: Kyrie returning to Cleveland with his new team. If it were a pay-per-view event, I would fork over good money to see Irving square off against LeBron and his former teammates. Man, I can’t wait.

For once, I wanted to put down some of my predictions for this coming season. Without further ado, here are my predictions for the playoff teams in each conference:

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Warriors vs. Cavs: Part Three (La Venganza?)

Since these two superteams are meeting in the Finals for a third straight year, I think the best place to start with this rambling post is to revisit last year’s Finals, which was something I was reluctant to do for a long, long time.

Last year, as you know (if you’re reading this), the Cavs improbably came back from a 3-1 deficit to win the title in Oracle Arena. As a long-time Oakland sports fan, I’m no stranger to crushing losses. The 2002 Super Bowl (a.k.a. the Tijuana Bowl) immediately comes to mind, but it wasn’t nearly as devastating as last year’s loss. Part of me is embarrassed to share this because I know, in the end, sports is just sports, but I had a horrific night of non-sleep after our Game 7 loss last year. I probably slept three hours, tops; I awoke a few times and stared off in the dark and couldn’t go back to sleep because I couldn’t stop from thinking of every single goddamn thing that had to go wrong in order for the Warriors to collapse like they did at the end of that series: Curry slipping on a wet spot in Houston in the opening round and injuring his knee; Draymond’s accidental (I think) kick to Steven Adams royal jewels in the Western Conference Finals, which was basically the equivalent of a yellow card, contributing to his subsequent suspension in the pivotal Game 5 of the Finals; our epic, grueling seven-game series against the Oklahoma City Thunder; Bogut’s injury in the 4th quarter of Game 5 in the Finals; and the Warriors season-long chase for the regular season record for wins, a grind which finally caught up to the Warriors at the end of the Finals. That sleepless night, after seeing Kyrie Irving hit a dagger three-pointer in the closing minutes I couldn’t help but think that if even one of those acts had not happened we would have won a second straight title. The day after Game 7, like one of our then-summer interns—a born-and-bred Cleveland Cavaliers fan—I was still in disbelief that the Cavs actually fucking won (let alone beat us three times in a row).

A few weeks ago, I finally mustered the will to watch the replay of Kyrie’s game-winning shot over Steph Curry in Game 7.

Now I can’t fucking wait until tip-off tomorrow.

Monday, May 29, 2017

Farewell, Oakland

When I first moved to Oakland back in June 2011, I was still navigating through a perilous juncture in my life. I was a newborn cancer survivor. I had just finished a first (and super-duper-crappy) draft of my memoir and still dealing with everything that had happened to me. David, a sweet, beautiful man I had befriended while undergoing radiation treatment had just died a few weeks before. And so, I was still acutely aware of how temporary life is. I was still wounded, still brittle, but I was beginning to heal thanks to my writing and a six-week artist residency that winter in Taos, New Mexico. Getting away from San Francisco—the city where a few of my blood cells jumped the rails and went rogue—was nourishing for me. All that solitude was especially good for my spirit; living completely on my own for the first time in my life was freeing for me.

So when I settled back to my typical everyday life in San Pancho, I knew, in my heart, I couldn’t continue to live with roommates; not after I had basked in a more quiet, inward life on my own. At that point in my life—a life that felt incredibly uncertain—my overriding, urgent and borderline desperate need was to establish a rhythm, a way of living that would allow me to be as content and happy as possible. I earnestly felt like my well-being depended on it. (I still do.) Nothing frightened me more than the prospect of relapsing.

And so, I decided to leave the home I had shared with my three roommates. I decided to leave the Mission District, the vibrant, ever-transforming neighborhood where I had lived for nearly seven years. At the time, I worked about thirty hours every week to allow more time to devote to writing, which was a constant tonic. Since I wasn’t raking in piles of money, I couldn’t afford a single-bedroom apartment in the city so I migrated to Oakland, back to the sunny eastside of the bay where I had been raised.

I still remember my first few weeks living right by the eastern side of Lake Merritt. Summer had begun, and I remember how instantaneously at home I felt in my new surroundings just by simply wearing a t-shirt and shorts just about everywhere (except San Francisco when I migrated back for work). I remember how great it felt to come home and kick off my socks and leave them laying in the living room if I wanted. Moving to Oakland was also coupled with a newfound kindling love since I had begun to date my sweetheart, Maria; I remember how at home I felt when we first strolled around the lake on a sun-filled afternoon. Throughout that summer, I remember how proud and at peace I felt when I would stare with quiet awe at Oakland’s minute skyline as I cycled around the lake. I never grew tired of that vista whether if I was immersed within a sea of sunlight or twilight. And when I breathed in that modest but delightful view, I felt like I was exactly where I should be—and I have found that such moments in life are often much too fleeting.

Before long, a year passed. A third Cancerversary was celebrated. With time, I healed. Then Maria and I moved in together, synthesizing our earthly belongings into one home that was truly ours. The years continued to pass. We got married twice in Oakland—legally at the county’s Clerk-Recorder’s office and ritually entwined in front of our loved ones in a forest of redwoods. And then my book was published. That year—probably the sweetest of my life—my heart felt full. My spirit felt at peace (but fleetingly, of course). Then, Maria became pregnant, but she lost the embryo. And then she became pregnant again and lost the second one. Together we weathered that sorrow. Our third one held, and she eventually gave birth to our hijito. All of this happened in Oakland. And then, a few weeks ago, we lifted our roots and moved south to the foothills of Hayward to be closer to our families.

Although I still work in Oakland, it still tore me up at first to not wake within this city that I have loved like no other. In a short, short amount of time, Oakland had become my town. My beat. My haven. My home. I doubt I will ever find another hometown that I identify with so strongly. In its totality, its 78,000 square miles of land, sky and water, Oakland is a diverse, pulsing medley of beauty and fucked-up-ness that I always felt like an extension of.

It would be easy to tick off the places in Oakland I miss and remain fond of, but I’ll refrain. Oaktown is far more than just a list of places I happen to like. The future may not exist, but now that our trinity is here in our new home in Hayward it’s hard not to daydream of Maria and I returning to Oakland to show Miguelito our old haunts (The Grand Lake Theatre! The Rose Garden! Dracena Park! Joaquin Miller Park!), the town where he was forged, and to discover some new places together.

with Maria, eight months pregnant, at Lake Temescal

Friday, April 14, 2017

2016-2017 NBA Playoff Opening Round Predictions!

Fuck yeah! The 2016-2017 NBA Playoffs are finally ready to begin!

I am an unabashed Warriors fan, but I must say, the beginning of these playoffs feels like déjà vu of the 2014 NBA Playoffs when it felt destined that they would culminate with a Finals rematch between the Heat and Spurs. This year, of course, it feels like the Warriors and Cavs will square off again for the championship. And like the Spurs, it feels inevitable that the Warriors will avenge their collapse in last year’s Finals.

At the onset of last year's playoffs, gave the Warriors a 42% likelihood of winning the title. The Cavs were given a 9% chance. We know how that turned out. (FiveThirtyEight also predicted an easy Clinton victory in the election—and we know how that turned out…)

For what it’s worth, this year FiveThirtyEight’s playoff forecast believes the Warriors, with their robust +11.6 point differential have a 59% likelihood of winning the title. The Cavs and their putrid defense come in with just a 2% chance of winning, less than the other top three seeds in the East. Yeeouch:

Just after they traded for Kyle Korver, I couldn’t fathom anyone in the Eastern Conference knocking off the Cavs. Conversely, before KD’s knee injury, I couldn’t imagine anyone in the West defeating a healthy Warriors squad in a seven-game series. Shit has changed a bit since, but now I feel far more confident that the Dubs will make it to the Finals whereas I am much more uncertain about the Cavs. As ESPN’s Marc Stein pointed out, the 2016-2017 Cavs are 22nd in defensive efficiency and will attempt to be the first team outside the top 10 in defensive efficiency to win it all since the 2000-01 Lakers. And speaking of the Lakers, in March the only team with a worse defensive efficiency than the Cavaliers were the Lakers—who were trying to fucking tank for the draft! LeQueen may talk all he wants about not caring what playoff seeding his teams finish with, but wrapping up the last full month of the regular season with the second worst defensive rating is not a tried and true route to winning a championship. (Did I mention the Cavs finished with a worst road record (3-9) against Western Conference teams than the mighty Brooklyn Nets or Orlando Magic?)

Okay, enough about the Cavs, who will be a lottery team in two seasons. Here’s some random (and bold!) playoff predictions before I put down my predictions for each opening round matchup:

Sunday, January 29, 2017

What I Learned From All My Jobs - Part II

Ralph Wolf and Sam Sheepdog punching in for work

This is the last of my two-part series detailing many of my learnings from working for the big, big money:

16.    Office Assistant
-that truckers are a special breed of people (and probably excellent company for bullshiting and drinking)
-that traveling salespeople seem to operate with an inflated sense of hubris
-that salespeople can be assholes and charming at the same time
-that there is something severely depressing about dimly-lit office cafeterias with a poorly stocked vending machine that hums loudly
-that people working inside an office often look upon people working out in the warehouse as a different breed of human being
-that people working out in the warehouse often look upon people working inside an office as a different breed of human being
-that I have a knack for adapting the way I talk and interact to both groups
-that I have a fondness for manual time clock machines
-that I have an absolute and almost complete weakness for an attractive superior

Saturday, January 14, 2017

My Top 10 Favorite Cover Songs

A few weeks ago, guest blogger Jasmyn Wong put down her top 10 favorite covers of all-time. Here’s mine:

10.    Fever – Sarah Vaughan (Little Willie John)
In writing this post I actually discovered for the first time the original recording by Little Willie John. It’s not a bad tune or recording whatsoever, but I still slightly prefer this lively, bossa-novaesque cover by Sarah Vaughan. This playful rendition feels like it should be playing at the pool while you’re lounging about a pool in Lahaina, or possibly at a psychedelic circus in the company of Hunter Thompson. Either scenario is good in my book.

9.    Orion – Rodrigo y Gabriela (Metallica)
The first time I heard this rendition I was deliciously high. I was hanging out with friends. It was my first time hearing Rodrigo y Gabriela. This song played from the kitchen. It sounded familiar but I couldn’t quite place it so I walked over to the kitchen to give it a close listen. Once I realized it was an acoustic cover of Metallica’s masterful instrumental (which featured the late great bassist Cliff Burton), I proceeded to lose my head and shout with glee, startling my peeps. I still get similarly excited when I hear it.

8.     Painkiller – Death (Judas Priest)
For the record, I slightly prefer the original recording but Death’s cover is arguably tastier because it’s just nastier. Chuck Schuldiner’s genius is on full display on this track, from his dire, high-pitched vocals (he didn’t start off singing like that whatsoever!) to his scorching solo. Flawless cover of an epic metal classic.

7.    Loose – The Birthday Party (The Stooges)
Dear fucking god, Nick Cave manages to out-yell and out-nasty and out-crazy Iggy Pop on this track! His deranged vocals at the end of the song takes the fucking cake, and almost always gets me giggling in its sheer lunacy.

6.    Let’s Dance – M. Ward (David Bowie)
In all humbleness, I think M. Ward’s cover of Bowie’s “Let’s Dance” is ridiculously superior to the original. This cover takes the lyrics and chords and squeezes so much goddamn heart out of it. It’s a completely different song in M. Ward’s hands. The first time I listened to this rendition I just froze, enthralled with what I was listening to.

5.    Mystery Train – The Paul Butterfield Blues Band (Junior Parker)
My love for this song has been mentioned on this blog before. This blues standard has been covered by so many musicians but this rendition does it for me. The guitar sounds like it’s perfectly teetering on overdrive. And the harmonica gives the song a rollicking yet urgent tone.

4.    Changes – Charles Bradley (Black Sabbath)
If I was unfamiliar with Black Sabbath’s music, I would have never guessed that this neo-soul rendition was originally written by them. Charles Bradley and his Extraordinaires make this song their own, and it’s a heartfelt rendition.

3.    D7 – Nirvana (The Wipers)
Great bands and musicians tend to have a knack for creating covers that are superior to the originals. This one’s a great example. The Wipers’ bare, sludgy original is honest and emotional, but Cobain and company take the dissonance and anger conveyed in the original and just fucking seriously ratchet it up. If you like Nirvana (like I do), Cobain’s genius is well displayed by simply comparing these two tracks. When you think about guitar gods, Cobain doesn’t immediately come to mind, but I humbly believe few other musicians wielded the raw, mighty synergy of distorted guitar and voice like he did. 2:24 – 3:01 of Nirvana’s cover is a quintessential example of that, and my god, that part has been making me shake my head in awe for nearly two decades now. (It also helps that Dave Grohl is absolutely murdering his drums during that part.)

2.    You Really Got Me – Van Halen (The Kinks)
Everything I said about great bands reinterpreting original material can be said about this cover. The Kinks’ original is a great song, but man, just from hearing Eddie’s blaring opening riff you know this rendition is going to blow the fucking balls off of the original recording. This is Van Halen at their finest. A goddamn supernova of vigor, swagger and sound.

1.    All Along the Watchtower – Jimi Hendrix (Bob Dylan)
Jimi’s cover of Bob Dylan’s song is so intensely good that I think most people associate this song to him. Honestly, there is no reason to listen to Dylan’s original unless you wish to hear just how inferior it is to Jimi’s kaleidoscopic cover.

Honorable Mentions:

Danger Zone – Banger Uterus (Kenny Loggins)

My friend, Avelina, sings in this outstanding cover! If you ask me, this rendition has more emotional depth and intensity than Kenny Loggins’ track for the Top Gun soundtrack.

Fever – The Cramps
I could have easily swapped this rendition for Sarah Vaughan’s.

Goin’ Out of My Head - Sergio Mendes & Brasil '66 (Little Anthony & the Imperials)
A catchy rendition with a subtle but nifty piano solo by Sergio Mendes.

Because – Elliott Smith (The Beatles)
This is the only Beatles cover I have ever listened to that can hold a candle to their original recording.

Baby Please Don’t Go – Van Morrison (Big Joe Williams)
A rocking rendition of this blues standard. The thumping bass line on this cover is just stellar.

Saturday, January 7, 2017

What I Learned From All My Jobs - Part I

at Cockbuster with my boy, Dmitri, at age 19, pulling my pants up ridiculously high, and letting it fly!

Homer: Yes, son. You can have an electric guitar just like your old man!
Bart: Dad, I'm asking if I can get a job.
Homer: Gig, son. When you're a musician, a job is called a gig.

From The Simpsons “Bart Gets Famous”

For most of my adult life, I have preferred to call a job a “gig” à la Homer J. Simpson. Maybe it’s because I treated many of them like gigs.

Counting my current job, I’ve had 30 different jobs since I started working when I was fourteen years old. This total includes gigs that lasted a month, but it doesn’t include ones that lasted a day (a canvasser for Clean Water Action) or a week or two (a door-to-door salesman when I was kid).

I’ve learned a lot from all these jobs. I figured it’d be interesting to catalog. So here’s what I learned: