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New Song: “The Dracula Stomp”

An early Halloween funk treat. I stumbled onto something that sounded like classic horror film music and leaned into it hard. Vocals courtesy Count Chocula, Grandpa Al Lewis and Bela Lugosi. The song is the debut of my Arturia Minibrute, an amazing machine that’s elevated every part of my game. The chorus alludes to Bach’s Toccata in D Minor. I’m gonna build up my keyboard chops until I can do an entire “Fifth of Beethoveen” for that piece.

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Bits from the Hmong, or What I’ve Been up to Lately

Screen Shot 2015-06-23 at 11.00.11 AMThis blog has been a desert wasteland for a while, but for a good reason: I’ve been busy with paying gigs.

The latest one I really like. It’s a feature exploring the real world origins of the Nightmare on Elm Street franchise for Van Winkle’s. It’s long but real good (if I might say so myself). Spoiler Alert: I accuse Wes Craven of a coke-fueled newspaper misunderstanding.

Also, my headline is an imperfect pun. The story is about an ethnicity called the Hmong. The h is silent.

Click the graphic for the story.

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Robert Durst isn’t Just a Bizarre Killer. He’s the Perfect Class War Bad Guy.


Class warriors need to hurry up and exploit the queasy charisma of allegedly murderous millionaire Robert Durst.

Weeks after the bombshell ending of The Jinx, Durst is still in the news thanks to his odd behavior and knack for getting implicated in the disappearances of women. But police aren’t going to connect him to cold cases forever. It’s important to act fast and make Durst the icon of unfairly apportioned wealth.

Durst is the best villain the left wing has been served since Mitt Romney. And while old Mitt was merely an out of touch billionaire, Bob Durst is an out of touch billionaire psychopath. Lefties get energized when facing a bad guy. Durst personifies the monstrous potential of resource inequality; he’s the perfect class war bad guy. Yet that’s somehow gone strangely unnoticed and unexploited.

As the story of a man who has enough money to literally get away with murder, the Jinx is an unintentional indictment of the one percent. All of the purportedly admirable traits and habits of the rich are absent. Durst didn’t work hard or invest wisely or benefit anyone but himself with his money. His life is a riches to riches tale, lacking rags, bootstrap pulling or triumphing over adversity other than suspicion of murder.

A third generation member of a Manhattan real estate baron family, Durst didn’t use his effortlessly acquired riches to create jobs. Durst stopped showing up for work and instead collected a $2 million salary while living on the road until he swapped that annual payout for a $65 million settlement.

Durst is not a wealthy man who just so happens to be homicidal. The money and the madness are inextricably linked. The money lets him kill an irksome neighbor and walk after a $1.8 million legal defense. To paraphrase Chris Rock, if Durst drove a bus, he’d be Bob, the murderer bus driver who’s been in jail since his wife disappeared.

McCormack, his first wife, came from a family far closer to the bus driver side of the money spectrum. And he almost certainly killed her. It’s both a tragedy and rich metaphor for the antagonism between the striving middle class and the elite rich.

Born into a sprawling Irish Catholic family from Long Island, McCormack was studying to become a pediatrician. In The Jinx, her brother is interviewed on the job wearing his work uniform a Home Depot apron. It seems a fair assumption that Kathie was the most upwardly mobile member of the family. In the wake of her death, grief and wealth were split between the haves and have-nots, with all of the grief on one side and all the money on the other. The McCormack family was devastated and the Dursts broke ties, kept quiet and held onto their money. It’s a grotesque parallel to the Wall Street CEO keeping his bonus despite wiping out the equity of his middle class clients.

Keeping the family’s secrets and fearing becoming one of Bob’s victims surely takes an emotional toll on the Durst clan. But otherwise, the Durst family hasn’t suffered much. Bob Durst has been a tabloid fixture since his 2001 arrest for the killing of Morris Black. But the decade of bad publicity didn’t stop the Dursts from becoming managers of the Freedom Tower, the decade’s highest profile Manhattan development.

Despite his estrangement from his family, Bob Durst still made a (metaphorical) killing in the family business.While the Freedom Tower was built, Bob Durst and his second wife quietly collected $12 million speculating on the Brooklyn housing market through a practice called “predatory equity.” Their company, BCB Property Management, coerced rent controlled apartment tenants to leave their homes in exchange for low-ball offers. The ones that refused reportedly faced utilities shutoffs and deteriorating conditions.

With the old tenants out, BCB would reportedly modify the vacant apartments, exploiting a legal loophole and allowing the rent to jump to three or four times the regulated rate.

The practice helped transform places former working class Brooklyn enclaves Crown Heights, Williamsburg and Carroll Gardens into elite neighborhoods.

Clearly, concentrating wealth with Bob Durst has had a corrosive effect. Instead of investing his money in to a constructive end, he uses it to drain money from the lower class. That trickle up effect would be cause for concern even if it hadn’t created and enabled a monster.

So tales of Durst’s odd behavior are likely to crop up for weeks because the media won’t let us forget Durst is a bizarre monster. It’s important to remember that he’s a rich one, too.

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New Song: Universal Donor

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The Misfits Restoration Project

The misfitsIn my head, “20 Eyes” is one of the loudest sounds in the universe. On audio devices in the real world, it’s only about half the volume of even the quietest folk song.

I’ve listened to the Misfits on CD, MP3 and streaming. The sound quality is always muffled. It’s frustrating. In theory, you should be able to go follow up any fast heavy song with “Where Eagles Dare.” But you can’t because in comparison with almost any other punk or hard rock songs, it’s going to be a delicate rain drop of sound.

I understand that the Misfits recorded their classic albums over 30 years ago during rushed sessions in discount studios. I know that they were largely unknown while they were together and that their post break up popularity is mostly due to Metallica covers. But other equally old and obscure bands have much better sounding music. As a random example, Rose Tattoo’s debut album has Dark Side of the Moon-level fidelity compared to the Misfits.

And while Rose Tattoo is a good, dirty Australian boogie metal group, the Misfits are fucking American treasures. They deserve better.

Somehow the Misfits didn’t benefit from the ‘90s re-mastering mania when record labels polished up their back catalogs for CD. Supposedly the songs were re-mastered they were collected for a box set in the ‘90s (shaped like a coffin!) but you would never guess that from hearing them.

But they still sound like they were dredged up from the Titanic, probably because they were remixed by Glenn Danzig and Tom Begrowicz. Begrowicz is evidently a huge Misfits fan and has archived and curated demos, photographs and band history for decades. He sounds like a total chiller but not exactly the professional sound-scaper a project of this importance requires.

I am not a recording engineer but judging from information on Misfitscentral, sessions it sounds like the band used professional equipment.

The Misfits recorded “live in the studio” directly onto two-inch multi-track tapes, usually with 8 or 16 tracks. A multi-track tape plays and records in only one direction and has a certain number of tracks or channels onto which music is recorded. For instance, a song on an 8-track tape might have three tracks devoted to guitars, one for bass, one for vocals, one for drums, and two for background vocals. Multi-track tapes include almost everything recorded during the session, from the band talking to alternate takes of the songs.

Sounds like there should be enough there to work with. Unless there isn’t? Anybody know better and want to set me straight?

Do I need to do a kickstarter for this or something? I feel like I shouldn’t. Can’t alleged Misfits superfan Rick Rubin give an intern $50 to turn some knobs?

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Should Tom Petty Have Backed Down?

My buddy Paul asked me if I thought that Sam Smith’s “Stay With Me” rips off “Tom Petty’s “Won’t Back Down.” A recent court action ruled that it did; the song now credits Petty and his producer, former ELO front man Jeff Lynn, as co-writers.

They’re both terrible songs, so it’s pretty funny anybody’s fighting over ownership. SWM is a whiny little bleat that illustrates how wrong British people can get soul music. WBD is such smug dad rock that Johnny Cash couldn’t even save it with a cover.

The “SWM” vocal hook seems to rip off about six sequential notes from “WBD’”s chorus. As this purportedly damning video demonstrates, while the songs are in different keys and tempos, the songs partially lines up after some quick digital editing.

I don’t think that’s enough for it to be considered a total rip off. The tempos are different, the instrumentation’s different and the key is different. The vocal is different enough to make it its own song. Unfortunately, “WSM” is so minimal that once you hear “WBD” in it, it never goes away. The same three piano chords rumble in the background throughout the song. The vocal melody flitters around it for the verses and then lines up with it for the chorus and the contrast makes it an effective song.

A couple of journalists have noted that Petty has shrugged off other alleged instances of plagiarism so it’s puzzling that he called up his lawyer for this one.

But I have a theory.

Even though Petty’s a chill weed-smoking stay-at-home Willbury now, back when he was a hungry swamp rat trying to break out of North Florida, he was notoriously litigious. In a series of protracted legal battles, he fought record companies about artists’ rights and record prices.

I don’t know what record label Sam Smith is signed to. I don’t know who the executives of that label are. But my guess is that maybe Petty had one last score to settle.

UPDATE: Evidently I am wrong. According to Petty, his legal team merely contacted Smith’s team and never threatened a lawsuit. All right, whatever. Who cares, really.

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So, You Have a Baby.

raising_arizona1A friend of mine went and got his wife pregnant. For him, it’s a life changing experience. For me, it’s an excuse to show off my expertise in caring for babies.

Being a parent is like playing a video game. You start on the easiest level without any skills. As you get better, the game gets harder. This isn’t to say that infants are easy to care for, particularly if you’ve never done it before. But infants are immobile, which counts for a lot.

While the infant is breastfeeding, the mom is the boss. Dads can be good employees by taking some initiative and owning important business practices like changing diapers, bottle feedings, getting the infant to sleep and ridding the baby of snot and gas. You’re going to learn to be a specialist in one or all of them.

Each of those tasks has different challenges. Changing diapers rewards efficient and quick thinking. Getting a baby to sleep and eat rewards patience and sticking to a disciplined routine. Your baby is apt to squirm, roll over or kick when you are trying to get a diaper on. As long as you are thorough, gentle and quick, you can approach it however you want.

Related: inventing euphemisms for body functions is really fun. We started with “she’s the mayor of Browntown,” shortened it to “Browntown” and flipped that into “Brownton Abbey.”

Getting an infant to sleep isn’t an application for improvisation. It calls for steadiness and patience. If a position or a rhythm works, you have to hold it until it stops working, which means dealing with physical discomfort and boredom. That sounds easy but believe me, it is not.

Babies can’t blow their nose. So it’s your job to get the boogers out of their nose. You should get a device called a frida. It’s basically a short, thin hose attached to a plastic tube. You stick the tube in the baby’s nose and the hose in your mouth and suck the mucus out. Babies hate this and you will feel like a self-loathing snot vampire. But it’s effective and they get over it.

Burping a baby remains to me as mysterious as casting spells. I’ve done it thousands of times but still do not understand it. Look elsewhere for insight.

If you’re watching your baby by yourself, use the bathroom the second they are safely asleep. They could wake up five minutes after they fall asleep. It’s hard to find the necessary serenity to calm a baby when your bladder is screaming at you.

The optimal time for an infant to be awake is 90 minutes. There’s a whole book about it, but the important information can be distilled to a sentence fragment: put the baby back to sleep 90 minutes after it wakes up. The time frame will have a high success rate until they are about six months old.

Following the advice in the book and video The Happiest Baby on the Block will 1) make you feel like a lunatic and 2) be almost revoltingly effective. When the baby cries, hold him/her parallel to the floor, rocking them and saying “shush” in their ear at the same volume they are crying. It feels like a harsh, punishing thing to do to a baby. It feels wrong. You will want to sing or speak gently. While older babies will respond to that sort of thing, newborns like the shushing better.

Expect people to treat you very differently when you’re out in public with your baby. I’m a white dude. When I am in public with my daughter, older black and Latin women—people for whom I was previously largely invisible—now greet me with warm smiles and bright eyes. I could do something crazy, like ask them to loan me money or tell them I’m running for office as a Republican and they’d keep an open mind. Women carrying babies don’t enjoy the same automatic approval because they’re expected to.

Fellow fathers will nod at you as you pass. It’s like being part of a secret club except it is totally not a secret. Just nod back. It’s fun.

You will be invisible to most women under 30 when you’re with an infant. I don’t know why exactly but I just know that they don’t have time for your noise.

If you show up at a place full of college students with a party atmosphere, you can almost feel the crowd stiffen. It’s a real bummer for them to see all that adult responsibility right in front of them. Conversely, it will be hilarious for you.

And this was the most unexpected thing: caring for an infant will likely be the least narrative-driven period of your life. You will be pretty happy but there will be no stories to tell about it. I saw friends a couple months after my daughter was born and said that while spending time with my daughter was a staggeringly rich and rewarding experience, I didn’t have a single anecdote about it. I can turn a story about seeing a guy in a funny hat into a five-minute bit. When my daughter was a newborn I would just drip words like “beautiful” and “amazing” like some sap with a thesaurus.

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