Monday, December 29, 2008


We're in a park in Mesa and a woman calls out to her child, "Aspen! Aspen! Come here Aspen!"

Aspen? Really? The woman and her child drove up in a Lexus SUV, so perhaps this poor child was named after the place he was conceived. Or maybe the family has a tree theme that they're trying to keep going.

But Aspen? Does this woman know how her child's name will be shortened by people? I'll tell you: Ass. People are going to call this kid "ass." Even his friends will call him that.

That's just wrong.

Thursday, December 25, 2008


It's nearly impossible to get a picture with Nate and Will in the same frame, but when we came into the room where they were sleeping and found this scene.

Two important things here. Nate and Will sleep in separate cribs, but Will crawled into Nate's on Christmas morning. They were certainly ready to go.

And, yes, they were in the same frame... sort of smiling. We've been trying for months to get a photo even kind of like this, so we're calling it our Christmas miracle.

Here's hoping you had your own little miracles this year.

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Wednesday, December 24, 2008


Still on the road, but I thought I'd check in for a brief moment and wish anyone who stumbles upon this post a Merry Christmas.

May this season find you in the company of those you love. And may the new year bring you much joy.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008


Time and technolgy have conspired to keep me from updating this space much lately. But I have come across an old article I wrote for a defunct Salt Lake City music magazine. I hope you enjoy it.

(First published in Grid Magazine, late 1996)

When I meet Wesley Willis, he is having one of what he calls his “torture hell rides.” Stuttering, twitching, and sometimes punching himself in the face, Willis is hardly a picture of composure. He speaks of his “demon” that calls him a “stupid jerk” and keeps Willis from going on his “joy ride.” The scene is, at first, more than a little disturbing. Long before I arrive at American Recordings offices to interview Willis, I know that this will not be like any other assignment I’ve had.

The “torture hell rides” are not part of some shtick. Willis was brought up in the violent projects of Chicago’s South Side. After being held at gunpoint by a friend of his mother, Willis developed paranoid schizophrenia. That’s when the demons came. “My demon is the one who spoils my joy rides on busses,” says Willis. “From 1990 to 1996, I have had a total of over 18,000 hell city bus rides with demon torment.”

Willis is obsessed with the Chicago bus system. Good and bad emotions are described as they relate to Chicagoland’s public transit. The “hell ride” takes place on city bus (mostly figuratively, sometimes literally) and often involves involuntary swearing and violent outbursts. The “joy ride,” on the other hand, represents Willis’ best mood and, in an ideal world, takes place on the PACE bus. That’s the line that runs into Chicago’s affluent northern suburbs.

To keep the demons away, Willis began composing songs, lots of them. Over 30 albums and thousands of songs during the last six years. Some deal with his demons while others tell simple crime and punishment stories. The vast majority concern rock concerts he has attended. Almost all of them are identical in structure, with the Country 8 rhythm played on a Technics keyboard while Willis shouts/sings his lyrics. Just so you get the idea, here are the lyrics to “Hootie and the Blowfish”:

This band played at the Metro. About 200 people were at the show. The rock show was awesome. It’ whupped the police’s ass.

Hootie and the Blowfish
Hootie and the Blowfish
Hootie and the Blowfish
Hootie and the Blowfish

The band played it on. The band got down as they stormed the stage. The crowd roared like a lion. The jam session whupped the police’s ass.

Hootie and the Blowfish
Hootie and the Blowfish
Hootie and the Blowfish
Hootie and the Blowfish

(two minute synth-chord solo)

The rock show as over at last. A lot of people met the band. The rock show was awesome like Check Express. It was a great rock show at last!

Hootie and the Blowfish
Hootie and the Blowfish
Hootie and the Blowfish
Hootie and the Blowfish

Rock over London, Rock on Chicago. Budweiser are proud to be your bud.

And that’s about it. Willis’ songs are instantly recognizable. Sure, the ad slogan at the end may change, but if you hear a song title shouted four times over a synthesized rhythm, you’re listening to Wesley Willis.

Willis started performing his songs on the streets and selling his intricate pen and marker drawings. Eventually, he started putting out CDs on his own and through indie labels like Alternative Tentacles and Oglio. And now the Warner-backed American Recordings is distributing his music. Apart from earning him some money, Willis’s music has succeeded in subduing the voices in his head. Since he began recording, the number of times he has been hospitalized has dropped dramatically.

Apart from the music therapy, the hell rides are kept to a minimum with the assistance of medication. But Willis is out of medication when I meet him. Seeing I’m in over my head, American Recordings exec Dino Paredes comes into the conference room where Willis and I are sitting. Paredes signed Willis to American earlier this year and the two seem to have a special friendship. Willis speaks to Paredes like a young child would to a father, rifling off a series of questions on subjects ranging from music sales to wind-chill factors at Lake Tahoe.

Paredes’ presence has a calming effect on Willis, but it is still almost impossible to keep Willis on a single topic. After a few minutes, I realize that my prepared questions will be pretty much useless. Willis is much more interested in making another extremely detailed picture of the Chicago skyline. After being convinced by Paredes to put down his markers for a moment, Willis begins telling me about some of his high profile admirers.

Willis: A lot of people like my artwork. A lot of people love the way I do my art.

Paredes: Like who?

Willis: But my demon in my head thinks I’m not anything.

Paredes: But who likes you, Wesley.

Willis: Rick Rubin likes me.

Paredes: Who else likes you?

Willis: Dino likes me.

Paredes: What bands like you?

Willis: Slayer likes me, Mike D likes me, Cracker likes me.

As it turns out, a lot of Bands like Willis. Rumor has it that Foo Fighters frontman Dave Grohl has the lyrics to Willis’ song “Dave Grohl” framed in his office. Jello Biafra, Gavin Rossdale of Bush, and Kato Kaelin (who, technically, is not a band) also count themselves as friends of Willis.

As soon as I learn this, Willis goes back to his drawing. He repeats something about needing to keep his butt busy so the demon won’t take him on a hell ride. He begins speaking in more detail about his demon.

“My demon cusses at me with profanity. My demon says mean and vulgar words at me. My demon makes me beat myself upside my head. My demon makes me bust portable CD players. My demon also makes me cuss at city bus drivers. And when I cuss at city bus drivers all of the time, some of the bus drivers get so sick of my bad mouth that they call the police. And then the police come and get me off the bus. They don’t take me to jail. They know that I am a rock star. But my demon thinks I’m a damn fool…”

Then he repeats the whole story all over again. Willis is a perfectionist. If he mispronounces a word or puts the emphasis on the wrong part of a sentence, he tells me to rewind my tape and starts again from the top.

Willis is also a warehouse of information. When asked about when he played in Salt Lake City, he immediately recites the club name and day of the week that he played. Even though he has put out dozens of albums with as many as 24 songs per, he refers to each of his songs by the album it’s on and the track number, even if he hasn’t recorded it yet. During the course of the interview, he recites the titles for his next three albums and begins listing tracks for some of them.

For a while, Willis performed both as a solo artist, and with a band called The Wesley Willis Fiasco. The Fiasco provided punk backing for Willis’ songs but was a short lived arrangement.

“The Fiasco band broke up because they couldn’t handle my demon hell rides much longer. I made their asses break up,” says Willis. “They they thought I wasn’t going to play a rock and roll show in Toledo, Ohio, I hit my bass player Dave Nooks in the face, and that’s what shut the rock show in Toledo at the Underground down. Then suddenly, my whole band got into a fight. Suddenly, I sat in the chair right in the venue the Underground cracking my ass up.”

Willis begins laughing and Paredes says, “That was a bad hell ride.” Willis continues, “It was a really bad hell ride when the Fiasco band broke up. They broke up in Toledo, Ohio after I shut the rock show down. When Dave Nooks called me up on the state go sing with the band, I was so damn tormented. Suddenly I took my fist and punched him. Suddenly, Dave Nooks picked up a beer bottle and threw it at me. The beer bottle didn’t hit me, the beer bottle broke on the venue floor.”

As Willis’ mood improves, he tells me that some of his songs contain a lot of “evil profanity” because that’s his way of shouting back at his demon. He also tells me of the man who attacked him on bus and left a serious scar on his face. The story of the incident is detailed in the Wesley Willis song, “Now He’s In Jail.”

Later that night, Willis performs in the gallery of the La Luz De Jesus bookstore in Hollywood. He takes the stage early and I miss the opening number. By the time I arrive, Willis is in the middle of a full blown joy ride. No stuttering, no punching, no references to demons. Willis is, however, working the crowd. He makes repeated references to Bob Dole’s defeat in the recent election and suggests that the penalty for losing an election should be, well, something pretty bad. Something so bad that grid wouldn’t publish it even if I included it. Suffice it to say, if Willis’ plan were put into action, people would really think twice before running for office. And bull terriers would become an endangered species.

But the crowd is loving it. Willis invites many from the audience to come up on stage and exchange head butts (his usual form of greeting) with him while shouting “rau.” The head butts are all good and fine, but I get dizzy after about six. Some in the crowd are hardcore Wesley Willis fans and continually shout out the names of their favorite Willis songs. “Play, ‘Don’t Curse in God’s House’” shouts someone behind me. Willis begins playing lounge-sounding intros to his songs.

Then it happens, Wesley actually sings a note. His vocals are usually spoken or shouted, but for two words, Willis actually sings. It happens during his song , “The Posies” and it never happens again after that. Anyone who has heard a Wesley Willis song will think this impossible, but he actually has a good singing voice. Who knew?

After Willis plays several encores, he butts heads with veryone in the audience who will oblige. He also tries (almost always successfully) to sell copies of his CDs to anyone he talks to. Even when rapper and American labelmate Chino XL comes up to say “hi,” the first words out of Willis’ mouth are, “Do you want to buy come of my CDs?”

Chino winds up buying Dr. Wax and Mr. Magoo Goes to Jail, although he realizes the inequity. “Hey, you got all of my stuff for free!” But that’s how things go with Wesley Willis. Everyone pays. From rock stars, to music company execs, to dashing young music writers, they’re all the same to Willis.

I leave the show and head home to puzzle over some personal issues. Why do I like this guy so much? What does an emaciated pasty kid from the suburbs of Rochester, NY have in common with a giant schizophrenic man raised in the projects of Chicago? Later that night, it hits me, it’s the music. Willis literally lives to listen to music, perform music, and write music. Music saved his life. Anyone who has ever been a teenager can understand that

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Friday, December 12, 2008


The holidays are coming, and that means that news of all sorts is drying up. So it is with the Faroes. But a google search did produce the following story, and I actually managed to find a photo that is surprisingly applicable. That's right, this foggy image you see above is actually tied into this week's story.

An online news source says the Faroe Islands is considering sending more hospital patients to Iceland. This year, the Faroese National Hospital sent about 20 people to Iceland to get treatment for cancer. Officials are considering a deal that would up that number to about 200 patients receiving treatment for many different illnesses.

Greenland is considering such a deal as well. But really, who pays attention to Greenland?

The above photo, as near as I can tell, it a view from a hospital room in Torshavn. It was posted to a facebook group by a Manchester City fan who got sick while watching his team play in the Faroes. The Faroese team offered him a ride back on the team plane when he got better. Cool story, actually.

This week's Faroe photo is another from Arne List's collection. It's of a small village called Gásadalur. According to a Danish website, Gásadalur has a rock inhabited by dwarfs. Once one supposedly threw a very sharp knife at a man. This was actually considered a good thing, because the knife could cut through anything, no matter how sharp. Certainly that could come in handy at some point.


Tuesday, December 09, 2008


The little guys are getting older and smarter, and that's causing some problems.

Take Will, seen here dressed as a character from the Sound of Music. Will is learning words quite fast. Just the other day, he broke a safety lock on one of our cupboards... for the second time. Upon seeing the damage, I muttered under my breath, "crap."

"crap," said Will. He didn't yell it, he just whispered it, "crap, crap, crap, crap, crap, crap..." And on and on it went. I don't know that I've ever seen him take to a word like that, "crap, crap, crap, crap, crap." Several minutes later he was still saying it.

The next day at the mall, he started saying it again, only this time, he started shouting it, really loudly Unfortunately, our kids are pretty good about pronouncing their words, so it was pretty clear what Will was yelling.

But that's the least of our problems. Nate is getting sneaky. He's learning strategy. And it scares me.

In the above photo, Nate is doing his best Bigfoot impersonation, but he's found other ways to distract people.

Last week Nate was at a play center what had a giant checkers set. Workers had stacked the checkers to help clear the area for a coming visit from Santa. But when Nate sees anything stacked, he takes it as a challenge. After Nate knocked the checkers over a few times, our nanny put her foot down and physically blocked the little guys from getting anywhere near the chess pieces. This worked, for a moment...

Nate busied himself playing with a lemonade set for about 4 minutes, until he had a terrible "accident." The plastic tray and cups fell to the ground, scattering over a large area. Our nanny went out to help clean up the mess. By the time she looked up, Nate was already at the stacks of giant checkers and was moments from knocking them over again.

That's right, our two year old son has figured out how to create a diversion to distract from what he really wants to do. A part of me is impressed. Another part of me is terrified. To make matters worse, they're starting to cooperate.

Not always. The guys still fight a lot over stupid little things. But every now and then, they'll help each other find food or toys or other prizes.Just last week they worked together to stand on their mini-basketballs in order to reach items on our kitchen counters. I think they may also be hatching a joint plan to finally escape their cribs. This is not good news.Indeed, this is extremely bad news. If they team up, then they're at even strength with Julie and me. And they've got that secret language thing going, so they've got an even bigger advantage.

So if you see my guys in your neighborhood, keep a close eye on them.

And keep a close eye on your lawn ornaments. I've got a feeling these guys are up to something.

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Friday, December 05, 2008


Avid readers of this blog will know that things are tough in the broadcast industry. TV and radio stations have been shedding workers at an alarming pace. And now broadcasting woes have hit the Faroes, too.

Faroese State TV and Radio is running a deficit this year and may have to cut staff and programming. There is even talk of eliminating the evening news program. If that happened, there would be no TV news from the Faroe Islands at all. My exclusive source on the islands tells me that the announcement about the news was likely an idle threat to make headlines... but still.

The Faroese government is also in financial trouble. They've got a budget shortfall of about 100 million dollars. While the US spends that much on paper clips in a single month, that's a pretty serious chunk of change in the Faroes. No word yet on how they plan to close the gap.

This week's Faroe photo is of the church in Miðvágur. It was taken on what appears to be a beautiful summer day. At last check it was a bit darker and soggier there today. Perhaps this picture will help bring warm thoughts to the residents of Miðvágur.


Thursday, December 04, 2008


On my shelf is a copy of Kanye West's CD "Graduation." I've never listened to it, not even once, but I had several good reasons for buying it.

First, I bought "Late Registration" and thought it was quite good. It was expansive and ambitious and sounded like nothing else in hop hop at the time. And he sampled Shirley Bassey's "Diamonds are Forever." How cool is that? So it was reasonable to assume that West's next album would be good, too. Perhaps it is.

But the real reason I bought "Graduation" was to force rapper 50 Cent into retirement. You see 50 promised his album "Curtis" would outsell "Graduation." If it didn't, 50 promised to retire. I think 50 Cent is a no talent hack, so $15.99 seemed a small price to pay to keep the man from putting out any more albums.

As it turned out, I wasn't the only person to think this way, and "Graduation" handily outsold "Curtis." With that mission accomplished, I somehow forgot to listen to the album. (It got middling to good reviews.)

So it's somewhat ironic that today I made my second spite-based musical purchase and the target of my spite was none other than Kanye West.

It started when I was watching Stephen Colbert on Monday. He was complaining that the soundtrack for his Christmas special was ranked 15th on iTunes, while Kanye West's newest album was on top. Colbert read West's latest quote where the rapped dubbed himself the "voice of a generation" and declared that West needed to be taken down a peg. (Of course, Colbert would also be taken up a few pegs in the process.)

Members of the Colbert Nation were asked to buy the Colbert Christmas soundtrack at 5 PM EST on Wednesday to help knock Kanye out of the top spot and vault Colbert to number one. It was called, "Operation Humble Kanye."

While I don't know if I count as a member of the Nation, I decided to buy the album at the appointed time. After all, I may have been partially responsible for West's big ego in the first place, what with helping him win his feud with 50 Cent and all.

By the appointed purchase time, Britney Spears had already knocked Kanye West off the top spot in the iTunes album rankings, so there's a chance Kanye was already duly chastised. But Colbert fans did manage to vault his Christmas album to the #3 spot and knock West to #4.

But this time, I decided not to repeat the mistakes of the past and actually listen to the album that spite bought me.

Cobert's Christmas album is a companion to the TV show, which is essentially a spoof of star studded Christmas spectaculars of the '60s an '70s. Most songs are sufficiently funny and feature guest stars like Toby Keith, Feist, and John Legend. But for me, it's all about Elvis Costello.

Costello and Colbert end the special with a song called, "There Are Much Worse Things to Believe In." It's indented to be silly, but it might actually be... well... a good song. Perhaps I'm blinded by Elvis Costello. I'll admit, he could sing the phone book and it would probably move me to tears. But he sings this joke song with such gusto that it starts to come off as sincere.

And in this era of waining faith, "There Are Much Worse Things..." may actually be the perfect anthem of the times. Nice work, boys.


Wednesday, December 03, 2008


So the church with somewhat amusing church sign slogans finally changed its message, and this is what we got... (as recreated by the church sign generator)

I must say, this one is a bit of a puzzler. The author clearly wants to convey that not getting in a car wreck is a good thing. In fact, it can lead to happiness. As a religious philosophy goes, it is a bit odd, and it even has a big hole in it. And here I'm speaking of the lead track on Radiohead's 1997 masterpiece, "OK, Computer."

The song "Airbag" details the aftermath of a serious car accident Thom Yorke had that nearly killed him and his girlfriend. Well, at least I thought that. As a matter of fact, I'm positive I read that somewhere, but when I went to look it up on some fan sites, I found a snippet from an interview where Yorke says he wasn't involved in an accident. But for the purposes of this post, I'm just going to pretend that Yorke really was in an accident.

The accident that Thom Yorke was(n't) in prompted the following lyrics...

"In the neon sign,

scrolling up and down, I am born again.

In an interstellar burst,

I am back to save the universe. "

I love that song so much, and it sounds more like a church sign than the church sign on East Main. So perhaps it should read like this...


Monday, December 01, 2008


From today's New York Times:
A Generation of Local TV Anchors is Signing Off

If this article is any indication, my future may lie in large animal medicine. Hmmmm...

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