Friday, August 5, 2011

The Sleep Study

I was convinced recently to submit to an overnight sleep study because of suspected sleep apnea and confirmed snoring. Two months later after a flurry of referrals and co-pays and screenings the night arrived. At 8PM I arrived at a medical building in Amherst, pressed the after hours buzzer, and was escorted  by lab-coated 30-something Walt to a chilly mock-hotel room and left alone to strip to my "night clothes."

After filling out some forms I sized up the room. A queen sized bed had a grandmotherly quilt already turned down for my convenience.  Several machines with dials and wires glowed and hummed on the night table next to a box of kleenex. A television was mounted on the wall. Just one painting hung on the wall with a Picasso-esque nude woman floating in abstract space, or maybe lying in a field, apparently sleeping, though the aerial perspective and her fetal yet sprawled position actually gave the impression that she had been gunned down from above by a helicopter. Pulling open the curtains on the window and raising the venetian blinds revealed bare wall. Was I already asleep and dreaming? Was this the Magritte Suite? I recalled the scene in Jim Jarmusch's film "Down By Law" in which Italian speaking Bob played by Roberto Benigni is in a jail cell with Zak and Jack (Tom Waits, John Lurie) and after drawing the outline of a window on the cell wall with chalk asks Zak, in his continuing effort to learn English, "Do you say in America you look out the window or at the window?'" Zak says, "Well Bob, in this case I guess you'd have to say you look at the window."
Somehow I would have preferred honesty in decor. I felt lied to. What else couldn't I trust them with?

Walt returned. I stood before him, tropical floral be-boxered and otherwise bare. There was an awkward silence as he sized me up. As if to respond for me, my body tingled in the cold air and goosebumps swept  up my legs to my chest. Nipples stiffened. Scalp tightened. "So...," I said.

"It'll take about 45 minutes to wire you up. We like the bald guys. Goes quicker," he said, drawing lines and dots on my head with a marker and attaching cold sticky things. 

I couldn't tell if he was a tech trained purely in the implementation of the overnight studies or if he was a degreed sleep scholar. I wondered, if you fell asleep in class at sleep school,  could you just claim you were doing research?

There was a camera trained on the bed and a two way speaker so I could shout out, hands free, and be unplugged in case I had to use the bathroom. Walt implied that this was a hassle so I should go for all I was worth now. He explained what all the equipment was and what it would measure. They would monitor my heart, my breathing, my motion and position. I imagined asking "will you tally my erections?" I chuckled as I listened to how the words sounded in my head and he eyed me quizzically.

"So how long have you been doing this?" I asked. "Is this your passion? Your chosen field?"

"It is now I guess. I used to restore classic late '60s muscle cars but I got arthritis and a bad back and had to give it up."
I told him I used to drive a 1967 Firebird and a 1962 Mercury Monterey. As he attached electrodes with tape and glue, the time passed quickly peppered with chatter about Dusters and Chargers and Challengers and Camaros and Stingrays and Novas and Malibus and Mustangs and and Mavericks and Barracudas and even Javelins. He really missed working on cars.

"Well," I said, "now you're working on a 1963 Jim Neill. Truly a classic. A one of a kind production model. All original parts. No restoration. Actual miles."

"Okay then," he said, "Let's get you up on the lift."

I climbed into the bed and a microphone was taped to my throat to capture any speech or snoring. Walt left and a minute later his voice came over the speaker and we did a soundcheck. "Jim, give me a few snores."   I did. I wondered if they were accurate. Convincing.  "Okay, now say 'monk' five times." I did. "No," he said, 'MILK'." I thought he was joking but an expectant silence followed. I complied. "Okay. We're good," he said. "Go to sleep. We'll be in at 6 to wake you up. If you have more than 48 incidents in an hour, we will come in sooner. Sleep tight."

I lay there feeling like Dave in the bedroom scene in 2001: A Space Odyssey or Jason Robards in Magnolia. I hoped that this would be the only time I would ever be connected to wires and tubes in a bed.

I wondered about lightning strikes.

To be continued.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Jim Neill’s Jukebox - A weekly radio show on 93.9 WRSI The River- Wednesday nights 7-10pm- Recent Song Obsessions circa July 16, 2011

Adam Faucett- “Saturday” and “T-Rex T-Shirt”
from More Like A Temple (Space Neck Collective)
(Adam plays The Basement on Friday August 19th)
Marissa Nadler- “The Sun Always Reminds Me Of You”
from her eponymous 5th album (Box of Cedar Records)
Active Child- “Hanging On” from You Are All I See (Vagrant out 8/23)
The Hundred in The Hands- “Pigeons” from epon. debut (Warp Records)
Eleanor Friedberger (of Fiery Furnaces)- “My Mistakes” 
from Last Summer (Merge Records)
The Belle Brigade- “Losers” from eponymus debut (Warner Bros,)
The Civil Wars- “To Whom It May Concern”
from Barton Hollow (Sensibility Music)
Little Scream- “The Lamb”  from The Golden Record (Secretly Canadian)
Foster The People- “Pumped Up Kicks” from Torches  (Columbia)
Sea of Bees- “Gnomes” from Songs for the Ravens (Crossbill Records)
Buffalo Daugther- “A11 A10ne” 
from Weapons of Math Destruction (label unknown)
tUnE-YarDs- “Bizness” from WHOKILL (4AD)
Joy Kills Sorrow- “When I Grow Up”
from Unknown Science (Signature Sounds out 9/13)
Motopony- “Euphoria” from eponynous debut (Insound)
Jed and Lucia - “The Park (Refix)” from Helium EP (Ubiquity Records)
High Highs- “Open Season” (Bandcamp only so far?)
Sun Airway- “Waiting On You”
from Nocturne of Exploded Crystal Chandelier  (Dead Oceans)
Damon and Naomi- “Shadow Boxing”
from False Beats and True Hearts (20/20/20 Records)
Ages and Ages - “Alright You Restless”
from Alright You Restless (Knitting Factory)
Elbow- “Lippy Kids” from Buy A Rocket Boys (Downtown/Cooperative Music)
Death Cab For Cutie- “Underneath the Sycamore”
from Codes and Keys (Atlantic Records)
Cass McCombs- “County Line” from Wit’s End (Domino)
(Cass plays the Iron Horse on Tue. July 19th)

Click here for Jim Neill's Jukebox page on

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Epic Pancakes

As with the word "awesome"  in the late 20th century, the ever more ubiquitous "dude-bro" demographic, within the last decade, has commandeered and eviscerated the once sacrosanct term "epic."  No longer is an epic merely the historical noun of choice for lengthy, heroic, poetic compositions like The Odyssey,  The Iliad, and various Bibles which, before the advent of printing, offered historical and cultural continuity from one generation to the next via ritual re-tellings of the epics, narrated in the grandiose style befitting its lofty subject matter.  No longer is epic in its adjective form limited to classifying these chronicles of great achievements and events, long wars and  harrowing voyages so vast, heroic, majestic, and impressive in stature as to transfix and strike awe in the listener and allow them to forget, if only for a moment, the Black Death, slavery, and the notoriously ruthless medieval meter maids.
"Dude, I know these sirens are, like, sweet tail with epic racks and all, and, like, they sing mighty righteous tunes but they are some mad crazy ho's! Row, bro, row!"
Where once the epic narrative poem Beowulf would be told aloud, often from memory around medieval campfires, in modern times, specifically this morning at the Green Bean in Northampton, I overheard this exchange: "Bro, these are epic pancakes."  "Dude, with maple syrup and bluebs they're mad epic." Indeed, in the ancient tradition of passing epic stories along to keep them alive, one of the apparently very satisfied diners fired off a text undoubtedly notifying another dude-bro from his posse of this very same superlative assessment of breakfast.

The English language is fluid. Meanings for words change all the time. (Though adding "ginormous" to the dictionary was irresponsible, redundant, and, well, cutesy.)  But is there really so little in the imagination and dreams of some people that they have to rob those of us with grander schemes of the long established terminology? They're using a sledgehammer to drive a brad into balsa.

In the big picture, one hopes, but it certainly isn't assured, that the classic epic poems will continue to be integral to the class syllabi of our secondary school and college English programs, serving up in history's earliest recorded incidents, the original dudes and bros, virgins and of hos,  to experience life's archetypal story arcs (also evidenced in most episodes of VH-1's Behind The Music): Life-Death-Rebirth. Or, if discussing over some tasty flapjacks; an epic win is usually followed by an epic fail and then a less epic (but still awesome in a mellower way) win, or  in the most epic of fails, death i.e Andy Gibb, Odysseus, et al.

One of the earliest known examples of a member of the phylum Homeyus-Dudebroticus from approx. 1982, native to Southern California but now prospering nationwide.

Even ghosts have to feed the meters.

Jaywalking (jayrunning) ghost races to beat the meter maid,  confident that any traffic will pass right through her.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Downtown Northampton Sunday Afternoon

 Buskers in transit.
He is one of the sweetest and kindest guys out there but his version of Yellow Submarine, often heard in front of Thorne's Market, is exactly the same song as his take on Bob Seger's "Turn The Page"....or anything else he plays. Only the lyrics change. It's remarkable that he has absolutely no sense of time signatures or song structure  and makes chord changes on a whim if at all. It is beautiful in an outsider art way, and yet he breaks my stride and   triggers my heart murmur and my fillings hurt and sometimes I feel a vein twitch on my forehead.
Stevie Ga Ga in his Sunday best. "Can you get bagpipes on Freecycle?"
Josh and Roger making the donuts at Turn It Up!
King Crimson fans pay attention. The 2011 Two Of A Perfect Trio tour comes to the Iron Horse on Saturday, October 1st. The tour marks Adrian Belew’s and Tony Levin’s 30-year anniversary with King Crimson. Here’s how it will play out: Stick Men; Tony Levin, Markus Rueter, and Pat Mastelotto will play a set of their music. Then the Adrian Belew Power Trio; Adrian, Julie Slick, Tobias Ralph will play a set. Then Tony, Pat, and Adrian will play a few King Crimson songs as a trio. Then both trios will take the stage for a glorious set of King Crimson music including pieces from the double trio era, two drummers, two stick players, a bassist, and a guitarist. Here's the link to the Iron Horse schedule. You can scroll down to the date.


For some, letting it be is just not enough. Perhaps she's into composting?

Trashy novels weren't the only books marketed in the campy exploitation style of the pulp fiction paperback.  Raven Books on Old South Street offers t-shirts sporting the pulp paperback covers of some classic novels.
But if you can't help being trashy, there's a sexuality section filled with intriguing titles including this spread from "The Art of Eric Stanton: For The Man Who Knows His Place." 

Corner of King and Main. Cross at the sound of the cuckoo.
"People tend to stick to their own size group because it's easier on the neck. Unless they are romantically involved, in which case the size difference is sexy. It means: I am willing to go the distance for you." --Miranda July
The Silver Lady  
(by Suzanne Vega 1974- when she was 14)

When I was a little girl
Younger than nine or ten
I once spoke to the Silver Lady
But I never saw her again.

To me she flew out of the sky
She was born riding on the water
Her hair blew all around her
She was the crazy man's only daughter.

 (Lyrics continued here) 


Spoleto's Independence Day window welcomes you to the restaurant with an explosion of patriotic lumber.

No Explanation 
(Copyright 1999 by James Tate. Published originally by Rain Taxi.)
Down the street they are pulverizing the old police station. They started by crushing it, then they beat it, and then they proceeded to grind it up. I walked by it just a few minutes ago. All that's left is a mountain of wood chips...."Where are the policemen?" I asked one of the workers. He pointed to the mountain of wood chips and said, "We never saw them." I walked on thinking about Officer Plotkin, how he'd arrested me when I was guilty, and he he'd come to my aid when I'd needed him. I stopped and looked back over my shoulder. I longed to be arrested, to be saved. 

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Downtown Northampton Saturday Morning

When the "Dweezil Zappa Plays Zappa" show comes to town, Al is always prepared to create some improvised electric tape "Z's" on one side of the marquee. See if you can spot them when you walk by.

Good promotion never sleeps. Michael Kusek is making things happen on a Saturday morning in front of Silverscape Design. 

The one man Tea Party bravely stands his ground in the belly of the progressive beast in his mirror shades. The big question, of course, is what is on his iPod? Ted Nugent? Eckhart Tollee? Regardless, under these circumstances his message is loud and clear and limited to:  I don't want you to look into my eyes. I don't want to hear what you have to say. I don't want to talk to you.

 Preaching to the converted. They should strap their iPods on and head to Springfield.

Adin and Llama are tying the knot this summer. It looks like Llama just tied one for practice. Is that a noose?

 Carolyn vending grins and greenery at the Farmer's Market.

Candace, renowned photographer of this blog's masthead panorama, with the zukes.  

The new police station will include an Olympic sized swimming pool so the officers can stay in optimum crime-fighting condition.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Laughing Dog Bicycles. John Dwork's Skateboard. Ni Carborundum Illegitimati.

Parker Ramspott has owned and run Laughing Dog Bicycles in Amherst since the days when Henry Rollins was in Black Flag doing shouted word, not spoken, and downtown Amherst still had more of its own spark. In fact, I think it started as a skateboard shop; the punk rock answer to Doug Dale's shop Peloton.  Yesterday, as I bought a bike from him, we bitched like the old men we used to make fun of about "kids today" while his 20-something employee Jessie affixed a basket to my new cruiser. Jessie quipped from the back, "if you two are so smart why are you so old?" He had a point.

Parker, who does his best to compete with bigger stores on Rt. 9 and elsewhere reported that Nat across the street at Amherst Books was getting online textbook orders from UMass Amherst students that wanted him to ship the books to their dorm, one mile away.  Come on kids. Take a walk will ya? I hate to be overly sentimental but I'm a little bitter about the struggles of some of my favorite local "mom and pop" shops in the wake of the closing of Pleasant Street Video.  Not that they deserve to prevail just because they're locally owned. In fact, with so much at stake you'd think some of the local stores would be a little nicer to their customers. I would have bought my bike in Northampton if the shop I visited recently even feigned some interest in helping me when I stated outright, "I am here to buy a bike today" and hung around for a while to wait my turn.  And don't EVEN think that I am one of those cloying Valley types that wants a clerk to get up on their hind legs and bark for me to win my patronage. At Laughing Dog in Amherst, you don't have to beg.

Note the Latin above the logo: Ni Carborundum  Illegitimati (roughly: Don't let the bastards grind you down.) Parker know his bikes and you can tell because he uses phrases like "your tires are a little roached, man." I bought a sweet Gary Fisher bike from him and rode back to Northampton on the ever more lethal and notorious bike path made of broken glass which, while certainly a sad and embarrassing state of affairs, generates a considerable amount of tire repair business for the local bike repair industry. Parker says a shard he pulled out of one tire bounced off his retina which, even more horrifically, made a clicking noise as it did so.

Okay, please gather around, be silently reverent, and behold:

No. Don't touch it. NO. Don't even look at it.

Hanging over the Laughing Dog door is an impossibly awesome golden age of skateboarding (Tony ALVA, not Hawk era) Sims Taperkick longboard with Tracker wides and OJs. It's like Action Comics #1 or Amazing Fantasy #15. And it belonged to the legendary John Dwork who most people know as "the dude who majored in Frisbee at Hampshire College" though of course there are no "majors" at Hampshire and the 1984 degree was technically called "Flying Disc Entertainment and Education."  John was also the editor of the Deadhead bible Dupree's Diamond News (his more credible answer to Relix) and the author of the three-volume Deadheads Taping Compendium.

Parker always has some sonically joyous music blaring in the workshop and said I should check out some bands for my radio show:  the Dirt Bombs who used to be The Gories and Soft Pack who used to be The Muslims. At our age, the bands we loved are already onto their second or third incarnations.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

The Westerly Hauntings

A couple of years ago the word "westerly" began chanting itself in my head. Like a random song, it got stuck there. (Though when those "random" songs get stuck, pay attention to the lyrics and you'll often find a reason why it stayed with you. Of course it might just be the insidious hooks of ABBA.) When I would write anything it would jump to the front of the line. "Westerly," it said.  "Westerly westerly westerly! Westerly." I didn't think too much of it. My mind is of the monkey variety and is on an endless Wonka boat ride; in a perpetual state of shuffling cards and whirling compasses. It's a windstorm of words and images and ideas in a sort of maniacal spin-art that occasionally comes together at just the right moment and allows me to utter something practical like "hold the mayo" or "Happy Birthday!" I am also able to do my own taxes and laundry. Beyond that sometimes I think it's a miracle I've made it this far. Maybe I haven't.
I curated a poetry reading at Forbes Library a few years ago and created a limited edition chap book with a selection of the five poets' poems and, indulgently, some of my collages. I made 26 of them out of road maps I'd picked up at a tag sale,"numbering" each with a letter of the alphabet on a field of red Holden Trading Stamps (not as popular as the S & H Green Stamps many of us may recall our moms collecting in that endless lick-and-affix-a-thon with visions of toasters and food processors dancing in their eyes). As I folded the very last map into the pocket shape and affixed the letter Z and the tape to the edges,  the town's name staring up at me from my work table on the map was Westerly, Rhode Island. I am trying to figure out who actually owns that particular copy but here is edition # J from the series, just to give you an idea of what the design was:

My friend Dave and I joked about taking a trip to Westerly to see what would befall me, but we didn't, laughing it off as folly; me secretly terrified.

Last night at the William Baczek Gallery in Northampton while waiting for Godot (aka an order from Local Burger where they might want to rethink their slogan: "It's not fast food... It's good food fast!" or maybe just change the name to "Rip Van Winkleburger") I was drawn to a piece by Connecticut painter Joshua Smith in the corner. As I stared at it, something emerged that I hadn't seen for a while. Have a look.

 No, look more closely.

When I got home I GOOGLED: "Jim Neill Westerly" on my partner's computer and it returned this ominous top result:  James Neill (Deceased).

Now on my OWN computer as I attempt to recreate the result for this post, it comes up with something about Intrauterine Insemination. I know that Google searches will yield different results on different accounts based on search histories etc., all the better for Google to market to you for their advertisers. Hers comes up with me dead. Mine with making babies, if in an indirect fashion.

Well, then.